As I’ve always claimed, I learn more from the commenters at this site than they learn from me. When I put up a post like Monday’s piece on Ross Douthat and David Bentley Hart’s views of God and religion, I pay attention to the readers’ comments, seeing whether I’ve made a misstep, been unclear, or missed some good points.
So let me offer the readers some kudos for the rewritten version of that post which just appeared in The New Republic under the title, “Religious believers’ favorite new book is a failed argument for God.” It’s been tightened and clarified, and my beef with Hart (and Douthat) is now disseminated more widely. If you wish, go over to the site and give it a click, or perhaps engage in some discussion. It still delights me that such a prominent venue is willing to promulgate fairly explicit secular points of view.
I’m not sure I’m going to post a full review of Hart’s book here, as my comments are long and complicated, but I’ve begun pointing out its weaknesses, and will try to continue that by presenting and analyzing a few of Hart’s quotes over the next week. Suffice it to say now that this is NOT the book that you need to come to address if you’re to be a credible atheist. You’ve already encountered the main arguments before. They are these:
1. God is an ineffable Ground of Being who is neither anthropomorphic nor refutable by any empirical observations. He is the creator of all things, the sustainer of all things, and is immanent in everything. In fact, he could be considered to BE consciousness, bliss, and rationality.
2. Despite that, there is palpable evidence for God—in our consciousness (which, according to Hart, defies and will always defy scientific explanation), in our rationality and appreciation of beauty (also inexplicable by science), and in the fact that something exists instead of nothing. Hart gussies up these God-of-the-gaps arguments with fancy modern language, but, despite his denial of Gappism, that’s what his arguments boil down to. And he’s also incorrect in denying that he’s not presenting evidence for God, but only clarifying the conception of God common to all religions. In fact, most of the book comprises the evidence for God that, says Hart, is so palpable in this world that you’d have to be deranged to remain an atheist.
If you’ve read Karen Armstrong and her apophatic theology (which says stuff about God despite claiming that you can’t say anything about God), you needn’t read Hart.