Release the Video!

Update 11/2/11, 11:26pm: John Haught has relented, and the video has now been released. You can find it here. Haught has also provided a lengthy explanation of his initial refusal to allow the tape to be released. Jerry has replied.

A few weeks ago, Jerry Coyne and John Haught discussed science/religion compatibility in a forum held at the University of Kentucky. Jerry wrote a brief account of what transpired. It seems that Jerry prepared thoroughly for the debate by reading no less than six of Haught's books and watching all of his presentations on You Tube. Haught, on the other hand, phoned it in and delivered a standard stump speech.

But maybe you read Jerry's account and wondered if he was exaggerating, or perhaps slanting his coverage of the event to make himself look good. You probably figured the video of the event would inevitably show up on You Tube, and then you would just see for yourself who had the better of it.

Well, apparently not. You see, Haught after giving his permission to have the event video taped in the first place, has now refused to allow the tape to be released.

When Jerry asked Haught for an explanation for his refusal, here is what he got:

Haught responds to my email asking him to change his mind. His short response says that the event “failed to meet what I consider to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange,” and that he would have no further comment.

We can dismiss out of hand the possibility that this is the real reason. You can be sure that if Haught thought he came off looking good he would happily give his permission to release the video, no matter how unfruitful he found the exchange to be.

The image I now have in my mind of what happened in Lexington is much, much worse than what Jerry described in his write-up. I'm picturing a Rick Perry-like debate performance. I'm picturing Haught's supporters watching in slack-jawed horror as their hero crashed and burned in a manner reminiscent of the Hindenberg. I figure that's the level of awfulness that would be required for Haught to make this decision.

After all, he has to know how foolish and ridiculous this decision makes him look. Release the video and the tiny corner of the blogosphere that cares about such things would watch it, chuckle a bit, and then that would be the end of it. No doubt he and his supporters could spin it as a consequence of his ideas being just too darn deep to be adequately expressed in such a forum. But by making a big deal about it like this he just ensures that anyone who cares about academic openness will think he's just a buffoon. Most academics, even if they were disappointed with their performance, would nonetheless give their permission to post it, shrug their shoulders, and move on.

I've read several of Haught's books over the years, though I wasted my time with all but the first, since he mostly just publishes the same book over and over again. As with so many theologians, he seems to revel in his inability to write a clear sentence. For example, here's how he rebukes Richard Dawkins for holding (as Haught sees it) an overly simplistic definition of faith:

Faith, as theology uses the term, is neither an irrational leap nor 'belief without evidence.' It is an adventurous movement of trust that opens reason up to its appropriate living space, namely, the inexhaustibly deep dimension of Being, Meaning, Truth, and Goodness. Faith is not the enemy of reason but its cutting edge. Faith is what keeps reason from turning in on itself and suffocating in its own self-enclosure. Faith is what opens our minds to the infinite horizon in which alone reason can breathe freely and in which action can gain direction. Reason requires a world much larger than the one that mere rationalism or scientific naturalism is able to provide. Without the clearing made by faith, reason withers, and conduct has no calling. Faith is what gives reason a future, and morality a meaning.

When facing an audience of his coreligionists, or when writing obscure books read primarily by those supportive of his ideas, he can be confident that the audience will happily play along with pretending that murky writing is a sign of great profundity. Placed instead in a forum where his ideas are challenged and the audience is open-minded, and suddenly the incoherence of his arguments becomes painfully clear.

That, I suspect, is what happened in Lexington. I picture Jerry making his points calmly but forcefully, and I picture Haught not really saying much of anything. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the video will come out after all and I will end up with egg on my face. Well, there's certainly one way to put me in my place.

Professor Haught, suck it up, be a mensch, and release the video!

More like this

"An adventurous movement of trust that opens reason up to its appropriate living space."

Ah, it couldn't be clearer or more concise. Now I know exactly what John Doe Churchgoer means when he uses the word "faith."

This is odd, I gotta say. Most veteran debaters would still release the video after a poor performance, because they know their core supporters don't actually notice if they did badly. You save more cred by acting gracious and proud of your performance, than you would by trying to cover it up.

Unless Haught actually started punching Coyne on stage or something, how does it hurt him to have the footage released?

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 01 Nov 2011 #permalink

It seems that Jerry prepared thoroughly for the debate by reading no less than six of Haught's books and watching all of his presentations on You Tube.

Sounds like Prof. Coyne took a page out of the Ken Miller playbook. When Prof. Miller was inveigled by his students into debating Henry Morris, this was how he approached the event. It's the only way to combat the Gish gallop. Unfortunately, all too often, scientists who go into such debates unprepared, end up being embarrassed.

Where's Verbose Stoic? VS constantly complains that folk like Rosenhouse and Coyne only attack simplistic theology and don't attack the real, serious theology. But Coyne did exactly what you asked, and now the serious theologian is so embarrassed by the result that he won't let people see what Coyne had to say, or his responses.

I cannot think of more damning pragmatic evidence of failure for sophisticated theology. This says to me that folks like Haught are completely insincere in claiming they want to examine and discuss the credibility of their religious beliefs. When push comes to shove, Haught chooses to insulate his beliefs and remove such examinations from the public sphere.

Update from Jerry Coyne's site - it appears Haught may give permission to release the video.

He said he'd release it once Coyne put a letter of his on Coyne's website. And its on the website, albeit as a comment rather than a separate post. Ball's in your court, Haught...

What really bugs me about faith peddlers is the insidious way they just assume that the object of the faith is their deity/religious principles. I bet Haught does not believe that faith in the reward of 72 virgins in the hereafter is an adventurous movement of trust.

The thing about that kind of writing is that it's not just murky, it's also emotive. It's purple. It's like poetry (but not in a good way). It does work on people who already believe it, but I think not so much because it's murky as because it sounds Grand.

The video has been released, albeit missing the Powerpoint slides (they're working on a new version with those in there) and with most of the Q&A missing. Still, one can see the talks and decide whether Haught's claims were right.

It's here:

"I picture Jerry making his points calmly but forcefully, and I picture Haught not really saying much of anything. But maybe I'm wrong."

I just watched it and no, you weren't wrong.

By Dr. I. Needtob Athe (not verified) on 02 Nov 2011 #permalink

It turns out John Haught opposed the release out of pure compassion for Jerry, who would have looked extremely bad if people saw how he made the Catholic Church look bad by detailing their monstrous (Haughtâs word) record:

You should be grateful that I have tried to protect the public from such a preposterous and logic-offending way of bringing your presentation to a close.

Either this is jaw-droppingly patronizing, or it is a barefaced, shameless lie. TBPH, I canât decide which is more likely.

By Peter Beattie (not verified) on 03 Nov 2011 #permalink

I expect the truth was that Haught was so confused and upset by the whole thing that he couldn't even disentangle his own emotions about it, all he knew was he wished it hadn't happened and he wanted to forget it ever had. Ergo censorship, unfortunately it backfired and now it's worse than he could ever have imagined. If I hadn't listened to his blathering explanation of the value of faith I'd feel sorry for the man, as it is, *blows raspberry*.

Haught says of the discussion "my meeting with you was exceptionally dismaying and unproductive". To translate into regular english "You said I was wrong and that hurt my feelings." It seems Haught has never had an discussion with someone who vigorously challenges his core assumptions, and having to try and defend them made him uncomfortable. Someone please call a waaaaaaaambulance for the poor theologian.

By Robert S. (not verified) on 04 Nov 2011 #permalink