The Atlantic’s rather boring Wunderkind Ross Douthat tells Jerry Coyne what’s what. He breathes heavily for some time in order to come up with the obvious point that many disciplines make various kinds of claims that are not scientific claims and that that’s all right.
One can reason productively about questions that cannot be resolved through falsification tests. If this weren’t the case, philosophy departments, historians, polemicists, and many social “scientists” would be out of business in a hurry.
Yes indeed; very true; well spotted. But…is it relevant?
Now of course religion is not a thing like political philosophy. But there are similarities between the way that belief operates in both religion and in politics. In making their case, an apologist for Christianity and an apologist for, say, liberal democracy are likely to draw on a similarly hodgepodge-ish set of claims – some philosophical, some historical, some scientific, some anthropological and some personal.
Ah, so that’s where you went wrong. Yes, sure, there are similiarities (though frankly not many), but they’re not the point. The point is that religions really do make literal factual truth claims, often with much heat and emphasis; religions do make claims about facts as well as values, and the factual claims are based on…nothing; they’re sheer invention. That’s the point.
At the very end of the piece, Douthat did an incredibly stupid thing, a thing which is more common than one might expect in this day and age.
[T]he standards of scientific rigor simply aren’t the only standards that there are for holding warranted beliefs. And if you applied Coyne’s “method of disproof” standard to every important question in life, you’d end up paralyzed by indecision – you’d never cast a vote or marry a woman, let alone choose which God to worship, or whether to worship one at all.
Oh look, there I was foolishly assuming he was talking to everyone, people in general, which would include me, only to get to the last sentence and realize he was talking only to men. It appears I was intruding the whole time. How disconcerting.