I read this book because in The Case For God, Karen Armstrong mentions with a sigh that the atheist arguments raised in recent books by Richard Dawkins and others have already been dealt with by theologians such as John F Haught, but she does not say how. Armstrong's argument that God is symbolic and so Dawkins is wrong left me puzzled about why she was bothered at all, since she appeared to agree with him anyway (neither of them believes there is a sky wizard), so I was intrigued about whether Haught's theological dismissal of atheism was going to add anything new. Like a real philosopher he begins by nitpicking our trust in logic in an even-science-requires-faith-in-reason, how-do-any-of-us-really-know-anything? There is no way, without circular thinking, to set up a scientific experiment to demonstrate that every true proposition must be based in empirical evidence rather than faith. You can make any unprovable claim you like and if anyone says you are wrong they are using circular logic, so you can dismiss their criticisms as self-contradictory. If everything must be taken on faith and nothing can be proved either way, if the concepts of proof and logic themselves are just one relativist opinion among many, that doesn't only undermine atheistic criticisms of faith positions, it's the end of all rational thought, including arguments for the existence of God, claims about circular logic, and point-for-point critical responses to atheism (not to mention the legal system and vehicle safety testing). Another of Haught's lines of attack is to claim that science can only deal with the kind of things a condescending lab-coated authority figure can express in algebra on a whiteboard, and has nothing to say about personality. Haught quaintly refers to science as "scientism" when he wants to pretend that it is a faith-based belief system much like Catholicism or Scientology. Maybe they are nice to you, maybe they look at you a certain way, maybe they stop saying your career in theology has been a pointless waste of time, your books are full of stupid circular logic accusations and you aren't even a proper philosopher. At one laugh-out-loud moment Haught claims that Occam's Razor does not apply to theology (p86-87), because the divine guidance he is unable to describe clearly is complementary to actually checking the facts, operating at a different level of explanation, so although there are sound and seemingly adequate social and biological explanations for morality, for example, there is no harm in redundantly adding another one. He then goes on to compare them with the Existentialists of the 1950s such as Sartre and Camus, who argued that without God life was a pointless slog to the grave, and whom Haught considers "hard-core atheists" and praises for at least thinking their atheism through to its revolutionary miserable nihilistic conclusions (unlike Haught himself with his circular circular logic argument). However anyone hoping for a coherent description of what he believes and why he thinks it is true (and Scientology is, presumably, not) will be disappointed, as he spends the rest of the chapter sniping irrelevantly at fact-checkers and waffling on about layers of explanation and dimensions of being, in the end concluding that theology rises above fact-checking and Einstein was wrong. This gracious invitation to share in the creation of the universe is consistent with the fundamental Christian belief that the ultimate ground of the universe and our own lives is the loving, vulnerable, defenceless and self-emptying generosity of God. Haught is all professorial condescension for anyone who disagrees with him, but he is unable to say exactly what he believes or how he knows it's true.
The author takes a long time to say very little of substance.
If you are looking for a decisive, critical, and convincing response to atheism (particularly the atheism advocated by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens), then this is NOT the book to read. One of the most frustrating parts of Haught's response is that he fails to address what he means when he makes one of his (many) sentimental tangents as the one I included above. However, in the latter half of the book Haught makes considerably more references to a "Christian" God and a "Christian" faith. Haught fails to address what makes the Christian faith the appropriate one when it is indeed a derivative of Judaism along with Islam.
Haught repeatedly concedes, for example, that religious people have committed atrocious acts throughout history, but does not get into the specific charges leveled by new atheists. Nevertheless, it is an engaging account which refers interested readers to more academic treatments if desired (specifically several books Haught wrote before this one, which seems to be more of a way to tie his previous work to the claims of new atheists as opposed to better-informed atheists).
He never addresses whether there actually is a god, which is the crux of atheism (new or otherwise). So, of course, if a theist says "I don't necessarily think that all morality comes from a god", that doesn't mean that the new atheists are wrong.
A brief glimpse of the perspective of a scholarly theologian, whose field is Science and Religion, on the writings and (frankly) rantings of the so-called "New Atheists." For me, it was chiefly valuable as a peek inside the workings of a mind that has been trained and experienced in grappling with these issues.
The author, a theologian, analyzes the "new atheists" and their writings from the point of view of an unabashed theists.
The depiction of (Christian) religion that has become immensely widespread in the recent decades, thanks not least to the many entertaining and well-written popular science books, is so grotesque that I personally found it harder and harder to believe that it has much to do with what it really means. So if you have wondered if (Christian) theologists are really as stupid as Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and the like have tried to depict them, then read this book and find out that, as you have long suspected, they are not.
I understood Haught's arguments for God's existence, but they just aren't that convincing. He makes some good points, such as the apparent selection advantage of god-belief, otherwise why else are there so many theists in our biosphere? Haught's argument that the new atheists lack the rigor of Nietzsche, Satre and Camus is just plain false.
Haught received the 2002 Owen Garrigan Award in Science and Religion, the 2004 Sophia Award for Theological Excellence, and, in 2009, the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Leuven.