The Intellectually Inept Rantings Of AC Grayling

Having recently read and reviewed John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale’s recent book Questions of Truth, I came across some negative reviews written by some atheists on the web. This does not come as a surprise. Now, negative and critical reviews are completely fine providing they are sensible and have some genuine substance and justifications, but the particular ones I have looked at have none of these qualities. They are in fact absurd. Polkinghorne understandably attracts a healthy amount of attention for his views by christians and atheists, and Questions of Truth has had some interesting reactions.

Outspoken atheist/humanist AC Grayling, a philosopher and self-professed ‘bright’, published a scathing article in New Humanist magazine (read here), reviewing Polkinghorne and Beale’s book Questions Of Truth. I wasn’t planning on writing posts about Grayling but this particular review of his is crammed with misrepresentations, contradictions, logical fallacies and characteristically childish objurgations. I couldn’t resist! It puzzles me often because Grayling generally comes across as a polite man but when he starts talking about religion he resorts to knocking down straw men and ad hominem attacks. Having read his book Against All Gods and various articles of his in The Guardian, I am all too familiar with his philosophically vacuous thinking and sophomoric mockery. What is strikingly obvious when reading his review, is that Questions Of Truth touched a sore spot for Grayling. Both being New Atheists types, Dawkins and Grayling are friends and the book does critique Dawkins quite well, a fact that I’m sure Grayling doesn’t like. Predictably after reviewing the book, he is encouraged by Dawkins as his comment on richarddawkins.net shows: ‘What a wonderfully clear, incisive, and justly scathing writer AC Grayling is- Richard’.

In his ‘scathing’ critique of the book, the first factual error Grayling makes is in claiming the book is apparently self published. The book is actually published under Westminster John Knox who publish scholarly works on religion for the academic community. They have over 1,600 books in print and go back to 1838.

Grayling makes a snide comment that many of the questions in the book relate to theological issues or ‘premise membership of the asylum already‘. It is evident that he has to resort to labelling christians as ‘members of the asylum‘ to avoid engaging in rational dialogue and debate with them. Childish name calling is not what you would expect from a professor of philosophy but in Grayling’s case this is an exception. He contemptuously dismisses the theological questions raised in the book (why believe Jesus rose from the dead?), and one can only conclude that he’s afraid they just might offer some convincing and evidence based responses.

John is not happy with Mr Grayling

Grayling says that instead, he will turn to the questions that relate to science and religion revealing that he somehow thinks he has expertise on the subjects. He hasn’t any professional scientific background and then has the chutzpah to say:

‘because the interest attaching to Polkinghorne is that he is a physicist who became a Church of England vicar, which makes people think that he has a special line into the science-religion question’.

Yes John does have a special line into the science-religion question. As he mentions, Polkinghorne is a physicist who became an Anglican priest. Irritatingly for Grayling, he has over 26 books published on the subject and his work has also helped in the discovery of quarks (an unseen but fundamental constituent of matter). Becoming ordained in the church doesn’t mean he just threw all his scientific expertise out of the window. Sensible people are entitled to think John has a special line into the science-religion question because he does.

According to Grayling, all the responses in the book fall into three categories: god-of-the-gaps, arguments-to-the-best-explanation and “religion and science both seek the truth but in different domains”. He asserts that ‘undergraduates cut their teeth on refuting them‘, but as to who these undergraduates are, he does not say. I haven’t the time in this post to write a lot about the god-of-the-gaps accusation although I will do another time. Questions Of Truth does not use god-of-the-gaps reasoning. In short when atheists hurl out this accusation they are assuming a priori that the gaps will be filled with entirely naturalistic explanations and that some day science will explain everything. It’s Karl Popper called promissory materialism. Whatever science explains, there will always be metaphysical questions that go beyond scientific analysis. Polkinghorne and Beale actually concentrate on things that science can understand and infer God from these elements. Grayling strangely dismisses inference-to-the-best-explanation strategies or what is also known as abductive reasoning. Abductive validation is common practice in hypothesis formation in science, law and in particular philosophy of science so his objection is nonsense.

As mentioned the authors do not point to gaps in scientific knowledge and in fact admit that there could be possible alternative explanations for certain issues in the future, but say that they are too unlikely and implausible. The findings of modern science point towards a deeper reality that cannot in principle be answered by science. Next Grayling turns to the anthropic principle and misrepresents the argument by offering a false analogy:

‘I would not be writing this on a laptop if computers had not been invented, but this does not prove that computers were invented so that I could write this.’

Firstly by using this analogy Grayling admits that the computer (the universe), was invented and thus must have had an inventor. Secondly the fine-tuning argument is not used as a proof for a divine intention but a strong pointer. Thirdly what Grayling fails to understand is that the anthropic fine-tuning is really a bio-centric principle. Physicist Brandon Carter first coined the term ‘anthropic principle’ but thought it was a misleading label. The question to be asked is; why is the universe endowed with laws with staggeringly improbable values that make the emergence of intelligent carbon based life possible? To shrug shoulders and to say that we’re just here as a brute fact is the mother and father of all cop outs. Scientists wouldn’t get anywhere if they adopted this lazy approach. Ironically it can be labeled the it-just-is-of-the-gaps strategy! As the authors try show, the current alternative explanations to the fine-tuning are not plausible and theistic explanations are by far the most parsimonious. The fact that many atheists feel the need to appeal to a multiverse, even though there is no observable evidence for a multiverse whatsoever, is testimony to the fact that the fine-tuning cries out for a deeper explanation. The fine-tuning has some profound philosophical implications and many non-theistic physicists such as Roger Penrose, Paul Davies, Martin Rees agree on this.

Mr Grayling is sorry he wrote the book review (probably not!).

Next in the review he turns to the ”truth but in different domains” manoeuvre. Grayling doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the idea that the Bible contains different genres of literature. The Bible contains accounts of historical events, stories, poems, letters, allegorical and moral truths, parables and biographies and thus requires different levels of interpretation not ‘cherry picking’. As for ‘the resurrection…whose violations of biological laws you just have to shrug your shoulders over.’, I suggest Grayling should read the book Hume’s Abject Failure by John Earman. He then trots out the false claim that the Biblical interpretation for Genesis had to change in the light of scientific advances (I presume he means because of evolutionary theory). He evidently has a profound lack of historical knowledge on the subject and either didn’t bother checking the appendix notes on p163/164 in the book or found the fact inconvenient and chose to ignore it. St Augustine and pretty much every theologian in the 1st century Patristic period felt that the creation account seemed to imply a non-literal interpretation and this was around 1500 years before Darwin.

A second point to refute this claim of ‘reinterpretation in the light of science‘ is that Genesis predicted a finite universe centuries before the big bang theory was excepted. Indeed when evidence started coming in for the big bang, it was resisted by many scientists as it seemed to imply a creation event. In a snort of indignation, Astronomer Fred Hoyle came up with the label ‘big bang’ in order to discredit the idea because it seemed to conflict with his atheism. Hoyle then posited an alternative but eventually discredited theory, the steady state model. As another blogger pointed out , in the 19th century it was said by many that an eternal universe implied atheism. Now that it has been found to be an inconveniently finite universe, we are told that that implies atheism too. It seems that christians can no longer be the only ones charged of  ‘cherry picking’ and re-interpretation. Grayling then claims ‘And indeed there is no possible test of religious claims; again conveniently, “God will not be tested.” This is a whoppingly false claim and funnily enough completely contradicts what Dawkins himself thinks. In The God Delusion Dawkins  writes that religious claims are open to investigation and the God hypothesis is a scientific question. Religious claims can be tested.

According to Grayling, Christians make up the truth as they go along by re-interpreting scripture to avoid refutation. As we have seen, this is a false assertion. Surely if it is really the truth, then it cannot be made up. Truth is truth and it is discovered and revealed to us. With a somewhat tiresome predictability, Grayling then descends into mudslinging again and seems to take great pleasure in calling christians lunatics. Grayling’s lack of knowledge in philosophy of mind studies then allows him to dismiss Beale and Polkinghorne’s embrace of dual-aspect-monism. He complains that these ideas are ‘explained in a cloud of fudge by analogy with piano and the music played on it’. In others words he doesn’t understand. As to what the problems are with duel-aspect-monism, once again Grayling has absolutely nothing to say, dismissing it as too complicated to explain.

Last of all Grayling claims that it is scandalous that the Royal Society allowed the book to be launched by them and that they felt they had to oblige because Polkinghorne is one of the societies fellows. But, he conceals the fact that the whole thing was endorsed by several Noble laureates, eminent scientists and was chaired by Onora O’neil, a highly respected Philosopher and President of the British Academy. The appendix on anthropic fine-tuning was reviewed by Martin Rees, Eric Priest and other world respected astronomers. The endorsements and praise for the book can be viewed here. The book was evidently endorsed by the society because it has something interesting to say on the relationship between science and religion. In a letter to Nicholas Beale he complains further that there are plenty of churches and theological colleges around the country where they could have launched the event. There was no need for this as the Royal Society obviously thought the issues discussed in the book were appropriate for such a society and thankfully do not embrace a strictly atheistic agenda. In the letter Beale offered Grayling the chance to debate and discuss matters at a Royal Institution event. After all his ranting and false accusations about the book and event, Grayling declined:  ‘having devoted enough attention to your views I have no wish for further correspondence’. What a Shame.

Unfortunately for me I felt the urge to reply to Grayling’s pitiful review and even more unfortunate was the fact that it contained so many misleading and fallacious assertions, resulting in this painfully long reply. On the plus side, the Oxbridge Humanist has been sussed out and his rantings have been exposed to be impressively inept. I hope that in the future, when listening to what Grayling says or writes, the reader will think very hard before believing him. For an excellent refutation of AC Grayling’s book Against All Gods, read Peter S. Williams’s writings, which can be found here. I recommend them unreservedly!

AC Grayling’s scurrilous review can now be left to ‘sink in the mirk of its own fatuity’.

Thanks for reading

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13 thoughts on “The Intellectually Inept Rantings Of AC Grayling

  1. Pingback: God Must Exist
  2. Astoundingly improbable? The probability arguments ignores the step-wise action of natural selection and such1 Study Dawkins’s three books on evolution and probability!
    And, again, you are begging that question of wanted outcomes with false probability!
    Hume,flollowing Carneades, eviscerates that begged question to design.
    And the argument from reason-the self-refutation of naturalism ignores teleonomy- natural selection does not have to provide us with accurate truth-gathering faculties but rather minds that can help organisms survive. Were minds so constructed, we’d need fewer insturments. Would here Alvin Platinga sugges,t as he does with the problem of evil, that peraadventure demons involve themselves for false thinking!
    Also study Jordan Howard Sobel’s ” Logic and Theism” and Jonathon Harriss’s ” God, Freedom and Immortality” to really fathom atheism! And that atheologian- physicist has several books that, I surmise, outrank Polkinghorne’s obfuscations!

  3. Yes, science can indeed test religous claims, finding them wanting- the science rings against virgin births, miracles, resurrections and assomptions into that dubious Heaven.
    We gnu atheists demand that theists evidence [ Scriptures evidence nothing.} Heaven and Hell and the future state and contra-causal free will.

  4. The anthropic-fine-tuning, like all teological arguments begs the question of wanted outcomes, but per Lamberth’s the teleonomic argument, the evidence notes no teleology, and thus no divine telology whatsoever above natural causes,but rather teleonomy-causalism-mechanism and not only do directed causes violate the Ockham [ Google the ignostic-Ockham.] but also contradicts that fact so that theistic evolution is an oxymoron without being a useful redundancy, Alister Earl McGrath notwithstanding!
    Enter Lamberth’s the Malebranche Reductio that Nocholas Malebranche makes unwittingly of Aquinas’s Primary Cause and Liebniz’s principle of sufficient reason. Natural causes themselves are the end answer!
    You, friend, are begging the question with the Cosmos as being like computers in needing a Creator. Why, Reichenbach’s the argument from existence notes as Existence is all, no external being or matter when it came, exists. Nothing exists with which to compare it! Thus the Hume-Russell- Edwards-Lamberth contention that theists employ the fallacy of composition holds!
    Study Peter Adam Angeles ” The Problem of God: a Short Introduction”, other atheist books form Prometheus and other publishers. Oh, then study ” Graham Robert Oppy’s ‘” Arguments about God [ Google arguments about Him-that square circle and the ignostic- Ockham and the presumption of naturalism.].
    Carneades eviscerates teleological arguments with his response to Chrysippus that the latter begs the question of assuming that the Cosmos needs a Builder.
    htp:// carneades.aimoo.com
    http://aimoo.blogpost.com
    And Google Skeptic Griggsy.
    Thank you,eveningperson!
    ‘ Logic is the bane of theists.” Fr.Griggs
    http://fathergriggs.wordpress.com

  5. Your Augustine argument about the implications of the Big Bang on atheism are strengthened when you consider that “the hypothesis of the primeval atom” was put forth by a Belgian priest. It makes things look even worse for Hoyle. The event that suggests creation against an infinite universe was discovered by a man of the cloth!

  6. So where are your arguments against Grayling? You complain that he is using ad hominem (although it is not clear that he is, from this) and then you use ad hominem yourself (for example, Polkinghorne is a physicist so therefore “a special line into the science-religion question”. Why? I’m a scientist myself and I have no religion. Polkinghorne can put forward arguments but he has no special status to be taken as an ‘authority’ or otherwise privileged in the debate, other than the quality of his arguments (of which I am not aware).

    Apart from that you accuse Grayling of various other errors but make no effort to demonstrate them.

    1. Hi, thanks for the comment.

      From reading your comment it appears you skipped over most parts of my critique. I point out several times where Grayling makes false claims and I make arguments against them e.g the Anthropic principle, biblical interpretation, god of the gaps, history etc. In his review every other sentence had some sort of error or false assertion (He is exceptionally good at asserting things, I’ll give him that.)

      You complain that he is using ad hominem (although it is not clear that he is, from this) and then you use ad hominem yourself (for example, Polkinghorne is a physicist so therefore “a special line into the science-religion question”.

      Grayling uses several ad hominem attacks in the review. As I mentioned he resorts to calling christians ‘lunatics’ or ‘members of the assylum’ and shows his fantastic inability to mount a serious argument (an extremely common characteristic of the new atheists). I am afraid it seems you misunderstand the term ad hominem. Ad hominem is where a person attacks the other personally in order to invalidate their position rather than attacking the arguments of that person. Your example of what I wrote was not ad hominem. These are minor matters in the end, the fact is that Grayling’s assertions were demonstrably wrong.

      Polkinghorne can put forward arguments but he has no special status to be taken as an ‘authority’ or otherwise privileged in the debate, other than the quality of his arguments (of which I am not aware).

      My point was to show that Polkinghorne has backgrounds in both areas and is highly respected across the world. He has more knowledge than most people on the interation between the two and therefore people are entitled to think he has some interesting things to say and ‘a special line into the science-religion question. It seems you are accusing me of using an argument from authority but I didn’t claim that this means John is right in what he says or writes (Although I believe this is the case). If you are not aware of the quality of his arguments I suggest you read one of his books (there are 30 to choose from but I recommend questions of truth).

      Again you say that I accuse Grayling of being in error but make no effort to show this. I beg to differ. Please show me where I didn’t.

      Thanks

      1. Your argument appears to be a classic ad hominem. You argue that
        Polkinghorne has ‘a special line into the science-religion question’,
        because he is both a scientist and a religious person, which presumably
        means that you consider his arguments have a special authority that
        Grayling’s have not, because Grayling is neither of those. If that is
        not what you mean, what is the point of the comment about the ‘special
        line’?

        Grayling would no doubt argue (and I would agree with him) that there
        is NO knowledge that you could acquire that would give you any special
        insight into the relation of science and religion, so Polkinghorne is at
        no advantage in this regard.

        Curiously, you appear to quote Popper favourably and Popper was not a
        scientist, either. (I came to your blog because of your reference to
        Popper, whose work I respect, although his ‘falsifiability’ criterion is
        widely misunderstood and misapplied.)

        Grayling’s comment about lunatics is only an ad hominem if he is
        asserting that because Christians are lunatics their arguments have no
        validity – which I think is highly unlikely. Perhaps it is an insult or
        a joke intended to be appreciated by his likely readership (think of the
        common quip ‘the lunatics have taken over the asylum’). Or maybe he
        means that Christians use invalid arguments so are therefore to be
        regarded as lunatics – if that is the case I would disagree with him on
        that but it is NOT an ad hominem but a dubious sociological or
        psychological statement.

        Aside from that you make many assertions yourself – that Grayling is
        wrong and that he has been proved wrong – but you don’t actually prove
        him wrong on anything.

        I have not been back to his original arguments but I am aware of no
        argument linking religion and science apart from the ‘god of the gaps’
        one. The argument is invalid. The conclusion may be correct (perhaps
        there are phenomena that can only be explained by a supernatural being)
        but that is a scientific problem and an invalid argument does not give
        religion any insight into it. An alternative approach (that of Stephen
        Jay Gould) is to try to separate religion and science altogether.

        The ‘anthropic principle’ used by some religious people (we are here so
        the universe must have been created the way it is in order for us to be
        here) is just a special case of the ‘god of the gaps’ argument, and is
        just as bogus. Intelligent Design is another ‘god of the gaps’ with some
        scientific terminology to try to disguise it.

        I don’t know what Grayling has to say about biblical interpretation,
        but I am not aware of any scientific theory in any religion’s source
        books. The ‘cosmology’ in the Bible has no scientific relevance, but Dawkins is also right that some claims in the Bible can be tested by science (for example, recorded events might be confirmed by archaeology).

        Maybe you can prove me wrong? I would really sit up and take
        notice if you could demonstrate some real scientific theory in the
        Bible, other than what people might have hypothesised from everyday
        observation. Say, for example, some notion of disease being caused by
        microscopic infectious agents and genetic factors. Even better if it is
        accompanied by some practical advice explained in terms of the theory
        like ‘dig pit latrines well away from your drinking water sources and
        always wash your hands’ and ‘don’t bury your dead uphill from your
        wells’ (cf. the Brontes at Haworth).

        1. I apologise for the delayed reply.

          My dear friend you seem to be mistaken in your argumentation. In my last reply I wrote about your misunderstanding of an ad hominem attack and yet you still seem to hold a false definition of it. Type it in on google and you will see.

          You argue that Polkinghorne has ‘a special line into the science-religion question’, because he is both a scientist and a religious person, which presumably
          means that you consider his arguments have a special authority that Grayling’s have not, because Grayling is neither of those.

          You seem to be accusing me of using an argument from authority which I do not. Yes, I do argue that John has a ‘special line in the science-religion question’ because of his expertise in both areas. However, I do not say that this means his arguments are valid, merely that he has more knowledge in both areas than most people. Grayling is neither a scientist or a relgious person but I do not dismiss his arguments because of this. I dismiss them because they are fallacious.

          Grayling would no doubt argue (and I would agree with him) that there is NO knowledge that you could acquire that would give you any special insight into the relation of science and religion

          Curiously, you appear to quote Popper favourably and Popper was not a scientist, either.

          I disagree here with Grayling (and you). Firstly it depends on what you mean by knowledge and special insight. Secondly would you not expect, say, a car salesman to have less knowledge than a scientist/religious person because they have studied the topics over many years and therefore have a ‘special or better insight’? I am well aware Karl Popper wasn’t a scientist I has just using his term ‘promissary materialism’ for scientism. It is irrelevent who it came from.

          Grayling’s comment about lunatics is only an ad hominem if he is asserting that because Christians are lunatics their arguments have no validity – which I think is highly unlikely.

          Contrary to what you say Grayling’s ‘lunatics’ comment was an ad hominem. He says the questions PREMISE membership of the asylum already. So in other words you have to be a lunatic/christian to even ask the questions and therefore have no validity. Rigorous stuff Mr Grayling. Even if the arguments of a person are invalid this would not qualify them as being a lunatic. Ironically if someones invalid arguments does qualify them as being a lunatic (which is what Grayling seems to be asserting with respect to christians), then according to his own ‘logic’ he himself is a lunatic (which I don’t think he is) because as I have demonstrated, his arguments are invalid. His lack of philosophical rigour is impressive.

          Aside from that you make many assertions yourself – that Grayling is wrong and that he has been proved wrong – but you don’t actually prove him wrong on anything.

          How about:
          – ‘the first factual error Grayling makes is in claiming the book is apparently self published. The book is actually published under Westminster John Knox…’
          – His false analogy of the anthropic principle (which I refute).
          – His accusation that christians have to reinterpret the bible in the light of science (a non literal interpretaton of genesis dates back to Augustine 1500 years before darwin)
          – The royal society event was a scandal (obviously it wasn’t)
          I could go on but you clearly haven’t paid attention to my origional post. Again I submit that AC’s assertions where critiqued thoroughly which I didn’t make unjustified assertions.

          I don’t quite understand what you are getting at in your nxt paragraph. Stephen Jay Gould’s idea on NOMA I think are mistaken. Certainly science and religion are different things but they are both concerned with the search for truth but they should both mesh together to form a coherent body of knowledge that isn’t contradictory. They both overlap in certain areas but at other times have nothing to say to each other so keeping them completely seperate is a non starter.

          I am not aware of any scientific theory in any religion’s source books. The ‘cosmology’ in the Bible has no scientific relevance, but Dawkins is also right that some claims in the Bible can be tested by science (for example, recorded events might be confirmed by archaeology).

          There aren’t any scientific theories contained in the Bible and it would be foolish to expect there to be because it isn’t trying to be a science book. Trying to teach quantum electrodynamics from the Bible is just about as useful as teaching string theory from a television instruction manual. The Bible is a collection of books that tell us about the history of God’s revelation to his creation, our ultimate purpose as humans, human morality and the life,death and resurrection of Christ. The Bible is not trying to be a scientific text book. However by looking at science and the nature of the universe we can find signposts of transendence and parellels to his word. I agree that some claims in the Bible can be tested by scientific method and history. Interestingly on a cosmological note for centuries the Bible has said that the universe had a beginning (the first three words in Genesis). Before the 1960’s everyone (including scientists) believed the universe was eternal but then evidence came in pointing to the Big bang and a finite universe. Many people like Fred Hoyle tryed to avoid these conclusions as it implied a creation event. If scientists had take genesis a bit more seriously they would have found evidence for the big bang sooner than they did. I’m sure there are many other things like this this but i’m not a theologian or a biblical scholar and I’m not aware at the moment. Again I don’t need to prove to you a scientific theory in the Bible because it isn’t meant to contain any. It is concerned with human purpose and not the mechanisms of God’s creation. They are for us to explore and discover.
          j

  7. This is a genuinely scathing and devastating critique which shows the fatuousness of Grayling’s lies! I do rather like to consider the observation that Grayling is a rather silly fellow.

    1. I always find it very strange when the “but it’s not scientifically possible” arguments are trotted out for things like the virgin birth and the resurrection. Surely that’s the point? They don’t abide by the “rules” of how science works… that’s why they are called miracles!

      I’m not saying, “They are miracles, therefore everyone should believe”, because, well, when it comes down to it, believing in something that is beyond the laws of science is a matter of having (or not having) faith. But you can’t somehow disprove them using science!

      “A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is considered to be divine.”

      One cannot prove or disprove something using the laws of physics if the event itself is miraculous. It is bizarre to me that anyone would try! Something that is explicable by natural or scientific laws ain’t a miracle… if something is a genuine miracle then you can’t explain it, that’s what it means! Trying to prove or disprove a miracle with science is like trying to count the sky or say what colour love is or write down what an electron sounds like…

    2. Hmmm, this seems to have threaded as a response to Percival Perkins, which I didn’t intend! Just wanted you to know that my response was out of general befuddlement with the “miracles aren’t scientific” argument, NOT directed at you personally 🙂

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