More apologetic gymnastics: John Haught explains why Christianity comports with cosmology

Sorry to inflict this on you, but really, you have to keep up with Sophisticated Theology™.  This excerpt is from our old friend John Haught, in his article “Christianity and human evolution” in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (pp. 295-305).

Halfway through this 600-page tome, whose editors J. B. Stump and A. G. Padgett promised would not be “a work defending or promoting Christian faith,” (p.xix), I see that they have misled us. At least 80% of the pieces try to reconcile science and Christianity (Sean Carroll’s essay is a rare exception).  It is shameful that Blackwell published such a volume.  Simon Conway Morris’s piece on convergence and Christianity, for example, is followed by an essay by Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute, pushing his discredited theory that evolution cannot produce “specified information” without the intervention of an intelligent designer.

In the “Evolution” section, John Haught comes onstage to show us once again how evolution not only comports with Christianity, but is exactly what we would expect if God were to create according to His nature. Haught once again makes a theological virtue from a scientific necessity:

“According to many Christian evolutionists, Darwin’s new science now makes it possible to think of God’s power to create as more impressive than ever.  A creator who brings into being a world that in turn gives new kinds of being from out of its original resourcefulness is certainly more impressive than a hypothesized ‘designer’ who molds and manages everything in the world directly.” (p. 296).

I wonder why the Bible didn’t tell us that? And is that really so? Wouldn’t a God who could make a frog or a gazelle or a Venus flytrap ex nihilo be more impressive than one who just allowed an original form of life to evolve unchecked?

Anyway, I wanted to highlight the same virtue that Haught makes out of the necessity of the Big Bang:

“It may be instructive, therefore, to locate the question of human significance within the framework of the newly revealed cosmic drama.  Christian theology may now ask what human evolution means not only in conversation with biology but also with cosmology.”

. . . Many scientists* have now concluded that the Bing bang universe has been pregnant with life and mind from its very inception 14 billion years ago. Contrary to what materialist or ‘physicalist’ philosophies of nature have traditionally held, the stuff of the universe has never been essentially mindless. The emergence of being endowed with the capacity to understand, reflect, and decide, therefore, really begins during the first microsecond of the universe’s existence.  Christianity’s declaration that human beings have been specially endowed by the Creator with a unique significance and a special vocation within the total scheme of things is at least logically consistent with contemporary cosmology.” (p. 301)

I love that weasel phrase “logically consistent”!

Likewise, the island of Manhattan has never been without skyscrapers, for the emergence of such tall beings endowed with the capacity to hold many humans on a small footprint of space really began at the first instant an early hominin decided to live in a cave.
____________

*There are those “many scientists” again! I wonder who they are. . .

116 Comments

  1. Marella
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    WHY do I have to keep up with sophisticated theology?? WHYYYYYY! The boredom, it burns. I’m grateful you are prepared to risk your neurons on this sort of thing cause nothing could make me do it.

  2. dominikmiketa
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Oh Jerry, you have my utmost respect for putting up with this drivel.

    Just today I was sent an e-mail reminder by my department that the Oxford philosophy library will be merging with the theology library. I am filled with equal parts dread and curiosity, as I will surely detest seeing the Haughts and Plantingas occupying MY bookshelves, but at the same time, I will have a hard time resisting an easy laugh!

  3. Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Many scientists have now concluded that …

    Does Haught give any citations for any of those claims about cosmology? Strange that cosmologists don’t seem to have heard about any of these “conclusions”, did Haught just make them up?

    • Rob
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      did Haught just make them up

      He’s a theologist. “Making things up” is his job description.

      • Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Wa-hahahaha!

      • lamacher
        Posted September 11, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        Of course he just made this stuff up – either from his own fertile imagination or in conjunction with the Committee for Newspeak, a subsidiary of Sophisticated Theology (TM.

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

      “The process of quantum tunneling from nothing raises another intriguing question… the [tunneling] laws should be ‘there’ even prior to the universe itself… in the form of mathematical equations. If the medium of mathematics is the mind, does this mean that mind should predate the universe?” Alex Vilenkin 2006.

      Similar expressions of mystery (about the status of physical laws) abound, and have done since Einstein and before.

      Of course, if Haught had concluded, “Abracadabra, therefore Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” his argument would be false. But he only claimed that an involvement of mind at/from the creation is consistent with religious belief (but of any flavour, we should swiftly insist).

      If New Atheism had to rely on pretending that such vague but true statements are untrue, it would be lost. There are much better arguments. (For example my favoutite: Only a morally imperfect being would require grovelling worship. Works for me against all brands of Abrahamic religion.)

      • sunyavadi
        Posted September 11, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

        I think one only ‘grovels’ if one is abased. Certainly religion has become abased, but that is no reason to grovel.

        • Rob
          Posted September 11, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

          “Worship me or go to Hell”

          Sounds like grovelling to me.

        • logicophilosophicus
          Posted September 11, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

          I think worship is grovelling. Religion started out “abased”, with people believing that gods would require the kind of attention that kings or despotic patriarchs demanded. Gradually religion grows up, becomes more sophisticated and less religious…

  4. Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    The problem now is that with this kind of public lying, by “professionals” in most cases, are easy and quick to debunk.

    It seems that in the past these kinds of lies were not exposed and existed locally.

  5. Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    “According to many Christian evolutionists, Darwin’s new science now makes it possible to think of God’s power to create as more impressive than ever.”

    Holy crap. Haught just can’t be unaware of how ridiculous that sounds, can he?

    Scientist: “Hmm…it turns out this phenomenon has an entirely natural explanation and requires no divine intervention. If here were no god, it would occur exactly as we’ve obsereved it occurring.”

    Theist: “What’s that, now? Amazing! Just more proof that our god is an awesome god! He is sooooo good.”

    Scientist: “I don’t think you heard me correctly…”

    -OR-

    “I just know I’m going to win the lottery this time.”

    “Uh, the odds are 1 in 300,000,000.”

    “Oh, so my chances are BETTER THAN I THOUGHT! WINNING!”

    • darrelle
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      “Holy crap. Haught just can’t be unaware of how ridiculous that sounds, can he?”

      At some level at least, probably not. Apologetics like this are like damage control in a situation where you do not have the initiative and are reduced to reacting to one crisis after another.

  6. Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Wouldn’t a God who could make a frog or a gazelle or a Venus flytrap ex nihilo be more impressive than one who just allowed an original form of life to evolve unchecked?

    Actually, I personally would find a self-assembling complex system more impressive than one that was built that way, and its designer correspondingly cleverer. If you try hard enough, there’s even language in Genesis to support this sort of view, where it talks about God *causing* the earth and sea to bring forth life, rather than creating it directly himself.

    It’s still all an exercise in poetic thinking, though: sounds pretty, but no reason to believe it’s true.

    • Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      But if god is omnipotent, why wouldn’t she simply create everything ex nihilo?

      Even if a theist argues that “creation via evolution is the best way to do it, so that’s why god did it that way”, the implication remains that god’s approach to creation was constrained. Shouldn’t the “best way” be however the flip god chose to create?

      In this way I think not creating via magical poof demonstrates impotence.

      • Posted September 11, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        [shrug] I dunno, I only said that I, personally, would find it more impressive (if someone ever builds a rep-rap machine that can make AND assemble a copy of itself, that’ll impress the hell out of me, and the designers will have my respect).

        To a significant extent, believers construct gods to suit their own preference. Since I disbelieve in all of them, I’m not much interested in judging which god-concept is “better” (except in the limited sense that eg. I prefer the feminist, LGBT-positive god of the liberal churches to his sexually repressive, misogynist, homophobic, fundamentalist rival — because of what it tells me about *those believers*).

        • H.H.
          Posted September 11, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

          Really? More impressive? Having to sit through millions of years of waste might take the shine off the whole enterprise. I think most people would actually be more impressed by seeing an entire universe and all its lifeforms created with a single spoken word.

        • Posted September 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          I’m not interested in discussions about god’s characteristics, either, for the reason you mention, i. e., angels on heads of pins.

          My point was not addressing which characteristics the “best concept of god” would demonstrate.

          The point was that in the scenario some theists advance – that god chose to create via evolution rather than ex nihilo because it is a better/more impressive/cleverer/whatever method – it is implied that god herself couldn’t simply decree what the “best way” would be. God had to chose the better/more impressive way based on criteria not under her control.

          Which (is one of the many things that) does away with omnipotence.

    • Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      In the film “Bull Durham” (U.S.A. baseball metaphors) the main character says “Home runs are fascist.”

      So is a God who would beat his chest and invent everything ex nihilo.

      He should just set everything in motion. “Bunt your way on and let the players manufacture a run” would be the appropriate metaphor.

  7. John K.
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Ah, “logically consistent”. So your plane did not collapse on the runway. Bravo. Get back to me when it does some actual flying.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Nice analogy, but it is even worse.

      In order not to Godwin this thread (an apt name!), I’ll resist using the nazis and go for the gulags. They were logically consistent with contemporary cosmology too, because they happened.

      If your idea has nothing to do with the subject (evolution is not cosmology), it isn’t even a plane on the runway. It is a Rube Goldberg machine.

      If the idea is long since abandoned (humans as special), it is a rusty heap of a former Rube Goldberg machine.

      It can be paraded around as an example of a once good diversion from flying. But not as anything that relates to today’s flying.

  8. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    …the stuff of the universe has never been essentially mindless.

    The thing I don’t get about this idea that consciousness is inherent in all matter is this: why, then, does it take fantastically complex structures of matter to actually exhibit consciousness? Why should structure make any difference, if consciousness is fundamental? Why don’t planets and stars have minds orders of magnitude beyond ours, simply by virtue of their mass?

    On the other hand, if structure does matter and accounts for the observable behavior of conscious entities, then what explanatory role is this inherent primordial consciousness supposed to play?

    • MNb
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      What science and theology have in common is that they both revolve around formulating the right questions. Where scientists and theologians differ is what the right questions are.

      • steve oberski
        Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Actually, where they differ is that science is unwilling to make the answers up.

    • Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Don’t worry, someone is already hashing up a concoction of Higgs boson with quantum whatever to prove that consciousness or spirit was there from the beginning. Humgry believers will make it a bestseller book.

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      “On the other hand, if structure does matter and accounts for the observable behavior of conscious entities, then what explanatory role is this inherent primordial consciousness supposed to play?”

      The structure of a radio matters, but it doesn’t account for the music. The structure of a car matters, but it doesn’t account for the destination or the route.

      Ask not what your mind can do for your body, but what your body can do for your mind.

  9. dunstar (@eightyc)
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps it’s high time to compile a children’s book version of Adult Fantasy aka Theology.

    • MNb
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      Poor children.

  10. Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    ‘. . . Many scientists* have now concluded that the Bing bang universe has been pregnant with life and mind from its very inception 14 billion years ago.’

    Ummm…WTF? Well, fair play to this early life. I bet things weren’t easy for them in those early days. I mean, for a start I’d imagine the several trillion degree K would make things a little uncomfortable. And then of course there’s the issue of having to eat and breathe nothing but hydrogen and helium for the first few hundred million years as nothing else existed. Whoever this intelligence was you’ve got to hand it to them, they were certainly hardy little fellas.

    • agentwhim
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink

      I just like the idea of the “bing bang”. Sounds like something from The Sopranos.

      • Posted September 11, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

        Yes, and for many people God was a “made man” right from the start.

  11. MNb
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    “the newly revealed cosmic drama.”
    According to Wikipedia drama is a specific form of fiction. How fitting is Haughts usage! Because what he writes about the Big Bang (pregnant of life etcetera) is pure fiction indeed, albeit not exactly worth a Nobel Prize for Literature.
    But it hasn’t anything to do with science, obviously.

  12. Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    A creator who brings into being a world that in turn gives new kinds of being from out of its original resourcefulness is certainly more impressive than a hypothesized ‘designer’ who molds and manages everything in the world directly.

    Impressive, perhaps, but an even more horrific sadist than the one depicted in the Bible.

    Would you stand by as you watched the evolutionary interplay between humans and malaria, and never once intervene to help humans? It’s only now, with the full force of modern scientific civilization, that we even have the theoretical chance of doing something significant about malaria.

    Ooh. Gee. Wow. That Jesus sure is impressive, sitting up there on his throne and watching all those people die of malaria and not even bothering to turn one single communion wafer into quinine rather than his own flesh.

    I know Haught must have seen David Attenborough speak on the subject, so what’s Haught’s excuse?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • KP
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Best comment on the whole thread.

    • Mark Fuller Dillon
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      >>Would you stand by as you watched the evolutionary interplay between humans and malaria, and never once intervene to help humans?

      Well, now, let’s be fair: this creator might be helping malaria… and doing a damned fine job.

      • Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        No, the pro-malaria creator isn’t doing a very good job — witness the myriad effective anti-malarial drugs we already have, and the very real possibility that malaria will go extinct in the next few / several decades if research continues on its current trajectory.

        b&

        • Rob
          Posted September 11, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

          Extinct like Polio almost did?

          *sigh* People are stupid.

  13. DV
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    >>Likewise, the island of Manhattan has never been without skyscrapers…

    You made a mistake right there. You missed the key word “essentially”.
    Change it to “Likewise, the island of Manhattan has never been *essentially* without skyscrapers…” and you will get Haught’s approval.

    I do have a nitpick with Haught.

    >>The emergence of being endowed with the capacity to understand, reflect, and decide, therefore, really begins during the first microsecond of the universe’s existence.

    Only the first microsecond? Why did that being wait so long? Why not the first nanosecond, or the first picosecond? And does this mean there was no being with capacity to understand, reflect, and decide before that? Then we are in agreement – there is no God (unless God was mindless prior to the Big Bang).

    • The whole truth
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

      “The emergence of being endowed with the capacity to understand, reflect, and decide, therefore, really begins during the first microsecond of the universe’s existence.”

      Isn’t that the typical front loading assertion, or at least close to it?

    • lamacher
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      Haught needs to engage in exhaustive reading in Sophisticated Cosmology (TM).

  14. Filipe
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    The previous post applies here. Having intelligent people coming up with this stuff is for me a bigger miracle than a cute cat surviving an accident.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 4:19 am | Permalink

      Yes, but not the *good* sort of miracle, eh?

  15. eric
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Haught:

    A creator who brings into being a world that in turn gives new kinds of being from out of its original resourcefulness is certainly more impressive than a hypothesized ‘designer’ who molds and manages everything in the world directly.” (p. 296).

    Using that logic, my having kids makes me much more impressive than the Christian God, who brought the universe into existence ex nihilo.

  16. Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I love that weasel phrase “logically consistent”!

    So do I. Seems that lots of folks don’t grasp what “logically consistent” means. Haught’s view is ALSO logically consistent with creationism, with bigfoot hiding in western forests, and with tons of new age woo.

    Trouble is, lots of folks seem to think that “logically consistent with” = “follows logically from.” What inexcusable ignorance!

  17. andreschuiteman
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    More apologetic gymnastics

    The word ‘gymnastics’ doesn’t seem right in this connection. It suggests movement, force, elegance, fitness, freedom. Apologetics is more like contortionism: the ability to twist and fold your body and limbs in awkward positions to make it fit a little box on a stage.

    • KP
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Even then, there is some athleticism and fitness involved. Illusionist, maybe?

      • andreschuiteman
        Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, it’s hard to think of something to compare it with that doesn’t have some admirable quality, while there is nothing admirable about apologetics.

        • Posted September 11, 2012 at 12:12 am | Permalink

          I think contortionist might be the word you’re looking for…

          • andreschuiteman
            Posted September 11, 2012 at 1:38 am | Permalink

            I already suggested contortionism myself above (#17), but KP was right to object to that.

            No, I think that instead of writing ‘apologetic gymnastics’ or ‘apologetic contortionism’ or ‘apologetic illusionism’ we should just call it ‘apologetics’ pure and simple. It resides in a category of its own; it’s a human activity without any redeeming qualities. It’s trying to fit square pegs into round holes while ignoring the square holes that were made for them.

    • Posted September 10, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      The idea is that the theologian engages in all sorts of logical leaping and contortionism.

  18. Screechy Monkey
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    “I see that they have misled us.”

    Ah, but that would require us to have believed their assurances in the first place.

  19. KP
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    In the “Evolution” section, John Haught comes onstage to show us once again how evolution not only comports with Christianity, but is exactly what we would expect if God were to create according to His nature. Haught once again makes a theological virtue from a scientific necessity:

    I just read his almost-verbatim section on this in God After Darwin. I wondered how well this argument goes over with the fundamentalists.

    One no longer needs a hair-dryer. Just stand in front of a Sophisticated Theologian and use the wind generated by all the hand-waving…

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Apologetics is in my opinion not analogous to gymnastics: gymnasts are agile. For the same reason, it isn’t analogous to contortionist activities.

    I propose that Sophisticated Theology™ is analogous to making knots out of the perfectly fine climbing ropes of logic and rationality, ropes that can be used scale the mountain of natural observations.

    Many scientists* have now concluded that the Bing [sic!] bang universe has been pregnant with life and mind from its very inception 14 billion years ago.

    What a beautiful example of Making Shit Up™, the other trademark of apologetics!

    The timeline of the universe is such that the first stars emerged somewhere between a few hundred million up to a billion years after inflation ended. (The uncertainty is a main reason why the James Webb Telescope was developed.)

    Then you have to wait until the first terrestrial planets, which we now know could have merged with early generations of stars, because they have been found to evolve equally likely with little star metallicity. (The oldest known planet is indeed ~ 12.7 billion years old.) That adds a few million years.

    But the real long wait is for the first oxygenated terrestrial planets, which are capable of supporting complex multicellulars. We don’t know if life oxygenates a planet or if it happens for other reasons, but we do know that it takes billions of years.

    A reasonable estimate for a waiting period until life is ~ 1 billion year, and a reasonable waiting period for language capable life is ~ 5.5 billion years. That us about half the lifetime of the Universe.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Oops, I hadn’t read the last comments and especially andreschuiteman’s. Great minds and all that.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        Half the current lifetime of the universe. The universe is pregnant with an eternity of mindless nothingness to come.

      • andreschuiteman
        Posted September 11, 2012 at 1:42 am | Permalink

        It can’t be said often enough (no, not the bit about the great minds, but what you write about the value of apologetics).

  21. Posted September 10, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    “Many scientists* have now concluded that the Bing [sic!] bang universe has been pregnant with life and mind from its very inception 14 billion years ago.”

    They still haven’t let go of the idea that life and mind are Really, Really Important in the universal scale of things, not just confined (so far as we have ever been able to detect) to the scum-thin biosphere/s of one/some obscure planet/s in [an] obscure solar system/s in in [an] obscure galaxy/ies (singular so far, plurals probably to come) in all the unimaginable vastness of space, have they?

    • Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      One trip through the Total Perspective Vortex would cure even the most diehard of believers.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 11, 2012 at 4:34 am | Permalink

        I think I’ll choose to believe that Doug Adams is God.

        And for proof, just consider the name of our genetic material, the stuff that gives us our identity…. DNA. That *has* to be more than a coincidence. When Adams created Life, the Universe, and Everything – he signed it!

        (And I’d be willing to argue that that makes at least as much sense as anything John Haught says…)

  22. sunyavadi
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I am not going to bother you with a lot of comments but have something I want to express. I have always fully accepted the facts of evolution, where I grew up (Australia) there was never anything remotely like ‘creationism’, and I think that literal creationism is so obviously moronic it is not worth arguing over.

    I grew up on the excellent Time Life books on biology and evolution, and loved all of them. It never occured to me that any of this had *any* religious implication whatever. It is just the way the world works.

    As I grew older, I became more ‘religious’ in a way, although always on my own terms and through a wide program of reading, study, meditation. Now I have started to ‘make sense’ out of the myths and metaphors of religion through the prism of comparative religion and Eastern disciplines.

    What I *don’t* get about your style of evolutionary materialism is that it is ultimately self-defeating. Are you really trying to establish that the Universe is ultimately meaningless and that humans are just the consequence of a kind of bio-chemical fluke, who have come out on top by virtue of the law of the jungle. You seem to think if you can show this, you have won.

    Won what? What if you prove that ultimately, nothing means anything? It’s the ultimate in exploding cigars, isn’t it? Why is this ‘philosophy’? Philosophy is finding reasons for things, not showing why there are no reasons.

    Anyway enough out of me, I have been debating this on forums since 2009, and I can’t understand what motivates the materialist side of the argument. Seems like a loose-loose argument to me.

    • Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Are you really trying to establish that the Universe is ultimately meaningless and that humans are just the consequence of a kind of bio-chemical fluke, who have come out on top by virtue of the law of the jungle.

      Why on Earth should it even occur to somebody that the “meaning” imposed upon a person from deity or cosmic overmind or whatever should be superior to the meanings we each choose for our own lives?

      And why would you want somebody else to impose a meaning for your life upon you?

      This whole “Poor us! We’re too incompetent to give our lives meaning!” bullshit never made any sense to me, ever.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Screechy Monkey
        Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        And why would you want somebody else to impose a meaning for your life upon you?

        It’s never really about that, though, is it? I mean, how many people come to the conclusion that the universe/God has given them a purpose and meaning that they don’t agree with? (There’s a few hardcore Calvinists that seem to take this tone of “gosh, I wish God didn’t decide that you’re predestined to go to Hell, but He did, so what can I do? (shrug)” but it doesn’t come off as sincere.)

        Instead, it always seems to be about:

        1. Using God/the universe to bolster what you already decided your purpose was anyway;

        and/or

        2. Using God/the universe to justify imposing on other people what you’ve decided their purpose should be.

        • sunyavadi
          Posted September 10, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          It is not as if you have your script written out for you! That is a total misconception. ‘You, you’re an ice-cream truck vendor. That’s your Meaning! Now, WHERE’S YOUR UNIFORM!!’

          It’s nothing like that, not the least. That is such an anthropocentric view.

          • Screechy Monkey
            Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

            Well, I never said anything about careers, so I don’t know where you’re getting that from.

            As to anthropocentric views, what do you call “believing the entire universe was created so man could exist”?

            • sunyavadi
              Posted September 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

              Say we are an entirely natural procss of the Universe, on a big view. Ultimately it means we are really the Universe itself, coming to self-awareness. One of the Huxleys actually said this (Julian, I think). I find that a religious idea, whilst it is also naturalistic. Exploring the implications of that idea would look a lot like a spiritual discipline.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted September 11, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                One of the implications, I should think, is that if there’s no awareness without us, then there’s no meaning without us either. We create whatever meaning there is.

    • Gary W
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      What I *don’t* get about your style of evolutionary materialism is that it is ultimately self-defeating. Are you really trying to establish that the Universe is ultimately meaningless and that humans are just the consequence of a kind of bio-chemical fluke, who have come out on top by virtue of the law of the jungle. You seem to think if you can show this, you have won.

      No, we’re trying to discover the truth. As far as we can tell, what you call “evolutionary materialism,” or something like it, is the truth. If you find the truth “meaningless,” perhaps that’s a sign that there’s something wrong with your understanding of meaning.

      • sunyavadi
        Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        No, there is nothing to underwrite the meaning of ‘meaning’. You are *declaring* that there is no meaning in any ‘objective’ or transpersonal sense. The only ‘meaning’ is personal, subjective, and internal. Isn’t that a corollary of this view of life?

        • Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

          Have you discovered a ‘meaning’ that exists regardless of man’s mind? What is it?

          • sunyavadi
            Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

            That is a philosophical question. I think empirical philosophy believes it can answer such questions without really adressing them.

            If you ask questions for example as to ‘what is the nature of number’ or ‘what is the nature of natural law’, there are completely different *kinds* of questions to those which empiricism explores.

            • Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

              a) you did not answer my question;

              b) “empirical philosophy” does not have a motive to invent a need for an outside transpersonal “meaning” and we highly suspect that those who do need it, construct it for inside personal needs.

            • Posted September 11, 2012 at 1:26 am | Permalink

              Practicalities aside, we’re trying to do a jigsaw, Sunyavadi, a rather large jigsaw. Just to see what the picture is. That is the meaning. People trying to force odd-shaped miracle pieces in are not helping. They’re rather annoying.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

            I think there’s probably meaning in women’s minds as well.

            Beyond that, I think a case could be made that the first infinitesimal atoms of meaning arose when the first self-catalyzing RNA molecules appeared and discovered a useful “meaning” in their own shapes. The genetic code that maps codons into amino acids is an elaboration of that primitive meaning, and every subsequent form of information processing and symbol manipulation — including human cognition — arguable follows from that.

            • andreschuiteman
              Posted September 11, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

              I think there’s probably meaning in women’s minds as well.

              That kind of remark is not welcome here.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted September 11, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

                I think you may have misunderstood what kind of remark it is. But in any case, if Jerry deems it inappropriate, I’m sure he’ll let me know.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted September 11, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          The only ‘meaning’ is personal, subjective, and internal.

          Well, obviously.

          In what way is that “self-defeating”?

    • steve oberski
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      You have the causal arrow reversed.

      Coming to a greater understanding of reality does not change reality.

      We do not become nihilist meat robots just by starting to understand the strictly material causes of life and consciousness, unless of course one already is predisposed to nihilism.

      The universe will continue to work exactly as it does whether or not humans understand the nature of reality.

      When you ask what has been won, consider all the benefits the current group of humans who inhabit the earth have accrued through the hard work of those who preceded us in coming to a greater understanding of reality.

      That’s the real prize, not bonus points for coming out on top in a rhetorical rough and tumble.

      If you are looking to some external cause for meaning in your life you are looking in all the wrong places.

    • Posted September 10, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      “Anyway enough out of me, I have been debating this on forums since 2009, and I can’t understand what motivates the materialist side of the argument. Seems like a loose-loose argument to me.”

      As you yourself say: “IT IS JUST THE WAY THE WORLD WORKS”.

      Did you look for or need any “meaning” when you read, enjoyed and loved all those excellent Time Life books o biology and evolution?

      • sunyavadi
        Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        But as a child, life has a kind of natural wonder about it. If you can retain that, well and good. But it is not so easy as you grow older. That is why I became interested in philosophy and spiritual questions.

        As I said, I have no issue with the facts of evolution. But this blog is often all about religion, actually. Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins’ books are in the Religion section of bookstores, preaching the idea that ‘the universe is meaningless’. This is not science. It is a kind of anti-religion.

        A lot of scientists pick their discipline because they are attracted to the notion of ‘certain knowledge’. Then they start to talk about religious topics, which actually their skills and profiles do not really equip them to understand. Often when they do so, they portray a very simplistic understanding. If ‘religion’ really were as these people say it is, I would certainly agree with their attitude towards it. But it has come to mean something completely different.

        I think serious scientists should stop wasting time debating religion and just do what they do. Truth will always out, in the end. A lot of the scientific backlash against religion is historical and political.

        Anyway, as I said, enough out of me. I will keep away from this blog in future. Life’s too short for these arguments.

        • Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

          That was a dishonest visit. Your parting shots have no grounding — they are just mud flung behind you — and you did not respond to inquiry as to evidence of “Transcendent meaning.”

          • sunyavadi
            Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

            OK, then, fair enough. I won’t cut and run. I will try and answer your question.

            The meaning of ‘transcendent’ does not necessarily equate to the projection of a sky-father type of god. Transcendental idealism says that our minds, our cognitive apparatus, and so on, bring an order to experience, but that these faculties are not in themselves available to empirical perception. We do, in a sense, view all experience through a set of spectacles. Now, I don’t think that empiricism really asks the question ‘what are these spectacles’, because to ask that question is a very different undertaking from the analysis of natural objects. It means actually becoming reflexively aware of the processes involved in the acts of theory-generation, measurement, and the like.

            I would think that many of the cognitive faculties that science relies upon are of this kind. Reason itself is not present to us as an object in the world. When we ‘appeal to reason’, we are invoking a particular faculty which (so far as we know) only humans possess and which we know intuitively, immediately and directly. We ‘see reason’. But I don’t think you can really empirically demonstrate what it is. It is on the level of something that we must simply accept to be true.

            That is the kind of thing meant by ‘necessary truth’. It is of a different order to ‘contingent truths’ which are demonstrable by empirical (usually inductive) means.

            • Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

              That is the garden-variety Kantian claim that we can’t actually know the Ding-an-sich using our senses and reason. With a cherry on top (in the last sentence) of necessary/contingent truth. The cherry did not bring home the bacon, by the way. It was hollow.

              a) You still have not answered the question: what evidence can you point to of the “transcendent meaning” that you claim to have found?

              b) Your rambling on the weaknesses of reason, dependant as they are on us going into despair over the non-validity of the senses, is confused and discombobulated.

              c) Just because we must process the evidence of our senses with reason (facts+logic) and this is a finite process, does not make it hopeless and lame. Moreover, and more importantly, it does not justify the construction of alternate “ways of knowing” reality.

              • sunyavadi
                Posted September 11, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink

                Reason works from the top down. Just leave it at that.

              • Posted September 11, 2012 at 4:24 am | Permalink

                inchoherent

            • truthspeaker
              Posted September 11, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

              We do, in a sense, view all experience through a set of spectacles. Now, I don’t think that empiricism really asks the question ‘what are these spectacles’,

              Ever heard of cognitive psychology? It’s an entire scientific discipline devoted to the question of “what are these spectacles”.

              There’s also the philosophy of science, and philosophy generally, both of which this blog has addressed.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins’ books are in the Religion section of bookstores, preaching the idea that ‘the universe is meaningless’.

          If that’s meant to be a direct quote from their work, I’d be obliged if you’d provide a citation.

          But what I think you’ll find i’d that they don’t actually say that. What they say is more along that lines that the universe has no pre-ordained purpose, that evolution has no goal, that we are here by accident and that it’s up to us to find our own meaning.

          You’ve been asked to spell out why you think this position is wrong but have so far failed to do so. So I guess I have to agree with John that this is just a cheap drive-by attack and it was never your intention to argue your position in good faith.

          • sunyavadi
            Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

            Famous Dawkins quote:

            ‘The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.’

            In which case, ‘your own meaning’ can’t amount to anything much, can it? It isn’t so much that it’s wrong but that it is meaningless. What I said was, brandishing the argument that ‘the universe is meaningless’ is ultimately self-defeating as a philosophy.

            • Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

              You’re obviously convinced that there is some sort of externally-imposed meaning to your life and the lives of others.

              What, pray tell, is that meaning, and how do you know that that’s what the meaning of (your, my, everybody else’s) life really is?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • sunyavadi
                Posted September 10, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

                but it is not at all like that. I have never (to all intents) ‘been to church’ or ‘read the bible’. I am not Christian, nor anti-christian. The model for meaning that I subscribe to is much more like ‘logos’, or ‘dharma’ or ‘tao’. It is like there is a natural order but that it accomodates the human psyche and life. The Western Materialist view deliberately excludes that notion of order as ‘subjective’ or ‘religious’. But there is a conceit involved in that, because we are pretending that what we see is perfectly objective. It is never that. It is only ever a small aspect of the totality.

                Most of those who seem to be hostile to religion – and this site is essentially an ‘anti-religion lighthouse’ – have a very literastic view of what ‘religion’ means. it is like the mirror-image of fundamentalism. It seems very clearly rooted in protestantism, to me. There is only one truth, and only one way to it.

                I really must go. It is not that I am trying to do a ‘drive by’ (Officer! There’s a man here firing Kant in the windows!), but that this site format is really awkward, and also because the argument is interminable. Talking about ‘religion’ here is like talking about sex to victorians.
                ‘The atheist is one who can still feel the weight of his chains’ – Einstein

                So long!

              • Posted September 10, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                You know, after I’ve stripped out all the woo and the gratuitous insults at atheists, it sure seems to me like you’re trying to tell us that we all have to find our own way to meaning in our lives.

                Which, of course, is exactly the point us Evil Atheists™ have been making all along.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted September 10, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

              In which case, ‘your own meaning’ can’t amount to anything much, can it?

              How does that follow? My own meaning certainly matters to me. Who else should it matter to? Seems to me you’re committing a category error if you think that living a meaningful life is the same as having a cosmic purpose.

              Also note that Dawkins did not mention meaning in that quote. Meaninglessness is something you read into it — which again suggests that your notion of meaning is at odds with Dawkins’.

              • sunyavadi
                Posted September 10, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

                ‘My own meaning certainly matters to me’

                Well, good for you.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted September 11, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

              In which case, ‘your own meaning’ can’t amount to anything much, can it?

              Why not?

              What I said was, brandishing the argument that ‘the universe is meaningless’ is ultimately self-defeating as a philosophy.

              How so?

        • Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

          Yes, go and find the meaning of the universe (don`t forget to look at your navel) and then, having found it, come back.

        • The whole truth
          Posted September 11, 2012 at 12:40 am | Permalink

          “But as a child, life has a kind of natural wonder about it. If you can retain that, well and good. But it is not so easy as you grow older. That is why I became interested in philosophy and spiritual questions.”

          I have not only retained it, but expanded it, and I don’t need any sort of religion or other “spiritual” or ‘philosophical’ gobbledegook to do so. In fact, all that mind-numbing stuff would do is stifle my wonder.

          Nature is overflowing with wonders. It’s all in how you look at nature, or whether you really look at it. Open your eyes and mind, observe and learn about nature, get up close and personal with it, respect it, appreciate it, enjoy it, and re-awaken that childhood wonder.

          “Then they start to talk about religious topics, which actually their skills and profiles do not really equip them to understand. Often when they do so, they portray a very simplistic understanding.”

          So, you’re saying that some sort of mysterious, unspecified, complex “skills and profiles” have something important to do with understanding religious/spiritual baloney. What exactly are those “skills” and what “profiles” do people need (whether scientists or otherwise) in order to “understand” and condemn impossible, ridiculous, barbaric, authoritarian, dominionist fairy tales?

          “If ‘religion’ really were as these people say it is, I would certainly agree with their attitude towards it.”

          Religion is as those people say it is, or worse.

          “But it has come to mean something completely different.”

          Like what? What it has “come to mean” is a matter of opinion even to (or especially to) religious people. Religious people constantly argue, fight, abuse, oppress, or kill each other over what religion (or their version of it) means.

    • Roo
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      “What I *don’t* get about your style of evolutionary materialism is that it is ultimately self-defeating. Are you really trying to establish that the Universe is ultimately meaningless and that humans are just the consequence of a kind of bio-chemical fluke, who have come out on top by virtue of the law of the jungle. You seem to think if you can show this, you have won.”

      First attempt at italics, no laughing at me if this doesn’t work!!

      Are you looking for a good fight there, sunyavadi? ‘Cause I hear you Aussies are tough like that. ;) Seriously, though, I don’t think you’re being entirely fair, this is a bit too vague to follow up on. What do you mean by ‘meaning’? From what I can tell, for example, theoretical physicists sometimes propose ‘meanings’ for the universe that I can barely comprehend (to act out all possible outcomes of …something… or, um, err… something like that.) Or there’s the cosmologist who says the universe is made of math – I suppose that would make embodying mathematical equations our ‘meaning’. I don’t think you can just jump in and say evolutionary biologists automatically dispense with any sense of meaning, although I’m a little out of my depth here so anyone feel free to correct me. To me it depends on how you define ‘meaning’.

      So, question for you… can you describe a scenario that would embody ‘meaning in the universe’ to you?

      Last but not least, don’t get hung up on the idea that meaning has to come from above to be worthwhile. I’ve done that myself in the past, until I realized it makes little sense. I don’t value my body less because it’s made of smaller parts that come together to form a larger entity. Whatever your thoughts on emergence, when you really think about it, why is meaning that comes from the top-down superior to meaning that emerges within us? In some ways that makes it more special, our very own creation. Aaaaw. Ok, shutting up now…

      • Roo
        Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        YES!!! Italics score!!!

      • sunyavadi
        Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        Hey, no sweat. But, please refresh your memory with all the vivid polemics from (for example) Betrand Russell, Jacques Monod, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and others, bent upon showing that we really are ‘the results of the accidental collocations of atoms’, to quote the first. I don’t think many people actually think through the consequences of those beliefs. This kind of attitude really reached its high-water mark in the middle of the 20th Century with the kind of atheism of Sarte and Camus.

        Dawkins agreed, on Australian TV earlier this year, that Darwinism is a lousy basis for philosophy. He said ‘We do have a scientific understanding of why we’re here and we therefore have to make up our own meaning to life’. But then he goes on to say ‘I very much hope that we don’t revert to the idea of survival of the fittest in planning our politics and our values and our way of life. I have often said that I am a passionate Darwinian when it comes to explaining why we exist. ‘

        I am puzzled by the meaning of ‘why’, here. In a very real sense, as evolutionary theory is strictly anti-teleological, there really is no ‘why’. That is the whole point! So anything we ‘make up’, must, by definition, must be – what, exactly? What philosophy does this point to? I can’t help but think of Camus again. It really is an absurd idea. The thing is, Camus was honest enough, and thorough enough, to realize the implications. I suppose if you have a nice income from publishing, and adulation, that might give you a ‘why’. But I can’t see how this would ever amount to a philosophical rationale.

        As for those who believe that ‘reality is number’, I am very sympathetic. I am very strongly attracted to platonism. Don’t forget, it originally started out totally separately to the Semitic faiths, but then got absorbed into it. Now, having turned against religion, we are abandoning the very kinds of philosophy that made Western science possible in the first place.

        • Roo
          Posted September 10, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

          Plato’s cave, world of forms and all of that, I’m inferring? You’re not into Simone Weil by any chance, are you?

          I think you’re conflating your points a bit here. What the atheists you reference above oppose is religion, dogma, and acting as if unproven claims are true. You can’t substitute vague philosophical concepts for religion and pretend it’s the same argument. That would be like me saying that what we’re all ‘really’ talking about when we say “New Atheists” are in fact the Wiggles, who Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Coyne symbolically represent. I’m not sure who Captain Feathersword is in that scenario. At any rate, it simply isn’t fair for you to speak on behalf of the religious that way – you can only present your views, which I’d say 90% of people with an organized religion would not accept as their own (but that’s just a guess.) I do get a bit touchy about that, as I was about the world’s most moderate Christian for many years, and no one bothered to tell me the basic tenets of Christianity were ‘symbolic’. Now I see that thrown at atheists all the time, and I can’t help but think “Um, thanks a lot guys, no one bothered to tell ME that back in the day.”

          As to vague claims about what’s possible and what’s out there, I think this discussion was had when David Eagleman came out with Possiblianism and Sam Harris said it’s not incompatible with atheism. From where I stand, it’s not about saying we know everything and anything that sounds Wild or Wacky is just impossible. Again, to me, the things people like Krauss write about are way weirder than anything you’d see in religion. The universe is a crazy place, and surely crazier than we even know at this point. Once you promote any one specific hypothesis, though, then it will be held up for scrutiny. If it falls into the category of ‘who knows?’, then, to my mind, it’s fine to say ‘who knows’, just not ‘I DO know this’.

          • sunyavadi
            Posted September 10, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

            What bothers me are the many books proclaiming that science ‘proves’ that the Universe is fundamentally meaningless and religion fundamentally mythical. Science educators get understandably annoyed at ‘religion in the science class’. I think it should cut both ways.

            If you don’t start from the premise that the Bible is literally true, then the fact that it is NOT literally true, does not have any particular significance.

            That way you can understand the various religious accounts as symbolically true, without burdening them with the expectations that they are really presenting ‘a failed hypothesis’.

            As for ‘the meaning of meaning’, my view is that it is impossible to develop any serious notion of ‘meaning’ on the basis of the empiricism. Questions about the nature of meaning, and the nature of reason, whatever else they are, are *not* scientific questions. Scientific naturalism assumes – quite reasonably – that the world exists, and that we are intelligent subjects in it. Philosophy asks a deeper level of question than that. Or it used to, until it came to be seen as a gratuitous by-product of an essentially meaningless process.

            • Roo
              Posted September 11, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

              If you’re representing yourself accurately above, then you have little to argue about on a board like this. We can certainly look for symbolic wisdom in the Bible, as we can in any work of literature. Philosophy is in no way incompatible with atheism. In fact, saying the universe has no meaning isn’t incompatible either, you’d just need a valid way of showing what that meaning is. If you disagree with Dawkins on that particular point, fine, that’s not really an argument for religion, its an argument that you suspect some as yet undiscovered purpose for the universe will one day be discovered.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Are you really trying to establish that the Universe is ultimately meaningless and that humans are just the consequence of a kind of bio-chemical fluke, who have come out on top by virtue of the law of the jungle.

      We’re not trying to establish that, we’ve already established it.

      And the reason we consider this winning is that once you have a clear picture of reality, you are better equipped to live in reality.

  23. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    At his worst, Haught has echoes of Charlie Sheen yelling “Duh! Winning!” at times when he clearly isn’t.

    Even so, his wording is clumsy. To say “universe has been pregnant with life and mind” from its beginning is in some sense true, but to move from there to “the stuff of the universe has never been essentially mindless” is not at all a legitimate leap. It’s the worst kind of “life begins at conception” argument extrapolated to gazillions of years.

    As a hypothetical thought-experiment the declaration “A creator who brings into being a world that in turn gives new kinds of being from out of its original resourcefulness is certainly more impressive” is true in a way, but I actually thought Ken Miller’s formulation of the idea was more elegant. He said the ID God sank 15 pool balls in 15 shots, while the Darwinian God sank 15 pool balls in one shot. (Maybe since Miller is a biologist rather than a theologian he has a snappier style that doesn’t seem musty. I’m always more relaxed around accomodationism that comes from scientists!)

    However, either way there isn’t any discernible divine fingerprint on the evolutionary process, so such notions are as Sydney Hook famously formulated it “speculative metaphysics of a low order of probability”.

  24. Darth Dog
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I am always amused when a theologian says the the universe that we have is just what should be expected from the Christian God. It that were true, how come out of all the theologians in the past two thousand or so years, none of them came up with the Big Bang Theory or the Theory of Evolution?

    After you are told the answer, anyone can say that it is exactly what they would have guessed. Monday Morning Quarterbacking at its finest.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Is “just what we would expect” what Haught actually said or is that Coyne’s paraphrase? The Christian theologians I find more honest tend to think God is always surprising.

    • Mark Fuller Dillon
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      >>I am always amused when a theologian says the the universe that we have is just what should be expected from the Christian God.

      If that were indeed what should be expected, then why postpone the appearance of christ for billions of years? Seems inefficient.

  25. Tim
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Darwin’s new science now makes it possible to think of God’s power to create as more impressive than ever. A creator who brings into being a world that in turn gives new kinds of being from out of its original resourcefulness is certainly more impressive than a hypothesized ‘designer’ who molds and manages everything in the world directly.” (p. 296).

    The process of mutation looks random, and natural selection isn’t random but it does seem mighty impersonal coldly wasteful. Never fear, John Haught wants himself some Templeton randomness grant money!

    • Tim
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      …impersonal and coldly wasteful…

  26. Michael Fugate
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Thomas Nagel has a very sympathetic review of Alvin Plantinga’s new book in the New York Review of Books. He avoids mentioning any of the philosophers who have challenged Plantinga’s criticisms of reliability, evolution and naturalism.

  27. Elle
    Posted September 11, 2012 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    Looks like Haught has caught Chris Hallquist’s attention, too. His conclusion:

    “I have two points to make here. First, I refuse to apologize for not having read more theology, in the sense of the writings of people like Haught and the people he admires. That’s because they frequently don’t even try to write clearly. My typical experience when picking up their books is to first notice they are using words in ways I am not used to. Then I start skimming to try to find the section where they explain what they mean by their words (sometimes there are legitimate reasons for using words in unusual ways). Then I end up closing the book when I fail to find such a section.”

    See how he got there. In fact, go read the whole thing.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/hallq/2012/08/30/unintelligible-theology/

  28. Posted September 11, 2012 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Sunyavadi, You are sporting your own very individualized version of belief in belief. Many existentialist realists are not gloomy as you supposed, they are just people who have brains that are not put off by seeing the world as essentially meaningless.

    Just as I can not see how you pull off your narrative of the universe being imbued with meaning (and I really can’t, it does nothing for me, and I am pleased with accepting that there is no universal meaning), you can’t get that we are not ignoring the philosophical consequences of our understanding that there is no absolute meaning. We thrive on it.

    You are sensitized to seeing any encroachment on your need to see meaning deeply as a part of the universe. The new atheists are vigorously presenting their side; I see no significant action to end the right of people like you to entertain their non-evidential perspective of absolute meaning. I suspect there are many fence-sitters that would love to not be sucked into this cozy, comforting view of faith, that things will work out regardless of evidence because courting your view take a lot of energy to keep cognitive dissonance going.

    I doubt that you are speaking for as many people as you thing you are.

    • Posted September 11, 2012 at 2:04 am | Permalink

      ‘think’ of course!

    • sunyavadi
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      any meaning will do! And why do you think that I think that I am speaking for many people?

      I am of the view that ‘meaning’ is more fundamental than ‘matter’. And ‘matter’ is now described in terms of ‘the standard model’ which is a mathematical device, only understood by those capable of interpreting the symbolic code in which it is represented, in other words, understanding ‘meaning’. So I reckon things are looking alright in my corner, actually.

  29. Posted September 11, 2012 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    Many years ago in my very first philosophy course at the end of his last lecture on the last day of class for that semester, University of Louisville Professor of Philosophy Charles Breslin (now Emeritus) gave us the following wisdom:

    AND KEEP THIS IN MIND: THERE IS NO CERTAINLY CORRECT PHILOSOPHY; THERE ARE, HOWEVER, SOME SURELY WRONG PHILOSOPHIES.

    I have always kept that in mind, and those latter most surely includes theology, perhaps most especially Sophisticated Theology [TM]. Borrowing from Wolfgang Pauli to go even further, a theology that accommodates EVERYthing is NOT EVEN wrong!

  30. Posted September 11, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    oy, the eternal arrogance of Christians in claiming that’s it’s only their god, really and for true.

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 11, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

      It would be a funny old religion if they didn’t. In fact I find it bizarre when some archbishop shares a platform with, say, a Hindu. Why don’t they have a proper go at each other?

      It reminds me of the bloke who replied to an ad for a job at the zoo. It turned out that the star attraction, a gorilla, had died and they needed someone discreet to dress up and eat bananas. The firs day went well until he started showing off on a swing and went over the fence into the lion enclosure.

      “Help!” he yelled.

      “Shut the hell up!” replied a lion. “Do you want to get us all fired?”


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