The paradoxes of theological gullibility

By Ken Perrott 26/09/2012

Dr Maarten Boudry

Maarten Boudry is a philosopher I will certainly read more of. His review of Alvin Plantinga‘s book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, get’s right to the point – and clearly. Boudry responds to Plantinga’s argument that scientific theories need no more justification than logical possibility:

“But if the bar for rational belief is lowered to mere logical possibility, and the demand for positive evidence dropped, then no holds are barred. Evolution (or gravity, plate tectonics, lightning, for that matter) could as well be directed by space aliens, Zeus or the flying spaghetti monster.”

My feelings exactly. Philosophers like Plantinga should be kept well away from science. “Remarkably,” as Boudry comments, Plantinga’s “entirely gratuitous suggestion has received the support of no less a philosophers than Elliot Sober.” Perhaps scientists have really got to work harder to get through to some philosophers just what the scientific process really is.

Boudry’s review is online at Where the Conflict Lies, Really: Are Science and Theism Best Friends?

I am impressed with Maaten Boudry’s clear thinking and clear writing. But, Jerry Coyne at Evolution is True reveals that Boudry can also write very unclearly and express ideas which are, to say the least, muddled (see A Sokal-style hoax by an anti-religious philosopher). But only as a joke.

Boudry wrote and submitted abstract on sophisticated theology to two theological conferences using an invented name (Robert A. Maundy) and institutional affiliation (College of the Holy Cross). Despite the abstract being a load of old rubbish it was quickly accepted at both conferences.

This brings to mind the Sokal Hoax in which Alan Sokal, a Physics professor at New York University  submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. His paper was ” liberally salted with nonsense, . .   sounded good and . . .  flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.” It was a parody on post-modernism and despite being rubbish was published.

Boudry’s paper is:

The Paradoxes of Darwinian Disorder. Towards an Ontological Reaffirmation of Order and Transcendence.
Robert A. Maundy,  College of the Holy Cross, Reno, Nevada

Jerry has reproduced the abstract in full – go to his blog to read it. It includes little gems like:

“By narrowly focusing on the disorderly state of present-being, or the “incoherence of a primordial multiplicity”, as John Haught put it, Darwinian materialists lose sense of the ultimate order unfolding in the not-yet-being. Contrary to what Dawkins asserts, if we reframe our sense of locatedness of existence within a the space of radical contingency of spiritual destiny, then absolute order reemerges as an ontological possibility.”

And finishes with:

“Creation is the condition of possibility of discourse which, in turn, evokes itself as presenting creation itself. Darwinian discourse is therefore just an emanation of the absolute discourse of dis-order, and not the other way around, as crude materialists such as Dawkins suggest.”

I think Jerry sums it up succinctly when he says:

“I defy you to understand what he’s saying, but of course it appeals to those who, steeped in Sophisticated Theology™, love a lot of big words that say nothing but somehow seem to criticize materialism while affirming the divine. It doesn’t hurt if you diss Dawkins a couple of times, either.

This shows once again the appeal of religious gibberish to the educated believer, and demonstrates that conference organizers either don’t read what they publish, or do read it and think that if it’s opaque then it must be profound.”

Yes, this little trick was probably relatively easy to perpetrate as less care would be taken with acceptance of conference papers than with publication of journal articles. Perhaps there is a challenge there – maybe some devious atheists should write some “Sophisticated Theology™” papers and submit them to the suitable journals.

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0 Responses to “The paradoxes of theological gullibility”

  • The Devious Atheist Weekly?
    Sure I agree with you( & its best to agree with bloggers here at sci blog they tend to get insulted if you don’t ) some devious atheists should write some theology papers and submit them to the suitable journals.

    Q And what will you learn if one devious atheist’s complex paper gets published in a theology journal?
    A You already know rubbish is published,( to be fair you know rubbish is also published in scientific journals).
    Rubbish is published, and the more complex it is and the more it lacks clarity the more some “intellectuals” like it.

    • I guess we already know its rubbish – but it might help make that a bit clearer to the theologically inclined who are impressed by such rubbish.

  • It is not the” theologically inclined” that are impressed with rubbish- and you know it. I have read rubbish in the Lancet.

    What about theology bothers you so?
    Is it just rubbish papers( fodder of complexity for the confused) or the idea of the Divine?( which is not theology)

  • divine with a capital?

    The problem with christian theology is that it tends to be treated as a study of the real, when in fact it more closely resembles the study of The Lord of the Rings.

    The study of Judaism is of course more closely resembling the study of The Hobbit

  • BDBinc I just don’t see theology as a real subject if it is restricted to the bafflegab of “Sophisticated Theology.” And no I don’t think it normally “bothers” me – all sorts if people believe and talk all sorts of rubbish – and as long as its not aimed at me i don’t care.

    But I do object to those theologians and philosophers of religion who think they can dictate to scientists how to do science. Plantinga’s use of logical possibility is one such example. Its naive and dishonest.

    These people should be kept well away from science.

  • Absolutely Ashton, Divine*.
    * Without your beliefs and your 2012 personal interpretation of books and papers on Christianity, Judaism or Islam .
    You can not even think of the Divine without associating the idea with other thoughts such as religion and Tolkin.

    Ken so its the sophisticated theology and concern this thinking will influence science.
    In your post you did not tell me how exactly this sophisticated theologian (was aiming at you ) and trying to dictate to science.
    Questioning beliefs is something most people avoid, I would ask you if you can define this” belief threshold”( which you don’t want lowered).
    Scientists I know have listed to believe something it comes from a credible source . Thats it, if a superior tells them they accept it without investigation.

    Science isn’t and can’t be in isolation ( its currently embraced by big business and govt) but what ideals influence it should be recognized(and its not sophisticated theologians).

    Science is still in a commercial and military phase, these people (influences) were not kept away from science.

  • BDBinc – have a look at the first quote of Mateen’s – this sort of summarise the problem, Plantinga and many theologians want to remove the epistemic requirements of evidence and validation from science so they can willy nilly introduce their own unwarranted claims into science. They want to place their god there but just as validly anything could be put there. It’s ridiculous.

    That would return science to its old status of a region, unable to understand or explain anything about the world. Humanity doesn’t want that.

    So I say we should keep Planting and similar theologically motivated philosophers well clear of science. For humanity’s sake.

  • Theologians cannot change the belief system of science, it is not a threat to humanity .
    Tell me, who can lower whatever belief threshold you have in place. I have seen willy nilly claims from science(data massaging etc)these theologians cannot be to blame.
    These theologians are not a threat to humanity, intolerance and conflict is a threat.

    An undisclosed set of beliefs (bundled up as) religion and science( a different set of beliefs) are said to be incompatible.
    And this has caused conflict, just like man’s history of religion vs religion ( one God but every religion thinks their God is the only one and man fights about it ).

    It’s simply a conflict of science vs religion, again there is really no need for it.
    The real threat to humanity is intolerance, separatism and the conflicts that ensue over these beliefs.
    If we do not know and understand ourselves completely how can we know and understand the world.
    Explaining( or theorizing) is not the same as knowing and understanding.

  • BDBinc – I provided you with a specific example of Plantinga’s attempt to introduce his beliefs into science in an unwarranted way – an attempt to introduce a divine guidance into evolution. Sure – that will not change the way we do our science but it does fool a lot of Christians into thinking that science is atheistic because it doesn’t allow simple introduction of belief. Any belief.

    As for a science-religion conflict – there may not be one at the personal level but there is a diametric opposition in the two epistemic methods. Evidence and verification on the one hand and revelation on the other.

    This means that the conflict is inevitable whenever religion attempts to make claims about reality. Galileo used to say that scripture was not reliable in understanding the natural world but was OK for moral questions. But it seems today that science is supplanting religion in these areas too. So I see a science-religion conflict over questionsoif the human mind and morality. It’s inevitable.

  • What does science believe about morality and the human mind?(and what evidence and epistemic method has been used for morality and the human mind?).
    One cannot see morality or the human mind (this is science’s basis for evidence and verification)
    Hey I though there was contention and science did not believe the mind existed just the brain.

    Conflict is never inevitable. If it was it means you have no self control (wouldn’t that be divine intervention).
    What did science see/hear/taste/touch that proved there was no Divine intervention in evolution.
    Why does science think Divine intervention was not( and is not) present all the time.
    What evidence of the human mind does science have, none as it has collected information on the physical brain but still does not have an understanding of the human mind.

    Could science now be classified a religion if it believes it can or should( without divine intervention) direct and shape human morality and the human mind ?

    Science trying to learn by measuring natural phenomena using the senses has not been isolated and cannot be isolated.
    The idea of the Divine should not be eliminated just because with your senses you cannot measure the immeasurable.

  • BDBinc – you have some basic misunderstandings about science. It is not a belief system – it is a process of obtaining provisional knowledge about reality. Based on evidence and validated against reality. We recognise our knowledge is only an imperfect reflection of reality and so we are prepared to modify or change it as more information comes in.

    So science doesn’t “believe anything about morality and the human mind.” We have some theories which correspond to an increasing extent with reality. Our knowledge and ideas in this area has really advanced in recent years. I have written a lot about this and my take on it on this blog. Have a search for morality to see some of my posts.

    You ask “What did science see/hear/taste/touch that proved there was no Divine intervention in evolution” and this shows your misunderstanding. Try and understand the point of the first quote in this post. Evolutionary science, like all modern science, developed from investigating and observing reality. Darwin’s great contribution was to see that natural selection together with inheritable variations could provide a mechanism for speciation and evolution. This provided and explanation and understanding based in reality and not requiring injection of any unproven gremlins, gods, fairies, demons, etc. Think about it, this is no different to how we have come to understand all aspects of reality. Humanity discovered it was not necessary to attribute natural phenomena to gods, angels, taniwha or the great spaghetti monster. Modern science did not require such “supernatural” brings to understand reality and in fact postulating such things explains nothing. It’s more honest just to say “we don’t know” and then get stuck in and try to find out.

    Try to understand this -science has not proved divine intervention doesn’t occur. Neither has it proved no intervention by aliens, goblins, demons, fairies, or the flying spaghetti monster. There just is no need to propose such things so our theories don’t include them. If and when the evidence arrives for involvement of wizards, fairies or gods in any natural process like evolution our theories will accommodate them.

    Platinga attempts to explain natural variations by postulating divine guidance by his god. Not necessary, explains nothing and he doesn’t even suggest a mechanism. As Marteen says:
    “Evolution (or gravity, plate tectonics, lightning, for that matter) could as well be directed by space aliens, Zeus or the flying spaghetti monster.” And such ideas explain nothing – they are not required.

    It is this attempt to inject a personal belief into a perfectly adequate theory, in a way which explains nothing, has no mechanism, no supporting evidence and not validated in any way by our I vesting action of reality which is unscientific. Such a procedure would degrade science making it no better than a religion. That why I say we should keep such interfering theologians away from science. Humanity relies on science too much for religion to destroy it like that.

    It is this sort of dishonest intervention which causes the science-religion conflict.

  • Science is a belief system (and those eureka moments in science are “revelations” )
    As to the willingness to change theory, it really looks to me like science does not like change. It takes conflict within science and it’s generally the most reputed(well$ backed) scientist that wins in cases of disagreements.
    Its just impossible, theologians cannot make a person gullible.
    So science doesn’t believe anything the human mind and morality just theories you say.
    Behind science is man’s desire for knowledge. Never was science in isolation.It is a collection of theories and beliefs about our physical world. If you cannot disprove the Divine ( or Divine intervention) shouldn’t you keep an open mind and be ready to accept possibilities .

    If science’s thinking was so weak/incomplete that it felt theologians thinking threatened to destroy it maybe then I would understand your desire to want to isolate science.
    Theologians are not “dishonestly intervening”, and you cannot blame them and say they are the cause of conflict you feel.
    The conflict is within you.

  • BDBinc – your repeated claim that science is a belief system demonstrates only that you don’t understand the nature of science and helps explain some of your subsequent incorrect judgements about science.

    We have our “eureka moments” – and I can assure you from experience most of them turn out to be completely wrong. And we know that because we test the eureka ideas in practice against reality. Throw away the ones which are wrong (mosr) and work with the ones that are correct (a few if we are lucky).

    Theologians may have their revelations but never evaluate them or test them against reality. Even though their revelations are probably more likely to be wrong than my “eureka moments.”

    So you can see the danger in the attempts to impose these untested revelations in science. We don’t allow that for our “eureka moments” why should we allow it for your revelations.

    BDBinc – I actually do keep am open mind about divine intervention jut as I do equally for intervention of fairies, demons, aliens and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If and when I see any evidence or necessity for hese and can develop a structured hypothesis I will do so. But I stress that because I have an open mind at this stage intervention of either of these agents is of equal possibility. There is no reason to think there is any intervention of any of them.

    Now, can you be that open minded?

  • You will never admit science is just theory and full of beliefs (some contested others accepted).

    You admitted science’s revelations can turn out to be wrong, but then the idea that revelations in sciences are more right than others . You can’t possibly have measured the “revelations” in science VS other occupations and compare them( using your own tests).So you really have no knowledge of any revelation data .
    You claimed you have no beliefs about morality,but this is not the case.( read your own posts on morality, they are full of untested and unproven beliefs.)

    You claim( without tests or theory) what you perceive through your senses is reality. And you claim your constantly changing personal sense perception (qualia) is everybody’s thus you claim it is reality.
    What you call reality is untested by you, it is accepted on blind faith and a belief that all the impulses and inputs felt by your brain and mind are real.
    Your bias towards science blinds you to the mistakes in your thinking .

    It is the theologians theory that you want kept away from science as you fear it will alter science.
    The decades of heavy commercial and military influence is OK for you but you are threatened by theologian theory.
    Saying you have an open mind doesn’t make it open.
    I do not go around saying I have an open mind… and that I think science should be isolated/closed from theologians thoughts.

  • Actually BDBinc all the things you are claiming about me and about science are demostratably wrong. You can not see the difference between a provisional idea, or even speculation, in science and your belief or revelation. Here’s a hint – when I test my ideas against reality and find them wrong I don’t cling on to them and ignore reality. I modify or change my ideas and retest them.

    Now you think the ideas I have proposed on morality are untested and unproven. Yes some of them are, they are my speculation, but scientific speculation. It’s not my professional field but I have used current findings in cognitive and evolutionary psychology. As we find out more I am sure my ideas will develop and change – they have already over the last few years as I have discussed them with others. (What about offering a detailed critique of my ideas on morality – I would appreciate that).

    After all if scientific theory and knowledge is always provisional so of course this sort if speculative thinking must also be provisional. We must always be prepared to change our ideas as new information comes in.

    Now you can’t say that about the revelations and dogma of your theologians. Nor does Plantinga demonstrate a willingness to submit his beliefs to testing – he just insists we accept his divine guidance in evolutionary mutation – without evidence and without testing. Even without a speculated mechanism!

    Why not address Plantinga’s argument and Marteen’s refutation? That’s what the post is about.

  • Science is belief and theory, and its should not threatened by theology theory. Your changing opinion is yours, so the opinions I disagree with are just your current personal belief system.

    Its always theory and I pointed out why, and now you have said the same in your last post”We must always be prepared to change our ideas as new information comes in.” Its provisional speculation dogma . Science then is as you say- provisional speculative dogma.
    You have not even demonstrated that your untested reality is the same as others( that its objective) and I explained why it is subjective and what makes it subjective.

    The post was your opinion about the perceived dangers of a theologians thinking and how it could effect science.
    I said no, and that you have not and should not isolate man’s search for the truth from the possibility of the Divine.

  • Crickey, you seem immune to considering anything outside your own prejudices.

    So science is a “speculative dogma” is it! Tell me, do you fly when you travel, drive a car, use a computer, have a wristwatch? If so you often hand over your life to that “speculative dogma.” You certainly, and without thought, confidently use the fruits of that “speculative dogma” every day. In other words you have confidence that science has a sufficient understanding of reality to provide you with things that work and which your life depends on.

    When was the last time you got such good service from theological dogma? No theologian has ever helped you communicate so readily and travel so widely as scientific understanding has. Would you board a plane designed by theologians and operating on principles formulated by theologians? No you wouldn’t. Humanity has come a long way since the days when we allowed such charlatans to determine our health and life.

    Notice you are unwilling to defend Plantinga’s intrusion into science. Perhaps you understand something after all. But why not make specific comments on my ideas bout morality? I am intrigued to see what your specific criticisms are.

  • Omnomnom… feed that troll Ken…

    BDBinc said “I said no, and that you have not and should not isolate man’s search for the truth from the possibility of the Divine.”

    Again, this shows up the issue of arguing science with a religious believer – to them, truth, faith and belief are important – inseparable elements of a world view that engages at what is often described as a spiritual level where all things are possible even if they are not rational.

    Science doesn’t care about truth – it is interested in facts. It has no time for faith – it needs proof. And a scientist (or a “perfect scientist”) only believes that which is proven and factual. They engage in a world where rationality is paramount (although I have my doubts about the Quantum Physics types…)

    Any degree of irrationality is anathema to a scientific thinker (real science, not the fiction based, science-is -stuff-that-goes-boing image). Irrationality is a requirement for theology – or at least for a theologian who is also a believer in a particular deity, since it is only by suspending disbelief that some of the more (and a lot of the less) outlandish claims of the religions can be accepted.

    Back to the beginning – BCBinc seems to think science is searching for a truth. He’s wrong.

    Science searches only for facts. Facts are not value adjustable like truth is, they just are…

  • You were the one wanting to isolate science from a theologian (and yet you call me prejudiced).

    You would not have in place provisional speculation dogma if you had knowledge.
    You would not need provisional speculation if you knew.
    You know this .

    You are wrong as yes I would, I would board Emanuel Swedenborg’s plane. Theologians can design and build planes.
    Man’s inventions of (plane watch and computer) have not improved the quality of life for humanity. Health is still progressively getting worse. We have the best high tech weapons and the surveillance obsessed govt’s can watch you in the toilet and track your every movement (naked if they want).

    Plantinga did not intrude so no defense is necessary.

    When I can sit comfortably ( if I can) I will comment on your ideas about morality.

  • You’re a bit rude Ashton.
    I told you before do not have a religion.
    So you don’t want the truth as you are searching only for facts, hope that goes well for you.
    One might ask how Ashton knows what is a fact .
    How he knows what is irrational (ie thinking I’m a troll) from the rational.
    … Science doesn’t care about the truth, science is not looking for the truth? OK thanks Ashton.
    What an admission.

  • Come on BDB – what particular aspect of theology do theologians use to design and build planes?

    oh, right – you mean theologians who have skills in the science of aviation, etc. in other words not using their theological training. You are not being honest are you.

    As for Emanuel Swedenborg when did he design and build his plane? Have you seen it? Just wondering since he died in 1772.

    You are being silly.

  • No Ken you said “Would you board a plane designed by theologians and operating on principles formulated by theologians? No you wouldn’t.” and I said yes I would Emanuel Swedenborg’s.
    I am giving you honest answers to your questions.
    (Ashton did say ‘science isn’t looking for the truth”.)

  • Well BDB you just aren’t being serious. Or you have some sort of comprehension problem.

    My usual advice to such trolls is to bugger off. You aren’t adding anything here.

  • ” Health is still progressively getting worse.”
    Yet life expectancies have steadily improved. Very odd.

  • I am sorry Ken.

    We discussed evolution without Divine intervention and I said there is no knowledge as it is theory and belief.

    Theory can never hurt knowledge.

    The practice of science is not ever isolated, it has been in the grip of commercial (self servicing marketing) and weaponry for a long time. It should not be isolated from theology and you should actively discuss with the paper’s author your concern that it can increase a scientist’s gullibility .
    Science is humanity’s collective knowledge (of the 3rd density) so one group of scientists cannot claim the right to the concept or practice of science- everyone uses it. It belongs also to the theologians (whom have plenty of knowledge and also deserve respect).
    No one should identify themselves with the concept of science, (so that they feel they have to defend an idea), it is not owned or possessed by any single (wo)man or group.

    Man can live in happiness without a watch, computer or plane.These inventions( using skill/knowledge/science) have not provided good service in themselves, they are but notifications of potential possibilities of creation of which we are the co creators.

    There are many misunderstandings from people’s different ideas, concepts and beliefs about the same word.
    Science and God.
    Science is knowledge (of the 3rd density)and the Darwin/current theory of evolution is not science.

    “God” is a human concept (a misunderstanding of the concept of creator).’.
    You are a co -creator.

  • Ken,

    “Well BDB you just aren’t being serious. Or you have some sort of comprehension problem.

    My usual advice to such trolls is to bugger off. You aren’t adding anything here.”

    Likely he’s a member of a strange cult movement that seems to be based on the ‘channeled thoughts’ of a higher density intelligent life form, who just happens to be the Egyptian god-figure Ra:

    It’s another one of those things based on intelligent extraterrestrial beings having visited Earth in antiquity or prehistory, making contact with humans, etc. – you can more-or-less fill in your own version of the rest. Great for a fantasy sci-fi flick, perhaps, but goodness knows why anyone even starts to take the things seriously.

  • Grant if you have any proof and have tested Darwin’s evolutionary theory then you have something to contribute to this debate.
    But just commenting in order to fire off some insults are not very becoming.

  • I didn’t “fire off some insults” – try to not misrepresent others. I wrote a heads-up to Ken. I’m aslo entitled to consider that cult strange if I think it strange – people are entitled to have their opinions.

  • Grant, ignore him – he is just a mad troll and I have already asked him to bugger off. It’s impossible to have a rational conversation with someone who believes a theologian from 3 and half centuries ago designed and built planes. Ones he has no qualms about travelling in.

    What do they say about mental illness. Neurotics build planes in clouds. Psychotics travel in them.

  • Grant I told you I was not in a cult, or religious . Telling people to “bugger off” and calling them trolls is insulting.

    Ken in the future don’t ask people that you consider to be “mad trolls”/ irrational to critique your work.

    Ignoring Ashton, Ken’s and Grants rudeness, the FACT remains that none of you can give me any proof of Darwin’s theory of evolution(as its just belief).
    Its unscientific to hold beliefs as the truth, or to want or think science should or can can be isolated.
    Sorry for pointing it out and upsetting the four of you.
    Have a happy isolated sciblog guys, for that must be your desire as no member of the public wants to be rudely insulted when they disagree/debate with your opinions.
    Ken Grant can write a critique of your work on morality.

  • BDBinc, you must be fairly selective in what you read in that there’s a very large amount of information freely available online (ie it’s not all behind journals’ paywalls) that provides the evidence concerning evolution that you claim to be looking for. Grant & I have both written about some of it, on our own blogs. The fact that you’re asking for that evidence to be provided here as well suggests – bluntly – that you are grandstanding, rather than genuinely interested.

    Incidentally, it was not Grant who suggested that leave precipitously.

    ‘Trolling’ is a term used to describe those who appear unwilling to engage with the topic of a post & instead attempt to derail it towards their own interests. If the cap fits…

  • I am still trying to get to grips with the phrase ‘provisional dogma’.
    And BDB, science isn’t entirely in thrall to nasty commercial and military interests…that looks like another giveaway.

  • My 2 cents “Mainstream science is itself like a religion”. A belief in a dogma and anything that goes against this is called crank science ( when we compare science with religion it would be Satanism). After all the world is flat and oil rules.
    After doing research on the Papp engine I found that inert gases hit with pulsed electricity produce a plasmatic force. I will bring to the community serious research done by Russ in America, he does open source research for the good of humanity. He is in my opinion a true scientist investigating natures phenomenon. So anyone really interested in solutions to the energy crisis, can look at his work. Please if you find this interesting and have positive comments on his work, please tell me (I have trouble getting positive feedback, must be a firewall in my computer).
    He also does other research in various other phenomenon including Bedini’s school girl circuit.
    Interesting the theology behind mainstream sciences beliefs do not include any of this, it is apparently Satanism (to mainstream).
    Challenging your beliefs, please keep an open mind for the trolls are in fact saints and the saints are in fact trolls.