It can’t be both

I want to try to figure this out. I could just conclude that I simply don’t know enough about it to figure it out, and I ought to either learn more or leave it to people who do know enough. That’s certainly a possibility, of course. I’ve been thinking when reading Sam Harris’s posts in reply to his critics that he just doesn’t seem to know enough about it, and it’s certainly possible that I don’t know enough about what I’m prattling about, either. But the difference is, it seems to me, that Sam’s critics have made a lot of good arguments, while the arguments I’ve seen so far from the ‘overt atheists are wrong and bad’ faction are not very good. But then I would think that. But actually I wouldn’t, because I’m not invested in thinking Sam’s view is (partly) wrong. It just strikes me that way, that’s all. It strikes me that way because I’ve read a little about meta-ethics, among other reasons – but it’s not because I’m loyal to one view or another. But I am invested in the idea that overt atheism is not a bad thing – so maybe I can’t recognize the goodness of good arguments against it.

So I want to try to figure it out. Massimo first of all said that Sam would

get more mileage out of allying himself with philosophy (not to the exclusion of science), rather than taking what appears to be the same misguided scientistic attitude that Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne have come to embody so well.

Our friend G challenged him on that, and he replied

my problem with Dawkins and Coyne is different, but stems from the same root: their position on morality is indeed distinct from Harris’ (at least Dawkins’, I don’t recall having read anything by Coyne on morality), but they insist in applying science to the supernatural, which is simply another form of the same malady that strikes Harris: scientism, the idea that science can do everything and provides us with all the answers that are worth having.

This is the part that I don’t understand. There was some discussion of it on that thread, in which it was suggested that Massimo has a rather special definition of ‘supernatural,’ but Massimo said no, it’s Dawkins and Coyne who have a different definition of science. I still don’t understand.

I don’t think the root is the same. I think Harris on morality is not the same kind of thing as Dawkins and Coyne on theism. That’s because I think morality is not the same kind of thing as theism. There’s some overlap, sometimes a lot of overlap, but not so much that they’re the same kind of thing. Theism is about an entity external to human beings, one that could in principle exist even if human beings didn’t exist and never had existed. Massimo’s version of ‘supernatural’ seems to be ‘entirely outside of nature such that science cannot inquire into it in any way.’ What I don’t understand is why Massimo thinks that describes theism. A supernatural god of that kind would be, as far as humans are concerned, the same thing as nothing. If it’s entirely outside, then it has nothing to do with us, and we have nothing to say about it (and atheists have no quarrel with it). That’s not the god that people who believe in god have in mind. People who believe in god do say things about their god. That god is supposed to be part of the world in some way, if only as its parent or creator or designer. I don’t see how it can be possible for a god to be any of that and still be totally out of reach of science and thus of any kind of inquiry. I can’t make sense of that.

What am I missing?

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