32 thoughts on “John Haught on science, religion, and the theology of evolution

  1. Alright, I’ll bite.

    From Haught …

    Some sort of theological framework can justify our trust in … reason.

    I can never make sense of this word salad. Does it mean anything ? Consider the converse: If god were to vanish, can I no longer trust that up is not down ? Does my brain suddenly fail to function ? Is god constantly diddling in my head to keep me going ? (I hope not)

  2. it seems again its another attempot to deny there are conclusions pushed in sciency subjects that deal with origins that contradict the bible and even a creator.
    its not between science and religion but between conclusions between men and men and God/bible.
    The men think they are smart enough to say god/bible ius wrong and proven so.
    Smarter men say they have not proven it and proven they have not proven it.
    yet all men are still kinda dumb.
    Its about the quality and quantity of evidence.
    yet on a intellectual curve the wrong side, dare I say dumber and yes I will, would be slower to see the evidence problem in thier conclusions.
    Why not?
    There is no equality in intellect in issues of accuracy. its impossible both sides can be right and equally smart.
    Anyways evolutiondom PROVE YOUR CASE WITH ACTUAL EVIDENCE.
    Its not happening on TSZ. As I see it. (maybe too dumb)

  3. graham2:

    From Haught …

    Some sort of theological framework can justify our trust in … reason.

    He seems genuinely unaware that he’s begging the question:

    1. Assume that God exists.
    2. Assume that God provides us with a trustworthy faculty of reason.
    3. Conclude that we can trust our faculty of reason.

  4. graham2: Some sort of theological framework can justify our trust in … reason.

    Interesting paragraph isn’t it? Apparently, atheists lack justification for the confidence that they place in … beauty 😀

    “That’s a pretty painting”

    “OH REALLY? HOW DO YOU JUSTIFY THAT?!??”

  5. Robert Byers: it seems again its another attempot to deny there are conclusions pushed in sciency subjects that deal with origins that contradict the bible and even a creator.

    I thought so! X>{ 😡

  6. we need a worldview that is capable of justifying the confidence that we place in our minds, in truth, in goodness, in beauty. I argue that an atheistic worldview is not capable of justifying that confidence. Some sort of theological framework can justify our trust in meaning, in goodness, in reason.

    I can understand the idea that only a theological framework can justify our confidence in our judgments about reason, truth, goodness, and beauty. But it’s hard to tell from an informal interview what Haught’s argument for this would be.

    It’s particularly difficult because Haught clearly wants to take up a lot of Tillich and de Chardin. Tillich is a brilliant theologian — I’ve read his Dynamics of Faith and most of the first volume of Systematic Theology — but it’s hard to tell whether his conception of God as “the ground of Being” can do all the epistemological heavy-lifting that God does in Scholastic theology.

    Where I would disagree with Haught is the claim that an atheistic worldview cannot also justify the confidence we place in our minds, truth, goodness, and beauty.

  7. KN,

    I can understand the idea that only a theological framework can justify our confidence in our judgments about reason, truth, goodness, and beauty. But it’s hard to tell from an informal interview what Haught’s argument for this would be.

    My guess is that he’d echo Plantinga’s EAAN (evolutionary argument against naturalism) and say that a purely naturalistic evolutionary process can’t be counted on to produce reliable cognition, whereas God can.

  8. keiths: a purely naturalistic evolutionary process can’t be counted on to produce reliable cognition,

    Intuitively, this seems backwards.

    Not that I think it carries weight, either way.

    But evolution cannot help but produce successful organisms; whereas, the creator of a thinker can manipulate the creation in arbitrary ways.

    All you have to do is look at your political opponents to see that even haphazard forms of brainwashing can be effective.

    Evolution has produced brains that are susceptible to superstition and to sensory illusions, but these same brains can learn to respond more successfully to bad data. In fact, to the extent that bad data impairs survival and reproduction, it must be reinterpreted.

  9. keiths: My guess is that he’d echo Plantinga’s EAAN (evolutionary argument against naturalism) and say that a purely naturalistic evolutionary process can’t be counted on to produce reliable cognition, whereas God can.

    I very much hope that wouldn’t be Haught’s argument, because it’s terrible!

  10. We can be confident our model of the world is correct to the extent that we don’t bump into trees, fall down stairs, stick our hands in a fire, that sort of thing.
    Generally, we can get to the end of the day, still in one piece, which is just about the best evidence we have that our thinking must be pretty good. Not perfect, to be sure, but pretty good. As far as I can see, we do this without any help from god.
    Of course we are woefully misinformed on lots of things (bacteria, the cosmos, etc) but we know this and have invented instruments to extend our cognitive faculties to deal with them.

    Unless god is in my head all the time saving me from walking into trees. That’s a possibility I suppose.

  11. graham2: We can be confident our model of the world is correct to the extent that we don’t bump into trees, fall down stairs, stick our hands in a fire, that sort of thing.
    Generally, we can get to the end of the day, still in one piece, which is just about the best evidence we have that our thinking must be pretty good. Not perfect, to be sure, but pretty good. As far as I can see, we do this without any help from god.
    Of course we are woefully misinformed on lots of things (bacteria, the cosmos, etc) but we know this and have invented instruments to extend our cognitive faculties to deal with them.

    Indeed, and presumably Haught would accept that evolutionary theory and cognitive neuroscience can account adequately for satisfactory animal coping with our environments.

    The difficulty here is that Haught wants much, more, more than just satisfactory coping and pragmatic models — he thinks that we human beings are necessarily committed to a grander project of understanding the world as it is in itself.

    And since he thinks that theology gives us that kind of grander or deeper understanding (even if couched in metaphors, symbols, and narratives), he thinks that “we naturalists” must also be committed to providing a far more grandiose account of The Nature of Things. So by his lights, a merely pragmatic, “well, my model of my apartment allows me to walk over the fridge and get a beer and usually I can find my car keys and I can drive to the store when I need to” is going to fall far short of satisfying the yearning for comprehensive, systematic metaphysics.

  12. graham2: We can be confident our model of the world is correct to the extent that we don’t bump into trees, fall down stairs, stick our hands in a fire, that sort of thing.

    As usually understood, “correct” has to do with truth, while not bumping into trees has to do with pragmatics. The EAAN argument is that pragmatics won’t get you truth.

  13. These EAAN folks set an awfully high standard for “truth”. What I know about my own cognition is that it is not at all infallible. Maybe the EAAN people have infallible brains while us lesser folk don’t.

  14. The impression I get from the time I have wasted on watching related debates is that the god botherers just don’t seem to be able to get the idea that we are rough, working prototypes, equipped by evolution with just enough for us to get by. They just do not get it.

    How do we know we are not a brain in a vat ?
    Can we be really really sure we weren’t just created last thu.
    Jeez what a waste of time.

  15. Kantian Naturalist:

    And since he thinks that theology gives us that kind of grander or deeper understanding (even if couched in metaphors, symbols, and narratives), he thinks that “we naturalists” must also be committed to providing a far more grandiose account of The Nature of Things. So by his lights, a merely pragmatic, “well, my model of my apartment allows me to walk over the fridge and get a beer and usually I can find my car keys and I can drive to the store when I need to” is going to fall far short of satisfying the yearning for comprehensive, systematic metaphysics.

    Once again, I can’t avoid the suspicion that this is somehow backwards. I don’t think he’s concluding that he has a “comprehensive, systematic metaphysics” because theology bestows this on him, but rather he starts with a set of indelible beliefs, and is looking to find some rationalization for holding them. Claiming that lacking his theological convictions militates against appreciating his metaphysics strikes me as defensive — if atheists can grasp the “grandeur in this (secular) view of life”, what has his theology bought him besides superstition?

  16. Joe Felsenstein: These EAAN folks set an awfully high standard for “truth”.

    Truth comes directly from God. If following what is true just happens to be pragmatic (we don’t bump into trees), then that must be a miracle.

    Or, in other words, the EAAN people are really presupposing the conclusion that they want to reach.

  17. keiths:

    My guess is that he’d echo Plantinga’s EAAN (evolutionary argument against naturalism) and say that a purely naturalistic evolutionary process can’t be counted on to produce reliable cognition, whereas God can.

    KN:

    I very much hope that wouldn’t be Haught’s argument, because it’s terrible!

    Alas, it is. I found the following in a paper of Haught’s:

    However, the important question is how to justify this trust. Assuming that you too espouse evolutionary naturalism, can this belief system provide sufficient justification for the cognitional confidence that underlies your own judgment about whether what I am writing here is right or wrong? If you embrace evolutionary naturalism, have you ever asked whether it supports or subverts the cognitional confidence needed for you to be an intelligent and critical knower? Let me put my question another way. Is the essentially mindless, impersonal, and purposeless universe entailed by evolutionary naturalism resourceful enough to explain and ground, in an ultimate sense, the trust you are in fact placing in your own critical intelligence at this moment? I shall try to convince you that it is not and that intellectual honesty should lead you to conclude that your evolutionary naturalism is an unreasonable creed.

    And:

    My proposal, one that Lonergan would also endorse, is as follows. Given the evolutionary character of your mind’s emergence, your critical intelligence and your cognitional trust can be explained and justified adequately if their ultimate environment—along with the universe out of which your mind has emerged—is infinite being, intelligibility, truth, and goodness, in other words what theistic faiths call God. According to the theological metaphysics I am following here it is the ever-approachable but also always receding horizon of being, intelligibility, truth, and goodness that justifies the spontaneous confidence you place in your critical intelligence. Your mind cannot grasp this horizon, but it can be grasped by it, and in doing so it is ennobled by it. It is this ennoblement, not the evolutionary story alone, that justifies your cognitional trust

  18. keiths,

    I don’t think we have an explanation for the origin of matter, the origin of life, and the origin of more complex living forms. No one has come close to modeling these events let alone testing the model. String theory is way ahead of these hypotheses.

    As Joshua Swamidass says science is silent on most origin events.

  19. keiths quoting Haught:

    keiths: Is the essentially mindless, impersonal, and purposeless universe entailed by evolutionary naturalism resourceful enough to explain and ground, in an ultimate sense, the trust you are in fact placing in your own critical intelligence at this moment?

    Yes.

  20. Neil Rickert: As usually understood, “correct” has to do with truth, while not bumping into trees has to do with pragmatics. The EAAN argument is that pragmatics won’t get you truth.

    In one sense, yes. But in another sense, no. I say this because the EAAN assumes that truth is something other than pragmatics (in your sense here). But that’s not going to work for the EAAN, because the EAAN is supposed to work by taking up what the naturalist herself believes and showing that it is self-undermining. The naturalist, if she is a pragmatist, would take it that all there is to truth is pragmatics.

    In other words: by distinguishing between truth and pragmatics, the EAAN smuggles a non-naturalistic premise into what is supposed to be an argument that naturalism is self-undermining. And that is why it fails — it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do.

    (This is not a new argument with me; I’m drawing on the literature of naturalistic responses to the EAAN. References upon request.)

  21. KN,

    The naturalist, if she is a pragmatist, would take it that all there is to truth is pragmatics.

    In other words: by distinguishing between truth and pragmatics, the EAAN smuggles a non-naturalistic premise into what is supposed to be an argument that naturalism is self-undermining. And that is why it fails — it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do.

    This doesn’t make sense to me. Why do you think the distinction between truth and pragmatics amounts to a non-naturalistic premise?

  22. petrushka,

    But evolution cannot help but produce successful organisms; whereas, the creator of a thinker can manipulate the creation in arbitrary ways.

    Right. Guys like Haught are so steeped in Christian theology that the other theological possibilities don’t seem to occur to them.

  23. keiths:
    KN,

    This doesn’t make sense to me.Why do you think the distinction between truth and pragmatics amounts to a non-naturalistic premise?

    What part of “truth” is not also, in some sense, pragmatic? THAT part must be non-naturalistic.

  24. Flint,

    What part of “truth” is not also, in some sense, pragmatic? THAT part must be non-naturalistic.

    I subscribe to the correspondence theory of truth, whereby a proposition or belief is true if it corresponds to reality. Whether it is useful is a separate issue.

  25. colewd: As Joshua Swamidass says science is silent on most origin events.

    In principle? Or just so far?

  26. Haught:

    I don’t think God does violate those laws.

    Ok, so does Haught believe Jesus turned water into wine. That’s a violation of physical law. Or how about the account of Jesus walking on water — that’s a violation of Archimedes principle, probably a few other physical principles? How about Jesus appearing to the disciples even when all doors were closed — as in walking through walls? How about Jesus feeding the 5 thousands, as in creating matter from nothing?

    So what’s the point of promoting theology again? Doesn’t the truth matter anymore. The truth begins with admitting an inconsistency with ” I don’t think God does violate those laws” and the accounts in the gospel. Better to just admit one doesn’t really accept the gospel than to pretend to be a defender of the faith.

    That said, that doesn’t prove the gospel is true, but it would at least show a little more integrity about what one really believes.

  27. Sal:

    Ok, so does Haught believe Jesus turned water into wine. That’s a violation of physical law. Or how about the account of Jesus walking on water — that’s a violation of Archimedes principle, probably a few other physical principles? How about Jesus appearing to the disciples even when all doors were closed — as in walking through walls? How about Jesus feeding the 5 thousands, as in creating matter from nothing?

    None of the above, judging by this passage:

    We accept the fact that nature’s laws are predictable and unbending. So we are willing to embrace the modern scientific understanding of the physical universe as a closed continuum of cause-and-effect relationships. We accept the notion that the natural world operates according to inviolable natural laws. However, for us a miracle is not an event that suspends, bends, or breaks the laws of nature in the slightest way. Miracle means “something to wonder about,” and faith in the miraculous does not contradict the scientific search for regularity and lawfulness in the natural world. By a “miracle” we mean something much more dramatic—and much more interesting—than a suspension of the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. The real miracles, indeed the only ones worth talking about at all, are the improbable transformations that occasionally lead a person from a life of mediocrity to one of authenticity and goodness.

  28. keiths:
    Makes me wonder what he’d say about the Resurrection.

    It’s right there at the end of the article. He buries the answer in a thick fog of theology:

    What do you make of the miracles in the Bible — most importantly, the Resurrection? Do you think that happened in the literal sense?

    I don’t think theology is being responsible if it ever takes anything with completely literal understanding. What we have in the New Testament is a story that’s trying to awaken us to trust that our lives make sense, that in the end, everything works out for the best. In a pre-scientific age, this is done in a way in which unlettered and scientifically illiterate people can be challenged by this Resurrection. But if you ask me whether a scientific experiment could verify the Resurrection, I would say such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning.

    So if a camera was at the Resurrection, it would have recorded nothing?

    If you had a camera in the upper room when the disciples came together after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we would not see it. I’m not the only one to say this. Even conservative Catholic theologians say that. Faith means taking the risk of being vulnerable and opening your heart to that which is most important. We trivialize the whole meaning of the Resurrection when we start asking, Is it scientifically verifiable?

  29. keiths:

    Makes me wonder what he’d say about the Resurrection.

    Walter Kloover:

    It’s right there at the end of the article. He buries the answer in a thick fog of theology:

    I didn’t make it that far. “Thick fog” is right. After careful parsing, the short answer seems to be that Haught doesn’t think the Resurrection was a resurrection.

  30. Keiths:

    “Thick fog” is right.

    Yup, my sentiments exactly. That’s why I think an outright typical atheist worldview has more clarity integrity and coherence than Haught’s theology.

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