Science, Religion, and John Haught

18 12 2007

Salon has an interview with theologian John Haught on Darwin, Camus, Dawkins, and the so-called “new atheism”.  Haught makes some good arguments – or at least, arguments that would be good if they didn’t ignore several very important key issues.  Let’s take a look:

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.

Haught is at least a little right; in all of my readings of the ‘new atheists’ I don’t recall any of them coming to the conclusion of nihilism.  In fact, just the opposite.  A life of logic simply does not equate to a life without hope – I know, it may be hard to believe, but life without god can still have meaning. 

How do we account for the courage to go on living in the absence of hope? As you move to the later writings of Camus and Sartre, those books are saying it’s difficult to live without hope. What I want to show in my own work — as an alternative to the new atheists — is a universe in which hope is possible.

Hold on a second.  Didn’t you just say that the new atheists differ from the old atheists in that they don’t find a connection between atheism and nihilism?  Who are you arguing against here?  I’m interested to read Haught’s upcoming book: God and the New Atheism, in which he will hopefully make an argument as to why life without god is hopeless.

But why can’t you have hope if you don’t believe in God?

You can have hope. But the question is, can you justify the hope? I don’t have any objection to the idea that atheists can be good and morally upright people. But we need a worldview that is capable of justifying the confidence that we place in our minds, in truth, in goodness, in beauty. I argue that an atheistic worldview is not capable of justifying that confidence. Some sort of theological framework can justify our trust in meaning, in goodness, in reason.

Oh.  There’s the answer.  But wait – didn’t he just say that hope isn’t possible without god?  Ok, so it is possible, but not justified?  How dare people have hope without justifying it!  I would refer Haught to Dawkins in particular, who does a nice job of explaining goodness without god.  Well, on to evolution, in which even the interviewer demonstrates his ignorance:

I would think the biggest challenge that evolutionary theory poses to most religions is the sense that there’s no inherent meaning in the world. If you look at the process of natural selection — this apparently random series of genetic mutations — it would seem that there’s no place for ultimate purpose. Human beings may just be an evolutionary accident.

For the umpteenth time, there is nothing “random” about natural selection.  It is a process which favors the best equipped – and since it favors something, it isn’t fucking random.  Sorry, that’s a pet peeve of mine, along with people who say “I could care less”.  Anyway, here’s more from Haught:

A good example is the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg. In his book “Dreams of a Final Theory,” he asks, will we find God once science gets down to what he calls the fundamental levels of reality? It’s almost as if he assumes that science itself has the capacity and the power to comment on things like that. Similarly, Dawkins, in “The God Delusion,” has stated that science has the right to deal with the question of God and other religious issues, and everything has to be settled according to the canons of the scientific method.

The idea that god exists outside of the realm of scientific understanding is, to put it mildly, the very definition of a cop-out.  Haught is essentially saying, ‘I want god to exist, and since science is potentially a threat to that, I’ll insist that God can’t be touched by it.’  And yet, Haught continues to state (I would say argue, but that would imply that he provides evidence and support for his view) that religion has the capacity to comment on everything.  He also claims that some states of reality simply can’t be spoken about in scientific terms: “The only way we can talk about them is through symbolic and metaphoric language — in other words, the language of religion.”  Wow – that’s right.  Since religion can only talk about things through symbols and metaphors, it must be the only way we can talk about things.  Come on!  Last I checked symbolism and metaphor were literary devices, and religion wasn’t the sole user of them.

The theologian continues to say:

We have to distinguish between science as a method and what science produces in the way of discovery. As a method, science does not ask questions of purpose.

The idea that the scientific method has nothing to do with purpose is preposterous.  Jonas Salk didn’t say, “hey – let’s inject people with the dead polio virus just for the hell of it.”  The scientific method is built around the very concept of finding purpose.  Without purpose looming over it, science would not exist.

The purpose [of the universe] seems to be, from the very beginning, the intensification of consciousness. If you understand purpose as actualizing something that’s unquestionably good, then consciousness certainly fits.

Why is Haught trying to insert his sense of morality into the purpose of the universe?  Because he’s overly subjective in his analysis of everything?  You don’t say . . . But if you understand “subjective” as actualizing a completely objective view, than he’s right.

I’m looking for an explanation that’s robust enough to account for the kind of universe that is able, from within itself, to develop and unfold in this ongoing process of complexification. So the idea that some sort of providential presence is accompanying this process seems not at all irrational. And I like to think of God in these terms.

Let’s face it Haught.  You’re looking for an explanation that allows for your concept of God.  The idea that ‘some sort of providential presence is accompanying the process’ only illustrates that you don’t understand the process.  Evolution is remarkable in that it explains itself perfectly – and just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it needs your god’s help.

I believe every thought we have has a physical correlate. But at the same time, I believe there’s something about mind that does transcend, while at the same time fully dwelling incarnately in the physical universe. I see that as a microcosmic example of what’s going on in the universe as a whole. So I want a worldview that’s wide enough to ask the question, why does the universe not stand still? Once radiation came about early in the universe, why didn’t the universe say, “Well, we’re just fine here. This is a pretty good universe.” Instead, there’s a restlessness, a tendency of the cosmos to go beyond itself.

And why do you believe that consciousness transcends the physical?  I don’t know – because you found it convenient not to explain that particular point – probably because the only explanation you have is that you want it to be true.  Also, your example of the universe being restless is bogus, if nothing else than the universe doesn’t say anything, what it being inanimate and all.  It didn’t occur to stop at radiation because nothing occurs to it – it really didn’t think about it that much.

But if you ask me whether a scientific experiment could verify the Resurrection, I would say such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning.

So if a camera was at the Resurrection, it would have recorded nothing?

If you had a camera in the upper room when the disciples came together after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we would not see it. I’m not the only one to say this. Even conservative Catholic theologians say that. Faith means taking the risk of being vulnerable and opening your heart to that which is most important. We trivialize the whole meaning of the Resurrection when we start asking, Is it scientifically verifiable? Science is simply not equipped to deal with the dimensions of purposefulness, love, compassion, forgiveness — all the feelings and experiences that accompanied the early community’s belief that Jesus is still alive. Science is simply not equipped to deal with that. We have to learn to read the universe at different levels.

Alright.  I’m not going to try to count the number of fallacies in that argument.  Something isn’t beyond science because you say it is.  Purpose, love, compassion, forgiveness, all of these are phenomenon that can be explained, and for the large part have been explained, through science.  It’s unclear if Haught is taking the social sciences into consideration, but even if he is not, my previous statement remains accurate. 

Throughout the interview he seems unwilling to accept that he won’t be rewarded for his good deeds after he dies – in fact, he seems to advocate doing good deeds in order to be rewarded.  Eesh.

Haught’s entire argument (as presented in this interview) comes down to this – Haught just can’t accept the possibility that god is not necessary.  If you ask me, that’s a pretty shitty argument.

 John Haught, seen here, believing in god.




13 responses

18 12 2007
Christian » Science, Religion, and John Haught

[…] Geoff Manaugh wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI would think the biggest challenge that evolutionary theory poses to most religions is the sense that there’s no inherent meaning in the world. If you look at the process of natural selection — this apparently random series of genetic … […]

18 12 2007

Props. Excellent post. And I completely agree about people who say, “I could care less”. That means you care a little bit, numbskulls! What is wrong with you, you ridiculous little… Ahem. Sorry.

Anyway, good stuff.

19 12 2007
Kifyttrium.Com » Science, Religion, and John Haught

[…] Mitchell wrote an interesting post today on Science, Religion, and John HaughtHere’s a quick […]

19 12 2007

Thanks for reading (and commenting)!

20 12 2007

As I remember, Nietzsche associated xianity with nihilism since it denied life in favor of an illusionary after-life. Mr. Haught should do a bit of reading on the subject.

As to Haught’s statement, “Science is simply not equipped to deal with the dimensions of purposefulness, love, compassion, forgiveness”, except perhaps for “purposefulness”, Steven Pinker for one thinks that those things probably can be dealt with by science.

Basically Haught’s argument seems to be that belief in illusionary beings is a useful, even necessary, fiction.

For more on Nietzsche,

20 12 2007

Thanks for your comment Bernard. Haught, as most apologists, seems to only be able to defend his position by taking faith as a given. You can try to rationalize your faith all you want, but it doesn’t answer the core question of its basis in reality.

21 12 2007

Agreed, that nothing is worse than the erroneous “I could care less”. But “alright” is certainly no better. 🙂

31 12 2007

Alright. I’m not going to try to count the number of fallacies in that argument.

Why don’t you try? Simply saying the statement contains fallacious arguments isn’t the same as actually demonstrating what they are.

Why such an idolatrous approach to the scientific method? The method isn’t the be all and end all approach to rational inquiry. And a lot of philosophers have realized that if one wants to debate the existence of God she is going to have to do it in the realm of modal logic and not empirical verification.

3 01 2008

Hello and thank you for reading (and commenting)!

1. Ignoratio elenchi – Saying that a camera in the room during the resurrection would not see it is all fine and good, but it is irrelevant to the original premise that the resurrection actually happened.
2. Argumentum ad verecundiam – Even conservative Catholic theologians say that – so it must be true.
3. Appeal to emotion – “faith means opening your heart to that which is most important” implies that either those without faith don’t have ‘their hearts open to that which is most important’ or that since having your heart open to that which is most important is a good thing it is also therefore good to have faith.
4. Petitio principii – trivializing the meaning of the resurrection is not reason to ignore science.
5. Burden of proof – he is making a claim about the resurrection of Jesus. The burden of proof is on him to explain why science is “simply not equipped”.

My apologies if some of the fallacies are mislabeled, but I think you will find the argument valid. My apologies again for not stating these explicitly in the post – I thought they were pretty obvious.

You are right though that the scientific method is not the be all and end all of logical analysis. I would also include the Socratic method. Modal logic, as I understand it, can be seen simply as an extension and part of logical reasoning as a whole. At a glance I can not see how modal logic could demonstrate the existence of God convincingly. I’d love to hear otherwise, if you can.

13 03 2008
Carl Youngblood

“Haught is at least a little right; in all of my readings of the ‘new atheists’ I don’t recall any of them coming to the conclusion of nihilism. In fact, just the opposite. A life of logic simply does not equate to a life without hope – I know, it may be hard to believe, but life without god can still have meaning.”

I think the point he’s trying to make is that some of the so-called “new atheists” haven’t sufficiently thought through all the implications of their beliefs, especially in regards to certain areas on which science, in and of itself, can have nothing to say. This doesn’t mean that atheists aren’t entitled to find hope and inspiration in any number of things, but that they should at least demonstrate an awareness of when their beliefs or enthusiasm go beyond the jurisdiction of science.

He may be unjustified in claiming that the inevitable conclusion of atheism is nihilism, but he may also be correct in claiming that these issues have been thought through more thoroughly by more capable philosophers in previous eras.

5 03 2011

Excellent response to Haught. Currently I am reading his “critical response to the new Atheists”: God and the New Atheists. Your post helps to delineate his logical fallacies. Sorry to see that you have stopped posting; please let me know if you have another blog somewhere.

31 07 2011

диета колитеотзывы диете аткинсакремлевская диета таблица гороховый суплечебное питание диета 4вывод солей – рисовая диетамолочный коктейль для похуденияврач-диетолог поправитьсягречневая диета помогает ли выводить токсиныкак себя ведёт жир при похудениияпонская диета 10 дней.диетологическая клиника ковальковадоклад на тему режим питания для тех кто хочет похудетьдиета с рассчетом ккалпохудеть с липой и омелойкто похудел в клинике доктор борменталькак питаться в гостях если сидишь на диетекупить новая лиду для похудениямедовый массаж процедура направлена на снижение весабелковая диета и продуктыкремлевская диета и примерное к нему меню

21 07 2013
violin lessons stockton ca

Just come out and say it girl!. I did and I’m so happy that I finally just came out and asked!! :-))i(I just recently got a drumset.. It’s got a snare, hi-hat, bass drum,
two regular toms and a floor tom. It also has four cymbals.
I’ve already learned how to count in fourths, eighths, and sixteenths. I’m learning the feel of thirtysecondths.
I was wondering what else there is to learn besides reading music which
I have been practicing with the book I have. Would the drum
lessons be worth my while?.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: