Gnu Atheists Starting to Show Respect for the Spiritual

Earlier this morning, I noticed that Jerry Coyne had a post entitled, “David Brooks and his weakness for the spiritual” and promoted it on twitter:

A weakness for the spiritual? This makes “the spiritual” sound like a bad thing. So I chuckled to myself, as the same Jerry Coyne had previously promoted Sam Harris and his efforts at promoting the spiritual!

Now, you have to wonder if Harris sent Coyne a testy email. Why? Coyne has since gone back and quietly changed the title of his blog to David Brooks and his weakness for the sacred

Credit goes to Sam Harris for teaching atheists not to disrespect the spiritual. 🙂

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2 Responses to Gnu Atheists Starting to Show Respect for the Spiritual

  1. TFBW says:

    The URL still stands as testament to the original wording, in case anyone is sceptical of the claim that there was a change to the title.

    This article is further evidence that Coyne has no problem with religion, so long as it remains compatible with metaphysical naturalism (and we refer to it as “spirituality” rather than “religion” lest anyone assume that there are gods involved). This is made most clear in the following extract (emphasis added to most relevant part).

    It’s not clear what Brooks means by “spiritual”, but clearly the word “sacred” has religious connotations, as if we had a soul. In fact, he directly appeals to humans’ metaphysical dualism as a reason for this beheading. … Where does he get the idea that nonbelievrs [sic] think there is a ghost infused in the machine? Has he done a survey? Does he not realize that we secular folks are just as revolted as religious people at seeing this, even though we have no truck with souls or God or sacredness.

    Coyne is really hard on Brooks for daring to suggest that something vaguely transcendent is a necessary ingredient in explaining our revulsion at beheading, since this strays from the One True Path of Philosophical Naturalism. Frankly, I agree with Coyne that Brooks presents a weak case for his explanation, but I disagree entirely with the basis of that objection. Furthermore, Coyne’s alternative explanation is utterly pathetic, even against the weak competition offered by Brooks.

    My alternative explanation is that beheading is a particularly gruesome and brutal way of killing someone, it is not instantaneous, and there’s a lot of suffering and blood. We have an instinctive revulsion for that kind of killing, perhaps from our evolutionary history. (I do note, though, that in medieval times people loved gruesome public torture and execution, so perhaps some of that revulsion is, as Steven Pinker maintains, a cultural change in morality.)

    “Perhaps from our evolutionary history?” “Perhaps a cultural change in morality?” So much for science. At least Brooks had somewhat cogent explanations for both revulsion and lack of it. Coyne accuses Brooks of phoning it in; if Brooks’ effort was phoned in, then Coyne’s was the equivalent of asking someone to pass on a message. If you are going to offer patronising denigration of someone else’s work, as Coyne does here for Brooks, then it helps if you can actually demonstrate greater competence than the work you are criticising. Instead, the whole of Coyne’s case rests on the Fundamental Truth of Philosophical Naturalism, and the corollary that “religion” (by which he means theistic or dualistic religion) is a bunch of delusion, held to by the intellectually feeble, which requires no serious criticism.

    Still, I don’t suppose there’s anything new there. What’s new, as Michael says, is the fact that Coyne seems interested in salvaging the term “spiritual” from those who would contaminate it with the taint of dualism. Atheist spirituality for the win, right Jerry?

  2. Bilbo says:

    Speaking of Coyne, James F. McGrath and I now share the honor of being banned from the same two blogs: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/09/shame-on-jerry-coyne.html

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