A Review of John F. Haught's book, God and the New Atheism Part 1

I think Christian theologians debunk themselves. When I read Arminian and Calvinist arguments I agree with them both when they criticize each other, as I do with Catholic versus Protestant arguments, and liberalism versus fundamentalist arguments. When debunking Christianity as an outsider, I merely have to state why I agree with their criticisms of each other. They do my work for me, for the most part. And they know that which they argue against very well, too.

In my book I utilize the arguments of liberal Christian scholars against evangelical Christianity over and over. They make my case for me. Evangelical (or fundamentalist) Christianity does not have a leg to stand on after the liberals are done with it.

But what about liberal Christianity?

Liberal Catholic scholar John F. Haught, former Chair and Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University from 1970-2005, and one of the world’s leading thinkers in the area of science and religion, thinks his version of faith survives the onslaught of the so-called “New Atheists.” In a book titled, God and the New Atheism, Haught takes aim at Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Against Dawkins he claims that God cannot be dismissed as a delusion; against Harris he claims that faith is not the enemy of reason; and against Hitchens he claims that religion does not poison everything.

In the Introduction Haught argues that a proper understanding of God, faith, and theology is something these critics are woefully lacking in, and as such their critique of Christian religion is “theological unchallenging.” (p. xi). Haught argues that when it comes to the Christian notion of God the understanding of the New Atheists “has almost nothing to do with what Christian faith and theology today understand by that name.” (p. xv). When it comes to understanding religious faith their views are “at the same unscholarly level as the unreflective, superstitious, and literalist religiosity of those they criticize.” (p. xiii). Haught faults them for debating with “extremists” like creationists, fundamentalists, terrorists and intelligent design advocates “rather than any major theologians.” (p. xv).

In Haught’s words the New Atheists (including Daniel Dennett at this point) think “science alone can tell us what religion is really about, and it can provide better answers than theology to every important question people ask.” (p. x).

In a few posts I’m going to look more closely at Dr. Haught’s arguments.


Aaron Bonham said...

I just finished Haught's book too. I'm looking forward to your discussion.

WesLindsey said...

“science alone can tell us what religion is really about, and it can provide better answers than theology to every important question people ask.”

Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Religion offers, nor has it ever, any useful answer(s) to any question I have ever deemed "important."


akakiwibear said...

Haught's book is still on my reading list, so may I ask a question. John, you say their critique of Christian religion is “theological unchallenging.” (p. xi) Haught

While I would have to agree with his “theological unchallenging.” I am a bit surprised that he was so loose as to bundle their criticisms of Christianity AND religion into the same statement.

Indeed one would not normally say that theology would be used to address the Christian religion per se, but rather to address Christian beliefs.

You are trying to play fast and loose with your partial quotes are you John?

Also, while it is easy to pick large holes in the psuedo-rational theology associated with our "New Atheists" they do point to some real shortcomings (past and present) of organised religion. Indeed I believe that Haught would not take issue with some of the facts - so again John, you alert my straw-man alarm with your partial quote.

Sala kahle - peace

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

"Against Dawkins he claims that God cannot be dismissed as a delusion; against Harris he claims that faith is not the enemy of reason; and against Hitchens he claims that religion does not poison everything."

[So if this is the basis of his arguments he's right. And none of the men that he has mentioned here claimed to be theologians. (at least to my knowledge) I would also add that in my opinion all three men are overrated. I'll be looking to see more of what you have to say here John.]

BahramtheRed said...

So Harvey, Only theologians have a claim to debunk anything?

I've only read one of those books (dawkins) but he occupies a very high place in my opinion. I hope to read the others at some point but I don't have time now, things are too unpredicatble to get into a good book.

Shygetz said...

I've read all three books, and to claim that each book says one and only one thing that needs to be debunked is, well, silly. Hitchens doesn't simply say "religion poisons everything"; he says in considerable detail that the entire thought and values system entailed in theism is a danger when applied to any way of thinking about reality (and thus the "how religion poisons everything" tagline). Dawkins doesn't just say God is a delusion...he says that God either does something in the world, in which case He is a legitimate target for scientific inquiry and is thus far unsupported, or He does nothing in the world, in which case He is uninteresting. Dawkins then sets aside the second case (as it is uninteresting) and focuses on the first, showing in great detail how the God hypothesis is not supported by facts. He even makes what I consider an ill-conceived foray into attempting to prove that God is impossible by claiming that, if God exists, He MUST have evolved. He then concludes the belief in the God hypothesis in the absence of reliable evidence is wishful thinking, which is a kind of delusion.

He's correct in summarizing Harris' book; unfortunately for him, Harris is right. Faith and reason are at odds by their very nature; one demands that truth must be verifiable, and the other insists that it need not be verifiable. The only way around this is to redefine faith, redefine reason, or redefine truth, all of which are weaselly dodges.

Hopefully Haught is going to go after the ideas in the books, as opposed to the taglines used to sell the books. His book isn't on my reading list, but I will try to keep up with the discussions here to see if I should check it out.

Unknown said...

(off topic - but interesting)

MIT neuroscientists have tricked the visual brain into confusing one object with another, thereby showing that visual perception is a physical material brain phenomenon.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

BahramtheRed~ "So Harvey, Only theologians have a claim to debunk anything?"

[I'm sorry I left the wrong impression. Anyone can claim or attempt to "debunk" and argument. I meant that Mr. Haught seems to be saying that there was no need to deal with these guys on a "theological" basis as they were making attacks based on more than matters of faith. That's all I meant. They don't seem to be making theological arguments and after reading the excerpts from his book I understand why he said it that way.]


lee said...

I guess I'm still trying to reconcile an immutable God and his evolving ethics. Oh, I see.... our understanding of Him is what is evolving. He remains the same and consistent, His revelation to man, found in at least one holy book, is consistent and unchanging ( all of the other holy books are wrong) but fallen man including some of the greatest theological minds in the history of the church just can't seem to agree. Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Arminius, Edwards just to name a few, had disparate theological views on many issues.... but Haught has the answers. He seems to be about 2,000 years late.

Unknown said...

(off topic - News Flash)

It’s All In The Hips: Early Whales Used Well Developed Back Legs For Swimming, Fossils Show

Freidenker85 said...

I wonder how come no one mentioned the courtier's reply yet. This is a classic example of it. "Of course, you cannot debunk our silly unbased premises without being a master of divinity"

I wonder if he actually addresses any claims apart from handwaving the opposition by saying that they're obviously not qualified to talk about religion.