David Bentley Hart: Humans’ search for truth proves God

Although David Bentley Hart claims, in his book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, that he isn’t adducing evidence for God, that’s in fact what he spends most of his time doing. That evidence includes Why is There Something Instead of Nothing, the scientifically inexplicable fact of consciousness as well as of our power to reason, the effectiveness of mathematics, and our ability to experience beauty.

Those are old arguments, but I’ll give an example of one that’s not often used. Here is Hart explaining why humans’ search for truth about the universe constitutes evidence for God. It’s from pp. 233-234 of his book, and the logic and style, as well as the show-offy foreign phrases and arcane references to other faiths, are absolutely typical of the book.

Remember, this is the book that both Damon Linker and Ross Douthat see as The Best Argument for God. You’re not a credible atheist unless you can not only fathom this palaver, but answer it. Note that in the argument below, Hart isn’t just talking about the search for truth about God, but for truth in general:

The essential truth to which Lonergan’s argument points is that the very search for truth is implicitly a search for God (properly defined, that is). As the mind moves toward an ever more comprehensive capacious, and “supereminent” grasp of reality, it necessarily moves toward an ideal level of reality at which intelligibility and intelligence are no longer distinguishable concepts.  It seems to me we all really know this in some sense: that we assume that the human mind can be a true mirror of objective reality because we assume that objective reality is already a mirror of mind. No other comportment toward truth as a desirable end is existentially possible. The ascent toward ever greater knowledge is, if only tacitly and secretly and contre coeur, an ascent toward an ultimate encounter with limitless consciousness, limitless reason, a transcendent reality where being and knowledge are always one and the same, and so inalienable from each other.  To believe that being is inexhaustibly intelligible is to believe also—whether one wishes to acknowledge it or not—that reality emanates from an inexhaustible intelligence: in the words of the Shevanashvatara Upanishad, “pure consciousness, omnipresent, omniscient, the creator of time.”

See? Now that’s Sophisticated Theology™, for it shows that even atheists scientists are providing evidence for God. After all, that’s what it means when we find out stuff!

Hart quotes the Upanishads, but I’ll quote Professor Ceiling Cat: “Hart’s argument is good only for growing flowers.”

I’m not turning in my atheist card yet, and I bet reader Sastra has a field day with this one!

 

115 Comments

  1. francis
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    //

    • gbjames
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      sub

      • Alan
        Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        The problem is with “experiences” of God, which biology cannot touch. A refined physics…maybe…but don’t hold your breath. So, for instance take the massive experience of neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander.

  2. sensorrhea
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    My contempt for this is limitless, so I guess I’ve found gods?

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      My contempt is not just limitless but inexhaustible, pure, ideal, objective, ultimate, even omni-hyperbolic, but I’m probably intoxicated with sesquipedalian speculation.

      So many syllables, so few facts.

    • Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Or at the very least you’ve found the Ground of Being Disgusted.

  3. John K.
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    So, intelligible implies intelligence, eh? I think not. Dung is quite well understood, yet no intelligence is required to create it (unless we are talking about Sophisticated Theology™ I suppose).

    Sounds like more of the typical wordplay of defining “god” as “the understandable rules under which the universe operates”. Then we can happily state “god is real” while ignoring the fact that we have completely changed the subject. Then when you agree with “god is real” we can triumphantly move on to all the things god does and does not want you to do, but then switch meanings back again when it is challenged and exclaim “but of course there are laws to the universe!”

    Sophisticated Theology™ has a pretty standard MO.

    • Jonathan Houser
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      I agree with this completely. Whenever I read theologians try to justify god, they turn god into a deistic force that doesn’t do anything, think anything, or want anything. God is just the underlying reality of the universe.

      Then turn around and assign this definition a series of benevolent qualities based on their own desires, and then infer what this god must want based on the benevolent qualities that god must have.

      If one questions the validity of this god, they need only point to the definition they set up of a deistic non-god and say how unreasonable it is to disagree with that.

      Hart clearly does the same. His book is all about showing that god is just the possibility of existence that underlies everything, but he is an Orthodox christian that anthropomorphizes this non-god God.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        The other problem comes when this deistic god does stuff — you know, answers prayers, punishes sodomites, tinkers with the human genome (the whole interacting-with-bosons-and-fermions bit).

    • eric
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      So, intelligible implies intelligence, eh?

      Evidently only for humans. Cat intelligence does not mirror cat God reality, crow intelligence does not mirror crow God reality, and so on.

      IOW this argument has the same problem as Pascal’s wager: it provides equal justification for belief in an infinite number of mutually contradictory beings.

    • Tulse
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      And of course, any time one brings up natural evil, we’re told that the Christian god’s ways are inscrutable. Seriously dudes — pick one.

  4. JBlilie
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Holy Hoppin’ Hank, what a load of malarky!

  5. Jeffrey Jones
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    There’s a word in the English language for this kind of argument:Bullshit.

    • JoeyM
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Evidence the loch ness monster exists: some people have looked for it

  6. michaelfugate
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    One wonders if all human experience is evidence for god, how can people claim god is love?

  7. Charles E. Jones
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I know it is crude, but as he keeps building and building toward ever more superlatives:

    “The ascent toward ever greater knowledge is, if only tacitly and secretly and contre coeur, an ascent toward an ultimate encounter with limitless consciousness, limitless reason, a transcendent reality where being and knowledge are always one and the same, and so inalienable from each other.”

    The phrase ‘mental masturbation’ keeps springing to mind as something now inextricably linked with his concept of god.

    Jerry, I have no idea how you can force yourself to read this stuff. But, THANK YOU for doing it and for distilling its highlights for us.

    • Dale
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      I agree, Dr. Coyne should be careful how much of this he consumes. He does it so we don’t have to. It does appear that one could easily program a computer to write this stuff. Turns out there are only a handful of variations of Sophisticated Theology™. Small minds quickly reach the limits of their imaginations. Certainly the language shows it. A computer writing it wouldn’t have to understand what it meant either!

  8. Alex Shuffell
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t this just a complicated mess of circular reasoning? We can understand reality because reality is intelligible, we are intelligent because the universe is intelligible so we can understand reality, therefore God.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      I prefer the simpler: Beer, therefore god (Bacchus!)

      • Jim Sweeney
        Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        Malt does more than Milton can
        to justify God’s ways to man.

  9. Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    On the contrary (to Hart), intelligence is a limitation, it is a mechanism for coping with imperfect knowledge. If our genes were able to reliably predict, to a decent approximation, the circumstances they would find themselves in, then unconscious instinct would be a much more direct solution.

    Intelligence implies that one needs to formulate strategies to solve problems that arise in real time and present a threat to an agent’s continued existence. But what problems would an omnipotent, omniscient god have to solve? None… So, intelligence is the kind of thing you would expect to come later, as an evolutionary solution to maintaining integrity in a hostile environment. It isn’t a fundamental property of existence that needs to be attributed to a “ground of being”.

    • Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      “Intelligence…is a mechanism for coping with imperfect knowledge.”
      That is a striking statement, and I like it. I take it to mean that ‘intelligence’ here is what comes ‘naturally’, as in unlearned.

      As we compare species in the order of dependence on learning (which must go with intelligence), we do see that plenty of ‘learning’ in animals that are closely matched by animals that act entirely by instinct. The swiftest chimney swallow is comparable to a dragonfly. And who could equal a spider in her orb web for skill in building snares?
      So what might an omniscient, super-duper knowledgeable god be like if it knew everything but learned nothing? I would imagine it like the scariest mother-f****er spider in the universe. Something with absolutely no reflection, no pity, no remorse.

  10. Kevin
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I have heard this one before as a scientist, “Everything I do is for God.” Every thought, every data point, every breath, every touch, taste…it is all for the supernatural.

    “Everything I do is for God.” is an assertion with no proof. As a Deistic claim, it gets nowhere in explaining anything. As a Theistic claim, it is childish because it is clearly grounded in an arbitrary fantasy.

  11. Posted April 18, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Lets run some of this through the Lolcat Translator:
    “TEH ESSENTIAL TRUTH 2 WHICH LONE-WHATEVR’S ARGUMENT POINTS IZ DAT TEH VRY SEARCH 4 TRUTH IZ IMPLICITLY SEARCH 4 CEILIN CAT”

    There, that is much better.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Clearly, obviously, his argument points to the only conceivable and rational response to the fine-tuned universe as product of a supreme while at the same time ineffable intelligence that mere human understanding cannot arrogantly presume to fathom and which provides a meaningful guide in approaching a properly humble attitude towards the emmanent [love that word! 🙂 ] unfolding of this universe of beauty.

      Q.E.D: Ceiling Cat.

      Follow that, foolish theist?

      • JBlilie
        Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        There MUST be an app out there that churns this crap out on commend, isn’t there?

        • Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          lolcattranslater .

          It does not reverse-translate into D.B. Hart speech, which is for the best.

          I wonder what this stuff will be like in Deepak speech? Someone get on that, please.

          • JBlilie
            Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

            Just throw quantum in a few times and you’ve got it right there in Hart’s gobbledegook.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

              So Deepak speak is the complex (wave function) version of Hart speak?

              Somehow I knew that Sophisticated Theology™ was the simpler version of unashamed creationism crackpottery, but that it was so easily demonstrable hadn’t crossed my mind.

      • pacopicopiedra
        Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Ok, maybe I’m having a stroke, but even after googling “emmanent” I still have no idea what you mean by that. Would you mind clarifying?

        • Another Tom
          Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

          I think that it’s a misspelling of immanent. Short description: the idea that the divine can be present in or can encompass the material world.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanence

    • Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      I am now a former Pastafarian. All Glory to teh Ceilin Cat.

      • Another Tom
        Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

        Neil before felis!

        • Posted April 19, 2014 at 4:41 am | Permalink

          Neil Young is an icon but not before Teh Sky Kitteh

          • Another Tom
            Posted April 19, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

            There’s also Neil Shubin and his Your Inner Fish series now airing on PBS and Neil degrasse Tyson and the new Cosmos now airing on Fox. The Neils seem to have it good nowadays.

            Also, Neil before Zod!

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    That paragraph is awful. It sounds sort of like this.

    I maintain that the sophisticated theologian puts the sophist in sophistry!

    • Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t it just the delusion that if something can arise with structure and purpose (even if that purpose is, in actuality, only to stay alive long enough to replicate), then it must the case that that an even more complex entity is required as an explanation. Really just Paley’s watchmaker argument in another guise.

    • Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      While believing their homeopathic interpretation is The Truth of Their Deity, which is the correct deity of course.

      Science = deity is common with many evangelicals putting everything down to doG’s plan while some Catholics lay the blame for the nasty bits on us. Both misconstrue history to rationalise their positions.

    • Diane Langworthy
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

      Love the New Age B.S. Generator! (I just got “the quantum soup is bursting with vibrations.” Awesome.)

  13. eric
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    As the mind moves toward an ever more comprehensive capacious, and “supereminent” grasp of reality, it necessarily moves toward an ideal level of reality at which intelligibility and intelligence are no longer distinguishable concepts. It seems to me we all really know this in some sense: that we assume that the human mind can be a true mirror of objective reality because we assume that objective reality is already a mirror of mind.

    Assume is the right word; Hart is assuming the point he’s trying to make.

    Where he goes wrong is in thinking that everyone shares this assumption, and in thinking he has (or has provided) and basis for this assumption. No, I do not assume that the mind can be a true mirror of reality, nor do I assume that objective reality is a mirror of the mind.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      A lot of people do share his assumptions and his desire to create an apologia.
      This may be why sophisticated theologians continue to write stuff like this. Not really to explain convincingly to you or me, but as a vote for belief in belief which all his closest friends and colleagues share. It may be just like a poetry club whose members offer each other little efforts to keep the embers of belief alive.

  14. Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Science is susceptible to mysticism to some degree. I am thinking about D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form. Thompson’s claim was that mathematical principles govern organisms. Today’s interpretation of the data is that organisms obey the laws of physics and that cells do simple things that result in predictable arrangements in space and time. In no way was Thompson’s idea religious; but it was flawed. Flawed ideas should be dethroned; but those that cannot be tested cannot be dethroned in this way. The religious are happy with this; but scientists are not. Anybody who wants to be taken seriously ought to be required to list, at the end of his or her thesis, what objective tests can be made to see if it is correct.

    • Posted April 22, 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      It is just Platonism, which has a long history – and has to be ruled out by consilience, more than anything.

  15. D. Taylor
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    “It seems to me,” Hart insists,” we all really know this in some sense: [not me], that we assume that the human mind can be a true mirror of objective reality [not buying that!] because we assume that objective reality is already a mirror of mind [nope!]. No other comportment toward truth as a desirable end is existentially possible.” [Oh, good grief!]. And this epistemological mess is supposed to be evidence for god?

    Professor Ceiling Cat is spot on: “good only for growing flowers.”

  16. JBlilie
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    My bullshit meter has broken, banging its needle on the righthand peg …

  17. Daniel Engblom
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    That was utter nonsense.

    “The essential truth to which Lonergan’s argument points is that the very search for truth is implicitly a search for God (properly defined, that is).”

    Very bland; Yes of course under the assumption that God is real then any search for truth might be a step towards understanding god, just like under the assumption that flat-earthism is true will mean that if you look for evidence – i.e. search for the truth – you will “look” for in hindsight the truth of flat-earthism.
    A Deepity phrase, for there is the trivially true interpretation that sure, when we seek for the truth of things, we are seeking then for what falls under that category, the stuff that are true (and Hart is assuming in his phrasing that God is included there). But then there is the Obviously false interpretation of the phrase which seems to be saying that if you value truth then you actually are a theist – A dishonest tactic I’ve seen fundamentalists even using when they turn to arguing against characters of atheists like asking what painful events have occurred which made the atheist hate god, and actually nobody is an atheist, everybody believes in god, you either worship satan or god or something.

    “As the mind moves toward an ever more comprehensive capacious, and “supereminent” grasp of reality, it necessarily moves toward an ideal level of reality at which intelligibility and intelligence are no longer distinguishable concepts.”

    Well isn’t that the case of assuming and equating, nothing is justified, only asserted, and as Hitchens said, what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    “It seems to me we all really know this in some sense: that we assume that the human mind can be a true mirror of objective reality because we assume that objective reality is already a mirror of mind.”

    Appealing to intuition. Also, I actually don’t feel like objective reality is a “mirror” – whatever that is – of mind. Objective reality has a cold and alien, unmind-like quality, I feel reality can be comprehended precisely because we need not assume reality will be as capricious and reactive to our actions as humans are to each other: Say another human learns of my attempts to understand their psychology, these attempts might make the person in question want to defy what I think I know about them. But reality doesn’t care one way or the other, reality just is.

    “No other comportment toward truth as a desirable end is existentially possible.”

    Is Hart admitting a sort of make-believe mentality here? That he allows his hopes and desires to dictate what he feels is possible?

    “The ascent toward ever greater knowledge is, if only tacitly and secretly and contre coeur, an ascent toward an ultimate encounter with limitless consciousness, limitless reason, a transcendent reality where being and knowledge are always one and the same, and so inalienable from each other.”

    More of the same: Mere claims made in the hopes that it resonates with the reader, rather than trying to justify said claims. Also again the dishonest tactic of the fundamentalist claiming that deep down, we the reader know this to be true, and Hart only wishes we’d stop lying to ourselves.

    “To believe that being is inexhaustibly intelligible is to believe also—whether one wishes to acknowledge it or not—that reality emanates from an inexhaustible intelligence”

    What I said above: Hart wants to make the case that everyone feels this way, and he merely wants us to admit that we actually are theists who lie about being atheists.
    And the claim that “reality is intelligible = reality is intelligence in the human mind sense”, is again, only a claim I find worthless in equating stuff that don’t even superficially seem t fit when comparing them, let alone when I think about it more.
    Understandable =/= Understanding as a state of mind. Hart mixes what is being thought of with the thoughts themselves.

    • Posted April 19, 2014 at 12:43 am | Permalink

      “Mere claims made in the hopes that it resonates with the reader, rather than trying to justify said claims.”
      An excellent analysis of Hart’s “methodology” Daniel. The whole general thrust of this style of presentation is to use a lot of very big words combined with a few deepities to impress an already credulous believer. The objective of the whole exercise is to create in the mind of this simplistic reader a ‘Gilbert and Sullivan moment’ expressed in the famous line ‘If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me, Why, what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!’

  18. Taz
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    God of the gaps. For “thunder and lightning” substitute “human intelligence”.

  19. John Dentinger
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Here’s what I wonder, upon finishing reading these excerpts: Could anyone RE-READ this?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Hey! Think of my stomach! I feel positively queasy now…

    • Sastra
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Yes. If you agree with it — or think you do — you can reread it over and over again. And every time you do, you will discover something new! It’s insight after insight!

      If you turn your sight outwards however and start analyzing as opposed to accepting in awe, what used to seem like features begin to seem like bugs.

  20. Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    In my youth, I would not have thought that an educated, intelligent theologian would be more shallow than the average, non-introspective believer. Lately I am finding it is consistently the case. What a load of disingenuous hogwash these people produce – each one is less convincing than the last!

  21. Posted April 18, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Hypoxia is common during ascent. Hart just reached “supereminent” levels of high altitude cerebral edema.

  22. Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    The Universe is intelligent and intelligible. It is synonymous with what all people mean when thinking God, whether believer, denier, or anything else — including those deluded into erroneous beliefs in traditional theological concepts.

    Existence alone places each person directly in the realm of Cosmic Intelligence (God if you like).

    Developing one’s intelligence to its maximum (or learning how to remove artificial blocks to innate perfect intelligence?) results in absolute comprehension of the intelligibility of Perfect Intelligence (The Universe), resulting in fusion of the individual with the existing universal singularity (The Universe).

    Achieve maximum realization of innate personal intelligence and: You become One. With the Universe.

    All Hart is saying. Quantum. Give peace a chance.

  23. harrync
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Harry’s rule : first person to use the word “transcendent” loses the argument.

  24. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Hart quotes the Upanishads, but I’ll quote Professor Ceiling Cat: “Hart’s argument is good only for growing flowers.”

    I used my screen reader to make an MP3 of that passage, and played it to my wife’s roses.
    I’m going to the garden centre to get some new roses tomorrow.

    • bric
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:52 am | Permalink

      I just bought some fertilizer for my rose bushes; the box carries the legend ‘Contains horse manure’. Perhaps Mr Hart could put a similar sticker on his book.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t that a ™ of Budweiser? Budvar? Whichever is the anaemic maiden’s watter that the Czechs laugh at.

  25. papalinton
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    “The essential truth to which Lonergan’s argument points is that the very search for truth is implicitly a search for God (properly defined, that is).”

    And makes that conclusion without once, not once, opening a science book, of any sort, be it the mountains of evidence in psychological research, neuro-science, sociology, anthropology, you name it. His preferred source of verification? The Upanishads.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    The Sophisticated Theology Purveyors™ = Asylum Visitors™ never cease to amuse:

    To believe that being is inexhaustibly intelligible is to believe also—whether one wishes to acknowledge it or not—that reality emanates from an inexhaustible intelligence

    First off, we now know that “being” isn’t inexhaustibly intelligible:

    – There are math theorems (Gödel’s) and results of posable but unsolvable problems.
    – Any measurement and so any theory has uncertainties.
    – Deterministic chaos, as well as quantum physics, has inherent loss of full predictability.
    – All minds have finite resources by Church-Turing and relativity both.
    – Physics has a finite set of laws (symmetries).

    Second, we can pose the simpler theory, less closer to over-determination, that reality is reality. Really, we have to, since else we peddle unsalable, non-working, dualism.

    Third, what evidence does Hart have for his claims?

    Are we sure this isn’t the book with the worst arguments for religion?

  27. jimmiraybob
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    ”( properly defined, that is)”

    Duh. Once the argument is “properly defined” by the user then anything is properly possible.

    I believe that the sophisticated nature of this kind of sophisticated sophistication has been covered:

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything…..

    [normally a lurker but driven to drastic action]

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that “properly defined” sort of begs the question, doesn’t it?

  28. kelskye
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I came into this thread expecting Sastra, and there’s no Sastra to be found. Disappointed.

    Also, I’ve read the paragraph three times and I’m having trouble parsing it. In particular: “To believe that being is inexhaustibly intelligible is to believe also that reality emanates from an inexhaustible intelligence”. Two things immediately come to mind.

    First is that the idea that being is inexhaustibly intelligible – why should we expect there to be no limits to our knowledge?

    Second, even if we grant that being is “inexhaustibly intelligible”, why does it follow it comes from an intelligence? We have plenty of examples of where we have intelligible understanding of processes that have no intelligence to them whatsoever – like evolutionary theory. Unless Hart’s indicating that supposedly unintelligent processes have an ultimate intelligence to them – but why should we assume that? The march of science has been showing why what we assume requires an intelligence can be explained with blind processes.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      It’s Good Friday. I’ve been at worship service in order to give thanks and praise for the sacrifice of Our Lord.

      No, wait.. I was doing something else.

  29. Vaal
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    It’s like watching someone float away from earth on a bubble of his own words, isn’t it?

    I’m going through the book and this type of mush is making it a tiring slog.

    I’ve been over on Edward Feser’s blog a bit too (since he did a recent post on the New Atheists) and it’s much the same kind of stuff. (Feser’s bog posts…some of his commentators are less grandiose and quite civil)

    God, it seems, exists only in the words of Theologians and they construct this God by stringing together words and concepts that strike cords of “elegance and awe” without much regard to coherence or any foot in real life.

    And boy do they know a LOT about God! And declare so much about God and Jesus’ nature with unwavering confidence. Just like you can find in every other religion and competing Christian denomination.

    When I watch the reverence with which they spin these word salads, the only impression it leaves me is that the God they are so in love with is their own intellect. They look at the concepts they construct, and admiring the elegance and cleverness of their own concepts and declare “Isn’t God Amaaaazing!”

    That seems to be a mirror you are admiring, my Dear Sophisticated Theologian.

    Vaal

  30. Vaal
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    And, LOL, as soon as I saw the title of Jerry’s post I thought “Cue Sastra in 5, 4, 3…”

    (And a most welcome contribution it would be).

    Vaal

  31. Wowbagger
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    He appears to have left ‘therefore, Jesus died* for you’ off the end. Or perhaps it was muttered under his breath.

    *If your definition of ‘died’ is more along the lines of ‘was temporarily inconvenienced’.

  32. Barb
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    Where are all the capital letters? Usually when I read stuff like this it would be, “ultimate encounter with Limitless Knowledge” or “a Transcendent Reality where Being and Knowledge are One and the same”.

    It’s the capital letters that let you know you’re talking to a sophisticated theologian about Truth and Love being Embodied by the One who Makes It Happen (or some such).

    I’m sure it’s beneath Hart, but I miss it.

  33. Peter Ozzie Jones
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Contra David Bentley Hart:

    Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

    Philip K. Dick, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later,” 1978.

    American science fiction writer (1928-1982)

  34. Prof.Pedant
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Hart strikes me as someone who is trying to achieve an intellectual understanding of an emotional experience by assuming that 1.) his emotions are an accurate guide to reality, 2.) complex and vaguely-worded sentences/paragraphs are evidence of intelligence and knowledge, and that 3.) belief in the truth of something is evidence that it is true.

  35. Mark Joseph
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Hart’s sense is hard to puzzle out, but if I’ve understood, his argument, or something similar to it, was already outlined by C. S. Lewis. I’m working from memory of an argument I read about 30 years ago, so this will be only approximate, but Lewis’ argument was some form of the argument from universal consent. Lewis said that the fact that all people search for (some sort of) god implies the actual existence of (some sort of) god; his illustration was the fact that everyone gets hungry implies the existence of food (even if unattainable to the hungry person). This was not a completely unreasonable argument when Lewis made it, in the 1940s or 50s (I was impressed by it when I was still a christian), but it looks a bit threadbare now, with close to 20% of the people in the developed countries calling themselves “nones,” and the percentage is increasing rapidly.

  36. Sastra
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    As the mind moves toward an ever more comprehensive capacious, and “supereminent” grasp of reality, it necessarily moves toward an ideal level of reality at which intelligibility and intelligence are no longer distinguishable concepts. It seems to me we all really know this in some sense: that we assume that the human mind can be a true mirror of objective reality because we assume that objective reality is already a mirror of mind.

    The problem I have with passages such as this is not that I find them unintelligible. No, it’s that I DO understand them. That is, I get the jist. I understand the vibe. I recognize the cadence, the pace, the soothing rhythms and little squirts of oxytocin. I read them and discover connections which involve me so intensely that it feels like I’ve stopped being a factor … and then the cosmos becomes an undifferentiated blur of self and not-self.

    This is the art form of category error. This is pseudo-humility. It’s core supernaturalism — the egocentric confusion of the inner world of thought and feeling with the outer world of object and event. This is what happens when we get so deep into our own minds that it suddenly looks obvious to us that everything is a Mind.

    The reason Hart is so damn confident is because when push comes to shove he’s appealing to the sorts of childlike intuitions which can also be conveniently framed as dangerous discoveries. Why, he has simultaneously transcended both the Old-man-with-a-beard-God of the fundamentalists and the Old-man-with-a-beard-God of the atheists. This God is NOTHING like that. It’s totally other. It’s not anthropomorphic!

    Yes. It. Is. It is a cosmic reality which resembles the human mind.

    For all its presumed super-specialness, even this sophisticated God is pretty pedestrian. Every time some lofty theologian tries to explain how God is soooo very different from us they sound like they’ve been chewing on Thesaurus entries for “mystery” and “excitement” after getting drunk. But then when they finally get down to the nub — the very heart of what God really IS — it turns into the suspiciously familiar. It’s a Mind. Or a Mental Thing like Love or Creativity or Goodness or “pure consciousness, omnipresent, omniscient, the creator of time.”

    It’s an idealized version of ourselves, accompanied by both a confusion of self and other and a conflation of “being and knowledge.” And it’s served up with a constant, regular, self-congratulatory insistence that we are now advancing, advancing, advancing.

    And atheists will never get it, get it, get it. Why? Because atheists don’t “wish” to “acknowledge” it. We are asserting, asserting, asserting.

    As Hart sees it, he’s not giving arguments for the existence of God. He’s not writing a book to convince skeptics. They’re not persuadable because they’re not ready. Instead, he’s writing a book to help and comfort those who seek after Truth. And, apparently, respond very well to flattery. It’s convincing if you want to be convinced. Instead of that being a low standard, it’s supposed to be a high one.

    In my opinion Hart’s God is not a do-nothing God or one which is so refined nobody really believes in it. No, he’s gotten into too much detail. He’s dealing instead with the basic core of supernaturalism which pretty much lies beneath ALL the versions of God, stripped of specific doctrine and dogma.

    But not stripped of its innate dogmatism.

    • kelskye
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      “As Hart sees it, he’s not giving arguments for the existence of God. He’s not writing a book to convince skeptics. They’re not persuadable because they’re not ready. Instead, he’s writing a book to help and comfort those who seek after Truth.”
      About a year ago, I got into an argument with a theist who was adamant that my attempts to understand theism would be inevitably flawed because I didn’t take the journey he proscribed which involved my emotional reaction to reading Christian theism. When I asked how that would give me epistemic warrant for Christian theism (he rejected fideism and maintained that emotion was the epistemic path that showed the Truth of Christian theism), he said he was saving it for his book and I would have to read that when it came out. (yes, there are cranks on the internet!)

      It makes me wonder whether it’s really just for the faithful (after all, people say the same about atheist texts), or whether it’s for people who are on the fence – in effect as a primer for making sense of the emotions of the numinous. Whether they comfort believers, if emotion is the main reason people hold to a religious conviction (which, in the case of Christian theism at least, there’s a reason to be made for it), then arguments that seek to couple the emotional experience with the Truth of their doctrine would be an overture to those on the fence.

      In some ways, it might even be a more effective overture to fence sitters. It’s offering a chance to make sense of the world in a way that atheist books simply lack. It’s no wonder so many theists tell atheists that they should be more depressed than they are, and that their lack of depression shows they haven’t internalised what they are saying. Emotion in the Christian tradition is the Truth of the Christian position. And while we may distract ourselves arguing about causes, teleology, historical reliability of miracles, and veracity of private revelation, what really matters is our emotional reaction to Christianity.

      Inideed, I think it’s the only way that really makes sense of the way Christian theists use faith, and why there’s so many analogies vindicating faith by our intuitive judgements in other areas of life like our appreciation of art or music. The difference is that our appreciation of art or music isn’t a truth claim beyond our appreciation of it.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Emotion in the Christian tradition is the Truth of the Christian position.

        Right — because the entire category of the supernatural is essentially the reification of abstractions and emotions. If God is more or less a merging of “Existence” and “Values” — and both of those are conceived of as being like semi-concrete spiritual forces or nonmaterial ‘beings (Being)’ — then it would only make sense that you would come to ‘know’ about this “pure consciousness” the same way you came to ‘know’ about your own consciousness. We experience our minds as a combination of existence and emotionally laden values, emotions, and goals. Internal experience is the only possible route to the understanding and acceptance of mental states.

        God is like a mental state that’s real. The supernatural category arises when we merge established categories and creates empirical claims about the exterior world which require the approach you would use for discovering your interior one.

        It’s as if someone first conflated the Loch Ness Monster with the belief in the Loch Ness Monster … and then confused believing in the Loch Ness Monster with caring about the Loch Ness Monster … and then connected caring about the Loch Ness Monster to caring about protecting endangered species … and then turned back to the beginning and insisted that the Loch Ness Monster IS the conscious essence of love for the environment and thus you believe in it by using the same process you used when you chose to love Nature. Of course, silly. Isn’t this just obvious?

        The existence of the Loch Ness Monster has transformed from being an empirical question to a moral virtue.

        “Do not seek (the Loch Ness Monster) with your mind. You will find him through the strength of your hearts!”

        That last quote is a sly one. I’m applying it to the Loch Ness Monster, but it fits Harts point re “God.” Yes, there are good arguments but when push comes to shove you have to approach the question with your emotions engaged. You have to seek with your heart.

        The quotation isn’t from theology, though. It’s taken from a speech given by Rudolph Hess in 1934. The ‘Monster” is not God; it’s Hitler.

        Yeah. No way using your emotions to find truth is gonna go wrong.

        • Diane Langworthy
          Posted April 19, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          Wow. Had to look for that Rudolph Hess speech which is full of religious fervor. Even had a WWJD line: “Ask in all that you do: What would the Führer do.”

          The quote you used put me in the mind of a bible verse (Deut4:29): “you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.”

        • Diane Langworthy
          Posted April 19, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          And also…love the whole Loch Ness monster analogy!

        • kelskye
          Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

          “God is like a mental state that’s real.”
          My impression was that they’re suggesting their mental states are proof of communication with God, rather than actually being God. That we have some sort of sensus divinitatis that is properly tweaked in particular experiences thereby showing the Truth of God. Our emotions are how God connects with us, and we know when they are firing properly because that’s when they affirm the Christian God. It doesn’t work for everybody because the fall corrupted it (or something). God’s omnipotence was undone by some bad fruit such that it took a blood sacrifice of himself in Human form to partly restore this organ in people who are exposed to Christianity culturally.

          • Sastra
            Posted April 20, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

            Agree. Prayer, revelation, and mysticism can all be said to fall roughly into the category of ESP — Extra-Sensory Perception. The other “sense” we have is internal and closely connected with emotions.

            One of the ways to try to figure out what attributes are necessary to the concept of God and which attributes are idiosyncratic additions is to concoct a definition of God which leaves something out … and mentally check to see if it’s still conceivable to us or anyone as “God.” For example, it is possible to imagine that God did not create the universe but co-evolves with it or comes into existence with it, so sticking “creator” in the definition isn’t technically necessary.

            But could someone who believes in God accept a thought experiment where the more God is understood and experienced, the more boring, depressing, and meaningless it seems? WE can imagine that … but generally speaking THEY can’t.

            I’m pretty sure Hart couldn’t. The whole point is that God matters to the believers. This version of God would be rejected as a logical contradiction. At best, the thought experiment would entail the invention of human automatons before a definition of God which is emotionally unappealing could be accepted.

            Which is why even Hart’s sophisticated God is just as divisive and demeaning towards atheism and atheists as the hellfire God of the fundies. We’re not being drawn towards God. We’re treating it like a hypothesis.

            Uh oh. Big defect in atheists.

            • kelskye
              Posted April 20, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

              “We’re not being drawn towards God. We’re treating it like a hypothesis.”
              The person I described earlier described my argument where I treated God as a hypothesis (in the loosest sense – I was making the case for strong atheism, which by the necessity of the proposition entails demonstrating how God is a failed proposition) as someone trying to understand nuclear physics by banging two rocks together. And to top it off, he thought that incredibly condescending comment should be taken as a complement.

              I’m coming to the conclusion that while I’m a vocal atheist, I’m going to be treated as an intellectual troglodyte. It’s either I’m wrong because I haven’t examined the right arguments, or I’m wrong because I haven’t taken the right approach to faith, or I’m wrong because I’m simply unwilling to accept Jesus into my heart as the basis for truth. No matter how much I learn about science, philosophy, history, theology, etc, it’s never enough. I’m being pulled down the rabbit hole, yet I’m either not deep enough down one particular rabbit hole, or I’ve gone down the wrong rabbit hole. And no matter how much I dig, I’m still treated with contempt, not to mentioned ridiculed for how much time I spend on something I don’t believe in – sometimes both by the same person.

              To make matters worse, this kind of contempt only makes me read more on the topic. And more. And still more. That maybe I don’t understand it. So I’ve spent a lot of time reading everything from philosophy to psychology (and even some theology) and all it makes me wonder is how anyone believes any of it – let alone be intellectually contemptuous of those who don’t. The only consolation of the process is that I’ve sharpened my critical thinking skills and the ability to express my thoughts in arguments. Just how far down the rabbit hole are we meant to go until we’re allowed to just call theology nonsense on stilts?

              • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:30 am | Permalink

                Just how far down the rabbit hole are we meant to go until we’re allowed to just call theology nonsense on stilts?

                Until you love Big Brother, of course.

                Have you been to Room 101 yet? You might try that.

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

                He probably has been to room 101 but can’t remember. Instead, ask how 101 makes him feel.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 5:35 am | Permalink

      You know, having read your interpretation (which was very helpful because I couldn’t actually get what precisely he was saying), I think the Jedi “force” is the same thing.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        I’ve run across attempts to use the example of the “Force” in Star Wars to demonstrate that the ‘supernatural’ is best defined in terms of purely mental or teleological essences (as opposed to the never-ending circularity of ‘outside of nature’ or the immunizing strategy of ‘beyond science.’)

        For example, we intuitively recognize the Force in Star Wars as a supernatural entity. It may not be intelligent, and may be overtly mindless and have no goals or preferences, but it is somehow profoundly connected to good and evil, and knowledge and skill. It’s the kind of thing you can have a religion about, even if it’s not a god in the sense of being a magical person. It has godlike supernatural abilities without being a person.
        It has mind-like properties, and they’re pretty direct and very reliable in a way no mind actually is. Without being told, we know the Force doesn’t fuck up. People using the Force may fuck up, but the Force itself doesn’t. (Paul W.)

        Hart’s God is like the Force in Star Wars which doesn’t just “permeate the universe” — it IS the universe. It’s Reality.

  37. Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    It looks to me like that passage reduces to “information is infinite, therefore god”, which of course is just an unsupported assertion and, more to the point, a non sequitur.

    The passage is also full of wordplay carefully designed to attempt to hide the equivocation. The “knowledge” we seek later becomes “an intelligence”. Learning new information becomes “ascending toward” this intelligence. Both of these are subtle attempts to reify information.

    This kind of stuff really, really annoys me.

  38. Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    We assume that the human mind can be a true mirror of objective reality because we assume that objective reality is already a mirror of mind. No other comportment toward truth as a desirable end is existentially possible.

    This is the lynchpin of his argument, and it so spectacularly misses the point it’s painful.

    The mind is a mirror of objective reality because the only way to analyze your environment and make predictions and decisions that have any hope of being useful is by modeling objective reality.

    If our minds mostly modeled reality correctly but consistently had us incorrectly modeling the effects of walking off cliffs, we’d all have died long ago from walking off cliffs. The people with minds that have a less-worng grasp of reality are the ones who didn’t get eaten by lions even though they’re so cute and cuddly.

    Are our mental models of objective reality perfect? Ha! But neither is the human spine, or immune system, or anything else. It’s simply the least-worst thing that’s evolved and survived, just like everything else.

    And, besides. Perfection can only create perfection. A perfect assembly line would never ever produce a defective product. If those products were in turn used to create something else, those other things would be equally perfect, or else they’d be evidence of some until-now hidden flaw indicating things aren’t so perfect after all. If some god created us in its image, it’s seriously fucked up and / or incompetent.

    …or, or course, imaginary….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Yes. Your “because” is the correct one.

      Everything after Hart’s “because” is, ironically, unintelligible.

      • Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

        Seriously, what can he mean by “objective reality is a mirror of the mind”?

        • Posted April 18, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

          It’s a variation on solipsism, with an heaping dose of neocon-flavored PoMo. Hart clearly lives in a faith-based world as opposed to a reality-based world. He creates his own realities; his mind is what’s real, and what he objectively observes is a reflection of the reality his mind creates for him.

          Or maybe it’s Jesus’s mind doing all the creating. Doesn’t really matter; either way, it’s the ultimate example of a delusional break with reality.

          Yes, yes; the guy cognitively dissonated himself into the position. But he still managed to reach the same destination as the rest of those committed to the mental health facility. At least he remains functional in society without medication.

          b&

          • Posted April 19, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

            Yeah, thought of that, but still wondered why he would call this phantom reality my mind creates “objective”.

            • Posted April 19, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

              Because he thinks “objective” means “really real.”

              …he’s not exactly the brightest knife in the stable….

              b&

        • johzek
          Posted April 19, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

          In the philosophy of Objectivism Hart’s statement “objective reality is a mirror of the mind” is an example of what is known as the primacy of consciousness. It asserts that the objects of reality depend on consciousness for their very identities. In Christianity this idea attains its ultimate expression in the imagined existence of a being who can not only change the nature of the objects which exist at its whim, but is also said to have essentially thought them into existence. The primacy of consciousness is also apparent at the personal and social levels in that an individuals desires and wishes often trump objective evidence.

          In contrast the primacy of existence maintains that what exists, exists independently of any minds and in no way depends on a mind for its nature. The concept of truth is only possible with the primacy of existence because to say that something is true is to assert it is the case no matter what another mind may think or desire or wish or imagine.

          Whenever a theist makes a truth claim they must necessarily hold two contradictory metaphysical views at the same time. I guess living with these contractions is just a way of life for a theist who is probably unaware of a problem to begin with.

          So if reality is a mirror of the mind it is the subjective reality of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics and not the objective reality of the primacy of existence metaphysics.

          • Posted April 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            Yes. I think Ben captured the gist of “Objectivism” with the word “solipsism”.

            In which case I’m still left wondering why Hart or any other “Objectivist” feels “objective reality” is an appropriate term.

            • Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

              I am an objectvist, not an Objectivist, and it is precisely for that reason that I do not buy that mind (or rather minding brains) “mirrors” nature. It can laboriously come to understand it, in various ways. But naive realism is spectacularly false.

            • Posted April 22, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              Okay.

              Not having formally studied philosophy aside from a couple of core curriculum classes for my undergrad liberal arts degree, you’ll forgive my misapplication of terminology.

              Substitute “primacy of consciousness” for “objectivism” and my point remains.

          • Sastra
            Posted April 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I have a couple of friends who insist that because only Mind really exists and physical reality is just an illusion (caused by ego and fear) — then there is no true or false or right or wrong. They don’t “believe” in those concepts any more.

            They obviously can’t and don’t live by this. It takes about 10 seconds to pose a question they can’t answer without contradiction. They remain unphased, however, because this Grand Philosophy of Life is then trotted out again to make it clear that they can’t answer because they’ve evolved to a higher level. My questions are meaningless here.

            It’s a handy little trick to keep in your pocket.

    • kelskye
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

      It is a curious argument to advance, and it would be interesting to see in a wider context how Hart deals with the evolutionary origins and purpose of our ability to reason. We have no reason to think that our minds are selected for Truth, only for truth in the survival sense. There’s no reason we should fear most spiders or snakes, yet a fear of spiders / snakes can be quite useful given the right spider or snake. In terms of its mirroring of reality, it’s reflecting reproductive fitness and nothing more. It’s enough for us to get by, but there’s no guarantee that it mirrors a wider reality.

      If the mind was a true mirror of objective reality, then why does it lead us so astray when it goes beyond the everyday? Perhaps I’m missing Hart’s point here (again, a wider context to the quote would help), but one of the things about science is that the world as it has come to be understood through the scientific method is so alien to our thinking that we can only understand it through the mathematics or by analogy. We never feel what is scientifically true, we never really hold a scientific truth in the way we hold anything of importance in our daily lives.

      It’s remarkable, no doubt, that our supercharged monkey brains have been able to figure out so much through the epistemologies we have developed, but such a picture is not reflecting what’s in our minds. The truth is in the epistemology, not in our minds. Our minds just make a feeble attempt to grasp it.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        The fact that our minds “lead us so astray when it goes beyond the everyday” is used both ways by theologians. On the one hand this shows us that we can’t trust an evolved mind: we need God to give us the ability to rely on anything. We’ve got presupp basing science on religion.

        And on the other hand this can be used to make an analogy between God and the truths discovered through science: a naive understanding of the material world is inadequate for both science AND God. See? It’s like they work the same way! We’ve got sophisticated believer finding connection between science and religion.

        • Posted April 19, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

          You mean they think they really can have their Kate and Edith, too?

          b&

        • kelskye
          Posted April 19, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

          It’s those kinds of arguments that make me think that I’m not taking the same approach to rationality as theologians are. I mean, that’s a given in certain respect, but I’d personally take that our senses have evolved in a particular circumstance to mean they are (usually) reliable in the circumstances under question. So of course we can trust our mind in circumstances, and for everything else there’s mastercard there’s our culturally-developed epistemologies. I wouldn’t trust my supercharged monkey brain in understanding special relativity, I would trust observations that the theory entails however. I’d trust my ability to see the intentions in other agents, but I wouldn’t trust that same ability when it came to agency beyond that capacity.

          So I’m really not sure why God would help – aside from the notion that we need God being circular – in what circumstances has God given us knowledge we would not otherwise have had?

          • kelskye
            Posted April 19, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

            the “there’s mastercard” was meant to have a strikethrough, but I guess this place only allows for basic html formatting. :/

    • Diane Langworthy
      Posted April 18, 2014 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      “The mind is a mirror of objective reality because the only way to analyze your environment and make predictions and decisions that have any hope of being useful is by modeling objective reality.”

      Brilliant.

  39. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Be careful, read too much of this and you could end up with Sophisticated Theology™ for brains.

  40. Diane Langworthy
    Posted April 18, 2014 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Reading things like this make my eyes squint and my brow furrow and I struggle and strain to follow the thoughts. Once years ago I was doing just that with some New Age type book someone thought I should read, and after a while I had to put it down and went desperately for a Carl Sagan book (Demon Haunted World). I remember how his words were clear and logical and seemed a soothing and calming antidote.

    • Keith
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      I had similar experiences throughout college and grad school, where I would read just about anything I could find on science and faith or science and religion. I’ve long since forgotten the book names and authors–Karen Armstrong is one of the few I can recall–but invariably, the arguments to me were a muddled melange of flowery prose. I really came to appreciate the talents of Sagan, Dawkins and any writer who could cut through the obscurantism that Sophisticated Theology™ depends upon.

      • DianeAlliLangworthy
        Posted April 19, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        Yes. Professor C.C. is exceptionally good at cutting through the muddle too, as well as his commenters. Sometimes even leads to a “squirt of oxytocin” (to borrow from the eloquent Sastra.)

    • Sastra
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      I recently tried reading the New Age book A Course in Miracles. It’s pretty much the same metaphysics and understanding of God as Hart’s. Eastern-inspired Spirituality with a helping of Idealistic Monism as the true nature of reality.

      It does, however, go into even more detail — with ensuing hijinks.

  41. Posted April 19, 2014 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    an ideal level of reality at which intelligibility and intelligence are no longer distinguishable concepts

    Uhuh, so our intelligence is like a key that fits the lock of intelligibility, which is built in to the structure of the universe. A bit like the old Alchemical idea of the mystical “male/female” polarity.

    If it’s true, then such a melding of our intelligence with the intelligibility of the universe would indeed yield the ultimate secrets of reality…. And the science that develops from it would probably look a lot like medieval Alchemy too, I suspect.

    …Or it could be that the key of our intelligence melds so beautifully with the lock of intelligibility because it went through several billion years of evolution.

  42. bric
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    American readers may not be aware of the ineffable Professor Stanley Unwin, but he’s worth a YouTube search if you want some explication of Mr Hart’s central themes.

  43. Posted April 19, 2014 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    Hart’s rather absurd inference that there is some “purpose’ for our intelligence (a mechanism to validate a divine presence) is utterly invalidated by the factual alternative that there’s instead an important Darwinian function in such a capacity. Intelligence provides survival value. Just that. It allows an organism to understand the functioning of its environment so as to avoid dangers and to help it acquire necessary resources to promote survival and reproduction. In humans this is reflected in an innate desire “to know – to explain”. Just as a Darwinian understanding demolishes the argument that only a divine creator could produce increasing complexity, so too it demolishes the argument that our intelligence exists for any possible “divine purpose”.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Iirc Steven Pinker defined intelligence as “the ability to achieve goals despite obstacles” and could thus follow it along an evolutionary path of development. It had to become more elaborate as the hindrances to survival became more complicated. Intelligence is a measurement of this capacity.

      Which is why insisting that an “Intelligence” started off the universe makes no sense (or has no consilience as kelskye wisely pointed out in another thread.) First you’ve got the reified abstraction and substance dualism. But it gets worse. If intelligence is understood in terms of the interaction of goals and obstacles, then what the hell kind of goals or obstacles would have existed before the beginning of the universe? There’s no environment for an Intelligent Being (BEING) to maneuver around.

      Their addition of coupling this ‘Intelligence’ to “Omnipotence” just makes the joke that much better.

  44. marvol19
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    It is a classical “heads, I win, tails, you lose” argument.

    If you’re searching for Truth, well, that is actually a search for God.
    But if you’re NOT searching for Truth, well, that is just a sign of True Faith.

    And so any which way, it comes down to “God”.

  45. DrDroid
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Wow! The word that comes immediately to mind is “post-modernism”. Yes I suppose believers would like us to descend into this pit of incomprehensible BS and argue with them, but what a mistake it would be to go there!

  46. JimV
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    What we have here (besides a failure to communicate) is, I think, a failure to understand the nature of “intelligence”. (This is also of course the key failure of the ID crowd, along with their failure to understand “design”.)

    Intelligence, it seems to me, is a process of:

    1) random generation of ideas; under my hypothesis, this takes place among our 76 billion neurons – whose actions are not perceived since the brain has no nerves that monitor its operation – and which possess more calculation power than the biggest super computer yet developed, the last time I checked.

    2) a selection process that distinguishes good (enough) ideas from bad ideas.

    3) a form of memory that records good (enough) ideas for re-use.

    In other words, intelligence is evolution of ideas, just as biological evolution is evolution of genes/genetic material. What other form would intelligence take, among evolved creatures? Anyway, that is the form I have observed it taking, particularly in the design process. Examples: look at how automobiles, phones, and computers have evolved during our lifetimes.

    Note that evolution doesn’t imply perfection. Hence some bad ideas never seem to die completely, and people like myself are still born with bad vision. (I doubt I would have survived in a hunter-gatherer society.)

    Maybe I’m wrong, but shouldn’t philosophers and IDers be doing research into how intelligence (and design) actually work instead of just saying, in effect: “I don’t understand how intelligence works, therefore God”?

    • gbjames
      Posted April 19, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      The should be doing anything instead of saying “I don’t understand how intelligence works, therefore God”. Taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn is a far better use of time.

  47. Thanny
    Posted April 19, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    That’s not sophisticated theology at all.

    Sophisticated arguments must at a minimum be coherent. The quoted section above, however, is an entirely incoherent bowl of world salad.


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  1. […] Coyne and the various commenters at Why Evolution Is True had a great go at this, but it’s been burning in the back of my mind since then, and I simply felt like treating it […]

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