Showing posts with label God and the New Atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label God and the New Atheism. Show all posts

John F. Haught Responds To My Review of His Book, God and the New Atheism

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I am honored, of course, in having a scholar like Dr. Haught write a response to my review. There have been five parts to it: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; and Part 5. Here is his response in full:

Morality, Theology and the Invisible God of the Gaps: A Review of John F. Haught's Book, God and the New Atheism, Part 5

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This will be my last post on Dr. Haught’s interesting and thought provoking book, God and the New Atheism . Throughout his book he criticizes the New Atheists for not understanding science, theology, faith, and Christian morality. I have shared where I thought Haught was right and where he was wrong. And I’ve argued that over-all he is wrong.

I’ve commented on several of his main themes. Now I want to speak about his understanding of biblical morality. Haught charges that Dawkins discussion of morality and the Bible, for instance, “is a remarkable display of ignorance and foolish sarcasm.” (p. 68). If you’ve read Dawkins, he speaks, as I do, of the morality we find in the Bible, like dashing babies against the rocks, genocide, slavery, and so forth. It’s in the Bible, so we mention it. It won’t do any good to mention the good portions of the Bible, because if there is a perfectly good God these things should never have received divine sanction in the first place, period.

Haught wants to stress that “the main point of biblical religion…is to have faith, trust, and hope in God. Morality is secondary.” (p. 67) So let’s pause and ask what is the main point of biblical religion. Haught should know this is highly disputed by Christian scholars themselves. From Walther Eichrodt to Walter Brueggemann to Jon D. Levenson to Liberation theologies, there is no agreement. Harvard trained Biblical scholar Hector Avalos argues convincingly that biblical theology “often is selective and arbitrary in judging what counts as ‘central’ or ‘significant’ features of biblical thought.” Avalos adds: "No matter which type one prefers, the lesson is that there is no such thing as a unified ‘biblical theology,’ nor can there be.” [The End of Biblical Studies, pp. 249-51). So I ask, who speaks for biblical theology? From all that I know Dr. Avalos is absolutely correct. So I see no reason to fault Dawkins for not caring to know Haught’s particular views on the matter when writing his book.

Dr. Haught claims that the “moral core of Judaism and Christianity” is “justice…what has come to be known as God’s preferential option for the poor and disadvantaged.” (p. 68). Who is he trying to kid here? Yes, there is an emphasis on the poor and disadvantaged in several major sections of the Bible, notably the prophets, but do the “disadvantaged” include slaves, witches, women caught in adultery, or the many offenses that require capital punishment, like a son cursing his patriarchal kingly father? Does it include the women God told the Israelite soldiers to take as sex slaves (Numbers 31:17-18)? Does it include Jepthah’s daughter who was sacrificed to God by her father? Does it include the wives that Ezra told his people to divorce simply because they were not Jewish? Does it include the surrounding nations that God “commanded” the Israelites to butcher? Does it include the virgins that were stolen as wives from the cities of Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh (Judges 21)? If God cares so much for the poor and disadvantaged, then why not advocate justice for them?

Nonetheless, Haught writes: “To maintain that we can understand modern and contemporary social justice, civil rights, and liberation movements without any reference to (the prophets) Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jesus, and other biblical prophets makes Dawkins treatment of morality and faith unworthy of comment.” (p. 68). And for special emphasis he mentions Martin Luther King’s civil rights message, which “clearly cites Jesus and the prophets as the most authoritative voices in support of…his protests against the injustice of racism.” (p. 94).

I think Sam Harris already debunked such a view as “cherry-picking” from the Bible, which theologians like Haught do. In theological terms this is the problem of the canon within the canon, where the question is which parts of the canon are to be stressed and which ones are to be minimized. Christian scholars in previous generations stressed different parts of the Bible didn’t they, which legitimized heretic, honor, and witch killings, along with slavery and holy wars.

Besides, the truth is that the prophets actively preached God’s reign among his people, and this God, as depicted by Hector Avalos, “is the ultimate imperialist.” (p. 279). Even the word for “peace” (Shalom) is viewed through imperialistic terminology, says Avalos. “As used in the Hebrew Bible, it really refers to a state of affairs favorable to Yahweh. Peace means no more war only insofar as Yahweh has destroyed his opponents or he has successfully beaten them into utter submission” (p. 279), and he quotes from Isaiah 14:1-2, as but one example:

The LORD will have compassion on Jacob;
once again he will choose Israel
and will settle them in their own land.
Aliens will join them
and unite with the house of Jacob.

2 Nations will take them
and bring them to their own place.
And the house of Israel will possess the nations
as menservants and maidservants in the LORD's land.
They will make captives of their captors
and rule over their oppressors.

While Haught points to the prophets as the moral center of Biblical religion, he utterly fails to understand that there would be no need to reform the Church from sanctioning such things as heretic and witch killings, along with slavery, racism and sexism, if God was clear from the beginning. God could’ve said things like: “Thou shalt not buy, beat, trade, or own slaves,” and said it as often as needed without giving contradictory advice. If God was this clear from the beginning there would be nothing to reform in the first place. The Church could never sanction witch killings if God had said, “Thou shalt not kill people of different faiths nor those who practice witchcraft” and said it as often as needed from the beginning. Instead we read, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

When it comes to the injustices found in the Bible, Haught admits they are found there. But with sarcasm Haught charges: “Either the God of the Bible must be a perfect moral role model and a perfect engineer, or else this God is not permitted by Dawkins to exist at all.” (p. 105) He thinks there is a third way. He claims that it is not biblical religion but “idolatry” that makes religion go bad.” “The antidote to idolatry, however, is not atheism but faith.” (p. 76)

Haught accepts evolutionary biology and with it believes in a God of process. He claims that from a Christian theological point of view “our lives, human history, and the universe itself are part of a momentously meaningful drama of liberation and the promise of ultimate fulfillment.” (p. 101). He concludes that “the God of evolution humbly invites creatures to participate in the ongoing creation of the universe,” (p. 107), and by this he means being active in the pursuit of justice.

Haught's God is one of mystery that requires faith. But in the end Haught’s God is unwittingly the “god of the gaps” where the gaps left unexplained by science, such as the problem of consciousness and the problem of a basis for morality, leave room for his faith in the mysterious God of Tillich’s “ultimate concern.” I’m sure he’ll deny this. He’ll argue instead that his God is the sustainer of creation and can be seen in all of creation, not just in the gaps. But modern science has closed all of the other gaps, so his God is the only one left after the demolition is done. Prior to modern science Christians believed the Genesis creation accounts literally, but with the advent of modern science Haught’s Church was forced to give that up. Prior to the awareness that every human being should be entitled to human rights, Haught's Church defended witch hunts and slavery. Prior to the women’s rights movement Haught’s Church defended sexism. Because things have changed in defiance of the Church, Haught now wants to maintain this is the result of progressive revelation stemming from the prophets of old which takes place by God’s direction.

I’m sure he is aware of the parable of the invisible gardener. I think he believes in one. His faith needs no positive evidence. The only evidence his faith needs are the gaps in our knowledge. But since there are likely always to be gaps, his faith has no positive evidence for it at all.

There is much more in this book than what I could touch on here. It’s very instructive. Get it and see for yourself his robust defense of Christian theology in the face of the onslaught of the New Atheists. Does his faith survive the attacks of the New Atheists? Maybe, but his God is not worth worshipping. He believes in a distant God, and a distant God is no different than none at all. Judge for yourselves. But for me and my house, faith in the gaps of scientific knowledge is an extremely slender reed to hang one's hat on. What will he believe tomorrow? What will his church be able to believe in the future? Less and less and less and less.

Who Speaks For Christianity? A Review of John F. Haught's Book, Part 4

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I’ve been reviewing John F. Haught’s book, God and the New Atheism, which can read here. This will be my fourth post about it. I’ll write more about his book later.

To recap, I said the claim of the new atheists is that the evidence does not support the faith of a believer in God, and they are right. Haught disagrees, but how does he propose to show them they are wrong apart from the evidence? What method does he propose to investigate our experience in this world other than science and the evidence? Mysticism? Intuition? I argued it’s reasonable to think that since methodological naturalism has worked so well that philosophical (or ontological) naturalism is a reasonable conclusion to come to, even if we cannot prove such a conclusion by a scientific experiment itself!

I also questioned Haught’s choice of atheists to compare the new atheists to. I said let us atheists decide who speaks for us. Don’t go telling us that Nietzsche speaks for us. And I turned the tables on him by asking him if he would object if I claimed that certain Christians speak for him.

Now I want to ask him, “Who speaks for Christianity?”

Haught faults the new atheists for not understanding theology, and he equates them with creationists who reject evolution “without ever taking a course in biology,” (p. 29) because they place “the same literalist demands on the Bible as do Christians and other fundamentalists.” (p. 33). And just like their chosen opponents, Haught tells us the new atheists “are in complete and inalterable possession of the truth.” (p. 39). When they treat God as a hypothesis by ignoring Martin Buber’s distinction between viewing God as an “It” versus a “Thou,” and by ignoring the work of theologians like Karl Barth (who I did my master’s thesis on), and Paul Tillich, the new atheists “have chosen to topple a deity whose existence most theologians and a very large number of other Christians, Muslims, and Jews would have no interest in defending anyway.” (p. 44).

Granted, the new atheists seem to be surer of what they claim than they can truly be. I describe myself best as an agnostic atheist. I cannot be sure that I’m right that no God exists at all. I know I’m right when it comes to evangelical Christianity, for instance, but some sort of deist, or impersonal, or uncaring, or impotent, and/or hidden God might exist who merely created what Stephen Hawking described as a “quantum wave fluctuation.” If such a God existed he would be a distant God. But since a distant God is no different than none at all, I choose to affirm atheism.

That being said, I find it odd that Haught faults us skeptics for treating God as a hypothesis, as an “It,” not a “Thou.” He lauds William James’s essay, “The Will to Believe,” and states matter-of-factly that the new atheists “show no sign" of ever having read it (p. 6). But I have. And James treats God as a hypothesis! James disputes “agnostic rules for truth-seeking” because such rules will prevent us from knowing the truth about God, if he exists. Why? In his own words: “If God exists, then we might have to meet that hypothesis halfway to see whether it is true.” So Haught cannot have it both ways here if he thinks James is on to something—something I take issue with in my book. We are outsiders. We do not know God as a person, a “Thou.” I once claimed to have done so, so I know the perspective from which he writes. But I now claim to have been deluded into thinking I had a relationship with a God. I didn’t, because he doesn’t exist. Now for me all that’s left is the hypothesis whether or not some object (albeit "spiritual object") such as God exists. As outsiders that’s what we do. That’s what ANY outsider can do. That’s what Haught does with the Hindu god, or the Mormon god.

Haught is a theologically liberal Catholic scholar and he seems to be able to tell us what most Christians believe, or most Christian scholars anyway. But I never saw a poll in his book where this was shown. He may be right about most present-day Christian or theistic scholars, but he is surely wrong about most pastors and Christians in the pews. And he is certainly wrong about the Christian theologians and scholars of the past.

The trouble we skeptics have when attempting to debunk Christianity is that we have a moving and nebulous target. So how can any of us be faulted for not knowing which Christianity to take aim at, including the new atheists? In the introduction to my book Edward T. Babinski describes what a many splintered thing Christianity is. He wrote:
Two thousand years and forty-five thousand separate Christian denominations and missionary organizations later, we have modern-day “Christianity,” including everything from Trappist monks and Quakers who worship in silence, and meditating Christians dialoging with Eastern faiths, to hell-raisers and snake-handling Christians. We have damnationists and universalist Christians, and many more groups besides. Even after the Roman Empire adopted and enforced Christian faith, Arian and Athanasian Christians rioted, killed, and persecuted each other, as did Donatists and Catholics. And none of the older ideas ever fully die out, because some of the Bible verses and arguments used by Arians were much later revived and used by deists and Unitarians, while the Donatists never gave up their fight to appoint their own priests rather than Rome, kind of like today’s ultraconservative Catholics who think the papacy is wrong but the rest of Catholicism is good. And there are many differences of opinion on everything in Christianity today from social issues to religious issues like tongue-speaking; baptism; miracles; when and how to best honor the Sabbath; what Old Testament laws ought to be enforced today for the good of society; what signs to look for in the “saved,” including “short hair in men”; or using the King James Bible above all other translations. Meanwhile some things that the early church emphasized are little emphasized today, except among the Catholics, by which I mean clergy celibacy, as seen in the words of Jesus and Paul and the author of Revelation. Christianity continues to evolve and branch into further new rival denominations and suborganizations as time goes on. How Darwinian of the churches!
This blog and my book, for instance, take aim at a specific target for this very reason--evangelical Christianity. I do this precisely because to be effective one must specify with pinpoint accuracy that which he wants to debunk. Too large of a target and I’ll not be effective. But when I do this I am criticized for not dealing with Haught’s type of liberal Catholic Christianity. So be it. As one Blogger said not long ago when justifying our chosen evangelical target:
Not only is fundamentalist Christianity the greatest threat in the United States to science, tolerance, and social progress, but it is also the most prevalent form of Protestant Christianity to be found in our nation, whether you like it or not. It is the fundamentalist religious right that holds the reigns of the Republican party (which currently controls the nation, in case you didn't realize), and it is this same fundamentalist religious right that lobbies for the teaching of lies in public school and fights against funding for embryonic research that could potentially save the lives of millions.

Whether you like it or not, it is this flavor of Christianity that makes the loudest, most obnoxious, most dangerous impact on the world today, giving us plenty of good reason to direct the brunt of our attacks in its vicinity.
Sam Harris does indeed take on the moderates and liberals by questioning their uncritical tolerance of religious faith, which grants legitimacy without penalty for extremists to kill in the name of their God. But Haught still faults Harris for not seeing the irony of his own “intolerance of religious tolerance.” Haught writes: “Even the vaguest knowledge of humanity’s sorrowful struggle toward tolerance and religious freedom would make most people hesitate before promoting the intolerance of tolerance.” (p. 38). But the irony is Haught’s, I think. The irony is that he is defending the Catholic Church which had people burned at the stake for expressing themselves and thinking freely. The Catholic church slowed the progress of science by condemning Galileo in the Inquisition (Rene Descartes had written a book titled The World, for instance, which agreed with Galileo, but when he saw what had happened to Galileo he didn’t publish it). I find it extremely ill-advised for Haught, as a Catholic, if he wants to take any credit for our present day love for tolerance, for chiding the new atheists as they freely express their rage against the intolerance of the church even in today's world. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said: "Tolerate the tolerable." That's all anyone can do.

I maintain that the Catholic Church has been seriously wrong in the past with the witch-hunts, Inquisition, Crusades, the protection of molestor-priests, and slavery (The Catholic Church didn’t condemn slavery until the year 1888, after the Civil War and after every other Christian nation had abolished it). If three hundred years of witch hunting and two hundred years of heresy hunting doesn't qualify as something the Church did seriously wrong, then I don't know what to tell you. As a former Catholic and a former doctoral student in a program of theology and ethics at Marquette University (a Jesuit college), I claim that if the Catholic church was seriously wrong once, then I have no reason to trust her at all. A more reasonable supposition is that the Catholic Church is led by mere men (especially men!), as the history of that church can and does show. Whole communties of faith must be wrong given their proliferation, and I think this goes for the Catholic community of faith.

So just as I faulted Haught for telling the new atheists which atheists speak for us, I now fault him for claiming the new atheists don’t target the right theology. Here’s what he needs to do (with no intention of ridicule). Get all of the Christian theologians together. Lock the most important ones in a very large room (that’ll be the first decision) and then have them stay there until they come to a consensus on what theology represents true Christianity. If they can come to a consensus let them emerge and I’ll write a book debunking that. But it’ll never happen, will it? Because not even Christians all agree who speaks for them, unless it’s them!

Who Speaks for Atheism? A Review of John F. Haught's Book, God and the New Atheism, Part 3

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This is a continuation of my review of John F. Haught’s book, God and the New Atheism. Earlier parts can be found here.

In chapter two Haught compares the so-called new atheists with some of the atheists of yesteryear. He teaches a course on “The Problem of God,” in which he requires his students to read the best available atheist literature. He maintains that the writings of the new atheists “would never have made the list of required readings.” When compared to the “more muscular” atheist writings found in Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Camus, and Sartre, whom he calls the “hard core atheists,” the “soft-core” new atheists offer a “pale brand of atheism.” They offer a “relatively light fare” in comparison to “the gravity of an older and much more thoughtful generation of religious critics.”

The older atheism, according to Haught, “if one is serious about it, should make all the difference in the world, and it should take a superhuman effort to embrace it.” The older atheists realized that “most people will be too weak to accept the terrifying consequences of the death of God. However, anything less would be escapism, cowardice, and bad faith.” Haught sums up Nietzsche by asking: “Are you willing to risk madness? If not, then you are not really an atheist.” By contrast, Haught argues the new atheists seem oblivious to the logical conclusion that atheism leads them to. They “want atheism to prevail at the least possible expense to the agreeable socioeconomic circumstances out of which they sermonize.” “They would have the God religions simply disappear, after which we should be able to go on enjoying the same lifestyle as before, only without the nuisance of suicide bombers and TV evangelists.” This kind of atheism, Haught argues, would have “nauseated” the older hard core atheists. At least they understood that for sincere and consistent atheists “the whole web of meanings and values that had clustered around the idea of God in Western culture has to go down the drain along with its organizing center.”

Haught is correct about these older atheists. Camus, for instance, wrestled seriously with the question “Why not commit suicide?” Sartre argued that if God doesn’t exist then there is no human nature. We alone define ourselves and we alone must invent our own values. But why must Haught compare the new atheists to these particular older atheists? There is other atheist literature to compare their writings to, like Bertrand Russell, Antony Flew, J.L. Mackie, and Michael Martin, to name some of the most notable and prolific ones. The fact is that the particular older atheists Haught is comparing Dawkins, et. al. to, are mostly known as existentialists. They are men who argued from atheism to a particular conclusion about values and morals, which they believed had no other grounding than one’s inner subjective choices. They were relativists and could see no reasonable explanation for morals apart from the “will to power,” or choice itself. And they concluded, falsely I might add, that without a rational grounding for morals in God our world is potentially screwed. No wonder Christians like Haught love these other atheists so much, because they seem to confirm what Christians want them to confirm about a society without God, that it could potentially go to hell in a handbasket.

By contrast, Bertrand Russell wrote plenty about morality, as did Antony Flew, J.L. Mackie, and Michael Martin. These atheists do not conclude what the existential writers did about morality and a society without God. There have been some other good atheist writers like Erik J. Wienberg and Michael Shermer, who have likewise offered good reasons for morality and a good society if there is no God. Unlike the existentialists of the past who were groping for moral answers in a godless society, subsequent atheist writers have found reasonable solutions to these questions. And these solutions allow me to say that the new atheists are indeed correct that there will be positive changes with only minimal kinds of other changes to society and moral values without God, despite what the existentialists claimed.

So let us atheists decide who speaks for us. Don’t go telling us that Nietzsche speaks for us. We atheists disagree about a great deal of things. In fact, just because one is an atheist does not mean we will agree about much of anything else. History has moved on. We have all learned some lessons of the past. The problems of the past are being solved by more thoughtful thinkers. And when Christians like Haught want to compare apples to apples let's do just that. The new atheists are writing in a new generation, one which has good reasons to think society itself will be better off than one in which the God religions exist, not the other way around. So let's compare their writings to the other atheist literature today.

Besides, if Haught thinks he can declare which atheists speaks for us in this new generation, then what does he say when we do the same thing to him? We atheists can legitimately claim his views of the Bible are lame and insipid compared with those of the previous centuries. We argue that when it comes to the logic of the Crusades, Inquisition, witch hunts, slavery and so on, that given the Bible, the logic of such horrific actions was impeccable. We argue that Christians like Haught have continually retreated in what they think is morally acceptable in light of the advancement of learning and the lessons of history, which is the same basis for how atheists learn their morality. When we do this he would cry “foul,” wouldn’t he? He would say the Christians of the past don't speak for him. So do I when it comes to some atheists of the past, even though I have a much better case to make than he does.

A Review of John Haught's Book, "God and the New Atheism," Part 2

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The following is a continuation of a review I started here about John F. Haught’s new book, God and the New Atheism. If you want to read something more about his views on religion Dr. Haught just recently wrote on the question, Is religion the root of all evil?, for the Secular Philosophy Blog, which, when it comes to his definition of religion I’ll get to that in a later post. [What I wrote in answer to that same question will be posted there next week].

In his “Introduction” Haught previously mentioned two "new" aspects to the new atheism: 1) “Faith in God is the cause of innumerable evils and should be rejected on moral grounds;” and 2) “Morality does not require belief in God, and people behave better without faith than with it.” (p. xiv) Whether these things are indeed "new" to atheists I very much doubt. Nonetheless in chapter one (pp. 1-14) he discusses the first "new" aspect of the new atheism.

Haught outlines the views of the new atheists with regard to faith. Their argument is based on “four evident truths.” The first one is that “many people in the world are living needlessly miserable lives.” The second is that “the cause of so much unnecessary distress is faith, particularly in the form of belief in God.” Faith for Harris, as but one example, is “belief without evidence” (The End of Faith, pp. 58-73, 85). Third, “the way to avoid unnecessary human suffering today is to abolish faith from the face of the earth.” And the fourth is that “the way to eliminate faith, and hence to get rid of suffering, is to follow the hallowed path of the scientific method.”

As a theologian and philosopher of science, Dr. Haught effectively dismantles what I consider to be a few na├»ve understandings of the new atheists regarding faith and the scientific method. It’s a common mistake that applied and theoretical scientists unaccustomed to understanding the philosophy of science make. Is faith a belief without evidence? No. Do scientists come to their conclusions based solely on the evidence? No.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the new atheists, since I truly appreciate the impact they have had in raising the level of awareness for skeptics, but Haught is correct here, if in fact that's what they think. Anyone who has seriously looked into the philosophy of science and read Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, Ian Barbour, Frederick Suppe, Paul Feyerabend, and even Karl Popper knows that science is not completely objective, that facts are theory laden, and that certainty as a goal is impossible to achieve, which leaves room for faith. Popper, for instance, talked of science progressing by “conjectures and guesses.” Feyerabend even argued that there is no such thing as the scientific method! Scientists themselves are people with passions, prior commitments, and/or control beliefs. In fact, there are many beliefs we have for which we have no evidence, as Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued--such things as I’m not dreaming right now, that I've existed for longer than 24 hours, that I am not merely a brain in a mad scientist's vat which is being caused to remember the events of today in the year 2030, or that we're not all living in something depicted by the movie the Matrix.

Haught argues that “there is no way, without circular thinking, to set up a scientific experiment to demonstrate that every true proposition must be based in empirical evidence rather than faith. The censuring of every instance of faith, in the narrow new atheist sense of the term (i.e. according to Haught as an "intellectual and propositional sense," rather than a "vulnerable heart"), would have to include the supposition of scientism also." Why? Because Haught argues, faith "is essential to ground the work of science itself.” (p. 11).

Here is where I think Haught is confused. Evidence stands in a dialectic tension with the faith of the scientist in that the scientist’s faith directs his conjectures and guesses, and in turn the evidence corrects these guesses by refuting ill informed ones. Faith and evidence stand in a dialectic tension with each other in this manner. So it would be completely non-scientific of Haught to say that the faith of a scientist should ever take precedence over the evidence itself. The faith of the scientist is one that should never be against the evidence, and THAT is surely what the new atheists are arguing for, irrespective of whether they have ever studied the philosophy of science or not! And the faith of a scientist (qua scientist) does not, and should not be, as Haught describes faith, "a commitment of one's whole being to God." (p. 5) Rather, it's a faith that believes a certain experiment will produce fruitful results prior to doing the experiment, or that spending a great deal of time trying to solve an equation will be worth the effort, or at a more fundamental level that his senses adequately reflect the world. The claim of the new atheists is that the evidence does not support the faith of a believer in God, and they are right. Haught disagrees, but how does he propose to show them they are wrong apart from the evidence?

Haught merely claims there is no way without circular reasoning to establish that every true proposition must be based in empirical evidence. His argument is that if this is the case it leaves room for faith, since science cannot be proved based upon a scientific experiment. So what? What method does he propose to investigate our experience in this world other than science and the evidence? Mysticism? Intuition? What kind of methods are those? And how would someone go about establishing them as methods without reasoning in a circle? What is the exact content to these methods since those who adhere to them come away with different and mutually contradictory understandings of their experiences?

I have argued at length in my book on behalf of methodological naturalism, which was first suggested by the ancient Greek philosopher/scientist Thales. He proposed a natural answer to the question of "what is the source of all things?" Thales claimed the source of all things was water. The method he used in coming to this conclusion eschewed references to the gods and goddesses of his day and merely looked for a natural answer to the question. This method is the one that has been the most fruitful in history, bar none. That method is all we have. So it’s reasonable to think as Barbara Forrest has argued, that since this method has worked so well that philosophical (or ontological) naturalism is a reasonable conclusion to come to, even if we cannot prove such a conclusion by a scientific experiment itself!

So while Haught is right about a few things, he’s dead wrong about other more important things.

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

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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.