February 12, 2010
The religious atheists get even more atheistic
(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)
I have been writing about the fact that as scientific knowledge advances, ultra-sophisticated Christian apologists, desperately seeking to find a way to reconcile their need to believe in a god while not contradicting science, have had to redefine god in such a vague and non-interventionist way that I felt justified in giving them the label of 'religious atheists'.
Georgetown University theologian (and accommodationist) John Haught provides the latest example of this kind of religious backtracking by recently writing that the hitherto bedrock religious idea that there is design in life is no longer necessary for religious belief. He says:
The typically design-obsessed frame of mind through which so many devout theists, as well as staunch atheists, are looking at the question of God and evolution is a dead end both scientifically and theologically.
Claiming that Darwin has disposed of divine design, atheistic evolutionists assume that science has thereby wiped away the last traces of deity from the record of life. Yet they have failed to notice that the very features of evolution--unpredictable accidents, predictable natural selection, and the long reach of time--that seem to rule out the existence of God, are essential ingredients in a monumental story of life that turns out to be much more interesting theologically than design could ever be.
The most important issue in the current debate about evolution and faith is not whether design points to deity but whether the drama of life is the carrier of a meaning. According to rigid design standards, evolution appears to have staggered drunkenly down multiple pathways, leading nowhere. But viewed dramatically, the apparent absence of perfect order at any present moment is an opening to the future, a signal that the story of life is not yet over. (My italics)
That is interesting. So now even the lack of design is evidence for god! There goes Thomas Aquinas. There goes Paley's watch. There goes intelligent design. The foundational argument of all religions that the cosmos exhibits features of design that are inexplicable without assuming the existence of god is thrown out the window. Instead what he talks about is the 'story and drama of life being much more interesting' than design could ever be. What he seems to be saying is that whether it is true or not that god exists is irrelevant. What is important is whether the explanation provides good drama. Can he be serious?
The arguments of religious atheists like Haught can be summed up simply as: Whatever science discovers, it points to god.
Some years ago, I debated intelligent design proponents in Kansas at their annual soiree. There was a large audience present consisting almost entirely of religious believers, mostly biblical literalists. During the debate, I kept hammering away at the indisputable fact that intelligent design had failed miserably to suggest a mechanism for how it operates or to generate even one prediction that scientists could look for and that therefore it could not be considered a scientific theory.
This message that there was no evidence for god must have disturbed one woman because she came up to me afterwards to give me a definition of god that she felt met all my objections. She had written it on a small scrap of paper during the session. I have kept it all these years, because I was impressed by her sincerity. Her note said:
Consider: Rendered "general" (I.E. The Law of Complex Systems) by the millions of created objects known about, (observed) daily, that: all complex systems (that we know about) owe their existence to acts of creation using planning and work by one or more intelligent living beings (not one exception). (All emphases in the original.)
We should ignore the lack of precision and coherence because it was clearly written in a hurry and spontaneously during the session itself. She was also trying to write it in what she thought was scientific language, adding to its obscurity. But what she is essentially saying is that every single thing in the world is designed, so that they all constitute evidence for the existence of god. She thought that this was a watertight definition of god that could not be refuted.
This is naïve and circular reasoning but excusable in someone who is not a professional theologian but is instead a devout believer who was thinking on the fly. But it actually makes more sense than the convoluted reasoning of Haught and other religious atheists who claim that no evidence is even necessary for god, that the question of his objective existence is also irrelevant, and that all that matters is whether god serves as a good metaphor and provides a dramatic story.
Haught's essay presents an incredibly pathetic argument for god that basically denies god. Jerry Coyne takes it apart, point by point.
If there was ever a time to accuse someone with the cliché of making a virtue out of necessity, Haught's piece provides it.
POST SCRIPT: That Mitchell and Webb Look on Abraham and Isaac
Truly one of the weirdest stories in the Bible. Why would anyone even want to worship a god who is such a cruel jerk?