Thursday, October 15, 2009

The God Fight Back: Karen Armstrong and Keith Ward

I'm reading Karen Armstrong's The Case for God, and recently finished Keith Ward's Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins

A friend recently put this to me:

The fact is though, that you can't logically prove or disprove the existence of God, at least not in the way that the West accepts logic. In essence, philosophizing ad nauseum about the existence or nonexistence of a deity is useless for that end, and it makes Dawkins and Ward pretty obnoxious.

Keith Ward's book, from last summer, is a a good short book by a professional philosopher and theologian that accepts this basic position (no conclusive proof), but lays out very clearly traditional arguments for theism - his main claim is that theists take mind and not matter as the basis for the universe, and that in doing so they show the weakness of rationalist reductionist materialism.

Ward also discusses the conniptions materialists have got themselves into at the edges of cosmology in order to avoid the design argument.

I have long though think Dawkins and his shoddier co-author, Hitchens, just take cheap shots at religion, about which they know very little, and in fact end up being mirror images of the American Evangelical Christians they take as typical of all.

Karen Armstrong, and I have not been a fan of hers in the past, blasts Dawkins out of the water in her more recent book. She focuses less on specific arguments about God, but looks at what faith and religion have meant in human history. She shows the idea of faith as "assent to propositions" to be far too limiting. So, while Ward takes a traditional philosophical approach, Armstrong takes a broader view of what religious truth means.

In response to my friend above, both Ward and Armstrong would agree that I cannot logically prove the existence of God, just as I cannot prove a mountain view is beautiful, or a poem is great - but they point out that all interesting questions are not answerable by logic.

Ward shows that it can be proven in formal logic, if you accept that God is a possible being, then he must exist. (Anselm's argument as put into modern logic by Richard Swinburne). It is true that this does not affect anyone who denies God is a possible being, but if God is possible, then God must exist.

I think most people would accept God is a possible explanation. What these two books show is that God is both a reasonable explanation.

At least theists don't have to start believing in "multiverses" to have an explanation for why we are, what we are, and why we are.


Travis said...

I agree with your friend in regards to arguing the existence or non-existence of God. I always thought of it as a form of masturbation.

I haven't read Dawkins, but I have read Hitchens and even though he tries to argue against God, he ends up arguing against religions, or mainly the actions of religious people. He uses negative acts by people in the name of religion but totally ignores the good things done in the name of religion, like education and medical treatment to the poor.

I did see a great episode of Southpark about Richard Dawkins and how everyone in the future is an athiest. I'm sure it's on youtube.

Anne Gilbert said...

I don't know whether or not there is a "God" in any conventional sense, but what I do know is, that when people have a faith, and share a faith, certain things are made holy. This is true whether it's the communioon wafer people get at a Eucharistic service, or Muslim pilgrims worshiping around the Ka'aba in Mecca. Or something else. I have a good friend who feels the same way, and it seems that this is more or less Karen Armstrong's position as well(I haven't seen the other book). This is something professional atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens don't,grasp, and can't seem to. Which is at least partly the reason their arguments against "religion" as they understand it, irritate so many people, including me.

Anonymous said...

But if you take that second view then 'holy' just becomes an unjustifiably special case of 'important'. I agree that Dawkins et al. are extremely poor at handling the fact that these things are important to a great many people; but what they are arguing about is not the importance, but whether there is any justification for using 'holy' rather than 'important' for such things.