Yes, Jerry, You Have the Right to Criticize the PoR

After having the audacity to publicly respond to Jerry Coyne’s criticism of a previous blog post–the horror!-Jerry Coyne continues to block me from posting comments on his web site. In a recent post, he endorses John Loftus’s call for the end of the philosophy of religion at secular universities. But he also begins his post with what I assume is a veiled response to me. In my revised response to Coyne, I wrote:

Since Coyne is a professional biologist, not a philosopher, he is not an expert on philosophy. Like any other non-philosopher, he has the right to state his opinion regarding the quality of argumentation in philosophy as a whole or a sub-disciple of philosophy, such as the philosophy of religion. But his opinions do not carry the weight of an expert, so it would be fallacious to make the following argument from authority: Jerry Coyne thinks the philosophy of religion is dead; therefore, it’s dead. While some arguments from authority can be logically incorrect, this one is not. Non-philosophers do not have philosophical expertise, so the opinion of non-philosophers, including Coyne, provides no evidence at all for the claim that the philosophy of religion is dead. In other words, there is no logically correct argument from authority for the claim that the PoR is dead when the “authorities” are actually non-authorities. The philosophy of religion may or may not be dead as a discipline, but, if it is, that is for philosophers to determine, not non-philosophers. (Italics added)

Coyne, however, claims that philosophers have said he has “no right” to criticize the teaching of PoR in colleges. In his words:

Philosophers have reproved me because, as a mere biologist, I have no right to criticize the teaching of philosophy of religion in colleges, nor to call for its end.  But I reject the idea that biologists have no standing to give such an opinion, just as I reject the notion that philosophers can’t pass judgement on whether some areas of science are unproductive. All that matters is that opinions must be informed and supported with arguments. And I think I know enough about the philosophy of religion, and about how it’s taught in some colleges, to pass at least a reasonably informed judgment on the value of the discipline—which is almost nil. It’s almost nil because while it can inform us about the influence of scripture and how it was invented (a useful endeavor), it also promulgates religion and prepares students for the ministry.

But this is precisely NOT what any philosopher has said, as I explained to Jerry before. I tried submitting the following comment to his blog, but was blocked again.

Jerry — I’m not aware of any philosopher who “have reproved me because, as a mere biologist, I have no right to criticize the teaching of philosophy of religion in colleges, nor to call for its end.” That is a straw man of your own creation. You quite obviously have the right to criticize it as much as you want. Rather, the complaint is that one cannot construct an argument from authority against PoR based on your dismissal.

Jerry has much more to say about PoR than just his right to criticize it; I, for one, agree with Coyne (and others) who point out that PoR classes should not be used as apologetics classes. On the other hand, I obviously disagree that there is no value in teaching PoR at secular colleges, just as I disagree with the arguments Coyne (and others) use to call for the end of the PoR. But I don’t want to muddy the waters by going into that here. My point here is that everyone agrees Jerry has the “right” to criticize PoR.

Anyway, I encourage you to read his article, even if he is unwilling to allow critical comments on his site.