Jerry Coyne and Michael Shermer continue to demonstrate the subjective core of atheism. Coyne writes:
Shermer’s argument is simple: we can’t distinguish between a supernatural being and an advanced civilization of, say, extraterrestrials that could perform all the “signs and wonders” that would convince most of us that God exists.
And then he quotes Shermer:
“God is typically described by Western religions as omniscient and omnipotent. Since we are far from the mark on these traits, how could we possibly distinguish a God who has them absolutely, from an ETI [extraterrestrial intelligence] who has them in relatively (to us) copious amounts? Thus, we would be unable to distinguish between absolute and relative omniscience and omnipotence. But if God were only relatively more knowing and powerful than us, then by definition it would be an ETI!”
So what is Coyne’s reply to this argument?
Well, yes, we wouldn’t know whether a divine being was absolutely omniscient and omnipotent, or relatively more omniscient or omnipotent than us. But if the degree of, say, omnipotence and omniscience is sufficiently large (i.e, any miracle can be worked, all things can be foretold), then I think we can say provisionally that there is a God. I’ve previously described the kind of evidence that I’d provisionally accept for a divine being, including messages written in our DNA or in a pattern of stars, the reappearance of Jesus on earth in a way that is well documented and convincing to scientists, along with the ability of this returned Jesus to do things like heal amputees.
Notice that Coyne never tells us why and how Shermer is wrong. Nor does he tell us why and how he is right. Instead, his reply is to simply reassert his own subjective views on the matter: “I think we can” and “I’d provisionally accept.”
So if Jesus was to reappear on Earth and, in a well documented manner, do things like heal amputees, Shermer would remain an atheist while Coyne would become a theist. Clearly, whether or not atheism exists depends on the person, not the “evidence.”
Coyne summarize their disagreement as follows:
In the end, the difference between Shermer and I comes down to this: if evidence were really pervasive for an immensely knowledgeable and powerful being, I would tentatively accept God, while Shermer would tentatively accept an ETI that that works in unknown (but natural) ways.
In other words, for Shermer, nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. But for Coyne, an unexplainable gap would count as evidence for the existence of God. So once again, we can see that while the atheists posture as if “the evidence” is at the core of their position, whether or not they will consider something as evidence is simply a matter of personal taste. So who is wrong? And how would they know if they were wrong?
Like I noted before, atheism is a subjective opinion. So what explains this difference in opinion? I think it comes down to this:
Shermer’s whole argument rests on the fallacy that scientists are committed to methodological naturalism: we can accept only natural explanations for natural phenomena
Coyne never really shows this is some “fallacy.” Instead, he is once again drawing on his own subjective views about science. In his mind, he sees it like this:
I don’t see science as committed to methodological naturalism—at least in terms of accepting only natural explanations for natural phenomena. Science is committed to a) finding out what phenomena are real, and b) coming up with the best explanations for those real, natural phenomena. Methodological naturalism is not an a priori commitment, but a strategy that has repeatedly worked in science, and so has been adopted by all working scientists.
So his opinion about how science should work just happens to be a Gnu talking point. How convenient. In other words, Coyne’s subjective opinion about counting unexplainable gaps as evidence for God is a function of his cultural agenda of wanting to make it look like science can judge (and has judged) whether God exists.
In the end, we can accurately paraphrase the dispute as follows:
Shermer: Nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God.
Coyne: If Jesus reappeared and performed miracles for us, I would count that as evidence for God.
Shermer: Well, I wouldn’t.
Coyne: I would.
Shermer: But it could be an alien.
Coyne: It could be, but I would still count it.
Shermer: Well, I wouldn’t.
Coyne: I would.
Shemer: I wouldn’t.
Coyne: Look Michael, if we adopt your position, it will expose the closed-mindedness of atheism and that will hurt our movement. So again, I would.
I’m lovin’ the fact that while Coyne so heroically tries to shield Gnu atheism’s closed-minded essence from public view, in the process of doing so, he exposes its subjective essence. But there is something even more significant about Coyne’s reply. We’ll check that out next.