Friday, March 07, 2008
Further Thoughts on the Problem of Good
I've had exactly a week since my Enterprise-Record article, "The Problem of Good" appeared, and I'd like to offer a few thoughts in response to my critics.
First of all, I am thankful for those (admittedly few) who responded. I am convinced that solid Christian thought (although my article was really simply "theistic") has nothing to hide, and therefore gains much, from honest engagement. Admittedly, many self-proclaimed religious "thinkers" are embarrassments. On the other hand, judging from some atheists, they have not cornered the market! So my hope is that this open exchange of ideas will prove fruitful.
I should also say something I couldn't include in my 700ish-word ER article: I am convinced that science provides excellent means for us to understand the complex realities of nature. Particularly, Darwin's theory--and subsequent neo-Darwinian evolution--have much to offer. I am thankful to be in serious intellectual interchange over his theories through the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and Metanexus Institute. I realize that Darwin's theory will continue to produce profound insights, as well as questions, for theists. For what it's worth, in my reading, Darwin himself appears not to have taken his theory toward atheism, but remained something of a deist. In any event, I was highlighting the contradiction that some atheistic scientists find themselves in (namely, that they have no ground for good within their systems of thought).
And this brings me to a central item that has missed the attention of my critics: In the article, I am quoting atheists. Dawkins, Geller, and Weinberg provide the ideas. It is not Augustine, Pascal, and Tillich. In a blog apparently populated by Dawkins's disciples, they pointed to his argument in "The God Delusion" on good. Dawkins does in fact present a kinder, gentler atheism in that book, but without serious philosophical reasoning for his bold assertions. For all his stylistic brilliance, Dawkins most often resorts to name-calling, inuendo, and bullying. (That's probably why the book has sold so well--it fits our zeitgeist.) I find it hard to take him seriously. In philosophy, one cannot put this book in the same work by atheists such as Diderort, D'Allembert, Hume, Nietzsche, Marx, or Russell. Instead, I chose to quote him from the earlier, "River Out of Eden" because he was much more thorough and honest there.
Tanya Heinrich's thoughtful reply, in the previous post, seeks to solve the problem of good by saying essentially that there is no such thing as good. It is a way out of the dilemma. I'm struck that this is so unsatisfying intellectually and ultimately circular. I can say that poetry does not exist, and that it's simply black and white on a page. But where does that leave me? Without the beauty of Shakespeare's or Eliot's words. She does offer that contemporary thinkers--she references Quammen--are seeking to build a new system (which of course has been a project for the past 200 years or so). They haven't convinced me yet that there is a sufficient reason to posit the non-existence of good, meaning, beauty to match the related non-existence of God.
Ms. Henrich's thoughtfulness does escape her when she closes the argument by writing, "There are those who believe that religion and science can co-exist. I am not one of these people. Religion is a crutch that was contrived to control and manipulate people and used in most despicable ways." This is an example of the lack of serious thinking that atheists so often apply to "religion." Can she really be serious that all religion was contrived to manipulate people? The assertion is so broad as to be either easily falsified (select one religious tradition that was not contrived to manipulate--easy) or as to have no actual explanatory power.
There is much more to say, but in this post, I'll close in with this: I am seeking to take atheists seriously by looking at the import of their words. When I do, I see that they come to incredible roadblocks in their theories. Christian theologians have been much more honest about their aporias for centuries, and it's time for the New Atheists not only to know their sparring partners better, but to engage in a higher degree of intellectual rigor.