Originally posted by rwingett
Those were some of the things that I had objected to as well. I see that you have honed in on them exclusively. The claim can easily be made that Haught does not understand atheism, humanism, or secularism, but I wonder if you'd care to comment on his claim that atheists do not understand the religious point of view. Is it the case that both camps are equal ...[text shortened]... onder if Haught's position is the best possible one that atheists could hope for from theists.
I doubt that much sense attaches to the claim that atheists fail to understand the religious point of view. First, atheists and religious folk constitute heterogenous groups, so one wonders just which atheists and religious points of view Haught is talking about. He certainly cannot mean that atheists fail to understand any religious point of view, since his conception of religious belief is such that atheists qualify as religious. Presumably, Haught means that the New Atheists fail to understand the point of view of non-fundamentalist Christian theists that reject Biblical literalism. If this is what he means, then his claim is uninteresting. Some New Atheists certainly fail to understand this religious view, but others understand it perfectly well and still think it is epistemically unjustified, unnecessary or pernicious.
Haught has a mistaken conception of scientific naturalism. He thinks that a commitment to scientific naturalism is a metaphysical commitment to materialism, but this is false. Scientific naturalism is a methodological view, not a metaphysical one. The idea is that scientific inquiry ought to proceed via the postulation of causal explanations that are subject to experimental disconfirmation. But this constraint on inquiry does not entail that there is no supernatural realm, but merely that science may not be equipped to explore such a realm. I say "may not" rather than "is not" because some claims about the supernatural have publically observable entailments, and hence are appropriate for scientific inquiry. As a silly example, a theist could claim that Hell is in the center of the Earth. This is a claim about a supernatural realm that has publically observable consequences. If we find that there is no such realm in the center of the Earth, then we have reason to reject the claim. Of course, it is open to the theist to revise their claim; they can claim that Hell is invisible or whatever. If so, then it is appropriate to ask just what sort of evidence we could have that their claim is correct. If no scientific inquiry would be capable of disconfirming their claim, then of course their claim is beyond scientific inquiry. This doesn't entail that their claim is false, but that their claim admits of no scientific evidence. Of course, it is entirely possible that there are a priori or philosophical grounds for rejecting the theist's claim. Haught simply fails to notice that many New Atheistic arguments are philosophical, not empirical, in nature.
Haught believes in a teleological universe. That is, he thinks that there is some ultimate end or goal built right into the universe. He calls this the "intensification of consciousness". Now, if this is right, we would expect evolution to be directed unerringly towards the existence of creatures with greater consciousness (more inclusive, expansive, deeper,...?, I'm unsure how to rank types of consciousness). Now, I'm not sure just what Haught thinks consciousness is, because he sometimes equates it with phenomenological "feel", the "what it's like" to be an entity of a certain sort, and other times he equates it with subjectivity simpliciter (e.g., the having of beliefs and desires). I admit that this first notion of consciousness is mysterious, and I personally think it gives us reason to doubt materialism. This second notion of subjectivity, however, is not in principle mysterious. There is no principled reason brain science can't identify "having a desire to know" (Haught's example) with some token, functionally identified brain state.
At the end of the day, Haught is stuck between the recognition that the evidence overwhelmingly supports some version of the theory of evolution and the desperate hope that there are answers to questions like "why doesn't the universe just stand still?" and "why do we observe increasing local complexity in the universe?". The problem is that we can give scientific answers to these questions, but these answers will not be teleological and hence will not satisfy Haught. He wants a certain type of answer to these questions, one which ultimately explains evolution as a process that aims at the realization of some ultimate value. But, of course, this isn't evolution at all. This is merely the "great chain of being". As an interesting exercise, imagine what the observable consequences would be if evolution actually aimed at the development or manifestation of consciousness.