The harder the faithful argue against the not-so-new atheism, the plainer it becomes that their apologetics are mere question-begging. Consider John Haught. In an interview of modest length, he manages to pack in all the immodest errors of the hedged-bet, Pascalian, mainline-Protestant, middle-of-the-road theology that he (and many others) hold with such vanity to be the solution to the cavorting bands of radical materialists on one side and apocalyptic messianists on the other: the misreading of major continental philosophers; the habit of using the word nihilism with the same precision as an East German techno-grunge band; the habit of either over- or understating the epistemological claims of the scientific method as is convenient to his argument; the inexorable tendency to claim that while on the one hand, "scientific" knowledge not only can be but must be evaluated on terms external to itself, namely religious terms, religious experience and the unsubstantiable knowledge claimed by theistic systems about the physical and moral nature of the universe are whole to themselves and cannot be subject to such radical scientismical challenges as, "Prove it."
Most of the interview is pablum. It rehashes the old claim that science is insufficient to give us "meaning" and "hope," or else that it can give us meaning and hope, but it cannot "justify" our holding meaning and hope. You can see that Haught is a moving target--fortunately, a slow-moving one. The question of "meaning" is a hoary old diversion. Without defining what meaning is, religion claims that since science can't provide it, ergo God. Haught goes further, bundles meaning and hope into "purpose," and says rather grandly that since science can't offer an answer to this frankly ineffable question, faith takes the day. By faith he means only Western monotheism, by the way. Ask a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a man on the path of the Tao about his purpose and you will get something equally ineffable in reply. Atheists, scientific or otherwise, likewise find the emphasis on purpose odd. To quote the unfortunately effable drummer Neal Peart: "Why are we here? Because we're here." This sort of answer makes Western religionists uncomfortable because it doesn't accord them a privileged position in creation. All of the questions about purposefulness and consciousness that they raise; all of their insistence on the immaterial nature of the mind and the conscience; all of their objections about mechanistic explanations; these ultimately boil down to the last trench in their long battle to maintain a cosmology centered on man. Privileging human consciousness as uniquely unfit for natural inquiry is finally a bulwark against the idea that we are incidental to the universe: geographically, cosmologically, biologically, purposefully.
Haught would call this nihilism, which is really his way of saying that his own mind is too impoverished to imagine a moral order without external justification. In a word, authoritarian. In the absence of third-party validation, he can't accept any action or thought as virtuous. But, as I said before, this position itself, in his construction, requires no validation in turn. It just is. All objections to it, by origin of their externality, are necessarily small, mean, false. Meanwhile, he writes:
They [atheists] miss the moral core of Judaism and Christianity -- the theme of social justice, which takes those who are marginalized and brings them to the center of society.It is deeply debatable whether the central moral precepts of Judaism fulfill this formulation, firstly. But even if they did, let's throw down a gauntlet: Show me one example of a society in the history of Christendom in which the "marginalized" have been routinely brought "to the center of society." During the Barbarian migrations? The Carolingian renaissance? The Dark ages? High feudalism? The Age of Discovery? The Renaissance? The Enlightenment? Post-Enlightenment Europe? The 20th Century? When? Never is when. The moral imperatives that Christianity claims as its central concerns have never actually been effectuated within Christian society. How is that for purpose? Meaning? Hope?