August 30, 2010

Thought for 08.30.10

I don't believe in the God that Richard Dawkins doesn't believe in, either.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Doorman-Priest said...

Me neither. Well said.

Nancy Wallace said...

Neither do I. Richard Dawkins' concept of God is a long way from mine.

Daniel Weir said...

Marcus Borg has said that he often asks students who say they don't believe in God to describe the God they don't believe in. After the description, Borg says that he doesn't believe in that God either.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

One of my best CPE experiences was with a woman who, as soon as she laid eye on my collar, said she didn't want to talk because she didn't believe in God. I said, "That's o.k." which startled her enough for me to continue, and ask, "what do you believe in." She smiled and after a little more back and forth, we launched into a very profound conversation about life, the universe and everything, revealing her very deep spirituality, and a sense of the Divine not awfully far from Tillich.

After she was discharged from the hospital, she wrote them to say this had been a profoundly moving experience for her, and expressed her gratitude.

How often do we, as Meister Eckhart observed, let "God" get in the way of God?

Tim said...

Mayhap if we discard our pre-conceptions of the Almighty and observe and learn for ourselves, one might find that God is quite different, and far more wonderful than anything we have been taught or led to believe by others.

June Butler said...

Me and thee, m'dear.

Erika Baker said...

It would be great if we could all convince Dawkins that we don't believe in his God either.
The real problem isn't that he doesn't believe in this God but that he absolutely insists we do.

IT said...

I think it's difficult to explain to those who believe in God what it's really like NOT to believe. You can't conceive of NOT believing, any more than I can conceive of believing.

There's nothing there. No more, no less. No loving father. No comforting parent. No righteous patriarch. No smiting Lord.


Dawkins of course has conflated non-belief with a battle against religion. That makes him a convenient whipping boy, but he doesn't speak for me (at least not very often.)

There is nothing there. We are alone. Just us.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the further comments. Tim, that is a big part of the problem -- all those preconceptions, many of them from far simpler times, where it was philosophically sensible to conceive of things like a "supreme being."

GM, ta!

Erika, yes, that is the problem. Dawkins is basically refuting the "God" that even Plato would have recognized as not God, but the demiurge, or something like it. It's true there are many Christians who still hold to that view, but very few theologians do.

IT, let me just say that all of the things you describe as things you don't believe in are not God. (They are how some people think about God, true. They are how some people have experienced what they call God. But they are not God.) God is no-thing; or to put it another way, what you call "nothing" I would call God. God is not "the best thing, the biggest bestest supreme "being" etc., etc. I realize that is likely not how you've encountered Christians talking about God (nor has Dawkins -- and he really should know better.) It is well to remember that the first Christians were all called "atheists" because they didn't believe in God the way the popular culture of Greece and Rome did.

I'd love to hoist a beverage with you some time to talk about such things... blog comments aren't the ideal place for philosophy or theology.

WSJM said...

As we recall, the early Christians in the Roman Empire were accused of being atheists, because the God whom they worshiped wasn't anything like everyone else's notions of a "god." (Crucified? Oh, really! How absurd!)

John-Julian, OJN said...

I shall never forget James Alison's simple statement:
"God is more like 'nothing' than 'something'."

MarkBrunson said...

Like Tobias is saying, IT, you are still positing a belief in a God on our part that we don't believe in.

If I want that, I'd watch Hulk vs. Thor - Odin Allvater is pretty cool.

MarkBrunson said...

I will say that I think what Dawkins primarily believes in is selling books, and books don't sell without controversy, and you can't have controversy with people you can't vehemently disagree with, even if the disagreement is your creation.

His dishonesty is what primarily bothers me.

IT said...

Okay, what I tried to do is give examples of God descriptions. I was not trying to say what *I* think God is, and I wasn't trying to be complete.

I'm trying to get across to y'all that for those without the faith gene, there's nothing there, whether it's a simplistic view of a Stern Father or some transcendent sense of ....whatever.

You are all very good at saying glibly what you perceive God is NOT, and therefore, why Atheists are Wrong if they use that descriptor. But you haven't said anything affirmative of what you think God IS or how you experience Him. Which is why these discussions generally just annoy the atheists because whatever I say, you'll tell me I'm wrong, that's not it AT ALL.

if you experience "God" as "nothing" then there is no God.

SO: what is it?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...


I think we're homing in on the difficulty. I don't mean to be annoying, but trying to explain how frustrating it is for a believer to explain what we're talking about to one who rejects the basis of the belief. Perhaps this is just an area of mutual annoyance! But I hope it can be an area of fruitful discussion, as I learned with the woman who told me she didn't believe in God but went on to describe experiences that I would say were "God-related."

As to experience: How one "experiences" anything is really not the best indication of what that anything (or nothing) "is." These are two different categories. It is actually possible to experience "nothing" as if it were something, and some things as if they were other than they are. The problem is that God is not a thing at all.

The point I'm trying to make is that atheists of the Dawkins school are saying "No" to something that I would agree is not God. All of the images used to describe ones experience of God are not God, but rather our own reactions and perceptions.

For my own view, as a process theologian, God is the home of all potentiality and actuality, the ground not only of all that is but of all that could possibly be. (An analogy: the chess game before any moves are made.) Tillich uses the language of "Being Itself" and others "Ground of Being." I prefer to think in terms of Becoming, an emergent process at work, at every instant and in concert with every "thing" as old possibilities perish as new actualities arise.

I don't know if that helps. As I say, blog comments aren't the best place to do theology!

IT said...

Thank you, Tobias. I understand the frustration with Dawkins, who mistakes "religion" for "faith" and bashes one when he thinks of bashing the other. OTOH I also hope you understand that the facile assumption that Dawkins speaks for atheists is extremely annoying. It's why I don't get into this over at MP's site.

My analogy for this is being colorblind. A person who lacks perception of one area of the spectrum can't see it, and experiences the world differently because of that absence. It becomes clear that people who CAN see the full spectrum see differently.

Indeed, the person who can't see that line, may even understand that the line exists for others. But that doesn't change the fact that he can't see it, or experience it. To tell him that his perception is false is not helpful: it's his perception, and it's what is real to him.

Now, the analogy is clear if you assume the one without faith is the one who is colorblind. But it actually also works if you flip it over, and put those of faith as the ones who lack the full spectrum. In that sense, the person without faith is seeing something further that is not apparent to the person WITH faith. A little more provocative to you folks of faith, but equally valid from my point of view.

The essential thing is not to say that "I am right and you are wrong, " because I experience the world differently. It is to recognize that both of us are right, because we can really only describe our own perception with any validity. It is attempting to impose on others our own reality that is the problem.

I am not trying to tell YOU that God does not exist for you. But like many others of my....spectral persuasion, it is not at all helpful for you folks to insist that he DOES exist for ME.

I agree, this would be more agreeable as a conversation with a pleasant meal and appropriate lubrication!

Marshall Scott said...

You know, Tobias, this is one discussion where it really does depend on what the meaning of "is" is. That is, philosophically we can discuss why the category of "existence" doesn't apply to God-ness, and why when we use that language we're not also saying the God isn't.

IT, I certainly remember (and you might) a previous generations' noisy anti-religionists (a la Dawkins, etc) and especially Mad Murray O'Hare. I did hear her speak once, and observed that indeed she was more interested in baiting believers, and less in discussing atheism per se. I recalled something I read when studying Buddhism. It seems someone asked the Buddha about God. He answered something like, "There may indeed be a Creator; but creation happened so long ago as to make the question irrelevant." To me, that's atheism, and not the militant anti-theism of O'Hare, Dawkins, et al. And I've read enough of you and your wife to feel that you're not interested in being anti-; just acknowledging your own boundaries.

(Interestingly, my verification word is "deninati" - sort of the anti-religionist antagonists of the "illuminati?"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, IT. That is precisely why I worded my statement as I did. In an odd way, Dawkins is right -- it is just he doesn't realize that he is to a large extent attacking straw-men (or straw-gods).

And I like your visual analogy, in that it is fair to both sides: one can both think one sees what isn't there (some atheists' view of the theist) or fail to see what is there (some theists' view of atheists.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, too, Marshall. That is in fact the root of the problem; the moment one asks, "Does God exist" one is off on the wrong foot. It puts God into the category of a thing among other things, the "best thing." (Don't get me started on Anselm, at least on that topic!) I suggest Plato's Parmenides as a starter for wrestling with what "is" is...

I was in the Baltimore public schools when MMO'H began her crusade against prayer.

The Buddha had it right, like Meister Eckhart: a non-theism rather than an anti-theism. As Eckhart said, "I pray to God to free me from 'God'."

IT said...

The anti-theists have created a fundamentalism of their own. They have done it to counterbalance the Christian funadmentalists, but it isn't helpful.

A Dawkins-ish (or O'Hehir-ish) atheist could not be happiliy married, as I am, to a woman of deep faith. I certainly do not wish her to lose her faith. And if she fervently prays that I discover it, well, that's one of her ways of expressing love, and taken by me as such!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, IT. It is the militancy of Dawkins and his confreres that troubles me, just as does militant religiosity. It makes no more sense to insist that God doesn't exist than that God does -- again always wondering what "exist" means! Neither view is actually "scientific" -- all the more troublesome for Dawkins, who at least has a science background if he's lost sight of scientific method, or misapplied it.

June Butler said...

IT, oh that everyone on both sides of the atheism/theism divide were as sensible as you.

Yes. Tobias, it is the militancy that is worrisome and causes trouble.

MarkBrunson said...

Oh, I'm not saying you're wrong that you perceive nothing, just that you're wrong that I perceive something, or that nothing is the same as void.

In a real sense, everyone here is nothing - not some bizarre, self-flagellating sense, but true and observable. We are an aggregate of easily removed senses, experiences, and bits and pieces of the periodic table. Nothing. Yet something. There's nothing mystical in that, but experiential.

The nothing you sense is the No-thing I sense. We just interpret it differently. You see the universe held together by observable forces scientifically quantified, whereas I see the scientific forces as part of a larger ground. You see human life as largely absurd, without higher meaning, so do I. Yet, we both strive. If not, you wouldn't be here.

In a real sense, I would say it doesn't matter if you don't believe, but how you behave in your disbelief. You are a force of creation, Dawkins of entropy. It isn't that he's an atheist - I'm not sure he is, for that matter, any more than I think Robert Duncan believes in God! - but that Dawkins is a jackass - sorry to offend tender sensibilities, but he is - and, frankly, making a great deal of money off of a different kind of fundy by claiming something of which he is not just ignorant, but stupid, because he makes no attempt to know.

I'm quite happy to hear your views, as you build understanding, and, in a true sense, help to define my own belief (not against your disbelief, but by presenting commonly-held views in a new light). I wouldn't silence atheists in explaining their beliefs, but I would decry both Dawkins and, say, that Wright creature, as mere name-calling brats.

MarkBrunson said...


I'm glad to see someone else approaches the Buddha's non-theism as I do.

I also like Confucius' answer (paraphrased, as I don't have the translation in front of me), "If Humanity cannot know all there is in this world, why waste time speculating on another?"

I'm sad to see, in Western converts to Buddhism, what is largely a ceremonial version of Dawkins' non-theist fundamentalism. This is not reflected in most "native" Buddhists. While the sutras are, adamantly, at times, atheist (in the positive sense), most modern Buddhist thinkers raised in the milieu accept that those sutras were written in response to a culture in which a transcendent, universal, and non-personal Being was not popularly understood - rather like the fundamentalist view of "my buddy Jesus."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mark, for both comments.

To put it in the perspective of the branch of Buddhism with which I am most familiar, if the question asked by Western theism is "Why?" the Buddhist response is, "No 'Why.'"

Grant said...

Hi, Fr. T and others! This is a favorite topic of mine.

A question for every/anyone:

How do you square the notion that that God is not a thing and, effectively, does not exist with the idea that Jesus is God?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Hey Grant, that's the $64,000 question! There are numerous answers; my own thought tend along lines laid out in the last century by Lionel Thornton (The Incarnate Lord) and Teilhard de Chardin. But even in the patristic era there were careful distinctions that could lead one to say that the manhood of Jesus is a "thing" (i.e., created) while the Godhead is not, (i.e., uncreated) -- these two "natures" being joined without confusion in one person. So it all depends on what your philosophical or metaphysical underpinning is, as to how you answer such a question. So I could say, in the terms outlined above, that Jesus has both a "thing" nature and a "not-thing" in a single person. Perhaps an analogy might be a response to the question: Is the performance of a piece of music "the piece of music"? What relationship do these two "natures" have to each other? What "is" Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?

Grant said...

Cool analogue with music. I too rely heavily on the hypostatic union when confronting this question. In fact, a real understanding of that is what finally convinced me that the idea of the divinity of Jesus was a good one and not some foolishness. I finally recognized that doctrine does not merely say that Jesus is/was God. It also says quite explicitly that Jesus is/was NOT God. Here's how I see it:

Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. But, absolutely everything that those who lived with him (ourselves by extension) could see, hear, touch, fell, etc., experience/know of him was the fully man part. This seems obvious. But we still say that Jesus was/is fully God. That means that we actually have no idea whatsoever how Jesus is God. We know for certain that all the stuff we know about Jesus is not God. But we have no idea how he is God. But we still say he is fully God. At some point it's a bald assertion.

That seems ridiculous.'s not merely a bald assertion. Rather, it is an entire Weltnanschauung. If we say that Jesus is fully man and fully God, without having any idea how that is actually the case, then there is no way we can say with any sense of intellectual honesty that any other person (or any other part of creation for that matter) is NOT fully man and fully God. That leads us to a very important point. We must treat all of creation as if it is God. Either we do/believe that, or we must admit that calling any man God is foolishness and idolatrous.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Reposting to correct egregious typos! (I really must proof more carefully when using voice recognition software...)

That is what gives the serious weight to "if you have seen me you have seen the Father" and, paradoxically, "what you do to the least of these you do to me."

Grant said...

So true!

In other news, I was in Manhattan this week. What a great place to be an Episcopalian. I stayed right near St. Bart's coincidentally and then stumbled upon St. Thomas 5th Ave, not knowing what it was until I saw the big St. George cross. The best part was when I walked by a line of people waiting to be fed at St. Bart's and immediately thereafter saw a sign out front for a sacred music festival there.

What a nice reminder of why I began exploring TEC. :-)

God bless!

June Butler said...

What a wonderful theology thread this turned out to be.

Grant, St. Thomas has lovely music, and a catered coffee hour (at least, the day I was there), but I would not label them as the friendliest Episcopal congregation in Manhattan.

JCF said...

Hello all!

I'm late to the party, as per usual . . . but I've showed up, apropos the news of Stephen Hawkings' upcoming "there is no God" book.

As I said over at Episcopal Cafe/The Lead, I find Hawkings' line "universe can and will create itself from nothing" merely the semantics of using the word "universe", instead of the word "God".

Like many of y'all, I find myself looking to the terms/metaphors of the Buddhists, to try to, um, "eff the ineffable".

I think of (some kinds of) Buddhists being atheists . . . devout atheists!

I also think of the saying "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." (Because the Buddha isn't a thing/being who CAN be "met on the road.")

I have nothing more to add to what's already been said . . . except to ponder: when you say, IT,

There's nothing there. No more, no less. No loving father. No comforting parent. No righteous patriarch. No smiting Lord. Just....nothing.

it seems like maybe you're baiting us, to say "Oh Yes There Is!"?

While I (unfortunately?) lack the certitude you do, IT, I'm certainly ready to concede "There's probably nothing.

But even if I were certain there was "nothing", would that fundamentally change anything important? Anything in my practice of (ahem) "The Faith"?

I don't think so.

I mean, just because God doesn't exist, why should that stop me from Eating Him(/Her/It)? Even if the meaning in it is totally projected by me (and the rest of the faith community!), it's meaning all the same!

A Dawkins-ish (or O'Hehir-ish) atheist could not be happiliy married, as I am, to a woman of deep faith.

While I am loathe to speculate about the personal (marital) lives of others, I wonder if a Absolute Void atheist could be happily (i.e. lovingly) married *at all* (past a Helen Fisher-described ~18 months of infatuation that is!)?

To commit to "for better or worse...until we are parted by death" IS to believe in a Reality which doesn't seem explainable (to me) by biochemistry alone. For all the ups & downs in a marriage like my parents', for 51 years that Reality DID sustain them. Mere (uncaring) inertia? Maybe . . . it seems like their no-thing was/is bigger than that though!

Erika Baker said...

"it seems like maybe you're baiting us, to say "Oh Yes There Is!"?"

OK, I'll take the bait.

I can't be the only one who "knows" in the depth of her being that there is "something". I have no words for it, no scientific explanation, but I know what "something" does to my life, and what my life was like before and after I was aware of "something".

The Via Positiva is rightfully the counterpart to the Via Negativa, although I will never understand why different people find themselves on different paths.

That doesn't mean that atheists or agnostics "don't get it", in a derogatory kind of way. But for me, there is definitely something to “get” that some people somehow cannot experience.

IT’s charge that we rarely say what God IS or how we experience him is valid. What God IS cannot be said. Our experience could be spoken but it’s almost impossible
because words just don’t do the trick and because it’s so intensely personal that speaking about it can leave us feel deeply exposed and vulnerable, and it may not make sense to others. Few of us are articulate enough to put that vague “something” into credible words without sounding like children who believe in the tooth fairy.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts. It occurs to me, in light of Dr. Hawking's recent statement, that part of the problem is that some scientists see God in the Top Down model that is, it must be admitted, part of the tradition, and the mainstay of popular religion: God as designer, pictured enthroned in some time before time, making decisions, interfering with creation. This is in fact the God of the Gaps -- the "explanation" for the things we can't explain.

This is not, however, the God of most systematic theology, which is much more Bottom Up -- with God as the underlying interplay of potential and realization that gives rise to all actuality. This God is not the explanation just for what we don't know [yet] but for what we do know. This is the God who lies behind Hawking's vision of a self-generating universe, as the ultimate principle of self-generation itself.

June Butler said...

I can't be the only one who "knows" in the depth of her being that there is "something". I have no words for it, no scientific explanation, but I know what "something" does to my life, and what my life was like before and after I was aware of "something".

Erika, you are not the only one. There are at least two of us.

Tim said...

OK, I'll bite, but differently. I was raised amongst Brethren of the allegedly sensible kind, whom I now increasingly understand to be a bunch of fundie oddballs anyway. Spong and Borg and others have opened my eyes WIDE by comparison.

Old model: "God" as some supernatural monarch somehow deserving capital letters, who kicked-off the universe and occasionally sticks his finger in, in matters of human interest only. This, of course, is full of flaws. To be a being is to be finite in extent and location, existing independently from other beings, finite in extent, with some means of interaction through the forces of physics. Experiment does not bear this out. Per the 1970 Liturgy, this god is to be grovelled-before as a mediaeval peasant would his lord. If Substitutionary Atonement is the only way, then this god is an abusive parent. Altogether, just: yuck.

[Comment split for reasons of size]

Tim said...

[Comment part 2]:

Middle ground: I see a lot of people have continuing terminology from this old model: language of "he" (or worse, "He", or "you"), or of "who", or a continuing assumption that God's sole interest is a particular species of beings 1-2m tall on a particular planet, often refocussing on "social justice" instead. (Good, but not the whole story!)

Ground where I stand: let's abandon both those positions. Critical thinking has served to place scripture as a product of human cultural evolution, not the other way around. So if God (and I'm dropping the scare-quotes now) is properly transcendent, then God must be in no way a "person", or 3 persons, but a *meaningful concept* that all can approach. My own angle is "the sum of all experience", because everything at all scales in the universe undergoes change. This way, Creation becomes dynamic, ongoing, present-tense, and creationism misses the point. Any experience had on the way is God happening, God being present, from an atom gaining an electron or a person's reaction to tsunami or a star going supernova, all is experience. Just one advantage of the many this affords is that I respect other faiths as approaching the same God, because this God cannot be encapsulated exclusively in any one creed... I can say that scripture is "inspired", even "the word of God", despite being 100% human-authored and quite often offensive in parts, because I see that it chronicles people's *experience*s leading to the divine at the time. Amongst other things, sin is no longer the only language to speak: the whole gamut of human experience is to be celebrated.

Now, what am I? A foul syncretic heretic or a humanoid on a path of faith? :)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Tim. I'm a process theologian, and so your "third way" is rather close to the way I think of God. However, I don't jettison the earlier thought-patterns entirely, though I see them as the cultural understandings they are, but make use of them as they suit. Thus, I find the book of Job to be astonishingly apt for an understanding of God as "more than the Lord of the Earth and its human inhabitants" -- but as a beyond-cosmic actuality that (or "who") is the basis for all existence. Mythological language (with which the Bible is replete) serves its function as long as one doesn't take it literally! (Sadly, many miss that important proviso.)

I don't feel the need to jettison the language of "person" as I understand it in the sense the Nicene folks did (rather than as the Mormons!) as hypostasis.

Andrew Gerns said...

The problem is that Dawkins insists that Christians must believe in the God he doesn't believe in. If we are not biblical literalists or give ourselves over the magical thinking then he accuses us of not being genuine Christians. He then uses our more nuanced understand as proof that his notion of atheism is correct and our underlying theism is irrational.

It is quite the intellectual sleight of hand.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed, AndrewPlus, that seems to be exactly the dynamic -- setting up a straw man to attack and insist it is the real issue. Dawkins is intellectually dishonest in this, a grave failing in an intellectual!

Murdoch Matthew said...

Several people in this discussion have noted that the God refuted by Dawkins is, in fact, believed in by many. So it isn't quite a strawman. I wonder why you don't just thank Dawkins for clearing the underbrush and get on with promulgating the God you think is more credible.

Of course, Dawkins wouldn't like your God, either, because you make much of narrative and intuition, and he's all into evidence. He's not the only one to question whether you can legitimately jack up the ancient story and install different, more modern, understandings. Now that you've put Dawkins in his place, I wish you'd go to the Episcopal Café and take on the sermons and comments of Bill Carroll, an undoubtedly orthodox Anglican theologian, who regularly informs less traditional thinkers as to what it is or isn't permissible to call Christianity.

All this is usefully considered by Tim Crane, a Cambridge University philosopher on a New York Times
webforum today.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

The fact that the God Dawkins attacks is believed in by many isn't the point; any more than attacking genetics on the basis of Lysenko would be fair to genetics. There are plenty of theologians who rely not on narrative, mystery, or intuition, but on philosophy. The real gap is between physics and metaphysics.

The article you point to is an interesting read, but I take issue with the skewing evident in these paragraphs -- which seems to me to sum up this problem:

Religious belief is a very different kind of thing. It is not restricted only to those with a certain education or knowledge, it does not require years of training, it is not specialized and it is not technical. (I’m talking here about the content of what people who regularly attend church, mosque or synagogue take themselves to be thinking; I’m not talking about how theologians interpret this content.)

What is more, while religious belief is widespread, scientific knowledge is not. I would guess that very few people in the world are actually interested in the details of contemporary scientific theories. Why? One obvious reason is that many lack access to this knowledge. Another reason is that even when they have access, these theories require sophisticated knowledge and abilities, which not everyone is capable of getting.

He is, in effect, comparing hard science with popular religion, which is, to my mind, Dawkins' straw man. It would be just as bad to compare the rigor of an academic philosopher or metaphysician to someone with a vague or popular understanding of science -- or a misunderstanding. He seems to think the "content" of faith is the popular beliefs / experiences of ordinary people, while the content of science is the preserve of the specialists. To my mind this skews his whole discussion, though he does have some sensible things to say as far as it goes.

The real comparison should be between hard science and systematic theology. In a way it is unfortunate he didn't explore more deeply the possibilities in his first paragraph, by comparing the atheist Russell with his colleague the philosopher Whitehead. (I'm a process theologian, and as far as I'm concerned it makes perfectly logical sense and is "demonstrable" on the basis of reason.) Did R and W have interesting discussions along the lines of, "What is 'number' and does 'number' exist? Is mathematics 'science' in the same sense as biology? Does it have 'hypotheses' and verifiable outcomes?" As long as we are stuck at the level of popular religion (or popular science) we are in the wrong ball-park. A fairer comparison would be systematic theology and mathematics.

Further, I think the issue of "historical claims" is also indicative of the problem. Science does not make "historical claims" -- though it may posit historical hypotheses (big bang?) and try to show evidence for them, evidence that still exists in the microwave echo. But, for instance, the Resurrection, while an historical claim, cannot be falsified. You can, a priori, say such things are impossible, ergo it didn't happen -- but that's not science either. So he is right to point out that this is a different kettle of fish, but it still isn't at the heart of systematic theology --- which, for example, doesn't get around to the Resurrection until chapter X! Most of the hard work in systematics is not about the particulars of any one theistic system, but more about the nature of existence.

Murdoch Matthew said...

If Dawkins is dishonest for taking on the "God" of popular religion rather than the sophisticated "God" of philosophy, then the churches are dishonest for pretty much preaching the God of popular religion and leaving the critical stuff in the seminary. Adrian Worsfold harps a lot on this dishonesty in preaching.

Yes, philosophy has moved closer and closer to understanding what we mean when we say "God" -- and it's not something likely to excite the masses. The popular understanding of language is that a word refers to some thing, that a word directly substitutes for an entity or concept. L. Wittgenstein and R. M. Hare get us to consider that a word relates to another word, etc., and so on into language. What is the basis of philosophy? Relating words to words in intellectually coherent manners. No connection to actual reality necessary, though impressive narrative realities may be created.

We still have to get the popular story away from Plato -- that ideal states exist -- and teach that all is flux, change, process: our bodies, our ideas, our language -- all. The dogmatic atheists argue facts, but even facts are slippery. "God" is a word used in many ways and contexts; it is not a thing one can point to (or know as one's invisible best friend). This discussion hasn't escaped the usual misconceptions and misconnections, I fear.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

In my experience (which is mine, as Ann Elk used to say) ordinary people are capable of grasping theology. Many people do not want theology, however, but rather to have their emotional needs met. This is true in the world of popular science as well -- "Don't bother me with string theory, I'll stick with Newton!" Even Einstein was nervous about some of the thinking in Quantum Mechanics.

So I agree that platonic idealism is part of the problem -- one reason I'm a moderate nominalist / moderate realist when it comes to universals. But I find process thinking to be even more relevant, and ultimately accessible (and even more Biblical!) than the essentialism of so much theological thinking. Even God is in process. In the mythic language that's what we mean by saying God is alive. But my teaching and preaching grounds that "life" in the process of all life, or all entities.

I'm leery of getting too far afield into linguistic paradoxes. When I speak of "God" I have a rather clear notion in mind, though I recognize it may not be the same as what another denominates. But that seems to me a trivial and inescapable point of language, and not necessarily at issue here -- beyond my original point that Dawkins' "God" is not mine.

I'm not sure what misconceptions or misconnections you are referring to.

June Butler said...

But I find process thinking to be even more relevant, and ultimately accessible (and even more Biblical!) than the essentialism of so much theological thinking.

I agree. As a non-specialist in both theology and science, a lowly pew-warmer (Tobias doesn't like me to use the caveat, because our words should stand or fall on their own!), I must agree that process theology is quite accessible and makes a great deal of sense to me.

I'm confused by the discussions of the conflict between science and theology, because, in my 16 years of Roman Catholic schooling, I was never taught that the two conflicted, thus when I first became aware of the controversy, I was quite surprised.

Before I read process theology, Teihard de Chardin's writings on faith and science appealed to me and, indeed, still do.

I inserted my caveat, because I am not knowledgeable enough to engage in a detailed discussion such as others have in this thread.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi. Reading Teilhard when I was in college was part of what brought me back to faith. Unlike you, I'd been driven away by the failures of the RC teachers to take rational questions seriously. Then again, the classes were taught by nuns who meant well, but whose own theology was based largely on the emotive power of stories rather than on what I craved, which was a "reason" to believe.

I vividly remember the nun telling the story of the little boy who died after he had done some bad thing and before he'd had a chance to go to confession (I think that's right... it might also be that he had not been baptized.) The mother wept and wept into her handkerchief and prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was so moved by this that she sent an angel to fetch the moist handkerchief --- and it was weighed in the scales against the boy's sinful heart, and God forgave him and let him into heaven.

Now, there are so many theological problems with this I don't know where to begin --- though I suppose the imagery that has more to do with the Egyptian Book of the Dead than the Gospel takes the cake. And I won't even get into Maria Mediatrix! Suffice it to say that this is not the kind of religion I was looking for...

June Butler said...

Tobias, my experiences with the nuns were years before yours, but they were better. I remember them as intelligent, sensible women, for the most part. I truly have no horror stories to tell.

And then, later, with the Jesuits, the professors at least grappled with opposing views before throwing them out, so there was exposure to the opposition.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

In my case it was just the Sunday School. Perhaps if I'd been in the parochial school I would have experienced the better trained teaching sisters, and also those with experience in areas aside from religion. I recall this particular nun as very sweet, young, and dewy eyed -- perhaps o.k. for a class of 12-year olds, but even at 12 I was a hard case! Hell, I was even bad at 7, and have a vivid memory of arguing the creation vs evolution with a poor beleagured Christian Brother! (I loved dinosaurs, you see, and their absence from the biblical account made me concerned as to its accuracy!)

June Butler said...

Hell, I was even bad at 7, and have a vivid memory of arguing the creation vs evolution with a poor beleagured Christian Brother!

You weren't being bad, Tobias, only tenacious.

My only "C" grade in college was in a course called "Christian Marriage". I believe my grade was the result of arguing with the professor, a Jesuit priest, on more than one occasion throughout the course. I remember one long and rather persistent (on my part) argument over Matthew 19:9:

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’

My argument was that, from the passage, one could conclude that divorce was permitted when one's spouse was unfaithful. The prof didn't buy my argument, and he was annoyed when I wouldn't let it go. Of course, I could be wrong about the reason for my grade.

The professor's passed on (of course!), but I hope he knows that I've been in a Christian marriage for 49 years.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mimi, it may be our task in life to be tenacious and annoying!

MarkBrunson said...

To put it in the perspective of the branch of Buddhism with which I am most familiar, if the question asked by Western theism is "Why?" the Buddhist response is, "No 'Why.'"

Or, "You don't know? That's good! Keep that!" :)

JCF said...

Simple question, Murdoch:

Could you explain to me how there's any significant difference between your characterization of someone who

regularly informs less traditional thinkers as to what it is or isn't permissible to call Christianity.

and your later assessment

This discussion hasn't escaped the usual misconceptions and misconnections, I fear.


[Is is acceptable to cry "FAIL!" at someone you disagree with, or isn't it? Conversely, could you be projecting, what you yourself do? O_o]