Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Belief in nothing, or no thing?

Paul Wallace at Religion Dispatches uncovers the fundamentalism of New Atheism, personified by the truly elementary atheism of Richard Dawkins, who for some reason is taken seriously by pop culture as a serious thinker.

Wallace cites Denys Turner, a professor of theology at Yale:
“Atheists reject too little,” Turner writes, “This is why their atheisms lack theological interest. The routine principled atheist has but tinkered with religion.” This statement, with which I agree, will be unpacked in the remainder of this essay. In order to speak more specifically about this, I decided to investigate a single atheist’s stated beliefs. Since I have a few Richard Dawkins books on my living room shelf, and because his point of view is known to many, I decided on him....

In The God Delusion, Dawkins presents his central argument against the existence of God in the fourth chapter. His thinking goes something like this: The universe is a complex thing. Therefore the God of the Christians, who, Christians say, made the universe, must be at least as complex as the universe God made. Therefore we are left with an even bigger problem than before: Who made this ultra-complex God? A hyper-complex megaGod? It makes plain sense, according to Occam’s razor, to stop before we get to the first God. The complex universe is enough. Ergo, in all likelihood, God does not exist.

This argument, which boils down to Well, who made God, then?, assumes that God is a thing like any other thing. It assumes that God must exist in the same way the moon exists, in the same way Dawkins himself exists. As Terry Eagleton wrote in his now-infamous review of The God Delusion, Dawkins seems to think that God is “a celestial super-object or divine UFO,” a creature like other creatures, only bigger and smarter: a kind of uberthing, but a thing nonetheless.

If God is a thing like any other thing, then his argument is really good: Any thing-making machine, which is itself a thing like any other thing, must be at least as complex as the thing it makes. In the case of God, the problem is worse, because of the standard Christian claim that God not only created the universe, but sustains it as well. So, if God is a thing like other things then Dawkins’ point is well made.

But nowhere does Dawkins get outside of himself and ask, Is my assumption that God is a thing like any other thing really necessary? On what is this assumption grounded? Where did it come from?

The problem is that God is not a thing. One problem for New Atheists is that they have literally never proceeded past an understanding of God that is more mature than childlike. Their so-called atheism is literally childish.

Another problem for New Atheists is not so much that they reject certain attributes of God, but that...
Most atheists reject far too little. They only have to be one kind of atheist: The atheist who stands against some kind of ridiculous super-object in the sky, who stands against a child’s theology. Christians, who, like Jews, are commanded to have no gods before God, do not have the luxury of disbelieving in so few things. In Turner’s words, "In order to deny every kind of idolatry possible, a Christian must be every kind of atheist possible." We are required to have faith in no thing at all; only then will our faith have any chance of finding its true home in God.
We can and should have faith in no thing while making sure not to believe in nothing.