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Sophisticated theology

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—Austin Cline[1][2]

The most sophisticated version of a bad idea doesn't rescue that idea from being bad; the most sophisticated belief in something false doesn't rescue that belief from being false.

Is Sophisticated theology long words with little meaning? Nebulous arguments vanish when we look closely. Sophisticated theology is only there when you're not looking.

Ordinary Christians, atheists and sophistication

[3]

Much Christian theology in particular tends to take the form of viewing the Bible as a complex cipher, one that requires years of training to understand properly.
  1. Ordinary Christians most often believe based on a sort of, "well, someone else did all the hard work, and they claim it's right, so I should believe it, too." People in the pews don't use sophisticated theology or even know fully what it's about.
  2. Academic theologians feel superior because their special God concept is hard to understand. Theologians also deal with the Bible in special, hard to understand ways.

Atheists tend to attack Christianity as ordinary believers see their religion [4] Atheists give far less attention to theology as lecturers and professors at universities understand complicated intellectual matters. Therefore the sophisticated theologians hope their “true” religion is so wonderful that atheist “intellectual cretins” can’t deal with it.

  1. Sophisticated theologians refuse to give any clear summary of their theology that atheists can discuss.
  2. Sophisticated theologians insist the atheists are at fault when we don't know their theology. [5] [6]

Double standards

The best summary seems to be, “Atheists don’t understand sophisticated theology, therefore .... atheists should shut up while Christians carry on proselytizing.”

  1. Academics attack atheists for not learning their convoluted beliefs.
    1. Those same academics don't teach elaborate theology to ordinary church goers and believers.
    2. Those same academics don't teach elaborate theology to preachers promoting less complex Christianity.
  2. Academics far too often write their sophisticated theology in language that's intentionally hard to understand.
    1. Those same academics blame their critics for not understanding it.
  3. Far too many Christians happily attack atheism without studying atheist philosophy in detail.

This is yet another example when Christians try to push high standards onto their critics without following those high standards themselves. That’s called hypocrisy.[1][7]

University theologians and others work on "two thousand years worth of ancient documents" but Impudent atheists seek to deny the value in all that. [8] Do you feel like finding out why atheists won't respect those traditions that Christians revere? Many webpages by Jerry Coyne and others dissect sophisticated theological writings meaningless screeds, illogical rambling dressed up in long words to make all that look intellectual, speculation dressed up as fact. And it looks superficially good to the faithful.

Making up smart theology

Sophisticated theology can also mean: - Unintelligible Theology (I don't understand it, so it must be smart).

—Chris Hallquist[9]

(...) they [theologians] frequently don’t even try to write clearly. My typical experience when picking up their books is to first notice they are using words in ways I am not used to. Then I start skimming to try to find the section where they explain what they mean by their words (sometimes there are legitimate reasons for using words in unusual ways). Then I end up closing the book when I fail to find such a section.

Who else thinks theologians make stuff up? See the article on theologians for more details.

Sophisticated theologians write stuff that's deliberately obscure, if you try to find rational meaning in much Sophisticated theology you just get confused and perplexed. After all Christians don't really want rational thinking, what Christians tend to value is blind Faith. [10]

New atheism makes sense

See the main article on this topic:Promoting atheism in ordinary language
Books like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens cause problems for Christianity. Those books and other similar ones are written in simple language so readers can easily understand the case against religion. A great many people read those books and very many people learn the case against religion.

The Courtier's Reply

PZ Myers created the term "The Courtier's Reply". This describes arguments which complain that an opponent hasn't studied a subject, and avoid discussing whether the opponent makes sense.

This is a sequel to the well-known story of "The Emperor’s New Clothes". Let’s say it's getting embarrassing, the emperor is parading naked. There are women staring at the emperor’s equipment while polite ladies are trying to look away without being disrespectful. Then a courtier insists nobody may criticise the emperor's dress sense without first studying imperial fashion in detail. Clear empirical evidence of imperial nudity is disregarded.

In a similar way Christians complain that atheists don't study enough sophisticated theology while clear lack of empirical evidence for religion is disregarded.[11]

More on the Courtier's reply

There are 2 longer articles dealing with this topic:-

  1. The Courtier's Reply This focuses on in depth analysis of what the Courtier's Reply proves and doesn't prove.
  2. The Courtier's Reply, entertaining but not very polite This has some analysis but includes entertainment.
  3. The Courtier This develops what the courtier might have said and is different from what Myers wrote.

External links

Sophisticated and high end theology

Christians have become tired of atheists laughing about sophisticated theology so they try to stop using the term. Some academics insist there's no real distinction between sophisticated theology and ordinary theology, there's just theology.

  1. There is no proper field of theology that's called sophisticated.
  2. There is apparently something called high end theology or higher end theology, and it's opaque to those who don't understand basic theology.

Again high end theology isn't a particular field of theology it's just theology that outsiders and beginners find hard to understand. Anyway those who claim to understand high end theology can feel superior.

The rest of us are expected to take it on authority that high end theology is more reasonable than words strung together in meaningless sentences. For how university theologians couldn't tell real theology from word salad, see below. [12]

Tricking sophisticated theologians

  1. Do theologians really understand what they're reading or listening to?
  2. How frequently do theologians put on sophisticated, intelligent expressions and pretend they understand meaningless drivel?

In 2012, atheist philosopher Maarten Boudry decided to find that out. He successfully duped and made fun of a theology conference. [13] Boudry submitted an intentionally absurd abstract, under an assumed name,[14] and the bizarre abstract was promptly accepted.[15] The work was not peer reviewed. Then how does theology get peer reviewed? The best theologians can do is discuss how far some theological work conforms to standard university level interpretations of relevant religious mythology. Anyway conference abstracts don't normally have peer-reviews, so getting this sort of crap under the radar isn't as difficult as it might seem. If there haven't been enough good papers submitted to a conference, they might just accept any old rubbish to fill the slots. And perhaps there aren't too many good theology papers around.

You can’t make sense of this

Even reading through Boudry's work carelessly shows that it's clearly a load of nonsense. The opening sentences are about Darwinian evolution and aren’t even fully coherent.

In the Darwinian perspective, order is not immanent in reality, but it is a self-affirming aspect of reality in so far as it is experienced by situated subjects. However, it is not so much reality that is self-affirming, but the creative order structuring reality which manifests itself to us.

Boudry even managed to shoehorn the name of Dawkins into the abstract, too, suggesting that we should

reframe our sense of locatedness of existence within the space of radical contingency of spiritual destiny

This is, somehow, contrary to Dawkins' own assertions. It looks like "sophistication" may just amount to "using big words". Well those sophisticated theologians were so desperate to hear someone agree with them they simply overlooked none of what they heard made any sense.

As Jerry Coyne noted:

I defy you to understand what he’s saying, but of course it appeals to those who, steeped in Sophisticated Theology™, love a lot of big words that say nothing but somehow seem to criticize materialism while affirming the divine. It doesn’t hurt if you diss Dawkins a couple of times, either.

This shows once again the appeal of religious gibberish to the educated believer, and demonstrates that conference organizers either don’t read what they publish, or do read it and think that if it’s opaque then it must be profound. [16]

.

Nicely summed up.

Meaningless real theology

Just take a look at the text below.

—Edmund Standing quoting Theologian, Charles E Winquist [10]

The theological exigencies inscribed within its texts are effects of the metonymical placing of extreme formulations throughout the texts. The efficacy of these formulations is in their pressure upon ordinary usage and reference. The pressure of figurations of ultimacy on the pragmatics of discourse is a transvaluation of the ordinary. Formulations and figurations of ultimacy, when metonymically placed in a textual practice, can magnify the already existing fissures of received texts. The differential play of reference extends the witness to that which is other than the text through the incompleteness that is the result of the placement of these formulations. Theological texts explicitly express their internal undecidability. In this sense, theological texts introduce an incommensurability into discursive practices that is an internal trace of the other (124).

Can we wonder that a conference of theologians couldn't find any difference between Boudrey and real theology?

Even when you can understand it...

See the main article on this topic:Theology that science can’t verify

Sophisticated theologians' viewpoints are are sometimes remarkably odd. Theologian John Haught stated many strange things about Jesus Christ's resurrection. Basically we have to trust God that it happened but nothing so mundane as a scientific test could reveal its occurrence. It's unclear if Haught even believes the resurrection was real. [17]

[17]

I don’t think theology is being responsible if it ever takes anything with completely literal understanding. (...) But if you ask me whether a scientific experiment could verify the Resurrection, I would say such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning.

Jesus Christ's resurrection was such an exalted event that it would not have been recorded by something as crassly materialistic as a camera? That's what he seems to be claiming, that it was a purely spiritual resurrection. However, the resurrection accounts in the Gospels, like the Doubting-Thomas story (John 20:24-29), seem to feature a physical resurrection.

Atheist theology

Already a century ago Sigmund Freud recognised that some people are effectively atheists but won’t admit this to themselves or to other people.

[18]

Where questions of religion are concerned, people are guilty of every sort of dishonesty and intellectual misdemeanor. Philosophers stretch the meaning of words until they retain scarcely anything of their original sense. They give the name of ‘God’ to some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves; having done so they can pose before all the world as deists, as believers in God, and they can even boast that they have recognized a higher, purer concept of God, notwithstanding that their God is now nothing more than an insubstnatial shadow and no longer the mighty personality of religious doctrines.

Richard Dawkins also recognises this.

Richard Dawkins[19]

Now, there is a certain class of sophisticated modern theologian who will say something like this: "Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. Existence is such a 19th-century preoccupation! It doesn't matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me. If God is real for you, who cares whether science has made him redundant? Such arrogance! Such elitism."

Yes there are even theologians who don't believe God exists. Below is something that does make sense to atheists and it isn't even a hoax as far as we know. Chris Hallquist dug out the following: [20]

Terry Eagleton[21]

For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves.

So religious types can coherently claim that God is an impersonal principle behind existence. Well atheists and scientists who accept Naturalism would have little difficulty with an impersonal, "condition of possibility" (except it's in no way clear what that means). Especially if the "condition of possibility" doesn't really exist it's no big problem. What has an impersonal, "condition of possibility" to do with the God of the Bible though?

A similar one is

What I mean is that I do not believe God exists in the way that I exist, or in the way that my mother exists or that tree or flower or mosquito exists, or the way the planet Jupiter or the Milky Way or the sand on the seashore exists. It is not that God exists, but that God is Existence itself. He is that power or source of Life by which and through which all things exist that do exist. As such he is who he is. He is Being Itself. As he said to Moses, “I AM who I AM”. This is Yahweh–the one Who is Existence.
[22]

Seems like pantheism.

We can see some theology is becoming compatible with atheism. Why call it theology? Now that's really sophisticated.


There is a good and a a bad side to Christianity, see the category page

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Myth: Atheist Critiques are Simplistic, Don't Understand Sophisticated Theology
  2. Austin Cline
  3. Orr on Dawkins
  4. There is even evidence atheists know more about Christianity than typical ordinary Christians, please check the reference. Religion gets less believable the harder you look
  5. Sophisticated theology
  6. Walter Kaufmann on the gerrymandering of theologians
  7. Sophisticated theology (or, something that annoyed me yesterday)
  8. Sunday Sacrilege: Cant can’t
  9. Unintelligible theology
  10. 10.0 10.1 The Emptiness of Academic Theology
  11. John Loftus tells us we don't need to study Christianity in depth to see it's unreasonable but he suggests reading up authors like John Shook, John Beversluis, Richard Carrier, Keith Parsons, Matt McCormick, so atheists can be well informed about Christianity, see Debunking Christianity. I have read some of Richard Carrier and certainly recommend him. I haven't read the other authors in the list but reviews suggest they may well be worth reading, they are all likely to be challenging authors.
  12. It seems to me that any claim that a critic of religion has not considered or addressed the sophisticated arguments of high end theologians is simply a very straightforward appeal to authority.
  13. The conference was hosted by the philosophy department of VU University Amsterdam, but was organised by the Association for Reformational Philosophy.
  14. Maarten Boudry > Robert A. Maundy
  15. Jerry Coyne. A Sokal-style hoax by an anti-religious philosopher. Why Evolution Is True. 2012 September 25.
  16. A Sokal-style hoax by an anti-religious philosopher
  17. 17.0 17.1 The atheist delusion - Salon.com
  18. Limitations;On the Emptiness of Sophisticated Theology
  19. Richard Dawkins argues that evolution leaves God with nothing to do
  20. The ignorance and absurdity of the champions of left-wing theology
  21. Terry Eagleton
  22. I Don’t Believe God ExistsFr. Dwight Longenecker

External links

Incorporates material from Pharyngula Wiki and RationalWiki

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