"Nuance"? Sweet jebus, where is the nuance in religion and superstition and piety that we're supposed to defend?
I keep hearing these claims that religion is really far more nuanced and sophisticated and clever than we give it credit for, but seriously, every time I turn around and look at the actual practice of the silly business, I'm gobsmacked.
Chris argues that it would just take some reading of this list to learn about religious nuance. And then the comments arrive. Some excerpts:
coturnix: What is there to understand about theology except that it is a great excercise in twisted logic wrapped in a taco-shell of pretty rhetorics? Trying to save face by using big words. If that is nuance...
Richard: Well, I checked out the list that you linked to above, hoping that I would see something new, some writer that was unknown to the average university graduate. Are you trying to suggest that Dawkins, and Myers, et.al. are unfamiliar with those philosophers? Come on. You just revealed that there's nothing that they're missing.
Adam Huan: While I don't like Myers' attitude, his statement is fair -- religious practice is often shallow and overly fervent. How many American Christians have read Thomas Aquinas? I'd wager not many. Myers' crime isn't in calling out the believers, it's in feeling as strongly about their beliefs as they do.
Joshua: Honestly, you'd be hard-pressed to find a believer who's had exposure to the apologia on that "Top Twenty" list. Most Christians don't even known about Pascal's Wager (though they probably at some point came to it independently anyway), much less St. Anselm's ontological argument or the works of Augustine or Aquinas. Most of them haven't even read C.S. Lewis' apologia, though they might be familiar with his fiction. Hell, most Christians haven't even read the Bible, aside from maybe hearing a few selected quotations in church.
The fact is, apologia has absolutely no connection with the real practice of religion and belief. It exists in its own world, disconnected from the real world -- both the world of science and logic as well as the lives of the believers. I've never heard a good argument for why anybody should take it seriously. If somebody has one, I'd love to hear it.
And lest you think I don't have experience, I was raised a fundamentalist Baptist. Later in life, I attended a Foursquare church with my dad. I went to Baptist grade school and an Episcopal high school. In high school, I took a required class on Biblical scholarship.
In short, I was surrounded by theists for most of my life. None of them ever mentioned Aquinas.
PZ Myers again: So I think we're still all waiting...where is the nuanced and sophisticated religion?
Whenever I ask this question, all I get is indignation, and maybe some handwaving at some convoluted bit of sophistry, like Anselm's ontological argument, but nothing at all persuasive, and nothing that deals with the reality. Theology has nothing to do with religion, near as I can tell -- it's a collection of post hoc rationalizations for the superstitions that people are brought up with. Reality is the assembly of ancient, ossified rituals and traditions (the Catholic church) or the codification and celebration of ignorance (just about every evangelical church in the country) or sheer soul-purging emotionalism (charismatics of various stripes)...
There are great theists out there, but I think what happens when you look at them closely is that you discover that their religion is the framework through which they express humanist ideals...and it's the humanism, not the religion, that makes them appealing.
MarkP: One can also point out just how horrible the bulk of apologetics are. If you think Pascal's wager and the assertion-laden babbling of CS Lewis are challenging arguments, you need to find another hobby. That these otherwise very intelligent men had to twist themselves into irrational pretzels trying to defend religion is one of the strongest points against it...
The most honest comment about religion I ever heard from a believer came from Martin Gardner, who said something along the lines of, and I paraphase from memory, "I, by a completely illogical leap of faith, believe there is a supreme being with whom my consciousness will spend eternity." To that I cannot argue, believe what you will, and hell, you might just be right. Frankly, I hope you are. Just don't try to tell me you got there logically, and for the sake of all the gods, large and small, keep it out of the science classes.
Mark: I would venture a guess that the more people read of and about religion, the more likely they are to question the validity and reasonableness of religious belief - any religious belief. I suspect that in this case, familiarity will breed contempt. That's one reason I would wholeheartedly endorse the teaching of an unbiased comparative religion course in all public schools. You can bet the fundamentalist christians would blow their fuses at that one.
It's been my experience as well that for all the talk of sophisticated theology, most religious people in practice have simple, ritualistic religions and fall back on pat answers to difficult questions. Joshua's comment is worth repeating: The fact is, apologia has absolutely no connection with the real practice of religion and belief.
Theologians, from what I can tell, fall into two camps: those who dress up tired old arguments with big words and loose analogies (C.S. Lewis or worse) and those who are deists, agnostics, or atheists in Christian or Jewish clothing (Spong.)
How cool is the internet, by the way? In real life I've only once been in a room with as many smart atheists as were commenting in that thread, and that was at a Dawkins speech. I wonder how long religion can last once everybody's online and the rabbis, priests, and imams no longer get to keep their followers from seeing the competition's arguments.