Keith Ward & The Jerry Coyne Challenge

Readers of Talking Philosophy will be aware that recent mention has been made of philosopher Keith Ward, a Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, who Russell Blackford thinks ‘goes badly wrong’ when he ‘talks about the limits of science’ in a recent article.

Although Russell is clearly in a different camp to Ward, he does share the latter’s rejection of “the principle of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) …. according to which, religion and science, properly construed, have separate [but non-exhaustive] epistemic territories or areas of authority”. As Ward says: “Many religious statements are naturally construed as statements of fact – Jesus healed the sick, and rose from death, and these are factual claims. So Stephen Gould‘s suggestion that religion only deals with value and meaning is incorrect, though it is correct that scientists do not usually deal with such questions.” Ward further argues that “a huge number of factual claims are not scientifically testable. Many historical and autobiographical claims, for instance, are not repeatable, not publicly observable now or in future, and are not subsumable under any general law. We know that rational answers to many historical questions depend on general philosophical views, moral views, personal experience and judgement. There are no history laboratories. Much history, like much religion, is evidence-based, but the evidence is not scientifically tractable.“

It is not, perhaps, entirely surprising that an article titled Religion answers the factual questions science neglects did not receive a warm welcome over at New Atheist biologist, Jerry Coyne’s place. Running with the headline “Guardian writer foolishly claims that religion answers factual questions”, Coyne objects strongly to what he views as Ward’s overly narrow conception of science. There is always argument about what ‘science’ ‘means’ in cases like the ones Ward mentions, says Coyne: “When trying to deal with factual claims about the universe, I would use the definition of ‘science’ as ‘a combination of empirical investigation and reason.'” Coyne concedes that “not all facts are ‘scientific facts’ in the sense that a) they’re investigated by scientists, b) they’re studied in the laboratory c) there has to be ‘repeatability’ in the scientific sense.” But, he asserts “all ‘facts’ must be empirical facts, susceptible to empirical investigation, confirmation by several lines of evidence, and the possibility that the claim can be falsified…. To say that human history is ‘not scientifically tractable’ is just about as dumb as saying that evolutionary history is not scientifically tractable…. This kind of denigration of ‘science’—with science defined so narrowly that it comprises only ‘the things that laboratory scientists do’—takes place for only one reason: to justify religion… Ward’s line of analysis is so palpably weak that I’m surprised anybody would accept it…I do not intend to take issue with any of Coyne’s substantial criticisms here. Readers, hopefully will give due consideration to all the current and forthcoming arguments and make up their own minds. What did pique my interest, and prompt this modest piece of reportage, was the manner in which Coyne closed his posting:

I challenge Ward to give me just one reasonably well established fact about the world that comes from “general philosophical views, moral views, personal experience and judgment” without any verifiable empirical input.

This is indeed an interesting challenge. It seems a difficult one to meet and I doubt anybody could meet it to Dr Coyne’s satisfaction. It is, after all, very much a question of definition. [Indeed as Bob Lane suggests: Coyne’s challenge might appear circular: ‘a fact is a condition that obtains and is verifiable empirically – now give an example of a fact that is not’.] In any case, I can offer up no answer of my own. I did attempt to solicit responses. One opined: “That human agents have intrinsic moral worth and should be treated alike in the same situations regardless of sex, religious convictions, and social status.” And from Jeremy Stangroom there was perhaps the more promising suggestion, “that there is something that it is like to be a bat/person”. He also suggested that Dr Coyne really ought to think about Mary’s (Black and White) Room, and that does sound a promising line of inquiry. In any case, if anybody reading feels they can meet The Jerry Coyne Challenge I’d be delighted to hear from you.

As an intellectual exercise it is interesting, but The Jerry Coyne Challenge is interesting for another reason. And that is because it has not really been set as a challenge at all. Reading Dr Coyne’s post, you won’t find anything along the lines of “‘I await Ward’s response with interest” or “Ward has yet to take up my invitation to reply”. I did post a comment asking “Did you email and ask him? It’s just I don’t imagine he reads your blog.” But I never did get a response. I feel that if you actually want to issue a challenge to someone you do rather need to let the other party know. That rather is the point. So I dropped Keith Ward a note and, though he’d never heard of Dr Coyne or his blog, he was perfectly happy to offer a response to ‘the challenge’.  And I’m perfectly happy to print it here. I don’t offer up Professor Ward’s reply up with the claim that it is a resounding refutation of all Dr Coyne’s criticisms. I make no claims for it at all, except that it is philosophically literate and intellectually honest. So here it is, Professor Ward’s unsought reply:

I have been told that Jerry Coyne has challenged me to cite a “reasonably well established fact about the world” that has no “verifiable empirical input”. That is not a claim I have ever made, or ever would make.

What I do claim is not so controversial, namely, that many factual claims about the world are reasonably believed or even known to be true, even when there is no way in which any established science (a discipline a Fellow of the Royal Society would recognise as a natural science) could establish that they are true or false.

Here is an example: my father worked as a double-agent for MI6 and the KGB during the “Cold War”. He told me this on his death-bed, in view of the fact that I had once seen him kill a man. The Section of which he was a member was disbanded and all record of it expunged, and all those who knew that he was a member of it had long since died. This is certainly a factual claim. If true, he certainly knew that it was true. I reasonably believe that it is true. But there is absolutely no way of empirically verifying or falsifying it. QED.

The possible response that someone could have verified it if they had been there and seen it is one that A. J. Ayer rightly rejected as allowing a similar sort of claim about (e.g.) the resurrection of Jesus. When, in my Guardian piece, I described the resurrection as a ‘hard fact’, I naturally did not mean that it would convince everyone. I meant that it entails some empirical factual claims (so it is not just subjective or fictional). But those claims are not verifiable by any known scientific or historical means. That is why we make judgements about such claims in the light of our more general philosophical and moral views and other personal experiences- (i.e.) whether we believe there is a God, whether this would be a good thing for God to do, and whether we think we have experienced God.

Jerry Coyne and I seem to have different views about this, but neither of us have access to direct empirical evidence. We both think some empirical claims are relevant to our assessment of such claims. But as Ayer said, the concept of “relevance” is so vague that it does not settle any real argument.

“There it is.” concludes Ward: “It is interesting (and slightly depressing) that readers can exaggerate claims beyond any reasonable limits, so that they become ‘straw men’, easily demolished. Closer attention to exactly what is said, and to the long philosophical series of debates about verification – on which subject Ayer wholly recanted his famous espousal of the verification principle – might prevent such an ‘easy’ way with philosophical questions which are both profound and difficult.”

Post re-edited 06/01/12


  1. Thanks Jim. Nicely done.

    There are at least two ways of arguing on Ward’s side here. First, you might point out that Coyne’s asking for a ‘well-established’ fact is setting up a rigged game in favor of science. Science, after all, is a powerful institution — something might not count as a ‘well-established’ fact simply because scientists have the power to veto facts they don’t like. In that case, we’d be talking about the politics of knowledge, not knowledge itself.

    Second, it’s not clear to me that Coyne has characterized science in a consistent way. First he says: “When trying to deal with factual claims about the universe, I would use the definition of ‘science’ as ‘a combination of empirical investigation and reason.'” i.e., in some contexts, science is effectively just about how we characterize claims about knowledge. But then later he says that science itself involves a) the things that scientists do, b) in a lab setting, c) repeatably. That is, in other contexts, science involves methodological rigor. He’s slipping in and out of two characterizations of science depending on conversational expedience. This might seem peculiar, and perhaps illegitimate.

    But here are two points against Ward. Presumably, Ward would agree that it is not a ‘well-established‘ fact that Ward’s father was a double agent for MI5 and the KGB. Hence, strictly speaking, Ward’s rebuttal doesn’t meet the Coyne Challenge.

    Second point. As Ward mentions at the end, AJ Ayer abandoned the verification principle because it can’t be established in terms of itself. But Coyne isn’t Ayer. Ayer adopted the verification principle as means identifying meaning with cognitive content, in contrast with non-cognitive or insignificant expressions (like those of ethics and metaphysics). But Coyne isn’t saying anything like that. Coyne is saying that the careful evaluation of evidence is necessary for science, and that all fields crucially depend upon empirical proof if they’re to produce facts. Ayer is dogmatically dictating what it takes to have cognitive contents, while Coyne is only grappling with the problem of scientific demarcation. So it seems that Ward’s concluding remarks are out of tune with what Coyne is worried about.

  2. Ben – Ward explicitly rejects the terms of Coyne’s challenge:

    “Jerry Coyne has challenged me to cite a “reasonably well established fact about the world” that has no “verifiable empirical input”. That is not a claim I have ever made, or ever would make.

    His point about his father is merely that it is a reasonable thing for him (and his father) to believe, even though there’s no way of empirically verifying or falsifying it.

    In other words, he doesn’t think his rebuttal does meet the Coyne Challenge. That’s not his point.

  3. s. wallerstein (aka amos)

    “I think that Jeremy S. is right that introspection gives us facts about the world that cannot be empirically verified” is a fact about the world that cannot be empirically verified.

  4. My issue with Ward’s claims of “hard fact” that do not require empirical verification are how they are to evaluated against other contradictory “hard facts.”

    If Jesus’ resurrection is a “hard fact” because of my belief and experiences with my Christian God, then how do I evaluate that against a Muslim’s “hard fact” that Muhammad’s words are the revelation of Allah? Or the Hindu’s “hard fact” that their atman is eternal?

  5. Would Coyne accept it as generally well established that rape is wrong? After all, we prosecute people for it regardless of that person’s opinion, do we not?

  6. Depends on what a fact IS. Coyne’s challenge seems circular: a fact is a condition that obtains and is verifiable empirically – now give an example of a fact that is not ….

  7. Come on people let’s define our words by using some sort of legitimate mechanism; such as a dictionary.

    Here, Ward claims that he doesn’t claim what Jerry is on about and then he immediately does the same thing again.

    The only thing that Ward is dealing with here, and in his original post, is his beliefs.

    He did himself in when he gave his hypothetical and eliminated any possible way of garnering physical (i.e. empirical) evidence for his hypothetical claim about his father.

    If Ward had said that there were living people and surviving documents that could establish his claim, we would only have a little bit different claim. If he had set it up that we could talk to people who knew his father back when, and if he had set it up so that there were surviving, authenticated documents showing what his father supposedly did, then a “reasonable” person might agree that there is a very high probability that his hypothetical father did what Ward claimed he did. However, that still would not make it an absolutely, 100% “fact”.

    The only thing “factual” about Ward’s claims in both cases is that he made the statements that we have read and that the words making up those statements are a “fact”. Everything else is “belief” and nothing more and belief by itself never makes anything that we know of “factual”.

  8. Thank you to everyone who has taken the the time to comment.

    I regret that I’m presently unable to contribute to the discussion as much as I’d like or to give direct replies to everybody (that being what I would normally try to do).


    I see Jeremy has already made the first point I would have made: ‘Ward’s father was a double-agent’ is most certainly not a ‘well-established fact’ yes, by hypothesis no ‘established science’ (and perhaps more pertinently no Historical research) could make it one.

    Ward’s concluding remarks should not be read as part of his formal response as such. They were comments made directly after that which I thought appropriate to include. The message to take from that is, I think, that there should be “closer attention to exactly what is said” especially when what is being said is being said by somebody whose world-view is one you take to be wildly wrong (I would say the same about The Principle of Charity). I wouldn’t read too much into his reference to Ayer at that point. That said “the long philosophical series of debates about verification” is indeed something a blogging scientist might want to consider before he offers up a challenge to a philosopher which includes talk of the “verifiable”.. The more relevant reference to Ayer is “The possible response that someone could have verified it if they had been there and seen it is one that A. J. Ayer rightly rejected as allowing a similar sort of claim about (e.g.) the resurrection of Jesus.” . What importance or relevance that has seems a better focus of debate, but I don’t know that it is crucial.

    I don’t know that Science’s power as an institution to veto facts is an issue as such. And I don’t know that Coyne is inconsistent as far as how he characterises science. His ‘a,b,c’ list points to the criticism he is making of Ward for allegedly limiting ‘science’ to ‘the things laboratory scientists do’..His ‘definition’ is a rough indication of the wider conception of ‘science’ he thinks should be adopted in this context. Given the wide definition of ‘science’ he is using we might wonder what could count as a ‘well-established’ fact about the world that is not also a ‘scientific’ fact. But I don’t know that this is important. I wouldn’t fault Coyne for saying that the same methods evolutionists use do not differ fundamentally from the methods linguists use to uncover the origin of new languages, or historians use to establish historical facts (not in the context in which he is saying it). But I think there may be a significant difference with regard to the ability of the non-physical sciences to establish facts as far as levels of certitude are concerned. That may be pertinent.

    Bob Lane has just made a comment that is well worth attention. And more generally Coyne’s conception of what a fact is worth taking into consideration. Some might rather want to say Ward’s father knew he’d been a double-agent and that his being so is a fact. In Coyne’s conception that Ward’s father was a double agent isn’t a fact at all. Coyne says: that ‘all “facts” must be empirical facts that are *susceptible to empirical investigation, confirmation by several lines of evidence, and the possibility that the claim can be falsified.* and that “A ‘fact’ is not a fact if all the evidence supporting it has vanished or is inaccessible.”.

    I think Coyne is using the word ‘fact’ in a way that is consistent with scientific practice. Whilst Ward is using it a way that may be acceptable to philosophers though there seems a lot of room to discuss what a ‘fact’ is. BradW suggests we use a dictionary to get clear on the difference between facts and beliefs. Quoting dictionaries doesn’t seem fruitful, but I certainly imagine dictionaries would show that he – and Coyne – are using the word ‘fact’ in a perfectly legitimate way:. But then I think they would also show that Ward is using the word ‘fact’ in a perfectly legitimate way too.

    The scientist and the philosopher are talking past each other.

  9. I think Coyne’s real question is:

    Are there any non-egocentric/non-self-referential contingent/non-necessary propositions whose truth/falsity is known/knowable by virtue of epistemic sources other than external sense perception, i.e. by virtue of rational reflection/intuition or introspection or memory or testimony, or (to mention alleged additional sources) extrasensory perception or mystical apprehension or divine revelation?

  10. Coyne should formulate his challenge more precisely.

  11. Maybe it would be better to focus less on the technical definition of what counts as “scientific knowledge,” and more on the suggestion that by critiquing the technical definition of knowledge, one can show it to be reasonable to believe that magic is real.

  12. It’s seems to me this discussion, here and at weit, has been all over the place. From what I can see here, Ward is only talking about historical events–things that happen at a particular place and time. So the whole discussion about whether philosophy ever establishes anything is tangential. Ward is saying one can know about a historical event, even though no science can establish it for all people. Well that sounds clearly true. It doesn’t take anything esoteric to prove it’s true, either.

    To wit: I had a conversation 8 months ago with my father. I remember what he said, but he doesn’t (because he has a bit of dementia) and no one else was there. I know for sure what he said, and so does my husband, since I’ve told him, and he trusts me, and has good reasons to trust me. My husband can pass this along to people who trust him, etc. Everyone in the chain comes to know what my father said, but there’s certainly no science that can study what my father said and spread the news to the entire world.

    Right. What’s to be upset about here? The quote from Ward that’s engendered so much chat at weit is this–“that is why we make judgements about such claims in the light of our more general philosophical and moral views and other personal experiences.” This is completely innocuous. It’s just saying that my total body of knowledge can have some impact on what I believe about what my father said, and people downstream will likewise use their total body of knowledge. If I tell my husband my father said something really bizarre, he’ll have to balance various things–his trust in me as a witness and his knowledge about what people are likely to say, etc.

    So–so what? There’s nothing about the general picture here that anyone should find troubling. No big questions about the value of philosophy are raised. Just really nothing of much interest.

    The only serious question is about whether there are these chains of trustworthy people leading back from Christian believers today, through the ages, all the way back to the first century, and to the various events Christians believe to have occurred. Ward thinks yes (I guess), I think no. I think the chains got all messed up for all sorts of reasons–as discussed by scholars like Bart Ehrman. So Christians today can’t know about historical events back then in anything like the way I and others can now what my father said 8 months ago.

    Somehow philosophy got put on trial in this debate, but what should have been on trial is the idea that there are any reliable chains of evidence reaching back to first century biblical events.

  13. Jim, it’s a fair point to say that some of my potential replies were terribly weak. They only work so far as it goes. I’m okay with that.

    But here’s the one point that I think is pretty instructive. Coyne has permitted inconsistent characterizations of science. In the relevant post, he describes science in a wide sense as “trying to deal with factual claims about the universe” in terms of empirical facts. That’s his ordinary sense of science, which is pragmatic about the connection between science and philosophy. But then, in direct reply to Ward, he permits the characterization of science in a narrow sense: repeatable, etc. The narrow sense of science is certainly not his preferred definition, but he clearly does think that Ward’s characterization of science is at least intelligible as a way of thinking about science.

    I should add that the fact Coyne recognizes two senses of ‘science’ doesn’t mean that he has contradicted himself. It might mean that ‘science’ is a graded concept, which we can use differently in different contexts, depending on how fine-grained you need to be for the purposes at hand. e.g., if you’re in a meeting of the Royal Society, maybe it’d just be easier to use the narrow sense of science instead of the wide one. And that’s perfectly fine. But still, it involves a conceptual slip that we ought to note.

    Anyway, why does this exchange show that philosophers and scientists are talking past each other? If anything, Coyne’s recognition of the narrow formal use of ‘science’ indicates that he’s willing to actively engage Ward on his own terms, even while rejecting those terms. And there are many philosophers who agree with Coyne’s preferred (wide) characterization of science (myself among them). Seems to me that to characterize science as “what happens in the lab, repeatably” is to mischaracterize science, if only because naturalistic observation is scientific. The ‘meet me in my lab over test tubes’ model of science is hopeless — unless we feel (wrongly) that Jane Goodall doesn’t qualify as a scientist.

    So there are substantial reasons for this disagreement, resting on what appears to be a very real disagreement between Ward and Coyne about the demarcation problem. And so far as that goes, I have hitched my wagon to Coyne’s bus.

  14. Ben,

    They are talking past each other with regard to the word ‘fact’. The demarcation problem between science and other evidence-based rational enquiries doesn’t seem so very important. Their relationship to religion does. I’ve not hitched my wagon to Ward except in so far as I think his innocous claims are being been made into nonsense partly through terminoligcal misuderstanding about the word ‘fact’ and partly becuase he is a ‘theologian’ and there’s no perceived need to read carefully or interpet charitably when your dealing with a theist philosopher.

    Hi Jean,

    Yes what Ward has said as far as his earthly father is concerned should be in no way troubling. There’s been some confusion caused by the word ‘fact’ having different meanings, it seems, for philosophers than it does for scientists, And there seems to have been a willingness to build straw men out of Ward’s innocuous claims simply because its a theistic conclusion he is arguing towards. The real issue should indeed be focused on Ward’s step from contingently ‘unverifiable’ but known or reasonably believed facts about his father to (necessarily?) unverifiable claims about God and Jesus and how they can be known or reasonably believed in a likewise manner.

    A particular philosopher is also a theologian, and a blogger on a philosophy site was a ‘pompous jerk’ towards Jerry Coyne and thought said theist should get a chance to respond to certain nonsense. They paint this as philosophy is in bed with theology (they refuse to accept you can be a theologian and a philosopher) so therefore all philosophy should be put on trial. I think this says a great deal about Coyne and some of the New Atheists associated with his blog. Fair enough attack me personally for being a ‘pompous jerk’ and fair enough attack the really problematic parts of Ward’s argument, why try to rubbish philosophy?

  15. Russell Blackford had intended to discuss how Ward had gone wrong with regard to the relationship of science and the humanities to each other and religion. If he does proceed with this, it should foster some clarity.

  16. Jim, Having now reread Ward’s original column, I think what you say here is exactly right–

    “The real issue should indeed be focused on Ward’s step from contingently ‘unverifiable’ but known or reasonably believed facts about his father to (necessarily?) unverifiable claims about God and Jesus and how they can be known or reasonably believed in a likewise manner.”

  17. Jim, we will have to disagree, then. Just look, for instance, at the title of Coyne’s recent post: “Can philosophy or religion alone establish facts?” (emphasis mine) Asking a question about philosophy is asking about a non-scientific branch of rational, and even empirical, inquiry. Indeed, the point of Ward’s MI5 and Oxford examples was to show that you can make empirically justified factual claims without resorting to distinctively scientific justifications.

    (Incidentally, as far as I can tell, nobody is really arguing about the nature of facts. Looking back on the articles, I notice that Ward mistakenly says things that are strictly nonsense, e.g., “Scientific facts are, of course, relevant to many religious claims… but not all facts are scientific facts”. Then Coyne repeats that error when he wrote immediately afterward, “No, not all facts are “scientific facts””. And now, over at WEIT, they’ve gotten on your case for failing to make the distinction. It’s a touch unfair, since you inherited their non-literal shorthand.)

    Since we’re talking about the different kinds of justification involved in making factual claims, and science/philosophy/religion are different ways of justifying factual claims, then we’re absolutely going to need a clear-headed idea of what philosophy is, what science is, and what religion is. Hence, it is absolutely essential for you to pin down your argument about the demarcation of science to philosophy, i.e., by saying that “science is in the lab” (as Ward does), or “science is consilience” (as Coyne does). So the competing conceptions of science absolutely cut right to the root of their argument.

  18. (To be clear, the above should read, “they’ve gotten on your case for failing to make the distinction between facts and factual claims”.)

  19. Hi Ben,

    “the point of Ward’s MI5 and Oxford examples was to show that you can make empirically justified factual claims without resorting to distinctively scientific justifications”

    I think its better put like this:

    The point is that it is reasonable for Ward to believe that ‘my father was a double-agent’ is a fact about the world. Even though his father’s claim is beyond the reach of empirical verification (or falsification), it’s reasonable for him to believe it is true.

    Over at weit you still seem to have people saying “so he claims its a ‘well-established fact’!’ and ‘why should I believe it?! – its more probable his father was lying!’” This does rather seem to miss the point.

    “nobody is really arguing about the nature of facts”

    That’s part of the problem – its being taken as a given by many that a fact is a ‘well established factual claim’ as opposed to the thing that makes it true.. I noticed that Jean at least had tried to argue about the difference. But I can’t keep up with all the herd gibberish over at Jerry Coyne’s place – though there are a few bright and fair-minded candles that burn over there.

    It may well be the case that Ward in his original article was insufficiently clear. The principles of charity and rationality should be adopted and fair-minded attention paid to his reply.

    The conceptions of science really don’t have the significance to my mind that you place on them. And I don’t see that it is it is “absolutely essential” for me to pin down ‘my argument’ about “the demarcation of science to philosophy.” I’m not making one, I think we all have a working idea of the difference between the two.

    I think Jean’s analysis is the best I’ve heard and actually she says the most part of what needs to be said. Beyond that I’d merely underline the failure to adopt the principles of charity and rationality on the part of the new atheists.

    And, heck, I might even go out on a wing and suggest that maybe, just maybe, Ward has (and others have had) experiences and philosophical speculations that make it reasonable *for him* (or them) to believe that certain religious beliefs correspond to facts about the world even though they are not susceptible to scientific investigation (and I think they are very much wrong).

  20. Oi, language is getting in the way of so much here!

    Your proposed formulation of the problem is just a restatement of what I said. Assuming, that is, ‘not empirical’ means “not scientific”. (And if it means “without evidence”, then it’s not what Ward is arguing, on any charitable reading.)

    I don’t think anyone means to conflate facts with ‘well-established factual claims’. But that’s because people are using locution “fact” in a loose way: first Ward, then Coyne, and now yourself. Everyone meant “factual claim”, nobody meant “facts” (as in truth-makers). When you see Ward or Coyne use the word “fact”, it’s just a shorthand for “factual claim”. That’s my charitable reading of the two of them, since a proposal about the nature of “facts” would be a spectacular non-sequitur in this context. That’s why I think Jean’s Socratic olives example is not on point (even though it is an understandable interpretation of their verbal slips).

    When I said “your conception of science”, I was using the generic sense of ‘you’. Apologies. Replace “your” with “the”.

    My point is that it’s absolutely essential that we see that we don’t all have the same working understanding of how to demarcate science from philosophy. Coyne explicitly sees science in a way that Ward doesn’t. (In addition, I’d like to add, Coyne’s model of science is just better.)

    An argument for religion is supposed to be the upshot, but it has actually been only lurking in the background of the main argument between Ward and Coyne. As you say, the argument should be about the inference to theology, but it hasn’t even gotten to that stage yet. We’re still struggling with the substantial divide in the foreground of the exchange between Coyne and Ward, which is this: the disagreement between them rests on different ideas about what counts as empirical justification and scientific justification.

  21. Part of the disagreement and confusion lurks in the fact that Jerry has made a challenge that is impossible to meet. Bob Lane touched on this earlier. And a number of people at weit is true have picked up on this as well.

    Roughly, for Coyne the word “fact” refers to a state of affairs that obtains in the world for which there is empirical warrant. Then he effectively says: name me one well-established fact that’s been established without using empirical techniques.

    And the failure of Ward (or me) to do so is seen to damn both Ward and philosophy generally.

  22. A meta remark–

    JC wants to know why philosophers are impatient with him. One reason is because he has a debunking impulse when it comes to philosophy. He periodically goes into “it’s rubbish!” mode. He then expects philosophers to defend the discipline, with his mostly science-oriented commentators set up as jury. This is all insane, because philosophy is a complex and technical discipline. So you simply can’t present a philosophical argument and expect non-philosophers to appreciate why it really does establish something. Case in point–one of the most solid philosophical findings around is the causal theory of reference. There’s no way on earth that can be explained and defended to the satisfaction of anyone who hasn’t taken a lot of philosophy, including a lot of philosophy of language. So the result exists, but the jury will never be satisfied. Moral of the story: don’t play this game!

    Another reason for impatience is that Jerry just doesn’t know the tools of the trade. Of course not–he’s a biologist who reads some philosophy. I’m a philosopher who reads some biology, and my errors would be just as bad, if I wrote posts about biology. Case in point–that sentence of his about facts–

    ” A ‘fact’ is not a fact if all the evidence supporting it has vanished or is inaccessible.”

    You need to get control of terms and concepts before having a profitable discussion, and this is a mess. Facts are out there in the world–they are what make claims (or sentences, or beliefs) true or false. They don’t change just because evidence disappears.

    Perhaps what he means is “a known fact is not a known fact, if all the evidence supporting it has vanished or is inaccessible.”

    But that’s kind of messy too. Facts aren’t simply know or not known. They’re known by specific people. So what’s he really trying to say?

    “A known-by-X fact is not a know-by-X fact if all the evidence for it has vanished or is inaccessible.”

    Well, OK, but now what do we mean by evidence? If I remember what my father said 8 months ago, and I’m the only one with this memory, is my memory evidence for what he said? What if I tell someone what he said? Etc. etc.

    I think we need a super-careful discussion of a lot of basic concepts to make any headway here–facts, claims, evidence, science, reason. And…I don’t think we’re going to get that from Coyne, because (with all due respect) this isn’t his discipline.

    Going beyond meta–I think Ward’s right that some facts are knowable to only limited groups of people, and can’t become sharable, universal knowledge. If sharability is a mark of science, then some knowledge is not scientific knowledge. In principle, knowledge of biblical and divine events could be like this, except that I’m skeptical that even one person has private warrant for such claims. So: the basic idea of private warrant and facts that elude science is A-OK, but the idea that this helps out the theist is unpersuasive (to me, anyway).

  23. Jean,

    I think you could clear up a lot of confusion – you still have an account here, I’m sure you’re till welcome to post. Perhpas you could do a cross-post at your site and hered about the basic concepts: facts, claims, evidence, science, reason. I think that could really help get matters cleared up.

  24. Jim,

    Part of the disagreement and confusion lurks in the fact that Jerry has made a challenge that is impossible to meet.

    That’s definitely a fair cop. Whether or not it’s ‘impossible’ to meet, I don’t know. But I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t a fair challenge. Don’t let that distract from the fact that there’s an underlying, substantial debate. They are not just talking past each other.

    And the failure of Ward (or me) to do so is seen to damn both Ward and philosophy generally.

    I don’t think Coyne is gunning for the damnation of philosophy. What Coyne has no time for is a priori foundationalist philosophy. It seems to me that he is mostly irritated when advocates of philosophy make appeals to authority, without giving his remarks serious consideration on their own terms. Yes, I find his occasionally dismissive remarks towards philosophy annoying, but only to the same extent that I find philosopher’s dismissive remarks to any reasonable potential student of philosophy annoying.

    Part of that dismissiveness is unintentional, I’m sure. There’s a lot of miscommunication here. But there’s also a bedrock of disquiet, and this deep divide is far more interesting than the sturm und drang of internet blogging. And, more to the point, I think Coyne put his finger on that problem in his replies to Ward.

    Jean rightly recognizes that there is a confusion of words in the debate. Based on context, I think Coyne meant “You do not know that a factual claim is about a fact of the matter if all the evidence supporting it has vanished or is inaccessible”. True, once that’s settled, we can keep pressing for further refinements about the nature of evidence, etc etc. But if you keep up the conceptual doubts, your inquiry will very quickly reach a point where it has no relevance to Coyne’s exchange with Ward.

  25. Ben, I see your worry about maintaining a connection to the debate, but on your reading, the assertion has no connection. In Ward’s story, “all the evidence” has not vanished. He remembers what his father said. That memory is surely evidence.

    Actually, I prefer my alternative to Ward’s example–it works better, simplifies, eliminates irrelevant worries. In my story, I remember what my father said in a private conversation that he can no longer remember. The fact is simply what my father said. My memory is my evidence. I do know what he said, but there’s no possible “scientific knowledge” of what he said, assuming scientific knowledge is by definition shareable. I can share my knowledge with a few people who trust me particularly, but no more than that.

    Likewise, if (IF, IF) Jesus really did walked on water, or whatever, it’s in principle possible that a few people could know this, and pass it on to further knowers. It might nevertheless be the case that the fact cannot be known in such a way that it could ever become shareable scientific knowledge.

    By the way, Eric McDonald wrote some good stuff on Coyne/Ward/Houston today, but towards the end of his post he says something very implausible–that facts and evidence are both always “lawlike”. Just not so. The fact about what my father said is not at all lawlike, and neither is my evidence about it–my memory.

  26. “Roughly, for Coyne the word ‘fact’ refers to a state of affairs that obtains in the world for which there is empirical warrant. Then he effectively says: name me one well-established fact that’s been established without using empirical techniques.” (Jim P Huston)

    Of course, if Coyne’s challenge boils down to “Show me some empirically/scientifically well-confirmed facts which haven’t been confirmed empirically/scientifically!”, then it is trivially unanswerable.

  27. Sorry, I haven’t been following this thread, but:

    “Ayer is dogmatically dictating what it takes to have cognitive contents”

    This is too uncharitable to Ayer – and I use the word ‘charitable’ advisedly, as one who accepts Davidson’s “principle of charity”!

    The early Vienna Circle philosophers were doing something very important – they were stumbling towards Wittgenstein’s “meaning = use” and Quine’s “semantics = epistemology”. Ayer especially was a pioneer in seeing that “meaning” in language had to be a matter of something more “external” than “stuff going on in consciousness”. He spoke of a “principle” of verifiability not because he thought he was some sort of Pope, but because he saw that testing involved modus tollens – that is, the claim that is tested has to be more basic that any observation that tests it.

    Ayer saw himself as a Hume revivalist, that is, as someone who thought many but not all of Hume’s ideas were very important. I think I must be an Ayer revivalist: Ayer was disliked by academics who considered him too rude (and too populist, too much on TV, etc.). But he was a very considerable philosopher. I urge everyone to read an article called “Chance” in a 1963 edition of Scientific American. (This appears not to be online yet, but I may yet make it so as an act of civil disobedience and to make great ideas more public.)

  28. Maybe we could reword Coyne’s challenge:

    “Show me one commonly accepted factual claim that isn’t confirmed empirically or scientifically.”

    I think this can be done, obviously. Answering this is trivial. “Aliens visit the Earth” is a commonly accepted fact that isn’t empirically or scientifically verified.

    That’s why I think the answers would be very, very, informative.

  29. Thanks Jean – Eric McDonald has indeed made some very good points that ‘echo’ yours. He seems to understand what he is talking about much better than Coyne does – indeed he seems to understand what Coyne is talking about much better than Coyne does. Getting clear on what Ward and Coyne are wrong about seems important on order to clear the ground for a useful conversation.

  30. I particularly like Eric’s point that Coyne is actually engaging in philosophy himself. Conversation continuing over there–

  31. I have not had the opportunity to follow this thread as closely as I would wish. However I note Ward has stated :-
    “What I do claim is not so controversial, namely, that many factual claims about the world are reasonably believed or even known to be true, even when there is no way in which any established science (a discipline a Fellow of the Royal Society would recognise as a natural science) could establish that they are true or false.”

    It seems to me that one cannot have private factual claims. A factual claim surely needs to have the approbation of a body of appropriate people. Is this (what Ward says) merely just a belief, which can be true or false, as opposed to a fact? Is not a fact such, that it can or could be be verified, in some way? I do not know if Ward’s claim that this is a fact is true or false. Maybe the father was in a delirium near to death or was just plainly lying. The person seen to be shot could have been the true father of Ward hence a lie on the father’s part.
    If there are many factual claims which cannot be validated as Ward says, could he supply some more? It looks like he may have made one up and to my mind not a very good one.

  32. Hi Don,

    I think Jean Kazez has been good at gettong clear on this above in her comments from November 18, 2011, 7:48 onwards.

  33. Doubtless there are things in your own life that you alone know, and no scientific or historic research could verify. You would say that those things are facts about the world that you know. You would be making a factual claim if you told me about them. I might, given my knowledge of you, your good character etc reasonably believe them. Thats all there is to it.

    The real issue should be focused on Ward’s step from contingently ‘unverifiable’ but known or reasonably believed facts about his father to (necessarily?) unverifiable claims about God and Jesus and how they can be known or reasonably believed in a likewise manner

  34. There surely is a non-negligible difference between being a double-agent and being God incarnate.

  35. Hi Jean, I do think the assertion connects to the exchange, in the following sense. Coyne was trying to characterize Ward as being hostile to empirical evidence. It turns out that that was Coyne’s mischaracterization, and to that extent, we might say they’re talking past each other. But we can’t say the assertion wouldn’t be relevant to the exchange — clearly it was.

    The point I’ve been trying to stress is that these verbal disagreements are not going to resolve the argument, because there is a genuine and substantial disagreement here. That is, Ward and Coyne have different ideas about what counts as sufficient evidence to justify belief in factual claims. For instance, I have some good reasons to doubt that your memory of what your father said is veridical (e.g., memory, as it turns out, is highly constructed), and only have your testimony to go on. But my doubts would be less good if there were multiple, overlapping sources of independent evidence that converged upon that single explanation.

    A better example to use against Coyne would be to point out the following. When I say there’s a table-like object before me, I have access to multiple, overlapping sources of evidence to prove it. That is: I can taste the table (though, FYI, it was pretty bland), I can see it in the light, hear it by knocking on it, touch it, I can remember doing all of the above, and I can have other people give their reports involving the table. This is all empirical evidence, of course — verbal disputes aside, both Ward and Coyne would agree on that. And both would agree that I know it: it’s a good factual claim. But I’m not obviously doing anything like science when I am explaining these multiple overlapping forms of evidence and explaining the evidence in terms of my theory that “there is a table”. The problem is, it seems as though Coyne is forced to say that my “table theory” is a scientific theory, or close to a scientific theory, because convergence is the essential characteristic of science. That might be a problem, and Ward would be well-situated to exploit this kind of example if he wanted to engage Coyne head-on.

    Jeremy, to clarify, my remarks should be read as a critique of the younger Ayer. In particular, I’m not impressed by his shaky reliance on Hume’s Fork, which is an arbitrary stipulation and phenomenologically implausible. But I agree that the Vienna Circle was enormously important and quite inspirational (Carnap and Neurath more than most).

  36. Jerry admitting perhaps he should have, doesn’t in anyway dismiss the other possibility, that perhaps he needn’t have. I think he was inviting others’ opinions. It is far from clear, from me at least, that you are the sole arbiter on how a challenge should be made. However, you seem to be pulling back from your claim that Coyne was not “serious and intellectually honest”, which is some small progress at least.

    You boast, that for you, writing an e-mail is not hard. But I have to inform you that your skill is far from unique, which gives me ever reason to believe that the chances of Ward hearing about the challenge was extremely high. It took just one reader of WEIT, to send one e-mail, for this (in your terms) incredibly unlikely event to occur.

    Having pointed out to you in my earlier comment that your “fact” was not a “fact”, and indicated to you that things which you believe are unlikely to happen are in fact far more likely to happen than ever before, are you intellectualy honest enough to admit you were wrong?

  37. Apols: should read “ever more reason”

  38. Pogsurf – If you want to comment here then you need to tone down the rhetoric (for example – talk of “some small progress”; stuff about people thinking they’re the “sole arbiter”; etc).

    This is non-negotiable (which means that you don’t negotiate about it or engage in a meta-discussion about it here).

    You’re welcome to discuss this issue (for the meantime). But you do it under the governance of a principle of charity, regardless of whether you think the OP did the same in the case of Coyne.

  39. Ben, For what it’s worth–my example is actually 100% real. I did have the conversation in question 8 months ago, and I was the only one there, and my father doesn’t remember it due to dementia. He said something extremely memorable (and repeated it many times over an hour’s time). So I’m as certain of this as I am of anything. I think I know it for sure, and can now make someone else know it (someone who knows me well enough to have reason to trust me on this topic). But none of this is science.

    I think Ward chose an example in this general category (involving a conversation with his father) because it involves knowledge of a past fact that can be transmitted to new people, who transmit it to more new people, etc. That’s how (I guess) he thinks some people can know facts about the resurrection and the like, so helps him make his case that religious knowledge is about facts not covered by science.

    But OK, if the idea is just to give examples of knowledge of a fact that isn’t scientific knowledge of a fact, there are all sorts of other good options.

  40. Jean, for sure. I’m not seriously trying to get you to doubt your own memories! — Goodness no. No doubt you have at least a reasonably justified belief that it happened, for various reasons.

    I’m just trying to put the strongest foot forward, of a case that Ward could argue meets Coyne’s criteria for justification but which does not qualify as science. I don’t mean to seem like I’m crowding out your example. Rather, I’m concerned that attempts to challenge Coyne by appealing to the success of basic evidential sources like memory will lead to objections from psychology, to wit, that one’s memory of events are subject to predictable defeaters like biases and confabulations. So he’d probably reject your proposed case for not meeting his challenge of being a non-scientific factual claim that is well-established as true — even if as a matter of fact it is true.

  41. Pogsurf,

    I don’t “boast” that writing an email is not hard for me. And you don’t have to inform me that my skill is far from unique. My point is that writing an email is not a hard thing to do and that Coyne possesses the skills to do it.

    You argue that it was more probable that Ward would have heard about this challenge than I had imagined. Coyne didn’t weigh up the probabilities and decide Ward would probably hear about it, and even if he had that is not enough. My position is that if you want to honestly issue a challenge – one that gives your opponent his right to reply – you require certainty that the other party will know about it. This might be reasonably trusted to come about indirectly in some instances. If Dawkins issued such a challenge in his latest book or somebody of Dennett’s standing issued such a challenge in a philosophy journal they would have good grounds to suppose Ward was bound to hear about it. This was not the case here. Coyne is neither of these individuals – he is nowhere near their league and he was not writing in the correct medium.

    I maintain that Coyne should have had the courtesy to inform Ward directly, and this is a possibility Coyne admits. I admit the possibility that – as Coyne suggests – I am a ‘pompous jerk’. Certainly my opinions may be old-fashioned. We have both given our honest opinion of the other’s actions to each other directly. I stand by what I said and I have discussed it with Coyne himself. Thus there seems little further to discuss.

    The claim that Coyne was engaging in empty rhetoric does nothing to change my estimation of the man. And my position that Coyne is not “serious and intellectually honest” has only been furrther confirmed by his recent behaviour.

    I have nothing further to say on this matter.

  42. s. wallerstein (aka amos)

    When online New Atheism or dealing with the online New Atheists becomes the apparent topic of conversation, the real topic is always somewhere else.

    We can talk for hours here about, say, free will. Don will argue with Jim, who will argue with Ben or with Leo or with Dennis or with one of the two Jeremies.

    Strangely, we are all talking about free will, only about free will.

    However, when the online New Atheism appears, a subcurrent, almost an id makes its force felt; and while the apparent conversation is about what is a “fact”, the real conversation is about power or about who loves or who hates whom or who said what or who did not said what to whom 3 years ago in another online forum.

    Conversing with the online New Atheists is like one of those strange, nightmare-like early Harold Pinter plays in which nothing that the characters say is about its apparent content.

  43. Ben, I’m not actually trying to meet Coyne’s challenge at all, which was to come up with a “reasonably well-established fact abut the world” that has “no empirical input.” That just seemed like no part of what Ward had said in his original Guardian column, and in his email to Jim, he’s emphatic about that. Going back to the original column and reading his email, it seems to me he’s saying that there are historical facts that (1) can be known by certain individuals, though (2) they’re not studied or studiable by any science. There’s nothing in that assertion about “well-established” or “no empirical input.” I think Ward’s own example was suitable, and I was just trying to improve on it a little.

    Amos, Actually, there’s less psychodrama here than you think. I read atheist blogs a lot because I’m an atheist, and I read Jerry Coyne’s blog more than any other because it’s just a very good blog. But his more philosophical posts sometimes get things wrong, in my humble opinion. So I made a criticism over there (to begin with), and then got interested in the whole topic and made more comments here. Really-no psychodrama. It’s just interesting to me (and to others, I think), whether some part of what Ward said made sense. Giving him a fair shake is just intellectually honest, not a question of my trying to save theists from the jaws of atheists, or trying to make Jerry Coyne look bad, or anything else. Again–the man writes a very good blog, and that’s why I’m a long-time reader, and why I bother to read closely enough to sometimes have objections.

  44. I think traditional empiricism very badly misconceives knowledge in general, and the ways knowledge is acquired. When people say that science is continuous with or grew from “empiricism” — meaning the traditional foundationalist epistemology opposed to “rationalism” — they just haven’t grasped how science works.

    That failing wouldn’t matter much if it just involved philosophers getting things wrong as usual. But unfortunately quite a lot of self-described scientists have adopted the traditional empiricist misunderstanding of knowledge and worked it into their own methodology, thereby rendering what they do little better than pseudo-science. (A practice that has wastefully engaged the minds of quite a few great scientists such as Newton.)

    The most important question in this discussion is: what is “empirical input” supposed to mean? The word ‘input’ is hopelessly vague in a context where it should be clear. And characterising science as relying on “empiricism and reason” doesn’t distinguish it from many other practices such as history.

  45. Re Jim Houston Nov. 19th 7.30 pm:-
    I have read Jean Kazez’ very interesting comments as suggested. My problem here is the use of the word FACT. In this connection I note you say;-
    “here’s been some confusion caused by the word ‘fact’ having different meanings, it seems, for philosophers than it does for scientists,”
    also to Jean Kazez you say:-
    “Perhpas you could do a cross-post at your site and hered about the basic concepts: facts, claims, evidence, science, reason. I think that could really help get matters cleared up.”
    The Stanford, and The Routledge Encyclopedias of Philosophy are not, well for me that is, much help in identifying exactly what a fact is. I have accordingly used the word embracing its scientific connotations. In this connection I see an important difference between a fact and a mere belief, which can be true or false. A false fact is surely a nonsense. My argument here is that Ward seems to be claiming he has a private fact. I do not see Jean goes that far, maybe she would, I do not know. I see a similarity here in claiming to have a private language, because it seems to me that the private fact runs into similar problems as does the private language.

  46. A fact might be either (A) a claim that happens to be true, or (B) a state of affairs in reality that makes a true claim true. The word ‘fact’;is more widely used to mean (B), so that truth can be understood as “correspondence to the facts”.

    For example, the sentence ‘snow is white’ (a linguistic entity consisting of 3 words, 11 letters or 13 characters including the spaces) is true because of the fact that snow is white. The fact of snow’s being white might be represented by a Venn diagram of two concentric circles, the larger of which represents the set whose elements are all white things, and the smaller of which represents the set whose elements are all instances of snow.

  47. s. wallerstein (aka amos)


    I’ve never quite understood why there can’t be a private language, although I can understand why there can’t be only a private language and no public ones.

    However, as for private facts, how about whether I love my mother?
    How about how I feel when I drink
    the new red wine that I bought yesterday? How about my never expressed opinion of Jonathan Franzen’s writing talent? How about what I’m thinking at this minute?

  48. Amos wrote: “I’ve never quite understood why there can’t be a private language”

    The “inverted spectrum thought experiment” illustrates both private facts and the necessity of public language rather well:

    It’s possible that you have the same experience when looking at red objects as I have when looking at blue objects. But we’d both call our private experience a “sensation of red”, because language has to be learned in public. We can only refer to the private experiences indirectly, by reference to the public objects that normally cause them.

    We cannot refer to such private experiences directly, because there are no public criteria of application of the terms that would refer to them.

  49. Re s.  wallerstein (aka amos)
    I understand your problems with the private language argument which may well be similar to mine. However in the main it holds that the words of the language can only be known to the speaker; to his immediate private sensations. So another cannot understand the language. The language is incomprehensible to more than one person because the things which define its vocabulary are necessarily inaccessible to others, In essence the language is unintelligible to anyone but the user who himself/herself is even placed in a situation of doubt regarding the consistency of his usage in the absence of input from other members of his/her race. Whether one agrees with this description or not, it does seem also applicable to one who claims to hold a private fact in his mind, which others cannot share. Now by a fact I mean something which is commonly held to be the case and can be demonstratively supported with rigour.
    Out of this it appears to me that if you claim to love your mother then you are expressing a feeling which I cannot experience. I obviously take your word for it, but that is all can do. I may even observe you behaving in a loving way to her but would I be justified in saying I have immediate, personal experience of this phenomena? Now if you say to me it is a fact that there is some magnificent surfing from the coast of Chile some waves can get up to seven meters or more; I could reply I do not believe it, that’s just what you think, it is not a fact. To this you could reply well come and see then you can get into the sea and feel the same exhilaration as I have, when seven meters of water meet you.
    You could say to me I do not believe it is a fact that when hydrochloric acid and zinc are mixed Hydrogen is evolved ; I can reply well come to my laboratory and I will show you. We can even calculate what volume will be evolved provided we initially measure quantities. If you then say that is not Hydrogen, then other tests can be done to hopefully persuade you it is all, factual.
    The problem for me is that I have no way of telling, understanding how you feel when you drink or what you are thinking now. Certainly you can tell me and I can choose to believe but beliefs and feelings are not in themselves facts: what is factual about them, is that we do have those kinds of experiences.
    This like many philosophical discussions revolves around a verbal dispute. My definition of a fact may well be not the same as yours so we are not actually discussing the same thing. Nothing gets resolved, other than there has been something of a mental workout.
    Even so called facts are not fireproof. The well established fact that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light is presently under threat, as a result of observations made concerning the behaviour of neutrinos.

  50. s. wallerstein (aka amos)


    By “fact”, I mean something which is the case. Facts are part of the furniture of the world, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia.

    Now, if we exclude subjective states, known only to introspection, from the class of facts, where are we going to put them?

    It seems that if we exclude subjective states from the class of facts, if we say that they are not part of the furniture of the world, we are going to end up in some kind of dualism, with a mental subject, which is not “of the world”.

    So since we’re both naturalists and I think that we both agree that subjective states, known only to introspection are part of the world or of its furniture, then maybe it’s better to call them “facts”.

  51. Tom Dobrzeniecki

    I hate to say this about Dr. Coyne, because he has written some interesting things. But Dr. Coyne can be incredibly mean-spirited and rude.

    He was discussing an article by Rabbi Jacobs on the website “whyevolutionistrue”.

    He called the Rabbi “deluded” and said that a refutation of the Rabbi’s article “wasn’t worth the electrons”.

    When I posted a politely-worded comment on his site suggesting that he should have the courtesy to refute the Rabbi properly instead of dismissing him with a hand-wave, Dr. Coyne called ME a “troll” and censored me from his site.

    I was quite surprised at how rude and petty Dr. Coyne could act.

  52. Talking Philosophy | Julian Baggini on religion and science - pingback on November 23, 2011 at 4:23 am
  53. I thought I’d actually commented in my earlier post about the relationship between the sciences and humanities and between them and religion, and how I think Ward gets these relationships wrong.

    I still think I’ve said the main things I want to about those relationships, but Jean Kazez has persuaded me (over on her own blog) that I may have read more into Ward’s original piece than was intended. So – sigh- I’ll have to revisit some it. One place to start was to go back and look at Julian Baggini’s original piece that Ward was responding to (so I’ve written a post that does so). We can then have another look at Ward in that context, assuming I’ve understood Julian more or less correctly.

    In truth I’m not even sure of that. All these pieces are brief and are probably leaving some assumptions, conclusions, and logical connections unstated. That makes it difficult to be sure of what is being said. There’s also a risk, in trying to remedy that, of over-interpreting what is implied … which, as I said, I just may have done in Ward’s case. Oh well, something to revisit tomorrow.

  54. Thank you Russell,

    You had indeed commented in your earlier post about the relationship between the sciences and humanities and between them and religion yes, and done so quite well.

    I look forward to a similarly insightful argument from you on why you think Ward is wrong to think it is reasonable *for him* to believe certain ‘facts’ aboput Jesus (despite biblical errancy), given that those claims are (supposedly) not falsifiable by ‘science’. (Philosophically he rejects the physicalist conception of the universe in favour of Idealism.) Obviously at bedrock is Ward’s belief that he personally has ‘experienced God’.

  55. Talking Philosophy | Jerry Coyne: Errors & Omissions - pingback on November 29, 2011 at 3:28 pm
  56. Articles. « Loftier Musings - pingback on December 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm

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