A couple of weeks ago I put up a quote by Karen Armstrong about the being itself thing. Some atheists mistakenly thought it was saying that religion is stupid and outdated when it really said he opposite, because they are so ignorant they have no concept of liberal theology. When they read some liberal theology they think it's atheism because they don't even know what liberal is. I bot so caught up on that side of the article I totally forgot the article was the result of a request by the editor of two different people about their views. The other commenting person was Dawkins. They two did not know what the other said. A quick rehash of Armstrong's view then we should look at what Dawkins said.
Armstrong said that religion was hurt by the literalizing of the metaphor of the guy in the sky. she said that ancient religion understood something modern evangelicals have forgotten, that God is being itself and the big guy in the sky is just a metaphor. She used Newton as an example of one literalizing the metaphor. Newton decided he science proved God and since that gave him a literal understanding of the existence of God he just literlized the metaphor to fit scinece thinking he didn't need it as a metaphor as long as he had his scientific proof. Then in the next generation La place (really about a hundred years latter) said "we have naturalistic cause and effect so we don't God anymore." Now we go over and look at what Dawkins says we find the only understands the literilzed metaphor.
the orginal Arrmonstrong Quote and my few comments are here:
My analysis of what the Armstrong Quote means here:
The Dawkins part of the article is subtitled "Dawkins argues that Evoluion Leaves God with nothing to do."
Before 1859 it would have seemed natural to agree with the Reverend William Paley, in "Natural Theology," that the creation of life was God's greatest work. Especially (vanity might add) human life. Today we'd amend the statement: Evolution is the universe's greatest work. Evolution is the creator of life, and life is arguably the most surprising and most beautiful production that the laws of physics have ever generated. Evolution, to quote a T-shirt sent me by an anonymous well-wisher, is the greatest show on earth, the only game in town.
Paley was another example Armstrong used to say that "here's a Christian who is literilzing his metaphors." So of Dawkins is taking the literized version as the real thing. He's treating evolution as a final case as though there need to be a reason for evolution to exist or any prior conditions that make it work or make it possible.
Indeed, evolution is probably the greatest show in the entire universe. Most scientists' hunch is that there are independently evolved life forms dotted around planetary islands throughout the universe—though sadly too thinly scattered to encounter one another. And if there is life elsewhere, it is something stronger than a hunch to say that it will turn out to be Darwinian life. The argument in favor of alien life's existing at all is weaker than the argument that—if it exists at all—it will be Darwinian life. But it is also possible that we really are alone in the universe, in which case Earth, with its greatest show, is the most remarkable planet in the universe.
Not likely that we are alone. If he's write about the natural of evolution but that doesn't put a damper on God. Only if you see God as big man in the sky and you think he has to make a decision about each and every little thing he's doing that this would be a problem.
What is so special about life? It never violates the laws of physics. Nothing does (if anything did, physicists would just have to formulate new laws—it's happened often enough in the history of science). But although life never violates the laws of physics, it pushes them into unexpected avenues that stagger the imagination. If we didn't know about life we wouldn't believe it was possible—except, of course, that there'd then be nobody around to do the disbelieving!
Here he talks as though there are prescriptive laws of physics. Of course if you make a God argument, "who prescribes the prescriptive laws" then atheists will say "don't you know anything? there are not actual 'laws' they are not prescriptive they are only descriptive. If that's the case then of course nothing can ever violate them because what ever happens is a prori what the laws the law says, since it doesn't actually actually do anything bu describe what happens. So why is he talking like there's some sort obeying to be done? My hung is that this is a sort of devotional langauge that atheists use. Since science is their God they they speak about it in different terms when praising it then they do when describing how it works, as Simone Weil said "the language of the nuptial chamber is not the language of the market place." Witness above:evolution is probably the greatest show in the entire universe.
I think what's happening here is that they are literelizing their own metaphor. When you call them on it (law demands a lawgiver) they do "O yea that's just a metaphor, forgot about that." But Just as a fundamentalist really does think of God as literally a man in the sky becuase he has no other model for thinking about it, Atheists really do in their heart of hearts believe that there are prescriptive laws of physics, that's why their devotional language is about prescriptive laws.
The laws of physics, before Darwinian evolution bursts out from their midst, can make rocks and sand, gas clouds and stars, whirlpools and waves, whirlpool-shaped galaxies and light that travels as waves while behaving like particles. It is an interesting, fascinating and, in many ways, deeply mysterious universe.
The laws of physics move in mysterious ways, their wonders to perform. Yea, they don't have any "devotional language," they are not worshiping scinece! come off it.
But now, enter life. Look, through the eyes of a physicist, at a bounding kangaroo, a swooping bat, a leaping dolphin, a soaring Coast Redwood. There never was a rock that bounded like a kangaroo, never a pebble that crawled like a beetle seeking a mate, never a sand grain that swam like a water flea. Not once do any of these creatures disobey one jot or tittle of the laws of physics. Far from violating the laws of thermodynamics (as is often ignorantly alleged) they are relentlessly driven by them. Far from violating the laws of motion, animals exploit them to their advantage as they walk, run, dodge and jink, leap and fly, pounce on prey or spring to safety.
Never once are the laws of physics violated, yet life emerges into uncharted territory. And how is the trick done? The answer is a process that, although variable in its wondrous detail, is sufficiently uniform to deserve one single name: Darwinian evolution, the nonrandom survival of randomly varying coded information. We know, as certainly as we know anything in science, that this is the process that has generated life on our own planet. And my bet, as I said, is that the same process is in operation wherever life may be found, anywhere in the universe.
Holy Tialhard de Chardin Batman. That's devotional enough to be found in Hymn to the Universe.
What if the greatest show on earth is not the greatest show in the universe? What if there are life forms on other planets that have evolved so far beyond our level of intelligence and creativity that we should regard them as gods, were we ever so fortunate (or unfortunate?) as to meet them? Would they indeed be gods? Wouldn't we be tempted to fall on our knees and worship them, as a medieval peasant might if suddenly confronted with such miracles as a Boeing 747, a mobile telephone or Google Earth? But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us. Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.
This is a very revealing paragraph because it shows us two things: (1) He really does think of God as just a jumped up man, that's his basic concept and he can't understand or even does know that there is any other option or concept more sophisticated. He really clearly thinks that this is what exactly the notion deity is about. Not the Ground of being but a guy with a ray gun who could zap you and then beam up to the ship before you know it. The big alien in the sky with the Ray gun is no closer to being God than is a cave man with a club in the sky or a pond scum in the sky. The only thing such an image can ever be is a er zots metaphor litearlized and put over in place of the real concept of necessary eternal being which is not a man in the sky. (2) It opens a window into Dawkins own concept of devotional language and his notion of what he worships. I think this explains why atheists are bullies on message boards. What they worship is what they seek and it's their reason for doing scinece: power. I've often observed that the real hateful sort of atheist, the street hood who is filled with so much he's banned from board to board is just hung up on the idea of being powerless and taking it out upon a class of people who he assumes have a measure of social power, church people.
To midwife such emergence is the singular achievement of Darwinian evolution. It starts with primeval simplicity and fosters, by slow, explicable degrees, the emergence of complexity: seemingly limitless complexity—certainly up to our human level of complexity and very probably way beyond. There may be worlds on which superhuman life thrives, superhuman to a level that our imaginations cannot grasp. But superhuman does not mean supernatural. Darwinian evolution is the only process we know that is ultimately capable of generating anything as complicated as creative intelligences. Once it has done so, of course, those intelligences can create other complex things: works of art and music, advanced technology, computers, the Internet and who knows what in the future? Darwinian evolution may not be the only such generative process in the universe. There may be other "cranes" (Daniel Dennett's term, which he opposes to "skyhooks") that we have not yet discovered or imagined. But, however wonderful and however different from Darwinian evolution those putative cranes may be, they cannot be magic. They will share with Darwinian evolution the facility to raise up complexity, as an emergent property, out of simplicity, while never violating natural law.
So he deifies the agency or the tool through which God works, but can't understand that there's a deeper aspect to it than just the creativity of the agency itself. His concept of deity is clearly contingent and rooted in the magnifying of natural things, such as "big man in sky." Not just any man in the sky, but a big man.
Where does that leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God's redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.
The reason it appears to leave God out is because all he's really saying is "I can't understand the idea of God in any more complex fashion than a big man in sky, but I have a bigger man in the sky." In other words, big white lab coat guy with test tube in sky beats big cave man in sky. In posing the question "what would have to do" he's positing the notion of God as a man who get's board, waits around, has to find things to do. Presumably God would be using evolution as a tool and doing all that stuff he talks about. But we don't need to say that because even that caters to a model of God as a mechanic with a tool. Now I am not saying that God is evolution, but let's think about using evolution itself as the metaphor for God, then to say "what would God be doing while things are evolving? That is a meaningless question, he would be evolving them!
But Dawkins knows just enough about modern theology be dangerous. He tries to preempt the argument:
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."
That is a copy of a sort of existentially based take on God popular in the early 60s rooted in the works God is dead movement people such as Van Bearuean and Altizer. But doesn't apply to Tillich or his existential ontology (God as being itself).
Well, if that's what floats your canoe, you'll be paddling it up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world's peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists.
Here we see a tactic used by atheists on every message board where I have argued this. They always copy and imitate their Master's example and appeal to popularity because they think Christianity is just about following the herd. Notice how he equates a literalism of the guy in the sky with belief in God itself, "they believe in God" as though Tillich didn't believe in God. Because his only conception of God is the simplistic guy in the sky. Notice how he doesn't really address the issue of other views of God which are not based upon the Suzerain model. He goes for the most fluphy sounding wavy gravy existential bs he can find.
If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They'll be right.
What he says here is important because it clues us in. He can only think of existence in literal biological terms. God has to be the big man in the sky to exist, and Dawkins big scientist in the sky is better because he's a more modern big man. Concepts of process theology and being itself and all that is just wasted on him.