Thursday, June 12, 2008

Leaps of faith -- part 2

Why believe in the absence of convincing evidence? Says Haught: "Theology, unlike scientism, wagers that we can contact the deepest truths only by relaxing the will to control and allowing ourselves to be grasped by a deeper dimension of reality than ordinary experience or science can access by itself. The state of allowing ourselves to be grasped and carried away by this dimension of depth is at least part of what theology means by 'faith.'"

If this means we have an intuition of a depth to creation that for the moment -- and possibly forever -- eludes scientific explanation, then I would be the last to take issue. Art, poetry, even what we might call the mystical experience, all give expression to the sense that we remain profoundly ignorant of the universe of which we find ourselves a part. In fact, the more we learn scientifically about the world, the more marvelous and mysterious it seems. This is the faith of the religious naturalist. It is presumably what Haught means by "depth."

But if Haught means we must relax our critical faculties and our respect for the evidence of "ordinary experience" in order to be "grasped and carried away" by some transcendent person, then the religious naturalist -- and most certainly Dawkins and company -- will beg to demur.

I hope this second meaning is not what Haught has in mind, but it's damnably difficult to pin him down. He wants to embrace an orthodox theology, but every time he eases up on a traditional dogma, he gets all wispy. "Inexhaustible mystery"? Fine. The "deeper ground" of our being? OK. But what about all that other stuff, John? The Nicean Creed, for example? Or the literal resurrection of the God-man from the dead? If it's all just symbolic language for expressing our sense of depth, then why not just come on over and join those of us who choose to put our faith in the reliable, tentative, consensus knowledge provided by science, while remaining open to the depth and mystery implicit in our essential ignorance. Surely there is enough to celebrate in this world of inexhaustible wonder without giving a wink and a nod to the neolithic formulations codified in Catholic doctrine.