Friday, April 30, 2010

P. Z. Myer's Tacit Admission: I Shouldn't be Taken Seriously by Philosophers

This much, at least, can be reasonably inferred from his recent post on Pharyngula, a response to David Hart's new essay in First Things. Despite Myers' claim that he attacks all arguments for the existence of God, he frankly admits that he does not comprehend the terms employed in the cosmological proof for God's existence: "composite", "contingent", "finite", "temporal", "absolute plenitude of being", and so on.

These terms are, of course, slightly technical; but they are the basic vocabulary used in metaphysics in general, and the cosmological argument in particular. Hart is prone to unusual verbiage, but this is simply not the case here. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with the cosmological argument from the original texts knows these basic terms.

"Composite" just means a thing composed of matter and form; two elementary concepts from Aristotle's metaphysics. "Contingent" is simply a being that might exist or might not, but doesn't exist necessarily. "Finite" simply signifies that a thing is circumscribed within limits. "Temporal" signifies that a thing is subject to change over time. "Absolute plenitude of being" is simply a reference to God as pure actuality in Book VIII of Aristotle's Physics. This is Philosophy 101 level material.

P. Z. Myers' bafflement indicates that he has not made the slightest effort to familiarize himself with the cosmological arguments as it appears in the primary texts or, for that matter, anywhere. Even Richard Dawkins would have made the effort to scurry on over to, so that he could at least find the (incorrect) stock response. Myers didn't even bother to do a quick Google search.

I won't say the cosmological argument is easy; it certainly can be formulated in many ways, and implicates the deepest questions of ontology (as I've written about before here). In fact, my only complaint about Hart's piece is that he doesn't make the cosmological argument, he just describes it in an oversimplified way. It's a bit as though P. Z. Myers explains to someone that evolution is a biological process whereby fitter animals survive, speciation occurs, and the animal kingdom gets more complex over time, on which his interlocutor would express dismay that anyone could possibly understand the concepts "fitness", "speciation", or biological complexity. Myers would no doubt end the conversation there, and instruct his interlocutor to at least get the basic ideas down so that the subject may be intelligently discussed.

The same thing is going on in Myers post. He doesn't understand the most basic of the philosophic issues involved, and he cannot expect competent philosophers or theologians to take him seriously. Why should they? They can't read the Physics for him; he must do that for himself.

What would Myers think of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason? Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit? Heidegger's Being and Time? If he can't get the concept of actuality straight, I can only imagine what he would think of transcendental idealism or an immanentalist ontology. Or what he would think of David Hart's academic philosophical writings (which are actually difficult).

In the end, Myers just proves Hart's point. Unlike the great atheists of yesterday, the neo-atheists don't have the faintest clue about the very arguments they claim to reject. Myers has the courtesy not to pretend that he does. For his honesty, I suppose, we should be grateful.


Anonymous said...

Isn't there a biologist with a similar name?

Thomas said...

P. Z. Meyers is probably the biologist you're thinking of.

Anonymous said...

The correct spelling is "P. Z. Myers."

Thomas said...