Q&A added to “The Video”

November 4, 2011 • 9:12 am

The debate video between John Haught and me in Kentucky has now been supplemented with the question-and-answer session. This is a stand-alone video of about 28 minutes, and I’ve embedded it below.

My favorite bit is between 24:30 and the end.


UPDATE (and a note): Over at Sandwalk, Larry Moran highlights some of Haught’s testimony during the Dover Trial, in particular his characterization of some evolutionary biologists he considers undesirable “materialists,” and of the place of science in understanding the universe.

Larry asks his readers whether people like me should refrain from going after Haught’s theology because he was on our side at the Dover trial. My response is that my distaste for creationism in public schools doesn’t force me to bite my tongue when I hear pernicious and unsupported religious doctrine.  After all, religion—with Catholicism one of its most dangerous forms—does far more damage as a fulmnating illness than does its single symptom of creationism.  With the Catholic Church complicit in the spread of AIDS in Africa, in the sexual abuse of children, and in the torturing of adherents with thoughts of hell, we’re supposed to forget all that and give praise for Dover?

In his testimony, Ceiling Cat help us, Haught talks about the damn teapot and “explanatory pluralism” again (the man’s mind is apparently able to hold only one metaphor), and about the layers of explanations that include God.

I hadn’t read Haught’s testimony at Dover before, and I have to say that I find some of the things he says in Larry’s excerpt rather disturbing. I see Haught’s testimony as vindicating superstition. Go see for yourself.

276 thoughts on “Q&A added to “The Video”

  1. I observe that John Haught waves both hands a lot while speaking. In that respect alone, Jerry, he beats you, er, hands down.

    1. My observation, exactly. I’m familiar with the term “handwaving” but I’ve never seen such a definitive exposition of it than Haught’s talk.

      Also, I would like to respond to Haught’s haughty admonition that those of us who obviously don’t understand “sophisticated” theology which, as described by Haught himself is based on simple emotion, a Chopraesque Lifting of Self to a Higher Plane, need to have better manners and read more carefully, to that and to Haught I reply in my best Anglo Saxon:

      Fuck you.

      1. It would be ethically as incorrect as when christians do it but, still, I think it would be funny for scientists and atheists to claim that rationality has lifted us up above and beyond the christian methodology. Just to see how the christian would react to their rightful position of being subordinate to reality.

        1. Why on Earth would it be ethically incorrect?

          Christian “morality” demands withholding medical care from women, demands refusing civil rights based on sexual preferences, demands the active participation in the spread of deadly infectious disease, and more. Frequently, and not that long ago, it’s demanded warfare and unashamed genocide.

          Damn straight Christian “morality” is inferior. Frankly, it’s only barely elevated itself out of the Dark Ages and into the dawning of the Enlightenment. We’ve advanced a hell of a lot in the past half a millennium, except for the Christians whom we’re dragging, kicking and screaming, along behind.



          1. “Damn straight Christian “morality” is inferior.”

            It is an oxymoron.

            Or maybe it is just hiding where their invisible god hides out.

      2. I have yet to se an example of this sophisticated theology they speak of. Sophistry-cated theology, on the other hand…

  2. Living in the UK and therefore unlikely ever to meet you Jerry, I really appreciated being able to watchthe videos of your science and religion “debate”. It confirms the impression I got from reading your book WEIT, and following your website – that you are open honest fair-minded and a credible voice of reason. Don’t let the likes of Haught discourage you. I hope that some of what I read on this site will make it into another book – it deserves a wider hearing.

  3. It seemed to me that Haught looked plenty mad in the previous video even before the Q&A began, but let’s see whether he got even more angry under questioning.

    1. That’s exactly what I was wondering about before seeing the Q & A. But having watched it, I thought Haught seemed thoroughly engaged and at times enjoying the jousting. Which makes his subsequent behavior–attempting to quash the posting of the vids, implying in his open letter that JAC committed some horrendous breach of academic etiquette and ethos–all the more baffling. WTH?

      All along I’ve been wondering if there isn’t some Vatican feedback involved at some point, some interaction with RCC pooh-bahs that emboldens Haught? And if somehow “they” realized the telling blows JAC landed on their tapestry of bafflegab and passed the word down that his onslaught was too incendiary to release?

      I suppose I’ve been listening to too many conspiracy theorists. . .

  4. My god this man can stay longer in one response to a question than a Jehovah’s witness can in a week.

    After taking Jerry to task over his monistic belief, we get entreated Haught’s monistic belief: there is an ultimate reality that is unique (for some reason he argues that ultimate implies unique). Death is an ultimate end for life, but it’s hardly unique, replicated hundreds of billions of times throughout history.

    Sheesh. Jerry, how’d you manage to read 1 of his books, let alone 6?

      1. Believe me, it wasn’t easy! The second book taught me that he repeats himself endlessly, a lesson drilled into me four more times before I had finished. But by the time I took the stage in Lexington, I knew there was nothing he could say that I hadn’t heard before: in fact, I could have given Haught’s talk for him!

        I invite you to repeat the experience, but have a pack of Rolaids (and a cup of tea!) by your side.

        1. From your Rolaids link: “Minor side effects may include constipation or stomach cramps. Serious side effects include loss of appetite, vomiting, dizziness or headache”

          Jeepers Jerry .. you thought reading the books alone wasn’t enough?
          Why do you hate us so much?

  5. The pointless ramblings of Haught to justify his anti-intellectual ‘THUS, GOD DID IT’ argument are cringeworthy, I hardly had the patience to sit them out.


    Such useless conclusions out of such a torrent of hot air.

    I don’t think Haught was the philosophical one here, he may have been the meandering one, but certainly not a rigorous logician. Baseless assertions rather point to sloppy wishful thinking.

    1. But purple hamsters and invisible unicorns are PLURAL!! And the Ultimate Whatever HAS TO BE SINGULAR!!! It HAS TO!!! BECAUSE!!!

  6. Haught is obviously right that there are various levels of explanation in his example about the boiling water but:

    1. Surely Jerry and every atheist would agree with that too so are not “explanatory monists”
    2. there is investigatable empirical evidence for every one of those levels
    3. Stating that there are a variety of valid levels of explanation does nothing whatever to establish that theology is one of them

    1. It sounded as though he was listing Aristotle’s four causes. The final cause is the “I want tea” answer. However, I’m not sure what this really illustrates.

      1. 1. Put cup filled with water in microwave.
        2. State “I want tea”.

        Wait longer than 3 minutes, which is normal hot water time, result was no tea nor even water that was suitable for the task.

        1. Put cup filled with water in microwave.
        2. State “I want tea”, 3 times because maybe Its a christian thang.

        Wait 3 1/2 minutes cause sometimes it takes a little longer. Same result as before.

        1. Put cup filled with water in microwave.
        2. Set cook time to 3 minutes.
        3. No chanting.
        4. Press start button.

        Ding! Hot water!

        I want to see Haught do the “I want tea”. As with Haught, if I bend over and touch my toes, my ass is higher too.

        1. Getting into religious-war territory here, but at least Haught knows that the proper way to boil water for tea is in a kettle (either gas-fired or electric). Only barbarians make tea in a microwave.

          This is perhaps the only thing Haught got right in his talk.

    2. The most revealing aspect of this analogy is that when Haught wants tea, he sends his wife to put the kettle on.

      1. I had already typed out a comment about that under Notagod, and then I noticed yours below.

        Thank you for not making it have to be a woman who first pointed that out.

        As I recorded from the vid, he said that another explanation for the boiling water in the teapot was “because my wife turned the gas on,” whereas the ultimate layer was his “I want tea.”

        Turn on your own damn gas, Haught.

    3. On every level of Haught explanations the situation is the same, there are scientific motivation behind.

      On molecular level, physics may suffice.

      On tea-making purpose, sociological studies may explain what caucasians usually do with boiling waters (papuans may have different motive for boiling water!).

      On human personal motivation, psychology (or aberrant psychology in some cases) may explain why some person want to have boiling water prepared (if you’re fan of sadistic movies, these motivations may be more interesting!).

      All science (in general sense)!

  7. Oy vey.

    Argument from Scientism.

    Theology is the “I want tea” of life. Without it, it’s all just molecules.

    Haught doesn’t think we can manage “I want tea” types of questions without Theology?

    This is like kindergarten all over again.

    I think “I want a whiskey”.

    1. Theology is the “I want tea” of life.

      HAHAHA! Exactly. I want it all; I want to be loved, I want to be special, I want to have purpose, I don’t want to die…and religion promises to make all those things come true. We can all be two-year-olds forever!

  8. Haught’s counter example to explanatory monism is inaccurate. He is trying to demonstrate that there is more that one explanation for a given question but in his example the discrepancy in answers occurred because two different questions were being answered.
    1 – What causes the boiling phenomena in water?
    2 – Why are you boiling that water.

    1. Indeed. He’s whole argument is resting on the ambiguous form of the original question that allows it to be interpreted in more than one way. So therefore ambiguity of language proves God?

      1. That takes me back to Philosophy 101 where we spent weeks trying to answer the question, “What is a table?”

        The best answer I ever came up with involved a rat’s ass.

        1. Okay, this may not win the thread, but it is clearly number 2 at least. And if I applied Occam’s Razor as an essential part of the criteria I think we would have a winner.

          1. Thanks, Cents, I agree. I should win because I am Number ONE, USA, USA, USA.

            Sadly, unlike most of the BS I post that was a real story. We found out mid-semester that our philosophy prof was a great sot and we spent most of our time before class at a bar where he bought beet. If enough of us were at the bar he held class there. Gotta love the 60’s!

              1. You could still find borscht bars in the ’60’s, but they were actually a remnant of the ’50’s beet-nik era.

    2. That bugged me too. Also once again Haught uses a metaphor that weakens the case for religion: in each of the explanations, the answer is subject to investigation and verification. Supporting, or corroborative data can be gathered when direct observation might fail. Religious investigation of any level of the explanations will fail because there is no way to verify. The best way to investigate those additional levels would be to proceed scientifically, and as science reveals more about the layers it will inevitably come into conflict with the various unsupported religious assertions about them. It’s a variation of God-of-the-Gaps that preemptively tries to make the gap so tiny that most people will overlook it anyway.

  9. Haught keeps saying that Jerry took everything he said out of context.

    1. Why doesn’t he explains then where was Jerry wrong? Which quote was not accurate?

    2. I really think Jerry didn’t understand the quotes from Haught books: not his fault, surely he didn’t write what he wanted to say, at least I couldn’t make any rational summary of his presentation and his answers.

    3. Has Haught ever being in a scientific conference/debate? Theology seminars must be boooooring. In science we really have good intellectual fights!

    4. His definition of science doesn’t seem to be right…

    Conclusion: I really think that he’s in his own universe, disconnected from reality. Nothing of what he says makes any sense and the childish demands for “respect” only make him look as if he never interacts with real normal people.

    He is exactly like the Kiai master that got beaten by an amateur MMA fighter:

      1. lol. that’s awesome!

        he couldn’t believe that his magic wasn’t working and that he actually got punched in the face! and the other guy actually started apologizing! he’s probably thinking “wtf! you do know that your hocus pocus dont work right???? and that you will actually get punched in the face!” lol.

        THAT IS a perfect analogy between science and theology! lol.

        theology starts to make claims about reality then science comes in…..ok fine…..we’ll have at it…..and then theology can’t believe it got punched in the face! lol. and then science says “well what’d u think was gonna happen?” lol.

    1. Conclusion: I really think that he’s in his own universe, disconnected from reality.

      Or, “he really needs to get out, more.”

      I thought JAC parried that charge of Haught’s brilliantly!

  10. That’s weird; Haught is diverted from the subject because he misunderstands, or misrepresents, Jerry’s ideas as scientism. He looks rattled by Jerry’s talk and his thinking is wild and woolly as a consequence. Even if Jerry was promoting scientism, that wouldn’t mean that science and religion are compatible, or that Haught’s beliefs are true. I despair.

    Not a productive Q & A for the *subject* of the Symposium, then, but Jerry’s answers were excellent.

  11. I did not notice any Coyne groupie bias ~ where were those groupies?

    Haught got the most ‘determined’ clapping from a little group (it sounded like) so it seemed to me like there was a little Catholic love-in going on for John

    Some excellent & simple (I love simple) answers from JAC re divine & supernatural
    & a nice backhand return at the end by JAC to Haught saying that HE should also get out more & see what the people believe ~ people believe different stuff to the theologians

    Great. I enjoyed tha

  12. Well, now I understand why Dr. Haught wanted to suppress the broadcast of this event.

    He was right about the fact that one of the participants was unscholarly and unprofessional. He was just worng about which of the two was guilty.



    1. If theologians were succinct, the field would be reduced to “god did it”. This of course would be laughed at uncontrollably, the field would cease to exist and people like Haught would end up – I dunno – frying doughnuts for a living. At least it would be productive.

  13. Haught still doesn’t make clear that when he’s theorizing about the “bigger issues”, that are “outside the realm of scientism ”, how does his theology recognize what is true and what is not, without resorting to either tradition or to what he wants to be true.

    I feel compelled to add that Haught showed an uncivil attitude during the question and answer session by monopolizing it and not giving JAC much of a chance to get in his answers in. Given that he is more guilty of what he accuses JAC of being, what was his original objection to the debate video being released? The only conclusion that can be reached is that he know he was pwned in the talk itself.

      1. What always amuses me is that these “personally transformed” individuals are no better than the rest of us, and often a good deal worse (because of their delusions of moral and spiritual superiority?).

        1. One of the questioners basically implied that atheists were “less evolved” than religious folks. At least that’s what I thought was the thrust of the question, and I think it’s one that Jerry responded appropriately to.

  14. I suspect that Haught cannot be succinct because when people talk about their god the way he talks about his, he has to have enough time to fool first himself then fool others. This requires lots of place-holding rhetoric and verbal slight of hand. I know a “progressive” pastor who does the same thing. The cadences are familiar.

  15. I agree with Richard Dawkins Theology is not a discipline. In fact I think it is an indiscipline. If it isn’t provable then it is pure speculation. Nonsense comment from Haught on scientism?

    1. In the past, all priest class always weasel out using the murky water exit. And they always win by saying that the other party didn’t know any better. Now, progress in science has depleted those murky water swamps.

      If Haught’s speech were given 1-2 centuries ago, he was a definite winner (Jerry would be asked to be crucified head up or down ..)

    1. I’m told that genuine ad hominems are difficult to detect. Could someone more familiar with fallacies confirm that we have a real live ad hominem here?

      It did seem like one to me because the argument seemed to boil down to: “You are wrong because you don’t get out enough.”

      1. That’s my reading of the Q&A, at least the end.

        The “get out more” comment was pure ad hominem. Dr. Haught was saying (and he did say it, in direct terms) that Dr. C. hasn’t read enough ‘fisticated theobabble, and therefore his arguments are wrong.

        That is ad hominem, by the book.

        For all Dr. H. went on about Dr. C. not engaging his arguments, the shoe is clearly on the other foot. The best Dr. H could do was try to relabel things (call names).

    2. I really wish I had been the guy with the last question. I would have dropped the “free will” question and simply asked Dr. Coyne to respond.

  16. If you would have interrupted at around 21-22 minutes in with, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes, [grasps lightsaber] bzhwuuuhmmmm,” I would have bought up thousands of your book.

  17. Holy Hoppin’ Hank, he trots out the same old tired nonsense about “deeper” truth, I don;t believe in that god either, and the emperor’s new clothes! The lengths of dishonesty that he goes to to try to salvage his theology is startling.

  18. Did you hear him describe his deeper truths that are obtained by religion/theology?

    A fair paraphrase:
    “It’s something you encounter and just know is true”

    Which brings Feynman rushing to the front of my cortex: Hah, fooled yourself again, eh?!

    1. That’s what he described as evidence and Dr. C., your “cheating wife” analogy was the perfect rebuttal to that nonsense.

      It’s clear you put a twist in his tail! Wow, he’s pissed off and goes ad hominem at the drop of a hat! Talk about you not addressing his points!

      His supposed rebuttals are to call names! Your view of the world is shallow and un-nuanced, you haven’t read enough turgid theobabble, you “don’t get out enough.”

      He was shoveling manure pretty fast and furious in there.

      1. I think that was my favorite part – even better than “you should get out more, too”!

        “Evidence” doesn’t mean “stuff you make up”.

    2. Yep. I caught that. Seems to me the only one indulging in ad hominem was Haught. My guess is that his uber-piss-offage was due to Jerry not dutifully accepting his alternate “nuanced” (goalpost-shifted) definition of what evidence means (not respecting his authoritah), which led to Haught letting some ad hominems fly (which Jerry would not let stand). To then turn around and accuse Jerry of ad hominem attacks was then projection, plain and simple.

      I think this is evidence that Haught may be a little nuts. Perhaps in a nice kind of way, but he’s a bit nuts. (not ad hominem, but a simple observation based on evidence he provided).

      1. When I was first coming out as a new non-believer, I naively said some things rather bluntly (but not unkindly) to a religious friend. She went “a bit nuts” on me, too. She’s otherwise a smart, apparently quite rational person. I think that this flash of “a bit nuts” is a fairly common occurrence among sophisticated believers. I’ve seen it before, anyway. I’d like to understand the phenomenon better.

        1. I’m sure there’s things that set off my nut-o-matic, too. It does remind me of a good friend – a DJ, Harvard educated, reads a book a day (to interview the author on the next day) on a wide variety of topics. Yet holds copious amounts of bullshit in the head (thinks homeopathy works, is a shaman, all that kind of crap). It was me insisting on the common definition of “evidence” and its implications for the silly cherry-picking worldview that set this person off. SERIOUSLY set this person off.

        2. I am guilty of a similar reaction (to Haught’s I’m afraid) when (many years ago now) I reacted badly to a friend who suggested that humans didn’t need religion and I snapped some nonsense about people needing it for moral compass. (Or: Stop bringing up these uncomfortable subjects, dammit!)

          At the time, I was no longer religious but I still had that hangover of a soft spot for it (belief in belief — Dennett).

          Sheesh it makes me cringe to remember it!

          However, this same friend later sent me a copy of Dawkins’s Unweaving the Rainbow, which quickly led to The Seflish Gene and all the rest of Dawkins’s books, Dr. C.’s book, so I guess he forgave me! A true friend, at least in this: Unweaving the Rainbow set loose a train of events that caused me to think thoroughly about religion and to consciously and completely reject it was nonsense, start to finish.

          That process was rather (to me) like becoming a fully-aware adult. The Bible actually puts it well: The scales fell away. (Like many atheists, I have actually read the entire Bible (parts of it many times), along with the Qur’an, the Hindu and Buddhists “scriptures”, etc.)

          1. I have read the whole of the Bible but only managed about half of the Koran. The bible is mostly intensely boring but that is partly because it is quite repetetive and also very long. The Koran, as I have mentioned in another post, is so repetative that if it was edited to remove all the repeats it would be really quite thin. The continuous repeats of the same stuff over and over make you think of an aging relative who keeps telling you things because they have forgotten that they have told you already.

  19. Hilarious… the silly botherer that objected to that specific wording of the Nicene Creed. Esp. that he never heard of the phrase “the quick and the dead”. Apparently knows nothing of the King James Bible. Seems like the theistic questioners not only bloviate unnecessarily (have to school the speakers somehow before getting to their question), but are also provincial. Heck, I was raised Catholic, said the stupid thing a million times, yet didn’t blink when presented with Jerry’s wiki version. The “we” vs “I” business is also not an Apostles vs a Nicene distinction; it is a “traditional” vs. a “modern” one.

    I also haven’t yet met a Catholic who actually understood their creed all the way through, esp. the zombie part at the end.

    1. Typical theobabble! IGNORE all those claims that we dutifully recite several times a week, and, if we are good Catholics, actually believe (since that is the entire PURPOSE of a creed: To publicly declare what you believe (sheesh, these people!)) and hey, over here, over here, look away from all that! You missed the CORRECT minor semantic variation.

      QED: Everything you said about this is bollocks!

      Too bad Dr. C. didn’t get equal time to reply.

      I want Haught to declare in such a debate whether he truly believes the tenets of the Nicene Creed (let him choose the version! Let him recite his own!). Dr. C’s point is that Catholics are supposed to believe this stuff (and millions of them do — in the USA: Dr. Haught, you need to get out more!) and it’s all made up, has no evidence, and has been refuted by science.

    2. How bigoted of you to assume I believe something just because I recite a statement saying a I believe it every week!

    3. I was taken aback by that comment: Where does the guy think the phrase “the quick and the dead” comes from? What does he think it means? (Clearly not what it does!)


        1. Sorry if that Youtube clip wasn’t on topic. But in my defense, the protagonist is named Herod, and the antagonist ends up with holes in his hands.

  20. I can sure see now why he didn’t want this posted. His performance was embarrassing. He did nothing in there except blow smoke and appeal to authority (and go ad hominem.

  21. Haught’s whole framework implodes when he talks about the “hierarchical view.” Why should there be any kind of “hierarchy” to our understanding of reality?

      1. And, by the way, the answer, “My wife turned the gas on” is not an equally intelligent answer to the question of why the water is boiling.

    1. In fact he gets the hierarchy wrong. He puts “faith and morality” above “mind”, when in fact the evolutionary evidence indicates that morality preceeded human consciousness. Even chimps have a sense of fair play.

      Similarly, faith is not a recent invention of enlightened minds. It’s a holdover from our evolutionary past, and reason is how we overcome it.

      1. There is a hierarchy:

        1. A bunch of bollocks that anybody can assert about things.

        2. The actual facts, determined by science.

        As noted above: The water boils because the molecules are moving fast enough relative the ambient pressure.

        The rest is the desires of people, which DO NOT explain why water is boiling.

        Dr. Haught: Provide us with one verifiable truth about the universe that has been discovered by your “higher layers”. Religion is empty.

  22. It seems to me that his ‘sophisticated theology’ (read: retreating from the onslaught of science) consists of the usual “I know in my heart god exists” said more eloquently. If that’s America’s great theologist, I wonder why universities all over the planet haven’t closed down theology departments as an easy and guilt-free cost cutting measure.

    1. Hey, if there are enough students that want to take theology, it pays for itself. It’s not as if it requires huge expenditures for laboratory or field experimentation. . .

  23. Just finished it and it is maddening. Haught’s dickishness at the end was totally uncalled for. “You have to get out more?” Seriously? Haught is talking about a special rarefied god believed only by theologians deeply invested in covering for believers of a more material divine, and he has the gall to dismiss Coyne’s actual concerns about actual religion as it is actually practiced.

    Here is another source of conflict. Haught thought that he could talk in lofty terms about some hypothetical “religion” believed by almost no one. Coyne is talking about religion as it is actually observed and practiced in the real world. No wonder Haught was offended. He brought a thesaurus and a book of poetry to what turned out to be a fact-fight.

    Haught’s whole theology was juvenile. It sounded like the kind of thing I believed when I was 18 and defending belief in the supernatural in freshman bull sessions after three or four bong hits. I guess it should be no surprise that he has conducted himself like a petulant child.

    1. The difference between tea and God is so obvious as well: tea exists, I can prove it! *goes off to make a cuppa*

  24. It’s really clear:

    Dr. Haught went ad hominem. (He was monumentally pissed off by having his pants pulled down in public).

    Dr. C. addressed the claims of religion generally, and Catholicism specifically, directly, and pointed to them and showed them to be nonsense (and, to be fair, he did laugh a bit about it). Dr. C. never stooped to ad hominem until Dr. H. goaded him into with his unscholarly and unprofessional attack on Dr. C. “you need to get out more.” And Dr. C. responded in kind; but with better reason!

    Ooh, yeah, I wouldn’t have wanted that video of me losing my cool to made public either.

    1. In the last minutes, it was clear Haught is angry. The main reason, I think, is that because he thought he was treated unfairly, somewhat below his station (which he must thing quite high).

      And Jerry fought well.
      Now it is clear why Haught wanted to curb this video, it didn’t show him in his best light.
      As a good catholic, he can’t accept this kind of treatment. (lucky for Jerry, Haught was not a sheikh or something …)

  25. So let me get this straight. Layers of explanation. Pot of water boiling; because of molecules, and because someone turned on the gas because someone wants a cup of tea.

    So god is cooking the world because god wants to drink us?

    Have I got that right?

    1. No, Ophelia, He wants to eat us, not drink us. Haven’t you read Donne’s poem on divine cookery, ‘Batter my heart, three-person’d God’?

      1. Actually, rather than thinking of deep-fried hearts in batter, it might be better to rewrite Donne’s line as ‘Butter my heart, three-person’d God’ – that would suit better with tea and crumpets.

  26. Listening to John Haught talk about ‘layered explanations’ – it occurred to me that all his examples were not actually explanations at all – but questions. This means that in a (silly!) scenario, science can keep giving all the answers that it is able – and people with John Haught’s mentality just say ‘why’ each time. It just confirms for me the difference between the two – I’m pretty confident Jerry would say that if evidence (REAL evidence!) emerges to support the existence of god, he would change his mind. Regrettably, people like John Haught are so irrational that they could never countenance the notion that there might not be a god.
    Oh. En passant. I understand the chap with the microphone had concerns about people rambling on before getting to their question, but was it really necessary for him to hold it whilst they asked their question? I’d assumed that a university would be a place where you treated young people as adults…?

    1. . . . and people with John Haught’s mentality just say ‘why’ each time.

      The rhetorical sophistication of pre-schoolers.

  27. So let me get this straight.

    Explanatory monism is wrong and bad, because explanatory pluralism is better, because it’s richer and more fun.

    But the ultimate reality is by definition One; it can’t be plural, because it’s ultimate. So monism is good. Except the explanatory kind.

    Have I got that right?

    1. Will you shut up already with this nonsense about the emperor being naked? If you got out more, you’d see that his high-tech velcro shoes are, indeed, laced most elegantly in the traditional style.

      And stop distorting my position by quoting me out of context!



      1. I see you introduced a paradox to help us more fully comprehend the transcendent reality of the emperor’s footwear.

        1. Haught’s Courtier’s Reply:

          Of course the Emperor isn’t wearing “clothes,” in the simplistic material sense, and nobody at this parade really believes he is. You’re stubbornly defining “naked” as “not wearing physical clothing.” Theologians like me appreciate the great mysteries of the clothes-that-are-not-worn, and are carried away by their beauty and power. How am I so sure they exist AND that they are blue? Shut up you naif, that’s why.

  28. More seriously – I think Nick Matzke’s buddy Jack behaved rather badly. He took up way more than his share of the time, and saying it was all a caricature is just absurd. I’ve read some Haught and it’s not.

    1. Also, Haught seems to be overlooking the fact that the symposium question was “Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?” not “Science and Sophisticated Theology: Are They Compatible?”

      As far as effects in the real world are concerned, it is religion that matters and not Haught’s rarified theology.

  29. lol.

    “It’s boiling because I want tea.”

    That’s awesome. lol.

    What else is there to say about Haught’s position on what an actual “explanation” means.


    It’s boiling because he wants tea!

      1. lol. Haught needs another level of explanation for explaining why the water isn’t boiling at room temperature even though he wants tea AND is praying for the water to boil because he wants tea.

  30. So, if I have this right, there are two (or many) “layers” of understanding at our disposal. We hidebound rationalists and empiricists insist on dwelling solely within the evidentiary layer. But the REAL freethinkers can ascend to the theological layer, where there’s no way to know what’s true and what’s false, or to know what constitutes evidence, or to know whether there even IS a theological subject to speculate about, so there’s no reason to put stock in any conclusions you might draw.

    And that’s a better approach because…?

    1. Because you can use it to sucker people into believing anything you say, and even be paid to say it, and even write books about it, and get to be paid for that too.

  31. In response to Moran’s question, theists are simply *wrong* and harmful and do not deserve a “pass” if they finally are dragged kicking and screaming into accepting evolution in some form. They might have finally given into the vast amounts of evidence that support evolution and cease being *quite* the hypocrites they are, but they are still believing in baseless superstition. This why I really dislike the concept of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Theists will never be “friends” of science. They use it grudgingly and hypocritically.

  32. Well, Dr. Haught does a wonderful job of putting the “haught” in “haughty.” Nothing but theobabble for as far as the eyes can see.

  33. Dr Coyne: “If we haven’t gotten to that point, we should shut up about it.”



    So let me get this straight.

    Explanatory monism is wrong and bad, because explanatory pluralism is better, because it’s richer and more fun.

    But the ultimate reality is by definition One; it can’t be plural, because it’s ultimate. So monism is good. Except the explanatory kind.

    Have I got that right?

    Welcome to sophisticated theology.

    So there’s one ‘ultimate’ reality, and he claims to know it, but then claims that explanatory plurality is actually the better method? Methinks Dr. Haught can’t keep his story straight. Monism is good when it excludes all the other gods, but bad when it exclused his god.

    Wow, Haught can really spew the bafflegab, can’t he?

  34. And that folks, is sophisticated theology. Jerry, you are a brave man, actually reading and studying this BS. I salute you.

  35. AAAAAGH!!!! Haught shakes his head and get really tee-d off when you say he believes in a god that interacts with the world!! What the hell?!?!?! He is Catholic. If he can’t accept the most basic definition of a theist, then he is a deist.

    C’mon…If you make a divine truth claim that affects the natural world, then it is testable. PERIOD.

    1. Maybe Dr. Haught can explain how God can take human form and perform miracles while in that form without interacting with the world.

      1. I’m sure he could, just not to anybody’s satisfaction other than other Christians. The gist of it would be that your literal conception of “interaction” was crude and unsophisticated.

  36. Having had to listen to Haught has reminded me of the most harmful aspect of religion that often gets overlooked:

    Life is short. When i contemplate how many hours of my life i’ve spent reading and listening to religious gibberish like that of Haught’s, i get angry. I don’t enjoy it. It takes time away from doing the things i really enjoy in life. But alas we must. For if we didn’t, we would have even less time to discover and engage in the joys of life.

    The most harmful thing religion has done to life is…kept us from living it.

    1. Well said indeed. Yes, it’s probably something that takes up too much of our time. But recall the memoirs from Irish Industrial Schools and Magdalen Laundries. The years and years of force-feeding this garbage to tens of thousands of kids (not to mention what else they suffered). How much dead time, how many lives blighted and destroyed by the repetition and exposition of a banal invented story… the same one that Haught seeks to justify.

      1. Even better said.

        Indeed. And there are all the women being abused and killed today in the strictest of fundamental sects.

  37. Haught’s fundamental argument is a dishonest misuse of language. He is a deliberately dishonest and misleading. He plays a semantic game.

    His example: “Why is the water boiling? Explain it to me.”

    But what he really does is answer two questions as if they are the same question.

    A physicist visiting his house would see the kettle on the stove. He would ask: “Why are you [or your wife, or whoever] heating water?” It could be for tea, it could be for bouillon, it could be for instant coffee or soup, it could be to pour into a hot-water bottle. But, a student accompanying the physicist might ask the physicist, “what is happening when water boils?”

    They are different questions. Haught is dishonestly utilizing the non-specificity of colloquial language and pretending that two questions are one.

    They are not.

    He knows it. That is willful dishonesty–I call it lying, albeit slickly.

    He tries to mask that the question is not really appropriate for either answer he gives, by appending the second part, the demand for an answer. That distracts the attention of the audience from the actual wording of the question. He leads us to an assumption of the meaning of the words, and proceeds with the audience complicit the way a stage magician makes the audience complicit in his sleight-of-hand.


    1. Good point.

      Furthermore, to correct Dr. Haught’s analogy, I would say:

      In the past, when someone asked why water was boiling, others would say “It’s the fairies” or “It’s the water god and he is angry and must be appeased” or some other supernatural explanation – until more rational people examined the situation, conducted experiments and eventually explained the how water changes from a liquid form to a gas. Science thus replaced the primitive, incorrect explanations.

      Dr. Coyne and other scientists carry on the tradition and show that religion is not a valid explanation for what happens in reality. Science is the best path to understanding.

      1. The absurdity of Haught’s reasoning becomes clear if you replace his question:

        “Why is the water boiling? Explain it to me.”


        “Why is the water boiling at 100 degrees Celsius? Explain it to me.”

    2. In one of the other threads someone shot down this argument by pointing out that boiling water comes out of volcanic vents. This boiling water occurs naturaly and, as such, has no purpose. Checkmate!

  38. I have watched it all now and I’m angry. Angry that weasels like him are allowed into universities, angry that deliberate lying is acceptable, angry that he has the temerity to find himself taken out of context. Angry at stupidity.

    In any other country in western Europe, Haught would only be allowed a pavement to preach on.

  39. Larry asks his readers whether people like me should refrain from going after Haught’s theology if, after all, he was on our side at the Dover trial.

    It is, indeed, important to acknowledge that we have allies in the fight against creationism who happen to have religious beliefs. But I agree with what you said a few lines later – we don’t have to swallow their bad theology just because they are on the right side of the facts about evolution.

  40. Haught’s haughty BS reminds me of a conversation I once had with my uncle. He claimed that science was merely an explanatory filter, more accurate because of its methods but not necessarily more true than other possible explanations.

    The example that we settled on to discuss this idea was that of the Water Nymphs vs. the Frost Giants.

    When water freezes, science says that the molecules are slowing until they settle into a more fixed arrangement. This has several effects: the water expands (from its liquid form), the water cools, the water solidifies.

    Conceivably, a non-scientific culture could also posit that water freezes because there is a perpetual war between invisible Frost Giants and undetectable Water Nymphs. The Frost Giants prefer ice and the nymphs prefer room temperature water. When one wins a battle, they claim that territory and the terrain transforms to their preferred state. It’s sort of like a cosmic game of Go.

    The giants fight better at temperatures below “freezing,” so when you stick a tray of ice cubes in the freezer it almost inevitably gives them an edge and they gradually end up conquering each cube. Meanwhile the nymphs fight better at room temperature, which is why the same tray will become water again if left on the counter. And of course surrounding the giants will inevitably be slaughtered if they are dropped into a glass of water and thus completely surrounded by nymphs.

    As long as both explanations make equally accurate predictions and no fact contradicts either, they can both be regarded as equally true. (Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there are equally whimsical activities of giants, nymphs, or air fairies that perfectly conform to other known properties of water, hydrogen, oxygen, etc.) That the nymphs and giants suffusing our water have never been detected by scientific methods isn’t so much a problem, because maybe we don’t know where or how to look yet. In order for one of these explanations to be more true, it is necessary to find information to contradict one of them, for example a prediction or necessary precondition that can be shown to be false.

    To be honest, I like this. It’s fun. It means that I can come up with magical explanations for natural phenomena to delight my children, stealthily teaching them about physics and chemistry but with a heaping helping of whimsy and play that will hopefully delight them enough to probe deeper.

    All the same, I felt it necessary to rebut: OK, this is all hypothetically true, but so what? It has never, ever happened! Every fanciful, supernatural explanation of natural phenomena that has ACTUALLY EXISTED has made some kind of prediction about the natural world that science can falsify. Real-world frost giants have found their territory shrinking steadily since the dawn of the enlightenment, to the point that we quite correctly point and laugh at people who would still seriously posit this. And while it’s POSSIBLE that we have not been looking in the proper places for frost giants lo these many years, how long are we really going to expend resources and invest time in looking for them if their existence doesn’t even matter? If they are there, and if they are relevant, then I have faith that we will find them. Maybe that’s what all that dark matter spread throughout the universe is made up of. Until we have some indication that there are frost giants, the whole lovely story is just a word game. A very fun word game, not dissimilar to the mapping of swordstrokes and spells to dice rolls in Dungeons and Dragons, but a word game nonetheless. It adds nothing to our understanding of the world unless you can show that it is actually SUPERIOR, not just equivalent to the more parsimonious scientific explanation.

    I’m pretty sure that my uncle and I had basically the same debate that Haught and Coyne had, although they had more slides and used bigger words. But hey, I was 16 at the time and my uncle barely graduated high school.

    I am so glad that I watched these videos, even though they have made me very angry. We atheists spend most of our time and target most of our arguments at fundamentalists, because fundamentalist beliefs are easiest to pin-down and refute and because fundamentalists do by far the most harm individually and culturally. I had never bothered with sophistimacated theology because it all seemed like an attempt to accessorize the emperor’s least favorite outfit. Pointless, because the clothes don’t exist, and somehow even more pointless because the emperor would only wear the ensemble that goes with that ridiculously cumbersome handbag on laundry day anyway, when he has already exhausted all of his more typical garb. Now that I have gotten a glimpse of sophisticated theology I feel like it is even stupider than that. Theologians aren’t accessorizing for the emperor, they’re manufacturing cheap knockoffs of his clothes and demanding that everybody they know tell them they are far more pretty than even royalty. Haught needs two doses of humility and another strong one of shut the fuck up.

  41. One thing I noticed while watching Haught is that he was having a good time while talking. He’s into it. It’s a bit like singing or playing a guitar – it’s a pretty noise, and he enjoys making a pretty noise. He does it well, within its own terms – it’s quasi-poetic and deepityish, it’s mellifluous, it sounds Grand if you don’t try to understand it. It’s a genre unto itself. A certain kind of academic revels in it. Lit crits used to be able to do that but now they can’t any more; it’s out of fashion. Theologians may be the only kind of academics who can do that now. Well, them and Continental philosophers. (I know a lot of readers here think analytic philosophers also do that, but they really don’t. They wouldn’t last a second if they tried it.)

    1. Not sure I buy this one, Ophelia.

      Jerry seemed to be enjoying himself, too, even if his adrenal glands did seem to be in high gear. And Dawkins and Hitchens also seem to have a blast as they wax poetic.

      The difference, of course, is that Jerry, Richard, and Christopher all have the facts on their side, and you can understand what they say, and the more you put into understanding their words the more you get out of them….



      1. Well I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having a good time while talking or giving a lecture (far from it!), I’m just saying Haught was.

        I am however saying the source of his good time is a particular kind of source. Again not in itself a bad one – but considered as the kind of thing Haught was more or less supposed to be doing…it’s a bit different. He wasn’t there to deliver an aesthetic effect, in short. He had a good time spinning words, and he should have done something more than spin them.

        Still. As I said yesterday – he is a good talker. Good pace, good voice, all that. Credit where it’s due.

        1. There is a particular kind of enjoyment I see on the faces of people who are (I guess) performing self-hypnosis to get themselves in that groove where they feel god in themselves and thereby believe they are giving voice to deep wisdom. I recognize the manners and facial expression (and cadence of speech) in a “progressive” pastor I know. It’s distinctive.

        2. True, although as I was listening to him talking and sawing the air too much with his hands, I found that I was repeating to myself in a mantra-like fashion, “I have no reason whatsoever to believe this…I have no reason whatsoever to believe this…”

          1. Gosh, yes, and I know just the church choir and children’s Sunday school class that need to learn that mantra! 😉

      2. Yeah, that was my reaction too. I loved the way JAC was enjoying himself, while Haught, tho he had his moments, did let the facade drop a few times. Those instances of anger & juvenile petulance really weakened his presentation.

        Though to repeat myself, Haught seemed engaged enough in the Q and A repartee to thoroughly belie his open letter claims of being shocked (shocked!) by Jerry’s “vulgarity.” I still wonder why the post-facto hissy fit?

        1. I still wonder why the post-facto hissy fit?

          Oh, that’s easy.

          Jerry mopped the floor with Haught. Haught knew it, too. Jerry’s masterful rhetorical jiu-jitsu didn’t help, either. And Jerry “made” Haught lose his temper, as was evident in the Q&A. Haught continued to be steamed about the drubbing Jerry gave him and was more than a bit ashamed of his own performance, and so tried to suppress the continuation of the humiliation. He thought he’d play Jerry at his own game and try to make it look like Jerry was the one who was uncivilized…but all Haught managed to to was demonstrate even further just how far out of his league he really is.

          I doubt he’s yet to realize just what’s happened to him. He may never really know.

          The really sad part is that Jerry was quite civil and gentlemanly towards Haught himself; it was Haught’s theology that Jerry eviscerated. An academic would be understandably upset at such a drubbing, but could be expected to grudgingly acknowledge defeat and eventually come around to champion the newly-discovered truths. But Haught has revealed himself to be nothing more than a cheap flim-flam man; his rage is that of the con artist interrupted mid-swindle.

          In other words, Jerry gave Haught the respect of a peer. But since Haught’s whole scam depends on people thinking that he’s one of Jerry’s peers even though he isn’t, the whole edifice came crashing down around him. Haught got exactly what he thought he wanted, and it was his own undoing.

          He’ll keep his day job, to be sure, but his dignity is lost forever. He’s damaged goods, yesterday’s fish wrap. And he has nothing but his own dishonesty, greed, and incompetence to blame.



          1. Well, that’s very convincing. And I certainly agree with you that Jerry “mopped the floor” with him. But I also see Ophelia’s point about Haught performing (that’s actually a key verb; I would not characterize JAC’s part as a “performance”) smoothly with respect to apologetics standards.

            Somehow I doubt his stumble here will change his MO much; perhaps only in which venues he opts to appear.

            I doubt he’s yet to realize just what’s happened to him. He may never really know.

            The really sad part is that Jerry was quite civil and gentlemanly towards Haught himself; it was Haught’s theology that Jerry eviscerated. An academic would be understandably upset at such a drubbing, but could be expected to grudgingly acknowledge defeat and eventually come around to champion the newly-discovered truths.

            Oh, I couldn’t agree more. But since he’s obviously one of those before-you-can-deceive-others-you-have-to-deceive-yourself types, I see him less as a con-man than as just another tragedy of religious brainwashing.

            Perhaps it’s only that the sight of such an emotional response (and the reading of same in his “open letter”) brings out the pity in me.

    2. Yes, and some people enjoy having sex in public. I don’t think that qualifies exhibitionism as an academic discipline, though.

    3. I recall an interview with Charlie Rose in which E.O. Wilson compared his experience, as a son of the South, listening to stem-winding sermons by Baptist preachers, to what an Italian must feel when listening to performances of Verdi operas.

    4. I recall an interview with Charlie Rose in which E.O. Wilson compared his experience, as a son of the South, in listening to stem-winding sermons by Baptist preachers to what an Italian must feel in listening to performances of Verdi operas.

  42. You can believe in magic if you like, but you can’t make rational arguments in favor of magic. I think all you can do is say, “Well, what can I tell you? I just believe in magic.”

    All the rest is hand-waving.

        1. He doesn’t sting, but he does bite and scratch. (Then again, so do I.) Does that count?

          (Seriously. He’ll drape himself across my shoulders, which necessitates him “digging in” sometimes to maintain his balance. While he does this, I’ll scratch his butt and rub his face. Sometimes he gnaws on my fingers, in which case I generally bite his tail. Tit for tat!)


  43. Well, reading Moran’s page was discouraging! After 6 years I don’t recall Haught’s testimony but there he was all tea pots and layers of understanding. The old git hasn’t progressed in his analogies or thought in 6 years, or, maybe 1600 years. Same BS then, same now.

    Tea pot, mousetrap or layers of undrstanding, irreducible complexity. Looks the same to me.

  44. Imagine writing a dozen or so nonfiction books that are completely untrue/useless. You’d have to be utterly convinced of your own made up nonsense to even get out of bed every day.

    Bravo John Haught. I admire your cockroach-like theological tenacity. Keep burnin’ that flame.

    Seriously though, I’m sure he’s a good person and that makes up for all the years he wasted on that career.

  45. I just viewed the Q&A session. Seems to me that Coyne and Haught were using different definitions of evidence. Jerry bases his thinking on “good evidence”, the kind used to support Scientific views. Haught bases his theology on “bad evidence”, the kind similar to seeing a face in a grilled cheese sandwiches and accepting it as evidence of God’s existence. For example, the bible is often used as evidence of God’s existence. That may be acceptable to god believers but not the rest of us. Like Jerry said, “It’s turtles all the way down.” Conclusions based upon bad evidence, (nonscientific) are obviously acceptable to Haught.

  46. Where has Nick Matzke gone? Why is he not here defending sophisticated theology and reminding us about Kitzmiller? And my take on theology is no matter how much perfume you spray on a turd, it’s still a turd when you bite into it

        1. Good point – I guess science, as opposed to theology, is like the turd that you don’t have to spray perfume on before eating it!

  47. Religion is a tacit recognition of the existence of right? Well that’s an interesting definition. And god is truth. Ok.

    So many theologians will define god out of existence if you keep them talking long enough. Karen Armstrong does the same thing in her “History of God”, by the end of the book she leaves nothing but deism for the faithful. Haught got upset because Jerry pointed out to him the silliness of his views by putting them in plain English instead of poetical polysyllables. In fact Haught is so incapable of recogonising his own opinions when said in simple language that he accused Jerry of misrepresenting him! It just shows that it’s all about the romantic poeticism rather than any genuine understanding of anything.

    1. Yes! While not recognizing his own atheism, he attributed belief in god to Dawkins (Dawkins is motivated by a search for truth, truth is god) – that has to be a first!

  48. What a blowhard that Haught is. I particularly disliked his condescending description of scientists’ methodology as “scientism”, a strawman caricature and a term invented by desperate faithiests to drag science down to their level. I would like to see a good analysis of what Haught said and a decisive rebuttal. How about it Dr Coyne, or Dennett or Dawkins or Grayling or Myers or Pinker?

  49. I wish John Haught had been asked exactly how it felt for him to be ravished by God (Donne’s word – ‘except thou ravish me’), so that we could have heard the personal testimony that stands in his mind for ‘evidence’.

  50. If I could add to my last comment, We seem to be seeing this pejorative term scientism thrown at scientists alot lately and I’d like to see it dipatched once and for all. The fact that scientists have confidence in how they do their work is not atype of faith but an empirically based confidence that the method works because its been going on for 400 years

    1. “empirically based confidence that the method works because its been going on for 400 years”

      Agreed, but that’s really begging the question. You’re using the methods of science to show the methods of science are effective. It’s a bit circular.

      The woo woo people claim that there are truths which aren’t amenable to the scientific method, so you can’t use evidence to prove or disprove them. No, I don’t really understand that either.

      1. Not true. One does not have to assume that the scientific method works to try it. No preconceptions about its effectiveness are necessary.

        1. ==Not true. One does not have to assume that the scientific method works to try it. No preconceptions about its effectiveness are necessary.==

          You’re suggesting that I try an experiment to see if the scientific method works. Can you not see this is circular?

          1. You don’t have to “try an experiment” – just open your eyes and look around. The method either works or it doesn’t. In this case, it does – independent of whether or not anyone thought that it would going in.

      2. In see your point Greg,about the circularity, and I guess that’s illogical, but I’m not trying to derive a conclusion, just infer something that is highly probably true from its long success. I ran into this idea in Patricia Churhland’s book “Brain Trust” when she was discussing Hume’s ‘you can’t derive an ought from an is’she maintained that you can infer an ought with a high degree of confidence sometimes and go from there.
        As for the certain “truths” aren’t amenable to scientific method but are still true, we can apply what I call Hitchen’s razor: “What can be claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”.
        But anyway, I think it’s important to slap down this scientism notion somehow.Whaddaya think?

    2. Yes, and that is so obvious and has been pointed out so many times that when John Haught raises it again and again even after that point has been made to him again and again, he just being dishonest. He knows his charge is bullshit, but his profession is bullshit, so he has little alternative thabn to argue, on this point at least, exactly as a creationist argues: repeating the same tired litany even when it has been refuted over and over again.

    3. Boiled down to its essence, you don’t even need to be talking about SCIENCE, per se. The supposedly “watertight” argument Haught gives that science is also a kind of faith is EXACTLY analogous to saying that you have “faith” that the sun is going to come up tomorrow.

      The non-argument glosses over lots of stuff — experience of repeated events, and the confidence (like you said) engendered by knowing WHY the sun, in fact, comes up every morning (something the Biblical authors did not have at their disposal). The truly anal compulsive could even attempt to quantify the probability that the sun does NOT come up tomorrow, based on some supposed mechanism making the sun go boom before the earth completes its rotation.

      But this continued charge of “scientism” necessarily involving “faith” has got to be one of the more pernicious false equivocations that supposedly sophisticated theologians (and new agers, and other mushy-brained masters of illogic) have come up with. No matter how this simple point is explained (or how many times), the same people will just keep pulling it out of their ass like it hasn’t already been completely trampled and burned the last time they tried.

      It’s the difference between people that actually know how to solve real problems and those that only know how to whine about their intention in a vague way. How many times have you heard that science answers the “how” questions, but religion answers “why” ? It’s the idiot prats of the world that don’t ever seem to get that “how” and “why” are entwined, and are ONLY reliably answered by observation. Of real stuff, not made-up stuff.

    4. The only answer, I think, is to respond to the charges of “scientism” with our own charges of “religionism” and “philosophism.”

      More than one can play this game.

  51. 1. I can’t believe Haught used a stupid language “trick” with that tea pot. He really should not be allowed to get away with that.

    2. As Larry Moran has suggested, it very much seems like Haught is just a deist…who has invested too much in his affiliation with the Catholic Church to be able to come clean about the fact that he doesn’t really believe in any of the tenets of the Catholic Church. This is extremely dishonest of him. Like Jerry, and probably everyone else, I wish Haught would just clearly let us, and everyone else, know what he believes. I agree with other commenters, that I have more fun and important things to do, but if I had the time, I would make a long list of all the things Catholics supposedly believed in, a very clear list, with clear wording and direct questions, and then publicly ask Haught to answer each and every question. Perhaps he’d just call such an exercise unsophisticated, but I think if we were to cull the content of the questions directly from the Vatican, then he wouldn’t be able to use such an excuse. Not that he’d ever dare clearly identify what it is that he does and does not believe, he is, after all, a theologian.

  52. My impression is that Haught thinks that we have no truck with his idea of hierarchical levels of explanations because we don’t understand it. I think that he thinks that he just needs to explain it in simple enough terms until a light goes on in our heads and we GET it.

    He needs to understand that we do GET it and the reason that we reject his argument (when he applies it to the supernatural) is because we completely GET it. We can see how completely self serving it is.

    An argument that is self serving isn’t necessarily wrong but we are right to be suspicious of it.

    We see his attempted slights of hand. He defines each ‘higher’ level as being better than the lower levels. He defines them as being necessarily harder to understand. He declares God to be Ultimate and therefore the highest level (to avoid “turtles all the way down”). He declares that God, being infinite, is beyond our ability to grasp and so declares that any description of him will, by definition, be vague and apparently self contradictory (the fault of our tiny little minds).

    He has lined up all the excuses needed to insulate his work from rational criticism (in his opinion).

    When we say that theology is inconsistent and self contradictory he states that this is to be expected given the validity of his hierarchical way of understanding.



    The Emperor has no clothes.

    We understand his arguments and how they work. We understand them too well to be impressed by them.

    He is not wrong when he states that there are hierarchies of understanding. The tea example he gave was a good one. But as others have pointed out, each level in his example was a result of natural processes and is already covered by existing scientific disciplines. We can find out who put the kettle on to boil and why. And we can ‘prove’ the existence of the natural actors. (as long as we don’t slip into solipsism)

    But although we nod in agreement as he ticks of each level in his list we will not continue to nod if he were to add God onto the end of his list. God does not get a pass out of mental inertia, Haught hasn’t succeeded in hypnotizing us, he hasn’t stopped us from looking afresh at each new level added.

    For each level added he needs to start afresh and justify that that level is valid. He needs to earn our consent. You can’t just add a level to the list and state that the level is valid because the “idea of hierarchical levels” is valid.

    His attempted justifications for adding God to our list of hierarchies are.

    1) He is ultimate (which is nice – its not turtles all the way down)

    2) His hugeness combined with our puny minds means that we can expect to see attempted understandings of him that will conflict with each other and wont fully make sense.

    3) We observe that theology provides conflicting answers that don’t fully make sense. Therefore theologists are on the right track. So stick God on the top of the hierarchy.

    No thanks John.

    1. I only point this out because your arguments are so well thought-out that I hate to see them vulnerable to grammatical hubris. It’s “sleight of hand,” not “slight of hand.”

      Pedantic to be sure, but some of us have been conditioned to notice those things, for better or worse. . .

      1. Thank you 🙂

        I hadn’t noticed that one. I was worried that people might pick up on other things that I’d noticed.

        I don’t know what it is but I always miss something when I post.

        1. Gawd, I know the feeling. And my worst gaffes are usually in these would-be “correctional” comments. Very recently at this site, in fact.

          And who the hell’s ever heard of “sleight,” anyway?

          Which shamed me into googling up this:

          sleight”cunning,” c.1275, from O.N. sloegð “cleverness, cunning, slyness,” from sloegr (see sly). Term sleight of hand is attested from c.1400.


          But really, your overall thesis about where and how Haught’s hierarchy scheme falls off the cliff is spot on. It’s hard to believe he doesn’t realize this himself at some level.

          1. “… my worst gaffes are usually in these would-be ‘correctional’ comments” — There’s one of those eponymous rules for that, something like “Hartman’s Law of Retaliatory Prescriptivism,” providing that every such correction will contain an error of its own. Never fails, and doubly embarrassing, as I’ve had cause to discover.

          2. Diane – In looking up these eponymous laws with regard to a comment below, I discovered it’s also called “Muphry’s Law,” as a play on the misspelling of “Murphy’s Law.” (In doing so, I also discovered a way to kill the extra hour from today’s time change — as if rummaging around in this near-dead thread wasn’t bad enough).

  53. I have a better question for John Haught:

    When you want some tea, what do you do? Pray, or turn on the gas?

  54. 3:30 “…for which there’s no evidence at all…” Aha! So that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. QED. And his evidence for the Christian God is…?

  55. Shorter Haught: There is a level of existence that we can barely perceive, but can only feel though our emotions and the certainty of our internal revelations. There is no evidence for it, but asking for objective or external evidence is just scientism.

    Shorter response*:
    1) Hitchens’ Razor**: That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    2) Scientism is a made up “ism” created by people of other “isms” that know that having an “ism” is bad, so to make an opponent seem appear bad, they must have an “ism” too. An “ism” is typically dogmatic and non-changing. Science being a method of determining facts and truth based on changing evidence makes “Scientism” a science in the same way that “atheism” is a religion (ie: in the same class as a not-stamp-collecting hobby)

    I liked the Q&A session: Jerry’s smile is so infectious, and he obviously enjoys explaining things to people, which is a good attribute in a teacher. 🙂

    * Rixaeton is mostly incapable of a shorter anything. 🙁

    ** I think it would be a fitting tribute to Hitchens if this phrase were to be referred to as a Razor with a capital “R”.

    1. I liked the Q&A session: Jerry’s smile is so infectious, and he obviously enjoys explaining things to people, which is a good attribute in a teacher.

      That was my impression as well.

    2. “Shorter Haught: There is a level of existence that we can barely perceive, but can only feel though our emotions and the certainty of our internal revelations. There is no evidence for it, but asking for objective or external evidence is just scientism.”

      Theological or apologetic arguments always distill down to one thing.

      The voices in my head told me. Always.

      The problem with that is obvious. Billions of people have voices in their head telling them stuff. They are all different. And there is no way to determine which voice is the One True Voice In The One True Head.

    3. “[I]t would be a fitting tribute to Hitchens if this phrase were to be referred to as [Hitchens’] Razor[.]”

      I emphatically agree (not that anyone’s taking a vote). Only problem is that Hitchens actually came up with the phrase.

      According to “Stigler’s Law of Eponymy,” a rule or law is never named for the person who actually devised it. (Stigler’s law is self-referential — he didn’t discover it; somebody named Merton did.) Maybe Hitchens can have a twofer: his own Razor and the Hitchens’ Exception to Stigler’s Law.

  56. I don’t know what the problem with multilayered explanations is. Why is the chameleon changing color? A physiologist will explain the stuff happening in the chameleon’s skin, while an evolutionary biologist will talk about the advantages of camouflage. Both true, each one at her own level.

    The problem isn’t that there are different levels, but that we have no reason to accept the level Haught wants to include because it has no factual basis.

    1. In fact the reply to “Why is the chameleon changing color?” can be split up in several questions:
      1)Which molecular mechanism in the skin causes changing color?
      2) What are the environmental factors that have caused the development of this molecular mechanism in the skin?

      The answers to these questions are all on the same level.

      You will get the same result if you would split up Haught’s tea kettle question that way. Why did I ask my wife to boil the water? Why dis my wife put the kettle on the stove? You will get answers that are all on the same level, and things turn out to be quite banal.

      1. Apologies to Rob, who earlier on in the comments aired this idea, and should get the credit. Battling with deadlines, but I will get around to read everything, this discussion is fascinating.

  57. Haught’s claim of philosophical superiority over Jerry is not that Haught believes in a god in general, or about the claims of Christianity in particular. Ironically, Haught’s claim of philosophical superiority is Haught’s commitment to teleology as a foundational principle of his philosophy.

    Now that I see the script, I see how it flips. If you see Haught argue in the negative against Jerry by saying, “Your philosophy is inferior because it is materialistic or naturalistic,” you can rephrase that as Haught arguing in the positive for himself as, “My philosophy is superior because it is teleological.”

    Srsly, he thinks a commitment to teleology makes him superior philosophically. But does he publish that claim in peer-reviewed philosophical journals? I don’t think so — I think he works in the bubble Miranda Celeste wrote about on her web site. And the funny thing is, I think Jerry’s materialism or naturalism is provisional — if you could demonstrate something supernatural, he would be open to it. But Haught’s teleology is foundational — he tells the audience to be open to teleology, but he’s committed to it foundationally.

    Sorry for all the italics, but my mind=blown!

  58. Wow. Haught defnitely seemed like the bigger douche. He had no right to attack you. I wanted to punch his big stupid face.

  59. Haught reacted badly to Coyne’s presentation and it really showed in the video. As many have said here already, I can see why he didn’t want it posted.

    Anyway, two points:

    1) Using Haught’s reasoning, if I take a whole bunch of drugs, start hallucinating and see green monsters that will be experiential “evidence” for the existence of green monsters. I don’t doubt that he and his fellow religionists feel something real when they get their religion on. I was brought up religious and felt too. However, that something isn’t necessarily a God communicating via some spiritual broadband. We know the brain does wacky things and a purely material cause definitely seems like a simpler explanation. Which brings me to my second point…

    2) Haught dismisses the use of Occam’s razor against his arguments because the physical and the supernatural/divine/whatever aren’t competing. There are simply different explanations on different layers of the hierarchy (or something).

    However, here are the actual competing hypotheses that fit the data:

    H1: Nature

    H2: Nature + God*

    One hypothesis is actually much simper than the other (hint: the one without an all-knowing, all-powerful, and thus extremely complex, being). This is why I don’t think even Deism is a respectable position.

    * I’m considering here a deist God or a God that only interacts with our universe very rarely. The hypothesis of a God who regularly interferes with his creation is ruled out because it doesn’t even fit the data, as Jerry mentions in the video.

  60. Not sure if this was stated, but Haught’s entire argument seems to hinge on his philosophical framework being somehow better than “scientism” or whatever “big-word monism” he used. His framework says that there are many answers to the same question, one of which is scientific, and others are more personal and supernatural.

    The actual reason he states in the Q&A why his is better is that it encompasses more. That’s it. Scientism encompasses just the natural world we see, and his philosophy includes answers that scientism cannot include (the many reasons why the pot is boiling, including because an agent caused it). No reason is given as to how he knows those other answers have answers that aren’t materialistic.

    Therefore, if I were to propose the super-supernatural world, within which the Super-God (the being that created God, which answers the question which Haught cannot: why does God exist?), this framework would be undeniably superior to both Haught’s and scientism, since it encompasses even more answers.

    1. Also, if — as Haught says — we can’t know anything about God because we are on a lower level and the lower level can’t “get” the higher level but the higher level can “get” the lower (he attributes this to Plato, though it sounds more like Aristotle to me), then what the hell is the purpose of “Theology”? Didn’t he just talk himself out of a job?

      1. Well, there’s a caveat there as per Haught. The lower level can’t get to the higher level, except when using personal transformation :). So, inshort it means I can cheat you, by making myself not reprimandable to cheating, because I can by definition cheat.

      1. Why stop there? I’ll see your super-supernatural, Brother, and bump you a super to super-super-supernatural. Yes, I can feel one coming … an endlessly recursive loop! (For which see the following two Index entries:

        Recursive Loop
        See Loop, Recursive

        Loop, Recursive
        See Recursive Loop)

  61. So a more deep and profound answer to the boiling water question would obviously be “God likes the smell of tea”?

  62. How is his “transformational evidence” different from “subjective evidence” or indeed from “believing something because it feels good”?

    “When I believe in God my life is transformed.” Use of the right drugs will do that too, but most of us don’t say that means the drugs have any element of truth about them.

    And of course such “evidence” is not transferrable, which rules it out from being evidence is any useful sense.

  63. This stuck out like a sore thumb when I watched the video. I have marked with * the parts where Dr Haught shakes his head in disagreement.

    At about 23:30 Dr C says “Because John is a theist, like many religious people, and thinks that god interacts with the world in direct, empirically observable, testable ways,* and if you make that claim then the mechanisms of science* can be brought into, I mean you can see if people can be born from virgins or that they could be brought back after being dead for three days…”

    So what is wrong with Dr C’s characterization of Dr Haught’s position? Does he (Dr H) not think that god interacts with the world? Then he is actually is a deist and should not be a part of that discussion about compatability, since a deist god is not the kind of god that religions offer despite being compatable.

    Does he not think that the interaction is observable or testable? Then I see 2 possible explanations. The interaction can be this “feeling of love” or something of that sort, meaning that god makes you feel good sometimes, but does nothing that would actually influence the material circumstances of your life. Or that god acts so rarely that statistical methods cannot reveal that even in theory. So even with the entire population of the earth over the history of statistics we would not get statistically significant effects.

    So is Dr Haught’s god a god that doesn’t do anything and just is? He is welcome to have his own version of a deity, but it hardly represents the kind of god that people pray to, and is in my opinion just a sophisticated front for a very active god that could be but is not observed by science.

  64. OK, I’m watching the Q&A now. Haught’s ‘scientism’ comment is just terrible. Hasn’t anyone laughed to his face in response until now?

    1. Haught: ‘The evidence for [a loving] God is religious experience.’

      Er, how is that distinguished from just fooling oneself?

    2. Haught: Why does Dawkins right all those books [one so far] on atheism? Truth. Which is another word for God.

      Jebus, he’s terrible.

    3. Haught: Everything Jerry has said is a caricature. He needs to get out more.

      Er, he read your books, dude. The ‘caricature’ is yours.

  65. Prompted by Jerry’s and other’s energy going into this, I have done what I rarely do: listened to a theological debate – or rather a theological monolog followed by a science exposition + Q&A.

    What I can see Haught never made a good, empirically motivated case for religion being minutely compatible with empirical investigation. It remains that we know they make contradictory claims in methodology, facts and theories/ideas.

    Coyne was terrific and made a general treatment that pulverized Haught in particular. The only problem I had (as a swede) was a somewhat unclear dialect. I didn’t miss too much though.

    I think Coyne made a good reply to Haught’s claim that we must reply to sects in the chosen terms of the sects. Haught mis-characterizes the claims of his own sect by bringing an incompatible theology into it, making claims on his religion that most believers do not.

    But even so, the idea of kenosis fails. Perhaps it has been said already, but “emptiness and love” fails on many levels.

    – It is as Coyne notes, making a contradictory claim on behalf of the religion that makes no empirically empty claims.

    – Science can’t practically reply to ~ 10 000 + sects individually, and doesn’t have to since there are universal traits of embracing superstition.

    – And even if all the above wouldn’t be fact, science once started out with kenosis, literary. It has made great progress to fill our world with fact and theory, and get away from medieval religiously rooted “natural philosophy” to a useful empiricism. And yet we stand here noting that religion is fully incompatible with science.

    Besides that, kenosis is an old request from abrahamic potentates as delivered by Haught to drop the essence of science (filled with methods, facts and theories) and make obeisance to theology, for reason of special pleading. That is never going to happen!

  66. 1. So JC gets a more enthusiastic round of applause after telling Haught he needs to get out more too… that must have been what Haught meant when he later wrote about Dr. Coyne’s “groupies”(?) WEAK!!!

    2. At about minute 19 during the Q&A a woman asks a thoughtful question about multiple realities. I’M NOT SURE, but I think she is the same person who fought to have the 10 Commandments removed from Louisville government offices. (i saw a video of her presentation a while back on the Louisville Atheists & Freethinkers site.) Cool!

  67. Philosophy: how to think well.

    Haught: “For many years I tried instead to become a philosopher.”

    I wonder why he failed. Could be because he sucks at philosophy.

  68. Oh, and:

    “Revelation is primarily the self-communication of the infinite to the finite world. And by anybody’s mathematics, since the finite world cannot contain the fullness of the infinite in any instant, but has to undergo a restless process of—if you want to use a Darwinian term—adapting to its ultimate environment of this infinite self-giving love, then it is not surprising that the finite world would undergo a process of self-transcendence. Matter would transcend itself into the becoming of life, life into consciousness, consciousness into ehtical and religious aspirations, and so forth.”

    Why exactly is the proper response to this not, “Fuck off”?

    1. ya got me.

      that would be pretty much my response too.

      and I expect most here would exactly understand why that is a fitting response.

      1. Its sophisticamasturbatory theology: goD being in all places at once in all possible circles is at once giving hiMself a reacharound and a tripartite circlejerk. So, you see, its not, like, like talking to yourself.

  69. I read on Russell Blackford’s site that this was your first debate. Wow. I sure am looking foward to seeing your debating career blossom and the theological carnage that will doubtless ensue. No wonder Haught didn’t want the video to be released – he didn’t know what hit him. Well done!

  70. One of the dishonest things that Haught is trying to do is to annex the authority of science to himself by claiming science as a subset–howbeit an inferior subset–of theology; well, actually, his theology. Science can not contain or even perceive his theology, whereas his theology happily subsumes science.

    But look where that goes: if science is an inferior subset of theology, that means that a scientist is an inferior to a theologian; that means that Haught is superior to Einstein…or Newton…or Darwin…or any other scientist one might care to mention.

    1. In the Middle Ages, theology was known as ‘the Queen of the Sciences’.

      That’s where Haught is now, with Boethius and Ignatius Reilly.

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