Uncle Karl on the warpath

September 16, 2010 • 4:03 pm

Oh dear Lord (that’s metaphorical, of course)!  Over at BioLogos, Karl Giberson is beginning a multi-part series of posts meant to expose my philosophical naiveté, my poor understanding of science, and my pathetic grasp of theology.  His first part continues Mooney’s metaphors of belligerence with the title, “Doing battle with Jerry Coyne’s army of straw men.”

I’m flattered that Giberson sees me as important enough to haul out the big BioLogos guns, but I’m not going to engage in further discussion about this piece—or about any of the parts to come.  For one thing, I have science to do, even though I have a “simplistic view” of how that science is done.  More important, in the end Giberson has not a shred of evidence supporting his religious beliefs, and even a swarming army of sophisticated theologians can’t change that yawning fact.

74 thoughts on “Uncle Karl on the warpath

  1. I know I’m a bad person for thinking “gibberish” every time I see Gilberson’s name, but I’m never disappointed.

    Multi-part? Why doesn’t he just write one part and copy it four times?

    1. Gibberish needs multi-part so he can cut them out and play with them like a string of paper dolls. His writing never makes sense.

        1. I posted at the article, just to point out that his point number (1) makes no sense:
          (a) NAs are not hard on people for bad theology. NAs don’t even see the difference between good and bad theology. In fact, we keep asking for criteria to tell them apart and never get an answer.
          (b) NAs are not particularly forgiving regarding scientific errors. In fact, I can’t think of any group more merciless about minor scientific misunderstandings.
          (c) “Science” is an abstract noun, and can’t teach anyone anything. We have these things called “teachers” that teach students science, but the teachers often aren’t, themselves, scientists. On the other hand, there needs to be science before anyone can teach it, whether they teach it right or teach it wrong.
          (d) “Religion” is also an abstract noun, and thus not responsible for teaching people bad religious ideas. Talk about a straw man. However, the concepts of revelation and authority are central to religion, and those reinforce credulity and submission on the part of believers, as well as providing justification or cover for amoral con men.

          So (1) is terribly confused, factually incorrect, and is also a straw man. (2) makes no sense to me. I don’t think the resurrection is a mystery, as the documentary evidence of the empty tomb is not very compelling. But even if it were, the empty tomb could be easily explained by grave robbing or by burial alive, both of which were terribly common at the time. But if one insists on finding a mystery there, it is no more compelling than the mystery of how penicillin worked through the eyes of someone researching it 100 years ago. I don’t see why comparing 2000 years of fruitless discussion of the “mystery” of resurrection shouldn’t be compared to 100 years of quite fruitful discussion of the “mystery” of penicillin. Anyway, what kind of argument is it to say, “now that sort of comparison just simply isn’t made…” Giberson makes a big deal about being charitable with the other side’s arguments, but simply shutting down an argument by fiat (“Tsk, tsk”) is about the least charitable thing one can do.

          It seems like (3) is a straw man. It doesn’t seem to me like Coyne or anyone else tosses around “philosophical consistency” like it settles the argument. Rather, it’s used as the first step in clarifying what we mean by incompatibility between science and religion. It’s primarily a rejoinder to the feeble, “but there is such a thing as religious scientists!”

  2. Might some of us do the honors in defending your name?

    Of course, we won’t be able to do it over there, since the comments are heavily censored (funny, that) and non-Kool-Ade drinkers are given the old bum’s rush.

    But I’m quite sure those of us who don’t have “science to do” will be able to handle the gibbering idiot.

    1. I would be glad to. The problem as I see it is to comment on Coyne’s idiosyncratic ideas which will surely come up too, such as the usefulness of philosophy, or an all-encompassing coherent such, in science and atheism.

      But the rest of us can hold Giberson down on the general substance, while others proceed to kick him in such unmentionables.

  3. Has anyone else noticed that “straw man” is the new Godwin? It has long since lost its actual meaning and become shorthand for “I don’t agree with you, ergo you must be dishonest and wrong!”

      1. But circular reasoning and other tautologies are valid as long as they are part of testable theories. For example of the former, a completely tested theory (which is a brief but possible state in a theory’s life) builds on the same data, among others, that it predicts. For an example of the later, reductio ad absurdum as used in math.

        But those are parts of a process. The problem here is of course when they are used to prop up on purpose untestable ideas, as the later is the exact opposite of process.

    1. Let’s not forget” ad hominem,” which apparently now means” you hurt my feelngs!”

      Excuse my typing, the mobile site is broken!

    2. I entirely disagree. I use these words all the time and I’m obviously right in doing so. 😛

      To be honest, when one army is heavily outgunned intellectually by another (as is often the case when crationists and IDers are battling anyone), ad hominems, straw men, question begging, Godwins, etc. are all pretty common in the weaker side’s arsenal. It is only natural that the strategically outflanked side side will notice this arms proliferation of (frequently true) accusations and will simply turn them back on their foes. Of course, this doesn’t justify inappropriate use of such weapons of mass destruction, but oh well.

      Like my martial language?

  4. Fascinating. K. Gibberish’s post is entirely devoid of content. All he’s done is announce that he’ll be doing all this theosophistrical decimation, but he never actually gets around to doing any of it. He would have been just as well served by tweeting about it, inbetween announcements about the quality of his last bowel movement and how hot the chick next to him in line is.

    Somebody wake me up if he ever, like, you know? Gets around to posting something?



    1. He’s marshaling all of his strength, girding his loins, checking that his thesaurus and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are at hand.

      And he’ll come up with the same content-free rants as before.

      Seriously, what are we to make of someone this ego-maniacally fixed? On the one hand, sport debate is a nice hobby. Sharpens one’s wits. On the other hand, the output here is so predictable that one cannot help but feel a certain sense of ennui already building. I really have to go through this again?

      Of course, no matter what we say, or how thoroughly anyone (Dr. Coyne or anyone else) demolishes him, he’ll claim to have “won”. Because he’s already convinced himself that he’s done so, without even presenting his first argument.

      Mr. Dunning, meet Mr. Kruger, Mr. Kruger, meet Mr. Dunning.

      1. Of course, no matter what we say, or how thoroughly anyone demolishes him, he’ll claim to have “won”.

        Pigeon chess seems to have picked up a slew of new players lately.

    2. Thought the same: no argument, essential just “Coyne is wrong, and pretty soon I am going to follow up with actually saying how”. Maybe he will, but I have a hunch what it is going to be:

      1. Problem of induction! – therefore faith in Jesus is precisely as sensible as faith in science;

      2. Science is not everything – there is also math / art / love / logic / ethics*, therefore science no touchy faith in Jesus.

    3. “All he’s done is announce that he’ll be doing all this theosophistrical decimation, but he never actually gets around to doing any of it”

      That pretty much sums up all of theology and apologetics.

  5. I asked a friend of mine who is a theologian, or, at least, doctored in it, what the hell is theology anyway?

    And he answered that it was opinion. Boils down to that, he said.

    We then went on to discuss whether bullshit was insincere opinion, or if sincere bullshit was opinion.

    Our conclusion was that it was my turn to buy coffee next time.

    1. Theology, IMHO, is the study of mythical gods that are currently believed in.

      It’s “modern mythology”. Nothing more. Nothing less.

      After all, the Greeks and Romans didn’t worship “mythical” gods. They worshiped REAL gods. Same with the Egyptians, Sumerians, and on and on and on and on.

      We only call them mythical after they’re no longer believed in.

      So. Theology is the study of those gods for whom belief is still current. And one day won’t be; then they’ll be just as mythical as Thor, Ra, Quetlzcoatl and all the rest.

      They have reunions and tell stories of their past greatness…like old ballplayers.

      1. Hmmmm, sports analogies!

        So, the scientist retired ball player would say, “Well, Cy, you struck out three times in the playoffs.”

        Demonstrating data, measurement, historical accuracy, etc.

        Cy’s reply is, “Yes, but they were glorious strikeouts, ones that will inspire fans for eons!”

        Science and theology, reality and opinion.

  6. Giberson has already established himself as a Grade-A dumbass. This series of posts should further solidify his status.

    Maybe some time down the road he can compete with Mooney for the World’s Title.

  7. Wow! Talk about belligerent! This guy is out for scalps!

    I especially like the false analogy that he picks out: incarnation (a most mysterious theological idea), and penicillin (a best understood idea in biology). Sorry Karl, this doesn’t wash. It’s got nothing to do with false analogy, therefore with straw men. It is an example of something inexpressible and unverifiable vs. something that is empirically demonstrable.

    I haven’t gone back to the original context, but that seems a reasonable contrast to make. I defy Karl to give us an explanation of incarnation that makes sense. Christians were never able to do it, so ended up just defining it into existence, but in the process excommunicated most of the Eastern Christians, who were, subsequently, decimated by the Muslim invasions. But still no one can tell us what they mean when they say that the man Jesus was, as a man, consubstantial with the Father. Indeed, it is doubtful if using the language of substance makes any more sense in this context than it does in the context of transubstantiation.

    I can understand your preference for doing science over arguing with Karl Gibberson, but I’ve been paying attention, and I think you have shown yourself, contrary to what Karl says, knowledgeable in theology, surprisingly well read, if I may say so, since this is not your chosen specialist subject, and capable of developing your position with great strength and not a little subtlety, the latter being something that Karl Gibberson does not seem, in what I have read of his work, capable of. Yet a certain deftness is required in dealing with theology, and I do not think that Karl has mastered it, though he is billed on the Biologos site as a sience-and-religion scholar. That hyphenated non-existent field is perhaps a startling admission to make when he is just getting his troops into line.

    He thinks he’s chosen the ground, but, I think, from the poor quality of his argument so far, he’s a bit rattled. Perhaps it’s not such good ground after all. It takes a trained eye to con a battlefield, and he just hasn’t got it.

  8. The previous comment was testing a comment on the Biologos website:

    “I have been to Jerry Coyne’s blog several times, but find that any thoughts I might drop on the conversation are not welcome. Dr. Coyne does not allow people who hold creationists views (of any hue) to post comment. (It’s in his rules.)”

    I have never come across this rule …

    1. Well, a science blog doesn’t have to allow anti-science trash such as creationism of any hue. But IIRC Giberson has been able to comment here, so his characterization is contentious.

  9. The funniest quote: “the complicated theological doctrine of the incarnation—the most mysterious idea in all of theology”

    There is no mystery here for Muslim theologians; Giberson will burn in hell for believing this transparent nonsense:

    Surely whoever associates (others) with Allah, then Allah has forbidden to him the garden, and his abode is the fire; and there shall be no helpers for the unjust.
    Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve.
    Original: لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ هُوَالْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَقَالَ الْمَسِيحُ يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اعْبُدُواْاللّهَ رَبِّي وَرَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ مَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللّهِ فَقَدْ حَرَّمَ اللّهُعَلَيهِالْجَنَّةَ وَمَأْوَاهُ النَّارُ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنصَارٍ
    لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلاَثَةٍ وَمَا مِنْإِلَـهٍ إِلاَّ إِلَـهٌ وَاحِدٌ وَإِن لَّمْ يَنتَهُواْ عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّالَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِي
    —The Qur’an (القرآن), Sura 5:72–73 (The Dinner Table, سورة المائدة)

    I never fail to be amazed that Christian theologians are blind to the fact that the “mystery” of the incarnation of the god Yahweh begetting the god Jesus is precisely the same “mystery” as the god Zeus begetting the god Athena from his forehead.

    1. The mystery is that God can have a son and yet Christianity still be monotheism. When I was still religious I actually tried to explain it to a few Muslim friends, and its really hard to hold up in front of some skeptical questioning.

    2. It’s even pointed – that makes it so much easier to read – not that I can tell what it means, but at least I can make sounds as if I knew the language.

    1. Oh, OK. But your ID tag looks goofy; you may want to change that before entering the atheist foxhole. [/kidding]

  10. It has been noticed over and over again that apologists, starting with ID creationists in my personal knowledge but likely before, after a certain reaction time on the order of months will take up and mirror the argumentation points of other parties. Here Giberson has managed to complain about:

    1) The use of an an army of straw men.
    2) Ignoring the strong and/or core points of an argument.
    3) Uninformed and inconsistent analysis of the subject.

    All points that gnu atheists have been making on religious apologists for years now.

    It is of course a valid argument, but it isn’t an argument that serves to inspire belief in the analysis veracity nor the need for a reply.

    He is a champion of science, to be sure, but it often appears that he also has a simplistic view of science—not in the sense that he is not a good scientist but in the sense that he has a parochial insider’s view of science that does not seem adequately informed by its history, philosophy, and an awareness of how science works in investigations far from the kind of science he does.

    But that is the whole point! If science reflects on itself as it reflects on the world, or better investigate itself, it will start out with “a simplistic view”. That is the inherent “reductionism” that apologists dislike so. (For good religious reason, as it works to make gods unnecessary as, say, Hawking notes.)

    And it will most often turn out to be the correct theory. To use another returning complaint on apologists, show us the evidence that the standard MO is wrong.

  11. Obviously we are looking into the abyss – and it is found between Giberson’s ears. Who says nothing comes of nothing? So much nonsense comes out of vacuous skulls.

    Giberson should spend more of his time telling the faithful how stupid, naive, and un-nuanced they are because they don’t really understand the complexities of theology as he does. As for how he knows what he claims to know – allah alone knows, and he doesn’t even exist.

    1. Giberson should spend more of his time telling the faithful how stupid, naive, and un-nuanced they are because they don’t really understand the complexities of theology as he does.

      At least he is telling the atheists that.

      He is also telling scientists how stupid, naive, and un-nuanced they are because they don’t really understand the complexities of science as he does.

      He doesn’t leave any room for discussion outside the crossection of theologians with science degrees or scientist with theology degrees. Certainly neither atheists nor scientists are allowed to discuss religion or science in his view. Now that is a forced “compatibility” and a forced “argument win” at the same time! There is thankfully no need to argue with such an analysis – argumentation is futile.

      Wonder why Mooney didn’t come up with that one? His lack of theology degree, perhaps. [I blithely dismiss the scant possibility that Mooney has more than one neuron to place in cross, as opposed to Giberson.]

  12. The term “theology” has always interested me – doesn’t having a “pathetic grasp of theology” basically equate to having a “pathetic grasp of” say, the rules of Monopoly, or character development in Russian literature? If any given theology reached beyond the the realm of it’s own local and entirely arbitrary presumptions, it might deserve the (slightly) more respectable/inclusive label of philosophy. But most theology (unless I grossly misunderstand the term – always possible) seems to revolve around conclusions that only follow from rather absurd and quite arbitrary axioms – e.g. Jesus died for our sins, if you pass GO you are entitled to $200, etc.

  13. Hi Jerry

    Philosophers moan about you because ‘you’re not doing Philosophy right’.

    Theologians moan about you because ‘you’re not doing Theology right’.

    …and Uncle Karl says “…but it often appears that he also has a simplistic view … in the sense that he has a parochial insider’s view…”

    I mined that quote from his article. Oh! the irony.

  14. With all his research into the meaning of the straw man argument, so he could explain to all of us what it is, he seems to have missed one important aspect of straw man arguments: sometimes the fallacy is not with the argument, but with its target. If you are arguing for a position that is a contunously moving target, you can always (falsely) accuse your opponents of using straw men. And doesn’t “moving target” exactly describe religion?

    Note also how Gilberson has only announced that he’s going to show how wrong Coyne is. He doesn’t appear to want to define his own position and give positive arguments in favor of it. This seems to be entirely consistent with the “moving target” hypothesis.

    1. As another example, refutations of vague political theories often appear to be strawman arguments when in fact they are just identifying something about the theory that is incomplete. [Wikipedia]

      Let me apply that:

      “As another example, refutations of theological ideas often appear to be strawman arguments when in fact they are just identifying something about the idea that is incomplete.” Dawkins’ characterization of religion as creationist (“The God Hypothesis”) comes in mind. Religious say strawman, atheists say moving goalpost.

  15. Data:

    The vast majority of religious people have the same religion as their parents.

    The various religions contradict eachother in important ways (excellent example @13 above)


    Religion is a cultural artifact, passed parent to child and/or social group to child

    The claims of religion are false

    If theologiana and philosophers applied the same standards to religion that they do to, say, investing their money, they would reject religion.

  16. Giberson uses theology as OTC medicine from the same manufacturer each and every time. How’s that cognitive-dissonance splitting headache, Giberson? Hard to keep at bay, heh? Try a few intellectual honesty pills instead of the load of truthiness losenges you are shoving down your throat.

  17. Good grief, the BioLogos censors are overly sensitive. I posted the following comment after Giberson’s article, and it is not showing up:

    The photo at the top of the article is a scarecrow, it does not appear to contain any straw. It is a strawman of a strawman.

      1. Yes, that’s why it’s a waste of time to try to respond to Gibberingidiot at BioLogos.

        Only those who agree are allowed to say so. Others will be expelled forthwith.

  18. Someone made an interesting point in the comments to Giberson’s article, which is that it’s hypocritical for Giberson to complain that Gnu Atheists (allegedly) ignore all the “sophisticated” theologians to pick on the easy simplistic fundamentalist religious arguments, and yet Giberson himself is about to write an entire series of posts attacking the (supposedly) amateurish and unsophisticated arguments of one Gnu Atheist. Why doesn’t Giberson practice what he preaches and discuss the sophisticated, refined arguments of atheists such as (one presumes, since Giberson cites him so fawningly) Michael Ruse?

    Just to be clear, I don’t fault Giberson or anyone else for spending time responding to Jerry or anyone else they claim is writing unsophisticated arguments. If someone is selling a lot of books or getting a lot of blog hits, then their arguments may need to be addressed no matter how silly you think they are. But that’s precisely why Gnu Atheists criticize the actual religious beliefs that huge swathes of the public hold rather than the murky, “sophisticated” beliefs held mostly by a few theologians!

    1. I’d be interested in what metric would be used to distinguish between “sophisticated” and “unsophisticated”.

      Seems to me that Gibberingidiot and others like him use the word “sophisticated” as a synonym for the phrase “unintelligible polysyllabic arcane language”.

      When you make a clear point clearly (ie, there is not a single shred of objective evidence in favor of the existence of god), they shout “UNSOPHISTICATED!”

      1. As near as I can tell, a “sophisticated” theological argument is one that is so vague and murky that you can’t possibly tell what claim is being made.

        I’m not sure I’ve ever been given an example of an atheist argument that a theist considered “sophisticated.” I only know that any argument that bears any relation to an actual religious belief or claim is deemed “unsophisticated.” As is any argument made by an atheist without a philosophy degree.

      2. The correct metric should be “effective” in any case – an unsophisticated stone can hit you as severely as a sophisticated gun. (Say, bashing your head in.)

        Since Giberson likes to notice Coyne’s argument, he seems to concur with our assessment that atheist arguments are effectively addressing religion as is.

  19. Is the image attached to this entry meant to portray WEIT readers as ducklings? And Jerry is a duck?

    Only an atheist with no moral sense (or theological sophistication) would put his children in front of him on a battle field for protection.

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