Sophisticated Biology™

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Jerry Coyne has been running a series of posts on “Sophisticated Theologians™.” Here’s how they all go (check it out if you don’t believe me): Pick any difficult topic in theology, find someone who presents a non-obvious answer, call it “Sophisticated Theology™,” and laugh at it.

Coyne never bothers to consider whether the non-obvious answer actually makes sense within a theistic framework. If a theologian says it, and if it’s not obvious, it’s Sophisticated Theology™, an object of pure mockery.

It leaves me wondering. Four things, in particular:

I wonder what Coyne would think of someone calling microbiology Sophisticated Biology™, and mocking it because it’s Sophisticated™.

I wonder if he would laugh at theologian to deriding Sophisticated Biology™.

I wonder why he doesn’t recognize how laughably absurd it is the other way around.

I wonder why he misses that which is so terribly obvious that no Sophistication™ at all is required to see it: name-calling is silly, and mocking what one does not understand reveals far more about the mocker than what the mocker is making fun of.

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22 Responses to “ Sophisticated Biology™ ”

  1. I clicked on a link where Coyne discusses the problem of evil. I don’t have the attention span today to read it. I did gloss over it, and a thought kept forcing itself upon my mind:

    “So how does sophisticated atheism(tm) solve the problem of evil”?,

    along with the answer,

    “There is no real problem and no real evil under atheism, only brains that nature evolved in such a way as to invent these strange concepts out of thin air”.

  2. “I have in mind the idea that—in the most strict and literal sense—evil does not exist.”

    “The universe as a whole contains no spot or stain of evil, but it looks to us human beings as if it did because we view it from a limited perspective.”

    Peter van Inwagen, the Problem of Evil

    I started reading van Iwagen’s essay that Coyne linked to, and was fascinated to find these quotes that lined up so well with SteveK’s.

  3. @Sault:

    I started reading van Iwagen’s essay that Coyne linked to, and was fascinated to find these quotes that lined up so well with SteveK’s.

    You will loose the fascination real quick because the “lining up” is only apparent. The reasons for van Inwagen saying that “in the most strict and literal sense—evil does not exist” have nothing to do with Coyne’s, which are ultimately self-refuting and incoherent.

  4. I think Coyne has a better grasp on theology than you and other Christian bloggers give him credit for. He also did give specific reasons for why van Inwagen’s argument fails, rather than simply laugh at it, as you well know.

  5. Mike Gene,
    Isn’t it strange that Coyne gives up the ‘promissory note’ that people like him like to trot out all the time – the one that says “one day science will figure it out, and we will all learn that I am right”?

  6. I took a look at Coyne analyzing Van Inwagen on the POE. Pretty much what Tom evaluated it as – just a whole lot of laughing and mockery, all while supplying a hefty chunk of evidence that he doesn’t even understand the debate. The fact that one of his central replies to Van Inwagen on the POE is “Well Van Inwagen didn’t prove to me that God exists first!!!” just shows how out of his depth he is.

  7. I could sum up most of Coyne’s counter-arguments in one term: ad hoc fallacy. The rest seems to just be useless filler.

  8. @Crude

    I agree with you. Part of Coyne’s criticism is that Iwagen presupposes God. Well, no ess, Jerry, of course he does!

    The other part of Coyne’s criticism that I had a question on was his statement about what Christians believe…

    “But you must also believe that God wants to hand the world over to humans at some point and become a Deus absconditus.”

    I wasn’t aware that Christians believe this. Can someone help me out with this? I was under the impression that (depending upon your theology) that Jesus might reign, or that some people might be Raptured, or that Satan might reign… but humans, any more than they already do? Hrmm.

    @Theo

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Iwagen’s response to Rowe’s Fawn ad hoc? He speculates that God simply allows a certain level of suffering…. just because. “God did it” (or “God didn’t do it” in this case).

    The other “God did it” came towards the end, and that is something that I’m curious about –

    “He gave them the gift of free will because free will is necessary for Love.”

    Is this truly the case? I mean, dogs love, but they don’t have what I would consider to be “free will”. Perhaps someone can help me out on this one, too?

    @all and sundry

    I might see some criticism that isn’t as strong as I would certainly like it to be, but I don’t see this rising to what I would consider to be “mocking”. I’ve heard worse in some of the comments made in this forum, and even then it’s been pretty tame compared to some of what I’ve seen out there in the rest of the interwebz.

  9. The argument seems a bit ad hoc, but logically, I’m not sure how you would create complete creatures (who empathize, are altruistic, etc.) without allowing a need for empathy or altruism in the first place.

  10. But you must also believe that God wants to hand the world over to humans at some point and become a Deus absconditus.”

    I wasn’t aware that Christians believe this. Can someone help me out with this? I was under the impression that (depending upon your theology) that Jesus might reign, or that some people might be Raptured, or that Satan might reign… but humans, any more than they already do? Hrmm.

    If Coyne actually thinks that Christians believe this, then I’d like to see where He gets it from. God is not giving up His ultimate sovereignty to anyone else.
    Looks like a misunderstanding of Genesis 1:26-28 at best.

    His original design intent for humanity was that we would be His vice-regents on earth, but still under the sovereign authority of our Creator, and certainly not autonomous. The same goes in God’s eternal kingdom (see Philippians 2:9-11, or the entire book of Revelation).

  11. @Victoria

    Thank you for the clarification! I didn’t really catch it the first time through, but then I started thinking, and I couldn’t think of anyone who actually believed that. I mean, not even the radical extremist “internet” Christians refer to Jesus without using terms like Lord, God, Ruler, King, etc.

    Well… the bulk of Coyne’s criticism here rests upon two points – that Iwagen hasn’t proven God first, and that Christians believe something they don’t.

    The first is a red herring, being outside the scope of that immediate argument, and the second is a strawman.

    I’m more than a little disappointed. I still don’t think I’d characterize it as “mocking” necessarily, but he certainly seems a little too smug considering how badly he butchered that one.

  12. What should really spook any booster of Coyne or the Cult of Gnu is the following.

    A) Coyne’s blunders on this are obvious, and extreme. This is where critics would normally sniff and say that Coyne is operating at Philosophy 101 level, but honestly, you’d have trouble completing Philosophy 101 while making the mistakes Coyne made.

    B) That thread has a lot of comments. Find any that notice Coyne’s blunders. What does the considerable lack of apparent realization say of Coyne or Coyne’s followers? Are they just unaware of the mistakes Coyne made? Or do they just not care?

  13. @Sault
    Yes, that’s what I meant. Coyne’s response to Iwagen is a very wordy version of accusing him of ad hoc, which is not a misplaced accusation I don’t think. When we’re talking about God it becomes so easy to come up with all kinds of explanations for every question because, frankly, these explanations can’t really be tested and most of them have no basis in scripture or anywhere else. At times we need people like Coyne to keep us honest. More often than not, a simple “I don’t know” is the best answer.

  14. Coyne’s response to Iwagen is a very wordy version of accusing him of ad hoc, which is not a misplaced accusation I don’t think.

    No, Coyne’s response is not that. It’s not even all that wordy. He straight up brings up “prove God exists” as if that’s an appropriate response.

    What’s more, a major point of the POE is to place a demand on the theist to explain why God could allow certain evils (or any evils at all) to come into existence, given (say) omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence. It’s considerations like that which give the POE traction to begin with – so it doesn’t make any sense to complain that the replies are somehow misplaced on the grounds that omnipotence and omniscience allow for one hell of a lot.

    The claim that these explanations “can’t be tested” is either false (Yes, you can point out problems or flaws in an explanation, you can find inconsistencies – that’s certainly one form of test) or inappropriate (We can’t perform an empirical test? So what?), and the lack of basis in scripture is only a concern for people whose reasoning about God must rely on scripture 100% anyway – which frankly even Saint Paul rejects.

    At times we need people like Coyne to keep us honest.

    No, we don’t. We don’t need someone to completely fumble an argument, raising confusion about it in the process by means of utterly misrepresenting the way to consider it, on the grounds that ‘well, if you ignore everything he got wrong and the mockery, if you squint your eyes and take five shots of Stravinsky, you can kinda-sorta filter in what sounds like a valid point but actually isn’t.

    What we do need is someone to keep guys like Coyne honest. Believe it or not, these subjects can be tackled without near the baggage or incompetency the Cult of Gnu displays – and it can be tackled from the atheist side, no less. (Granted, I think they fail, but holy hell you can do a lot better than Coyne.)

  15. To reiterate Crude’s point:

    Guys like Coyne are precisely what we do *not* need. His objections are so bad and so easily dismantled, that the only possible effect they have is breeding a sort of hubris into thinking that *all* objections are equally easily answered.

    What we need is for serious, competent theists and atheists to hash out these issues in dialogue, not walking jokes whose only useful purpose is as “good targetting practice for us neophytes”.

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