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God and the New Atheism

John on December 17, 2007 at 11:11 pm

Every once in a while you read something by someone and it’s almost as if they’ve looked into your head and stolen your own thoughts. That’s the feeling I get from this interview with John Haught. Here’s a sample:

You’re saying older atheists like Nietzsche and Camus had a more sophisticated critique of religion?

Yes. They wanted us to think out completely and thoroughly, and with unrelenting logic, what the world would look like if the transcendent is wiped away from the horizon. Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus would have cringed at “the new atheism” because they would see it as dropping God like Santa Claus, and going on with the same old values. The new atheists don’t want to think out the implications of a complete absence of deity. Nietzsche, as well as Sartre and Camus, all expressed it quite correctly. The implications should be nihilism.


But why can’t you have hope if you don’t believe in God?

You can have hope. But the question is, can you justify the hope? I don’t have any objection to the idea that atheists can be good and morally upright people. But we need a worldview that is capable of justifying the confidence that we place in our minds, in truth, in goodness, in beauty. I argue that an atheistic worldview is not capable of justifying that confidence. Some sort of theological framework can justify our trust in meaning, in goodness, in reason.


But Dawkins argues that a lot of claims made on behalf of God — about how God created the world and interacts with people — are ultimately questions about nature. Unless you say God has nothing to do with nature, those become scientific questions.

Well, I approach these issues by making a case for what I call “layered explanation.” For example, if a pot of tea is boiling on the stove, and someone asks you why it’s boiling, one answer is to say it’s boiling because H2O molecules are moving around excitedly, making a transition from the liquid state to the gaseous state. And that’s a very good answer. But you could also say it’s boiling because my wife turned the gas on. Or you could say it’s boiling because I want tea. Here you have three levels of explanation which are approaching phenomena from different points of view. This is how I see the relationship of theology to science. Of course I think theology is relevant to discussing the question, what is nature? What is the world? It would talk about it in terms of being a gift from the Creator, and having a promise built into it for the future. Science should not touch upon that level of understanding. But it doesn’t contradict what evolutionary biology and the other sciences are telling us about nature. They’re just different levels of understanding.

He’s laying out the old distinction between various causes, i.e.efficient cause, finals cause, etc. But he makes it more approachable using this analogy. He also brings us back to Aquinas’ central idea that faith and science must not contradict one another. On the contrary, everything science says about the world can be true and yet not a complete picture in the same way that Newtonian mechanics is true and yet not a complete picture.

I’ll be buying his book when it’s published at the end of this month.

[HT: HotAir for the article.]

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Category: Books, Religion & Faith |

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