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Theological Hypocrisy and Exceptionalism

August 10, 2011

Some theologians, and many apologists, argue that Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and other secular scientists have no right whatsoever to speak of God, theology, or religion because they have no formal training for commenting on these subjects.

However, some of these ‘theologians’, at the same time, hypocritically feel quite free to dictate what science is to these persons: a subject in which they have neither formal training nor familiarity!

15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2011 9:51 am

    Do you have an example of a theologian or two doing that?

    • Chris E permalink
      August 10, 2011 9:59 am

      Any theologian who uses pre-suppositionalism to rule out scientific theories.

    • August 10, 2011 10:10 am

      Arni–whenever I see your name I always hear it in Ah-nuhld’s voice–Ah-ni Zach-ka-riazin. I have issues.

      Anyways, here’s an example of Al Mohler–who I shall loosely describe as a theologian–misrepresenting science so that he can make a speculative theological point.

      Most often, you will find this sort of framing in apologist arguments concerning creation vs. evolution. If you really want to punish yourself, read some stuff by terrible apologist Ray Comfort and you will see him attempt to use this sort of framing: you can’t comment on my beliefs, but I can completely misrepresent and dismiss your knowledge and method!

      It is a rhetorical device to frame the argument to the apologist’s advantage. This is important because dealing with actual methodological naturalism is difficult stuff. More so the move from methodological naturalism to philosophical naturalism. Easier to misrepresent them, label and dismiss, and then declare a “victory” for a young-earth creation.

      And what Chris said…

    • August 11, 2011 1:57 pm

      You see this just about everytime William Lane Craig (or pretty much anyone) talks about the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Anything any physicist has to say about the big bang, quantum mechanics, multiple universes, infinity etc is total nonsense and dishonest wishful thinking except when it agrees with their premise.

  2. August 10, 2011 10:21 am

    As a scientist (almost 20 years in energetics, graduate of US Navy Nuclear Program) and a degreed theologian I can emphatically say that, yes, both scientists without formal training in theology and theologians without formal training in the sciences have no business being treated as experts or even authoritative sources outside their expertise.

    Counting Dawkins,, as experts in theology is as ridiculous as taking people like AiG or Discovery Institute seriously about science.

  3. 4xi0m permalink
    August 10, 2011 12:12 pm

    Have to agree with you there, Christian. Dawkins is a smart guy and knows what he’s talking about when it comes to his field, but in some ways he mirrors the fundamentalists he criticizes. Take, for example, his opinion that religion is the source of most or all of the world’s problems, and that said problems would lessen considerably or disappear if we were to simply eradicate religion. This may have been halfway plausible when Ingersoll said it in the 19th century, but anyone who can look back on the 20th century knows better. Take for example the eugenics movement, which had (and still has) a sound basis in science (if morality is put aside for the moment). IQ, personality traits, height, physical appearance, athleticism, and genetic diseases are all considerably heritable. Would selective breeding improve these traits and lower disease frequency in future generations? Certainly yes. Are these improvements worth compromising human dignity, objectifying and commodifying children, and causing misery to those who lost genetic lottery through no fault of their own? Americans thought so in the early 20th century (see Buck v. Bell, 1927). More than 60,000 ‘undesirables’ were forcibly sterilized. Also, much of Hitler’s eugenic ideology was modeled on the United States’ eugenic policies at the time, which were fully supported by such organizations as the National Science Foundation.

    Eugenics is one example; there is also all the pain, misery, and problems caused by political ideologies (millions of people died in the Soviet Gulag, e.g.), as well as simple greed and abuse of power (e.g. general inequality, sweatshops and other abuse of laborers, human trafficking for sex slavery, etc.). You get the point. Though religion has caused much pain and suffering over the millennia, the idea that it alone is the ‘root of all (or even most) evil’ is as laughably ridiculous as the idea that the second law of thermodynamics necessarily implies creationism. Like his fundamentalist counterparts, Dawkins is either blind to the evidence, or ignores it purposely to advance an agenda. What should be clear to everyone here in the 21st century is that any potentially harmful idea, religious, scientific, political, or otherwise, will be harmful if it can garner a large enough following.

    • August 10, 2011 12:55 pm

      Dawkins raised quite a stink not too long ago in the Scotsman where he posited that maybe enough time has passed since WWII that we can start discussing eugenics again. He said, essentially “Well, if we train for certain things, what’s the moral difference in breeding for them?”

      As a scientist, I’m outright offended by his cavalier attitude here. It’s when you divest morality and science that you end up with things like eugenics or Tuskegee or the atom bomb.

      Paul said it well when he said “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive. 1Cor 10:23

  4. Paul D. permalink
    August 10, 2011 7:36 pm

    I think arguments made by Dawkens, Hitchens, etc. when addressing theology are generally valid in that they understand the material as well as any typical Christian. The intricate doctrinal framework of professional theologians and seminarians is not what the typical Christian believes in.

    I also agree with the idea if that the beings and forces proposed by any religion are *real* and have any effect on the physical universe, then science is perfectly capable of being applied to study and theorize about those things.

    • August 12, 2011 11:29 pm

      I have to disagree with the arguments being ‘valid’. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to ask them, just that they shouldn’t be given the weight of being ‘valid’. Doing so elevates the asker to a position of authority that they don’t rightly deserve. Once their 1st grade understanding of theology is shown to be immature and devoid of any real context or, dare I say, scholarship, it should be tossed aside as such.

      Yet, the more books they sell, the more people think of them as ‘experts’.

      Same goes for the AiG folks or theologians pretending to be scientists.

      In today’s world, especially in our media saturated culture, one doesn’t have to actually BE an expert to be thought of as an expert. Like David Barton isn’t a historian (and he admitted that the other day) yet there’s a segment of society that views him as an expert in history.

      In that sort of world, where everyone’s an expert, nobody is an expert…..and the worst thing any person could be is an actual expert because often times you’re dismissed as simply an ‘elitist’.

      More and more, ignorance is being viewed as a virtue.

      Sad, really.

      • Paul D. permalink
        August 13, 2011 3:19 am

        I’m not saying you don’t need knowledge to engage with theologians at a deep level on theological matters. However, Dawkins doesn’t need an M.Div to debunk the beliefs of Christians who think the universe was created in 4,000 BC. Heck, even respected theologians like Alistair McGrath have trouble articulating a consistent theological position in conversation with Dawkins. In the various video interviews I’ve seen, only Vatican astronomer George Coyne and Archbishop Rowan Williams seemed capable of engaging at a sufficient level of intellect and honesty.

  5. August 13, 2011 3:29 am

    As background for this comment, I was a minister for twenty some years, and am now an atheist.

    Dawkins largely isn’t critiquing religion. He is primarily critiquing the idea that a god, any god, exists. Pointing out the basic logical fallacies in most religious belief is just one of many ways he demonstrates the vanishing unlikeliness of god. One does not need to be an expert in pottery to point out that Bertrand’s teapot is extremely unlikely to exist. Demands for expertise in theology is largely a smokescreen to avoid confronting the simple fact that no evidence can be provided to counter this central premise to his argument.

    Or, as PZ Myers would note, the courtier’s reply is all over this thread. One need not be an expert in fashion to point out when someone is naked.

    • 4xi0m permalink
      August 13, 2011 11:07 am

      If that’s so, perhaps Dawkins should deal with his own lack of outerwear as well (see my comment above). By making claims that are clearly untrue, he reveals a bias that he would like his claims of scientific objectivity to belie. One doesn’t have to be clothed to point out when someone is naked, either, but it certainly helps one’s credibility.

    • August 13, 2011 2:40 pm

      Courtier’s reply is just a dressed up way to dismiss someone as an intellectual elitist. It’s nonsense.

      Yes, if one is to assume to be an authority in theology, then they should have a combination of experience and education. As in any field, that’s why we have colleges and specific programs….so people can become, you know, experts.

      I don’t presume to know more about zoology than Dawkins or particle physics than those who design and work at the Bern supercollider. Yet people like Dawkins or Harris are viewed as authorities in theology despite no formal training.

      Why? Simple, really. In today’s world if an idea, no matter how ridiculous, can create controversy, it gets its foot in the door. Controversy = ratings/book sales = validity of said idea.

      They present religion as a loose conglomeration of every stereotypical fundamentalist blended into one monolithic beast, essentially creating their own strawman they can defeat. If you think I’m making this up, Harris, in his book “Atheist Universe” made the claim that to be a true Christian you had to be a fundamentalist and a biblical literalist or you were simply a “pretender to the throne”.

      They also point to a non-monolithic view of scripture, etc, as another way to dismiss theologians by saying “what makes you, and not me, right”?

      In short, their theology is as advanced as the Koran burning Terry Jones or Pat Robertson’s is.

      Dawkins, and those like him, dismiss religion and the existence of God because, as they say, there’s no evidence.

      My standing question, or more accurately challenge, to those who make such claim is to share what methodologies they are using to test for God’s existence. I’ve yet to see a single, solitary, peer reviewed analytical method, including accuracy and precision, that shows what a positive or negative result would look like. As a scientist, I would like to see this.

      Without a valid scientific methodology that can test for the existence of God, one might as well be testing for chromium in drinking water using a child’s metal detector.

      The sciences are simply tools we use to understand the world around us. Things don’t happen because of the Laws of Nature or Physics, conversely, those things happen and those Laws are how we understand them.

  6. August 13, 2011 1:02 pm

    Would anyone mind switching to some concrete examples? Which specific theological claims did Dawkins et al make and why would you say they were valid/invalid?

  7. August 20, 2011 10:36 am

    I would like to know why Christians feel qualified to reject Buddhism or Hinduism when they are not experts in those fields.

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