God's Existence and Nature
Charles Taliaferro, Victoria Harrison, and Stewart Goetz, eds. (Routledge: Sep 25, 2012), 752 pages.
There are deep and pervasive disagreements today in universities and colleges, and popular culture in general, over the credibility and value of belief in God. This has given rise to an urgent need for a balanced, comprehensive, accessible resource book that can inform the public and scholarly debate over theism. While scholars with as diverse interests as Daniel Dennett, Terry Eagleton, Richard Dawkins, Jürgen Habermas, and Rowan Williams have recently contributed books to this debate, "theism" as a concept remains poorly understood and requires a more thorough and systematic analysis than it has so far received in any single volume. The Routledge Companion to Theism addresses this need by investigating theism's history as well as its relationship to inquiry in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and to its wider cultural contexts. The contents are not confined within the philosophy of religion or even within the more expansive borders of philosophy. Rather, The Routledge Companion to Theism investigates its subject through the lens of a wide variety of disciplines and explores the ramifications of theism considered as a way of life as well as an intellectual conviction. The five parts of the volume indicate its inclusive scope: I. What is Theism?; II. Theism and Inquiry; III. Theism and the Socio-Political Realm; IV. Theism and Culture; V. Theism as a Way of Life. The result is a well ordered and thorough collection that should provide a wide spectrum of readers with a better understanding of a subject that's much discussed, but frequently misunderstood. As the editors note in their Introduction, while stimulating and informing the contemporary debate, a key aim of the volume is to open new avenues of inquiry into theism and thereby to encourage further research into this vital topic. Comprised of 54 essays by leading scholars in philosophy, history, theology, religious studies, political science, education and sociology, The Routledge Companion to Theism promises to be the most useful, comprehensive resource on an emerging subject of interest for students and scholars.
The True Intellectual System of the Universe (Gould & Newman: 1837, orig. 1678), pp. 266-7.
Wherefore, we shall in the next place declare, what this idea of God is, or what is that thing, whose existence they that affirm, are called Theists, and they who deny, Atheists. In order whereunto, we must first lay down this lemma, or preparatory proposition — that as it is generally acknowledged, that all things did not exist from eternity, such as they are, unmade, but that some things were made and generated or produced; so it is not possible that all things should be made neither, but there must of necessity be something self-existent from eternity, and unmade; because if there had been once nothing, there could never have been any thing. The reason of which is so evident and irresistible, that even the Atheists confess themselves conquered by it, and readily acknowledge it for an indubitable truth, that there must be something αγεννηιον, something which was never made or produced — and which therefore is the cause of those other things that are made, something ... that was self-originated and self-existing ... Wherefore all the question now is, what is this ... which is the cause of all other things that are made. ¶ Now there are two grand opinions opposite to one another concerning it; for, first, some contend, that the only self-existent, unmade and incorruptible thing, and first principle of all things, is senseless matter; that is, matter either perfectly dead and stupid, or at least devoid of all animalish and conscious life. But because this is really the lowest and most imperfect of all beings, others on the contrary judge it reasonable ... that the only unmade thing, which was the principle, cause, and original of all other things, was not senseless matter, but a perfect conscious understanding nature, or mind. And these are they, who are strictly and properly called Theists, who affirm, that a perfectly conscious understanding being, or mind, existing of itself from eternity, was the cause of all other things; and they, on the contrary, who derive all things from senseless matter, as the first original, and deny that there is any conscious understanding being self-existent or unmade, are those that are properly called Atheists.
Thomas Nagel on Explanations said...
"Dawkins and Atheism" in Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament (Oxford University Press: 2009), pp. 22-3.
The reason we are led to the hypothesis of a designer by considering both the watch and the eye is that these are complex physical structures that carry out a complex function, and we cannot see how they could have come into existence out of unorganized matter purely on the basis of the purposeless laws of physics. For the elements of which they are composed to have come together in just this finely tuned way purely as a result of physical and chemical laws would have been such an improbable fluke that we can regard it in effect as impossible: The hypothesis of chance can be ruled out. But God, whatever he may be, is not a complex physical inhabitant of the natural world. The explanation of his existence as a chance concatenation of atoms is not a possibility to which we must find an alternative, because that is not what anybody means by God. If the God hypothesis makes sense at all, it offers a different kind of explanation from those of physical science: explanation by the purpose or intention of a mind without a body, capable nevertheless of creating and forming the entire physical world. The point of the hypothesis is to claim that not all explanation is physical, and that there is a mental, purposive, or intentional explanation more fundamental even than the basic laws of physics, because it explains even them.
"How I Believe in God" at the Chicago Sun-Times (April 17, 2009).
When I was in first or second grade and had just been introduced by the nuns to the concept of a limitless God, I lay awake at night driving myself nuts by repeating over and over, But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end? And then I thought of all the stars in the sky: But how could there be a last one? Wouldn't there always have to be one more? Many years later I know the answer to the second question, but I still don't know the answer to the first one. ... I no longer lost any sleep over the questions of God and infinity. I understood they could have no answers. At some point the reality of God was no longer present in my mind. I believed in the basic Church teachings because I thought they were correct, not because God wanted me to. In my mind, in the way I interpret them, I still live by them today. Not by the rules and regulations, but by the principles. For example, in the matter of abortion, I am pro-choice, but my personal choice would be to have nothing to do with an abortion, certainly not of a child of my own. I believe in free will, and believe I have no right to tell anyone else what to do. Popes come and go, and John XXIII has been the only one I felt affection for. Their dictums strike me as lacking in the ability to surprise. They have been leading a holding action for a millenium. ¶ Catholicism made me a humanist before I knew the word. When people rail against "secular humanism," I want to ask them if humanism itself would be okay with them. Over the high school years, my belief in the likelihood of a God continued to lessen. I kept this to myself. ... ¶ Did I start calling myself an agnostic or an atheist? No, and I still don't. I avoid that because I don't want to provide a category for people to apply to me.
On Natural Theology, Vol. 1 (Robert Carter & Brothers: 1857) pp. 71-3.
The prima facie evidence for a God may not be enough to decide the question; but it should at least decide man to entertain the question. To think upon how slight a variation either in man or in external nature, the whole difference between physical enjoyment and the most acute and most appalling of physical agony may turn; to think how delicate the balance is, and yet how surely and steadfastly it is maintained, so as that the vast majority of creatures are not only upheld in comfort but often may be seen disporting themselves in the redundance of gaiety; to think of the pleasurable sensations wherewith every hour is enlivened, and how much the most frequent and familiar occasions of life are mixed up with happiness; to think of the food, and the recreation, and the study, and the society, and the business, each having an appropriate relish of its own, so as in fact to season with enjoyment the great bulk of our existence in the world; to think that, instead of living in the midst of grievous and incessant annoyance to all our faculties, we should have awoke upon a world that so harmonized with the various senses of man, and both gave forth such music to his ear, and to his eye such manifold loveliness; to think of all these palpable and most precious adaptations, and yet to care not, whether in this wide universe there exists a being who has had any hand in them; to riot and regale oneself to the uttermost in the midst of all this profusion, and yet to send not one wishful inquiry after that Benevolence which for aught we know may have laid it at our feet — this, however shaded from our view the object of the question may be, is, from its very commencement, a clear outrage against its ethical proprieties. If that veil of dim transparency, which hides the Deity from our immediate perceptions, were lifted up; and we should then spurn from us the manifested God — this were direct and glaring impiety. But anterior to the lifting of that veil, there may be impiety. It is impiety to be so immersed as we are, in the busy objects and gratifications of life; and yet to care not whether there be a great and a good spirit by whose kindness it is that life is upholden. It needs not that this great spirit should reveal Himself in characters that force our attention to Him, ere the guilt of our impiety has begun. But ours is the guilt of impiety, in not lifting our attention towards God, in not seeking after Him if haply we may find Him.
James S. Spiegel (Moody Publishers: Feb 2010), 144 pages.
The new atheists are on the warpath. They come armed with arguments to show that belief in God is absurd and dangerous. In the name of societal progress, they promote purging the world of all religious practice. And they claim that people of faith are mentally ill. Some of the new atheists openly declare their hatred for the Judeo-Christian God. Christian apologists have been quick to respond to the new atheists’ arguments. But there is another dimension to the issue which begs to be addressed — the root causes of atheism. Where do atheists come from? How did such folks as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens become such ardent atheists? If we are to believe them, their flight from faith resulted from a dispassionate review of the evidence. Not enough rational grounds for belief in God, they tell us. But is this the whole story? Could it be that their opposition to religious faith has more to do with passion than reason? What if, in the end, evidence has little to do with how atheists arrive at their anti-faith? That is precisely the claim in this book. Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts. These are mere symptoms of the root cause—moral rebellion. For the atheist, the missing ingredient is not evidence but obedience. The psalmist declares, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Ps. 14:1), and in the book of Romans, Paul makes it clear that lack of evidence is not the atheist’s problem. The Making of an Atheist confirms these biblical truths and describes the moral and psychological dynamics involved in the abandonment of faith. ~ Product Description
"God by Design?" in God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science, N.A. Manson, ed. (2003), pp. 93-4.
It ought to be regarded as a major embarrassment to natural theology that the very idea of something like a universe's being "created" by some minded being is sufficiently mind-boggling that any attempt to provide a detailed account of how it might be done is bound to look silly, or mythical, or a vaguely anthropomorphized version of some familiar physical process. Creation stories abound in human societies, as we know. Accounts ascribe the creation to various mythical beings, chief gods among a sizable polytheistic committee, giant tortoises, super-mom hens, and, one is tempted to say, God-knows-what. The Judeo-Christian account does no better, and perhaps does a bit worse, in proposing a "six-day" process of creation.
A Treatise of Human Nature, original 1739 (Longmans, Green: 1909), pp. 303, 398.
If we see a house ... we conclude, with the greatest certainty, that it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely that species of effect, which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause. But surely you will not affirm, that the universe bears such a resemblance to a house, that we can with the same certainty infer a similar cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect. The dissimilitude is so striking, that the utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption concerning a similar cause; and how that pretension will be received in the world, I leave you to consider.
Karen Armstrong (Knopf: Sep 2009), 432 pages.
A fascinating journey through Western civilization's ongoing attempts to understand and explain the concept of God. Celebrated religion scholar Armstrong (The Bible: A Biography, 2007, etc.) creates more than a history of religion; she effectively demonstrates how the West (broadly speaking) has grappled with the existence of deity and captured the concept in words, art and ideas. Beginning in the majestic caves of Lascaux, Armstrong explores how religion became a meaningful part of prehistoric societies, and the ways in which these societies passed down their practices and ideas in the earliest forms of art. The author then moves on to early monotheism and its rivals, offering a brilliant examination of ancient Greek views on religion and reason, which laid the groundwork for so much of Western thought. Looking at the early Christians and Diaspora-era Jews in tandem, Armstrong delves into Talmudic study and midrash, as well as Christian adaptations of theological concepts. Throughout the book, the author argues against religion as an abstraction, noting that it most truly exists in practice. "Faith . . . was a matter of practical insight and active commitment," she writes. "It had little to do with abstract belief or theological conjecture." Nevertheless, scholars have always attempted to define and "prove" God, and Armstrong admirably outlines the best of them through the centuries, including Origen, Anselm, Pascal and Tillich. Armstrong claims that the "warfare" between science and religion is a myth perpetuated by those with axes to grind. Likewise, the modern atheist movement, "death of God" theology and even fundamentalism arise from extremists who see religion as correct doctrine,not correct praxis. Though mostly focused on the West, Armstrong maintains a global perspective, masterfully weaving in her solid understanding of the world's panoply of faiths. Accessible, intriguing study of how we see God. ~ Kirkus Reviews
James W. Sire and Carl Peraino (IVP Books: Apr 2009), 203 pages.
If you're looking for clear-cut answers to difficult questions about God — or for your guy to score a quick knock-out of a toughened sparring partner — then this book is not for you. But if you're open to an authentic, no-holds barred, respectful dialogue about one of life's most important issues, then take up and read. There are no straw men here. Sparked by a chance meeting between two book-club acquaintances and their discussion of Kurt Vonnegut's obituary, this dialogue between long-time Christian Jim Sire and forthright atheist Carl Peraino developed through extended email exchanges exploring minds and brains, science and morality, faith and reason, God and violence, doubt and rhetoric. You'll find much to ponder, weigh and explore in this lively, down-to-earth book. A study guide is included if you wish to delve deeper into any of the issues raised. ~ Product Description
"The New Atheist Movement is Destructive" at Fritanke.no (March 19, 2009).
A second feature of atheism is that it is committed to the appropriate use of reason and evidence. In order to occupy this intellectual high ground, it is important to recognise the limits of reason, and also to acknowledge that atheists have no monopoly on it. The new atheism, however, tends to claim reason as a decisive combatant on its side only. With its talk of “spells” and “delusions”, it gives the impression that only through stupidity or crass disregard for reason could anyone be anything other than an atheist. “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence,” says Dawkins, once again implying that reason and evidence are strangers to religion. This is arrogant, and attributes to reason a power it does not have.
Stuart C. Hackett (Wipf & Stock Publishers: Jan 2009), 381 pages.
This is the 2nd Edition of an epochal treatise in rationalistic theism. The 1st Edition is extremely rare, having been printed in hardbound by Moody Press in 1957 in a printing of only 2,000. Unfortunately, the plates were destroyed. The bottom line of this book is to show how to self-referentially analyze statements to eliminate the possibility of opposing views, and to prove the impossibility of an actually infinite temporal sequence or an actually infinite set of discrete extra-mental objects. Hence, believing that God exists is the end of a long metatheoretic journey, an intellectual cul-de-sac from which there is no logical escape, only a chosen one. Analyzing statements that refer to themselves dominates the entire work, even in relation to self-referential analysis itself and the prior structures of conceptionalization. ~ Rick James @ Amazon.com
Is God a Delusion? A Reply to Religion's Cultured Despisers (Wiley-Blackwell: Dec. 3, 2008), pp. 10,11.
Can the fact that there are theists who seem to be intelligent and morally sensitive be explained on the assumption that these theists are exercising their intelligence and moral sensitivity in the formation of their theistic beliefs? For Dawkins to assume that the answer is no — and for him to declare, "It must be selective stupidity!" — just because he hasn't been able to figure out how the exercise of intelligence and moral sensitivity can generate religious belief... well, why isn't that intellectually responsible? ... For the sake of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Simone Weil and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as too many personal friends and inspirations to name, I hope that Dawkins and the other cultured despisers of religion are wrong. I hope, in other words, that theistic religion can be, and often is, a vital constituent of a life lived with compassion and intellectual integrity. ¶ To say that the religious faith of these rare individuals springs from their intelligence and moral sensitivity is not to say they all have carefully worked out philosophical arguments demonstrating the reasonableness of theistic faith. Their intellects and compassion may operate on a more intuitive level. It's the job of philosophers to trace out carefully the rational pathways that intuitive insight often surges through too quickly for plodding intellects to follow.
Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson (Canon Press: Sep 2, 2008), 72 pages.
This book reproduces an insightful and spirited recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson over what Dostoevsky called the Eternal Questions: What is the real nature of the universe in which we find ourselves? What are the ultimate bases of reason and ethics? Are there any ultimate sanctions governing human behavior? Though Hitchens is always worth reading for his quick wit and frequently surprising arguments, unfortunately in this debate he does not come off at his best. While graciously conceding that Hitchens has clean hands, Wilson wielding a very fine knife shows that Hitchens, sad to say, doesn't have any hands to begin with. Hitchens is of the view that the universe is the accidental consequence of swirling particles, claiming that his reason has led him to this conclusion. Wilson, in the style of C.S.Lewis, points out that if the world outside Hitchen's head is given over wholly to such irrational chemical processes, the world inside Hitchens' head can be no differently composed, and that what Hitchens refers to as "rational argument" has been "arbitrarily dubbed" so. ~ Stanley H. Nemeth
Nathan Jacobson » Reflections on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion .
I know I'm late to the party, but I've finally gotten a chance to begin reading Dawkins' celebrated best-seller, The God Delusion. It's been a very engaging read so far and I'm hoping to post a number of reflections here as I stumble across provocative passages. In the first chapter, Dawkins aims to embolden beleaguered atheists who have been cowed into silence by societal and familial pressures. I second his call to transparency, to being our authentic selves in the public square. However, along the way, he paints a picture of the plight of atheists in the Western world, and in America in particular, that to me seems off. He suggests that, "the status of atheists in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago." And, it is only "slightly exaggerating" to say that "making fun of religion is as risky as burning a flag in an American Legion Hall". Dawkins makes some good observations about the very real prejudices that atheists do face, but this second claim is absurd. I know Dawkins is a Brit, looking in from afar, but has he ever: 1) Watched The Simpsons, The Family Guy, or The Daily Show; 2) Read The Onion, a college newspaper, or a big city's "independent" paper; 3) Hung out in the Humanities department of any major American university; 4) Opened a Bible in West Hollywood or Manhattan?1 Ironically, many Christians also complain that it is they who are persecuted and prevailed upon to keep their beliefs in the closet. And the truth is, they're both right.
Alister E. McGrath (Wiley-Blackwell: May 2, 2008), 384 pages.
Alister McGrath's The Open Secret provides nothing less than the foundations of a vigorous renewal of natural theology for our time. Theologians and others who have considered natural theology an exhausted topic will have second thoughts after reading this richly nuanced, scholarly, creative, and enjoyable book." ~ John F. Haught, Georgetown University • "This is vintage McGrath: confident, capacious in scope, brisk in exposition, decisive in argument. Noone is better placed to make a case for a revisionary theology of nature; this book is sure to command a wide audience and to generate profitable debate." John Webster, King's College, Aberdeen • "For much of the twentieth century natural theology was regarded as intellectually moribund and theologically suspect. In this splendid new book, best-selling author and distinguished theologian Alister McGrath issues a vigorous challenge to the old prejudices. Building on the foundation of the classical triad of truth, beauty and goodness, he constructs an impressive case for a new and revitalized natural theology. This is a well-conceived, timely, and thought-provoking volume." Peter Harrison, Harris Manchester College, Oxford "The book is learned, covering a great deal of historical ground. ~ First Things
Louise M. Antony, ed. (Oxford University Press, USA : Aug 2007), 336 pages.
These highly engaging personal essays capture the marvelous diversity to be found among atheists, providing a portrait that will surprise most readers. Many of the authors, for example, express great affection for particular religious traditions, even as they explain why they cannot, in good conscience, embrace them. None of the contributors dismiss religious belief as stupid or primitive, and several even express regret that they cannot, or can no longer, believe. Perhaps more important, in these reflective pieces, they offer fresh insight into some of the oldest and most difficult problems facing the human mind and spirit. For instance, if God is dead, is everything permitted? Philosophers Without Gods demonstrates convincingly, with arguments that date back to Plato, that morality is independent of the existence of God. Indeed, every writer in this volume adamantly affirms the objectivity of right and wrong. Moreover, they contend that secular life can provide rewards as great and as rich as religious life. A naturalistic understanding of the human condition presents a set of challenges — to pursue our goals without illusions, to act morally without hope of reward — challenges that can impart a lasting value to finite and fragile human lives.
Christopher Hitchens on Religion said...
god is not Great, Christopher Hitchens (Twelve Books, 2007), p4.
There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.
Christopher Hitchens (Twelve Books, Hachette: May 1, 2007), 307 pages.
Hitchens, one of our great political pugilists, delivers the best of the recent rash of atheist manifestos. The same contrarian spirit that makes him delightful reading as a political commentator, even (or especially) when he's completely wrong, makes him an entertaining huckster prosecutor once he has God placed in the dock. And can he turn a phrase!: "monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents." Hitchens's one-liners bear the marks of considerable sparring practice with believers. Yet few believers will recognize themselves as Hitchens associates all of them for all time with the worst of history's theocratic and inquisitional moments. All the same, this is salutary reading as a means of culling believers' weaker arguments: that faith offers comfort (false comfort is none at all), or has provided a historical hedge against fascism (it mostly hasn't), or that "Eastern" religions are better (nope). The book's real strength is Hitchens's on-the-ground glimpses of religion's worst face in various war zones and isolated despotic regimes. But its weakness is its almost fanatical insistence that religion poisons "everything," which tips over into barely disguised misanthropy. ~ Publisher's Weekly
Michael Martin, ed. (Cambridge University Press: Oct 30, 2006), 352 pages.
In this volume, eighteen of the world's leading scholars present original essays on various aspects of atheism: its history, both ancient and modern, defense and implications. The topic is examined in terms of its implications for a wide range of disciplines including philosophy, religion, feminism, postmodernism, sociology and psychology. In its defense, both classical and contemporary theistic arguments are criticized, and, the argument from evil, and impossibility arguments, along with a non religious basis for morality are defended. These essays give a broad understanding of atheism and a lucid introduction to this controversial topic. Michael Martin is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Boston University. He is the author of over 150 articles and reviews as well as several books including Atheism, Morality and Meaning, The Impossibilty of God with Ricki Monnier, and Atheism: A Philosophical Justification