God help me

This is a good example of passive-aggressive Christianity, or should I say faux-friendly Christianity:


Not so friendly inside!  It’s hilarious, and the fun starts on the second page of the text:

p. 10 Many educated people have no doubt that faith is irreconcilable with science. For instance, Jerry Coyne, an evolutionist at the University of Chicago believes that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has demolished the idea of God once and for all. Contemporary best-selling authors Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett, known as the “New Atheists,” agree. If you are a scientist, they declare, you cannot honestly believe in God. . . Faith is a mere fiction and theology a waste of time.¹

Footnote 1, gives, as a reference for my views, Why Evolution is True. Unfortunately, the ideas attributed to me don’t appear in that book, which mentions religion only tangentially, and not as Haught says.

p. 41: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Jerry Coyne, E. O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, and many other evolutionists spoil the credibility of Darwin’s good science when they unwisely alloy evolutionary biology with a materialistic worldview. They thus distort the true nature of science by wrapping Darwin’s discoveries snugly in the belief system we are calling “evolutionary naturalism.” They contaminate Darwin’s science by imposing on it an extraneous ideology. In doing so they unnecessarily make Darwin’s neutral scientific findings theologically unacceptable on any terms.

What?  Darwin arrived at his theory via a materialistic worldview and, throughout The Origin, repeatedly shows that the facts of biology and geology refute creationist claims. Darwin’s findings are hardly neutral with respect to materialism, which, by the way, is not an ideology but a practice derived from the experience of seeing that it works. It’s like calling plumbing an “ideology.

pp 101-102: Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, whose faith in evolutionary naturalism has no limits, will continue to remind us that the high degree of accident and blind necessity in biological evolution renders the emergence of mind nothing but a fluke of nature. (Why he puts so much trust in his own mind, therefore, remains a mystery.)

Facepalm again.  Natural selection, my dear Dr. Haught, is not either “accident or blind necessity”: it is the concatenation of mutations (which might be conceived of as accidents) and the nonrandom disposition of those mutations based on their contribution to reproduction.

Further, I’m not sure what he means by “blind necessity.”  As for mind being nothing but a fluke of nature, well, that’s probably true, at least the human mind, since I don’t see our evolution as inevitable (it may have depended on mutations that are based on quantum effects). As for trusting my own mind, well, I’ve been able to do that pretty well doing that in the past sixty-odd years.  So experience tells me that my mind’s apprehensions are pretty trustworthy. I’m still healthy, have good friends, good food, and other things, many of which are the products of science—i.e., trusting other peoples’ minds. And my mind has also been valuable in helping me detect terrible arguments based on wish-thinking alone, such as those appearing between the covers of your book.  I trust my own mind because, by and large, it’s proven trustworthy.  Contrast that with the pronouncements of your own Catholic faith, which are not only unsubstantiated, but have led to terrible evils in the world. (When, by the way, are you, Dr. Haught, going to decry the child rape endemic in your church? And what happened to limbo, Hell, Noah’s Flood, and Adam and Eve? How trustworthy were the minds of the Church fathers?)

Haught appears to have been taken in by the specious arguments of Alvin Plantinga, who claims that evolution alone could never have given us minds that perceive the truth. To these dudes, such accurate perception requires the sensus divinitatus given us by the Christian God (Lord knows how the Aztecs were able to function!).

p. 157: Cosmic pessimists clearly show that they too trust the capacity of their own minds to reach these exquisite goals [finding intelligibility and truth].  All you have to do is read books by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Denneett, and Jerry Coyne to sense the enormous degree of confidence they have in their own cognitional performance. And yet, if the universe that gave birth to their minds is essentially mindless (and hence pointless), as they claim, then they have no good reason to trust these same minds.

Well, how about if those minds have repeatedly led us to results that seem correct?  After all, if a dog gets petted by his owner every time they meet, the dog comes to like the owner and expect the petting.  Doesn’t he have a good reason to trust his owner? Did God also give dogs a “sensus canis“?

What a muddle this argument is!  First of all, our minds aren’t absolutely reliable: we are victims of all sorts of optical, emotional, and cognitive illusions. (And metaphysical ones, I might add, such as Catholicism.) Second, natural selection is a good way of evolving = the ability to find out true things about the universe that impinge on our reproduction and survival. Third, science is just a refinement of the normal way we find truth in our own lives, like why the toilet isn’t flushing or the car won’t start. And we have other people’s minds that can cross-check each other and help us learn, and learning itself is of course a product of natural selection.  Those who didn’t learn how to deal with new circumstances didn’t survive. Rationality is itself an adaptation, and that, combined with learning, gives us a pretty good toolkit to find out about the universe. In contrast, religion has given us no useful way to find out what’s true about the universe, and has in fact repeatedly misled us. That’s why science has, over and over again, corrected the “truths” produced by religious minds.

Arguing that our ability to rely on our imperfect faculties to find truth is a proof of God seems to me a piece of extraordinary delusion and stupidity.

But Haught is right about one thing: I do think that theology is a waste of time.  It involves people with brains, such as Haught, sitting around and rationalizing or explicating about “truths” for which there is not the slightest bit of evidence. It’s a discipline without a subject, and a vast diversion of human thought from more productive activities. What Haught could have accomplished had he been, say, a doctor or a scientist instead of an apologist who gets paid enormous sums of money to gull the public into thinking that there’s a Vast Loving Depth behind the universe!


  1. Genghis
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Just playing devil’s advocate a bit but acceptance of evolution has nothing to do with a belief in (a) god. However, it does kick creationism into the long grass.

    • Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      The argument from design (Paley’s watch maker argument) is the only argument for God’s existence that has ever made the smallest amount of sense, at least superficially. But, evolution gives a much better explanation as to why living things appear to be designed and that is the main reason that it is so corrosive to faith.

      • Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        The Watchmaker argument only survives so long as you don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain — that is, so long as you don’t ask who made the watchmaker.

        Same thing with the First Cause argument. The only way that works is with some form of special pleading that begs you to not ask what caused the First Cause.

        In other words, they’re great “arguments” to get those bloody annoying kids to shut up when they start the “why” game, but they do fuck-all to actually explain anything, even theoretically. It’s the sort of “answer” you’d expect from somebody afraid to honestly reply, “That’s an interesting question. I don’t know the answer. How do you think we could figure it out?”



        • DV
          Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

          When I boast to my young children that daddy knows everything, they try to stump me by asking “Who created God?”. So I know the watchmaker argument wouldn’t work with kids.

        • JBlilie
          Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          And, EVEN IF you can pass those hurdles, the correct conclusion is NOT the Christian God. The analogy would support a long series of many gods working over a long period of time to eventually come up with what you see (the watch); just like the long series of experiments and developments that resulted in the watch. (I’m borrowing Dan Dennett’s point.)

        • spinkham
          Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          For this reason Swinburne, the only Christian philosopher with any sort of reasonable epistemology, claims that that zero and infinity are the simpist numerical concepts, and likewise a non-existant being and an infinitely powerful and intelligent being are the simplest things there could be.

          Deciding how to gauge complexity is remarkably hard, but from an information theory point of view this is obvious hogwash.

          • Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

            Swinburne — and others like him — obviously didn’t even glance at the syllabus for the introductory class for number theory…or for basic math, for that matter.

            Infinity is not a number, and zero is not a counting number. It no more makes sense to say you’ll make applesauce from an infinite number of apples than it does that you’ll do the trick with zero apples.

            Real things can have properties that can, in some cases, be described (or, at least, simplistically approximated) as zero or infinite, but even there, the best examples break down if you analyze them sufficiently. A volume of space is infinitely divisible…until you get to Planck Length. A photon has zero mass…but that’s rest mass, not relativistic mass.

            Even in those cases, the volume of space, though (simplistically) infinitely divisible, is nowhere near infinite; and the photon, though (restlessly) massless, is a lot more than nothing.



          • Tyle
            Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

            LOL. Even if it were true that zero and infinity were the simplest numerical concepts (it is not true) it still would not follow that an infinitely intelligent agent is simpler than an agent of intermediate intelligence. Indeed, whatever notion of ‘simple’ we were implicitly using to make judgments about arithmetic will not apply (let alone monotonically!) to intelligent agents. Therefore, his ‘argument’ is simply an example of equivocation, a play on words.

            Even worse, until Swinburne specifies a particular notion of infinity, and of complexity, and of intelligence, his argument is nonsense (i.e. quite literally, it does not mean anything).

            And as spinkham points out, once we pick particular models of complexity and intelligence (e.g. Kolmogorov complexity, and algorithms on Turing machines, respectively) then it is obvious that as the algorithms get more and more intelligent (i.e. can solve more and harder problems, for example), the complexity goes up and up without bound…

            Why do we ignore ‘Sophisticated Theology’? Oh, now I remember. Because it is dishonest, idiotic trash.

            Lighthearted sidenote, I think it would be amusing to ask Swinburne at a talk which order of infinity he is referring to. He may not really understand this, but there are an infinite number of different infinities…each bigger than the last! (And there is no ‘biggest’ infinity!) It’s actually quite a complicated subject…

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but as belief in gods can be totally irrational, it can be impervious to rational rebuttals.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          And that’s a dead giveaway that it’s a scam.

    • Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Evolution might not invalidate the possibility of certain classes of theological god concepts (ignoring, for the moment, that those concepts are incoherent for other reasons).

      It does, however, invalidate central and fundamental claims of virtually all popular religions.

      It is perhaps not surprising that virtually all human religions consider humans rather important, and ascribe to their deities some vital role in the origins and development of humanity.

      And we know, for a surety, with as much theoretical doubt as you have over the presence of an angry bull rhino in must in the room with you right now, that there has been no divine intervention in the evolution of H. sapiens or any other species at any point in history. The signs of even minor meddling would be impossible to miss, and the signs simply aren’t there.

      So, maybe (not actually, but we’ll let it slide for the moment) there’s an hypothetical possibility for some sort of ghost in the machine in principle (but there isn’t). Even if there was (but there isn’t), Darwin still rules out Adam and Eve, for example, meaning no Fall and thus nothing for Jesus to Salvage. If our nature is Sinful (and it’s not), it’s always been thus for as long as there have been humans, meaning it’s part of the original design. At best, Jesus is left saving humanity from YHWH’s own royal design fuckup — and who would trust Jesus to fix what his dad couldn’t get right in the first place, especially when he’s lying to us about the reason for the need for his services?

      Other religions have similar problems..



      • Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        Well put, but I would stress that if Darwin rules out the literal interpretation of the Adam and Eve story, it is quite neutral on its allegorical interpretation of mankind’s estrangement from god. So if Bible literalists see their faith and biology clash resolutely, most denominations of Christians (and most importantly the brand that started the ball, Catholicism) still have a lot of wiggle room.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          No wiggle room if they look at the natural theory with only natural mechanisms. The wiggle room is if they go creationists clothed in evolution garb (aka creationist evolution), but that is not biology.

        • Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, but Catholicism is overwhelmingly firmly creationist — at least, officially. Granted, the Church of late has refrained from silencing heretics within its own ranks…but it remains about as fundamentalist as they come at its core.

          But don’t take my word for it. You can read the Catechism for yourself, including such gems as these:


          374 The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.

          375 The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”. This grace of original holiness was “to share in. . .divine life”.

          376 By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man’s life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman,and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called “original justice”.

          377 The “mastery” over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self. the first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.

          378 The sign of man’s familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden. There he lives “to till it and keep it”. Work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation.

          379 This entire harmony of original justice, foreseen for man in God’s plan, will be lost by the sin of our first parents.

          Lots of very rich (and repugnant!) symbolism in there, but there’s no room whatsoever for metaphor. They’ll let you haggle over dates and locations, but no way will they give up on a single man and a single woman, the two first humans from whom all others are descended, personally molded by YHWH’s divine hand with a rebellious nature for which YHWH punished them and continues to punish us.

          The whole thing is online, hosted by the Vatican:




          • Matt Bowman
            Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

            My grandfather had to memorize every answer to the Baltimore Catechism (used 1885-1960s). He is 90 now. He says it was torture memorizing it and he was whacked regularly for errors. There were 500 questions and answers to be learned by rote. One section is called The Creation and the Fall of Man. There wasn’t a section on evolution lol.

          • Skepticook
            Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

            I graduated from Catholic elementary school (8th grade) in 1966 and Catholic high school in 1970. I was taught God-assisted evolution. Adam and Eve were presented to us as a metaphorical story that explained how man had failed to live up to his end of the deal. The universe, we were taught, was created by God, but again the seven days of creation was taught as a metaphorical story. We were never expected to believe these stories literally. In thinking about how I was taught, I didn’t trust my memory. It contradicts what most people say Catholics are taught. So I talked to several people I went to school with and they remember being taught the same way I remember it and we all remember it pretty clearly. By adding the God-assisted part, the teaching of evolution was mangled. It seems to me that the diocese knew we would eventually learn evolution, so they figured they better get in on it so they could teach their version of it. The idea that a subject could simply be changed to fit in with religion as much as possible seems very strange to me now. Why did anyone think it was okay to just change scientific theory? It somehow seems even worse than denying it. I’m glad arithmetic didn’t contradict the teachings of the church or I might still think 2 plus 2 used to equal 22 until Jesus died for our addition and when he rose from the dead we could all clearly see that it equals 4. God-assisted math is just as legitimate as God assisted evolution.

    • Sastra
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Evolution undermines the God hypothesis several ways. As Roq points out, it knocks out the Argument from Design, one of the strongest and most popular reasons to believe there must be a God. But it goes further:

      “Mental things, brains, minds, consciousnesses, things that are capable of comprehending anything — these come late in evolution, they are a product of evolution. They don’t come at the beginning. So whatever lies behind the universe will not be an intellect. Intellects are things that come as the result of a long period of evolution.” (Richard Dawkins)’

      You take away mind from God and it’s done for. An “Intelligence” which existed at the beginning of the universe made some kind of sense when our own intellects seemed to be mysterious, inexplicable, and coming from nowhere. Now that we know that mental things develop same as everything else — and they are shaped to work within an environment by a mindless process working on material — positing a Grand Mind existing before there was even matter and energy just looks stupid. It doesn’t fit. It used to, back when we were ignorant. But evolution blew that away.

      • Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink


        I’ve never thought of that point of view (from the Dawkins quote). Where is that quote from?


        • Sastra
          Posted May 10, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

          I’m afraid I don’t remember where I got it: I copied it from something and stuck it in one of my files — without the source. That must have been done a while ago because I eventually learned to not leave out those petty details. Maybe someone else here has better search engine skills than I do.

          But Dawkins (and others of course) have put forth this objection several times, in various ways. Intentions, desires, intelligence, and the other attributes of a mind only make sense if they evolved in an environment they were interacting with. Even if you somehow managed to leave out the brain (a mean feat), the mental characteristics are still shockingly in need of explanation. An explanation we have if you don’t leave out the slow cumulative evolutionary stages of more and more complicated brains.

          • Old Rasputin
            Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

            I was thinking it was from Unweaving the Rainbow, only because the quote struck me as being very familiar, fresh in my mind, and I just happened to read UtR a couple of months ago.

            However, after trying my modest search engine skills, I suspect I have simply heard you quoting it before. Upon entering the final sentence (in quotes) into a well-known search engine, I was presented with 11 hits, 9 of which were you – mostly here, plus a few on Pharyngula. The remaining two were also Pharyngula, but when I ctrl+F-ed they showed no sign of the search query.

            I wish I knew the source though.

    • rickflick
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Well, you’re right that creationist are at a loss under evolution because they assume God did it. But there are those who believe in God because they think a super intelligent somebody must have been involved in designing the complexity and diversity of life.

      They assume evolution is not true since complexity cannot of its own arise from nature. For them accepting evolution makes their favorite apology evaporate. God, then, is not necessary and therefor may not exist.

    • kelskye
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      If nothing else, evolution offers a practical refutation of the teleological argument – demonstrating design without a conscious designer. There’s nothing to say a designer can’t use evolution, but it does mean a desogner is rendered unnecessary and superfluous.

      Then there’s practical considerations. For example, evolution is a highly contingent and localised process – there’s no guarantee of any outcome or even that anything interesting will happen. It’s also a very wasteful process, and it’s a process that causes mass suffering. And since it is contingent, the process can lead to structures that can be maladaptive. All this could have been avoided with conscious foresight of a designer – which demands the question of why an all-powerful agent would choose this design path.

  2. ChrisKG
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Religion is the belief in the absurd by the rationalization of ignorance.

  3. FitzRoy
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    “After all, if a dog gets petted by his owner every time they meet, the dog comes to like the owner and expect the petting. Why does he have a good reason to trust his owner? Did God also give dogs a ‘Sensus canis’?”

    a/k/a The Argument from Dog — There may be hope for Jerry yet.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      I read that twice myself 🙂

    • Darth Dog
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      I like it!

    • truthspeaker
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink


    • Tulse
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      To be incredibly and absurdly pedantic, the dog parallel to Plantinga’s term would be something like “senses humanus”, since it would be the ability to detect humans. (Presumably dogs use their Sensus canis each time they sniff each other’s butts.)

      • Posted May 10, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        No, that’s their sensus anus.

        (you have my apologies)

    • Draken
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      So Dog exists?

      • Darth Dog
        Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Yes. Dyslexic agnostics will no longer have to lie awake at night wondering if Dog exists.

        • Posted May 11, 2013 at 1:33 am | Permalink

          No, only insomniac dyslexic agnostics.

    • steve oberski
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      That’s because dogs think that their owners are gods whilst cats know that they are gods.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    That cover BTW – very fire and brimestone-y. It must betray something about the book 🙂

    Also, he needs to be more mindful about using minds to suggest that we can’t trust our minds if another mind didn’t create our mind because using mind in such a way is mind boggling 😀

    And yet, if the universe that gave birth to their minds is essentially mindless (and hence pointless), as they claim, then they have no good reason to trust these same minds.

  5. Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Remind me, Jerry — isn’t Haught the poor schlub who got quite upset after you rather politely cleaned his clock in a debate not too long ago?

    Perhaps he’s just nursing his grudge here.



  6. Chuck O'Connor
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I am so glad I no longer attend a church nor feel the psychological need to fit in with religious believers, on the basis of religion. One too many of these discussions about the reliability of the mind and how it fits the Christian brief led me to see this type of theological reasoning akin to fan-boy rhetoric that argues about which Dr. Who was the best.

  7. Chuck O'Connor
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    And yes Jerry, this is a perfect example of the kind of passive-aggressive character that abounds within Christendom.

    • Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Maybe Haught just got done reading the chapter “Passive-Aggressive Creationism” in Evolving out of Eden about the vacuity of Process Theology, and decided to act accordingly. After spending way too much time poring over his existing books with their tedious appeals to “drama” and specious accusations of “scientism,” I really wonder what he could possibly have to say in this supposedly “new introduction.”

    • kelskye
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      The calls for civility do seem ironic in light of the condescension that comes from theists.

  8. truthspeaker
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    A lion’s ability to hunt is a fluke of nature. I wonder why a lion trusts its ability to hunt?

    • pulseteresa
      Posted May 12, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

      Very nice!

  9. DV
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    If there is a God who gave us rational minds, then on judgment day He would surely send theologians to hell for misusing, and leading others to waste, His gift.

  10. Darth Dog
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    …the high degree of accident and blind necessity in biological evolution renders the emergence of mind nothing but a fluke of nature. (Why he puts so much trust in his own mind, therefore, remains a mystery.)

    This makes no sense to me at all. If I hold the winning lottery ticket in my hand it is irrelevant that it is highly unlikely that I would have won the lottery. Once an event has occurred the a priori probability is irrelevant. I would recommend that Haught roll ten dice, or go through a shuffled deck of cards one by one observing the order. Whatever particular event occurs is highly unlikely. Does that mean he does not accept it?

    We have minds. Experience has shown that they do a good job of producing correct results and we are learning to do a better job all the time.

    • Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      It’s worse than that.

      Haught’s surprise is akin at learning that there was a ticket sold whose numbers match the most recent drawing.

      That is, there’s a great deal of randomness in the particular individual who wins the lottery, but the fact that somebody is going to win the lottery, if not now then in a few drawings, is as sure a guarantee as there is.

      That life should take the exact form it has here on Earth is even more unlikely than fairly shuffling the deck and randomly dealing the cards out in suit order. But that there should be complex life at all in an environment such as ours is a given, and it’s also a given that it should have certain features, such as a preponderance of photosynthetic organisms at the base of the food chain whose pigments are most efficient in the same general spectral range as the peak output of the nearby star.



    • steve oberski
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      It’s like being dealt 13 spades in bridge.

      That hand is no more or less likely than any other hand in bridge but we as humans ascribe special significance to certain hands.

      So the fact that sometimes 13 spades will be dealt does not imply a cosmic bridge dealer.

    • kelskye
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      “If I hold the winning lottery ticket in my hand it is irrelevant that it is highly unlikely that I would have won the lottery. Once an event has occurred the a priori probability is irrelevant.”
      This is a contentious statement, which can be demonstrated if the claim was that you won the lottery every week for a year. The probability of such an event occurring is near infinitesimal, so much so that you wouldn’t believe anyone who actually claimed it. Would you say the a priori probability is irrelevant in that case?

      The problem with the argument about the improbability of minds is that it’s assuming that minds are something that necessitate a good explanation. What’s wrong with the idea that minds are an adaptation for better cognition? It seems that people want to privilege mind as metaphysically important rather than contingently important, and thus try to use the apparent improbability of mind as proof of the intent of mind. If that really were the case, however, why would a designer use evolution where there is no guarantee of anything like a mind happening as the means to create minds? Four billion years of waste (not to mention the previous wasted time forging the elements in stars) all for mind? It’s a laughable notion!

      • Darth Dog
        Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        Fair enough. If the a priori probability made something unlikely that is good reason for checking carefully. But in my example, once you verify that the ticket is valid, the number is correct, etc. then not accepting winning the lottery because it is unlikely is silly.

        The point was about the mind’s ability to discern truth. The whole point of the scientific endeavor over that past several centuries has been to check that yes, our minds do seem to be able to find out some things correctly.

        Your point that minds do not require an explanation is valid as well. Haught’s whole argument is wrong on so many levels.

        • kelskye
          Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

          “But in my example, once you verify that the ticket is valid, the number is correct, etc. then not accepting winning the lottery because it is unlikely is silly.”

          Though to play devil’s advocate for a moment, in the lottery example we know that it’s unlikely that any given person will win the lottery in their lifetime, yet because of the number of people who play it, it’s overwhelmingly likely that someone will win. Thus while you winning unlikely, the fact is perfectly explicable by the nature of how lotteries work. It’s random, it’s exceedingly unlikely, and it’s incredibly lucky on your part, but it’s no more surprise that you won it than someone else from a probability perspective.

          The theologian may then point to a disconnect between the lottery analogy and mind. The difference being that while it’s unlikely of any one person winning the lottery, it’s inevitable that people do. Yet we cannot say that about mind. The universe has no propensity to propagate minds, yet here we are with minds. Luck, in the way the winning the lottery is luck, makes no sense out of minds, while a designer that cares about minds making the universe this way does. So the extreme improbability of minds just happening in a universe without minds demands an explanation in the way that you winning the lottery doesn’t.

          The theologian is making an inference to the best explanation – that the existence of consciousness is best explained by a deity that could make consciousness into existence, and that the naturalist is rely on good fortune that they have consciousness despite the improbability of it “just happening”. The theologian may have a point, though the argument is far from being unproblematic – namely how one can begin to compare the probabilities surrounding God as compared to the probabilities surrounding naturalism.

          • Darth Dog
            Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

            “The theologian is making an inference to the best explanation – that the existence of consciousness is best explained by a deity that could make consciousness into existence”

            But the deity is conscious. Circular? Explaining consciousness with consciousness.

            • kelskye
              Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

              It’s begging the question at the very least.

          • Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

            Except also the argument is silly for other reasons – why think consciousness is binary? if it isn’t, it doesn’t “just happen”, it arrives in pieces over evolutionary history.

            • Diane G.
              Posted May 13, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

              So true! Just like the perennial argument about eyes, and how impossible it would be for them to just spring into existence, without stopping to think about how just a few light sensitive cells were better than no such cells for letting an organism know when something was looming over it, for instance. And the whole chain of increasing complexity from there, which Dawkins explicates in various places. (Believe I first ran into it in The Blind Watchmaker.)

              In a way, consciousness could be seen as just another “sense.” A little bit of awareness (be it visual, olfactory, tactile, aural, thermal–or “perceptual”) is probably sometimes more adaptive than none; and it builds from there.

              • Tulse
                Posted May 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

                “Consciousness” in the sense of subjectivity can’t be adaptive, because it isn’t plays no role in physical causality (or at least can’t if you’re not a dualist). The behaviours that we attribute to consciousness can be adaptive, but consciousness can’t be anything more than epiphenomena, and thus not causally efficacious. This argument is no more than the one Jerry runs regarding free will (and indeed, I think they’re pretty much identical, since it is hard to imagine what free will would even mean without the notion of consciousness, and what consciousness would mean without free will).

            • kelskye
              Posted May 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

              “Except also the argument is silly for other reasons – why think consciousness is binary? if it isn’t, it doesn’t “just happen”, it arrives in pieces over evolutionary history.”
              I think the theologian would reply that it happening in pieces isn’t significant, what’s significant is that it happens at all.

              Though why privilege consciousness beyond our own experience of it? It’s significant to us – does that demand universal significance?

  11. Kevin
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Of course, Haught has all day to do this kind of thing…it’s his “day job” as it were.

    The man quite literally gets paid to do this.

    But I think that science has quite zoomed by him. It’s not evolutionary theory that should give him pause about the existence of supernatural actors.

    It’s quantum field theory.

    Hopefully, Sean Carroll is around and will stop by to correct my mistakes. But as I understand it:

    1. Finding the Higgs boson was the last piece of quantum field theory.
    2. With the completion of quantum field theory, we now know exactly what fields interact with things in the natural world (here on Earth).
    3. If there were something that interacted in the natural world called “the supernatural”, it not only would have been predicted by quantum field theory, it would have already been detected. There are no “hidden fields”.
    4. No additional field is possible given the completeness of quantum field theory. There are no “hidden fields”.
    5. Therefore, the supernatural (ie, a “hidden field”) is positively ruled out by the Large Hadron Collider and the finding of the Higgs boson.

    Biology is the least of Haught’s problems.

    • Kevin
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      As I understand it, this allows the smallest bit of wiggle room still with regard to the inception of the universe (ie, a Spinozan type god that set the wheels in motion and then left).

      But positively disclaims any god that would use “miracles” to interact with humans. Up to and including a water-walking death-defying god avatar.

    • Tyle
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      I think this is pretty much right, but there is a possibility for forces which are either at extremely short ranges, or which are extremely weak, which we do not know about…but also therefore these could not have any noticeable effect on the everyday world.

      • Kevin
        Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        Quite right.

        I left those out of that admittedly simplistic explanation because they’re not relevant to a supernatural agent “making things happen”, as it were.

        But for completeness, it’s useful to note.

        Again, as far as my understanding of the science goes. And hoping a true authority wanders in to set me straight, if need be.

    • kelskye
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

      “3. If there were something that interacted in the natural world called “the supernatural”, it not only would have been predicted by quantum field theory, it would have already been detected. There are no “hidden fields”.”
      This step, I think, is unjustified. The whole point of the supernatural is that it’s outside nature, and any interaction would be irrespective of theories here. Take, for example, the miracle of stopping the sun in the sky in Joshua 10. Why wouldn’t that miracle be ruled out by the Einsteinian or Newtonian accounts of gravity?

      The whole point with the supernatural is that it’s outside of nature, a miracle being a violation of how things work, with God being (allegedly) all-powerful such that a miracle could happen. Trying to rule it out a priori seems to be missing the point of what’s being argued for.

      • Tyle
        Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        Good point. The argument only works if you accept that the laws of nature as we understand them are correct, and don’t have exceptions. But those who believe in miracles are probably okay with occasional exceptions to the laws of nature.

        The argument works a lot better against things like telepathy, life after death, etc.

        • kelskye
          Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

          “The argument works a lot better against things like telepathy, life after death, etc.”
          Perhaps if we are talking about consequences of the current laws of physics, though proponents of the paranormal make the same ad hoc move as proponents of the supernatural in saying that paranormal phenomena are outside the realm of the physical universe as we understand it. It’s been interesting to read proponents of woo start to use quantum field theory as a means of “solving” problems that arose with the old materialistic conception of physicalism – namely physical interaction – as the language can be used to indicate a way of getting something non-physical to interact with the field without itself being physical. I don’t know how this would work in reality (I read one paper where the interaction problem was solved by using language that sounded suspiciously physicalist), but the point being that again the proponent of the paranormal can just appeal to something outside of nature that violates nature for its effect.

          The debate seems to focus on the nature of causal closure, which is something that can be reasonably inferred but not proved. The proponents of paranormal / supernatural claims try to argue that causal closure has not been established, and thus there is room for things outside of the natural order to influence it. It’s nothing but speculation, but we are talking about woo after all. 😉

          If we were to take any implication from the Higgs is that our physics is sufficient for explaining everyday phenomena. Or to paraphrase Stephen Hawking: science doesn’t disprove God, but science makes God unnecessary.

        • Posted May 11, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

          The argument only works if you accept that the laws of nature as we understand them are correct, and don’t have exceptions. But those who believe in miracles are probably okay with occasional exceptions to the laws of nature.

          There are two really big problems with miracles as occasional exceptions to the regularity of the universe.

          First is that we have amazingly comprehensive and detailed observations of the universe with not a single credible, verifiable instance of such an exception. All such that have been claimed to date are completely unverified and unverifiable at best, and much more commonly (and rather obviously) fraudulent and / or hallucinogenic. And that most emphatically includes the miracles use to justify the major religions.

          Next is that the claim, if true, immediately slams into the Epicurean Riddle. If Jesus can suspend the laws of nature to his own advantage whenever he likes, why couldn’t he anonymously call 9-1-1 after the Boston Bombers had left their backpacks but before they detonated them? As a witness before the fact with full knowledge and nothing even theoretically preventing him from alerting the authorities, Jesus’s silence makes him a full accomplice to that crime before the fact…and to every other crime in all of history.



  12. Michael Fisher
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Jerry. Does Haught resurrect the “It’s boiling because I want tea…” argument anywhere in his shiny new book?


  13. Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I think the answer is within DNA…..Perhaps one day they will find the answer…..If that has the answer then where do we go from there??

    • Boris Molotov
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      What’s the question?

  14. docbill1351
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    At the very least cheapskate Haught could have sent you a teapot and some jasmine pearls to clutch.

    Obviously doesn’t stand by his own philosophy which, I realize, is Sooooo Sophisticated ™ that I would never understand it.

    I think it’s Happy Hour somewhere.

  15. Newish Gnu
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Haught likely would take umbrage at the idea that he is being passive-aggressive. I suspect he would insist that his actions are most christian-like. Funny how folks like that think there is a difference.

  16. Newish Gnu
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Hey, the cover says “A New Introduction”

    Don’t tell me this is a second edition.

    • Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, of a book I read before, but he says it’s been “completely reworked”. Except for the new citations dissing atheists, though, I don’t see much new there.

    • Boris Molotov
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      He probably puts that on the cover because if you actually were to read some of the contents you may ask yourself “Isn’t this the same old shit?”

    • Suri
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      Well I guess the third edition will be titled “A New New Introduction”

  17. Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Haught contaminates Irish breakfast tea by imposing on it an extraneous ideology.

  18. ladyatheist
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Something for Eric Hedin to put on his next reading list! yippee!

  19. Dan
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    More motivation… Lot of work to be done………………………………………………………Lot of work…………………………………………………………………………………………………….Brain says so.

  20. Jim Jones
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Life on earth is like the mold in a discarded milk bottle. The mold may believe that the bottle was designed for it but any of a number of occurrences can destroy it all – even a passing squirrel or cat could knock it over.

    Some god.

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I think of theologians as Haught as (expensive) hot air balloons. They by necessity get accidentally and blindly jostled about by the wind changes of science, but their antics keeps the religious amused. “See, it still flies!”

    the high degree of accident and blind necessity in biological evolution

    To be fair to Mr Ho… Haught, I think it is an attempt to description of variation and selection (sans near neutral drift) clad in the requisite erroneous theological garb.

    Variations are of course no accidents, but rather well adjusted in rate (by evolving the sturdier DNA and repair mechanisms) to result in a fit rate of evolution.

    And selection is, if contingent on the environment, not “blind”.

    I would rather have theologians drop this old euphemism, it is bigoted against blind people to ascribe them purposeless and procreational (aka differential reproduction), and externally driven, local targets. Haught is christianist, but couldn’t he at least try to be nice? We saw one excellent counter-example the other day (Jim P), so we know it is possible after all.

  22. Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink


    I am curious as to why he sent the book to you? Is it author’s etiquette because you are mentioned in it? If so its quite ridiculous that he doesn’t reference or represent you correctly. Is it because he thinks that somehow a God that you dont want to know will miraculously change your mind while you read his book? If so its completely classless as there is no respect to your unbelief (in addition to the fact that your views on the subject have never seemed to waver). Is it simply because he considers you a friend? Or is it because you knew he was writing it and asked the question?


    • Posted May 10, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      As I noted above:


      John and Jerry have crossed swords before, and John did not fare well.

      He also seems to be one of those people who’s actually not very nice despite his possession of a pleasing demeanor. Sending the book to Jerry is likely meant to be an attempt to stick it to him, somehow.



    • Suri
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if Dawkins,Denett and Harris received a copy as well.

  23. ridelo
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Where can I read Haught’s rebuttal of this article?

  24. steve oberski
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    According to a Jesuit acquaintance of mine, Haught is considered to be a heavy lifter and shining light among catholic literati.

    I hope he is right.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      I have recently been exposed to the concept of “Minnesota nice”. Is that last sentence a good example?

  25. KP
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I never even made it to the halfway point of God After Darwin, it was so full of gobbledy-gook. What makes Haught think he’s going to keep my attention with this one???

  26. kelskye
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    If evolution didn’t undermine the God hypothesis, then proponents of theology wouldn’t need to spend so much time painting naturalists as being taken in by an (otherwise unjustified) ideology. It seems dishonest to me, as it misrepresents the relationship between science and the metaphysical view (i.e. people don’t have faith in “naturalism” then attach the science to it, people become naturalists because of the science), and tries to make the conversation two ideological views that are opposed.

    If the theologians really think this is what is at play, then they are deluding themselves (or worse, trying to misinform others). I wouldn’t be surprised though, because creationists do the exact same thing with evolution. Since they have faith in creation because of the bible, then evolutionists must have faith in evolution because of Darwin. It’s utter nonsense, but it says a lot about the position of those who espouse the rhetoric.

  27. Posted May 10, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Since Haught insists that the nude emperor is clothed just be content he did not include a nude picture of himself with his gift.

    In honour of his not-so-new book, I made up a new definition for Haughtiness: Insistence that your vision is not to be trusted if you are able to see clearly enough when the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

    • kelskye
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      An entry worthy of the philosophical lexicon perhaps?

      alvinize, v. To stimulate protracted discussion by making a bizarre claim. “His contention that natural evil is due to Satanic agency alvinized his listeners.”
      planting, v. To use twentieth-century fertilizer to encourage new shoots from eleventh -century ideas which everyone thought had gone to seed; hence, plantinger, n. one who plantings.
      swin, v. To construct convoluted theories about the rationality of belief, with the aim of ultimately seducing one’s audience into theism. Hence swinburne, n. The condition of one who has been subjected to swinning. “If you expose yourself to the swin, you may get a bad swinburne.”

  28. Fred
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Jerry calls it extraordinary delusion and stupidity – Plantinga’s gambit is amazing. He’s basically saying “My mind is a reliable source of information because I say so and your (non-believing) mind is not a reliable source of information because I say so”.

    Like Jerry, I tried to choke down some of the “sophisticated theology” – I’ve had all I can stomach of Haught, Plantinga, and Keller. I expected it to be bad and was amazed to find that it was much worse than I expected. It’s sad that much of the Christian community thinks that this garbage qualifies as reason.

    • kelskye
      Posted May 10, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      “He’s basically saying “My mind is a reliable source of information because I say so and your (non-believing) mind is not a reliable source of information because I say so”.”
      It’s very much a “heads I win, tails you lose” type scenario. I’m reminded of William Lane Craig’s “evil presupposes God” dissolution of the problem of evil.

      This kind of argument always raises a red flag for me as being nothing more than sophistry. Then again, I’m with Jerry on the abilities of the mind and find the proposition a product of pragmatism, rather than adhering to any picture of metaphysics. How I acquire knowledge and its reliability remains the same from a practical perspective irrespective of metaphysical suppositions; the reliance is in its accuracy, not in any metaphysical scheme.

      • Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        But if the “theory of mind” is not constrained by what we know about matter, etc. then, to put it bluntly, one can make up a lot. That’s where the “sensus divinitatus” bull comes in. What part of the brain is *that*? And of course the answer isn’t brain, but some immaterial mind (soul) … to rule out such things one does need a bit of metaphysics (and some neuroscience).

  29. Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    There’s no winning an argument with confirmed idiots. In truth, the world will be a better place when people like him have reached their use-by date.

  30. Dale Franzwa
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Loved your last paragraph on theology. Reminds me that Thomas Paine was right. “Theology is the study of nothing.”

  31. Stephen P
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    They thus distort the true nature of science …

    I seem to come across this phrase frequently among theologians and the like. Does Haught ever tell us (a) what he considers the true nature of science to be, and (b) on what grounds his opinion is to be considered more valuable than that of actual scientists?

    • Posted May 11, 2013 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      This is one of those things that I don’t care for. A theologian who has the arrogance to redefine science in order to make sense of his views and then tell the whole scientific community that it is wrong.

      The only way one should be able to still have any set of beliefs is if they allow their theology to be redefined by the continual studies of science and its leaders allowing for its discoveries (which is not permissable in most areas of religion as traditions and doctrine have long been established). Even still, they do not have any right to push their beliefs upon others who don’t want to hear it.

  32. Roo
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I loved your thoughts on trusting and learning from the minds of others! I shall add this to my growing repertoire of reasons to support Humanism. (I don’t know what your views on Humanism are so I’m not implying this was your intent – but still love it in that regard.)

  33. ForCarl
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I listened to Haught in a debate with Jerry. Haught drew mental pictures of all kinds of fantastic God based scenarios, and all kinds of mystical explanations for how the universe works (‘God moves ahead of us in our evolution and pulls us forward towards him’ being my personal favorite), and all one needed to do is say…

    You got any EVIDENCE for that stuff sir?

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted May 11, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      Exactly what I was thinking. Put aside the one-upmanship, the snark, the history, the psychological state of the writer, the political situation, ad infinitum. Now, Mr. Haught, do you have any evidence, of the type that would convince or at least impress an impartial seeker after truth, that (a) what you say about any god is true, and (b) that your god in particular is the true god? I will accept any reasonable arguments that are not examples of special pleading, begging the question, appeal to authority, and that do not employ any unsubstantiated assertions.

  34. Leigh Jackson
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Darwin showed it was scientifically credible that all species could have evolved from a single common ancestor – by purely mechanistic processes. God was not necessary to explain the origin of human beings. He showed it was scientifically credible that human beings are not a specially favoured species. He showed that it is scientically credible that human beings are of no more consequence in the grand scheme of things than bacteria; and bacteria are of no more consequence than inorganic matter.

    Haught imposes an extraneous ideology onto science: hidden beneath everything is God’s guiding force. Darwin understood that the evidence of natural history was consistent with a complete absence of God.

    Thus Darwin obliged Christian apologists to accommodate an apparently Godless natural history, as understood by science, with their supernaturalist religious ideology. Or else to reject science or their religion.

    Nothing is more contaminating of scientific intellectual integrity than the claim that behind detectable causes are undetectable causes, when the former are sufficient to explain what needs to be explained.

  35. Dazza
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Yeah…Jerry, when you say things like:

    the concatenation of mutations (which might be conceived of as accidents) and the nonrandom disposition of those mutations based on their contribution to reproduction

    Do you really expect stupid people like Haught to understand what you mean? Why not just make the point that “natural selection” is just the obvious fact that things that are better equipped to survive tend to do so at the expense of those that aren’t?

    This isn’t only true because it’s what we observe, it’s true by definition, and thus inarguable (the alternative would be “things that are better equipped to survive do not have an advantage” which makes no sense at all)

    • Posted May 12, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      John Haught is not stupid, not by a long shot. Of all the “sophisticated theologians” trying to mutate their primitive doctrines into something that will survive in the current culural ecosystem, he’s got perhaps the best grasp of the scientific issues involved. That’s not counting those whose professions are science rather than theology, like Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins. But I think Haught explains the scientific issues, and the problems they present for Chrisianity, as well or better than even those two scientists do.

      It’s just when Haught starts talking theology, trying to fit that square peg into the round hole he’s just described, that things inevitably lapse into wordy absurdity. And the harder he tries, the more “unintentionally hilarious” (Jerry’s phrase) it seems to get.

      • Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        I agree with Ed. Haught shows a better grasp of evolution than any of the science-friendly theologians–certainly better than Plantinga, whom I wouldn’t, given his penchant for ID, consider science-friendly. Haught certainly knows how natural selection works. It’s just that there’s a God behind it who wants a cup of tea.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] The offending word here, with all of its deliciously negative connotations, is “merely”. Or some connotative equivalent, like “nothing but” or “only”. Take this criticism that Jerry Coyne posted on his blog: […]

  2. […] Haught had the following to say: […]

  3. […] According to atheist and University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, probably: […]

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