December 18, 2007

Haught vs. Pharyngula

Filed under: Church,Philosophy — Bob Gifford @ 8:07 pm

Salon.com has an interview of John Haught, Catholic theologian, devout Darwinian and author of books such as God After Darwin. It is very Polkinghorne-esque.

Haught covers topics such as: the shallow grasp of Christianity by the New Atheists, the compatibility of Evolution and Christianity, the false teleology of scientific materialism, his dissatisfaction with Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria, the correctness but incompleteness of scientific truth, the bankruptcy of the “God of the Gaps”, the inanity of intelligent design and the downright scariness of Mike Huckabee. He touches on some of my favorite authors like Paul Tillich, and some I’m totally unfamiliar with like Teilhard de Chardin and Camus. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout (except for the camera-at-the-resurrection part — I’m still mulling that over).

In short, it’s crack for anyone interested in the intersection of science and theology.

But the really interesting part is the reaction Haught provoked by one of the New Atheists. Pharyngula, aka PZ Myers, has a rather, um, uncharitable post in reply.

[I don’t know] why we still have universities with theology departments, and haven’t razed them to the ground and sent the few remaining rational people in them off to sociology and anthropology departments where their work might actually have some relevance. It’s terribly uncharitable of me, but after reading this interview with John Haught, a Georgetown University theologian, I’m convinced that the discipline is the domain of vapid hacks stuffed full of antiquated delusions.

[…]

Every time I read something by one of these credulous apologists for religion, I am further convinced that they are just making stuff up.

[…]

This guy is completely batty. If this is an example of theological thinking, I’m entirely justified in dismissing this entire academic discipline — these guys are the equivalent of astrologers, still lurking in the spider-webbed corners of our universities.

I don’t think he likes Haught much.

After reading Haught’s thoughtful, reasoned interview, I was struck by how little Myers actually engages with his arguments. He just kind of dismisses him and the entire field of theology. He counters Haught’s logic with invective and hand-waving, which is odd since Myers is defending the exclusive use of logic against any kind of religious belief. For example:

[From the interview:]

The new atheists don’t want to think out the implications of a complete absence of deity. Nietzsche, as well as Sartre and Camus, all expressed it quite correctly. The implications should be nihilism.

Here we have yet another believer trying to tell us what the logical conclusion of atheism should be: in this case, nihilism. Doesn’t the fact that none of the New Atheists that I know of are nihilists matter? I guess if you’re willing to abandon any requirement for evidence, you can also ignore any evidence that counters your opinion.

So…why aren’t Nietzche and Camus correct that atheism leads to nihilism? Myers doesn’t say.

But Myers really pisses me off when he says this:

I consider the feeble gullibility of, for instance, the average Lutheran church member to be the real problem — that our country and our culture as a whole endorses institutions that encourage credulity in the face of religious baloney. Even if the radical fringe weren’t throwing bombs, I’d still be asking people why the heck they believe in such patent nonsense. [emphasis mine]

Because, of course, I’m one of those average Lutheran church members. For Myers to accuse me of being gullible, after the years I’ve spent thinking, reading, challenging, doubting and rethinking, is incredibly insulting. When Myers accuses me of gullibility, he speaks of that which he does not know. He demonstrates that he is the one unwilling to consider evidence that runs counter to his opinion.

I would be totally fine with atheists and their dismissal of religious belief, except for the underlying authoritarian strain — not only are those religious people horribly wrong, but we have to do something about them! As I quoted above:

we still have universities with theology departments, and haven’t razed them to the ground and sent the few remaining rational people in them off to sociology and anthropology departments where their work might actually have some relevance.

Myers, and the Four Horseman of Atheism (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens) not only disagree with people of faith, they want to eradicate religion as though it were a virus. By all means, disagree with my beliefs, but when you want to impose your beliefs on me, by force if necessary, you’re just another authoritarian. And we already have enough of those on the religious right.

5 Comments

  1. Good post. I’ve read a couple of those “atheist books,” and, quite frankly, these smart people–and they really are smart–aren’t very familiar with Christian theology. They only know the “religious right” stuff, which, of course, really IS idiotic.

    Besides, why diss Lutherans? We’re the smart ones!

    Comment by John Petty — December 25, 2007 @ 10:04 am

  2. As much as I enjoy a good deal of what Pharyngula (and other “new atheists”) has to say, his knee-jerk, mindless atheism is a real disappointment. I have yet to hear an honest defense of atheism that deals with its inability to provide a non-delusional framework of meaning for human existence (or any existence, for that matter). As I have often said (to myself, since no one else will listen), “anyone who disbelieves in God has no reason to believe in anything.”

    BTW: I wuz raised a Lutheran (MO Synod…)

    Comment by Fred Woolsey — January 4, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  3. Fred and John – thanks for your thoughts.

    Comment by Bob Gifford — January 5, 2008 @ 11:04 am

  4. Sir,

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while but I’ve never posted any comments to it. It seems like Myers and the Four Horsemen of Atheism are well off their mark. Why should my Lutheran beliefs (ELCA!) be of concern to someone who doesn’t accept God? All I know is that we are saved by grace through faith, and that’s all that really matters. Their (lack of) belief systems seems mindless, as has been said before. We know why we believe, and we can defend it in the face of Myers and the others, so we’re fine.

    I enjoy reading your commentary on what it means to be a Lutheran.

    -Eddie Jensen

    Comment by Eddie Jensen — January 23, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

  5. Thanks Eddie

    Comment by Bob Gifford — January 25, 2008 @ 7:59 am

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