What are the “best” arguments for God? More kudos (and raspberries) for David Bentley Hart’s new book.

The most common critique leveled at New Atheists is that we attack only puerile, fundamentalist forms of religion, and never engage with the “best” arguments of the faithful: those adumbrated by Sophisticated Theologians™.  Never mind that most believers accept a view of God more anthropomorphic than as simply a “ground of being” or a deistic entity that made the world and then refused to engage with it further. If you want data to support this, at least for U.S. Christians, go here. Polls consistently show that around 70-80% of Americans believe in the existence of Heaven, Hell, Satan, and angels. And let’s not even discuss whether the majority of Muslims think of Allah as a “ground of being” rather than as a humanoid entity who tells them how to behave.  Anyone who claims that regular monotheists view God like Karen Armstrong’s Apophatic Entity or Tillich’s Ground of Being simply hasn’t gotten out enough.

Further, it’s obvious that the vast majority of harm done in the name of faith is done not by those who see god as a Ground of Being, but rather as an anthropomorphic entity who has a personal relationship with his minions and supplies them with a moral code. For it is the belief that God has wishes for humanity, and a code of right and wrong, that drives people to do things like oppose abortion and stem cell research, deny rights to women and gays, burn “witches,” throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls, and torture Catholic children with guilt about their masturbation.

The vast majority of believers don’t even read theology, and are barely aware of the arguments for God made by Sophisticated Theologians™.  So is it our real duty as atheists to refute those arcane theological arguments, or to prevent the harm done by religion? To me, the latter course is preferable. Still it’s also fun (and marginally profitable) to read and refute the arguments of theologians, for it’s only there that one can truly see intelligence so blatantly coopted and corrupted to prove what one has decided is true beforehand. Theology is the one academic discipline where people get paid not to investigate their beliefs, but to rationalize them. Yes, it’s more useful for atheists to point out to real believers the lack of evidence for their faith—and that in fact is what Dawkins did in The God Delusion—but it’s more fun to chase the tails of obscurantists like Alvin Plantinga and John Haught.

And now, apparently, those ranks include David Bentley Hart, who has written a new book that’s being touted as the most Sophisticated and Irrefutable Evidence for God Ever. The book is The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, and although I haven’t yet read it (believe me, I will, and have ordered it), I posted a critique of Damon Linker’s blurb for the book that appeared in The Week magazine. 

Another encomium has just arrived for Hart’s book, this time from Oliver Burkeman, who writes at the Guardian that The Experience of God is “The one theology book all atheists really should read.” I’m not sure whether Burkeman is an atheist, but his piece comes across as pure faitheism: “you atheists won’t make any headway until you come to grips with the arguments for God made by people like Hart.” For Hart has presented the Best Case for God, and we’ve all ignored it. As Burkeman argues:

Yet prominent atheists display an almost aggressive lack of curiosity when it comes to the facts about belief. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins expertly demolishes what he calls ‘the God hypothesis’, but devotes only a few sketchy anecdotes to establishing that this God hypothesis is the one that has defined religious belief through history, or defines it around the world today. AC Grayling insists that atheists are excused the bother of actually reading theology – where they might catch up on debates among believers about what they believe – because atheism “rejects the premise” of theology. And when The Atlantic ran a piece last year entitled Study theology, even if you don’t believe in God, Jerry Coyne, the atheist blogosphere’s Victor Meldrew, called it “the world’s worst advice.” And on and on it goes.

I had to look up Victor Meldrew, who turns out to be a BBC sitcom character known for being a curmudgeon—though he had every right (like me) to be curmudgeonly.  And does Burkeman realize that I spent several years reading theology before I decided that it was mind-numbing and largely worthless exercise? It’s not like I haven’t heard their Best Arguments.

But on to our failures, as seen by Burkeman:

My modest New Year’s wish for 2014, then, is that atheists who care about honest argument – and about maybe actually getting somewhere in these otherwise mind-numbingly circular debates – might consider reading just one book by a theologian, David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God, published recently by Yale University Press. Not because I think they’ll be completely convinced by it. (I’m not, and I’m certainly not convinced by Hart’s other publicly expressed views, which tend towards the implacably socially conservative.) They should read it because Hart marshals powerful historical evidence and philosophical argument to suggest that atheists – if they want to attack the opposition’s strongest case – badly need to up their game.

But what,  exactly do we mean by “the opposition’s strongest case”? I can think of three ways to construe that:

1. The case that provides the strongest evidence for God’s existence.  This is the way scientists would settle an argument about existence claims: by adducing data. This category’s best argument for God used to be the Argument from Design, since there was no plausible scientific alternative to God’s creation of the marvelous “designoid” features of plants and animals. But Darwin put paid to that one. Theologians now rely on arguments involving the fine-tuning of the universe or the supposed “innate morality” of human beings (more on that tomorrow), but these have good secular alternatives.

2. The philosophical argument that is most tricky, or hardest to refute: in other words, the argument for God that has the greatest degree of sophistry.  This used to include the Ontological Arguments, which briefly stymied even Bertrand Russell. But we soon realized that “existence is not a quality”, and that, in fact, existence claims can be settled only by observation or testing, not by logic.

3. The argument that is irrefutable because it’s untestable.  Given that arguments in the first two categories are now untenable, people like Hart have proposed conceptions of God that are so nebulous that we can’t figure out what they mean.  And because they are not only obscure but don’t say anything about the nature of God that can be compared to the way the universe is, they can’t be refuted. To any rationalist or scientist, this automatically rules them out of rational consideration, for if an observation comports with everything, and can’t be disproven, it is totally useless as an explanation of reality. I might as well say that there’s an invisible teddy bear that sustains the universe, and without my Ineffable Teddy there would be no cosmos.  But nobody can see that bear, for he is the Ursine Ground of Being: ineffable and undetectable, though his Bearness permeates and supports everything.

And this, in fact, is what Hart has apparently done in his new book. Burkeman summarizes Hart’s Irrefutable God by quoting Linker’s characterization of it:

… according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God “exists” in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.

Not only is this meaningless (I’ll read Hart’s book to see if I can suss out any meaning), but it’s also untestable.  And there is not an iota of evidence for such a God, so on what grounds should we believe it? Hart claims that this is the conception of God that has prevailed throughout most of history, but I seriously doubt that. Aquinas, Luther, Augustine: none of those people saw God in such a way. And it’s certainly not the view that prevails now, as you can easily see by Googling a few polls. I can make up yet another God with just as much supporting evidence Hart’s: God is a deistic God who has always been there but has done nothing. He didn’t even create the universe: he let that happen according to the laws of physics, from which universes can arise via fluctuations in a quantum vacuum. My God is just sitting there, watching over us all, but only for his amusement. He’s ineffable and indolent.

I claim that my Coyneian God is just as valid as Hart’s God, for neither can be tested, and thus there’s no reason to believe in either.

As Burkeman notes, Hart has removed God from the class of entities the exist and transformed Him into merely an Idea: a philosophical concept that can be subject only to philosophical arguments:

God, in short, isn’t one very impressive thing among many things that might or might not exist; “not just some especially resplendent object among all the objects illuminated by the light of being,” as Hart puts it. Rather, God is “the light of being itself”, the answer to the question of why there’s existence to begin with.

. . . Since I can hear atheist eyeballs rolling backwards in their sockets with scorn, it’s worth saying again: the point isn’t that Hart’s right. It’s that he’s making a case that’s usually never addressed by atheists at all. If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why. And unlike for the superhero version, scientific evidence won’t clinch the deal. The question isn’t a scientific one, about which things exist. It’s a philosophical one, about what existence is and on what it depends.

Therefore it’s immune to refutation.  Whether God “is” now depends, as Bill Clinton anticipated, on what your definition of “is” is.  But this is all a stupendous confidence game. Not only is Hart wrong in claiming that his conception of God is valid since it’s the one embraced most consistently through “the history of monotheism,” but, as all scientists know, how widely something is accepted is no evidence for its validity. For the vast majority of modern history, women were viewed as intellectually inferior beings.  But that is simply a culturally-conditioned belief that supports no argument for female inferiority. Likewise, just because a bunch of Sophisticated Theologians™ agreed on God as a Sustainer of the Universe and Ground of All Being does not make it so.  Why on earth does that argument have any force at all?

Burkeman (and Hart) note that one way to dismiss Hart’s argument that only a minority of believers accept the Ground-of-Being God is “to prove the point with survey data about what people believe.” Well, I just did that above, and could adduce much more data. People believe in a personal and anthropomorphic God: one who has humanlike emotions, cares about us, and wants us to behave in certain ways. So Hart’s argument fails in the only way it can be tested. But we’re supposed to dismiss it on another ground—a dismissal that’s impossible since Hart has made his concept irrefutable:

But second, even if you could show that most believers believe in a superhero God, would that mean it’s the only kind with which atheists need engage? If a committed creationist wrote a book called The Evolution Delusion, but only attacked the general public’s understanding of evolution, we’d naturally dismiss them as disingenuous. We’d demand, instead, that they seek out what the best and most acclaimed minds in the field had concluded about evolution, then try dismantling that. Which is also why atheists should read Hart’s book: to deny themselves the lazy option of sticking to easy targets.

As I pointed out in my earlier post, these situations are not comparable. The arguments for evolution are based on evidence, not philosophy, and can be comprehended by the average person: one who, for example, read my book.  Hart’s arguments are simply made-up stuff, and even though he’s smart and uses big words, there is no more evidence for his God than there is for the anthropomorphic Gods of Alvin Plantinga or Rick Warren. In other words, the difference in expertise between theologians and “average” believers is small—not nearly as great as the difference in expertise between professional evolutionists and science-friendly laypeople.  The difference between theologians and believers is not their differential acquaintance with the truth about God, but the greater acquaintance of theologians with the history of theology. People like Hart, despite their intelligence, have no more handle on the nature of God than do Joe and Sally in the street. Theologians are, as we all know, simply making stuff up, and then selling it using their academic credentials and fancy words. Let Hart give us one bit of evidence that he has greater insight into God than anyone else, and then I’ll pay attention to what he has to say. Otherwise, I see him as retreating to the Last Redoubt of the Theologian: the definition of God as something that cannot be refuted (and therefore something that cannot be supported).

Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic has pointed out some of these problems in a new piece, also based on Linker’s blurb for Hart: “The case for God’s existence is empowering atheists.” As Chotiner notes, Hart appears to have redefined god in a way that immunizes Him against disproof, simply by equating God with emotions shared by many people:

Linker continues with this: “In a move sure to enrage atheists, Hart even goes so far as to argue that faith in this classical notion of God can never be ‘wholly and coherently rejected’ — and not only because it may very well be self-contradictory to prove the nonexistence of an absolute, transcendent ground of existence.”

If this is not tautologous enough for you, try [Linker's] comment:

The deeper reason why theism can’t be rejected, according to Hart, is that every pursuit of truth, every attempt to be good, every longing for beauty presupposes the existence of some idea of truth, goodness, and beauty from which these particular instances are derived. And these transcendental ideas unite in the classical concept of God, who simply is truth, goodness, and beauty. That’s why, although it isn’t necessary to believe in God in some explicit way in order to be good, it certainly is the case (in Hart’s words) “that to seek the good is already to believe in God, whether one wishes to do so or not.”

Here I would turn again to Linker’s comment implying that the “major world religions” have a view of God similar to the one that Linker lays out above. If you think this is the case, ask yourself how many major world religions will consider you a believer in their particular faiths just because you merely state that you “seek the good,” which I would hope nearly all of us do.

In summary, Linker is unable to make a case for God that doesn’t define God as such an intrinsic part of the universe (“truth, goodness, and beauty”) that God exists by definition. If I were a religious believer, I would likely neither appreciate the concessions that Linker has made, nor go along with his account of my beliefs.

Chotiner is absolutely correct here. If you define God as simply the set of our most admirable aspirations, then of course God exists. But you could also define God as the set of our most unpalatable aspirations: greed, duplicity, criminality, and so on.  And that kind of god could also exist by definition: as the Ground of All Evil.  I claim that, in fact, there’s just as much evidence for that god as there is for Hart’s God.  The reader might amuse herself by thinking of other kinds of irrefutable gods.

So if I had to ask Hart three questions, they would be these:

1. On what basis do you know that God is a Ground-of-Being God instead of an anthropomorphic God? (In your answer, you cannot include as evidence the dubious claim that this is the kind of God that most people have accepted throughout history.)

2. How do you know that your Ground-of-Being god embodies truth, goodness, and beauty rather than lies, evil, and ugliness?

3. What would the universe look like if your God didn’t exist?

h/t: Christopher

153 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on All Science.

  2. Posted January 16, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    You were compared to Victor Meldrew? That’s hilarious! (Completely misplaced btw, the joke with Victor Meldrew was that he was frustrated and annoyed by everything and everyone. He had no joy whatsoever, which certainly isn’t how you come across. But it’s hilarious all the same. You should take it as an honour. It was a good show. :-) )

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Greetings,

      There’s also Meldrew’s catchphrase: “I don’t believe it!”.

      Kindest regards,

      James

  3. gbjames
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    What is the chance that Hart’s book will contain a new insight into the question of the existence of a deity? I’ll put my money on “somewhere between zero and nil”.

  4. Rob
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    And as an optional fourth (series of) question:

    How does the ground of being influence people? How does divine inspiration / intervention work? If neither can happen, how is that the god of any of the major religions? If it does happen, why haven’t you put forth evidence?

    • Chris
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Precisely, you end up with pantheism or panentheism, neither of which give you much of a leg-up to a theistic god!

  5. natalielaberlinoise
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Being compared to Victor Meldrew is a very good thing and an honour. One of the best British comedies I’ve seen, and there is plenty of sceptisicm and a fair amount of references to atheism in there. (The Christmas special 1990 includes a funny story of a priest turned atheist). The only thing that doesn’t match at all is the frozen kitty… LOL.

  6. Kevin
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I can easily conceive of a God, though I doubt anyone else would agree that it is a fair definition as this God would basically become me. I am inclined to think that a broader definition of God must be something like, ‘God is the Universe’. If It is the universe, then God is a tautology.

    Most people ultimately rest their innocuous claims of what God is as a tautology, ‘It is Love’, ‘It is Energy’, etc. But religion rarely settles on what is harmless, they include moral and ontological prerogatives of their God that waste It to something that is condemnable.

  7. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    “… according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God “exists” in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.”

    So what did god do before the beginning of time and how did god decide to exist itself?

    Was god fundamentally an inflation state that layed the ground for all existing matter and energy, and in that case, where is god now and can we detect it?

    As usual the god hypothesis is simply a matter of very bad semantics and logic with no relevance to actual reality as it presents itself.

    If accepted it simply closes the door on deeper questions about our universe and the human condition. God did it, sow we don’t have to.

    “. . . Since I can hear atheist eyeballs rolling backwards in their sockets with scorn, it’s worth saying again: the point isn’t that Hart’s right. It’s that he’s making a case that’s usually never addressed by atheists at all. If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why. And unlike for the superhero version, scientific evidence won’t clinch the deal. The question isn’t a scientific one, about which things exist. It’s a philosophical one, about what existence is and on what it depends.”

    Alright, the claim isn’t scientific because it does not concern things that exist, but yet it claims that it is the foundation for all that exists.

    Welcome to the mental paradox and oxymoronity of the Sophisticated Theological mind.

    If this is what makes for good philosophy ( or is it theology, Yale? ) then the discipline is in dire need of some stern and abrupt reality checks.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      “Alright, the claim isn’t scientific because it does not concern things that exist, . . .

      That claim always makes me snort and roll my eyes for some reason.

      If’n it don’t exist, ‘taint no concern whatsoevah.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        It does leave you with a rather hopeless feeling about human potential sometimes…Pinker be damned I tells ya!

        • darrelle
          Posted January 16, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

          :)

  8. Stage Coach
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    The Atheist Community of Austin (ACA) has been running a weekly call-in show for years (now available online) and one consistent theme is for religionists to smugly declare that, no offense, but only dummies, simpletons, hicks, etc ideas are being refuted, but a smart Christian could easily rake them to task. And yet, they are open to the public, they take on all comers. If no one has EVER in over 10 years of weekly call-in shows called in with a compelling case for gods, religion, etc., whose fault is that? Or what conclusion might you draw from it?

    • Larry Gay
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Go Austin!

    • Sastra
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      “Smart Christians are so smart that they know it’s no use arguing with atheists.”

      That can be interpreted different ways. We would interpret it one way; the Christians would interpret it another. But we might both be willing to grant it.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

        I didn’t know the definition of smart includes ‘cowardly’.

        • Sastra
          Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

          If you know you’re going to get your ass whupped, then perhaps “discretion is the better part of valor.” ;)

  9. Kevin Alexander
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I make a pretty good vegetarian chilli with ground of being. It’s low phat too, having no meat whatsoever.
    Also I like to use a mixture of red kidney beings and navy beings.
    I could tell you what it tastes like but you skeptics couldn’t understand.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      Sounds like devil food, heathen!

    • Bob J.
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Is this that recipe that calls for soaking beings overnight and then doesn’t tell you for which the planet the recipe is for?

  10. Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    This piece is chuck full of great stuff. “existence claims can be settled only by observation or testing, not by logic” is a quote worthy of my next T-shirt project.

    It’s just so sad that we are unable to get the Sophisticated Theologians of the cosmos to read and comprehend these kinds of observations.

    • Andrew Brown
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      This piece is chuck full of great stuff. “existence claims can be settled only by observation or testing, not by logic” is a quote worthy of my next T-shirt project.

      I can’t resist asking what possible test or observation could establish this sublime truth.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        I don’t read any existence claims their. I read a value claim. And even with that I can think of a few different ways to settle the claim that are commonly used these days for studying those kinds of claims. Most involve polling.

        Also, “sublime truth” is a far different thing than verifying the existence of something by observation or testing.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      The only existence claims which CAN be settled by logic are these:

      Existence exists.

      If something exists, then it exists.

      If something does not exist, then it does not exist.

      A=A
      If A, then A.
      If not A, then not A.

      That’s pretty much it, I think. Empty tautologies which tell nobody anything. And sophisticated theologians are welcome to try to squeeze God out of empty tautologies — and we are welcome to call them out and knock then down when they do.

      (The above all presupposes, of course, that we understand the term “exist” and it is possible to tell IF something exists or not. This can get dicey on the fringes, which is where modern theologians like to play ‘God is like quantum physics.’

      • peterr
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        Sastra usually has ‘neat’ ideas, but here there are a few things puzzling me. Your six existence claims will be 1 to 6.

        a) How would it be logic establishing 1?

        b) Presumably you realize that 2, 3, and 6 are just cases of 5, taking “A” in 5 to be, respectively, “something exists”, then “something does not exist”, and finally ‘not B’ then changing B back to A.

        c) But none of those four in (b) are strictly existence claims, rather they are a kind of conditional. And then, why would not the following be another such claim, established purely logically:

        ‘If there are at least 23 natural numbers, then there are at least 16 natural numbers’ ,

        and so more than you say would actually occur.

        d) The notation “A” in 4 seems to denote something quite different than in 5 and 6, perhaps confusing, but what is meant by logic here is rather vague anyway.

        • Sastra
          Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, as you’ve noticed, my logic here wasn’t very neat — or clear. By trying to make a simple point, I made the mistake of doing ‘folk logic’ for an audience which contains many people who know far more than I do about a real subject. Mea culpa ;)

          The question had to do with the possibility of discovering that something actually exists as an objective entity (and not an abstraction or concept) simply by sitting back in the proverbial armchair and thinking about it. So I meant to limit “existence claims” to empirical claims, those that are normally based on evidence and experience.

          If you take away the evidence and experience and try to establish the existence of some X through logic alone, all you can do is state and restate hypothetical tautologies. If X exists, then X exists. And then, as you say, you can play around with it.

          But when you take “existence” itself — remove it of all content claims — and treat it as a thing (which is dubious but many people do) then you can tautologically state that it exists without the hypothetical ‘if.’ We can only argue about the nature of existence (or reality) and what it may or may not contain and what it may or may not be. “Existence exists” then is a strange combination of the empirical and the logical. Nothing else is quite like this.

          I think this is more or less what the Sophisticated Theologians are doing .. only, of course, slyly inserting an often understood but unstated metaphysical content into what ought to be a bare placeholder. Otherwise, nobody is going to fall over in joy and worship by realizing that what exists is what exists.

          Well, not when sober.

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      “Theology is the one academic discipline where people get paid not to investigate their beliefs, but to rationalize them.”

      Worthy of a t-shirt, but maybe too long.

  11. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why.

    Because such a god doesn’t matter? Because I can imagine *nothing* existing? Because a ‘super condition of existence’ is needed to sustain an ordinary ‘condition of existence’?

    The idea is incoherent.

  12. Alex Shuffell
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    This definition of a god, as existence or some feelings, makes it quite useless as something to believe in. It does not make a difference at all to how I imagine the world or how I will live my life. It has no connection with any prophets, it is in contradiction with the lunatic god of the Bible. It is Christians who should have most problem with this theology. It has just changed the name of one concept, like existence or love, and called it God. Ali G (Sasha Baron Cohen) used the same level of philosophical sophistication in an interview with Noam Chomsky. Ali G: “Why don’t you create a new language where instead of like the word bread, you has something like ‘mefilow’ … or for a table call it like ‘plella,’ or, no, ‘plella’ would be better for a dog…” Why ‘plella’ would be a better word for ‘dog’ is a job for theologians to take a few thousands years to debate, while the world moves on to something useful.

    With most of this “sophisticated” theology comes much closer to the concept of Brahman in The Mahabharata, yet most seem to be Christian. The majority of Christians tend to believe in a real god that has a personality, that interacts with the universe and us specifically, like it is their god as described in the Bible, something concrete that makes testable claims that gives atheists and scientists something to work with, not Brahman of The Mahabharata.

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Ali G interviewing Noam Chomsky – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USrAeKkxWUs

      Description of Brahman from The Mahabharata: “…the primeval being, invoked and praised by many, the true, one and imperishable, eternal brahman, manifest and unmanifest, existent and non-existent, universal beyond existence or non-existence…”

      I can’t get any meaning from that either.

      • Sastra
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        Apparently if you meditate long enough or take the right type and amount of drugs your brain goes into a state where your ability to distinguish one thing from another is disabled: everything becomes an undifferentiated blur. There is no inner and outer, there is no good and evil, there is no true or false, there is no self and not-self. Even “existence” doesn’t seem real.

        This state of mind is usually accompanied by both a sense of bliss and a feeling of profound insight, as if you have discovered the secret of the cosmic universe.

        It might be useful for personal reasons — or to understand how the brain constructs reality — but it’s not really a secret of the cosmic universe.

        • Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          “a feeling of profound insight”

          But what colour are the walls?

          /@

  13. Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    “Anyone who claims that regular believers see God like Karen Armstrong’s Apophatic God, or Tillich’s Ground of Being simply hasn’t got out enough.”

    A fave claim of believers in a Sophisticated Deity such as these is that their religion has been hijacked by a vocal minority which obscures the True Sophistication of love and forgiveness as laid out in the Holey Book by Jebus.

    Another trait I’ve noticed among sophisto religionauts and their shruggies is that history seems to have begun with the publication of Mein Kampf.

    When it is shown Nazis were Good Christians informed by centuries of Christian teaching(in many of the main players’ own words), two things can happen:

    a: Mao, Pot & Stalin

    or/and

    b: the Nazis cynically manipulated the masses via Christianity

    The previous 15 century history of Imperial Europe is somehow beyond consideration and if it is, is written off as “temper of the times” aka “everyone else was jumping off the cliff”. No thought seems to be given to how easily Good Christian Germans were cynically manipulated by people wearing the worng tartan.

  14. Achrachno
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    “The vast majority of believers don’t even read theology,”

    The vast majority of believers don’t even bother to read their own “holy” book. Hence billboards asking people to read the Bible. Hence atheists teaching Bible to Xians, and having entirely too much fun while doing it.

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      And historically, most believers have likely been illiterate, or near to it.

      • Gordon
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        Didn’t all the trouble (schisms, cults protestants etc) begin once people did begin to read it in the middle ages?

    • Ken Elliott
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      My favorite, and by favorite I mean frustrating, example of this is my better half, who very clearly and succinctly describes her belief positions in a manner to suggest she is agnostic, but claims instead to be Christian. She has never read the bible all the way through, certainly doesn’t study it to any degree, and has rarely been to church. She has studied religion in some depth in her Masters program at Southern Nazarene University, but clings to her own twisted notions of the working of the cosmos, through prayer and behavior, and too afraid to deviate from ascribing that imagined power to God and Jesus and Christianity. Her fear and loathing of my atheistic position adds to my frustration. Just as she ascribes her belief in a higher power that supposedly answers her fearful pleas for safety, she ascribes my non-belief to something akin to satanism. “You’re reading a book on ATHEISM!!!! for god’s sake!” she spat when looking into “The God Delusion” at some point when I wasn’t engaged in it. It’s fear, plain and simple, at least in her case.

  15. Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    “God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.”

    If so, why would cosmic microwave background radiation be concerned with visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations?

  16. Sastra
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    … Hart marshals powerful historical evidence and philosophical argument to suggest that atheists – if they want to attack the opposition’s strongest case – badly need to up their game.

    Gee. I’m so pleased to read this and discover that the sophisticated apologists would have to grant that I am and have always been an atheist playing at the Top of the Game.

    Raised without formal religion and absorbing a liberal version of Spirituality from my culture, I came to embrace Transcendentalism when in my late teens. That means that during the part of my life when I believed in God, the God I believed in was a Transcendent Oversoul, a Ground of Being from which all possibilities flow, “the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time.” And I believed in it because it made sense, and because my experiences of the Good — of beauty, love, and appreciation — pointed towards a higher Transcendent Source.

    I got over it.

    I reasoned my way out of it. I didn’t become embittered or narrowed or unimaginative. I didn’t get mad at how some Transcendetalists treated me or find out that Ralph Waldo Emerson wasn’t as nice as I thought he was or undergo a horrible experience and lose all hope. No. A continued search for understanding coupled with curiosity, clarity, and consistency was enough to slowly change my mind about the God I once believed in.

    Now I’m an atheist — and count myself a gnu atheist too, the kind which isn’t supposed to know about or ever consider THIS high theology version of God. Bull. I call shennanigans.

    Because this is the god I always plug into the Arguments for God. All of them. It’s the first thing I think of because it’s the version which feels normal, right, and best to me. Then — when that version fails — I look at the ones with more content and see if they fit better. But I really don’t have to consider that second step too much. If the Ontological Argument or kalam Argument doesn’t work for a vague, simple, unadorned Transcendent Ground of Being of Being — then it’s not going to work if you gussy it up with a lot of bells and whistles like “really hates gay marriage.”

    Never mind that most believers accept a view of God more anthropomorphic than as simply a “ground of being” or a deistic entity that made the world and then refused to engage with it further.

    Guess what? It doesn’t matter. Going by my experience, I think even the “best” version of God is anthropomorphic enough to be similar to what the majority believe in and thus defeasible through a New Atheist scientific approach. There aren’t two categories, the popular and the theological. Or, rather, there are — but the difference is mostly a matter of degree, not form.

    Being “anthropomorphic” isn’t just about a resemblance to the human body (“the Old Man in the Sky with a Beard.”) The term also indicates a resemblance to the human MIND. Mental characteristics like consciousness, values, agency, purpose, and the ability to establish and discriminate between Good and Evil. If you take this additional mental component away from the concept of Existence or Reality, then it’s no longer sophisticated theological God. It’s become poetic atheist “God.”

    It’s become upper case Reality and if for whatever reason you really wanted to use the phrase it IS the Ground of Being … but it ISN’T God.

    This seems so obvious. But hey, looks like everyone who can figure this one out is at the Top of Their Game.

  17. Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I have watched Christopher Hitchens in a couple of debates on YouTube and it seems to me in my limited experience that the debates never cover power grabbing and mind-control of the masses.

    It seems to me that anyone who pertains to represent the supposed highest authority of a god also gains power for themselves by wearing the mantle. This would be consistent with monarchy being heads of various churches to concentrate power in the hands of the few using religion as the cause to justify their retention and perpetuation of power in a dynastic way. This is exemplified by ancient Egyptians, Romans and King Henry 8th simply invented a new church to fit his wishes. We see how powerful Muslim clerics are. The argument of it being simply a cloak to grab or hold onto power and then to tell everybody how to behave and suppress the masses seems absent from any arguments I have seen. Have I missed something?
    Are we afraid to proffer such a challenge?

    Further, surely it is clear that the role of god has moved on with science. There is no longer a god of the sea because we know what is there. Thor is redundant as we understand thunder. Darwin upset the churches with his theory (now more or less heavily evidenced so as to be factual) and perhaps the last great scientific question is that of the beginning of the universe which religious people feast over as a weakness of science. God is purely the term for the currently unknown and is demonstrably so. It is amazing to see many fine minds being turned to fight the latest scientific discovery with wrongly placed conviction and a big smile.

    Of course we all want to live forever and weak minds will want to believe that this is possible. The human mind is a delicate thing and easily brainwashed. Anyone seemingly offering this (sickeningly sometimes to their daughters as suicide bombers) is simply seeking to gain followers and thus power.

    Watching both Dawkins and Hitchens at work it is simply stunning that audiences wish to stick with the religious dogma that claims facts which aren’t factual, the moral high ground when today the Catholic church is hauled ignominiously in front of the UN for child abuse and so much murder is attributed to religion. Blind faith.

    Surely it is nothing more than basic human tribalism. It has been effective but is being found out as platforms are progressively undermined. There is always the head of the tribe, the inner circle and the underlings. Tribes fight and we all know it from Bronze age tribes to current religion based tribes in Syria. It’s just about power and controlling the masses.

  18. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    This is just another form of deepity. It means nothing.

    I also get irritated that the way the argument is defined is supposed somehow to be only about the christian version of the abrahamic god. If these arguments were true, they would be proving the existence of a god, not necessarily the christian god.

  19. Scientifik
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” Christopher Hitchens

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Indeed. And now for the variant that the New Sophisticated Theology™ of the stage show Burkeman&Hart necessitates:

      ‘That which can be asserted without using rationality, can be dismissed without using rationality.’

      • darrelle
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        That which can be asserted that is ridiculous, can be dismissed by using ridicule.

  20. Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Hart’s position seems to be warmed-over Aquinas, in particular, the latter’s Third and Fourth ways: (3) that God is the necessary being that sustains all contingent beings; and (4) that God is Perfection Itself (his “deeper reason” in the last blockquote).

    The appropriate response to (3) is similar to what you ask in your question #2, about the nature of this Ground of Being. One might as well, relatedly, say that one believes in Groundy McGee, a ground of existence that has none of the other properties traditionally ascribed to God. Or, relatedly, say that you have named the Ground of Existence ‘Not-God,’ and ask Hart what’s wrong with that using appellation instead. The appropriate response to (4) is essentially the same; Perfection Itself et al. are united in ‘Not-God,’ so the existence of goodness and beauty are “proof” of the existence of this not-God.

    In any case, to “Devil’s” advocate, Hart might answer your questions as follows. #1: ‘By intuition,’ or ‘by religious experience.’ ‘In the same way that we know that platypuses should count as mammals, we know that a Ground of Existence should count as God: it is part of the content of our conception.’ #2: ‘Because existence is inherently better than nonexistence’ (cf. Anselm), or ‘because the universe is overall a good place.’ #3: ‘That’s like asking, “What would the universe look like if 1 were equal to 2?” If the Ground of Existence didn’t exist, nothing else could either.’

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Since I can hear atheist eyeballs rolling backwards in their sockets with scorn, it’s worth saying again: the point isn’t that Hart’s right. It’s that he’s making a case that’s usually never addressed by atheists at all. If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why. And unlike for the superhero version, scientific evidence won’t clinch the deal. The question isn’t a scientific one, about which things exist. It’s a philosophical one, about what existence is and on what it depends.

    (O.o) (o.O) (O.o) …

    A quick analysis:

    1. If Hart’s argument is wrong, it is rubbish.

    2. If Hart’s argument is untestable, it is rubbish.

    3. If Hart’s argument isn’t whether magic exists or not, it is rubbish on the point of discussing magic.

    4. If Burkeman’s argument on Hart’s argument contains both 1 &2 in conflict, it is rubbish.

    I see that The Opposition’s Strongest Case™ is (rubbish)^4.

    Now I wonder, what will stop my eyeballs’ rolling? (O.o) (o.O) (O.o) … Just kidding, I will simply take them out and wash them. Is this the trash that we are supposed to read, analyse and accept as “the opposition’s case”?

    Ack! [/mental hair ball]

    As I’ve noted before, today it is simply enough to be an objective skeptic. Nature itself has rejected the “magic hypothesis”. Meaning there is, rationally, no opposing case any longer.

    I’m just wondering when faitheists like Burkeman will stop spouting insanity? (Which emerges somewhere around “not rational” or “(rubbish)^2″, take your pick.)

    “The case for God’s existence is empowering atheists.”

    Indeed!

    It used to be that religion was the leading cause of atheism. Insane _and_ evil, making unsubstantiated existence claims and a parasite on dysfunctional societies.

    Today it is faitheist’s like Burkeman that helps other to make the observation of no magic, if now only based on a wish to scamper away from insanity and a parasite on functional atheist societies.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      I got hurried there:

      It used to be that religion was the leading cause for atheism. Insane _and_ evil, making unsubstantiated existence claims and a parasite on dysfunctional societies.

      Today it is faitheists like Burkeman that helps others to make the observation of no magic, if now only based on a wish to scamper away from insanity and a parasite on functional atheist societies.

  22. truthspeaker
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Hart is basically just repeating Karen Armstrong’s nonsense. Like her, he neglects that Dawkins et. al. have addressed their pantheist God, and also that few believers believe in it anyway.

    To believe the universe is conscious is to anthropomorphize the universe. Contrary to Oliver’s assertion, this is not categorically different than any of the other anthropomorphized gods.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      But the universe isn’t conscious! The Transcendent Ground Behind and Beyond the Universe is conscious! That is TOTALLY DIFFERENT!!! Science is helpless there by definition!!!!!

      Hey, let’s redefine “the universe” to include the Transcendent Ground and watch what they do.

      • Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        “The Cosmos. All that ever was and ever will be.”

        /@

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted January 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

          Define “the universe.” Give three examples.

    • Rob
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Let’s assume that the universe is conscious.

      So? Why does that even matter? Scale-wise we’d be a single hydrogen atom in one of the red blood cells in us, if that large.

      And you’re still light years (pun intended) away from that being the god of any of the major religions, as you brought up. Nothing is gained from believing this.

      Needless to say, it would be kinda cool if the universe was sentient, but it’s not going to change my day to day life at all, nor does it even say anything about the other claims of religion.

  23. Roo
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I might as well say that there’s an invisible teddy bear that sustains the universe, and without my Ineffable Teddy there would be no cosmos. But nobody can see that bear, for he is the Ursine Ground of Being: ineffable and undetectable, though his Bearness permeates and supports everything.

    Where is this bear, Dr. Coyne, and what does it want?!. Oh. Wait. Sorry, sorry…

    • Occam
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      The h/t to “Christopher” is a dead giveaway:
      that must be Christopher Robin.
      The Ursine Ground of Being is none other than
      Winnie-the-Pooh, the ineffable (though much-effed) bear.
      Jerry is right: “his Bearness permeates and supports everything.”
      Now the universe makes sense.

      The “set of our most admirable aspirations” is honey.
      Sayeth Winnie-the-Lord:

      “If there’s a buzzing-noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee. And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey. And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it.”

      Now there’s ontological sweetness for you: the Strong Ursine Principle.

      Hence the age-old prayer:
      “Bear with us, oh Lord!”

    • Lynn A.(Ottawa)
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Forget those invisible flying pink unicorns I am a follower of his Beariness, the Ursine Ground of Being, the Ineffable Teddy.

  24. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Jeez. I was so looking forward to that testable evidence!

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Don’t say Jeez. Say cheese or Ramen or sauce.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        Do you mean ‘spice it up’?

        I’ll have the stronger balls, then. Now, is that pepper or curry?

  25. emlyna
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    The sheer NUMBER and VARIETY of theological rationales is, without question, the biggest red flag. If this “god”‘s existence was so certain, as they claim, would there not be just ONE, SINGLE, LOGICALLY INCONTROVERTIBLE explanation for it?

    But there isn’t. Here, now, we have Hart, with YET ANOTHER theological “magic bullet” that is immune to questions, tests or, indeed, even reason.

    So I’ll leave you with my own burning question:

    ———-

    Why would a “god” of LIMITLESS power LIMIT his flora and fauna to related CLASSES?

    ———-

    Why can we observe so many similarities among classes, orders, families, genera and species of plants and animals when an omniscient, omnipotent “god” possessed the power to CREATE ANYTHING S/HE/IT WANTED. Why aren’t there pink, seventeen-footed flying rhinoceroses or thousand-headed, French-speaking rainbow sharks? Where are the mountain-sized applegrapebanana trees?

    Surely if *I*, an insignificant pawn in “his” creation, can IMAGINE these then why do I SEE such a middling selection? Is MY imagination more powerful than a god’s?

    Why, it’s almost as if these flora and fauna developed through PROCESSES!

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      For ineffable reasons, He wants it to look like they did…

      It’s a test of faith. Or summat.

      See James Blish’s A Case of Conscience.

      /@

  26. brotheryam
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    If this “Ground of Being” kind of god is the foundation of monotheistic belief, then I would like to know how this plays with theologians that are Jewish and Muslim. This is something that they all can agree on, yes?

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Actually, he may have borrowed it from Islamic theology. As far as I can tell, the idea that universe would lapse into nothingness without god is first in *that* tradition: only later do you find Christians talking about occaisonalism and the “sustain” idea seems to arise there c.1600 or so. But I have not investigated the history much, because the fact that it is so easily refuted by conservation laws and the moral anti-argument, I haven’t bothered. (Note, however, that in [orthodox] Islam, near as I can tell, the moral argument will not work and ditto for WLC and such, but those theologies are monstrous.)

  27. Sajanas
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    This all just reminds me of the first portion of In the Beauty of the Lilies, by John Updike. A pastor loses his faith in God, and another pastor tries to convince him to stay in the clergy, offering him up various forms of Ground of All Being and other divine conceptions as a replacement.

    Theology is just membership retention by Book on a Shelf. Your member has a problem, say, “Oh its addressed by these people here on this shelf.” Some portion of people are merely comforted by the fact that those books exist at all. Others that they explain things in flowery language. None of it is really good, its just there because saying “we’ve got nothing” is a worse option.

  28. Barry Lyons
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Another great piece from you, Jerry (so what else is new).

    I’m glad you’re getting the Hart book. You’ll recall that Michael Robbins said that Hart “demolishes” (if I recall the correct word) Dawkins’s supposed naive understanding of Aquinas. I look forward to you raking Hart over the coals.

  29. Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Greetings,

    Hart – perhaps along with Tillich, Armstrong, etc – is attempting to resurrect the Ontological Argument:

    “*Something* must exist to enable everything else to exist – and that’s ‘God'”.

    The fact that Nature itself can be what “underpins” everything else appears to escape their notice – or is simply rejected.

    Kindest regards,

    James

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      “Why not save a step… ?”

      /@

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

        Perzackly!

  30. Sastra
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why. And unlike for the superhero version, scientific evidence won’t clinch the deal. The question isn’t a scientific one, about which things exist. It’s a philosophical one, about what existence is and on what it depends.

    1.) The “condition of existence” does not HAVE to be mental. This eliminates proof through reason or logic alone and brings the claim into empiricism and science.

    2.) What is the Mind? is a scientific question. We have learned that our intuitions regarding mind/body dualism are wrong. Mental things come from highly evolved brains and are the result of a long process of development. It would be very inconsistent to suddenly rip them out of their explanation and our experience and once again conceive of them as prior to nature and transcendent. We would now need a reason to do it, not a reason not to.

    3.) We can figure out why people would make the mistake and think the mind and its products are supernatural. It’s not inexplicable. We can also follow how the concept of “God’s Mind” mimics our intuitions about our own.

    4.) There are many ways in which mind/body dualism AND/OR idealism could be scientifically supported. If this is the case, then both concepts are in the realm of science. If they fail, so does God.

  31. Pliny the in Between
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I suppose we should thank the sophisticated theologians for creating a god so obscure and irrelevant that we can just go ahead and act as if it isn’t there at all.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      A very good observation!

      [Now I wonder, would that be The Argument from Irrelevancy of 'Being' or The Argument from Impotent 'Grounds' or The Argument from Incorrigible Thinking ...?]

  32. TJR
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    So in other words the whole of Sophisticated Theology boils down to stating that you can’t formally disprove Deism.

    • Chris
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Great point. Hadn’t thought about it that way!

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      This is not exactly deism. Deism does not often make the claim that the universe would disappear without god, merely that it would not have originated without. Both are metascientifically ridiculous, but for somewahat different reasons.

  33. John K.
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    If a committed creationist wrote a book called The Evolution Delusion, but only attacked the general public’s understanding of evolution, we’d naturally dismiss them as disingenuous. We’d demand, instead, that they seek out what the best and most acclaimed minds in the field had concluded about evolution, then try dismantling that.

    Right. Because there has never been an anti-evolution book that attacks a straw man before, and nobody has ever refuted one.

    The thing is, when actual scientists refute such things not only do they explain what is wrong, they also spell out what the current understanding is. If the responses were limited to “you don’t know what you are talking about, there are real arguments for evolution that you do not address, but I am never going to tell you what they are”, then people would be right to demand a bit more before taking such a response seriously.

    The ironclad sophisticated arguments for god that nobody can refute are a bit like god themselves. You need to have faith they exist even though there is no evidence that that is the case.

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      The so-called “folk” understanding of religion at least attempts to incorporate observations and our experience of reality. A belief that demons cause mental illness may seem primitive, but I could think of some observations that in principle might move the needle on this assertion to “probable”.

      “Sophisticated” arguments for God, on the other hand, seem to want to be completely divorced from any actual observations about what goes on in the Universe. Evidence seems irrelevant to them, and thus they are beyond useless in terms of helping us gain any new knowledge about reality. Leading of course to Jerry’s question, which I think is the most difficult for them to answer:

      “What would the universe look like if your God didn’t exist?”

      • Sastra
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        The question “What would the universe look like if your God didn’t exist?” could be put another way.

        “If you are wrong, how would you know?”
        or

        “Can you conceive of an alternative explanation?”

        From what I’ve seen the #1 response to “what would the universe look like if your God didn’t exist?” is “Then it wouldn’t be here.” And when it comes to people asserting the existence of the Ground-of-Being God, it’s not only #1, it’s the only possible one. At least other versions of God will sometimes evoke answers like “then nobody would love anyone else” or “then the Bible wouldn’t have been written.”

        But note something interesting about this sort of answer. They don’t engage the question seriously. The hypothetical has a premise: everything which exists still exists the way we see it but has another explanation. The “then there wouldn’t be a universe/love/Bible” begs the question. Or ducks away from it.

        It’s like someone claiming that the circles around Saturn are made of chocolate pudding being asked “what would convince you that the circles are NOT made of chocolate pudding but composed of something else instead?” and answering “Then they wouldn’t be there!” as if that was a pointed response.

        • Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          “From what I’ve seen the #1 response to “what would the universe look like if your God didn’t exist?” is “Then it wouldn’t be here.”

          Yes, that would be the standard response. They regard the Ground of Being argument as an ironclad logical deduction, completely irrefutable.

          I’d grant that point for the sake of making another one: would a Universe created by a God that is indifferent to human affairs look different than one created with humans as a focal point?

          I can’t see how the answer could be no. So if yes, what would we expect to see in each, and how does that compare to what we actually see?

          At best, I see a Universe created by the indifferent God, which is identical to the nonexistent God.

  34. Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    “Further, it’s obvious that the vast majority of harm done in the name of faith is done not by those who see god as a Ground of Being, but rather as an anthropomorphic entity who has a personal relationship with his minions and supplies them with a moral code.”

    I think that the likes of the late Tillich, Armstrong, etc. believe(d) in a type of personal God as well, and when in the company of the religious, they were/are more open about it. Would these people write book after book religion if all they thought was out there was some impersonal, inscrutable “ground of being”?

    It’s just when they are pressed to justify their knowledge of the existence of such a being that we are presented with a version of God that is vague enough to put it outside the realm of rational inquiry. They want their fundamental existence claims about God to be simply granted to them, so that they can get on with the business of thinking that the Universe was made with them in mind.

    They are keeping two sets of books rather than admit to themselves that they have no evidence for their beliefs. Dishonesty, to oneself and to others, seems fundamental to religion.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      The sophisticated theologians who believe in the Ground of Being God do one obvious harm: they contribute to the idea that it’s morally wrong to be an atheist.

      Atheism is not just mistaken, but mistaken on a very profound and meaningful question which is not simply intellectual, but emotional as well. Even sophisticated theologians who believe in the Ground of Being God generally agree with fundamentalist literalists that it is very, very important for people to believe in God. And people who don’t — or, worse, don’t believe and argue — are wrong to do so.

      Interfaith alliance.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        I read a quote once about how a good christian knows when to shut up and be humble.

        Not quite those words and can’t remember who, but it does sound like something a god/authority figure would appreciate from its subjetcs.

        • Sastra
          Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          It also sounds like a great way to excuse not having a good answer. You’re too “humble” to continue.

          New Agers usually aren’t authoritarians, but they are very, very good at avoiding rational challenges in prime passive aggressive fashion. They are not “confrontational” and don’t want to “attack” other people. Ahem.

          Unlike you.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

            It makes you wonder if they see bullshit as a prime foundation for growing roses.

            In other words, it’s not really that important if it’s true, just as long as it makes you feel good and jives with your intuition of cosmic karma…more or less.

            I can’t wait to retire. I’m gonna be grumpy as shit and proud of it. :-)

            • Sastra
              Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:55 am | Permalink

              lol!

        • Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

          And not be curious.

          /@

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted January 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

            I’m starting to doubt it really did kill the cat, after all…

  35. Richard Olson
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    ‘They should read it because Hart marshals powerful historical evidence and philosophical argument to suggest that atheists – if they want to attack the opposition’s strongest case – badly need to up their game.’

    The only “game” is love of being in love with faith. This base emotional state is the sole support of belief in anything supernatural. Assisting faithful individuals in recognizing that their faith is an affliction instead of a desirable attribute is the only help one may offer. The rest is up to them.

    Attacking bullshit “strongest case” presuppositional metaphysical propositions invites a wrestling match that almost never results in an enlightened (and clean!) pig that enjoyed the process.

  36. Wim
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Let’s try this sophisticated theology on for size:
    “Every mathematical pursuit of zero and empty sets presupposes the existence of some idea of nothing. And this transcendental idea derives from the classical concept of God, who simply is nothing.”

    I think I’m doing it rong.

  37. Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    “… according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God “exists” in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all”

    Fine, so “God” could be nothing more than the fundamental properties of matter and energy. There is no requirement in this definition that God must be immaterial, or a person, which is what 99.99% of the religious wish God to be.

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Taking the grammar as an indicator, it has to be a thing, not a process or a property. However, that runs into metaphysical difficulty: a process is *of* something (process philosophy not withstanding) and properties are *of* something.

      • Sastra
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Not if you think abstractions are “essences” which come first. If so, then properties and processes are ‘something.’ I mean, look at the word.

        Didn’t Bertrand Russell accuse most apologetics of resulting from bad grammar?

        • Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          I think that many believers get hung up on things like order and consistent physical laws, and think that such things cannot be unconditioned aspects of reality. Apparently, the “natural” state of things is complete disorder, and some other thing (itself ordered???) must have been responsible for these properties. But why? Why couldn’t there have always been some small amount of order or consistency in the fabric of matter and energy?

          • Sastra
            Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            Good point. I would have thought that complete chaos (a rose changes into a cabbage which changes into the number 5) would indicate miracles in need of explanation, not a normal, natural state of affairs which can just be taken as given.

            Hart and the Sophisticates (great name for a band!) also seem to assume that the “natural” state of things is Nothing. The existence of anything at all in any way at all at any time at all is just astonishing.

            WHO is doing that????

            • Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

              “I would have thought that complete chaos (a rose changes into a cabbage which changes into the number 5) would indicate miracles in need of explanation, not a normal, natural state of affairs which can just be taken as given.”

              Another way that the religious try to have it both ways. Hey, how can explain all of this order and consistent physical laws without God? Hey, how can you explain the suspension of physical laws (miracles) without God?

              Also, yes, apparently without God there would be nothing. But God is clearly a something, so there’s at least one something that doesn’t need another something to effect it, according to the religious.

              The slightly more sophisticated version of this is still centuries old, and says that even if we grant “matter and motion” as noncontingent and just there, you can’t get complexity from that and you certainly can’t get Mind from that. But of course we know now that this is shit.

            • Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

              Agreed. That something exists is a commonplace observation. Why posit that there had to be “time” “when” that wasn’t the case? (Taking Krauss’s cosmological “nothing” to be a philosophical “something”, at least for the nonce.)

              /@

          • Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            Why is there something, rather than a rarified logical abstraction that either cannot exist by definition or is infinitely unstable? WHY?

  38. Richard Olson
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    clicking notify button this time

  39. Hempenstein
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    and although I haven’t yet read it (believe me, I will, and have ordered it)

    How many of these guys do you suppose have ever bought a copy of WEIT? Hope you at least make the purchase price back on demolishing it.

  40. DaveH
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Not terribly Sophisticated, anyway. In fact, it starts in an identical manner to every other theological argument for God(s):

    Sits back in comfortable leather armchair in agreeable book-lined room. Puffs on pipe (indicating Wisdom.) Crosses legs.

    *Coughs* “Given God…”

    • beyondbelief007
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Absolutely perfect!!

      • Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        “Given the Christian God…”

    • Sastra
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Yep, I can’t recall any theological argument discussed here being called a new one. They’re all this that or the other shopworn argument, maybe with a new ribbon or bow.

      So, the Sophisticated Theologians either a) know this and think nobody’ll notice, or b) they haven’t read any Sophisticated Theology themselves.

  41. Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Let’s do some Sophisticated Theology!

    Entity A needs a ground of being, because all things need a ground of being, and no thing can be its own ground. Let Entity B be the ground of being for Entity A. But wait, doesn’t Entity B also need a ground of being? No! Which means Entity B must be God.

    The End

    • Sastra
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Wait — if God is an “entity” then you’ve said too much to be reeeeaaaaalllly sophisticated.

      Better hasten to add that you’re speaking in metaphor.

      • Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, I’m new at this!

      • Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Nebulous concept B.

        And that really is a metaphor, for there is nothing materially cloud-like about B.

        /@

  42. Matt G
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Now if the anthropomorphic God doesn’t exist, it follows that the Sophisticated Theologians must consider those who believe in that God atheists. Or is it OK to believe in God for the wrong reasons (since those dupes give money to churches and vote disproportionately for Republicans)?

  43. beyondbelief007
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Jerry wrote: “Likewise, just because a bunch of Sophisticated Theologians™ agreed on God as a Sustainer of the Universe and Ground of All Being does not make it so. Why on earth does that argument have any force at all?”

    You must consider the viewpoint of the person who would want or need to take up such an explanation, to understand why it has force: believers seek any means by which they can avoid having to change a belief, or give up a chunk of their very identity. That is what is being proposed by us, to them.

    So these arguments have force with that audience because its members are desperately clinging to ANYTHING that purports to have a chance in hell of overcoming the best atheist arguments which, if they accepted them, would mean they were in for a massive mental remodeling project. Not many people seek out those projects.

    These arguments have force among the indoctrinated.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Sure they do. But Hart et al. also seem to think they have a powerful force against atheists. We need to “engage” with them or we’re not really worthy of debating.

  44. Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I read Burkeman’s book “The Antidote. Happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking” some time last year and if I remember correctly, he is an atheist too. But I guess with this piece in The Guardian, he comes off as an accommodationist a bit like Jonathan Haidt and others do where they say they are atheists basically for the same reasons Jerry and the rest of us are; but somehow they just want to avoid coming off as total jerks. I’m on Jerry’s, and Dillahunty’s and all the others side, but I have tried to stick to my guns when these conversations come up, and I am the one that comes off as being a rude asshole, the party pooper or the bully that takes away their toys.

  45. Faustus
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    “It’s not that god doesn’t exist, it’s that he fails to ground that which is good.”

    “Indeed, farting is the ultimate dismissal of god, even when a theist does not intend it that way. Their guff presupposes a lack of a elegance in the world, thus negating that from which a god would be derived.”

    Seems quite easy to remove the word exist to make discussion awkward, and arbitrarily grab some action/behaviour and anchor it to ones own point of view. Does this make me a “Sophisticated Atheist™”?

  46. s. pimpernel
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    After reading this post, I’m glad it’s you ordering the book. If people can be convinced to wrap themselves in explosives as the easy way to paradise, convincing them of the existence of an all loving god doesn’t seem to be that difficult.

  47. Posted January 16, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Over at the Institute for Damaged Gods we are tasked with hiding our gods. We have come-up with several undetectable gods, and I want to tell you about them. The first two are ‘Sticky-Back Tape’ gods. You see, we stick the god to something you know exists like frozen waterfalls, or sunsets, and then lead you to believe that the god stuck to the pretty things must exist as well. But people saw through the ruse, so we invented another Sticky-Back god that stuck to things you cannot define, such as laughter, or love, or truth or honesty. But it just did not work.
    But then we set about making our gods so abstract that nobody could talk about them. We called them, ‘Gods that make everything else possible’, so you see our gods could only be detected by their influence upon other things existing. David Bentley Hart came us with that one. Clever move. An undetectable god is a safe god. And here’s the thing. We made this god the ‘god of the light of being itself’. I know it’s bullshit, but we hoped that it might scare away those pesky atheists, with all their demand for evidence. Evidence, shmevidence. What does it matter as long as you believe in fairies?!
    The beauty of the Bentley Hart abstract god was that it has been elegantly couched in language so abstract that nobody, even the author of the idea, can understand it.
    ‘That which cannot be understood, cannot be attacked’
    But the atheists started to laugh at us, so we have invented gods even more abstract.
    • New upon the scene are the gods that cannot be discussed in ordinary language. They can only be discussed in Latin.
    • Gods that we never dare mention.
    • Gods that are hidden in everything not made of plastic.
    • Gods that live in clear water.
    • Shape-changing gods that appear as animals in your dreams.
    • Gods that hide in the pockets of clothes long thrown out.
    • Gods the linger near the word ‘ineffable’
    • Ginger gods.
    • Gods of the last biscuit on the plate.
    • Fish-smelling gods.
    • Gods that hide in the ‘O’ of Oreos.
    You atheists have got to address the real subtle understanding of gods held by us top theologians. Unless you are prepared to tackle our concept of gods, you lose.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I will keep on worshiping the Keebler elves. At least they are responsible for good cookies (although fattening).

      Oh, yeah; and Bacon.

  48. Gordon
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    As I think I said a couple of days ago – even if this made sense, so what? Exactly how do you get from Mr or Ms Ineffable to the christian 3 entity god.

    “My God is just sitting there, watching over us all, but only for his amusement. He’s ineffable and indolent.”

    Very Greek and at least they would be interesting.

  49. eric
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    what, exactly do we mean by “the opposition’s strongest case”? I can think of three ways to construe that:

    4. As a cry for attention/advertising. Calling ones’ argument “the strongest” is like telling someone you double-dog-dare them to refute it. It’s a verbal challenge not to ignore it.

    My personal experience is that a theist saying “strongest case” just means “hey, why aren’t you paying attention to MY argument? Pleeeeeeeaaaase stop talking about someone else’s argument for God and look at miiiiiiiiine!”

  50. eric
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    If a committed creationist wrote a book called The Evolution Delusion, but only attacked the general public’s understanding of evolution, we’d naturally dismiss them as disingenuous.

    No, we would dismiss it if the understanding of evolution he presented was wrong. As long as it’s accurate, then it doesn’t matter if it comes from Bob-on-the-street or Richard Dawkins, a cogent and valid criticism of an accurate description of evolution is worth considering.

    Now, it is true that authority is often a good proxy for accuracy. But that’s all it is – a proxy. The response depends on the accuracy of the description and the validity of the objection to it.

    Having said all that, I will take a WAG and say that scientists probably only dismiss 10-30% of creationist arguments because they use an inaccurate decscription of evolution. 60-90% of the dismissals are because the creationist fails to make a cogent, valid critism of the process they’re describing.

  51. kelskye
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    It should be uncontroversial to say that we should be going after the best arguments for anything. Taking on “tide comes in, tide goes out” isn’t really saying much about the conception. However, it’s not clear what makes for the best conception of God. Why is a “ground of being” conception any more or less valid than an anthropomorphic conception of God? Who is to say that a particular conception of God is the only valid one? And if there is one, why is it only when atheist dismiss God that we hear of it? Biologists at least make a concerted effort to get a proper understanding of evolution taught among a wider population.

    What would be the difference between a misconception of God and a different conception of God? Why should we take “ground of being” seriously as what is meant by those who say they are in direct communication with God, or that Jesus is God-incarnate?

    • darrelle
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      I don’t agree with the first couple of sentences. Sometimes, often actually, it is useful to go after the most frequently used arguments, whether they are the best of their type or not.

      • kelskye
        Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:30 am | Permalink

        It might be useful from a social perspective, but the point I think Hart is trying to get at (and the point I agree with) is that one ought not to base their justification of a position on such arguments. A refutation of “tide comes in, tide goes out” has nothing to do with the reasons I’m an atheist, and it would be disingenuous to even bring it up in that context.

        • darrelle
          Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:08 am | Permalink

          It is useful from a tactical perspective. But yes, using such counter arguments to base a rationalist or atheist position on would be strange, lacking. I don’t know about disingenuous though. Is that really the word you meant to use there?

          • kelskye
            Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

            Yes, yes it was.

            • darrelle
              Posted January 17, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps I misunderstand. Do you mean to say that it would be disingenuous of you personally because it has nothing to do with why you personally are an atheist? If so I stand corrected. I wouldn’t presume to know your mind better than you do.

              If you mean the general case, I just don’t see any upside, and therefore any motivation, for someone to pretend to be ignorant in that context. Seems rather bizarre to me, unless their intent is simply to bait others for the fun of it.

  52. RGBowman
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    “God is the unconditioned cause of reality..” – This is nothing more than a regurgitation Aristotle’s unmoved mover, which Thomas Aquinas regurgitated in his Summas.

    It would have behooved Burkeman to have read, before writing this article, a nearly 20 year old book called “The Demon Haunted World”, by Carl Sagan. Most specifically, Chapter 10, The Dragon in my Garage.

    • Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      oh, no! It’s far more Sophisticated™ Than that!

      God is not the Unmoved Mover, He is what makes Movement possible!

      /@

      • irritable
        Posted January 16, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        “He is what makes Movement possible”

        Problem: you can’t use the word “is” because that would signify that God “exists” in some tawdry practical sense.

        God is what grounds the movement of every moving thing, giving it velocity, acceleration and momentum.

        God is the condition of the possibility of anything moving at all.

  53. Bob J.
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    A non-scientific, engineering response to Hart’s god, after all I spent many a year as an engineer. Take the Apollo moon missions, in calculating the trajectory to the moon you can safely neglect the sun’s movement in the Milky Way and the Milky Way’s movement in the Universe not because those movements don’t exists, but because those movements are irrelevant.

    So it is with Hart’s god, this god is totally irrelevant. It predicts nothing past, present, or future. It influences nothing.

  54. Posted January 16, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Religion has held humanity in its ridiculous grip for so long, I suspect that even liberal-minded people find it impossible to accept that there really is no reasonable explanation for religious beliefs. The gobbling up of word salads a la Hart staves off the sense of emptiness from being fooled for so long.

  55. Posted January 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Does this latest Sophisticated Theologian™ realise his version of the “ground of being” argument is little more than tarted-up presuppositionalism? This kind of equine cart-pushing is rare, even among the fundamentalists he and his ilk chide us for arguing with/emulating; if he wants to enter the field of apologetics he would be better served discussing, as we do, Christianity as it is practiced most commonly and the effects that practice has.

    As for his argument itself, I shall quote from the book of Aron Ra: “If you can’t show it, you don’t know it.”

  56. Posted January 16, 2014 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    The arguments presented here do not seem that far off of the ones John Haught makes and did make in the debate that he tried to squash. My question is, how come with all of these debates about the existence of God, morality and the Resurrection of Jesus, we are never treated to a debate combining any of the above?

    As Christopher Hitchens pointed out, even if we concede the arguments for God’s existence, all the work still lies ahead of a theist. Why have I never seen the likes of William Lane Craig have a debate combining his arguments for God’s existence with the arguments for Christianity? There is a gaping hole between the two that would need to be filled in. There’s a huge logical leap from ground of being to a god who intervenes. Have any prominent skeptics ever laid this challenge out? It seems like it would be a much more winnable debate in that the inconsistencies in the arguments could be laid out.

  57. Sam Salerno
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I am up to page 18 in the “Experience of God” book. And so far it’s an endless barrage of Atheist mockery along with the putting of words into Atheists mouth. Also, hard to believe, but the claim that Atheism is supernatural. And mostly an amazing amount of wasted words. Good luck reading this pile. I know I’m going to need it.

    • H.H.
      Posted January 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      Be sure to review the book on Amazon. ;)

  58. Ron Crossland
    Posted January 16, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Pardon if I’m covering the same points as other posts. I’ve read many of them, but not all 100+.

    It seems to me pre-Socratics, Socratic. and neo-Platonists metaphysics covers this same ground. Pretty high flatting thinkers, eh? Which is why early church theologists blended their ideas into the Bible’s thin gruel and called the output divine.

    It also seems to me that Hart’s idea of God is like a Higg’s Field God (all god-particle singles included). A sort of field of possibility that is eternal, exits everywhere, massless, and gives mass to all things. Makes you wonder how a deity with like this could create intentional identities or directly create humans that live, die, and relive.

    I would recommend all atheists not read and FUND this drivel.

  59. Diane G.
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    Still it’s also fun (and marginally profitable) to read and refute the arguments of theologians, for it’s only there that one can truly see intelligence so blatantly coopted and corrupted to prove what one has decided is true beforehand. Theology is the one academic discipline where people get paid not to investigate their beliefs, but to rationalize them.

    Such a delightful turn of phrase; several turns, actually. Sure hope these gems are going to be in your book as well! : -)

    • Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Second that! That second sentence in particular should make it to every decent book of aphorisms, too – worthy to appear right next to Karl Kraus (the Austrians present should know him).

  60. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    The more noticeable thing with Burkeman & Hart is that, beyond that it is untestable rubbish, as Jerry notes there wouldn’t be any difference in the universe. Meaning that this notion of ‘gods’, as all the rest of the New Sophisticated Theologians™, would be completely unnecessary and inferior to physicalism if it didn’t happen to be Not Even Wrong.

    God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time.

    But we know this can’t be the case. Particle physicist Matt Strassel over at Of Particular Significance has described in a recent post [which I have yet to find again] how there are so called scale invariant field theories. They may or may not get around the Planck scale cut off, I don’t know and it isn’t relevant, but he claimed IIRC that some of them had no particles.

    E.g. particles are more or less stable ripples in the field that one can initiate. (Say, in particle collisions where new particles are created.) But a particle-less field has its ripples fall apart to lesser ripples on a smaller scale, which in turn falls apart and so on in a fractal process.

    Now we need a selection process on fields to predict why we don’t see such fields but have particles. (Say, selection bias.) But note that we didn’t need to have particles at all, hence there are conditions on reality _and those conditions are physical_.

  61. Posted January 17, 2014 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    If Hart is right, then it proves the bible to be comprehensively wrong in its entirety.

  62. HaggisForBrains
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    sub

  63. Vaal
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne, this post of yours strikes me as one of your best.

    I love this:

    People like Hart, despite their intelligence, have no more handle on the nature of God than do Joe and Sally in the street.

    So true!

    You instance in asking: “how do you know that about God?” continues to cut through this obscurantism. It usefully separates “how sophisticated one can be in thinking up a concept of God *compatible* with this world” vs “how do you KNOW this God with any more authority than the Christian-on-the-street.”

    Please keep shouting that point from the rooftops!

    Vaal

  64. B Desormeaux
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    A very intellectual and interesting take on these responses for sure. It does appear the new movement for believers of any sort is now to create arguments that are irrefutable, but with a smaller explanation, they merely define the requirement of faith in such arguments. To say that this God exists merely because I can imagine it implies a level of faith (not to mention is the plot line to South Park’s Imaginationland…which I guess is pretty much the same exact thing) and not a level of existence. To make this sort of statement is similar to believing that what you dream is what truly happened.

    I don’t disagree with Hart’s (supposed) conclusion that God is what you personally believe it to be; i do disagree that it means a true existence. Let’s face it, anyone who does believe in God has their own conception of what that means and that alone means such a thing does not exist. If the religious texts are to truly be the word of God, then the idea of God would be the same. The image of God would be the same. The mere fact that it becomes a personal connection does, itself, show that the existence is with man, and not with God (or that man is flawed in his interpretation, which also brings us to the same conclusion). An argument such as this does not prove the existence of anything but for man, which is a rather dull and quite ridiculous thing to bother thinking about.

  65. Caleb Jablonicky
    Posted January 17, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    If all that is being referred to by theologians like Hart is the nature of existence, then – if you’ll pardon the phrase – for the love of god, stop CALLING it “god.” Conflating existential and experiential concerns with the idea of an omnipotent sovereign being is blatantly dishonest, and yet to many, sufficiently convincing to allow that theologians give themselves apparent license enough to pass off any notions of their choosing to their ever-receptive audiences. Stretching the definition of “god” so thinly as to make this possible is nothing but evasive goal post-shifting by cowards who refuse to admit that they have no coherent or communicable reason to believe in whatever it is they want to.

  66. Mark Joseph
    Posted January 18, 2014 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Sorry this is so late, but I’ve spent the last two days in cloud cuckoo land with a cold.

    Jerry put his finger on this response, but without the quote; it’s from the second edition of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, where he answers criticisms of the first edition (readers here recognize the “Courtier’s Reply” of PZ, as well as the fact that I’ve posted this quote before, several times):

    “You always attack the worst of religion and ignore the best. You go after rabble-rousing chancers like Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, rather than sophisticated theologians like Tillich or Bonhoeffer who teach the sort of religion I believe in.”

    If only such subtle, nuanced religion predominated, the world would surely be a better place and I would have written a different book. The melancholy truth is that this kind of understated, decent, revisionist religion is numerically negligible. To the vast majority of believers around the world, religion all too closely resembles what you hear from the likes of Robertson, Falwell, or Haggard, Osama bin Laden or the Ayatollah Khomeini. These are not straw men, they are all too influential, and everybody in the modern world has to deal with them.

  67. Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Humanist Fox.

  68. Posted June 20, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    We have a simple analogy in the way, the question of murder vs. suicide is settled by police. There are so many cases where the public at large has lingering doubts about the coroner’s findings esp. in cases where the deceased wee politically active and in opposition to the “powers that be”, yet suicide it was and the case is laid at rest. Now, if we can’t find common ground in cases where the END of life is concerned, how on earth (and in the heavens) are we meant to ever settle arguments as to how life came ABOUT?


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] unappreciatively, the notoriously combative New Atheist Jerry Coyne uses the expression “confidence game“: Such atheist true believers see Hart vacating nearly the entirety of what they understand […]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28,591 other followers

%d bloggers like this: