10/15/10

Jerry Coyne Responds (updated)

Finally, there's a response to the objection I and others made to Jerry Coyne's USA today column.  Here's what he wrote in the column:
"But surely," you might argue, "science and religion must be compatible. After all, some scientists are religious." One is Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian. But the existence of religious scientists, or religious people who accept science, doesn't prove that the two areas are compatible. It shows only that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time. If that meant compatibility, we could make a good case, based on the commonness of marital infidelity, that monogamy and adultery are perfectly compatible. No, the incompatibility between science and faith is more fundamental: Their ways of understanding the universe are irreconcilable.
Later in the column there's a paragraph about the high number of agnostic and atheist scientists.
But don't just take my word for the incompatibility of science and faith — it's amply demonstrated by the high rate of atheism among scientists. While only 6% of Americans are atheists or agnostics, the figure for American scientists is 64%, according to Rice professor Elaine Howard Ecklund's book, Science vs. Religion
So what's the problem?  In the first paragraph, he's taken the position that you can't prove religion/science compatibility by collecting cases.  That's the force of the marriage example.  Cases of marital infidelity will not prove that monogamy and adultery are compatible.  But note--it goes the other way too.  Cases of marital fidelity don't prove that monogamy and adultery are incompatible.  If there's really an analogy there, then Francis Collins shows nothing about science/religion compatibility, as Coyne says.  But then the atheist scientists show nothing either.

So the problem is the marital infidelity analogy. It forces you to read Coyne as completely dismissing the case of Collins as showing anything at all.  Given that analogy, you can't read him as merely saying Collins doesn't prove anything, as he now says (at his blog) was his meaning.  He had to mean he showed nothing at all, and couldn't (logically) go on and cite the high rate of non-belief among scientists to prove that religion and science are incompatible.

Diagnosis: dismissing Collins using the marital fidelity example is a standard move.  It's in Sam Harris's new book too (p. 160).  But you just can't use it if you want to go on to cite data about how often scientists are non-believers.  The two moves are...incompatible.  It would take careful thought to decide which move is the one to give up.

If we do decide cases tell us something, then clearly we should include both religious and non-religious scientists as evidence, but should we really include the entire population?  Coyne seems to think so. He writes--
Further proof: Among countries of the world, there is a strong negative relationship between their religiosity and their acceptance of evolution. Countries like Denmark and Sweden, with low belief in God, have high acceptance of evolution, while religious countries are evolution-intolerant. Out of 34 countries surveyed in a study published in Science magazine, the U.S., among the most religious, is at the bottom in accepting Darwinism: We're No. 33, with only Turkey below us. Finally, in a 2006 Time poll a staggering 64% of Americans declared that if science disproved one of their religious beliefs, they'd reject that science in favor of their faith.
If we're going to take scientists, believing and non-believing, as showing something about religion/science compatibility, isn't that because they're especially rational, and especially cognizant of the nature of science?  Why take the average person's psychology as telling us whether it's rational to accept both religion and science?  I certainly wouldn't take a poll to find out if free will and determinism are compatible, or atheism and morality are compatible.  Why resolve the issue of science/religion compatibility that way?

Note: I rewrote this post for greater clarity and eliminated something I'd said about supposing the NIH had a Hindu instead of a Christian head.  Whoops!  I read Coyne's column and chapter 4 of The Moral Landscape at the same time and got them mixed up.  The point about Hinduism is Harris's.  It's actually quite compelling.  See pg. 162.

34 comments:

amos said...

I have no doubt that Swedes, who in my experience are not religious,
believe in evolution.


However, from my small and perhaps not representative experience with Swedes, I would hardly say that Swedes are more rational or more "scientific" in their mindset than U.S. citizens.


Swedes, in my experience, tend to substitute belief in New Age or esoteric supernaturalism for a belief in traditional supernaturalism, aka, religion.


Other commenters have noted that people from the ex-German Democratic Republic tend to have no religious upbringing, religion having been prohibited in
East Germany, but have a marked tendency to believe in non-rational and non-naturalistic dogma such as astrology or the latest New Age fad.


So, if our goal is to convince people to accept evolution as another dogma, doing away with traditional religious beliefs seems to be a necessary and sufficient condition. However, if our goal is to get people to think things out, to reason, to promote rationality,
then "saving" humanity from the plague of religion, probably will not do the trick.


Most people will undoubtedly never learn to think things out, but
it does seem worth the effort to nudge as many people as one can towards a more rational mindset, which is in no way equivalent to or identical to accepting the truth of evolution.

As I said before, one can only nudge others towards reason; if one pushes, they either push back or swallow the conclusions of reason as another dogma.

Jean Kazez said...

I'm always amazed to meet otherwise reasonable people who believe in very odd stuff--like homeopathy. But I wouldn't go for this polling method of deciding what's compatible with what. That's not how we're going to figure out whether atheism and objective morality are compatible, surely. Also not how we're going to figure out if free will and determinism are compatible. So why look at polls to find out if science and religion are compatible? I makes no sense.

Scientists are a special group--I think they're rate of religiosity probably does tell a bit more, but even there I'm not really convinced. I think science/religion compatibility is really a philosophy question. On the whole, it's not a good idea to try to settle philosophy questions by conducting polls.

amos said...

I agree with you that polls cannot decide philosophical questions.


However, I've always wondered what kind of future society the gnu atheists strive for, besides a society without religion.


Do they think that a society without religion will be necessarily more rational and more just?

Have they ever considered the possibility that a society without religion will find new illusions to
blind itself with, perhaps illusions more terrible and less scrupulous than mainstream Western religions?

Jean Kazez said...

Why have you adopted the word "gnu"? Just wondering.

amos said...

I use the word "gnu" because Ophelia Benson uses it to refer to the atheists of her tendency.

I generally use the word that the people involved use to refer to themselves. It seems to me to be more respectful. There may be exceptions: for example, if Al Qaida refers to themselves as "freedom fighters", I would still describe them as "terrorists".


For instance, if gays prefer to be called "gay" rather than "homosexuals", I use the word "gay", etc.


To describe those who used to be called "new atheists" as "gnu atheists" does not seem to distort reality (as would describing Al Qaida as "freedom fighters") and is consistent with showing respect for the self-image of others.

RichardW said...

Hello Jean. I think you're missing a crucial point here. Coyne's dismissal of Collins's argument was on semantic grounds, not factual ones. Collins was not using "compatible" in the relevant sense (according to Coyne).

In effect, Coyne was not denying that Collins's evidence supported Collins's conclusion (given the sense in which Collins understood that conclusion). He was objecting to the words in which Collins expressed his conclusion, and denying that Collins's conclusion (correctly understood) was relevant.

Now, I think Coyne should have made his argument clearer. The whole article was poorly written in my opinion. I think both sides in this argument need to be more careful in distinguishing between semantic issues (about the meaning of "compatible") and substantive issues (about whether science and religion are "compatible" in a given sense). But I think Coyne's critics are worse in this respect than Coyne himself. Coyne has repeatedly stated that he's not using "compatible" in the sense that Collins uses it here. But that clarification just falls on deaf ears.

Personally, I think the word "inconsistent" would be better than "incompatible".

Jean Kazez said...

Richard--I don't see your point. There are two notions of compatibility here.

(1) Psychological compatibility--can you have X and Y in your mind at the same time, or does one drive out the other?

(2) Logical compatibility--can X and Y both be true, without contradiction?

I think the real issue about science/religion compatibility is clearly the second. The "direct" way to tackle it is just to look at propositions of science and religion and figure out if they come into contradiction.

So...Collins says he believes both science and religion. Coyne essentially says--So what, that's just psychological compatibility. If you look at the propositions themselves, they collide--like adultery and monogamy collide. They are logically incompatible.

But then, he simply can't go on and help himself to all the psychological evidence later in the column. If Collins is mere psychological evidence, and not relevant, the high rate of atheism among scientists is irrelevant as well, and the larger population is even less relevant.

So basically the problem is that he dismisses psychological evidence when the evidence doesn't support his view (Collins) but accepts it when it supports his view (the atheist scientists). That's clearly a mistake.

I think the column is written very well--it's the reasoning that is uneven.

Jean Kazez said...

Amos--The thing is, the point of the word is actually to mock people who regard "new atheism" as a distinct brand of atheism. So using it communicates many things besides respect.

amos said...

Ok, I wasn't aware of the etymology of GNU.

However, we have to distinguish between the new atheists, Dawkins, Dennett (silent on the subject for a while now), Hitchens (back to analyzing politics with his usual insight: why don't they give him op ed space in the New York Times?), and the online crowd, Coyne, Myers, and Benson, who
continue the crusade with unabated fervor.

How do we refer to the
Coyne, Myers, and Benson, accurately and with due respect?
Do you have a term?

Jean Kazez said...

Ah...now I see what you're aiming for. I think "gnu atheist" is actually supposed to be coextensive with "new atheist" so that isn't really going to work. Just listing people ain't half bad.

RichardW said...

@Jean

First, let me say that I misread Coyne. I thought he was attributing the "some scientists are religious" argument to Collins, when he was just giving Collins as an example of such a scientist.

I originally thought Coyne was treating this as an argument for psychological compatibility only, not for logical compatibility. On further reflection, I think he was covering both bases, saying something like, "this might be a valid argument for psychological compatibility, but that's irrelevant, and it's not a valid argument for logical compatibility." In that case, Coyne was denying that it was a valid argument for logical compatibility, so I retract my previous objection. Sorry for any confusion it caused.

As an argument for logical compatibility it's an argument from authority, as is Coyne's argument from the number of atheist scientists. But not all arguments from authority are equal. Just because Coyne rejects one argument from authority, it doesn't follow that he can't make one of his own. Insofar as the "some scientists are religious" argument is taken as an argument for logical compatibility, Coyne gave no reason for rejecting it. His monogamy/adultery analogy was only given to show that psychological compatibility is irrelevant.

I don't think Coyne's argument from authority was a good one. He failed to explain how the cited data support his conclusion, and it isn't at all obvious that they do. But I reject the idea that his making such an argument is inconsistent with his earlier comments.

Maybe I'm being a bit picky now, concentrating on a relatively minor issue instead of just dropping the subject. But that's me. ;)

RichardW said...

Jean,

"I think once Coyne makes that marital fidelity analogy, he's definitely saying no inductive argument of any kind ought to be used."

What leads you to that conclusion? I can see no grounds for it.

RichardW said...

Jean, your last two posts have reached me by email, but I can't seem them on the blog page.

You wrote:
>>"There is no adulterous monogamy." He says you can't challenge that with a case of marital infidelity. Well, why not? Because it's something we know based on the concepts involved. It's not the kind of thing you disconfirm (or confirm) by induction.<<

I can't see where Coyne makes anything like this argument. In the USA Today article he only used the word "monogamy" once, in the following passage:

"But the existence of religious scientists, or religious people who accept science, doesn't prove that the two areas are compatible. It shows only that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time. If that meant compatibility, we could make a good case, based on the commonness of marital infidelity, that monogamy and adultery are perfectly compatible."

The analogy occurs only in the final sentence, which refers to the previous sentence by means of the first "that". Substituting the antecedent in place of "that", we get...

P1: If [the fact] that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time meant compatibility, we could make a good case, based on the commonness of marital infidelity, that monogamy and adultery are perfectly compatible.

This is a reductio ad absurdum that attempts to show the falsehood of a premise (the "if" clause") by showing it leads to an absurd consequence, so it's simply arguing for the falsehood of that premise. In other words it's arguing that...

P2: The fact that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time does _not_ mean compatibility.

So the analogy was not used to argue against logical compatibility. It was only used to argue that psychological compatibility is not sufficient for two notions to be deemed compatible.

Jean Kazez said...

Here's how I understand the argument--

We're supposed to think monogamy and adultery are conceptually incompatible--that's why cases of marital infidelity are not counterevidence. We are being invited to see the incompatibility of religion and science in the same way. That's how Collins is being ruled out as irrelevant.

Now, if you say all of that, can you see atheist scientists as relevant evidence? Surely the analogy stops you dead in your tracks! The analogy stops you looking at ANY cases to decide whether monogamy and adultery are compatible, whether confirming or disconfirming. Likewise, then, for science/religion compatiblity. If Collins is irrelevant, the atheist scientists are irrelevant too. If you take the analogy seriously, you can't think it forces you to throw out Collins as evidence, but think it still allows you to treat the atheist scientists as evidence.

Jean Kazez said...

Ah...I commented, then deleted and rewrote my comment because I didn't think it was clear. My last is what I'm trying to say. I will read your last now.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, there's a reductio, but the reductio presupposes exactly the analogy I'm talking about.

The reductio is--

If (A) [the fact] that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time meant compatibility, then (B) we could make a good case, based on the commonness of marital infidelity, that monogamy and adultery are perfectly compatible.

First of all, why are we supposed to find B absurd? Because the commonness of marital infidelity can't prove that conceptually incompatible things are compatible. Obviously you can use the commonness of marital infidelity to prove all sorts of other things...but not monogamy-adultery compatibility.

Now, why would (A) lead to (B)? On the face of it, they are very different. In one case, the evidence is psychological, in the other the evidence is the commonness of marital infidelity. The answer is (what else could it be?) that just as marriage/adultery incompatibility is a conceptual matter, so is religion/science incompatibility.

But if that's true, we shouldn't cite Collins against it AND we shouldn't cite the atheist scientists for it.

RichardW said...

It seems strange that we're spending so much time trying to establish the logic of a badly made and unimportant argument. But I'm finding it an enjoyable intellectual exercise, so I'm happy to continue if you are.

Let's note that you and I have two different interpretations of Coyne's argument. I hope you will agree that we should be looking for the more charitable of the two.

The first thing I note about your interpretation is that you seem to be interpreting A as an evidentiary premise ("the evidence is psychological"). I've maintained all along that it's a semantic premise, about the meaning of the word "compatible". Coyne uses the word "meant". You seem to want to interpret him to mean: "If [the fact] that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time [showed] compatibility". But I think that's quite a stretch.

Whichever interpretation of "meant" you choose, I fail to see how your A leads to your B. Your explanation makes no sense to me. As far as I can see, your "answer" doesn't refer to A at all.

In any case, you're missing the point that the purpose of a reductio is just to show the falsehood (or absurdity) of a premise, in this case A. You seem to have accepted that it's a reductio, but you still seem to be insisting that Coyne had some other purpose for it besides refuting A. I think this puts a pretty heavy burden of proof on you.

Now, to be fair, I haven't so far supplied my own answers to your questions: why are we supposed to find B absurd, and why should A lead to B? Before I answer those, I need to disagree with your analysis of the reductio. I say that the consequence to be shown as absurd is not the whole of your B, but is merely "monogamy and adultery are perfectly compatible", which I'll call B1.

Why should A lead to B1? Coyne seems to be treating marital infidelity as a case of people holding "two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time", namely monogamy and adultery. Given this premise, it follows from A and the existence of marital infidelity that we can call monogamy and adultery "compatible".

Why are we supposed to find B1 absurd? I don't know whether Coyne had in mind that we will find B1 absurd (1) because a relationship in which adultery has occurred is no longer monogamous by definition, (2) because adultery in an avowedly monogamous relationship is immoral and/or damaging, or maybe something else. The hypothetical claim that monogamy and adultery are "compatible" is vague, and can be interpreted in more than one way. (Note: at this point we are not to take "compatible" in the sense given by A. That would defeat the purpose of the argument, which is to show that we normally understand "compatible" to mean something other than the sense given by A.)

You can certainly point to weaknesses in Coyne's argument, so interpreted. What does it mean to hold the notions of monogamy and adultery in your head, and do adulterers actually hold both? What does it mean to deny that monogamy and adultery are "compatible"? Given these weaknesses, you may call this interpretation somewhat uncharitable. But your alternative is far more uncharitable, as well as being less consistent with his words.

Jean Kazez said...

RichardW,

OK, let's agree that we're just having fun, and nothing much turns on this, and we are capable of "agreeing to disagree" at some point!

I agree we should be charitable, but not without limits. We should choose the most charitable interpretation that's consist with what he actually wrote!

Sure, the purpose of the reductio is just to refute A. I'm not saying Coyne "has some other purpose for it besides refuting A." However, the issue is not his purposes--it's whether the implicit premises of the argument are consistent with the arguments he makes later in the column.

So here’s the argument—

If (A) [the fact] that people can hold two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time meant compatibility, then (B) we could make a good case (based on the commonness of marital infidelity) that monogamy and adultery are perfectly compatible.

I put “based on” in parentheses to go along with your interpretation of what the absurdity is suppose to be.

On my reading, “the commonness of marital infidelity” is taken at face value, and A doesn’t really lead very directly lead to B. I just see that as one of the flaws of the argument.

You’re trying to make A really lead to B by reading “the commonness of marital infidelity” as meaning “the commonness of people thinking monogamy and adultery are compatible.” The problem is: I don’t think many adulterers think monogamy and adultery are compatible in any sense at all. Marital infidelity itself is certainly common, but not the thought that monogamy and adultery are compatible. So I just find it a huge stretch to say that’s what he had in mind.

So I’m inclined to stick with my interpretation...

But let’s say we go with yours. Then the point in the Collins paragraph is that compatibility doesn’t mean psychological compatibility—coexistence of two ideas in people’s heads. But then it follows that incompatibility doesn’t mean psychological incompatilibity—one idea driving another out of people’s heads.

The problem then is that he appeals to the first to dismiss Collins as not proving anything; but then he ignores the second, when he starts taking psychological evidence seriously later in the column.

Something tells me you will have a reply... :-)

Jean Kazez said...

Scratch what I said about "implicit premises"--I was heading in a different direction when I wrote that, but changed my mind.

Faust said...

It depends on what the definition of "is" is.

Jean Kazez said...

Ha! For some bizarre reason, I have found this discussion interesting and fun.

RichardW said...

Jean,

First I'll restate my objections to your interpretation in the light of your replies.

1. You're apparently interpreting "meant" to mean "showed". Or are you? A clarification would be appreciated.

2. Your A doesn't lead to your B. You now say that "A doesn’t really lead very directly to B", but you haven't shown how it leads to it all. Neither of our interpretations has A _strictly_ leading to B. We agree that Coyne is weak on this point. So we're looking for the most plausible and charitable account that explains why Coyne might have thought it so led. The only account you've attempted is the one in your previous post, which didn't seem to involve A at all, and you haven't clarified or improved on it.

3. You're interpreting the reductio as doing more than just refuting premise A. You responded: "Sure, the purpose of the reductio is just to refute A." I realise now I worded that criticism poorly. I should have said that you're interpreting that sentence as doing more than just making a reductio argument. You're also interpreting it as an argument from analogy which establishes that the kind of incompatibility Coyne is referring to is "conceptual incompatibility". You gave this argument as: "just as marriage/adultery incompatibility is a conceptual matter, so is religion/science incompatibility".

But Coyne never made any such argument, or ever mentioned conceptual compatibility. (This is why I was so mystified earlier by your claim that Coyne was attempting to rule out all inductive arguments.) You presumably concocted this argument because you could think of no other interpretation. But now I'm offering you one. Moreover, you've accepted that the sentence in question is a reductio argument. There's no need to look for an additional argument in the same sentence.

It seems that by "conceptual incompatibility" you mean two things being incompatible _by_definition_. If two things are incompatible _by_definition_ then it would make no sense to cite empirical evidence of incompatibility. If that's not what you mean by conceptual incompatibility, please clarify your meaning.

The argument you're attributing to Coyne doesn't seem to make much sense. I don't even know what it would mean for science and religion to be incompatible by definition. And the consequence of this claim is that no empirical evidence can be adduced for or against incompatibility. But that would make nonsense of _all_ his attempts to argue for incompatibility from empirical evidence, not only the one you mention. He also cites the observed failure of religion to discover facts, and the observed success of science in disproving religious claims. Your interpretation would make nonsense of these arguments too. It's very uncharitable, and based on extremely flimsy evidence.

[continued...]

RichardW said...

[...continued]

I'll now turn to your response to my interpretation.

>You’re trying to make A really lead to B by reading “the commonness of marital infidelity” as meaning “the commonness of people thinking monogamy and adultery are compatible.”<

I'm not trying to be so specific. All I wrote was this:

>>Coyne seems to be treating marital infidelity as a case of people holding "two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time", namely monogamy and adultery. Given this premise, it follows from A that we can call monogamy and adultery "compatible".<<

Instead of trying to justify the premise (that marital infidelity is a case of people holding "two conflicting notions in their heads at the same time"), I acknowledged that it had problems and so was a weakness in my interpretation. But you haven't managed to get even this far in getting from A to B, so your interpretation is worse than mine in this respect.

I think this premise is one that Coyne might plausibly have had in mind, if he didn't think things through carefully. Your alternative scenario is that Coyne made a reductio argument in which the conclusion (B) had no connection at all with the premise (A)! That seems much more uncharitable.

>The problem then is that he appeals to the first to dismiss Collins as not proving anything; but then he ignores the second, when he starts taking psychological evidence seriously later in the column.<

On a point of terminology, I'm going to refer to the incompatibility that Coyne is trying to demonstrate as "philosophical incompatibility". This is a term that Coyne has used elsewhere, but not clearly defined, and I think it's safer to use his term than adopt one which can be taken as having a more precise meaning or different meaning.

I think Coyne (quite reasonably) sees the argument from the existence of religious scientists as either
(a) an attempt to show psychological compatibility only; or
(b) an attempt to show philosophical compatibility by the back door, i.e. to argue for psychological compatibility and then conflate this with philosophical compatibility.
He doesn't see the argument as a direct attempt to show philosophical compatibility. Such an attempt would presumably be something like an argument from authority, and such an argument would surely say something about the proportion of scientists who are religious, and not just refer to the existence of "some" religious scientists. Since that's apparently not the argument being made, Coyne has no need to counter it. He only needs to make the distinction between psychological compatibility and philosophical compatibility, and show that the latter is the relevant one. That's all that the paragraph in question is intended to do.

Moreover, he doesn't claim that the existence of religious scientists isn't evidence in favour of philosophical compatibility. He only claims it doesn't "prove" it. It could be weak evidence without constituting proof. So it's not inconsistent for him later to make an argument from stronger evidence of a similar sort.

Jean Kazez said...

Richard,

I don’t agree that your interpretation is more charitable. Here’s yours (paraphrasing)—

If (A) the meaning of “compatibility” was that people can hold X and Y in their heads at the same time, then (B) (given the commonness of people having monogamy and adultery in their heads) monogamy and adultery would be compatible.

Note—for (A) to be relevant to Collins, “holding X and Y in their heads” has to mean believing both true, not just having certain concepts floating around in your head. So in (B), having monogamy and adultery in their heads is also not just having the concepts floating around, but thinking they can both be true (of the same relationship).

That’s not really a charitable reading, for two reasons.

(1) You’re imputing to Coyne the bizarre view that lots of people think monogamy and adultery can be true of the same relationship. They don’t! Lots of people are unfaithful, but they certainly don’t think monogamy and adultery are consistent with each other.

(2) Given this reductio, you’ve also got to accept the corresponding reductio on the idea that the meaning of “incompatible” is that people can’t hold X and Y in their heads at the same time. Evenhandedness would require Coyne to emphasize that his later poll data about scientists and the larger population doesn’t prove anything either. But he doesn’t.

My reading is (paraphrasing)—

If (A) people holding X and Y in their heads at the same time was evidence for the compatibility of X and Y, then (B) the commonness of marital infidelity would be evidence that monogamy and adultery are compatible. Gloss: What we’re being asked to see is the silliness of collecting empirical data of some kind (about what’s in people heads, or about how many people are unfaithful) to decide whether two concepts are consistent or contradictory.

This isn’t charitable either, for two reasons.

(1) The empirical data in (A) (what’s in peoples heads) is quite different from the empirical data in (B) (actual infidelity), so does (A) really lead to (B)?

(2) Once again, why take the later atheist scientists and and other poll data so seriously, if empirical data shouldn’t be used to decide whether religion and science are consistent or contradictory?

So, which interpretation is more likely correct? Maybe neither. Maybe he didn’t think this through carefully. I think the “marital infidelity” thing is fairly boiler plate. It’s in Sam Harris’s recent book too. He may have thrown it in without really thinking about how exactly the argument was supposed to work.

I do see the appeal of your interpretation—now that you’ve spelled it out. Then again, maybe mine is more likely what he was thinking, since it seems more likely that he’d not see that my (A) doesn’t directly lead to my (B) than he’d have the bizarre view that many people think monogamy and adultery are consistent with each other.

But again, either way there’s a problem. Given your reading, he should be evenhanded and observe that incompatibility is not a psychological matter, any more than compatibility is a psychological matter. He should stress that the later data doesn’t prove anything any more than Collins does.

Putting it another way: on your reading, he's simply told us compatibility ISN'T psychological--but then given us piles of psychological evidence. He needs to explain how that could possibly make sense.

RichardW said...

Jean,

On your point (1), I repeat that I'm not attributing any specific line of reasoning to Coyne, beyond what I've already suggested. I'm saying that he didn't think it through. But now that you've rewritten your own interpretation, yours has exactly the same weakness as mine! It too relies on the assumption that marital infidelity is a case of people holding monogamy and adultery in their heads at the same time. To make our interpretations easier to compare, here's mine, based on yours, but with differences shown in square brackets:

If (A) people['s ability to] hold X and Y in their heads at the same time was [the meaning of] the compatibility of X and Y, then (B) the commonness of marital infidelity would [show] that monogamy and adultery are compatible.

On your point (2) and final two paragraphs, I think Coyne's later argument is that being a scientist makes people much more likely to reject the existence of God, and this is evidence (from authority) against philosophical compatibility. If being a scientist tends to make you reject religion, that's probably because the two are philosophically incompatible. Scientists tend to reject religion because they are well-equipped to see the philosophical incompatibility.

[continued...]

Jean Kazez said...

from RichardW--


Proceeding to your interpretation...

>If (A) people holding X and Y in their heads at the same time was
evidence for the compatibility of X and Y, then (B) the commonness of
marital infidelity would be evidence that monogamy and adultery are
compatible.<

Here you're ignoring the fact that Coyne is making a semantic
distinction, between two meanings of "compatibility". He's made it very
clear in the past that he's making a distinction between "psychological
compatibility" and "philosophical compatibility". True, he's less clear
about it in this article, but he does use the word "meant", for which
the straightforward interpretation is that it refers to meaning, but
you've stretched it to mean "was evidence for". Earlier in this
discussion you seemed to recognise that there was a relevant
distinction to be made between psychological compatibility and a more
significant sort of compatibility (whatever we call it). You are now
attributing to Coyne an argument which ignores this crucial distinction.

Taking "meant" to mean "showed" or "proved" would be enough of a
stretch, but you go even further and stretch it to "was evidence for",
despite the fact that Coyne's own words are "prove" and "make a good
case". You're putting a stronger claim into Coyne's mouth, having him
deny that something is even evidence when he's only denying that it's
proof.

>Gloss: What we’re being asked to see is the silliness of collecting
empirical data of some kind (about what’s in people heads, or about how
many people are unfaithful) to decide whether two concepts are
consistent or contradictory.<

Your gloss goes far beyond the text. Coyne argues that a particular
type of evidence doesn't prove compatibility, and you claim it's an
argument against the relevance of any empirical evidence at all!

Since you call this a gloss, and write "we're being asked to see",
you're claiming that this is what Coyne meant, and not an unnoticed
consequence of his position. But this makes him either dishonest or
extraordinarily blind. For such an uncharitable interpretation you need
very good evidence, and you have almost none.

I say "almost" no evidence. But there is one thing that can be
construed as weak evidence, and it may well be what propelled you
towards your misreading in the first place. You may say that monogamy
and adultery are incompatible by definition (or at least appear so).
You may then say the fact he chose an example involving this sort of
conceptual incompatibility is evidence that he was making an argument
about conceptual incompatibility. But that's very weak evidence.

If you have any other evidence to support your interpretation over
mine, please say what it is. As far as I can recall, the one advantage
that you've claimed for your interpretation was that it allegedly
handled the move from A to B better. But now you've lost even that
alleged advantage.

We have a choice between two interpretations of that paragraph. Mine
sticks to the text. You haven't pointed to anywhere that I've stretched
or gone beyond the text. (I've added a gloss to Coyne's later argument,
but that's another matter.) Mine is charitable, and consistent with
Coyne's other writing. Yours ignores the plain meaning of words
("prove" and "make a good case") stretches another ("meant") and goes
far beyond the text. It's also extremely uncharitable. And to set
against these massive deficiencies there is apparently only the one
weak piece of evidence I've just mentioned.

Jean Kazez said...

I don't know why you see my interpretation as having the same flaw as yours. Here it is again--

If (A) people holding X and Y in their heads at the same time was evidence for the compatibility of X and Y, then (B) the commonness of marital infidelity would be evidence that monogamy and adultery are compatible. Gloss: What we’re being asked to see is the silliness of collecting empirical data of some kind (about what’s in people heads, or about how many people are unfaithful) to decide whether two concepts are consistent or contradictory.

The bolded part is crucial. That's the empirical data in the adultery/monogamy case, not the commonness of the two concepts coexisting in people's heads (which isn't common!).

In any event, even if your reading of the Collins paragraph is right, there is still a consistency problem, which you're now avoiding recognizing by interpreting the later use of data as an appeal to authority rather than an argument about what can or can't coexist in people's heads.

But it's got to be an argument about what coexists in people's heads, because he doesn't just refer to data about scientists, he refers to data about everyone.

In fact, he makes these psychological arguments emphatically. He says the incompatibility of science and religion is "amply demonstrated" by the atheist scientists, and that the population at large (since they tend to lose religion when they come to believe in evolution) is "further proof." Coyne can't possibly be making an appeal to authority when he's talking about the entire population!

I think the maritial fidelity thing in the Collins paragraph is weird. When you read it, you have to somehow "fill in" to make it make any sense. At first, I could only see my way of fill in. I can now see your way. But either way, the reasoning in that paragraph is flawed. And either way, the dismissal of Collins (as "not proof") is inconsistent with the later treatment of both scientists and the entire population as "ample demonstration" and "further proof."

If the earlier paragraph is meant to make us see that compatibility is not a question of what coexists (or doesn't) in people's heads, but a philosophical matter (as you say) or a conceptual matter (like whether adultery is compatible with monogamy), then it can't make any sense to regard the atheist scientists and the whole population's attitudes as so strongly evidential.

Jean Kazez said...

Richard, I think the system takes long comments from me, but not from commenters. So I posted yours, then put up my response again.

RichardW said...

[I just tried reposting my part 2. It appeared in the blog and then disappeared again. Oh well. I'll move on.]

Jean,

When I said our interpretations both have the same flaw, I was referring to the first sentence of your interpretation, which I took to be part of the argument you are attributing to Coyne. Either that sentence forms part of Coyne's argument or it doesn't. If it does, you are attributing to him an argument with the same flaw as mine. If it doesn't, then you are no longer attributing to him any reductio argument, and all your previous discussion of getting from A to B has been thrown out of the window.

I note that, apart from this, you didn't defend yourself against any of my criticisms of your interpretation, and didn't offer any evidence to support your interpretation.

>>But it's got to be an argument about what coexists in people's heads, because he doesn't just refer to data about scientists, he refers to data about everyone.<<

"Argument about what coexists in people's heads" is a very vague and broad category, so I don't accept that the Collins paragraph attempted to rule out all such arguments, and therefore see no point in discussing whether the empirical arguments fall into this category.

I would agree that only the first empirical argument is an argument from authority. The others seem to be arguments from the damaging effect of religion on acceptance of science, and I would agree that this doesn't support philosophical incompatibility.

Jean Kazez said...

I was going by this--

"But now that you've rewritten your own interpretation, yours has exactly the same weakness as mine! It too relies on the assumption that marital infidelity is a case of people holding monogamy and adultery in their heads at the same time."

No, my interpretation doesn't rely on that, as I've said.

I think your interpretation of the Collins paragraph does have strengths--yes, he says "means" and yes, it's a reductio. I think mine also has strengths--he says "the commonness of marital infidelity" not "the commonness of monogamy and adultery coexisting in people's heads." Plus, the latter isn't common.

What does he really mean? As long as we're being Talmudic about this, maybe we should bring in another "text." Sam Harris (in the Moral Landscape, pg. 160) makes a similar argument to dismiss Collins as evidence for religion/science compatibility-

"The fact that some scientists do not detect any problem with religious faith merely proves that a juxtaposition of good ideas and bad ones is possible. Is there a conflict between marriage and fidelity? The two regularly coincide."

This is pretty murky too.
Probably the idea (in both Coyne and Harris) is that there can be real tension between two things (like marriage and infidelity) that often go together, whether in reality or in people's minds.

Now, the opposite is also true. There can be harmony between two things that often don't go together, whether in reality or in people's minds. The point surely perfectly general--whether X and Y really are compatible is not a question about how they do OR DON'T become simply juxtaposed (in heads or in reality).

But when we get to the part of the column that's about people science driving out religion,now Coyne's all for taking "non-juxtaposition" seriously! That's the inconsistency I'm pointing out.

He thinks incompatibility is "amply demonstrated" by the high rate of atheism among scientists. Even worse, he says it's "further proof" that in the overall population, evolution tends to drive out religion.

The first might be seen as an argument from authority, and as OK (with Collins counting for less, because he's just one person), but the second isn't an argument from authority and can't possibly be reconciled with the marriage/infidelity argument.

OK--I think I'm done. I do think I "get" the argument better as a result of discussing it, but I continue to think the column isn't even handed about people who accept both religion and science (Collins) and people who think they're antithetical (the atheist scientists, AND the people in the general population who lose religion after accepting evolution).

RichardW said...

Jean,

>No, my interpretation doesn't rely on that, as I've said.<

You haven't addressed my argument. You referred me to the second sentence of your interpretation, and in response I pointed out that my argument was based on the first sentence (the reductio argument).

But let's suppose I granted you the one point you've claimed in favour of your interpretation, namely that (a) your version of Coyne's reductio argument doesn't have the same flaw as mine and (b) the flaw you attribute to Coyne in terms of getting from A to B is more charitable to him. This difference in charitability still wouldn't outweigh the massive uncharitability of attributing to him the foolishness of taking the view that science and religion are incompatible by definition and therefore that no empirical evidence can speak to the question, plus the apparent dishonesty of not stating that this is his view and then continuing to cite his own empirical evidence.

Overall, the evidence is overwhelmingly against your interpretation. You are attributing to Coyne an argument which stretches and even contradicts his text, adds a gloss for which there is almost no evidence, is inconsistent with his previous writing on the subject, and is extremely uncharitable. I've offered an alternative which is superior on all these counts.

I've always agreed that the empirical argument paragraph is poor, and I'm prepared to upgrade that to "very poor". But, given my interpretation of the Collins paragraph, there's no inconsistency between the two. You are trying to show an inconsistency by using vague expressions (your latest is 'taking "non-juxtaposition" seriously') to make a link. But that requires taking the expression in a narrow sense when we apply it to the Collins paragraph (where by my interpretation Coyne is only ruling out a very specific sort of argument) and then taking it in a broader sense later, to have him ruling out a much broader category of arguments. That's a fallacy of equivocation.

I think I'm done now too. Thanks for an interesting discussion.

Jean Kazez said...

RichardW,

What you keep avoiding is the fact that your interpretation makes the column just as inconsistent as mine. That's one reason why I keep not taking a stand on who is right--IT DOESN'T MATTER. Furthermore, there' s a third possibility, which I find rather appealing--he was just trying to repeat Sam Harris's argument, which also dismisses Collins by talking about marital infidelity. Harris's argument doesn't go exactly like your rendition or like mine. Maybe Coyne meant what Harris meant, but said it awkwardly.

As to the inconsistency--

Suppose you're right, and he's emphatically said, in the Collins paragraph, that the meaning of "compatibility" is not just X and Y being together in people's minds. It's not merely a psychological matter.

Surely he's got to also say that "incompatibility" is not merely a psychological matter, and he would say so. For example, when people stop believing in God, it might be that the majority stop believing in objective morality. Does that show that "no God" and objective morality are incompatible? Of course not.

So...ALL he's told us about the meaning of "compatibility/incompatibility" is that it's not psychological--on your interpretation. And yet he goes on to present a huge pile of psychological evidence for incompatibility. And he calls it "ample demonstration" and "further proof"--and remember, it's not an argument from authority, because most of the data is about the whole population, not scientists.

So--your interpretation doesn't help. It doesn't clear him of the main charge--that the Collins paragraph is inconsistent with the later poll data paragraph.

Now I will try to be more constructive. If he were rewriting the column, I think he could make it all consistent in the following way. Here's a paraphrase--

"Some people think Collins shows that science and religion are compatible. But compatibility is not a simple matter of what's in some people's heads. There might be people who think they're both monogamous and adulterous, but we know that's impossible. It's a philosophical question whether the claims of religion can be reconciled with the claims of science. Collins is a smart man, and he thinks so--that does count for something. But you ought to be aware that studies show a large number of scientists are atheists. Most likely, many of them disagree with Collins. So we should not draw any conclusions from the single case of Collins."

In this revision, you leave out all the poll data about the overall population, because it's fallacious to use non-authorities in an appeal to authority. If I wanted to be charitable, I'd say--that's basically what he meant. It's not (though) exactly what he said.

RichardW said...

Jean,

I twice addressed your argument for inconsistency, and both times you ignored my critique and just repeated the same argument in different words, committing the same kind of error again.

Jean Kazez said...

Actually, I did respond--carefully, and at length. I think we really are done with this debate.