The case for Dog

July 7, 2009 • 1:27 pm

Karen Armstrong has just published a book, The Case for God, which appears to be a kind of oatmeal-y, warm and fuzzy New Theology argument for God, or at least the kind of nebulous and transcendent Ground of Being who passes for God among university theologians.  (Sample: “We need to think of God not as a being, but as Being.”)  Naturally the book is much beloved by accommodationists, and has received some favorable reviews (e.g., here), inevitably accompanied by criticisms of those icky and strident New Atheists who keep trying to take our Ground of Being away from us.

I haven’t yet read this tome, but wanted to highlight a really nice satire in the Guardian by John Crace, a mock summary of what seems to be Armstrong’s arguments and, by extension, many of the New Militant Theologians’ arguments. A sample of Crace:

Things came right with Darwin. Many assume he was an atheist; in reality he was an agnostic who, despite being a lot cleverer than Dawkins, could not refute the possibility of a God. Therefore God must exist, or we drift into the terrible nihilism of Sartre where we realise everything is pointless. Especially this book.

The modern drift to atheism has been balanced by an equally lamentable rise in fundamentalism. Both beliefs are compromised and misconceived. The only logical position is apophatic relativism, as stated in the Jeff Beck (1887- ) lyric, “You’re everywhere and nowhere, Baby. That’s where you’re at.”

I haven’t had time to deal with the tricky issues of the after-life that some who believe in God seem to think are fairly important.

But silence is often the best policy – geddit, Hitchens? And the lesson of my historical overview is that the only tenable religious belief is one where you have the humility to constantly change your mind in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

God is the desire beyond this desire, who exists because I say so, and the negation of whose existence confirms his transcendence. Or something like that.

And if you believe this, you’ll believe anything.

32 thoughts on “The case for Dog

  1. God is the overwhelming fact of the universe. God is the very ground of being, the undeniable designer and substance of all that exists.

    God is also so very subtle and hidden by dint his very nature that you couldn’t hope for any observation that supports the hypothesis that he exists. Indeed, what greater evidence that god exists could there be than that there is no evidence for him at all?

    See, it’s like fish, who could never know what water is, because it’s too essential to their lives that they can’t ever know about it (including when they leap from it or glide (flying fish) over it).

    The thing is, though, that more subtle means of knowing god can get to this unavoidable fact of god, like poetry, theology, anthropocentric biases, and (other) BS. Cause you know, the evidence is too overwhelming for any kind of straightforward case to be made, but in the still small voice of nonsense, god speaks to us.

    But don’t ever believe it when a Hindu or some other believer in non-gods makes the same sort of claim for his (non) gods. They’re just wrong, and we have direct scientific evidence against their beliefs. It’s our overwhelmingly-evidenced god whose subtlety can’t be touched by science, because it’s too holistic, overwhelming, and sparse, for science to deal with.

    Glen Davidson

  2. This piece is hilarious. I suggest people go listen to the audio and read along. Delightful. Some of it even sounds like one of the posters here.

    Religion is not about belief or faith; it is a skill. Self-deceit does not always come easily, so we have to work at it.

    Maybe this should be the title to all articles posted.

    1. Both. It is a dog chasing its tail.

      Therefore generating the title of this article.

      mk – you are a genius!

    1. Dunno, but at least we can see why the Ground of Being was so pissed at Onan, considering where he was “spilling his seed” . . .

  3. god, who used to perform macroscopic miracles, is reduced to the dusty ground of being, diddling his quarks. angels who used to dance on the heads of pins, now perform their jig in the quantum foam.

    and how crude, unlearned, and mean we are, having no training whatsoever in fashion and style, to pronounce the emperor’s nudity.

  4. My favorite quote about this book so far is from this review by Simon Blackburn:

    So what should the religious adept actually say by way of expressing his or her faith? Nothing. This is the “apophatic” tradition, in which nothing about God can be put into words. Armstrong firmly recommends silence, having written at least 15 books on the topic.

  5. You know what made me a convinced atheist? It wasn’t Dawkins or Hitchens. It was reading all the apologists and theologians. Eventually, after reading book after book (which completely failed to make a case for God, but instead made a case for why they shouldn’t have to make a case, followed by an appeal to emotion and an arbitrary application of Hume’s problem of induction, all the while insisting that belief in God was perfectly rational), I realized something: If there were any merit to these ideas at all, theology and apologetics would be completely unnecessary. No idea of any intellectual value would require all these ridiculous excuses to protect it from scrutiny from outsiders.

    So congratulations, sophisticated theologians. You provide me with what I consider to be some of the strongest evidence that religious beliefs are highly unlikely to be true in any substantive sense.

    1. You really did your homework then Wes. Congratulations.

      Wasn’t it Dawkins or Hichens or Coyne or Myers or Harris or Dennett, etc. even a little bit?

      Dennett’s “belief in belief” was a strong one for me, the final eye opener.

      1. I grew up religious, and was already moving away from it before I read the God Delusion.

        Reading theology and apologetics definitely had an effect on me. I used to maintain the “Religion and science are different ways to truth” line up until a few years ago. Reading the various (desperate) attempts to reconcile the two made me doubt the truth of that claim.

        It wasn’t just that, of course. Reading Spinoza and Nietzsche had an important effect on me too. It was actually while reading Spinoza in college that it occurred to me that throughout my life I was irrationally placing value on belief itself. It was around that time that I kinda realized, “Hey, it’s okay to withhold belief when there’s no rational justification for it.” That was before I’d read Dennett on “belief in belief”, so Dennett’s idea did resonate with me when I read Breaking the Spell.

      2. I became an atheist at the age of 13 or so, about 30 years ago, long before I’d heard of Darwin, Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.

        A little bit of logic goes a long way to convince the thinking person that god is a myth, “vapourware” as they say in the software world. I simply couldn’t reconcile the misery in the world around me with a benevolent god. Seeing no definitive evidence for god, I realized that god was man’s greatest invention, one we’d have been better off without.

  6. I liked this bit –

    “…move on to Thomas Aquinas, in whom we can see that God’s best hope is apophatic silence. We can’t say God either exists or doesn’t exist, because he transcends existence.”

    If only the believers would be apophatically silent, none of this disagreement would exist. But silent is exactly what they aren’t – so we can’t be either.

    1. Yes.

      If the believers were as private with their faith as they are with their fetishes then they would not need to worry about the raised eyebrows of others.

  7. Well, the author of the book might think it’s “new” but really it’s the same crap recycled over the past 20 centuries. Big thumbs down for wasting trees and ink.

  8. Gag. It never stops, does it? The make-nice crowd, and the theologians, and the wanna-be theologians, continue to insist on making the same mistake- assuming that since religion is occasionally associated with deep feeling, that it by necessity must have deep, ineffable roots. The question is simple- does our examination of the universe point to the behind-the-scenes mechanations of a being with the varying lists of qualities ascribed to it by religions of all stripes? Yes or no? Do we detect one, or an explanatory hole that would necessitate a being of commensurate power to fill it? No. Done. Moving on.

    It’s kind of ironic Armstrong is drafting this kind of argument, since I know a few persons that have been turned from religious ways by reading her books, and having the purely human origins and long cultural evolution of religion laid out for all to see. Good luck turning them back with the “All the other gods are sad attempts to capture the god I have so captured, and doesn’t in any way resemble a god” argument. Grounds for existence? You mean like relativity, Maxwell’s field equations, and the rest? So God fits on an index card? So why do we talk to it, and what is in the rest of those books?

    1. I already passed you some, but you don’t seem to believe it. I can’t understand why – after all, the evidence isn’t there and therefore it is there.

  9. You infidels don’t understand. The Case for God is a box exquisitely fashioned from the rarest woods and fitted with an intricate lock, about yay big… or am I confusing it with the Ark of the Covenant?

  10. If you take the time to read Armstrong’s “History of God” you will find that after much delving into the question her final answer is that there is no god that could have any relevance for humanity. Or at least that’s how I interpreted it.

    I seems to me that some writers and researchers into religious questions, while not believing in any gods themselves nonetheless wish to protect the beliefs of their subjects, almost as though they were some kind of exotic pet that needed careful looking after to remain healthy.

    Rodney Stark is another case in point. He has written a lot of books on christianity in which it is impossible to detect any personal religious beliefs until you read his ideas about Darwinists and evolution, which are pretty much straight out of Dwayne Gish! He behaves rather like a sheepdog chasing the evil Darwinists away from his flock. Or maybe I have misunderstood and he really isn’t the disinterested observer he purports to be.

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