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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Yes you do (on John Haught enjoying himself)

"... Dawkins' discussion of morality and the Bible is a remarkable display of ignorance and foolish sarcasm. I do not enjoy speaking in such a blunt manner about any writer, but not to do so here would be evasive."

I have to laugh at that claim on page 68 of Haught's God and the New Atheism. The whole book is written in a high-handed, humorless, aggressive way - it is far nastier in tone than Dawkins' The God Delusion, and it comes across pretty plainly that Haught is enjoying every minute of displaying his imagined intellectual superiority ... and just generally sinking the boot into his chosen opponents.

A lot of the verbal attacks fall flat, though, mainly because Haught spends most of the book effectively calling Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris ignoramuses and idiots for dealing with mainstream, orthodox, traditional theological positions rather than focusing on Haught's obscurantist one. Since I know very well that Haught's views, as well as being incoherent on their face, are those of a small minority of professing Christians in his own country, the United States, the manner that he affects makes him look rather foolish (as well as egotistical, and simply a nasty piece of work).

Why this guy gets so much praise from secular people is beyond me. It's pretty plain from reading this book that he's someone whose company I wouldn't be able to stand.

But again, such people can be as nasty in their approach as they like ... and they seldom get called on it. It's about time somebody pointed it out.

2 comments:

Michael Fugate said...

I get the feeling that all of the good will towards Haught comes from the Dover trial. I recently reread his testimony and found it to be seriously flawed.

Taner Edis said...

I've been following Haught's writings on science and religion for many years now. As you say, they're reliably evasive, obscurantist, and plain dull.

But there's a difficulty with challenging Haught in a non-academic context, where there are public and political implications. That's because Haught (and people like him) are very reliable allies of science as a secular institution.

For example, the current judgment among people who presumably ought to know (such as the NCSE) is that it is imperative that when defending evolution publicly in the US, we should also defuse the threat religious people feel by producing theologians who will enthusiastically support biologists. Haught is very dependable about this sort of thing, not just in writings and public appearances, but also in court cases.

So in that context, if I'm mainly concerned about the integrity of science and science education, it becomes secondary that I think Haught's theology is ill-disguised bullshit. His existence and public profile is much more important for the cause of defending science and some degree of secularity in public life than a boatful of scientists overtly skeptical of religion.