Theology: Jerry Coyne's reply
|This is a portrait of me, according to Jerry Coyne. :-)|
Read to the end to understand!
A few days ago I posted an essay responding to Jerry Coyne's attack on theology. The essay was later picked up by the Science and Non-Duality website. Coyne has now responded to it in his blog. The present post is a reply to that.
After some gratuitous attacks and sarcasm directed at the Science and Non-Duality website, Coyne writes:
Kastrup, who was trained as a scientist (see below) but then jumped the rails and abandoned materialism, has decided that I’m dead wrong—that theology has an object after all, and that he can prove it.There isn't a single instance in my essay in which I use the words "prove" or "proof." My point was, and remains, that there is a coherent way to think of certain concrete aspects of nature as matching the most common attributes associated with the word 'God.' Coyne creates a straw man here.
"Why Materialism is Baloney" sets off warning bells, but of course that must perforce be the view of someone who’s defending God’s existence.There isn't a single instance in the book where I argue for the existence of a personal deity. The book consists in an entirely naturalistic account of reality based on the principles of parsimony, logic, and empirical honesty. Coyne would have known this if he had read even a few sections of the book he is commenting on. (Thanks for the free promotion, by the way! As they say, any publicity is good publicity!) My motivation to talk about 'God' was entirely derived from Coyne's own attack on theology. As people familiar with my output know, before now I have even refused to use the 'G' word in public presentations.
Throughout the article Kastrup implies that there is no reality independent of consciousness ... That, of course, is untenable, as there is plenty of evidence about what was going on in the Universe before consciousness evolved.This is a silly logical fallacy known as 'begging the question.' Coyne is assuming materialism – the notion that consciousness is generated by biological nervous systems – in his argument against a non-materialist ontology. If one argues that the ground of reality (that is, the ontological primitive) is consciousness itself, then nervous systems are in consciousness, not consciousness in nervous systems. Nervous systems are thus images of particular processes in consciousness, which could and did evolve later than other, earlier processes in consciousness. As such, the fact that there is evidence for the existence of the universe before biological nervous systems evolved simply does not invalidate the argument. More on these silly logical fallacies in the video below.
But of course you can further argue that our notion of what happened before brains existed is a construction of those brains; but I don’t think that anybody who is science-friendly wants to go that route.Neither do I, as is clear from the essay Coyne is commenting on. Did he really read what he is criticizing? Anyway, after this Coyne finally starts to raise points that at least aren't silly:
First, when there is a human being who says she is conscious, we know that that that human exists and is saying those words. We don’t know the same about God, whirlpools or not. In other words, the existence of a Universe says nothing about either human or divine consciousness. While we can perceive other humans, there is no similar evidence for God. But at least we know that our view of reality is filtered through senses that have evolved (largely to represent reality!), and in real, demonstrable entities.The notion that inanimate reality is an image of mental processes in mind-at-large is a necessary implication of the starting premise of my ontology – i.e. that all reality can be explained as excitations of consciousness alone (not necessarily personal consciousness, mind you) – and empirical observations. I reject the inference of a whole unprovable universe outside consciousness, on the basis that it isn't necessary to make sense of things and fails parsimony criteria. From this and from the empirically-undeniable observation that brain activity correlates with first-person experience, we can deduce that brain activity is the image of subjective experience (as viewed from the outside). It can't be anything else. Now, from this latter point and the empirically-undeniable observation that consensus reality is a shared experience originating beyond personal awareness, we can deduce that empirical reality is the image of conscious processes in mind-at-large (as viewed from the outside). It can't be anything else. There is no false analogy here. The logic is clean.
In contrast, Kastrup is stuck not only with having to sneak in God via a false analogy, but then with his claim that theology has valid methods for understanding God’s “consciousness” though his creation. That’s Natural Theology, a discipline that became obsolete with Darwin, though it has had a revival of sorts with arguments about “fine tuning” and “The Moral Law”.Well, this isn't really a rebuttal of anything. The point of my argument is that there is a place for natural theology. I then proceed to explain what it is and why dismissing it was unwise. To refute this, Coyne has to do more than simply point to the historical fact of its earlier dismissal, which is not in contention. What he does instead is a mere re-statement on his position. I can't begin to imagine where he found any false analogy anywhere near this...
It’s not so obvious to me that these attributes—particularly “omnipotence”—would apply to even a Universal Consciousness. You can see here that Kastrup, desperate to prove his god, is simply making stuff up: throwing out words without considering whether they fit into a logical framework.According to the premise of my argument, all reality is an excitation of mind-at-large, analogously to how quantum field theorists say that all reality is an excitation of a postulated quantum meta-field. Unlike the quantum meta-field, however, mind-at-large is, by definition, conscious. We can thus conclude that whatever reality was, is, and will be, it was, is and will be the conscious manifestation of mind-at-large. There is a strong and obvious sense in which this is omnipotence, since it entails conscious, operational power over all reality, past, present and future.
Yes, theology tries to find out about God from nature. The problem is that it can’t find out squat, because its methods don’t allow the discernment of truth.This is an arbitrary statement from someone who is not versed in theology.
That is why, of course, the gazillion different religions on this planet have come to different conclusions about “God’s perspective.”I am certainly not going to defend religious literalism here, which I probably dislike more than Coyne's materialism. Now, if one looks past the pedestrian literal appearances of different religions, one finds significant, quite fundamental, and even altogether amazing commonalities, as many theologians know. I hereby recommend to Coyne Aldous Huxley's wonderful book The Perennial Philosophy.
How does Kastrup know that the Hindus are wrong and there’s only one God?Touché! Err, maybe not. Hindu theologians know pretty well that all deities of Hinduism are meant symbolically as aspects of one single immanent and transcendent entity, Brahman. In another correspondence with Christianity, Hinduism also has a Holy Trinity of their own, called the Trimurti, encompassing the deities Brahma (not Brahman), Vishnu and Shiva. Vishnu even 'incarnates' as a man, considered Son of God and named Krishna, which echoes Christ, God incarnate and member of the Christian Holy Trinity.
Kastrup’s argument fails miserably, I think, though it’s not for want of trying.This just doesn't follow from the foregoing. It's an unsubstantiated claim.
It’s because, like all such arguments, it’s motivated less by logic than by wish-thinking. The man starts with his conclusion—God exists—and then retrofits the arguments to “demonstrate” that. Like all theology, it’s philosophical creationism.I actually start from the notion (substantiated extensively in the book) that consciousness is a sufficient ontological primitive, everything else following from that plus empirical observations. What Coyne writes above is an empty rhetorical device.
Coyne closes with a proper ad hominem:
Sadly, I was unable to ignore this flea, as I had an attack of Maru’s Syndrome.Glad you didn't ignore me, Jerry. I feel very jumpy!