A common objective?

Tom Clark argues with the theologian John Haught. He starts out with some common ground – or perhaps not.

As much as their worldviews differ, both naturalists and anti-naturalists share a common objective: getting the nature of reality right according to their best lights.

I don’t really think that’s true – at least not of anti-naturalists of the type discussed in the article. I thought that as soon as I read it, then as I read the rest of the article I found places where Clark makes points that are (at least) in tension with it. It seemed to me as soon as I read it, and then thought about it, that anti-naturalists are motivated in their anti-naturalism by something other than getting the nature of reality right. I think what they want to do is get the nature of reality into alignment with their wishes, and that getting it right is subservient to that goal.

And what comes after that passage simply bears that out.

From Haugh:

Do our new atheists seriously believe …that if a personal God of infinite beauty and unbounded love actually exists, the ‘evidence’ for this God’s existence could be gathered as cheaply as the evidence for a scientific hypothesis?

But why should anyone think that, even if there is a ‘God,’ it is one of infinite beauty and unbounded love? If your goal is to get the nature of reality right, you start by taking an impartial look (to the best of your ability) at reality, at the world as it is; if you do that, do you think that beauty and love describe the world? Not if you really take a look. Not if you know anything about it. If you really look, you know very well that there is a lot of ugliness and misery too, and that a god of beauty and love seems at the very least incomplete as a god of this world and this reality.

Haught further says that to decide the question of God’s existence it is necessary to open oneself ‘to the personal transformation essential to faith’s sense of being grasped by an unbounded love.’ Clark comments:

[W]e see that detecting the object of knowledge – infinite Love, should it exist – requires receptivity to the possibility of its existence on the part of the knower. But of course being receptive is patently to be psychologically biased in favor of the possibility, to be susceptible to a certain interpretation of one’s experience, namely that one is being embraced by god. So right away we encounter a stark contrast between Haught’s theological mode of knowing and ordinary empirical inquiry, in which subjective biases in favor of certain hypotheses are seen as threats to objectivity. For those concerned about whether their preconceptions and desires might be distorting their grasp of reality, that is, anyone interested in truth as opposed to wishful thinking, the theological requirement of receptivity raises a bright red flag.

Exactly. Which is why I’m not sure naturalists and anti-naturalists do share the common objective of getting the nature of reality right.

It’s an excellent article; read the whole thing.

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