Tending to the Sophomoric

I’ve got a simulation cranking away in the background. Once it’s finished, I’ll be able to poke over the results and do science things, but in the meantime, I crave amusement.

Luckily for me, Writerdd finds a review of John Allen Paulos’s Irreligion (2008) in the New York Times. Writer Jim Holt is not pleased:

Clearly, Paulos is innocent of theology, which he dismisses as a “verbal magic show.” Like other neo-atheist authors, his tone tends to the sophomoric, with references to flatulent dogs and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ann Coulter crops up in the index, but one looks in vain for the name of a great religious thinker like Karl Barth, who saw theology as an effort to understand what faith has given, not a quest for logical proof.

As an aficionado of the written word, a person who has read with pleasure a fair number of the books of deep thought people leave around to impress visitors — from Homer to Chaucer to Thomas Pynchon — I find it difficult to construct a more elegant phrase to summarize Holt’s attitude than the simple statement that he has a burr up his ass.

No, seriously. I’m sick beyond belief of the Courtier’s Reply, and for the life of me, I don’t get how you can yoke the Platonic ideal forms which some mathematicians tend to admire with any sort of god which people actually, you know, worship. Peano arithmetic did not have a first-and-only-begotten son who was sent into the world to suffer the harrows of epsilon-delta proofs and through a blood sacrifice redeem us all from naive set theory.

Naturally, it goes without saying that criticizing Paulos, Dawkins and the rest of the bogeymen for lacking experience in theology is tantamount to saying that the vast majority of religious people are ignorant of that which they worship. I find it difficult to resist the conclusion that the theologians are taking themselves to task for not teaching theology to the billions of people who need to understand all the details of their God.

But enough of this. There are places in this world, dark accesses of the Network, into which the likes of Jim Holt never venture — or if they do, their aversion to the “sophomoric” forces them to squeeze their eyes firmly shut until they can snuggle into academia and once more pull the ivy over their heads. I refer, of course, to the LOLCat Bible, and its proofs that Ceiling Cat really does exist:

Teh howse is jus riet for us kittehs. Is not too cowd or too hot. Is jus niec an warm an cuddlee. Teh hoomins gif us fud wen we ask an scrach us wen we mew cyoot. We gets to slepe anywhar an teh hoomins even gif us warm piels of cleen close to lay on. How awesoem!

If Ceiling Cat dint ecksist how cud all of dis happun? If teh howse wus too cowd we wud be ded kittehs wif ice! If teh howse wus too hot we wud be ded kittehs wif crispees! If hoomins not der to feed us we wud be reely skinneh and ded kittehs. If Ceiling Cat dint maek hoomins for us sleepin anywhar wud not be fun! An no cleen close to slepe on!

Evewythin in howse is riet for kitteh and dat is how we kno Ceiling Cat is reel, srsly.

But, sadly, all is not well in the great litterbox of discourse, for some still find the plain and inevitable truth of Ceiling Cat a troublesome proposition.

How do we kno ceiling cat iz good? He miet be lyin. He sez he iz gud but sum stuf seems harsh. If evrythin he sez iz gud iz gud thn gudnes is arbitrerry. but if hez gud ackordin to a hier ideeul then he iz not tha ultimut, srsly.


UPDATE (20 March): In the comments below, John Allen Paulos points to his response in the New York Times letters section. Food for thought: “Salient too should be the fact that religions make all sorts of claims — biological, historical and cosmological — that are sanctioned by theology, yet are simply and egregiously false.” Oh, and Holt is more or less singing the same song he was in 2006, when he reviewed The God Delusion. And now, I really must get to work. . . .

7 thoughts on “Tending to the Sophomoric”

  1. Hear hear.
    I never understand the argument that Dawkins doesn’t understand theology. Just because he disagrees with it?
    Everything of his that I’ve read seems fair (although I’ll admit I haven’t gotten to the God Delusion yet).
    “He doesn’t answer every single argument I’ve ever read in favour of religion in his book” isn’t a very strong point against him, is it.
    I hope one day my tone can be as sophomoric as these fellows are purported to be.

  2. Corey:

    I never understand the argument that Dawkins doesn’t understand theology. Just because he disagrees with it?

    I don’t speak for Jim Holt, because he’s an idiot, but the proof that Dawkins doesn’t understand theology is that’s what he says. He refers to things that “moderate” theologians say as gibberish (probably not an exact quote), indicating that he can’t make any sense of it.

    I’m not saying he should. Hell, I understand precious little political science, and am not certain that political scientists study anything of value to me, and am probably not losing anything by not investigating further myself. I can hardly fault that in others.

    Incidentally, I’m kinda sick of the Courtier’s Reply, too. I just don’t see what’s wrong with consensual public nudity.

  3. I was brought up into liberal Catholicism, so I sort of understand what the Courtier’s reply is getting at. Most atheist criticisms are simply directed at something other than what I was brought up with. It’s almost like they’re attacking a straw man. The difference being, of course, that there are real people inside that straw man.

    But Holt’s review is just ridiculous. He says so himself that theologians scorn these classical arguments. So I have difficulty discerning what his problem is.

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