I came upon an article today at Salon which is an interview with John Haught, who perhaps may be a maverick theologian. Personally, I find that to be, in his case, an oxymoron akin to jumbo shrimp. Yes, he can accept Evolution (sorta) and testified in Dover against ID, but he’s still a catholic theologian, which means he still drinks the kool aid, just maybe not from as big a glass as other catholics. I have some objections to his responses to the questions given to him and I thought I’d share those.
Your forthcoming book, “God and the New Atheism,” is a critique of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. You claim that they are pale imitations of great atheists like Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre. What are they missing?
My chief objection to the new atheists is that they are almost completely ignorant of what’s going on in the world of theology. They talk about the most fundamentalist and extremist versions of faith, and they hold these up as though they’re the normative, central core of faith. And they miss so many things. They miss the moral core of Judaism and Christianity — the theme of social justice, which takes those who are marginalized and brings them to the center of society. They give us an extreme caricature of faith and religion
First of all, as I’ve said numerous times before, you don’t need to know every line of the bible, the quran, or any holy book to understand that the very idea of there being a god is dubious and yet to be proven. There has yet to be any evidence produced for this claim, so parsing scriptures and debating “real” meanings of passages is simply a waste of time and diversions to get the argument off the main point, the very existence of their gods.
Second, social justice? Are you kidding me? The social justice of which he speaks has evolved a great deal since originally written and preached. Do they proclaim equality of gender or race? We sure as hell know there’s no equality for gays. The so called social justice is not contained within the cores of these faiths but rather have been adopted by those faiths from the outside pressures of society. Gender and race equality, and objecting to slavery came from outside, not inside, and from outside pressure more will come.
Didn’t [Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus] see the death of God as terrifying?
Yes, they did. And they thought it would take tremendous courage to be an atheist. Sartre himself said atheism is an extremely cruel affair. He was implying that most people wouldn’t be able to look it squarely in the face. And my own belief is they themselves didn’t either. Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus eventually realized that nihilism is not a space within which we can live our lives.
You know what’s funny? He can go from criticizing modern atheists for their lacking theological training yet feels perfectly fine commenting on men like Nietzsche without having a proper knowledge of them. In the next question (that I’m not listing here) he focuses on Sartre and Camus. For the sake of being intellectually honest, I’ll admit I’m not that familiar with their writings but I am with Nietzsche and he’s either dead wrong in his understanding of him or is being deliberately deceptive. Yes, Nietzsche did recognize the potential danger of nihilism in the vacuum created by the absence of god belief, but he provided ample material to fill that void. Hope in the perpetual betterment of self and mankind through the idea of the Ubermensche and the assessing and assigning of values and meaning to life through the Revaluation of all Values alone are enough to fill the void. True, Nietzsche’s tone is certainly evidence that he knew he wasn’t writing for the masses of his time, but his hope was that it would be for the masses of the future, and the few today who can understand and have the strength of mind and will to help forge a world for the “next” men, rescuing it from the “last” men.
But why can’t you have hope if you don’t believe in God?
You can have hope… I argue that an atheistic worldview is not capable of justifying that confidence.
As I outlined above from Nietzsche, the idea of working for the greater good of self and humanity is more than noble. True, the task may seem daunting but what’s better, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work to try and make it happen or dropping to your knees praying that a magic man will make it happen? There’s hope, and then there’s fantasy. Secular hope is true hope, realistic hope, a hope predicated upon the acts of man, not the whims of a fairy tale god.
He goes on to prattle a bit about how Science and religion can coexist and his explanations, although odd sounding to me, may very well diffuse the fundamentalist objections to Science so I won’t object to them, but there is something I object to and it’s something I see again and again and again by theists in their arguments. It’s what I call “the magic sense” argument. What it puts forth is that our senses are limited and we can’t perceive everything with them, that through some “magic sense” a theist “knows” of their god. This argument also gets extended to suggest that there are limits to understanding the world through reason and evidence alone. I’ve even recently experienced someone claim that to only rely on reason and evidence is being close-minded! This latter claim is what Haught goes with…
What do you say to the atheists who demand evidence or proof of the existence of a transcendent reality?
The hidden assumption behind such a statement is often that faith is belief without evidence. Therefore, since there’s no scientific evidence for the divine, we should not believe in God. But that statement itself — that evidence is necessary — holds a further hidden premise that all evidence worth examining has to be scientific evidence. And beneath that assumption, there’s the deeper worldview — it’s a kind of dogma — that science is the only reliable way to truth. But that itself is a faith statement.
Yes, how dogmatic of us to think only what we can perceive is worth acknowledging. A fun play on this that theists usually use is to point out how centuries ago man did not know of atoms, bacteria, or how many planets there are in the solar system. They then ask, “were they not real then?” It’s a cute trick that requires a lengthy reply, which is partly why it works. Now of course we know those things were real then as they are now and that yes, man lacked the ability then to perceive such things but I ask what good would mere faith in them do? Without being able to perceive them we could never understand anything from them, so simply believing in some idea of atoms and Pluto serves no practical good. Furthermore, how should our ancestors have gone about distinguishing such beliefs from say the beliefs that the Moon was made from cheese or that a pile of soiled clothing would spontaneously generate vermin and parasites (I’m not making this up, this actually once was a belief)? No, it’s precisely reason and demands for evidence by which we can truly understand the universe, or else we’d have no means by which to accept one claim from another.
Haught goes on to expand on his argument, preying on the as yet unknowns of the universe as “evidence” that Science can’t explain everything. He rather skillfully prattles through several questions with essentially a stylish rendition of the “god of the gaps” idea, where anything unknown therefore must be credited to his god. It’s truly ridiculous, but I urge you to read it for yourself. What’s amusing is near the end of the interview he actually objects to people who argue the god of the gaps bullshit, yet he clearly bases his comments on that very idea, he just stops short of sticking god in but rather argues there are other ways of knowing and understanding and so forth, which is “magic sense” but what’s the magic sense for? “Knowing” god.
He goes on to say religion should embrace the discoveries made by Science, but of course asserts the limitations of it. Another theist argument he puts forth is the idea of consciousness, that that is something that can’t explained so (everyone with me) god did it, or at least is evidence of a god. This is a well they often return to, the idea that the complex can’t come from the simple, and nor could it come by chance. He also puts forth some interpretations of what “religion” is (which at one point he sort of implies atheism is a religion) and argues for the idea of a personal god.
There’s a lot to object to with this guy, but he may be an ally we need. If he can get theists off our backs, away from objecting to Science and even respecting the Establishment clause and the separation of church and state, then we could definitely use him and hope he finds some success, just not total success since, of course, he still drinks the kool aid, but just not from the big 32 ounce Big Gulp cup.