Do naturalists have more to lose? If not, why are they crucifying Thomas Nagel?

Posted on 06/13/13 85 Comments

Matt DeStefano wrote a response to my article “Do atheists simply want to know the truth? Does anybody?” titled “Do Christians have more to lose?” Matt starts out agreeing with my observation that academics can become emotionally and personally invested in positions they defend and as a result, the pursuit of a particular thesis and defense of one’s views is not merely a detached pursuit of truth. Instead, it carries a personal dimension. Matt then concludes, “This all seems right to me so far.”

Unfortunately after agreeing with that much, Matt’s analysis then goes off the rails. The charge is a familiar one: Christians, and other people identified with “religious” communities and employed by institutions with a “religious” identity, have another level of emotional commitment and an additional set of strictures which mean they have “more to lose” than those unaffiliated with a religious community. Matt wraps up the analysis like this:

“The conversation about the earnest search for truth is an important one, and the psychological and sociological underpinnings of belief often go unnoticed. We should welcome a discussion on these issues, but we shouldn’t pretend that all beliefs will be equally emotionally valenced, and that all parties engaged in debate have the same amount to lose by renouncing their position. It is unreasonable to compare the endorsement of (relatively) impersonal philosophical positions to the utterly personal nature of religious beliefs.”

By the way, in the article Matt gives an example to prove his point. He notes that philosopher Frank Jackson changed his views on epiphenomenalism and everybody went “Hey, Jackson changed his views on epiphenomenalism.” But when a Christian scholar changes their views on, say, the incarnation, the chant comes: Crucify!

It’s a misleading example. After all, Christian philosophers are free to change their views on epiphenomenalism as well. So the comparison is apples and oranges.

Matt’s analysis is skewed since non-Christian scholars at non-Christian institutions (or Christian scholars at non-Christian institutions) have a lot to lose both practically and ideologically.

Let’s start with the practical. Have you heard of Alain Prost? One of the truly great Formula 1 drivers he was fired by Ferrari after he lost a race and blamed the quality of the car. It doesn’t matter how good a driver you are, there are certain things you just don’t say. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how good a scholar you are, there are certain administrators and donors and others in the constituency that you learn to behave around … or face the consequences.

Midway between the practical and ideological we have cases like Norman Finkelstein’s tenure denial at DePaul University. Finkelstein was an assistant professor at DePaul and one of the world’s leading political scientists when he was denied tenure. As one of the students at ratemyprofessor.com commented:

“God, Finkelstein was the greatest.  I’m so glad I had him when I did.  It’s absolutely ridiculous DePaul denied him tenure.  Everyone should transfer schools to follow Finkelstein.”

By any objective measure, Finkelstein should have been granted tenure. His writing, teaching and public service were all exemplary. And yet he was denied tenure. While the committee refused to provide its reasons, a campaign led by Alan Dershowitz was the clear cause. This campaign was both ideological (Finkelstein’s persistent criticism of Israel’s human rights record) and personal (Finkelstein’s claim that Dershowitz plagiarized), complemented by Finkelstein’s somewhat irascible, combative personality.

Does it make sense to make statements about how Christian scholars at Christian universities have more to lose than Finkelstein, an atheist, teaching at a secular school? No, it doesn’t. So I object to DeStefano’s attempt to establish some principled difference between Christians (or religious people) and everybody else. Everything depends on the particular scholar in a particular circumstance.

But now we come to the purely ideological. What happens if you violate naturalism? Here I’ll be brief because the fallout from Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos has been well documented elsewhere. Just consider Andrew Ferguson’s fascinating article “The Heretic: Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him?” It is no surprise that scholars are heaping insults on Nagel, a worldclass philosopher and atheist, for daring to challenge philosophical naturalism. After all, this ain’t just mere epiphenomenalism. This is a theory that goes to the very foundations for many of these folk. Kind of like challenging the incarnation at a Christian school, eh?

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  • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

    Naturalists are crucifying Thomas Nagel. Not “some philosophers and scientists believe that Nagel is wrong in his latest book and have harshly criticized his arguments” but “Naturalists are crucifying Nagel.”

    What is the value of the hyperbole?

    • John Grove

      I am guessing Randal’s point is that the charge that Christians have more to lose is not well founded. But by citing a race car driver, I’m not sure he really substantiates his point very well. Saying that the car didn’t perform well is not a change of worldviews.

      Saying that Nagel is being criticized is one thing, crucifying him is an exaggeration of epic proportions. He is doubtful going to lose his job by changing worldviews. Behe’s school may issue a dissent from his intelligent design views, but they tolerate it as long as he keeps it away from his students.

      • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

        “He is doubtful going to lose his job by changing worldviews.”

        Sure, because he has tenure. But for an assistant professor to write as candidly as Nagel does about the failings of naturalism would be dangerous and, depending on the institution, could be fatal to any tenure bid.

        • John Grove

          Maybe, maybe not. You should read ex-pastor Jerry DeWitt’s book. When he became an atheist, he lost his job (civil job), his wife, and still experiences community ostracism.

        • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

          I agree with John Grove. I am doubtful that an assistant professor of philosophy at NYU who wrote the book that Nagel did would have been denied tenure. Very doubtful. Philosophy, as an academic discipline, is full of non-naturalists. I seem to remember Stephen Maitzen recently stating in a comment here, expressing skepticism about naturalism.

          Over-arching commitment to metaphysical naturalism is not as widespread in academic philosophy as you seem to think.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            Maybe you’re correct. Maybe not. However, let’s not let speculations about hypothetical tenure applications at specific universities obscure the main point of my article. Finkelstein was denied tenure on illegitimate grounds and the attacks on Nagel have been deeply personal (e.g. charges that he is stupid and foolish). So to suggest that constricting ideologies only affect Christians and Christian institutions is demonstrably false. And to suggest that they are more likely to affect Christians and Christian institutions is a mere speculative opinion without hard corroborating evidence.

            • John Grove

              [[So to suggest that constricting ideologies only affect Christians and Christian institutions is demonstrably false]]

              Maybe not “only” but overwhelmingly. Better? And this is enough to make our point that Christians usually have more to lose.

        • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Matt DeStefano

          But saying that it *could be* fatal to a tenure bid (without providing any evidence for this) is not the same as having actual examples to point to where professors have lost their jobs after changing their mind about some part of Christian doctrine.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      As you know “crucify” is a metaphor for persecution or unjustified attack. In this case the overwhelmingly hostile attitude extended to Nagel is outlined in the linked article.

      And the “philosophers and scientists” who are attacking Nagel are doing so not qua their identity as philosophers and scientists but rather qua their commitment to naturalism.

      • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

        It is not a good metaphor. It is borderline inflammatory . I think you can accurately describe the contempt that some (SOME) scientists and philosophers have expressed toward Nagel without talking about crucifixion or burning at the stake (as the article that you linked to does).

        Look, for people to say that Nagel is dumb or an idiot is patently absurd and uncivil in the extreme. It has no place in any kind of discourse. But if someone makes obnoxious comments, call them out on it. There is no need to keep the rhetoric amped up to 11. And, by the way, there is no need to imply that all naturalists feel this way about Nagel.

      • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Matt DeStefano

        This strikes me as unfair. Why do you think they are criticizing Nagel qua their commitment to naturalism rather than their identity as philosophers and scientists? Many of Nagel’s critics (there are probably outliers) have given substantial, thoughtful critiques of his work.

  • Billy Squibs

    Jason, why did you criticise Randal for his words about naturalists yet don’t find anything worthy of mention when he said the following: “But when a Christian scholar changes their views on, say, the incarnation, the chant comes: Crucify!”?

    It might be hyperbole but at lease he is being consistent.

    • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

      I wasn’t saying that he is not consistent. I was just saying that I did not see the value of that kind of rhetoric. It’s not a huge point. Randal, at least in my interactions with him and from what I have seen of his public discourse, is almost always a model of civility. He should be commended for that.

      • Billy Squibs

        And of course I never said that you said he was not being consistent. What I asked was why you overlooked the first instance of hyperbole.

        But if it’s only a small point then perhaps we can leave it there.

        • http://notnotaphilosopher.wordpress.com/ Jason Thibodeau

          I think the first instance of the word ‘crucify’ was in the title of the post.

          • Billy Squibs

            Well, if we are going to split hairs then the title uses the word “crucifying”, not “crucify”. Please see the third paragraph (excluding the quote) for the first instance. I quoted this in my first response to you.

  • Walter

    Would an atheist or agnostic be fired for converting to theism while working in a secular university? I doubt it, unless he or she starts handing out Jack Chick tracts during biology classes.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Whether they would or not is irrelevant to the point of my article which is that public universities have ideological commitments the violation of which can lead to social censure and tenure denial.

      • John Grove

        It would depend I would suspect on how far off the mark they have become. But, most public universities the professors have a huge plethora of different views of the spectrum. Not being a naturalist I doubt would be sufficient grounds for tenure denial. Perhaps social censure depending on how outspoken they are.

      • Walter

        I think that the relevant question is this: who is likely to be more biased when discussing metaphysical worldviews? I am going to say that it is the ones whose entire livelihood is invested in one particular worldview, regardless of whether you are a theist or whatever. If you are going to destroy your career by coming to a conclusion not shared by your employers, then your overall objectivity is a little suspect.

        Maybe well informed non-academics are the ones to go to for less bias?

    • Billy Squibs

      Given that secular is not to be confused with theism then I fail to see your point. A secular college doesn’t mean an atheistic college.

      Anyway, if one started teaching such a heresy as “there is most certainly a God”
      at a college with an overtly naturalistic bent then, yes, I would image
      that firing that person might be appropriate. If they were seen as seriously compromising the ethos of the university then out the door with them.

      • Walter

        Given that secular is not to be confused with (a) theism then I fail to see your point. A secular college doesn’t mean an atheistic college.

        Do you know of any atheist colleges that require their employees to sign binding contractual agreements stating that they will only teach atheistic materialism under threat of termination? If so, let me know, so I can steer clear of those institutions.

        • Billy Squibs

          I hadn’t realise up until now, Walter, but such institutions have the cheek of not running employee contracts by me first. Outrageous!

          To reiterate – secular=/=atheistic

          • Walter

            To reiterate – secular=/=atheistic

            That is kind of my point. Employees at secular institutions aren’t generally fired for “getting religion.”

            • Billy Squibs

              Then why even mention the reaction of the the employers of a secular college to the news that Prof McAtheist had become a theist?

              Secular universities are not interested in pushing an atheistic world-view, nor are they interested in what god their employees worship. (At least in theory.) So please stop trying to equate secular with atheistic. I’ll also refrain from using the same logic to claim that my local Burger King is atheistic.

              However, as Randal has already stated, universities most certainly do have ideologies. Some of these are cardinal and when the written or unwritten rules that underpin them are broken then one might find oneself out of a job.

              Let us imagine for a moment that though an act of divine intervention Richard Dawkins had his own Road to Damascus moment. Fully convinced of the reality of the risen Christ, he embraces the tenets of orthodox Christianity and with gentleness and respect and he wanders far and wide proclaiming the Gospel and the error of his former ways.

              What would his employers at http://www.nchum.org do? I think they would look at getting him out the door of their college by hook or by crook.

              • Walter

                Then why even mention the reaction of the the employers of a secular college to the news that Prof McAtheist had become a theist?

                Because we are discussing bias among academics. I believe, contrary to what Randal is stating, that academic freedom is more restricted in Christian universities for the simple fact that these employees do have to sign binding contractual agreements that state that they can only come to one predetermined conclusion in matters of faith. In other words, when a scholar in one of these parochial religious universities claims to be objectively studying, oh let’s say, the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection or Smith’s encounter with Moroni, then my early-warning bias sensor starts flashing.

                • Billy Squibs

                  Well, yes, certain universities do have an an unabashed metaphysical ethos that they expect staff to accept. This goes for theological colleges and something like A.C. Grayling’s College of the Humanities.

                  But part of the problem with your perspective is that

                  a) you haven’t defined what a Christian university is. Nor have you told us how you know that academic freedom is more restricted in Christian universities. (Please see b) for more.)

                  Do you mean to say that if a biology Professor at the University of X – purely by virtue of University x being a secular institution -suddenly began to publish papers wherein she stated that ID offered an immensely compelling case that she would not be in danger of loosing tenure?

                  b) you have failed to account for people like Karen King, who despite being a member for faculty at Harvard Divinity school, felt free to publish her research into the so called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”.

                  • Walter

                    The point of my conversation is not to pick on theological institutions per se but to express concern over scholarly bias that can be enhanced by a strong pressure to conform to an institutional orthodoxy. And yes I know that secular institutions often have assumed orthodoxies that you better adhere to or else.

                    To put it bluntly, if a scholar employed at a secular institution which allowed its employees considerable latitude researched the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and concluded that it was likely that it did truly happen, I would be more apt to listen to what this person has to say rather than a scholar employed at a parochial religious school who must sign a Statement of Faith as a condition of continued employment.

                    That’s all that I’m saying.

                  • Andy_Schueler

                    Do you mean to say that if a biology Professor at the University of X – purely by virtue of University x being a secular institution -suddenly began to publish papers wherein she stated that ID offered an immensely compelling case that she would not be in danger of loosing tenure?

                    She could not possibly lose tenure for that.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Walter, surely you recognize that not all ideologies of conformity are written down in documents?!
          And keep in mind that some ideologies of conformity are institution wide, but others (indeed most) are specific to particular departments.

  • RonH

    Denying tenure to an atheist philosophy prof who converts to theism isn’t discrimination. It’s entirely the right thing to do. Clearly, any atheist who converts has lost his capacity to reason. Surely the capacity to reason is the one true requirement for a philosophy professor.

    Randal, can you present even one example of an atheist academic who converted to theism and still remained rational? I thought not. After all, even Antony Flew only converted because he went senile. See?

    • John Grove

      It should be noted that Anthony Flew became a deist not a theist. And also, it was at a time when his faculties were not fully intact. And this is a fact.

      Additionally, Antony Flew said, “I’m thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots”. He said his belief in God is akin to the Deism of Thomas Jefferson.

      • RonH

        I’m glad you agree with me, John.

        • John Grove

          Stranger things have happened!

          • RonH

            Not lately.

    • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

      “Clearly, any atheist who converts has lost his capacity to reason.”

      Isn’t that the most egregious sort of special pleading possible?

      • RonH

        Well, but it’s true. All the big atheists say so. And it’s, like, patently obvious to anyone with the capacity to reason.

        • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

          Ooh, can’t waste an opportunity to throw some circular reasoning in there too.
          “Theism is irrational because it’s obviously irrational to anyone who is rational. And we know atheists are rational, because they aren’t theists.”

          • RonH

            Duh. I’m glad you’re coming along, P&W. You are now equipped to take the OTF.

            (BTW, just for context you might want to review some of my comment history…)

            • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

              Dammit, pwned by the antiPoe. I’ll be reeling from this for a while.

              • John Grove

                LOL!

          • John Grove

            P&W,
            As you said to me fits for you, you need to clean your sarcasm filter. Ron was being ironic.

            • RonH

              Although, just out of curiosity, where am I wrong?

              • John Grove

                [[Although, just out of curiosity, where am I wrong]]

                Let me answer this hopefully without destroying the nice levity we currently have.

                [[Denying tenure to an atheist philosophy prof who converts to theism isn’t discrimination.]]

                People are free to believe whatever they wish as long as it doesn’t veer off from the curriculum of what they are teaching. Secular universities are not atheistic bastions. There are many strong Christians teaching in public universities. That is not a problem. So, if one got booted because they changed their worldview that would be discrimination. I’m sure Hugh Ross can teach a good astronomy class as long as he teaches astronomy only. He is qualified enough. I watched him debate YEC Hovind and basically used nothing but science to prove him wrong. That is to be applauded.

                [[ any atheist who converts has lost his capacity to reason]]

                I would have to hear the reasons obviously to make any judgment, but it doesn’t follow that is a truism. Though, I must admit, it is very difficult for me to see how one can reach theism by reason. I have yet to see this happen using reason rigorously. But, that doesn’t mean it cannot happen.

                • RonH

                  How would you know if it had?

                  • John Grove

                    Had what?

                  • John Grove

                    If we are talking about the traditional omnipotent, omniscient god, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that could rationally justify belief in my opinion. But that doesn’t rule out other kinds of god(s) depending upon other definitions.

                    I have often said that Deism is a respectable position, I just don’t happen to subscribe to it because of the concession you have to make for it. But if Deism were true, my attitude would simply be, “who cares”. A “god” that is not active in our reality is just as if there was no god.

                    • RonH

                      Right. So theists by definition are irrational, since there is no rational basis, in your opinion, for theism. If theists are always irrational, why should we allow them to be philosophy professors?

                    • John Grove

                      [[So theists by definition are irrational, since there is no rational basis]]

                      Look, I said I don’t know how exactly it can be squared I didn’t say it couldn’t be squared so let me get that out of the way.

                      Let me give an example. In Victor Stenger’s book, “The God Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist” he went over all the things he thought trespassed into science and set out to put certain claims to a scientific investigation. It turns out that the evidence just wasn’t there for any of the claims. But what if there was? What if, it was discovered that upon investigating God that evidenced started to become amassed for his/her existence? That would certainly be fascinating and I would (like you) be hugely interested in that.

                      [[ If theists are always irrational, why should we allow them to be philosophy professors?]]

                      The latest philpaper surveys show the vast majority of philosophers are not theists. But some of them are. People should have the freedom of opinion to believe whatever they want. That is my opinion. Let the public decide with regard to their works if they are irrational or not.

                    • John Grove

                      Just as a side note, being irrational doesn’t make one stupid. Even intelligent people can get sucked into an intellectual black hole at times.

                    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Matt DeStefano

                      The comment from Rabbi Wolpe is really intriguing. I googled his name and ‘omnipotent’, and came across this article in the HuffPo. It may just be a typo, but he seems to indicate here that God is omnipotent. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-david-wolpe/why-cant-we-worship-idols_b_3362657.html)

                    • John Grove

                      If you read carefully, he is talking about what people say in that remark about God, not what he believes. Read carefully.

                  • RonH

                    to follow up: Antony Flew was an illustration. When he became a theist (and deism is a form of theism, okay?), the atheist world insisted that the most likely reason was diminished mental capacity. How could he possibly have demonstrated that his “conversion” was actually the result of reasoned thought?

                    Have you — or any other atheist reading — ever run across an atheist who renounced his atheism on what you would consider a rational basis?

                    • John Grove

                      Deism is not the same thing as theism, there is a distinction. Xml may be a subset as SGML, but they are not the same.

                    • John Grove

                      [[Have you — or any other atheist reading — ever run across an atheist who renounced his atheism on what you would consider a rational basis?]]

                      I have never personally met an atheist who renounced atheism. I have read about it, but have never met one who I knew personally. But I have met several people who renounced Christianity because of the unsettling arguments that atheists have advanced.

                    • RonH

                      Doesn’t have to be a personal acquaintance. There are lots of ex-atheists out there. Many of whom have written about their conversions.

                    • John Grove

                      (Sorry I haven’t answered sooner, got busy)

                      I would say the answer is no based on what I have read. I also think, and this is my opinion only, so take it with a grain of salt (which is a given anyway), that some Christians who claim to have become believers from atheism for rational reasons may not be exactly telling the entire truth.

                      For instance, I think many atheists that later became Christians became a true believer due to irrational reasons. And later because they were now “insiders” looked for ways to justify belief (or grow in the faith) and confirmation bias set in. And when they look back at their conversion, they often forget the real reasons they became Christians because they have “learned” much more than when they became one. So they may confuse their present knowledge with their reason for conversion to sound like they are rational.

                      There may also be the possibility, that though they may have been an atheist, they were not rational to begin with. Being an atheist doesn’t make one rational. It merely means they have an absence of belief in any deity. So, if they were an atheist, they were not the kind you usually find on blogs debating or spending quality time reading science books or philosophy books in general. So I would dare say those kind of atheists usually never become Christians.

                    • RonH

                      This kind of sounds like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. You don’t see how an atheist could rationally convert. You don’t know of one who has. Furthermore, you think that some who do think they were rational weren’t really, even if they were unaware. (Evidence..?)

                      I think you’ve got an a priori assumption that one cannot be a theist and be rational. What’s more, it’s starting to sound like this hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

                    • John Grove

                      [[You don’t see how an atheist could rationally convert]]

                      Not to the god with the omni attributes, no. But to a more generic one, probably.

                      [[You don’t know of one who has.]]

                      Not rationally, no.

                      [[you think that some who do think they were rational weren’t really, even if they were unaware.]]

                      That is my opinion.

                      [[I think you’ve got an a priori assumption that one cannot be a theist and be rational. What’s more, it’s starting to sound like this hypothesis is unfalsifiable]]

                      I never said that one could not be a theist and be rational, I said I have never seen a case where they have reached that position rationally. They may be perfectly rational with regard to many other things but simply irrational with respect to Christianity.

                      Furthermore, I don’t assume Christianity or theism is the default position, I start with skepticism. I think that Christianity is an ever expanding tautology and indefensible. Apologists try ever so hard, but as an outsider like me, it seems clear as a bell, the a priori presupposition thinking is from your neck of the woods not from me employing the null hypothesis. Once you start with skepticism, religions, all of them seem to be going down a slope that just cannot recover.

            • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

              DANG.
              But he did it SO WELL!

              • John Grove

                You see a Christian and an atheist can get along in the world!

        • Kerk

          Boy, you got me there! For a moment I truly believed you.

    • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

      The Poe is a surprisingly common elementary particle — or, shall we say, fundamental particle — with very little mass, but extremely high spin and even higher charge. It is a boson, because it carries a great deal of force. Its antiparticle, aptly termed the anti-Poe, has the exact same spin but equal and opposite charge. Because of the identical spin, the annihilation of a Poe and an anti-Poe results in a net increase in apologetic momentum.

      One should not confuse the anti-Poe with the reverse-Poe, which is not a boson at all, but a fermion (specifically, a very-firm-ion) with no antiparticle. A reverse-Poe is often mistaken for a Poe due to the similar appearance, but it lacks spin and charge and has very high mass, causing it to weigh down arguments.

  • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Matt DeStefano

    Randal, thanks for the response. In order to avoid the back-and-forth between blogs, I’ll respond in full here. My argument was that not all beliefs are equal in respect to emotional attachment, and further that it was quite obvious Christianity had a lot of social and psychological attachments that other beliefs lack.

    In light of this, your response doesn’t make much sense. Sure, car drivers who have their bills paid by a car company might get fired if they bite the hand that feeds them. (Or if they lose a bunch of races, and subsequently blame the car manufacturer.)

    It’s also obvious that a dedicated campaign by an ideological opponent (and many others) can result in a denial of tenure for the object of their disdain. You have, rather conveniently, downplayed the extent to which this was a personal vendetta rather than an ideological one. Dershowitz has had plenty of ideological detractors who have not claimed that he plagiarized, lied, made-up facts, etc. This wasn’t Finkelstein’s first foray into calling out people as being fraudulent, liars, thieves, and other names (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dershowitz%E2%80%93Finkelstein_affair#Dershowitz.27s_involvement_in_Finkelstein.27s_denial_of_tenure) If Finkelstein had merely argued against Dershowitz’s opinion, it is rather obvious that none of this would have happened.

    When you go against a prevailing view in philosophy, science, and academia in general – as Nagel did – you can expect your work to be roundly criticized. None of this detracts from my original point. In fact, Nagel is a perfect example for my case. While he has criticized a view that is indeed the dominant view, he has not had his job threatened, he has not had the university make him apologize for his views, and he has not had his feet held to the fire over a “Statement of Naturalism” by NYU.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “it was quite obvious Christianity had a lot of social and psychological attachments that other beliefs lack.”

      And if you’re an atheist then you have a lot of social and psychological attachments that other beliefs lack. Can you imagine how hard it would be for Richard Dawkins to announce that he had become a theist?

      “If Finkelstein had merely argued against Dershowitz’s opinion, it is rather obvious that none of this would have happened.”

      There are a lot of things that strike you as “quite obvious” or “rather obvious”. But what if I say they are not obvious? I’ve looked extensively at the case and as I noted Finkelstein inflamed Dershowitz in a way that Chomsky never did. However, for you to suggest (if you are indeed suggesting) that Finkelstein’s persistent and vociferous criticism of Israel’s human rights record has not created enormous professional problems for him (including contributing to the decision to deny tenure) then you’re simply denying facts. (Finkelstein has amply documented the evidence at his website for those interested in following up on it.)

      And that just illustrates my point. There are unstated ideologies and orthodoxies operative even in public and secular institutions.

      ” While he has criticized a view that is indeed the dominant view, he has not had his job threatened, he has not had the university make him apologize for his views, and he has not had his feet held to the fire over a “Statement of Naturalism” by NYU.”

      This is irrelevant. As I explicitly said, not all norming orthodoxies or ideologies are written.

      Here’s a simple example. Dr. Smith is being interviewed for a position teaching philosophy of mind at Big University. Dr. Smith knows that three faculty at BU are Heidegger scholars who love Heidegger’s work, and BU has become known as a center of Heidegger scholarship. Nowhere in the job description does it say that applicants have to think Heidegger’s philosophy is any good. But if Dr. Smith want to get the job he knows he better keep his extremely negative opinions of Heidegger to himself. That is an unwritten norming norm.

      What you have to do is argue that Christian institutions on the whole are more restrictive of academic freedom and free enquiry than secular institutions. I don’t think you can do that. Instead, you simply invoke what seems “obvious” to you, but that’s not good enough.

      • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Matt DeStefano

        “And if you’re an atheist then you have a lot of social and psychological attachments that other beliefs lack. Can you imagine how hard it would be for Richard Dawkins to announce that he had become a theist?”

        Yes, I can, but that’s unimportant to this argument. Cherry-picking examples that fit your desired description is the hallmark of confirmation bias. As Walter has already pointed out in this comment thread, “I think that the relevant question is this: who is likely to be more biased when discussing metaphysical worldviews?” I’m arguing that the practices in Christian universities (along with the social and psychological implications that have been drawn out elsewhere) suggest that Christians are far more likely to be biased.

        “There are a lot of things that strike you as “quite obvious” or “rather obvious”. But what if I say they are not obvious?”.

        HOW DARE YOU! ;)

        “However, for you to suggest (if you are indeed suggesting) that Finkelstein’s persistent and vociferous criticism of Israel’s human rights record has not created enormous professional problems for him.”

        I was not denying that they committed enormous professonial problems for him. You attempted to use Finkelstein as an example where ideological differences were the reason he was denied tenure, but the statement from DePaul indicates that these personal attacks played a great deal in their decision, as the Dean said he found “Finkelstein’s attack-style scholarship inconsistent with the university’s commitment to respect for the views of all”. It is important also to note that his own department *approved* his application for tenure, despite the attacks from Harvard.

        Further, it’s not as if Finkelstein were fired *explicitly* because he refused to abide by the instructions of the university on which ideologies to teach.

        “This is irrelevant. As I explicitly said, not all norming orthodoxies or ideologies are written.”

        I disagree, I think it’s entirely relevant. The very fact that Christian universities have written “norming orthodoxies” (which are really just documents that tell the professors what they must believe and teach to work at the university) are a significant indication that these orthodoxies play a much stronger role at these universities.

        “What you have to do is argue that Christian institutions on the whole are more restrictive of academic freedom and free enquiry than secular institutions. I don’t think you can do that. Instead, you simply invoke what seems “obvious” to you, but that’s not good enough.”

        I’ve not (only) invoked what “seems obvious” to me, but instead provided examples of practices which indicate that this is true. Christian universities (the moniker alone hints that it is not amenable to certain ideologies) often have written statements of faith, often fire professors for failing to implement it, and don’t hire individuals who have beliefs that do not confer with their doctrinal beliefs. It is problematic if you want to make a claim that you encourage academic freedom while only hiring professors that fit a certain ideological mold.

        You’ve tried to point to two examples of academic conformity in secular institutions: one which is plagued by a personal vendetta, and one which is just scathing criticism. Two examples are hardly indicative of any kind of trend, and very poor evidence of an impact of norming orthodoxies at secular institutions. (As a side note, Chalmers and Bourget have a paper out that discusses what philosophers believe, and I think you’ll see that these beliefs about an overriding preference for naturalism aren’t as prominent as you indicate. http://philpapers.org/rec/BOUWDP)

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “Cherry-picking examples that fit your desired description is the hallmark of confirmation bias.”

          This isn’t “cherry picking an example”. What it does is show that whether you’re a Christian or an atheist or anything else, the more committed you are to a position, the more you have invested in it, the more difficult it will be for you to reject the position. Consequently, I can turn the confirmation bias charge back on you to say you’re dismissing salient examples to illustrate my point that you can’t single out “religious affiliation” as especially prone to x.

          If you want to argue that Christians are more “biased” then you should provide hard statistical data to support that conclusion.

    • TheAtheistMissionary

      “he has not had his job threatened, he has not had the university make him apologize for his views, and he has not had his feet held to the fire over a “Statement of Naturalism” by NYU”
      Nagel has received a nice little stream of royalties and I’m willing to bet that he was also paid an advance by his publisher. [crocodile tears]

  • David_Evans

    I wondered which reviews could be described as “crucifying” Nagel. I thought Jerry Coyne could be relied on for something abrasive, so I looked here: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/tom-nagels-antievolution-book-gets-thrice-pummeled/

    I don’t see anything there but reasoned argument, acknowledging the quality of Nagel’s previous work. The criticisms are mostly ones which I had arrived at myself – though, of course, better expressed. I don’t see how better one can review a book which one believes to be wrong in important respects.

    • RonH

      Aw, cut Jerry some slack. After all, he admitted he didn’t actually read the book, and was mostly just quoting from another review. I suspect P. Z. Myers wouldn’t let you down though.

      • David_Evans

        I was referring to Coyne and the 3 reviews he quoted. Myers doesn’t seem to have commented on Nagel. Do you have an example of an unduly harsh review?

        • RonH

          I’ve neither read the book nor the reviews of the book. I clicked through your link because I was intrigued by the claim that Jerry Coyne had nothing abrasive to say about a book criticizing naturalism. That, along with that time I agreed above with John Shore, makes two impossible things that have happened today. Are you guys sure there’s no God?? ;-)

          • David_Evans

            “Are you guys sure there’s no God?”

            Frankly, no. Like Dawkins I give that proposition a 6.9 on a scale of 1 to 7. Varying somewhat from day to day.

            • Kerk

              6.9 out of 7 is not classified as “I’m sure”?

              • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                It helps to distinguish between epistemic doubt and psychological doubt. If something is not logically certain then there is always the possibility that one could be wrong about it. But that doesn’t mean one has any psychological doubt about the correctness of their position. Dawkins may have epistemic doubt (i.e. he recognizes his beliefs are defeasible) but that doesn’t mean he has any psychological doubt.

                • David_Evans

                  Excellent reply. My position exactly.

            • cyngus

              I see some religious vultures rounding you for this 0.1 “I am sure there is god”.
              Actually all Christians build their faith on some 0.1 “there is god”, but out of a 1,000,000,000 scale.
              Compared to them, you are a Christian fundamentalist.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      The article I linked to provides a good overview of the type of criticism (including personal attacks) that Nagel has faced.

      • David_Evans

        I think Dawkins has faced equal or harsher criticism. From Antony Flew at http://www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/intermediate/flew-speaks-out-professor-antony-flew-reviews-the-god-delusion.htm

        “..the contents – or rather lack of contents – of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot.”

        “The fault of Dawkins as an academic (which he still was during the period in which he composed this book although he has since announced his intention to retire) was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form.”

        Then there’s Terry Eagleton at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching

        of which the URL (“lunging, flailing, mispunching”) is perhaps enough to give the flavour.

        In the Independent at http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-god-delusion-by-richard-dawkins-425934.html

        we find

        “This big, colourful book is mostly tendentious tosh”

        “Dawkins wastes a lot of space, and his readers’ time, flogging the corpses of sacred cows”

        “Some of his arguments are old atheistic chestnuts, and how merrily they crack in the roasting pan. The palm for outrageous question-begging goes to the Who Made God “argument”. Dawkins squirts this sachet of puerile pap (most of us had outgrown it before hitting double figures) over the whole book, to inadvertently comic effect.”

        and finally some demonstrable falsehoods in

        “Dawkins is also adept at looking the other way: no, Hitler probably wasn’t an atheist, but he was hugely influenced by Dawkins’s idol, Darwin, as was Stalin.”

        Bad reviews (in both senses) are, I’m afraid, part of the game.

      • David_Evans

        Also, I was not impressed by this, from Andrew Ferguson in the linked article:

        “A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions – understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots – wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.”

        So every materialist is either a hypocrite or a psychopath? Well, let me tell you something. I am a materialist. I believe I have free will, and therefore moral agency, only in a compatibilist sense. I believe that my friends and family are composed solely of matter, as am I. Strangely enough I still care what happens to them, and I have not committed even one crime of violence in the course of a long life.

  • brad lencioni

    Mr. Rauser, I wish you would please watch the following video for an excellent demonstration of the virtue, and scientific ideal, of intellectual honesty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtgLYXBC1z0

    The video is of a public discussion between popular physicists Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss. What is particularly relevant of the video to this discussion is the fact that Dr. Krauss is an outspoken critic of String Theory, which Dr. Greene has spent his entire career researching. And in the talk, Greene publicly concedes to many of Krauss’s critiques, admitting that “String Theory” ought to be understood as “String Hypothesis”, for it has failed to meet the standards of a formal scientific theory thus far.

    He states that he has spent much time and effort trying to discover a test that would make the “hypothesis” falsifiable; for if it is bogus, then he would like to know so he could shift his time and talent to something more promising and truth bearing.

    And I find this thinking to be trivially rational of Greene. However, I have discovered that this kind of thinking is enormously difficult for religious believers to comprehend–namely, a thinking process which doesn’t include the machinery of “faith”. (Trusting an ideology before the evidence–i.e. throwing away reason when it clashes with faith–is putting the cart before the horse, and has proven a devastating mistake of humanity over and over, throughout time. Understanding this seems to me to be one of philosophy’s “easy” problems.)

    There are many people who immerse themselves in logic, math, and science solely for the sake of being able to accurately analyse the available evidence and information, and to discover the reality of things. And, whats-more, one can reject Christianity, not out of rebellion ( I found this shocking idea to be as offensive as it is silly), but because it is just a poor model of the universe; because it is an impotent hypothesis which is not consistent with the available information. Believe it or not, the thinking of Non-Christians is vacuous of the judgements of the biblical character, Yahweh.

    Peace,
    Brad

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Hi Brad. I’ll take a look. I’m interested in intellectual virtue and truth pursuit, particularly since I wrote a book on the topic, “You’re not as Crazy as I Think”.

      • brad lencioni

        I just discovered your blog–I will look into your book :)

        It seems to me that this issue goes to the roots of the difference between religious believers and non-believers (i.e. atheists), and it ought not to be side tracked to arguing over Nagel’s career, etc.

        Rather, it seems to me the issue is over how faith influences a persons thinking and how consistent religious faith is with the virtue of honesty. Is faith a virtue, or rather does faith serve as a biasing weight, causing believers to be (grossly) overconfident in certain propositions about the history and nature of the universe? Furthermore, is it possible to search out truth without maintaining faithful ties to particular conclusions which fundamentally bias our pursuit?

        I think the answer to both questions is “Yes.” I’m guessing you disagree with me, and I would be fascinated to learn more about why.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          The issue is not which metaphysical views one has (e.g. is one a Christian theist or an atheistic naturalist or something else) but rather how one holds those beliefs. One can inculcate epistemic virtues whilst being a Christian or atheist and one can fail to inculcate epistemic virtues whilst being a Christian or atheist.

          In “You’re not as Crazy” I explain what it means to be indoctrinated in a worldview, including the inability to assess critically one’s own beliefs. And I provide examples of both Christians and atheists who reflect marks of indoctrination.

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