Not deluded, apparently: Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800. Jefferson is quoted by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion thus: “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” I wonder if Jefferson knew that orthodox Christian theologians had been questioning (with boldness, even) the existence of God centuries before the Enlightenment. He just may have; he was an awfully well-read fellow. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
As I prepare to start the manuscript of my book I am re-reading Richard Dawkins‘s The God Delusion. It’s much more enjoyable the second time around. This morning I made it through the first few chapters. Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order.
1. On page 14 of the paperback edition, Dawkins writes that, in rebutting arguments for God’s existence, he “need consider only those theologians who take seriously the possibility that God does not exist and argue that he does.” In Chapter three we find out who these theologians are: Thomas Aquinas and Anselm of Canterbury. That’s it, really. He addresses other arguments in that chapter but engages no other theologians. He could have dug a bit deeper. Plenty of other theologians, Christian and otherwise, have questioned God’s existence: The Cappadocian Fathers, St. Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Moses Maimonides, and Meister Eckhart all come to mind. This brings us up only to the 14th century; there are many others. Dawkins doesn’t even bother with them, but why should he? He has already concluded that theology is a non-discipline.
2. Part of the reason he writes his book, he tells us, is to encourage atheists to come out of the closet. An admirable goal. One that I can get behind. People should be free to say what they think is true.
3. Dawkins writes, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down. What presumptuous optimism! Of course, dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination using methods that took centuries to mature.” So if I disagree with him, it’s because I’ve been indoctrinated. Not because I may actually have thought about it. Good grief.
4. Dawkins is right to distinguish between the word “God” as used by folks like Einstein and Stephen Hawking and as used by dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads like myself, my family, and my fellow believers. Einstein’s God is nothing like the God of Jesus, and the conflation of the two has caused some misunderstandings. I just wish that Dawkins could understand that “God” is not the only word that has multiple meanings. More on this later.
5. On this same point, Dawkins writes, “I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sense.” What? In what other sense than metaphorical has the word “God” ever been used?
6. Dawkins quoting Thomas Jefferson: “The talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings.” Exactly right. God is no thing.
7. Page 72: “The existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other.” No, it’s not, and this is precisely where I part ways with Dawkins, who can’t imagine anything not being subject to our awe-inspiring science.
8. I like the way Dawkins treats Gould’s notion of NOMA. Such a radical division of the spiritual and material is profoundly non-Christian. There is the Incarnation, you know.
For my money, the most significant aspect of Dawkins’s presentation is found in number 7 above. Why must God, who, according to orthodox theology, is the one who created time and space and everything subject to time and space, himself be a thing within time and space? I just don’t get it.