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199 of 279 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some people just don't get it..., April 27, 2008
This review is from: God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (Paperback)
Many of the negative reviewers of this book so clearly have their OWN agendas in mind that they simply miss the THREE POINTS Haught was trying to make in this concise little critical tome: 1) that the "New Atheists" aren't really so "new"; 2) that the "old" atheists were more insightful and much more consistent (in other words, the NA's are not very "good" atheists); and 3) That the New Atheists rely on "straw God" arguments and certain presuppositions about both the nature of religion and the nature of reality that are not THEMSELVES "scientific," and thus, are more akin to "religious faith' than they are to genuine scientific inquiry.

To those ends, Haught makes his case eloquently and definitively. The negative reviewers need to realize that this book does NOT attempt or CLAIM to be exhaustive (it's only 107 pages, people!), nor does it attempt to "answer" the new atheists with (what for Haught would be) a more "adequate" worldview (for that, you actually have to READ his systematic works on Evolutionary Theology: "God After Darwin," "Deeper Than Darwin," and "Christianity and Science: Toward a Theology of Nature." Only after reading these cogently argued works is one in a proper position to "critique" Haught.

The "personal" nature of some of the negative reviews is quite astonishing, and reveals more about the reviewers' LACK of familiarity with Haught's reputation and his rather extensive body of work than they do about Haught himself.

For example, reviewer Ross' suggestion that Haught doesn't really "understand" the New Atheists, or the Old ones (like Nietzsche) is laughable when you consider that (in the case of Dawkins) Haught is WIDELY considered to be one of the FOREMOST experts in the science and religion dialogue (equally notable Darwinian Philosopher Michael Ruse calls him, "Our most distinguished writer today on the science and religion relationship"), and (in the case of Nietzsche) has written EXTENSIVELY on the impact of existentialism on religious thought (see Haught's "What is Religion?" for starters). Also, he's been teaching this stuff for 20+ years, and I think some smart-aleck graduate student would have "corrected" his "misinterpretation" of Nietzsche long ago, don't you?

Ross also apparently doesn't understand the difference between the way science SHOULD be practiced, and the way that it's ACTUALLY practiced. His idealistic view of "Big science" is quaint and kinda charming. Aside from Kuhn's famous analysis,"Structures," Mary Midgley's classic, "Evolution as a Religion," and Richard C. Lewontin's "Biology as Ideology," two recent books by other "real" scientists, Lee Smolin's "The Trouble with Physics," and Robert Laughlin's "A Different Universe" clearly reveal just how political, cliquish, and NON-OBJECTIVE the "business of science" can really be. When Haught says that scientists have "faith" in the "intelligibility of the universe," and that that NAs like Daniel Dennett has "faith" in the truth of the Dogma of "scientific naturalism" (the view that 1) only nature is real, 2)that God does not exist, and 3)that science alone can give us complete and reliable knowledge of reality), he most certainly knows of what he speaks. The "presumption" of scientific naturalism is just that - a presumption. It's a statement of belief, NOT a demonstrated, OBJECTIVE, scientific "fact."

Ross goes on to suggest that Haught might be WRONG when he argues that Richard Dawkins is unfamiliar with the work of thoughtful, systematic theologians like Paul Tillich and Sallie McFague. REALLY??? You want to tell me with a straight face that anyone familiar with the "theology lite" of "The God Delusion" really believes that Mr. "Devil's Chaplin" has seriously worked his way through ALL-THREE volumes of Tillich's uber-dense "Systematic Theology" (about which dozens and dozens of scholarly books have been written), and McFague's eco-feminist explorations of "Metaphorical Theology," and "The World as God's Body," especially since he believes that "Theology is a vacuous, nonsensical enterprise," since "its subject matter is non-existent"? Why would he put himself through that "torture?" Unlike Ross in Haught's case, I HAVE read ALL of Dawkins' books, and I can tell you there is NO indication that he is even FAMILIAR with likes of a Tillich, McFague, Clayton, Griffin, Peacocke, Polkinghorne, Barbour, Hefner, Peters, Cobb, Murphy, Keller, Kaufman, Wilber, or a Haught, much less that he (or Ross) has actually STUDIED any of their work. GIVE ME A BREAK!!!

Another reviewer claims that Haught "despises naturalism", is a "bad" scholar, doesn't understand Intelligent design theory, is a "poor" philosopher of religion and that he (for example) "doesn't understand the 'difference' between 'faith' and 'religion,' and between 'morals' and 'ethics.'

Again, Is the reviewers' "knowledge" of Haught's "poor" academic skills the result of his/her having studied all FOURTEEN or so of Haught's books and dozens of academic papers? How many Peer-reviewed journal articles has THE REVIEWER written, I wonder? In what circles is he/she acclaimed?

For one thing, since Haught is an "Evolutionary theologian" who believes that the divine works in and through the world's NATURAL, CAUSAL PROCESSES (primarily at the level of "novel information patterns"), to say that he "despises" naturalism is BEYOND a colossal MISUNDERSTANDING of his work. As suggested by the title of Haught's companion book to this one, "Is Nature Enough?" his problem with "scientific naturalism" is that it is for him an INADEQUATE way of explaining the full DEPTH of reality. He's no "supernaturalist," and he has no problem with evolutionary-theory-as-such; just the NAs VERSION of it!

For another thing, as one intimately involved in the academic study of religion, I can tell you that "faith" is OFTEN used as a SYNONYM for "religion," as in, "The Catholic Faith," or "The Jewish Faith." This is a DIFFERENT but quite COMMON use of the word than, say, "faith" as "trust in the truth of something despite not yet having any proof of it." Haught's not "confused"; apparently the REVIEWER is.

Similarly, many well-known moral theorists, such as Peter Singer, make no REAL distinctions between the words "Morals" and "Ethics," in practical usage, although, yes, some theorists do. Does this mean that Singer "doesn't know what he's talking about," either?"

When I was in my first year of seminary, one of my professors used to always tell us that one could only critique a theologian or philosopher when one was familiar enough with their BODY of work to make an INFORMED criticism. Otherwise, we were just embarrassing ourselves. Too bad many of the negative reviewers didn't heed that advice!

If you are truly interested in discovering the utter lack of depth and insight in the writings of the "New Atheists," then I highly recommend reading Haught's little surgical blade of a book (along with Alister McGrath's "Dawkins God," and Keith Ward's, "Pascal's Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding"). If you love the NAs, and want to continue believing that "all" religious folks (and all the great western philosophers, like Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Newton, Descartes, and Whitehead) are uneducated, anti-scientific, superstitious simpletons, then, hey, don't let ME rain on your parade!
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Showing 1-10 of 24 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 15, 2008 10:45:51 PM PDT
NWG says:
From a fellow admirer of A.N. Whitehead and his followers...all I have to say is bravo.

Posted on May 16, 2008 9:17:22 PM PDT
I second that!!!

Posted on Jun 27, 2008 6:48:27 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 27, 2008 9:09:18 AM PDT
MartinP says:
Oh dear. All the old staples. 'Science isn't objective'. 'Science is just another belief'. And then all the argument by authority. 'Haught has written 14 books'. 'Widely considered one of the foremost experts...'. Completely irrelevant, all of it. It's all about evidence. Science, imperfect though it may be, has offered better explanations, supported by evidence, of just about every aspect of life, the world and the universe than any religious lore ever has. There is simply no getting around this fact, no matter how many learned theological tomes you throw at it. Of course science doesn't know or explain everything (though the dark areas get fewer and smaller all the time); but religion does certainly not explain anything beyond science, indeed it does not explain anything, period - all it has to offer are untested, and usually untestable hypotheses: deus ex machina.

As for the 'scientific' believers, it's a contradiction in terms. Going along with undeniable scientific explanations and then squeezing your god into the little holes that are left open, that's sheer cowardice. If you're a believer, then please be a true one. If you're a true scientific thinker you'll find very soon that maintaining the god hypothesis is not rationally defensible because it flies in the face of too much established fact, and because it raises more questions than it answers.

Don't worry about my parade; it won't suffer much from this light drizzle.

Posted on Jul 1, 2008 6:39:53 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 1, 2008 6:47:05 PM PDT
Zeke Camden says:
On the question of whether Haught understands the new Atheists -- the following quotation from his book pretty clearly establishes that he doesn't: "Briefly, his [Dawkins'] argument is that we humans are moral beings at this time in natural history not because of any direct or indirect revelation by God of moral absolutes, but because our genes long ago fashioned human organisms whose virtuous behaviour increased the probability that their genes could survive on to future generations." No, Dawkins tends to think that the capacity to recognize moral truths (and he does believe in moral truths) is a byproduct of evolution; it's not necessary that virtuous behavior itself made any direct contribution to gene survival.

Similarly, the idea (whether Haught's or the reviewer's) that "the divine works in and through the world's NATURAL, CAUSAL PROCESSES" (including, I assume, natural selection) and that this is somehow compatible with naturalism, shows a pretty deep failure to grasp what 'naturalism' means. The whole point of natural selection is that there is no place in it for a designer -- it explains the existence of apparent design in such a way that the additional appeal to a deity is completely superfluous. Saying that a divine being would choose to work by means of such a process is akin to saying that I might choose to murder my stepfather by allowing him to get old and die of old age. I'm not actually doing any work, now, am I?

Oh, and the idea that if A has been teaching X for over twenty years, then A MUST BE RIGHT about X -- priceless! (Hey, Dawkins has been teaching his stuff for longer than that -- I guess he must be right?)

HOWEVER, I will admit that, although I was initially SKEPTICAL of your review, your REPEATED and FORCEFUL use of CAPITAL LETTERS soon overcame my resistance. WHO AM I, after all, to DISAGREE?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 14, 2008 2:44:11 AM PDT
D. M. Gielis says:
"No, Dawkins tends to think that the capacity to recognize moral truths (and he does believe in moral truths) is a byproduct of evolution; it's not necessary that virtuous behavior itself made any direct contribution to gene survival."

You're mistaken. If the altruistic behaviour benefits copies of the gene in kin of the altruist, this spreads those altruist genes.

This sentence should scream contradiction to you "it's not necessary that virtuous behavior itself made any direct contribution to gene survival." But, for whichever reason, it doesn't. Since when is the gene not the basic unit of selection?

Posted on Oct 21, 2008 2:57:02 PM PDT
The 'New Atheists' are not arguing against a 'straw God'. The god they are talking about is the one I was raised to believe in, within a mainstream Evangelical religious tradition. I think people who were raised in a more liberal faith just don't get the points they are trying to make.

Posted on Dec 16, 2008 2:48:54 PM PST
Apostle says:
One of the most comprehensive reviews I've read online in a long time. He provides the prospective reader with an accurate view of what the book is like -- what its about and what it is not, so that one doesn't have unrealistic expectations. On the basis of it, and because I've had enough of the "straw Christianity" arguments the NA use to make their cases, I decided to order the book.

Posted on Dec 28, 2008 2:50:28 AM PST
Thanks for the superb review. I'm not surprised by the NAs who reduce your points to pro/con, true/false, yes/no, is/isn't, etc. That seems to be their primary mode of processing information.

Even the Borg from Star Trek were more nuanced than that. Anyway, I read back through your review and couldn't find the spot where you suggested that length of time in a position equals wisdom. Which suggests that you didn't.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2008 2:30:22 PM PST
The "New Atheists" have had plenty of opportunities to clarify that there are forms of religion they are excluding from their critiques, but they haven't. Sam Harris has come the closest, by showing some respect for Eastern religions, but Hitchens disagrees with him over that. All the New Atheists would have to do would be to clarify that they're talking about fundamentalism, but not "religion" per se. But that wouldn't sell nearly as many books.

Posted on Mar 28, 2009 10:34:15 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Feb 8, 2010 10:08:16 AM PST]
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