David Bentley Hart responds (poorly and arrogantly) to Adam Gopnik on God

Somehow, in my evening perusal of the Internet, I came across a piece in The American Conservative by Rod Dreher, religionist, former Templeton flack (he ran the “Big Questions” site for a while), and author of some of the most mean-spirited pieces I’ve seen. (In one piece, for example, which has since disappeared from the Templeton site but remains in snippets on my site, he rebukes Chrisopher Hitchens for being blind to Jesus while he, Hitchens, was dying of cancer.) Unable to control my anger, I called Dreher a “contemptible little worm” for that piece. And, apparently, he remains an annelid.

At any rate, Dreher was touting a new column by David Bentley Hart called “Gods and Gopniks” published in the religious journal First Things. As you may remember, Adam Gopnik recently published a critique of Sophisticated Theology™ at the New Yorker called “Bigger than Phil,” an analysis of New Atheist arguments and the theological response. I thought Gopnik’s piece was pretty good, but, in a post on this site that got a surprising number of comments, faulted Adam for his “belief in belief” and his notion that we atheists are, at bottom, sort of religious because we have emotions and humanity and—here he singled me out—have affection for things like cats and Motown songs.  Gopnik considered such affections a form of “irrationality” equivalent to that promoted by religion, thus discerning common ground between belief and non-belief. But Gopnik failed to discern the huge difference between ailurophilia and religiosity. Cats may think they’re gods, but we don’t see them as divine.

Gopnik did, however, call out Hart for his lack of specificity and failure to engage with religion as it is practiced by normal humans. Gopnik used Mel Brook’s analogy, as the “2,000 year old man,” of worshiping a guy named “Phil” as an explanation of the universe:

As the explanations [for why God resides in the gaps of scientific understanding] get more desperately minute, the apologies get ever vaster. David Bentley Hart’s recent “The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss” (Yale) doesn’t even attempt to make God the unmoved mover, the Big Banger who got the party started; instead, it roots the proof of his existence in the existence of the universe itself. Since you can explain the universe only by means of some other bit of the universe, why is there a universe (or many of them)? The answer to this unanswerable question is God. He stands outside everything, “the infinite to which nothing can add and from which nothing can subtract,” the ultimate ground of being. This notion, maximalist in conception, is minimalist in effect. Something that much bigger than Phil is so remote from Phil’s problems that he might as well not be there for Phil at all. This God is obviously not the God who makes rules about frying bacon or puts harps in the hands of angels. A God who communicates with no one and causes nothing seems a surprisingly trivial acquisition for cosmology—the dinner guest legendary for his wit who spends the meal mumbling with his mouth full.

Well you can imagine how that would get Hart’s knickers in such a twist, and it was published in such a widely-read magazine! Hart couldn’t let it stand, and so has answered.

But Hart’s answer is lame, asserting merely that Gopnik didn’t understand his argument, that Adam is not a scholar (the implication is “he’s not as serious as I am”), that modern atheism is devoid of content, and that no discourse is possible between believers and nonbelievers. By “discourse,” of course, Hart means “Discourse centered on my own arguments.”

It’s hard to convey how arrogant Hart’s piece really is. You must read it to get the full effect of his spleen and pomposity. Above all, Gopnik is a man who tries to be measured, and even when promoting non-belief (something he doesn’t often do), he tries to be fair—and even took a swing at atheists like me. Gopnik could never be described as mean-spirited. But Hart’s response is simply to dismiss the seriousness of Gopnik’s argument because Gopnik is a mere—journalist! 

Hart begins with what he considers a bon mot, but is really just nasty. He’s trying to come off as humorous, but, as he often did in his book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, comes off as a puffed-up and pompous windbag, full of deepities as substantive as cotton candy. Here he is on Gopnik:

Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose. At least, that is its purest and most minimal essence. There are, of course, practitioners of the trade who possess talents of a higher order—the rare ability, say, to produce complex sentences and coherent paragraphs—and they tend to occupy the more elevated caste of “intellectual journalists.” These, however, are rather like “whores with hearts of gold”: more misty figments of tender fantasy than concrete objects of empirical experience. Most journalism of ideas is little more than a form of empty garrulousness, incessant gossip about half-heard rumors and half-formed opinions, an intense specialization in diffuse generalizations. It is something we all do at social gatherings—creating ephemeral connections with strangers by chattering vacuously about things of which we know nothing—miraculously transformed into a vocation. . . Still, it seems fair to me to note that what a journalist does for a living does not, in itself, require him or her to be a scholar, an artist, a philosopher, or even particularly good at sorting through abstract ideas. And, really, it is hard both to meet a regular deadline and also to pause long enough to learn anything new, or waste much time even following one’s own arguments.

(Please note that Dreher is also a journalist! Note also that Christopher Hitchens described himself as a journalist.)

Now what is the point of that, except to impugn Gopnik’s credentials from the outset? It’s mean-spirited, and in fact it’s wrong. Gopnik can be quite thoughtful at times; what Hart is doing here is acting like a lawyer, going after Gopnik for irrelevant reasons simply because they’re on opposite sides and Hart wants to win. 

Before getting down to his own defense, such as it is, Hart bemoans the lack of serious discourse in modern arguments about belief vs. non-belief. As we hear so often, he decries the lack of Serious Modern Atheists compared to our supposedly lugubrious predecessors like Camus and Sartre (but what about Russell and Mencken? Was Mencken more “serious” than Sam Harris or Dawkins?).

Hart:

Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do.

Which he continues at the end:

Nothing is happening here. The conversation has never begun. The current vogue in atheism is probably reducible to three rather sordidly ordinary realities: the mechanistic metaphysics inherited from the seventeenth century, the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism, and the quiet fascism of Western cultural supremacism (that is, the assumption that all cultures that do not consent to the late modern Western vision of reality are merely retrograde, unenlightened, and in need of intellectual correction and many more Blu-ray players). Everything else is idle chatter—and we live in an age of idle chatter. 

. . . What I find so dismal about Gopnik’s article is the thought that it represents not the worst of popular secularist thinking, but the best. Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice.

This is not an argument; it’s a grumpy old man telling kids like Gopnik to get off his lawn, and longing for an age that never existed—an age when atheism was far more “serious” than it is now.

In fact, Hart’s real defense against Gopnik is both brief and thin. In essence, it’s this:

Excuse the sigh of vexation; I cannot help it. Setting aside the nonsense about desperately minute explanations, which cannot possibly be relevant to any argument of mine, the God described in my book is the creator of everything, who communicates with all persons in a constant and general way, and with many individuals in an episodic and special way. Whatever originality I might claim for certain aspects of my argument, its metaphysical content is entirely and ecstatically derivative: pure “classical theism,” as found in the Cappadocians, Augustine, Denys, Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra, Ibn Arabi, Shankara, Ramanuja, Philo, Moses Maimonides . . . well, basically, just about every significant theistic philosopher in human history. (Not to get too recherché here, but one can find most of it in the Roman Catholic catechism.)

Well, excuse me, but that’s a bit of a distortion, for I’ve published quotes over the last week showing what Hart considers God, and it’s hardly a God who communicates with “all persons” constantly (perhaps Hart means that God is there in the beauty and rationality and consciousness we all have and perceive, but that we stupid atheists can’t perceive it), and “many individuals in an episodic and special way.” What Hart means by the latter is opaque to me, especially because he refuses to say what he thinks about miracles. The kernel of Hart’s argument, which Gopnik did discern (Hart has the temerity of claiming that Gopnik didn’t read his book), is that the essence of God, distilled from all religions, is that of an ineffable Ground of Being that doesn’t have any anthropomorphic traits. (If that’s true, how does he “communicate in an episodic and special way”? Isn’t communication of that sort a human quality?) What Hart pushed in his book was not “classical theism,” but deism, or rather pantheism.

And even if we take that as Hart’s only message, do we need to waste our time debating it as the “proper conversation” about religion and atheism? Frankly, if Hart wants to find a common essence of God in all faiths (and, not being acquainted with all the world’s religions, I’m not sure that he has), more power to him. That doesn’t get us very far for one reason: all the world’s religions also have add ons to that abstract Ground of Being, and that includes theologians like Aquinas, Augustine, Whitehead, and Alvin Plantinga (sensus divinitatis, anyone?). That is what Gopnik was harping about in his piece.

If we’re going to engage belief, we should engage it as it’s practiced, and Hart’s “essence of god” is only a tiny fraction of what believers (including theologians) take to be true.  Even Hart himself believes more: he’s an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and that means he accepts a lot more than the Ground of Being. But what that is he doesn’t say.

I see no point in arguing with Hart’s pantheism, for it’s like trying, as they say, to nail Jell-O to the wall. If we’re going to engage with belief, let’s engage with belief as it is believed, including the various Gods with their add-ons like the resurrectd Jesus, the Trinity, the strictures of the Qur’an, the reincarnation of Buddhism, the sequestration of menstruating women in Orthodox Judaism, the strictures against gays in Islam, and so on ad infinitum. Is that not a serious endeavor? Believe me, those are the beliefs worthy of engagement because those are the beliefs that have real consequences in our world. The battle against religion is not a rarified argument over sherry about a Ground of Being.

Note, too, Hart’s reference to the Roman Catholic catechism, and how that also contains his God. But is he kidding? Not only is that Catechism pure theism, with lots of factual assertions, but it hardly paints the picture of God as a ground of being (have a look at the catechism here.) I’d accuse Hart of changing his argument, but he’ll just claim that I didn’t understand him in the first place.

Finally, Hart fulminates against materialism, giving a list of scientists who were also religious. The point of this eludes me, since many of those scientists lived in a time when nearly everyone was religious, and today the majority of good scientists are simply garden-variety atheists. To go after materialism, Hart first quotes Gopnik’s perfectly reasonable claim:

“[Unbelievers have] a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world. They have this monopoly for the same reason that computer manufacturers have an edge over crystal-ball makers. . . . We know that men were not invented . . .; that the earth is not the center of the universe . . .; and that, in the billions of years of the universe’s existence, there is no evidence of a single miraculous intercession with the laws of nature. We need not imagine that there’s no Heaven; we know that there is none, and we will search for angels forever in vain.”

and then Hart responds in this ugly way:

Did Gopnik bother to read what he was writing there? I ask only because it is so colossally silly. If my dog were to utter such words, I should be deeply disappointed in my dog’s powers of reasoning. If my salad at lunch were suddenly to deliver itself of such an opinion, my only thought would be “What a very stupid salad.” Before all else, there is the preposterous temerity of the proprietary claim; it is like some fugitive from a local asylum appearing at the door to tell you that “all this realm” is his inalienable feudal appanage and that you must evacuate the premises forthwith. Precisely how does materialism (which is just a metaphysical postulate, of extremely dubious logical coherence) entail exclusive ownership of scientific knowledge? Does Gopnik think he can assert rights here denied to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton? Or to Arthur Eddington, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Dirac, Anthony Zee, John Barrow, Freeman Dyson, Owen Gingerich, John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies, Stephen Barr, Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and (yes) Albert Einstein?

Yes, all of those scientists, as far as I know—save Einstein—were or are religious, but I doubt that Einstein abjured materialism or naturalism.  If you read Hart’s book, you’ll know that he, along with many modern theologians, goes after naturalism and materialism as incoherent on philosophical grounds. What he doesn’t realize is that the pantheon of scientists he lists made wonderful discoveries about the universe using only the assumptions of naturalism and materialism. They didn’t need, or use, God as a hypothesis. Just because Francis Collins and Simon Conway Morris mouth the fictions of an ancient book on Sundays does not somehow constitute a criticism of materialism.  For if the rejection of materialism, and the acceptance of revelation and deism, were a route to knowledge, we’d know a hell of a lot more about God than we do now. Hart is Eastern Orthodox. How does he know that the tenets of his faith are right, and that those of Islam and Judaism are wrong? Regardless of what he says about God, even the God he himself worships is more than a Ground of Being.

Hart’s tactic of distilling the essence of God from all religions, and then insisting that we talk about that, is equivalent to distilling the essence of “politics” from observing Western democracies, and then insisting that we talk not about Obama’s policies, or about the Republican denial of women’s rights, but about the nature of “politics” itself. It’s a useless, scholastic endeavor, suitable for an arrogant fellow like Hart to discuss at teatime, but not one that’s of much relevance in our world.

Finally, in his own piece, Dreher, champing at the bit, can’t wait for Hart to eviscerate me:

I do hope that Hart will not wait quite so long to have the fatuous atheist critic Jerry Coyne for lunch.  The rigidly ideological Coyne is one of the least-interesting critics of theism, precisely because he routinely gives scant evidence of understanding the position of his opponents (see Edward Feser on this point). His New Republic piece dismissing Hart’s book is on par with Gopnik’s, except that Gopnik, to his very great credit, is a marvelous prose stylist and a generous human being, and does not write as if he were delivering his message while standing on a bench in Hyde Park.

Really? Do Hart and Dreher routinely give evidence of understanding the New Atheist position, particularly the part about lack of evidence?  Why do I have to discuss the matter on their turf? Why not do it on mine: the turf of evidence. At any rate, Dreher’s criticisms of my prose aside, I’d respond in this way to both of these goddies: “Bring it on!”

One thing I’ve learned from this (as if most of you didn’t know it already): Christians may try to emulate Jesus with kind and saintly behavior, but the minute their faith is questioned they turn into grouchy old men chasing the atheists off their lawns. Deprived of the racks and thumbscrews they once used to keep their critics in line, they now resort to insult and invective.

146 Comments

  1. francis
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    //

    • Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      🍣

      • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        Is that the salmon? If so, I’ll have an order, too!

        Come to think of it, I think I’ll go for the whole 🍱, especially the one with the salmon and the 🍤, with a good 🍺 to wash it down. And maybe a 🍐 and some 🍒 for dessert!

        Damn…just finished breakfast and I’m already hungry again….

        b&

        • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

          Maybe its two beans.

        • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

          Sushi.

          /@

          • darrelle
            Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

            Night before last we (family) ate dinner out at a Thai place I have known of for awhile but had never yet tried. I had their Massaman Curry and, oh boy, it was the best curry I’ve had in years. I touched it up with just enough of that wonderful, smokey ground thai chili so that by about 10 minutes in beads of sweat were forming on my scalp. Delicious.

            Oh yeah, we opened things with an assortment of nigiri.

  2. eric
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    The true essence of Hart’s argument, which Gopnik did discern (Hart has the temerity of claiming that Gopnik didn’t read his book), is that the essence of God, distilled from all religions, is that of an ineffable Ground of Being that doesn’t have any anthropomorphic traits. (If that’s true, how does he “communicate in an episodic and special way”? Isn’t communication of that sort a human quality?)

    The same problem occurs for “love” – you can’t attribute it to your God and yet claim there is nothing anthropomorphic about your God, because love is something humans do but rocks and trees don’t.

    Now, this is not strict anthropomorphism because other animals besides humans have these traits too. Its more zodiamorphism. But that pedantry aside, when saying ‘God is love’ or ‘God communicates,’ Hart is defenitely attributing to God characteristics found in a narrow set of natual things that includes us, rather than characteristics shared across all of nature.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      The modus of Hart and others like Feser is to first claim that you didn’t read the book (it is always a book – a long-winded slog). When you can easily demonstrate you have read it, then the second claim is you didn’t understand it. When you perfectly re-explain their arguments, then the third claim is you haven’t read a set of additional books (all equally long-winded as the first). When you have done that, it is on to reading Aquinas in Latin or Aristotle in Greek. The apologist will always try another argument because he or she believes in belief.

      The divide is not due to logic or evidence or understanding – it is due to belief. If one believes in God everything that Hart says follows, if you don’t then nothing he says does. It doesn’t matter what you imagine this God to be like, it only matters that you believe it is.

      • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        Yes, and it reminds me of what Michael Shermer would say about delusions. Even smart, educated people can be deluded, only they make especially convoluted and technical rationalizations to support their delusion.

      • eric
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        If one believes in God everything that Hart says follows,

        Small quibble, but I would say no. I can remember even as a believer thinking Acquinas’ arguments were poor. And I suspect that folk like Ken Ham would also reject Hart’s claims, albeit for less intellectual reasons than mine. Hart’s ideas belong to a pretty narrow subset of theology: they are liberal in terms of the way they treat other religions, and they are not literal or dogmatic or sectarian. I think lots of believers in God would object to one or more of those things.

        • michaelfugate
          Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

          OK not everything, but there does seem to be a fundamental divide here. Theists of almost all stripes claim that transcendence is evidence for God – that God speaks to them directly.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      I think that ascribing consciousness, love, intention, or other traits to God still qualifies as ‘anthropomorphism’ despite the fact that these traits can be found in other animals. God always seems to be discovered in what can be considered the higher levels of human consciousness, love, and so forth. When theists talk about experiences which point to God they don’t describe things like eating breakfast, they’ll expand on altruism, self-sacrifice, and agape. It’s a hierarchy.

      There might be a slight exception though when it comes to the way theists sometimes deal with animals, particularly pets, which they see as highly altruistic or loving. I once came across an apologetic I’ll call the Argument from Dog. “The selfless loyalty of the dog cannot be explained on naturalism blah blah blah fill in the rest.”

      • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Really? Argument from Dog?

        That’s even more pathetic than the Argument from Banana. I mean, it’s not generally common knowledge that the banana is the result of centuries of carful cultivation and breeding and artificial selection, but pretty much everybody knows that dogs were bred from wolves and that different breeds with different personalities were specifically bred for exactly the traits they now have.

        b&

        • Yiam Cross
          Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

          But we’re dealing with people for whom knowledge is not a valid currency, except of course for knowledge of their impenetrably verbose overly long books full of overly long words.

  3. Daoud
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    I will say that Hart’s opening comment on journalists is probably still fairly accurate for far too much contemporary media. Though that might not be strictly the journalists’ fault, but a symptom of the conglomerate-owned, mass-marketed media in the current 24 hour news cycle.

    • Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      I was thinking similarly. There are journalists that match that description. That is the only portion of the essay that I find to be realistic, however.

    • Bruce Gorton
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      The journalists who most fit Hart’s description are invariably the ones defending religion.

      For all the flaws in science journalism, political journalism, general news journalism, heck sports and entertainment journalism, it is only in religious journalism that not asking awkward questions is considered a strength.

    • Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      ‘Whatever originality I might claim for certain aspects of my argument, its metaphysical content is entirely and ecstatically derivative: pure “classical theism,” as found in the Cappadocians, Augustine, Denys, Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra, Ibn Arabi, Shankara, Ramanuja, Philo, Moses Maimonides . . .’ — Hart

      Anyone who writes such an execrable lead pair of sentence fragments — “ecstatically derivative” almost caused me to wretch — solely to construct the display case for the author to proudly flaunt his presumably intellectual prowess (this is the required subject bibliography, bitches!) has no business criticizing any other writer, professional or not. I’ve read many Gopnik pieces, and DB Hart ain’t no Adam Gopnik.
      Richard Olson

      • Daoud
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        Just to clarify, I was not defending his description in reference to Adam Gopnik.

        • Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:43 am | Permalink

          I didn’t think you were saying anything positive about Hart. I could just as well have written my remarks as a new comment instead of as a response; your comment stimulated my response, but it is not meant to dispute or correct.

          • Chris
            Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            To be honest, Adam Gopnik’s writing is a tad on the turgid side, but nothing compared to Hart’s!

      • irritable
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

        The fact that Hart is such a smug and preening intellectual eunuch distracts attention from a more fundamental fact:

        Hart is a classic crank – a person who holds an unshakable belief that most of his contemporaries consider to be false.

        His opinions are not shared by a substantial majority of professional philosophers. As his views are so arcane and etiolatated, it’s a reasonable assumption that most non-philosophers would be unlikely to regard them as worth investigating.

        To quote Wikipedia, Cranks characteristically dismiss all evidence or arguments which contradict their own unconventional beliefs, making rational debate a futile task, and rendering them impervious to facts, evidence, and rational inference.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Of course. Who here hasn’t lamented the state of journalism and the limitations of journalists?

      But Hart isn’t really describing journalists in general here, is he? He’s directing a spiteful insult at a particular journalist as an ad hominem introduction to his critique of that journalist’s article. He then plays coy and pretends that it doesn’t count by saying, “All right, I suppose that all sounds a little spiteful. I take it back.”, as though pulling the arrow out of your victim is the same as never having shot it.

  4. John Hamill
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    The catechism still teaches Extra Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (846). Outside the church there is no salvation.

    If you read it, the catholic church is saying that all non-catholics are going to hell. Yup … catholics preach that even observant pious protestants are going to hell.

    Ground of Being?

    • Juggler_Dave
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Seeing the above, I can’t help but think that “Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” is latin for “Read All About It”.

  5. eric
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Whatever originality I might claim for certain aspects of my argument, its metaphysical content is entirely and ecstatically derivative: pure “classical theism,” as found in the Cappadocians, Augustine, Denys, Thomas Aquinas, Ibn Sina, Mulla Sadra, Ibn Arabi, Shankara, Ramanuja, Philo, Moses Maimonides . . .

    Its not “pure” any of those things when you omit critical parts of their theologies. Imagine someone claimed their position represented pure Republican political thought, and it’s “slavery as practiced in the US in the 1850s is bad.” That would be equally wrong, because it omits practically all of the central concepts of Republican political thought.

    It is one thing to develop a “lowest common denominator” theology. I might not think it’s a useful exercise, but I can at least converse with the defender about it’s properties. But what Hart seems to be doing is developing a lowest common denominator theology while vociferously claiming he’s not doing that. Which is just nonsensical. He’s trying to arrive at traits for God by igonring the bits of different theologies that disagree – a lowest common denominator theology is exactly what he’s producing.

    • Kathleen
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Yes, this phony purity, and the arrogant tone it’s all carried out in, make Hart very difficult to stomach.

      What a claim! ‘Pure “classical theism.”‘ More like pure bullshit, carefully culled from centuries of deepity.

      • Chris
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        One problem that I see with “pure” theism of any stripe is that it is only ever relevant in it’s “unpure” form. “Pure” theism only exists in the mind of a few philosophers or theologians, it’s certainly not what anyone practices.

        It tells us nothing of what Hart actually believes.

        Heck, it’s a bit like someone being fatally allergic to all food except chocolate walking in to a restaurant and asking for “food” who wonders why the table staff are getting pissed off when he keeps returning plates that he can’t eat without any explanation.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      The advantage of invoking “pure theism” is twofold:

      1.) You can then show how your variation slowly grew from these first insights.

      2.) You can dismiss the many contradictions in religion as minor quibbles on details, distortions coming from psychology or culture or limited experience and knowledge.

      One of the favorite analogies here is the trite and over-sold Tale of the Blind Men and the Elephant. All the religions are partly right — but I, the Storyteller-Who-is-Unaccountably-Not-Blind, can see the entire Truth and tell you it’s an elephant.

      • wonderer
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        I do like the moral to John Godfrey Saxe’s version of the blind men and the elephant though.

        “So, oft in theologic wars
        The disputants, I ween,
        Rail on in utter ignorance
        Of what each other mean,
        And prate about an Elephant
        Not one of them has seen!”

      • eric
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        I tend to use the analogy of schoolkids playing cops and robbers with finger guns. Theological arguments about the nature of God tend to be like “I shot you!” “No, you missed, I shot you!” with imaginary bullets.

        The reason I use that analogy is because it also provides a useful model for how a secular government or disinterested observer should act – like the adult chaperone, your role is not to intervene in their play or say who “really” shot who. It’s just to ensure they play safely, and don’t hurt either each other or anyone else while they play.

        • pacopicopiedra
          Posted April 24, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          But they keep hurting people.

      • Chris
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        The problem with this, though, is that it’s absolute bullshit. The devil is absolutely with the details. “Pure theism” is a vapid concept. Without the inconsequential details the theist can’t defend their own belief system.

        However, I see exactly what you mean, and what Hart is aiming for!

      • Posted April 24, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        Except that Hart seems to be claiming that this God is the Whole Elephant common to all religions, rather than each seeing just one part.

        /@

    • Achrachno
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I was thinking that his approach is similar to a Venn diagram — various theologies/religions have various sets of ideas and he’s looking only for the small area of overlap between them. That area he seems to think is the pure or true stuff. This implies that the non-overlapping parts are false or non-essential. I wonder how easily that idea will sell to other theists if presented clearly and without his usual fog of words.

  6. eric
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Last comment (for now):

    how does materialism (which is just a metaphysical postulate, of extremely dubious logical coherence) entail exclusive ownership of scientific knowledge?

    It doesn’t entail it. There is nothing within the concept of naturalism or materialism that says it must be the only way to gain knowledge. The monopoly that Gopnik refers to is an outcome of thousands of years of humans endeavoring to understand the things they experience, and observing that only a narow set of methods of understanding – naturalistic ones – appear to work well.

    I’m reminded, of all things, of PJP II’s comment on evolution. “The convergence, neither sought nor induced, of results of work done independently one from the other, constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.” That exact same thing can be said about naturalism and the scientific method itself: humans tried a lot of different methods of gaining knowledge. We have converged on naturalistic methods. That convergence was neither sought nor induced. And the fact that we have converged on a naturalistic scientific method is itself a pretty good argument in favor of the method.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      +1

  7. darrelle
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Well, Hart can certainly throw down a rant, at least. He does portray himself as a sanctimonious prick though.

    I experienced an eighth order irony storm reading through this. The old trope of scientists being out of touch, conceited, supercilious ivory tower intellectuals so often held by believers is brilliantly displayed here by Hart.

  8. Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    If my salad at lunch were suddenly to deliver itself of such an opinion [of Mr. Hart], my only thought would be “What a very arrogant, over-stuffed salad!”

    • Another Tom
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      I know that LSD can be used to generate religious experiences, and the way it is written it seems that Gopnik’s statement was what astounded him; not the fact this his dog or salad were talking.

      Coincidence?
      ;)

  9. Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    As a former Eastern Orthodox Christian I know for a fact that Hart is not a highly respected theologian even among many Eastern Orthodox thinkers. He is seen as a “scholastic” which is a curse word in Eastern Orthodox circles. For an Eastern Orthodox to refer to the Roman Catholic catechism is cringe worthy from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. I have read many of Hart’s books appreciating his use of rarely used vocabulary words but his arguments have little substance. I have never been able to take him seriously.

    • Chris
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Hehe. So he’s throwing his own co-religionists under the bus of over-generalization? Why am I not surprised.

    • ron
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      I learned the word “appanage” today, thanks to Hart!

      • Posted April 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        appanage n. a thing the one percent may at last rightfully claim sole ownership of

  10. Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    [T]he God described in my book is the creator of everything, who communicates with all persons in a constant and general way, and with many individuals in an episodic and special way.

    Spectacular fail.

    Hart, is your god part of “everything”? If so, how did your god create itself? If not, your god is nothing.

    Your god has never said a word to me. My phone number is in the book; my email address readily discoverable; my home address a matter of public record. If your god wants to have a word with me, he’s got no excuse for never once having done so in all these decades.

    And why is it that, when your god speaks with certain individuals in episodic and special ways, he only does so to raving lunatics or relies on generations-younger people to record the conversations after a century-long game of “telephone”?

    Sorry, Hart, but this is why only the credulous and the foolish take you seriously. We ain’t buyin’ what you’re sellin’.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Bruce Gorton
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Also, why is it when God speaks to individuals in a special way – it is generally in ways that sound suspiciously like those individuals using the word “God” to excuse what they really want?

      Abraham: God wants you to make me the guy in charge of everything, oh and he is going to punish all those dudes who slept with my wife…

      …when I told them she was my sister in order to run a dowry scam.

      Jesus: God really, really wants you to worship me!

      Mohammed: God really, really wants me to fuck this nine year old.

      Smith: Twinsies! Oh, and he also said you should give me your money.

    • Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      God hasn’t emailed you because … she’s fickle.

      Hart is clearly more special-er and worthy than you.

      • Philip.Elliott
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

        Check you spam filter!

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 26, 2014 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          :D

      • bric
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        ‘Hart is clearly more special-er and worthy than you’
        That, I fear, is entirely the point.

        • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

          As I often point out, the primary function of the gods, today and all throughout history, is to be the ultimate source of authority for their proclaimants.

          “YHWH is the biggest, meanest, and badassiest of all the big mean badasses, so you really don’t want to get on his bad side. And I’m his official spokesman, so you can trust me when I tell you that what YHWH really wants of you is for you to give me all your money and all your livestock, including the women and girls. If you don’t, you just know that YHWH is going to get really pissed, and nobody wants that, hear?”

          That the gods are imaginary is utterly irrelevant if you can convince others that you speak on their behalf. Who are us mere mortals to questions the desires of the gods?

          That’s also why atheists represent the ultimate threat. Once people do pay attention to that man behind the curtain, the old humbug is left to competing on the merits of his ideas — a game he cannot possibly win…and there goes all the money and livestock, especially including the females….

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Chris
            Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

            “As I often point out, the primary function of the gods, today and all throughout history, is to be the ultimate source of dinner for their proclaimants.”

            Fixed that for you! A man has to make a living y’know.

      • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        And jealous, too — never forget that. And Hart’s God, Shirley, has to know that I’ve got a perfectly delightful god of my own, one who just a moment ago was rabbit-kicking one of my socks.

        Besides, what imaginary friend could ever hope to compete with a real cat?

        b&

    • Gareth Price
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      He might be sending all those spam emails!!

  11. derek hudson
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Priceless!Theology of the sophisiticated variety has now withdrawn to its final, unbreachable and unreachable position; that is, of declaring itself victorious by default, all detractors simply being too stupid or obstinate to accept its profound and meaningless machinations.

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Hart is an educated (because he uses complicated words and phrases and lots of quotes) version of Eric Hovind, his arguments are presuppositionalism.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Nice observation! The wagons are truly and well circled, and nothing will ever again make theology relevant for the outside world.

      Good riddance, brave Hart!

  12. Taz
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Nothing against you, Jerry, or Gopnik, but damn I would have liked to see Hitchens have a go at that arrogant windbag.

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      I think Hitch would have thought responding beneath him and a waste of time. He generally took on worthier targets. But still, it would have been fun. And although Hitch’s unique style would have been very entertaining here, I think our host is doing a damn fine job himself.

      • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

        I enjoy watching Hitch take down slimy, immoral opponents.

        Nobody does righteous indignation like Hitch did.

        I don’t imagine a debate with a waffly theologian like Hart would’ve elicited many Hitchslaps.

  13. ascanius
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    props to jerry for not letting this go.

    in light of the recent report on the scientific illiteracy of americans willfully promoted by many religionists, university science departments should consider including in their evaluation of faculty members not just research and teaching, but also contributions to these popular debates. more voices are needed to beat back the obscurantism which threatens to engulf us.

  14. Pete Taylor
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Just one point Jerry, I wouldn’t call Dirac religious in any usual way. See his comments in the wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Dirac#Religious_views

    and jump to “Religious views”.

    In his later comments he may well have suggested looking at it from a scientific viewpoint but his first quote would no doubt have had certain people describing him as “strident” :)

  15. Sastra
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Is it really so difficult to grasp that the classical concept of God has always occupied a logical space that cannot be approached from the necessarily limited perspective of natural science?

    And is it really so difficult to grasp that the concept of God, classical or not, has always been an inference from evidence, experience, and reason? The “limits of science” involve the attempt to recognize our human limitations and check ourselves from flights of fancy.

    The kernel of Hart’s argument, which Gopnik did discern (Hart has the temerity of claiming that Gopnik didn’t read his book), is that the essence of God, distilled from all religions, is that of an ineffable Ground of Being that doesn’t have any anthropomorphic traits.

    I think Gropnik (like many others) was confused by Hart’s apparent insistence that a Ground of Being is not “anthropomorphic” and interpreted Hart’s God as a vague, Deistic God which does nothing. From what I can tell from the quotes I’ve read that isn’t what Hart is proposing — and the root of the problem lies in Hart’s misunderstanding of “anthropomorphic.” It doesn’t just mean ‘in the shape of a human.” It also involves everything connected with a mind: consciousness, bliss, love, intention, intelligence, values, and personal communication.

    A reality which is formed from and within Pure Mentality (“Being, Consciousness, Bliss”) is not inert. It’s neither Deism nor pantheism (though it might also be consistent with both.) Nor is it too vague or empty of content to be wrong. No, it’s wrong enough on its own terms.

    If we’re going to engage belief, we should engage it as it’s practiced, and Hart’s “essence of god” is only a tiny fraction of what believers (including theologians) take to be true.

    I disagree. I think Hart really has managed to get to the kernel of what is meant by the “supernatural” and so it’s not a God only a few believe in, it’s what they’re all building on and from. It’s a bit like all the different variations of “energy healing” (Therapeutic Touch, Reiki, Magnet Therapy, Qigong) come out of the same basic misunderstanding of vitalistic human energies. Or like how all forms of political Totalitarianism have a core of similarities.

    If all you ever deal with is form after form after form it’s an endless game of Whack-A-Mole. Getting bogged down in attacking details can allow the theist to think our main problem is with the specific implementation — the way it is practiced — rather than with the fundamental idea and approach.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think you are probably right here. Hart must mean something very narrow by anthropomorphic because in this very article he ascribes to God all sorts of anthropomorphic characters, not the least of which is communicating with humans. Hart really isn’t promoting a kind of Deism, he’s just burying his anthropomorphic God in denial (talking to people isn’t anthropomorphic) and obscurantism.
      It’s a great, and old, trick to redefine common words and then sit back and smugly scoff as your opponents attack what you (secretly) know to be straw men.

      You are right also that this is the kind of belief that most people have. Even the people in my very fundamentalist church upbringing ridiculed the idea of God depicted on the Sistine Chapel as a bearded old man. They found such a view of God naive and frankly blasphemous. Their God was immaterial, he had no physical body, no location in space or time, in short, he was a kind of pure mind (and only ‘he’ in a gender-role sense as a metaphorical father figure). It would come as a comfort to them to be told that atheists are naively attacking the bearded old man on the Sistine Chapel because they reject that just as fervently.

      • josh
        Posted April 25, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Hart, like other theologians, doesn’t really stop to think what his words mean. In his mind, they mean he wins, that’s it. Anthropomorphic, ground, cause, transcendent, numinous, create, word, person, love, being, nothing, power, material, natural, moral, etc., etc…. He hasn’t the intellectual horsepower to actually put those words into a consistent or meaningful framework. They are just totems to signify his defeat of his enemies or his loyalty to his creed.

  16. Richard Thomas
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Damon Linker (http://theweek.com/article/index/260172/why-atheism-doesnt-have-the-upper-hand-over-religion) accuses Jerry of being unable to follow a philosophical argument and then embarks on a god is love foray.

    • wonderer
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      OMG that was bad. I want to respond with that video of a cat nursing ducklings as an example of how instincts with evolutionary roots can result in behaviors that aren’t conducive to propagating one’s genes.

  17. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    When the emperor was finally confronted with being naked, he pulled out his ultimate weapon: the argument from snottiness.

    • cornbread_r2
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      Whew…I thought for sure you were going somewhere completely different with that!

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 26, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        ROFL!

  18. D. Taylor
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Since logic won’t work in responding to Hart, my brain keeps offering up poetry as descriptive of his efforts and perhaps as an antidote to his dreadful prose. First a bit of Shakespeare, and then of T. S. Elliot:

    “. . . a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

”

    “We are the hollow men

    We are the stuffed men
    
Leaning together
    
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

    Our dried voices, when
    
We whisper together
    
Are quiet and meaningless

    As wind in dry grass
    
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
    
In our dry cellar



    Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion”.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      I think this is likely true – given their antagonism to science, naturalism and materialism. If we used transcendence in ways excluding the possibility of the supernatural – creating paintings, music, poetry without religious themes. Perhaps a daily feature that highlights the arts in support of naturalistic explanations.

  19. Sastra
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    The current vogue in atheism is probably reducible to three rather sordidly ordinary realities: the mechanistic metaphysics inherited from the seventeenth century, the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism, and the quiet fascism of Western cultural supremacism (that is, the assumption that all cultures that do not consent to the late modern Western vision of reality are merely retrograde, unenlightened, and in need of intellectual correction and many more Blu-ray players).

    WTF? According to Hart the 3 “sordid” aspects of modern atheism are — if I am reading him correctly through the snark —

    1.) metaphysical naturalism/materialism (fair enough)

    2.)”Voluntarism” inspired by consumerism (huh?)

    3.)The belief that science deals in universal truths (fair enough)

    Of course, he adds in all sorts of nasty implications, but I’ll ignore that for now. I’m confused by that second “ordinary reality.”

    According to the dictionary, Voluntarism is:

    Metaphysical or psychological system that assigns a more predominant role to the will (Latin, voluntas) than to the intellect. Christian philosophers who have been described as voluntarist include St. Augustine, John Duns Scotus, and Blaise Pascal. A metaphysical voluntarism was propounded in the 19th century by Arthur Schopenhauer, who took will to be the single, unconscious force behind all of reality and all ideas of reality. An existentialist voluntarism was present in Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of the overriding “will to power” whereby man would eventually recreate himself as “superman.” And a pragmatic voluntarism is evident in William James’s conception of knowledge and truth in terms of purpose and practical ends.

    Ok, translating Hart is hard enough when he’s talking about God. The Will over the Intellect = New Atheism? St. Augustine? And he LIKES atheists like Nietzsche — or at least mourns their absence.

    Frankly, I’ve no idea what the hell he’s on about with his talk about modern atheism being “the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism.” My best guess is that it’s some convoluted version of “people turn away from God when they get all shallow and wrapped up in status and material things.”

    Which isn’t a complaint against modern atheism: they’ve been whining about that for ages.

    • eric
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Frankly, I’ve no idea what the hell he’s on about with his talk about modern atheism being “the banal voluntarism that is the inevitable concomitant of late capitalist consumerism.”

      Based on your analysis above, one possible interpretation that springs to mind is that he’s characterizing new atheism as a bohemian or libertine ‘do as thou wilt’ philosophy. That would seem to be consistent with saying we are will-focused, capitalist consumers.

      • darrelle
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        The fact that your proposed interpretation is almost exactly opposite of an accurate description of the atheists that seem to have pissed Hart off, I think you are on to something. Being dead wrong about atheism and atheists is a signature characteristic of believers, Sophisticated™ and ordinary alike.

        Believers can not allow themselves to acknowledge accurate portrayals of atheist positions without opening themselves to the possibility of serious damage to their beliefs.

      • Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

        You’re probably right.

        And it’s another example of black and white thinking, to which Sastra alluded in the Ehrebreich thread. It’s “without god, all things are permitted”. Either we can live in a well-regulated society because god provides the regulation, or we live in a nasty,chaotic, selfish free-for-all. The possibility that there are other…possibilities is not considered.

        Additionally, this is hardly a sophisticated view. Atheists as selfish libertines is a very big plank in the conservaligioumentalist platform.

    • michaelfugate
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      That buying things is a transcendent experience. I ❤ shopping. God is ❤. God is shopping?

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

      “LIKES atheists like Nietzsche”

      This part is easy. People like Nietzsche seemed to palpably feel the weight of religion’s collapse as the intellectual centerpiece of the West. The “death of God” was felt as some kind of loss, and life without God was confronted with a fair bit of anxiety. New absolutes were sought to replace the old ones. Living without a new absolute, not even struggling to find one, is infuriating to Hart. Hart is fine with any atheism that sees the value or at least seriousness of religion. What he can’t abide is the laugh, or the shrug.

      • Chris
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        1) Nietzsche was a lot brighter that Hart.

        2) Nietzsche was more than a bit of a nutter.

        If Hart is extracting comparisons from his fundament then more fool him.

  20. Chris
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Hilarious.

    “Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose.”

    I’m sorry, Hart, but if Gopnik’s prose is execrable then yours is obtuse and flatulent.

    And that’s before even considering the arguments.

    • Kevin Anthoney
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Exactly. If “translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose” doesn’t describe theology, I don’t know what does.

      • Chris
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        Although I don’t work in science (I’m a long-serving IT monkey) I cannot stand writers who make arguments more complex then they should be. Clear thinking, to me, is the ability to put complex or counter-intuitive concepts in to relatively plain speak.

        Looking at the quotes from Hart, and his own bl*g, it seems that he swings hard in the opposite direction. He also seems to like flowery declamation. This really does not help – even if there is a valid point, it’s buried under language that takes a lot of effort to parse.

        I’m not stupid, I have a significantly better than average understanding of the English language, and I’m finding that I’m having to read his prose multiple times to make sure that I get his point. This implies a few possible issues:

        1) He’s a poor writer – he has a grasp of the concepts but is unable to express them in a concise manner.
        2) He’s a poor thinker – what he’s trying to elucidate is incoherent.
        3) He’s being deliberately obtuse – hiding the meaning of his writing for one of any number of reasons.
        4) Argumentum ad Chopram – He’s writing nonsense because it pays well.

        Usual caveats go here..!

        • Rick Fetters
          Posted April 24, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          5) Hiding the lack of a coherent argument in the dense foliage of his verbiage hoping people will not notice.

          • Chris
            Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

            Covered in #3

            I was being generous! :-D

            I like your style…

        • Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          ++1

      • Sastra
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        +1

  21. Kevin
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    David Hart, you have no evidence for what you purport with regard to the supernatural and it is clear that it stems from your desire to want something transcendent.

    If you kept your hopes to yourself you would functionally be similar to an atheist…and that would scare you. But instead you promulgate your wishes for the sake of theism and a human centered universe because you are insecure and do not posses the courage to manufacture purpose for your own life without the need for a transcendent explanation.

    • bric
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      Evidence? That’s a frightfully materialist concept old boy. Why if my salad had come up with that . . . !

      • gluonspring
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        A meme is born, I think. I have a feeling we’re going to be saying “If my salad had come up with that” for a long time around here.

        • michaelfugate
          Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          I think the probability of his salad communicating is vastly greater than that of his God communicating.

          • Doug
            Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

            I like how he says “If my salad at lunch were suddenly to deliver itself of such an opinion, my only thought would be ‘What a stupid salad.'”
            That would be his ONLY thought!? My thought would be “Fuck! My salad’s talking!” I guess he’s a lot harder to shock than I am.

            • gluonspring
              Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

              I think that’s his point, that the statement is *so* stupid that asserting it is more remarkable than the remarkable fact of his salad talking. It’s meant to be a cleaver put down but it doesn’t really work here.

              • Doug
                Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

                Guess it was too subtle for me.

              • Another Tom
                Posted April 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

                I took it to mean that talking dogs and salads were a common experience for him and it implied LSD use.

                He’s juicing for transcendence.

            • Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

              Considering that one of the most famous stories of the Bible is that of a talking vegetable giving magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero, I don’t think Hart would be more than mildly surprised if his lettuce prayed over him or even preyed on him.

              b&

            • Jim Sweeney
              Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

              Hail Caesar!

            • Jo5ef
              Posted April 25, 2014 at 5:41 am | Permalink

              The salad is a’dressing me?

      • D. Taylor
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        It’s a vegetarian salad–no meat to it!

  22. JimV
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Here is how Hart’s God communicated with Roman Catholic priests, bishops, and cardinals – people whose job description would include communicating with God every day in the form of prayer and meditation and listening carefully for responses:

    “Stonewall.”

    “Cover it up.”

    “Move the priest to another parish.”

    “Threaten the witnesses with excommunication if they go to the police.”

    To prove the communications which Hart asserts are occurring actually take place, I propose this test: have God tell someone Fermat’s original proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem – not the modern, 200-page proof which uses mathematics discovered since Fermat’s time, but his original, shorter proof.

    I know, I know, Hart’s God doesn’t do tests, or at least not those that can’t be faked.

  23. noncarborundum
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    As something of a Latin pedant (despite the dog-latin of my nym), I must point out that sensus divinitatus should actually be sensus divinitatis. The second word is the genitive of divinitas and means “of divinity”.

  24. gluonspring
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    You can’t shake the devil’s hand and then say you’re only kidding [ht, They Might be Giants].

    If we were allowed to call people names here I’d say that Hart is your basic run of the mill asshole, but since we aren’t allowed to call people names on this site I won’t.

    See, it doesn’t count if you say it doesn’t.

    • Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Hahahaha! That’s a good one

  25. Mephistophiles
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    You can’t intellectualise bullshit.

  26. Faustus
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    It was worth read for this alone:
    “What a very stupid salad.” I’m tempted to make that the signature quote on my e-mail.

    Clearly that put-down was devastating in Hart’s head, but sadly it really doesn’t work in print.

    • Another Tom
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      So a “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket” type moment.

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      After reading Hart’s response, my only thought was, “what a very stupid word salad.”

    • eric
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Its a good phrase, but to my mind he could’ve written it crisper.

      Bwa ha ha!

  27. hazur
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    ” As the explanations [for why God resides in the gaps of scientific understanding] get more desperately minute, the apologies get ever vaster.” We may be under the presence of a new universal law, the uncertainty principle of the apologist:
    (H/4*PI) < d(sk)*d(A)

    d(sk): delta (gap) in scientific knowledge
    dA: uncertainty size of the apology
    H: of course that would be the Hart constant, the lower limit for the product on the right. Not sure how big it is, but certainly a lot bigger than the Plank constant.

  28. darrelle
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I’m curious. Does Hart’s response here qualify as “strident” or “intolerant?” How about “arrogant?” If not I would welcome some explanations as to why not. I love me some good irony and I need a fix.

  29. Posted April 24, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    ‘Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do.’
    Ironic that he doesn’t understand or care about the meaning of the word ‘secularist’. He conflates it several times with ‘atheist’.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Either he is incapable of understanding that ‘secularist’ is the complement of ‘theocrat’, or does not care whether he can thus be identified as the latter.

  30. Doug
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    What Hart does not understand is that, yes, there are religious scientists but their religion played no part in their scientific discoveries. No angel told Galileo that the earth moves or that Jupiter has moons; God didn’t reveal the human genome to Collins. I’d like the theists to name one fact that was first revealed through religion and then confirmed by science (I know they’ll say that “the Bible describes the Earth as a circle when everyone else thought that it was flat;” my answer to that is that circles ARE flat–the Bible doesn’t say that the Earth is a sphere.)

    • eric
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      It probably wouldn’t matter if any of those folks had claimed a supernatural vision or not. What matters to science is what you do with an hypothesis, not where it came from. If some angel had told Newton about the inverse square law of gravity, and Newton had then tested it, and his fellow scientists had then accepted it based on the results of confirmed tests, then its still science.

      The reason we say religion plays no part in science, even while there are many religious scientists (and even religiously derived hypotheses), is because all of those religious scientists are treating hypotheses as things requiring empirical confirmation before acceptance. That means they are doing the knowledge-method of science, not the knowledge-method of revelation.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Smart people believed the earth was round before the Bible was compiled into it’s final form, at least back to Pythagoras in the 6th century BCE. So the premise that the Bible said it first is probably not even true. Around 220 BCE, Eratosthenes even calculated it’s circumference using clever measurements of the angle of shadows separated by a large distance.

      But even if the Bible got that right while others were wrong, that’s a slight accomplishment for a book that is generally devoid of any kind of useful knowledge about anything. Who can count the millions who have died simply for lack of the correct idea of the nature of communicable diseases? A good paragraph on that would have come in really handy, but there is no such thing in the Bible because it’s authors didn’t know it themselves.

      • eric
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        Paragraph? Try sentence or two. “God here: wash your hands, avoid getting mucus or spittle on others, and boil your drinking water.”

        • lkr
          Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

          And keep away from menstruating women and don’t weave wool and linen together and don’t eat vultures or cheeseburgers. Seems to me more a god with a very personal list of aversions.

      • Posted April 25, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        ya, Augustine was the first to describe Darwinian ideas of evolution…

  31. gluonspring
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    “The logical and imaginative grammars of belief, which still informed the thinking of earlier generations of atheists and skeptics, are no longer there…. Principled unbelief was once a philosophical passion and moral adventure, with which it was worthwhile to contend. Now, perhaps, it is only so much bad intellectual journalism, which is to say, gossip, fashion, theatrics, trifling prejudice.”

    This is merely Hart expressing a pathetic nostalgia for a time when belief was the assumed background of everyone and being an atheist was a daring stance (in the literal take-you-life-in-your-own-hands sense). Early nonbelievers were soaked in religion and used the language of religion as easily as any other. Nietzsche speaks of the death of God because, not that long before, God seemed real enough that his palpable absence in the age of reason felt as though God has died. There is a note of sadness, at least, in God’s passing, a tacit acknowledgement of the value of religion even if religion ceased to be credible. Now, of course, God is more often treated like another fairy tale, and is dismissed just as casually. Moreover, many of us seem to find our cats and friends and ales reason enough to live without devolving into a suicidal nihilism. It is not atheism itself that irks Hart, it is treating religion as trivial and irrelevant that incites him to his heights of petulance. Religions need, above all else, to be taken seriously because that’s the only thing that sustains them. As soon as you laugh, or shrug, their power is broken.

    • TJR
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Hart should just move to a moslem country, then.

      • Chris
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think that he’d like their take on “God’s Love” though.

    • Posted April 24, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Bingo!

      /@

  32. H.H.
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    God is “necessary” to ground reality in exactly the same way that Atlas was necessary to hold up the globe. Which is to say, not at all.

  33. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    “the minute their faith is questioned they turn into grouchy old men chasing the atheists off their lawns.”

    Yes. You would think they would appreciate people trying to understand the relation between magic thinking and reality. But theologians are way past caring for fresh insights into their field, because they see the tombstone that scientific progress is preparing over it.

    As a skeptic I don’t have evidence that religion and other forms of magic thinking is good for society even in its most effete form. However, I can recognize that it has provided me with the impetus to understand the relation between magic thinking and reality through devising actual tests for magic, and why the prior of magic myths being just myths is a good posterior too.

    Since you can explain the universe only by means of some other bit of the universe, why is there a universe (or many of them)? The answer to this unanswerable question is God. He stands outside everything, “the infinite to which nothing can add and from which nothing can subtract,” the ultimate ground of being.

    Except that isn’t how it works. Sure, when we look at the entire quantum system, decoherence needs an environment for an observer to retrieve classicality. But that’s different.

    “In quantum mechanics, quantum decoherence is the loss of coherence or ordering of the phase angles between the components of a system in a quantum superposition. … decoherence is the mechanism by which the classical limit emerges from a quantum starting point and it determines the location of the quantum-classical boundary.”

    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_decoherence ]

    More seriously for Hart’s approach of Sophisticated Deepaking™, neither GR cosmology nor the Wheeler–DeWitt equation has any “outside” in their description of the entire universe. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheeler-deWitt_equation ]

    We can’t add “outside magic”.

    materialism (which is just a metaphysical postulate, of extremely dubious logical coherence)

    I hear “materialism” originated as a theological description. Not surprisingly then it is taken as a philosophical “common sense” assumption instead of an empirical result.

    Put that in the waste bin! That nature is unitary quantum mechanical is a deep and nourishing result, while nothing Hart drags out from his dusty cabinets of moldy theology is fit for consumption.

    Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose.

    Oh!? I note that passes the smell test of a possible analysis.* ‘Theology is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose.’

    Good for Hart. \(>o<)/

    * Possible is of course not the same as good (qualitative). Seems Hart, as in the case of the existence of his magic, omits or contradicts a statistically supported evidence basis.

  34. bembol
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    On youtube, Hart’s humility is on full display. He is truly a follower of Christ. He he he, he he he.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      I’ve only seen one youtube video, but I found him more affable as a speaker than in print.

  35. John K.
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    You can tell someone is poisoning the well when they effectively manage to stay out of the waters completely. Ignoring all the invective, Hart may as well have had no response at all.

    You would think the attacks on misconceptions of other everyday believers would be applauded by such Sophisticated Theologians. Hart should encourage gnu atheists in their condemnations of the non-pantheist gods. His ire towards atheists and not the wrongly believing theists is the giveaway in his true motivations.

  36. Craig Gallagher
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    “Journalism is the art of translating abysmal ignorance into execrable prose.”

    Pot. Kettle. Black, I’d say. Has Hart read his own book I wonder?

  37. Leigh Jackson
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Hart is a “believer”. Believers talk tripe. They all talk as if they know what they are talking about but it is obvious that they talk only tripe. Obvious to non-believers. Obvious to other believers who think they know better the nature of God. The nature of “true religion”. They all think they know what true religion is and all the others don’t. Hart included.

    They can all be dismissed as dunces.

    If Hart is an Orthodox Christian then he believes in the gobbledegook of the Trinity. He believes in the physical death and resurrection of Christ. He believes in original sin inherited from Adam and the saving grace of Christ.

    All of that stuff is sufficiently proven to be made up stuff. Proven by the laws of nature which science has revealed over the last few huddled years; for which there is no good reason to suppose ever not to have determined an event from the big bang onwards. With the exception of quantum phenomena, for which there is no good reason to suppose to be other than pure chance events. Sufficiently explained by anthropology and psychology and comparative and historical religious studies to be myths; just like the mythical content of all other religions. Metaphysical myths in this case.

    These myths do not add up to God as essentially the ground of being. The resurrection is necessary to reunite the soul and body of those who are to be saved. The rest are damned to all eternity on the day of judgment.

    Hart is beyond a joke. He’s a contemptible dolt.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      lol! how the hell did hundred come out as huddled?

  38. Posted April 24, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    When theism is criticised the theologian could do one of two things: straightforwardly and calmly present evidence for their god, or launch an aggressive and personal attack on the critic. It is striking which of these they so often resort to.

    Jerry:

    Yes, all of those scientists, as far as I know—save Einstein—were or are religious, but I doubt that Einstein abjured materialism or naturalism.

    I think you’re being too trusting of Hart’s assertion there. About half the names are highly dubious as being “religious”, certainly as regards anything akin to the Christian god, and most of them accepted naturalism and materialism.

    Some of them were explicit atheists (Dirac vehemently so, leading to the remark: “There is no God, and Dirac is his prophet”; Schrodinger also was an atheist, and is notable for his “What is life?” book, which was thoroughly materialist).

    As for the couple of modern scientists who are Christian in the conventional sense, it’s notable how it is always the same few names that are pointed to (and some of them are not that notable as scientists, only notable as scientists who are Christians).

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      “When theism is criticised the theologian could do one of two things: straightforwardly and calmly present evidence for their god, or launch an aggressive and personal attack on the critic.”

      So really there’s only one thing they can do.

  39. Posted April 24, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I am glad you posted a link to the Catholic Catechism. It is one of the supposed trump cards of the Catholic sophisticated believers. The silly notion of sola scripture will naturally lead to incoherent conclusions because the Bible is not the sole source of the truth. The Magisterium is here to interpret everything and correct our incorrect interpretations. Of course, the Catechism is the source for this notion and many others. Ignoring the parts that are pure commands, the rest of it amounts to the same baseless claims as liberal Bible believers promote. One great example is that God can be found with pure reason, no faith needed, and if you don’t come to that conclusion, well, you just failed to reason properly.

  40. Posted April 24, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Hart is despicable and a jackass. Applying his logic equally to both sides of the discussion is enough to dismiss anything he says. We can modify Hitchen’s Razor here: “what can be asserted via a fallacy can be dismissed via a fallacy. ”

    As for Hart’s babbling about abstractions, perhaps he should take a few classes in computer engineering. Abstractions map to concrete realities. If they don’t, they are useless as a tool for anything.

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      I think you can shorten your modification by three words. “What can be asserted via a fallacy can be dismissed.”

  41. Posted April 24, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I think the obvious anger of Hart’s response is revealing. Bertrand Russell wrote somewhere that he’d noticed getting angry was a sign he felt insecure about his own position. “If someone says that 2 and 2 equal 5, or that Greenland is on the Equator, I do not feel angry at all, but merely pity his ignorance. Feeling anger is a common sign of intellectual unease.’ I’m quoting from memory, but that’s the essence of it. From what Jerry has quoted, Hart is feeling a good deal of intellectual unease.

    • Kingasaurus
      Posted April 25, 2014 at 3:05 am | Permalink

      To be fair, Russell was very good at keeping his anger to a minimum. Not everyone is like that.

      Personally, I DO get angry at willful ignorance and stupidity (because the social consequences of such things being widespread is so damaging), and my anger isn’t necessarily a signal that my own position is weak, or that my opponent has a real point and has struck a nerve in the debate.

      Creationists are willfully ignorant and are lying to children and indoctrinating them with retrograde, patently false ideas that are likely to cripple them intellectually. If I show my anger about that, does that mean I’m somehow deeply insecure about my position that evolution is an obvious fact? No.

      Anger can signal multiple things, depending on the situation. It’s a case-by-case thing.

      Loons and knuckle-draggers make me angry. Doesn’t make me wrong and them right.

  42. Posted April 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Cantankerous old sack of gas, that Mr Hart, and pompous in the extreme. Not only an unremarkable waffling theopologist indulging in what’s become a standard-issue double-sided argument of the 21st century (publicly invoking the Ground of Being™ so as to defend the belief in the personal, interventionist anthropomorphic beardo that his sect demands and which renders the one-God-fits all completely invalid); he has a Planck-length temper when challenged.

    I’m sure many religionists would find it comforting to have someone like Hart high above them in the intellectual stratosphere, dogfighting with scientistic atheismists like the aces of old, showing the young whippersnappers how there’s life in the old God yet. How sad they’d be if they realised Hart was just sitting on his porch making paper aeroplanes.

  43. Posted April 24, 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I think you are wrong on one point: the few pieces you quoted DO in fact convey how arrogant the piece is! That first paragraph alone is unbelievable.

    The sad thing is, reading through these exchanges I come away with a bit of arrogance myself. Hart’s modus operandi really seems to be a shell game: to claim an untestable ground of being to reject atheism, and to believe in something much more specific and testable to reject the claim that his concept of god is not that of most believers or of medieval theologians.

    And where other “sophisticated theologians” do the first in an article and the second the next day in church, he manages to put both of them into the same article, as neat as you please, and then pats himself on his back for having refuted atheism with an open self-contradiction. How do you argue with somebody who does not even accept the criterion that their own arguments be coherent? You can’t.

  44. kelskye
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    “Simply said, we have reached a moment in Western history when, despite all appearances, no meaningful public debate over belief and unbelief is possible. Not only do convinced secularists no longer understand what the issue is; they are incapable of even suspecting that they do not understand, or of caring whether they do.”
    Translation: it’s the secularists fault that there’s no possible discourse. It has nothing to do with the incomprehensibility of theism in a scientific age…

  45. kelskye
    Posted April 24, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I’m also starting to wonder (well, starting may not be the right word) whether a lot of criticism of atheism is simply the attempt to claim the intellectual high ground for theism. That way the “crudeness” of the new atheists replies can be taken as simply being pretenders to knowledge from which theists don’t even have to engage with the criticisms. The crime of Dawkins and Krauss (and even Jerry Coyne) is not to engage the subject, but not to engage the subject in the right way. That is, in a state of deference. Which, when it comes down to it, means paying deference to the idea that there’s a single creator of the universe, who came down to earth in human form only to die in some sort of vicarious atonement for a symbolic transgression and conquered death. If you don’t have deference, then you are beneath contempt!

  46. Alucas
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    As far as I know, Paul Davies is not religious. Receiving a Templeton prize doesn’t automatically make one “religious” whatever others might claim about you.

  47. mrclaw69
    Posted April 25, 2014 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    “… …Does Gopnik think he can assert rights here denied to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton? Or to Arthur Eddington, Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Dirac, Anthony Zee, John Barrow, Freeman Dyson, Owen Gingerich, John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies, Stephen Barr, Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and (yes) Albert Einstein?

    “…Yes, all of those scientists, as far as I know—save Einstein—were or are religious…”

    Incredibly dubious candidates proffered by Hart. Seems he was grasping at straws. As Jerry has rightly pointed out most people were religious in ye olde times so it’s hardly surprising that they may have publicly professed outward faith (especially in times of dire persecution by the religious – Galileo anyone?).

    However some of those name-checked by Hart are outright atheists (Dirac & Schrodinger). Others might be seen as faitheists (Davies & Zee – Zee seems to have been chosen by Hart merely because he wrote a book about physics being an aesthetic subject similar to a spiritualism). Dyson is a ‘cultural Christian’ rather than a practising one (he doesn’t buy into theology or attend any particular church). Planck was a deist who stated that, although he considered himself religious, he did not believe in a personal or Christian god and took no sides in religious disputes. Eddington, although a Quaker, held that god was not necessary for physics to work.

    And Eisntein? really? Einstein liked to use the metaphor of ‘god’ but identified as an agnostic. I’m sure no one here will need me to quote him extensively as you’ll all have read this before…

  48. Diane G.
    Posted April 26, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    …he remains an annelid.

    Oh man, I’d love to see that become an “official website phrase” too!
    :D

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 26, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Grrrr. The first line above definitely had blockquote tags when I hit “post.”

  49. Posted July 7, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I’d like to offer a prize to the first person who can name one scientific experiment conducted in the last 200 years which required absolute belief in a mindless, supernatural, immaterial reality (i.e. physicalism, or what used to be called materialism – supernatural, because beyond the senses, mindless, because that’s virtually the only definition of physicalism anyone can agree on, and immaterial, well, because materialism failed many decades ago, though Jerry doesn’t seem to be aware of that).

    Don’t worry – you don’t have to know where to collect the prize because there are no such scientific experiments.

    donsalmon7@gmail.com

    (Proof: Whatever scientific experiment you can come up with, could also be conducted in a lucid dream – see “Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor” if you don’t understand this – just because the scientist may have the delusion that he has direct knowledge of something which exists outside of all possibilities of being known – really, you can’t see what that’s impossible? – doesn’t mean the success of the experiment “proves” that physicalism is true.)


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/david-bentley-hart-responds-poorly-and-arrogantly&#8230; […]

  2. […] His most recent post. […]

  3. […] “daniel joachim”, who has a website called JesusFusion, responded to my post “David Bentley Hart responds poorly (and arrogantly) to Adam Gopnik on God.” That post gave a list of supposedly religious scientists put forward by Hart, who turned […]

  4. […] If my salad at lunch were suddenly to deliver itself of such an opinion, my only thought would be “What a very stupid salad.”  […]

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