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Whither Eagleman?

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I recently posted a TEDx talk by the neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain and the subject of a recent profile in The New Yorker. While I admire much of what Eagleman has to say, I wrote that his espousal of “possibilianism,” in lieu of atheism, was intellectually dishonest. I then invited him to discuss the matter with me on this page.

A few people chastised me for issuing insults along with my invitations (point taken), but Eagleman graciously accepted the challenge. And readers expressed considerable enthusiasm for the ensuing exchange.

I sent my opening volley to Eagleman over a month ago, however, and he has yet to respond. He has apologized for this, but no other reply seems forthcoming. As many people have now written to me wondering what became of the promised exchange, I’ve decided to post my opening remarks, knowing that they might be met only by silence. Needless to say, if Eagleman ever offers a response, I will be happy to publish it.

David – I greatly appreciate your willingness to have a public conversation about science and religion. Given that I began this exchange by declaring some of what you said in your TEDx talk to be “intellectually dishonest,” I probably owe you a brief account of what I meant. First, let me remind our readers, by way of blunting any perceived insult, that calling a person “intellectually dishonest” is not merely a long way of calling him dishonest. I was not claiming that you were lying about your views or about those of the “neo atheists” (as you referred to us in your talk). You were, however, failing to see the implications of the former and misrepresenting the latter. (How’s that for an ice-breaker? You are not a liar, but you are very confused… ☺.)

In your talk, you repeatedly convict Richard Dawkins et al. of false certainty. You say that we have “left the public with a misconception that scientists don’t have the capacity to gamble (gambol?) beyond the available data—that scientists are acting as though we have it all figured out.” But Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and I have never claimed that we can establish the nonexistence of God. We simply observe, as you do, that the God of Abraham has the same empirical status as Poseidon and that the books attesting to His existence bear every sign of having been cobbled together by ignorant mortals. This is all one needs to judge Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to be incorrigible cults peddling ancient mythology. No “possibilian” apologies necessary.

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