I know that Jerry Coyne has dealt with this already, and I almost simply let it pass by, but then, I thought, this is much too important. Jerry says that Karl Giberson disses the evangelicals at last. I don’t think he does, and I find that worrying. What Giberson does in his HuffPo article is to take evangelicals to task for their failure to accept the conclusions of science, but he still can’t help being on their side. He just doesn’t get their being anti-science. He actually thinks that being anti-science is in conflict with their religion. He thinks American evangelicalism has taken a wrong turning, but he still thinks that evangelicalism itself is true.
Of course, Jerry has the man’s measure. He knows that Giberson hasn’t really dissed evangelicalism. As he says at the end of his post on Uncle Karl’s newest venture into the science-religion wars, Giberson needs to take one step further:
– he doesn’t seem to realize that it’s the business of religion itself to blur the boundaries between real and fake knowledge. If you swallow things like Adam and Eve, the Resurrection, or transubstantiation, then you’re already halfway to denying global warming and evolution. For the faithful, truth is not what’s supported by evidence, but simply what they want to be true.
Of course, it’s not quite this simple. They may want certain things to be true, but they think they have a reason to believe that these things are true. and that is precisely where Uncle Karl fails to oppose them. He still obviously thinks that there is every reason for believing that evangelicalism is true. He just doesn’t think this forces them to cut science adrift. He puts the point with exemplary clarity:
The tragedy is that nothing within the faith commitments of evangelicals requires the adoption of these various knowledge-denying views. There are authentic and contributing evangelical Christians within every knowledge community. Francis Collins, for example, is a committed evangelical Christian and an important leader in the scientific community. He is also an outspoken critic of Intelligent Design and has written widely on the reconciliation of his faith and his science.
American evangelicals desperately need credible leaders to wean them off their preference for discredited and indefensible knowledge claims. At the moment, however, it is hard to imagine where these leaders might come from.
What Karl Giberson fails to do is to recognise that what we have here is what Alisdair McIntyre would speak of as another rationality — an ingenious but hopeless position. I just bought a second-hand copy of Whose Justice, Which Rationality?, where McIntyre begins — I haven’t got much farther than that — by speaking of different traditions of rationality. Rationality, he thinks, is only meaningful in the context of traditions of rationality.
Take John Rawls’ idea of justice. (McIntyre doesn’t mention Rawls, but it’s not hard to see that this is who he has in mind.) Rawls imagines what he calls the “original position,” from which people are going to choose the rules that will govern their society. He suggest that it would be most rational for people to choose a maximin strategy, that is, a strategy which will maximise minimum outcomes. If you don’t know whether you’re going to be at the bottom of the society or the top — the original position assumes that you can’t know this — then you will choose a strategy that will maximise minimum outcomes, in an arrangement that will guaranteed the best outcomes for all, so that, if you end up at the bottom, you won’t have nothing.
McIntyre says that this will guarantee liberal outcomes. It is, in fact, a liberal rationality. Giberson says that in his new book (The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Scientific Age), co-authored with the historian Randall Stephens, they
… look at the widespread and disturbing inability of American evangelicals to distinguish between real knowledge claims, rooted in serious research and endorsed by credible knowledge communities, and pseudo-claims made by unqualified groups and leaders that offer “faith-friendly” alternatives.
Jerry Coyne says, with some justice, that this is because “it’s the business of religion itself to blur the boundaries between real and fake knowledge,” and that Giberson doesn’t seem to understand this. And while I agree with this assessment, it is important to see that, whether fake or not, what is at work is what McIntyre might call an alternative rationality. The point is, as Timothy Williamson says in an article in the New York Times this morning, that science, which may win, as Hawking says, because it works, has a problem showing, by means of hard science, that it is the only rational way to achieve knowledge, and the evangelicals that reject appeals like those of Francis Collins and Karl Giberson, think that they know another rational way. That’s why the Discovery Institute tries to mix it up with science, by catching the coat-tails of the argument that peer-reviewed science is often a failure at producing results that we can be confident in. I think Williamson is wrong, by the way, and that naturalism is not self-defeating in the way that he suggests, because Rosenberg, to whom he is responding, didn’t need to leave question marks around mathematics, history and other pursuits. They may not be hard science, but we can still speak naturalistically about them. History produces or doesn’t produce evidence, and while historical explanations and interpretations may be open to question, if they are not based on evidence, they do not qualify as history at all.
Giberson wonders where the new evangelical leaders are going to come from, because evangelicalism has been hijacked, he thinks, by forces of unreason. He just doesn’t see that evangelicalism itself is unreasonable and irrational, that religion is unreasonable and irrational, and so long as he doesn’t see this — so long as he doesn’t see that there is no way to turn evangelicalism, or any other religious beliefs, into science-friendly ways of responding to experience — he’s simply missing the point. Didn’t the nonsense of Biologos teach the man anything? What did he think all that nonsense was about? Didn’t he see that fiddling around with the story of Adam and Eve is a lost cause? And that goes for any other religious beliefs. Just because science developed in the West, which had a long Christian tradition, and just because the early scientists could square their science with belief, by pretending that God wrote two books, the Bible and Nature, doesn’t mean that science developed out of Christianity, and doesn’t mean that Christianity and science can ever be made consistent. It’s quite clear that they cannot be, despite all the special pleading from people like Arthur Peacocke , John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, Francis Collins, and so on and on. These guys want Christianity to be true. They want to believe, so they turn themselves into intellectual pretzels in order to go on believing.
The Church didn’t close down the Greek philosophical schools for nothing. They closed them down because they knew that their speculations were not only inconsistent with Christianity, but that speculation must inevitably move away from what was held by Christians to be the truth — just had to, inevitably, because that is what rational thought must continue to do – and Aquinas, despite his big brain, didn’t change that. He may have domesticated Aristotle, turning him into a Catholic lap-dog, but he didn’t, for all that, show that Catholicism is reasonable or rational. I was once a strict, conservative, Anglo-Catholic, and I went through all the motions of proving that this was the only true faith, Eric Mascall, a lesser Anglican Aquinas, and all. Had I kept it up, I’d probably be taking myself off to the Anglican Ordinariate of the Catholic Church right now. But then I realised that it was all hokum, and I switched horses in mid-stream, and I found that it was just as easy to defend liberal Christianity as it was to uphold strict Anglo-Catholic principles. It’s not a rational pursuit. It uses reason, but it really uses reason to blunt and subvert reason. That’s why sometimes it is held that history is not a rational pursuit, because it can so easily be hijacked by bias. But it still needs evidence, and bias can’t hold it in thrall forever. But, with theology, it can. Despite trying to diss evangelicalism, Giberson is still a prisoner of it. He thinks it just needs new leaders, and he can’t see where they are to come from. It’s time for him to realise that it’s not lack of leaders that is at issue, but lack of substance.