Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Last Refuge of the Theologian-Scoundrel?

by Tom Bozzo

Pending the next installment in Drek's series on Dawkins's The God Delusion, go see Sean Carroll's lengthy reply to another Dawkins review (h/t to commenter Lord). Carroll provides useful perspective from modern physics on some issues relating to what science can explain — whether "effects" have to have "causes;" whether space-time can create itself (short answers: no and yes, respectively).

Carroll also notes a bait-and-switch of sorts, which is to argue a concept of God as simply constituting the quality of existence, which even the most strident atheist should be able to muster belief in (*), then shift to a discussion of a God acting directly on the world or anthropomorphized with humanoid emotions. PZ Myers has a good laugh line on that one:
We need two names for these two concepts, I think. How about just plain "God" for the personal, loving, being that most Christians believe in, and "Oom" for the bloodless, fuzzy, impersonal abstraction of the theologians? Not that the theologians will ever go along with it—the last thing they want made obvious is the fact that they're studying a completely different god from the creature most of the culture is worshipping.
My two cents via Catholic school is that elementary theology allows the two concepts to go unreconciled. In the Catholic catechism, within the span of a few paragraphs the Israelite God says "turn to me" (emphasis added) and is described as "eternal infinite (immensus) and unchangeable, incomprehensible, almighty and ineffable." Which is to say that belief in the eternal, unchangeable, and incomprehensible God is part of the Judeo-Christian deal. But it's just as clearly not the entirety of the deal, either, and getting rid of the part of God that crosses over into the realm of the comprehensible ditches significant elements of the faith-as-practiced. So Dawkins's argument may not reach all possible concepts of God, but as a practical matter insufficiently sophisticated theological abstraction isn't much of a counterargument.

Addendum: In the unlikely chance you're interested, my position amounts to "leave the observable world to the scientists." Betting against science's ability to explain the observable has long been a losing proposition. Non-observables are properly matters of faith, which you may or may not happen to have.


(*) I would not deny my own existence, and if the rest of the universe were a figment of my imagination, why do its toddlers whine so much?
Tom - "if the rest of the universe were a figment of my imagination, why do its toddlers whine so much?"

(after grousing that the new blogger does not allow the blockquote tag)

If that were a local phenomenon (in the sense of "e=mc^2 may be..."), then I would presume it was a bug due to insufficient requirements management.

As it occurs often enough to be cited as a repeatable phenomenon, I assume it is a feature that you added to ensure, in the words of Willy Loman, that Attention Must be Paid.
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