17 June 2011

Theology shmeology

Biologist Jerry Coyne is a persistent, long-suffering man. Or a masochist. Professor Coyne has been reading up on Christian theology, taking mental bullets for Team Godless. He confirms what unbelieving infidels already know, or have at least suspected:

  1. The entire edifice of theology rests on the unproven assumption that God exists. 
  2. Theologians tend to write in impenetrable po-mo gobbledygook (all the better to hide the lack of good ideas or compelling arguments).
  3. There’s plenty of rhetorical hand waving to divert attention away from the gaping logical holes in their prose. 
  4. There’s a lot of appeals to authority, which is basically theologians deferring to other (usually long dead) theologians in an echo chamber of Godspeak.

The examples of theological cryptography Coyne cites are simply atrocious (only a theologian will try to reconcile genocide with divine grace). Even if we grant that Coyne may have selected the most egregious specimens of Godspeak, the rotten epistemic foundations of the whole intellectual structure condemns it to collapse when you tap it with a little critical thinking. It’s all just smoke and mirrors to cover up the fact that, unlike scientists like Coyne, theologians have got nothing of consequence to say about reality. Or at least nothing that couldn’t be said without invoking a magic sky daddy.

Many theologians are well-read and highly knowledgeable in history, philosophy, literature and yes, even science. Which makes it such a shame that by simply holding an unfounded belief in the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity (whose omnipotence and omnibenevolence, by the way, are constantly negating each other even as theologians scramble to explain the awkward contradictions), otherwise smart people end up doing stupid things. Like suggesting that God allowed the Holocaust to happen because He didn’t want to “take away our humanness”. Theologians just love to hand their God get-out-of-jail cards, lest we come to the logical conclusion that if such a being did exist, He’s either quite pathetic, or He’s an outright bastard.

A few years ago I wrote the following on theologians:

For all their scholastic titles and awards, theologians are nevertheless conmen, though perhaps unwitting ones. Like astrologers, feng shui ‘experts’ and spirit mediums, they are naked emperors whose influence grows in proportion to the number of gullible folk who uncritically accept their proclamations. I’ve recently purchased an English translation of Michel de Montaigne’s ‘Essays’ by M.A. Screech, who is, among other impressive titles, an ordained Catholic priest. Dr Screech is a regrettable example of a highly educated, articulate, intelligent individual who subscribes to mysticism and supernatural abstractions, holding onto such pearls of wisdom as ‘all knowledge is merely opinion’ and insisting that truth is revealed (presumably by the Catholic conception of God), not arrived at through Man’s oh-so-fallible powers of reason.

We can add another theology marker to the list above: Truth comes via divine revelation (“It’s true cos God told me so”), not through examining the evidence to see if it supports a claim.

Professor Coyne’s website is the sort that attracts intelligent readers. You’ll find them taking theology apart in the comments to his post with all the well-honed skill of people who have chosen critical thinking, reason and evidence over mere faith.


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