Could a rock achieve awareness, if its faith was strong enough?
(Clearly, faith would be the only way, since logic might be tough)
Could a frog achieve enlightenment? What argument convinces?
(It’s established in the literature that magic makes them princes)
Could a man conceive of heaven, while he’s here on earth, below?
Might his faith be mere delusion? How is man supposed to know?

As I’ve said elsewhere, after watching John Haught’s presentation, in his debate with Jerry Coyne, I thought Coyne should have simply taken the mic and said “See?”. (I see Ophelia Benson has just put up her own reaction, which sounds about right to me, too.)

Haught, I think, did a very good job of describing his view. The religious view he defends grew out of Plato’s notions of a hierarchy of existence, from matter to plants to animals to mankind to angels to god. The creatures on any given rung of the ladder cannot comprehend the levels above them, but may comprehend those below and beside them. The study of physics and chemistry, Haught notes, does not prepare one to speak of life, or mind, or god.

Unless I missed it, though, theologians are stuck here on the same rung as the rest of us.

Ah, but that’s where faith comes in. When you are aware of being in the grasp of something greater than yourself… that’s faith. Knowledge attained through faith cannot be spoken of literally; the language of symbol and metaphor is, however, appropriate.

Fortunately, sharing this “human” rung of the ladder with us are scientists who study human experience. Experimental psychologists, among others, can speak to the reliability of Haught’s “data”. (I wonder whether Haught chose to highlight physics and chemistry in order to draw attention away from the sciences that can and do meaningfully critique his view.) And it seems that our sensory, perceptual, memory and cognitive faculties cannot be counted on to winnow delusional chaff from heavenly wheat. Think about it–how could we possibly know which thoughts were false and which godly, unless we had some external way of knowing that we could compare our subjective assessment to?

Haught did, I think, a fantastic job of describing his world view. Unfortunately for him, by his own description, theology cannot be fact-checked against any evidence. Not only can it not be “objective”, it can’t even hope for intersubjective agreement. One person has a vision, and founds a church; another has a vision and sees a psychiatrist. The raw materials for both are the same.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    One person has a vision, and founds a church; another has a vision and sees a psychiatrist. The raw materials for both are the same.

    Yabbut the outcomes are different: one makes money, the other costs.

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