Those who specify the existence of souls and afterlives in this scientific era must do more than issue fuzzy-minded gobbledygook. They must specify more precisely what they’re talking about, and how it’s supposed to work. If we’re supposed to survive after death, what part of us survives, and how? And what is this soul, exactly? We’re no longer in the Middle Ages, so theologians who make empirical claims must be empirically specific.Well, I'm not sure what counts as bona fide "fuzzy-minded gobbledygook," but Coyne's definition apparently does not include treating non-scientific questions as if they were scientific ones.
But, as I pointed out in my post on Carroll's original article, the major problem is simply that the scientific materialists who leave their discipline and start prognosticating on philosophical and theological topics are simply unfamiliar with the history of the discussions on the subjects on which they are opining. This causes them not only to make a hash of the whole thing, but to think that the questions they are asking have never been adequately answers.
In the present case, the discussion goes back to the pre-Socratic philosophers, through Plato and Aristotle, continuing on to St. Thomas Aquinas and into modern times--a fact about which Carroll and Coyne seem completely unaware. It's as if a philosopher had attempted to speak on the issue, say, of DNA, but had never heard of Watson and Crick.
In fact, we can go back almost 700 years and find St. Thomas Aquinas dealing with essentially the same issues, which he attributes to philosophers living over a thousand years before his own time:
The philosophers of old, not being able to rise above their imagination, supposed that the principle of these actions [knowledge and movement] was something corporeal: for they asserted that only bodies were real things; and that what is not corporeal is nothing: hence they maintained that the soul is something corporeal. (Summa Theologica, Question 75, Article I)The materialism of Coyne and Carroll is not, as you can see, a new thing.
In fact, the questions Coyne asks were answered by Aquinas and others. But he acts as if he knows nothing about them. Has he gone back and read Question 75 of the Summa Theologica? Has he bothered to consult Book II of the Summa Contra Gentiles? Maybe he wouldn't agree with Aquinas. Maybe he would think the arguments invalid. Maybe he would even think Aquinas' entire way of addressing the questions is outdated. But the problem is Coyne and Carroll are clearly not even aware of them.
They also seem unaware of the discussions in Plato's Phaedo, in Moses Mendelssohn's Phädon, in Descartes, Locke, Kant, and Pascal--or in Hegel and Spinoza. At least the philosophers who dissented from the view that the soul is immortal (and immaterial), like Lucretius, Hobbes, and Hume, knew what they were criticizing.
But what does Coyne do instead of actually looking to see how Christian thinkers and other philosophers have answered these questions? He makes things up:
Of course theologians will respond to all of the above like this, “We don’t have to tell you what souls are, or in what form you survive after death. We just know it’s true because we just know that there’s a God and that he allows these things.”This is not what Christian thinkers have argued and it is not what philosophers have argued. This is just silliness--coming, ironically, from someone who presumes to lecture other people on intellectual integrity.
This is a consistent problem with the New Atheists: they just simply ignore the best arguments against their positions and instead either cherry pick the worst arguments or simply make stuff up.