Theological Hypocrisy and Exceptionalism Part II
In a recent post I stated
Some theologians, and many apologists, argue that Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and other secular scientists have no right whatsoever to speak of God, theology, or religion because they have no formal training for commenting on these subjects.
However, some of these ‘theologians’, at the same time, hypocritically feel quite free to dictate what science is to these persons: a subject in which they have neither formal training nor familiarity!
My intent on making such a statement was to highlight the rhetorical trick that is attempted by some theologians and apologists. On the one hand they suggest that Dawkins et al. have no right to speak on theological matters, but on the other, have no problem with their formal lack of training pertaining to science but still dictating to scientists what their field can and cannot do.
The try to tip the playing field in their advantage so to speak.
There was a variety of interesting and informed comments to my above suggestion. However, I think there are two that are indicative of the problem of trying to work through the above issues, and will be good for suggesting some further thoughts.
As background for this comment, I was a minister for twenty some years, and am now an atheist.
Dawkins largely isn’t critiquing religion. He is primarily critiquing the idea that a god, any god, exists. Pointing out the basic logical fallacies in most religious belief is just one of many ways he demonstrates the vanishing unlikeliness of god. One does not need to be an expert in pottery to point out that Bertrand’s teapot is extremely unlikely to exist. Demands for expertise in theology is largely a smokescreen to avoid confronting the simple fact that no evidence can be provided to counter this central premise to his argument.
Or, as PZ Myers would note, the courtier’s reply is all over this thread. One need not be an expert in fashion to point out when someone is naked.
In a nutshell: one need not be an expert in theology to comment on the unlikeliness of god.
A response to Ty’s sentiment comes from Christian who said
Yes, if one is to assume to be an authority in theology, then they should have a combination of experience and education. As in any field, that’s why we have colleges and specific programs….so people can become, you know, experts.
I don’t presume to know more about zoology than Dawkins or particle physics than those who design and work at the Bern supercollider. Yet people like Dawkins or Harris are viewed as authorities in theology despite no formal training.
In a nutshell: one needs to be an expert to comment in the field of theology.
So we have two differing opinions. Let me offer my thoughts–which by the way, are being formed as I haltingly offer them here in a free flow of consciousness writing, and am open to dialogue and disagreement–and hopefully we will have some more ground upon which to have this discussion.
First I would like to offer two terms by which to direct the understanding of the different suggestions above: methodological naturalism & philosophical naturalism.
Methodological naturalism: modern science operates under the rules of methodological naturalism which limits it to understanding natural phenomena through physical observation and testing. All scientist, whether theists or non-theists, must operate under the rules of methodological naturalism when engaging in the scientific method.
Philosphical Naturalism: Philosophical naturalism is the step beyond methodological naturalism that makes the claim that only natural causes exist and that there are no supernatural causes.
Now here’s an important point: all philosophical naturalists are methodological naturalist, but not all those who practice methodological naturalism are philosophical naturalist. Eugenie Scott has a good chart that highlights this
Therefore, for me then, when we talk of the ‘appropriateness’ of a scientists such as Dawkins or Hawking commenting on the causes of natural phenomena we are not, in a sense, speaking of ‘science’ versus ‘religion’ but the method of natural, observable, testable causes, and the movement from those observations to the suggestions of whether there are only natural causes.
As a scientist, then, I think Dawkins has every right to make any theory as to the natural causes of the universe. As Christian stated in the comments to the first post
My standing question, or more accurately challenge, to those who make such claim is to share what methodologies they are using to test for God’s existence. I’ve yet to see a single, solitary, peer reviewed analytical method, including accuracy and precision, that shows what a positive or negative result would look like. As a scientist, I would like to see this.
Without a valid scientific methodology that can test for the existence of God, one might as well be testing for chromium in drinking water using a child’s metal detector.
Obviously, methodological naturalism cannot test for what lies outside of the material realm. This is a no-brainer. But if ancient mythological speculation suggests that a god created the world in a certain way within a certain time-frame, and a modern scientist using the method which he/she has come to trust finds this ancient guess to be wrong then are they really committing that egregious of a sin, if merely following the methods of naturalism, they make the next step and suggest that there are only natural causes to the universe?
Ultimately then, what I am suggesting is that the discussion is not about a certain scientist as a ‘theologian’ but the appropriateness of those who practice methodological naturalism, finding only naturalistic explanations to the natural phenomena around them making an a posteriori conclusion that there may be no supernatural explanations to the natural data.
To try and reverse the discussion; to try and make these scientists who are philosophical naturalist as somehow making a priori conclusions and then somehow twisting the data to suit those concerns, is, I would think, very dishonest in this discussion. This is the state of things as far as I can tell for many of these persons: they engage in methodological naturalism, observe only natural causes and effects, and therefore, assume there are no other causes other than natural ones.
Not sure how ‘theological’ these conclusions are, or how adroit one would have to be in pneumatology or soteriology to make them.
I suppose the flip side would be that if one had an a priori conviction, or a hypothesis, that God created the universe. Then, even if the cause was untestable as Christian asserts above, there should be some observable, testable material, i.e. effect, that would support such an assumption. I am uncertain where the field of creation science lies at this present moment in testing and supporting such a scientific claim.