As I noted in yesterday’s post, John Haught has relented and has allowed the video of his appearance with Jerry Coyne to be posted online. I am pleased that he ultimately decided to do the right thing.
Having now had a chance to watch the two presentations, let me say that I stand by my speculation, from yesterday’s post, regarding what happened:
I picture Jerry making his points calmly but forcefully, and I picture Haught not really saying much of anything.
I had intended to go through Haught’s talk carefully and explain, point by point, why I think his argument does not hold up at all. But Eric MacDonald has beaten me to it. His post is such a comprehensive and magisterial refutation of Haught’s argument that I simply have nothing to add. So let me turn the floor over to Eric, and quote two portions in particular that strike me as spot on:
However, as we can see here, Haught wants us to begin with the man Jesus. He speaks about the self-emptying of God in Jesus as completely unproblematic from the standpoint of what we can know about the universe as science presents this knowledge to us. But there is an illegitimate step involved here. We are, he says, to read the gospels and allow ourselves to be transformed by them, but surely, if we want to have some idea of how science and religion are related one to the other, we must first have some understanding of how the gospels came to be, and whether, in fact, there is some assurance that these writings provide an accurate account of what happened in first century Palestine. But it seems obvious, given the critical study of these texts, that they cannot be taken without qualification as reliable witnesses to early first century events. Haught cannot simply help himself to the facts before establishing that they are facts, and allowing a story to transform us, before we know whether or not that story is a reliable account of events described therein, is simply to put the cart before the horse. Haught believes that, in order to have any cognisance of God, we must be personally transformed. From what he says, it is clear that he takes this as an epistemological requirement. But to be transformed by a story which cannot in any reasonably critical sense be thought to reliably tell us of the events which are recorded in it, is not to provide an adequate foundation for knowing anything, let alone to give us access to knowledge that is beyond the inherent capacity of the human mind to grasp, as, without personal transformation, Haught takes knowledge of God, and cosmic meaning and purpose, to be.
This is exactly right. One of the main weaknesses of Haught’s presentation was that he provided very little in the way of evidence that any of his speculations about higher-order realities or the nature of God are true. He jumped straight from extolling the value of religious experience as a way of apprehending higher-order realities to taking for granted that the Bible and traditional Church teaching are reliable source of information.
If reconciling science and religion means simply telling a not-logically-impossible story which, if true, would allow you to accept both traditional notions of religion as well as modern findings of science, then I think reconciliation is possible. The problem comes when you actually try to believe the story you have just invented. Haught is a talented storyteller, but even leaving aside the inherent implausibilities of his story (for example, that evolution has an inherent directionality that represents God’s pull on the universe from the future), he simply provides no good evidence that any of it is true. He talks about allowing ourselves to be transformed by the gospels, but why those texts specifically out of all the other texts that exist?
I also liked this:
It’s at this point that Haught gets caught up in a lot of hocus-pocus, despite his dismissal of the idea of God as the ultimate magician. Revelation, he says, has nothing really to do with dogmas or doctrines, but with the self-communication of the infinite to the finite world. And faith itself, he has already said, is really a matter of being grasped by ultimate reality. He doesn’t explain how this sense of the self-communication of the infinite gets transformed into doctrines and dogmas of the kind that are expressed with so much certainty and detail in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or how being grasped by the infinite needs to be cashed in in these very specific terms, so that we can say, without qualification, that women cannot be priests, for example, or that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” (CCC, 2357) How does the infinite self-communication get spelled out in such specific ways? If, as Haught says, the best expression of our encounter with the infinite is silence, by what act of legerdemain does the church dare to break that silence to give us such specific and uncompromising directives as to the order of the church’s ministry as well as the shape of our sexual lives?
This, again, is exactly right.
I would rather not revisit the unpleasantness that surrounded the release of the video. But after reading Haught’s lengthy explanation for his initial reluctance to release the video, and comparing it to what Coyne actually said in his presentation, there is something more that needs to be said. Haught accuses Coyne of all sorts of unsavory things, such as launching ad hominem attacks or quoting him out of context. None of these charges are true. If you read Haught’s tirade before watching Coyne’s presentation, you’re likely to be disappointed with just how tame Coyne actually is.