Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Irony Revisited

Gee…I was wondering what to write about tonight and I come home to find Mark Shea jumping all over PZ for something I wrote! I won’t even begin to defend PZ – he is clearly capable of handling Shea, and my defense of PZ would be a bit like Paraguay helping Britain out with the Blitz. I am curious about what Shea was trying to get at in his response, however. Not the first couple of paragraphs about Dilbert, Adams and PZ – I wasn’t really paying attention to that particular blog conversation. But then Shea gets into some issues more germane to my original post:

Anyway, Myers somehow picked up on the recent release of the Da Vinci Deception and his readers have gone to work combing my blog for evidence in the next Inquisition.

No, Mark, they weren’t combing the blog for evidence in the next Inquisition. If Shea had read a little more closely, I think he would have found the initial reaction to my post was that I had come down too hard on the Catholic approach to science; more to the point, I think many were preparing to argue that I had unfairly lumped Shea with creationists. Myers and his readers (because they think critically and don’t accept statements or implications at face value) immediately started to look through Shea’s blog to see if I had erred by implicating him as a proponent of Intelligent Design. In the Catholicism I was brought up with I would commend them for this, not deride them as looking “for evidence in the next Inquisition”.

By the way, “Charlie” was pretty much on target: my initial intention was not to hold Shea up personally as the purveyor of irony (he was simply the interviewee in a larger article). I intended his comments as an example of the broader irony (“meta-irony” as Charlie indicated) for Da Vinci Code detractors. I had, however, read many of Shea’s comments myself and more importantly, so did Myers’ readers. It wasn't difficult to put Shea within that fold.

Shea’s next comment follows:

It turns out that I have a woeful lack of fidelity to the philosophical materialist claims which they, at any rate, seem to think are inextricably bound up with True Science.

Sorry, but this is typical apologetics obfuscation. How many times must we raise the distinction between methodological and philosophical materialism only to have the defenders of ID (and I have to count Shea among them) continue to lump them? Ultimately, I don’t think they’re interested in the distinction because it diffuses too much rhetorical capitol. I’d like to know Shea’s definition of True Science. I’m sure it doesn’t demand science insist on a concluding a purposeless universe, but I don’t know anyone who teaches that as science! Ultimately, I think apologists favor ID because they’re afraid of individuals drawing their own philosophical conclusions on the nature of the universe. The neutrality of science in such matters is not sufficient for them. ID needs to be entrenched as an equal, if not the only, conclusion drawn. Too bad, because they’re ignoring their own advice in this regard: science cannot deliver what they seek.

Shea continues:

The funny thing about all this, of course, is that the complaint is that I allegedly don't think experts should be heeded when they speak from their expertise (except when it's about the Da Vinci Code). But as I've made clear repeatedly, my beef is not with experts speaking from the expertise. It's with experts in science acting as amateur philosophers and theologians.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy this. Ok, I haven’t read everything Mark Shea ever wrote, but I find it difficult to believe he has defended evolutionary scientists. If he has, I would sure like someone to point it out to me. And where have experts in science acted as amateur philosophers and theologians? He certainly thinks Myers has done this, but instead of citing a specific example, he goes on an ad hominem rampage:

And the Myers blog is an hilarious example of exactly that. Instead of sticking to science, Myers spend vast quantities ASCII on his sophomoric agitprop for atheism and philosophical materialism.

Ok, I also haven’t read everything PZ Myers has ever written either and I’m aware of his views on the supernatural (or lack thereof). But where has he not done “science” and yet argued that it was?

Shea finishes:

Oh, and by the way, I am *all* for "teaching the controversy" between Dan Brown and Christian orthodoxy, because I'm perfectly confident of how badly Dan Brown would be crushed in a fair and lucid look at the evidence. Curious that Myers readers are so certain that their philosophical materialism should not be allowed to be questioned in any way.

Well, I’m not sure Dan Brown would be crushed as easily as Shea thinks, at least in a “fair” look at the evidence. No, I’m not convinced by a lot of specifics in Brown’s book (it is, after all, a novel – as many emailers have pointed out to me), but I wonder about some of the broader implications of Brown’s novels. I don’t think apologists by and large are interested in a fair consideration of historical evidence concerning Christianity. I also think that current efforts to politically enshrine Christianity in this nation are partially aimed at limiting open discussion of its more embarrassing inconsistencies. But that's another topic for another time….

As for Myers’ readers being “so certain that their philosophical materialism should not be allowed to be questioned in any way”…Shea needs to come up with some specifics on that one – otherwise it’s just hollow rhetoric.

This all seemed to start with my original post about irony. As I said, my intent was that it be considered in the broader context of arguments for ID, and Shea wasn’t a specific target. I’m not even sure Shea followed Myers’ link through to my own post, but I would certainly pose the question to him now: does he think Icons of Evolution readers are as scientifically illiterate as Da Vinci Code readers are historically illiterate?

(As I go to post this I see that PZ and Shea are going at it in the comments area over at Mark's blog; yeah, PZ doesn't need any help (certainly not mine!)...I do think, however, that the irony argument got lost...thanks to Unapologetic Catholic for some great comments over there too! Think I'll go sit in my chair and continue with Brown's Deception Point...)


Mark said...

Well, I’m not sure Dan Brown would be crushed as easily as Shea thinks, at least in a “fair” look at the evidence.

Then you simply are ignorant of the vast number of blunders and lies which Brown asserts as fact in his novel. And you are also ignorant of the fact that Brown has stated that, if he had been writing non-fiction, he would not have changed anything. Anybody who can seriously credit the claim that "nobody regarded Jesus as anything but a mortal prophet" till 325 AD is simply too ignorant to discuss the matter.

Christopher O'Brien said...

Thanks Mark! Coming as it does from such an eminent Christian apologist as yourself, I'll take "ignorant" as a compliment. I recall Richard Dawkins calling some people ignorant as well, so I know it is often used as a statement of fact rather than an insult. You may be correct that I'm ignorant about the specifics of Brown's claims. On the other hand, I never considered Brown's novel a treatise on early Church history. But I've also never assumed the Church or its apologists are giving me the whole history either. There are too many aspects of Jesus' life that are based, ultimately, solely on faith. Alternate histories are always possible. So I'll certainly search the specifics on my own; I'll probably even buy your book. But you'd better be sourcing something more tangible than church opinion.

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