15 November 2011

Haught 'n Jerry #2

John Haught’s paper ‘Does Evolution Rule Out Gods Existence’, has been published over at the American Association for the Advancement of Science website. The Association’s strap line is ‘Advancing Science, Serving Society’.

It’s part of an ongoing attempt to reconcile science and religion, but I’m left wondering just exactly how the above paper Advances Science or, indeed, Serves Society.

From the world view of a theist, science and religion MUST be reconcilable for the declared aim of both is to discover that which is true, that which is real.

Therefore, whatever science may discover MUST, eventually, if somewhat reluctantly and possibly painfully, be incorporated into the religious world view. How could it be otherwise?

The scientific ethos, moreover...”is the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity.” Benedict XVI – Sept 2006

Fair enough: let’s agree for now that science and religion are both seekers after truth. Is there a difference in how they go about it? I think so. I’m going to suggest that science is obedient to truth in that it will follow truth, by the nose, wherever it goes and that, on the contrary, religion has already staked out its truth claim, and is both obedient to that truth and to what it thinks that truth demands of everyone. Since, however, the truth claims of the various religions are mutually incompatible, we are left with the options of either declaring one of them to be true, none of them to be true, or to discover in some verifiable way of discerning the validity of such claims to truth.

Religion itself is characteristically highly resistant to ‘truth’ it does not like. (Rome only got round to apologising for the Galileo debacle in 1992), and of course the tussle over evolution runs and runs – the Catholics perhaps slightly ahead of the game here, in their acceptance of the theory, and with their current efforts to incorporate evolution into their theodicy.

If any such rapprochement between science and religion is to work, religion is going to have to radically refine its notions of what is acceptable as ‘evidence’.

In Haught’s earlier debate with Jerry Coyne, Haught seemed to be suggesting that personal experience fell into the category of ‘evidence’. Humans of all religious persuasions (and none) have, throughout history, had numinous and transcendental or peak experiences.

"There is no doubt that great insights and revelations are profoundly felt in mystic or peak-experiences, and certainly some of these are, ipso facto, intrinsically valid as experiences. " "The peak-experience is felt as a self-validating, self-justifying moment which carries its own intrinsic value with it" (Maslow, Religion, Values and Peak Experiences).

Alas, however peak your peak experience was, it simply will not do as reliable evidence: how will you distinguish between the one who experiences Christ from the one who experiences Vishnu from the one who experiences a Fuath?

The word of God as revealed through scripture is a similarly suspect candidate for ‘evidence.’

.As Haught says of the Creationists:

“….. [they] close their eyes to modern historical awareness of the time-sensitive nature of all human consciousness, including that expressed in the sacred texts of religion. They are unable to discern the different types of literary genre--symbolic, mythic, devotional, poetic, legendary, historical, creedal, confessional etc.--that make up the Bible. And so they fail to read the scriptures in their proper context.

The difficulty is to distinguish words that proceed from God from those that proceed from godly men. From, what is to be taken literally and what metaphorically; and who gets to decide, and when, (and on who’s authority?). What was to be taken as canonical truth and what apocryphal? Ancient sacred texts simply will not do as adequate evidence to establish the veracity of religious claims, however beautiful, inspiring or poetic the language may be.

To paraphrase Sam Harris:

Can literature or testimony…..”even slightly increase the probability that the Book of Mormon was delivered on golden plates to Joseph Smith Jr. by the angel Moroni? Do all the good Muslims in the world lend credence to the claim that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse? Do all the good pagans throughout history suggest that Mt. Olympus was ever teeming with invisible gods?”

No, of course not. So what is left for us to call on in our endeavour to unite science and religion?

"Certainly, love’ transcends’ knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Ephesians 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is "logic latreía" -- worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason.” (cf. Romans 12:1). – Benedict XVI – Sept 2006

How do you crawl out from beneath this stultifying mountain of opaque theology to get at truth? Why certainly? Transcends knowledge how? Perceives what, exactly? And because of all that…. Christian worship harmonises Word with Reason? Eh….how?

[Cartesianism and Empiricism]…..”on the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: This basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.

A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

We shall return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: It is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science" and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. [my emphasis]

The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.” - Benedict XVI – Sept 2006

The questions raised about the origin and the destiny of humanity, questions raised about morality, ethics and community are NOT solely in the purview of the church. There are many churches and only one humanity. The pope cannot hijack such questions from humanity and glibly claim that we haz failed to construct an adequate morality out of science, or the humanities, a scant couple of hundred years after the first electric light bulb was invented.

But that is what it wants to do. It wants to claim these for its domain and claim that it has parity with science because it has this logos based on its understanding of a divine. What it really believes is that it is far superior to science and would very much like to claw back some territory by hitching a ride on the coat-tail of sciences’ demonstrable success by re-integrating science and theology.

In his debate with Haught, I think Coyne unceremoniously pulled the threadbare rug of this reasoning apart and demonstrated that theology is actually content and knowledge free, while at the same time presenting evidence to show how religion convinces people that they have this ‘other’ knowledge together with the rationale and righteousness to act upon that knowledge... with disastrous and poisonous consequences for individuals, communities, cultures, societies, not to mention the entire world.

One simple and effective way of such hijacking and coat-tailing is to lay down a claim that genius is a form of divine inspiration and that significant scientific discoveries may be taken as yet further ‘evidence’ of the beneficence of the divine...beckoning us ever onwards and upwards towards our celestial destiny. I predict a lot more of that sort of thing.

...to be continuerated...sometime....eventually....possibly.


Steve Zara said...

I love the phrase "theology is actually content and knowledge free". That absolutely nails it. It's the clearest statement of the whole problem I have come across.

May I re-use it with attribution?

clodhopper said...

Of course you can Steve, with pleasure. I'm sure it's been said a hundred times before by a hundred different people in a hundred different ways. I can't cite any of them though.