Thursday, August 12, 2010

P. Z. Myers: Not Understanding Even the Simple Things

P. Z. Myers thinks he’s starting to understand David Bentley Hart. Is it because he’s studied Hart’s work on the meaning of suffering in the context of the doctrine of evil as privatio boni? Has he read Hart’s comparison of Heidegger and St. Gregory of Nyssa’s ontology? Or maybe it’s more modest: maybe he’s studied up on the basic philosophic vocabulary used in the cosmological argument that had him completely baffled.

Nope. He’s read Hart’s new essay on Julian the Apostate, and he claims to have understood Hart’s worldview. But almost every claim in his post is flatly wrong.

Myers says that Hart has written “a column praising Julius the Apostate”, an article that not only praises him, but “heap[s] praise on him.” How he got this from Hart is a bit of a mystery. Here’s Hart’s judgment of him:
[W]hile he was a gifted ruler, his errors of judgment were legion, his hatred of the Christians often degenerated into childish spite, and he was destroyed more by callow egotism than by tragic hubris.
Myers adds that Hart “acknowledges” Julian’s intelligence. Here’s Hart on the subject of Julian’s intelligence:
Far from being any sort of rationalist, he was a particularly credulous religious enthusiast, who delighted in blood sacrifice, magic, astrology, and mystery; when he tried his hand at philosophy, the results were embarrassing.
Indeed, Hart claims that it is precisely Julian’s “naivete” that he finds interesting. There’s nothing particularly difficult about this essay: Hart doesn’t engage in much philosophy or theology at all. If Myers cannot even understand a whimsical essay that simply explicates the sensation of standing at a turning point in history where an old order is passing away, how credible is his claim to “tackle all the arguments for the existence of God"?

There are other silly falsehoods in Myer's post. Myers claims that Hart believes everything in the past was better, when Hart has written at length about the cruelty of the pre-Christian Classical world. Myers claims that the Middle Ages were a "trough" in terms of scientific progress, burdened by an "anti-scientific" Church, when in fact the Middle Ages were a time of great learning, sponsored by the Church; the Middle Ages were the time when science came into its own as a discipline (primarily because of the Aristotelian development in theology). The idea that the Middle Ages were a dark time for science or that the Church bore down on scientists is a well-known myth, and I think it not unlikely that Myers will soon be telling us that Christians believed in a flat earth. These falsehoods are simply Myers' historical ignorance on display.

Myers' central claim about Hart's piece is that Hart believes that:
Substance is unimportant, just so long as he believed. It's a strange world the modern defenders of religion live in, where they've given up hope in fighting for the specifics of their dogma, and are reduced to desperately hoping that someone somewhere will be nestled in a delusion of some kind.
Where Myers got this is a mystery. The claim that Hart doesn't believe in fighting for the specifics of dogma is absurd given Hart's well known track record of harshly criticizing other theologians over theological matters. Further, this claim contradicts Myers' own (atrociously misguided) summary of Hart's essay: Myers at least recognized that Hart "doesn't admire [Julian] for his views" (one of the very few propositions in Myers post that is correct). So where does the claim come from?

My own view is that he's just making it up. Myers has no concept of rigor for any kind of inquiry outside biology (and for all I know, not even in biology). He claims to attack every formulation of the arguments for the existence of God, yet he expresses dismay upon encountering the basic terminology. His description of Hart's assessment of Julian is directly contrary to Hart's own words. He thinks the Middle Ages were a dark time for science, overrun by an anti-scientific Church. And so on.

Which just gets me back to my original point: Myers shouldn't be taken seriously.

1 comment:

Martin Cothran said...

Not to mention that Myers calls him a "Catholic," when, in fact, he is Eastern Orthodox. So how many errors are we up to now?