October 25, 2010
It’s always tough when somebody one admires makes a move that one can’t approve of. That was exactly the feeling I had when I heard of Larry Moran’s Challenge to Theists and Their Accommodationist Supporters, but, before we get to that, a brief note about why I admire Larry Moran, an atheist and Professor of biochemistry with whom I would seem to share little in common [ideologically, that is].
Yeah, Larry is an atheist. Yeah, Larry has been known to belittle believers. So what is it that I admire? Essentially, two things: his fiery penmanship, and his demonstrated ability to think for himself instead of towing party lines – in particular, his refusal to chant a common atheist mantra, that “macroevolution is just lots of microevolution.” To me, Larry’s refusal to adopt that mantra is respectable. Instead of cherrypicking facts from the salad bar of science like many atheists, Larry acknowledges that there is debate in this area. As an added bonus, I’ve been on threads where Larry has challenged erroneous interpretations of evolutionary theory promulgated by atheists. That’s exactly what any respectable scientist should do. Further, Larry – an atheist with low tolerance for theist stupidity – actually took the time to personally respond to questions I had about the macro / micro debate, and seemed to approve of the way I was arguing the matter with some atheists of the “macroevolution is just lots of microevolution” persuasion. Of course, that doesn’t mean Larry thinks my theism is anything to talk about, and that’s not the implication I’m hoping to leave you with. Rather, this demonstrates that correspondence with truth is Larry’s priority, as opposed to polemics and party lines. That’s always nice.
So, what is it that I don’t approve of?
First, the backstory. Larry began his challenge by citing some comments from John Shook’s Huffinton Post article:
Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.
The question before us is whether there is a God or there isn’t. So far, I have not been convinced by any argument in favor of supernatural beings. Every single argument that I’ve encountered seems flawed. Many of them are stupid and nonsensical. I am not a “know-nothing.” I’ve made a big effort to learn the latest arguments for the existence of God. I’ve attended lectures by well-known theists and by well-known accommodationists. I read their books. I read their articles. I’ve even attended courses on religion… I challenge all theists and all their accommodationist friends to post their very best 21st century, sophisticated (or not), arguments for the existence of God. They can put them in the comments section of this posting, or on any of the other atheist blogs, or on their own blogs and websites. Just send me the link. Try and make it concise and to the point. It would be nice if it’s less than 100 years old.
Of course, I agree that the question before us is, “whether there is a God or there isn’t.” Further, I find nothing objectionable about the notion of challenging anyone to present arguments and evidence for their claims. In fact, for a split second, I was tempted to answer Larry’s challenge by linking back to my posts on Aristotle’s argument from kinesis. After all, that’s one of the better arguments I’ve heard in over two decades of discussing these issues. It was certainly the argument that changed my mind. Though I’ve been a theist for as long as I can remember, I was never the type of theist that found William Lane Craig arguments persuasive, if you know what I mean. Since there are two sides to seemingly any argument, I used to write that I believed, “no persuasive arguments for God exist,” but Aristotle’s argument from kinesis changed my mind. So, I wondered if it might change Larry’s mind, too.
However, why would it “be nice” if the argument is less than 100 years old? Is there something about an older argument that somehow hinders the veracity of the argument itself? To Larry’s defense, perhaps he truly has made a “big effort” to understand all the latest arguments for God, but, has he made a big effort to understand some of the earliest arguments for God? As it stands, it seems not. When Michael Egnor responded to Larry’s challenge by asking a few questions of his own, Larry responded thus:
4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist? [Egnor]
That’s two questions! I don’t know the answer to the first one because I’ve never studied Aristotle. From the sound of the question, I haven’t missed anything. As for the second question, I can’t answer because I don’t know what you mean by “final cause.” [Moran]
Friends, in my honest opinion, and with all due respect to Larry – which is a lot of respect due – this is precisely the type of ignorance that warrants the accusation of “know-nothing,” at least when it comes to philosophy. At some point we have to question why anybody with even a passing interest in the God debate wouldn’t have taken the time to study Aristotle. By his own admission, Larry literally “knows nothing” of Aristotle’s arguments for a Creator.
Anyways, lest I press the issue and incur some of Larry’s fiery penmanship on myself, that’s my first answer to Larry’s challenge: ditch the whole “It would be nice if it [the argument is] less than 100 years old” stuff, and study some Aristotle. Most modern theists simply rewash that argument with too much soap, and I would love to hear Larry’s reasoned response to Aristotle’s argument from kinesis. At least then, he could give Egnor an intelligent response, one that Egnor might even accept as sufficient.