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He Said/She Said

He is Richard Dawkins. In today's Wall Street Weekend Journal, after singing a hymn of praise to Darwinian evolution, he says:

Where does that leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God's redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.

She is Karen Armstrong. In the same space she celebrates the "God beyond God" and says:

Darwin made it clear once again thatas Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas and Eckhart had already pointed outwe cannot regard God simply as a divine personality, who single-handedly created the world. This could direct our attention away from the idols of certainty and back to the "God beyond God." The best theology is a spiritual exercise, akin to poetry. Religion is not an exact science but a kind of art form that, like music or painting, introduces us to a mode of knowledge that is different from the purely rational and which cannot easily be put into words. At its best, it holds us in an attitude of wonder, which is, perhaps, not unlike the awe that Mr. Dawkins experiencesand has helped me to appreciate when he contemplates the marvels of natural selection.

Actually, they may both be saying the same thing. What say ye?

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Its interesting that so many of the leading players in these arguments are British: Dawkins, Hitchens, Eagleton, Anthony Kenny and now Armstrong. James Wood os another. In a recent New Yorker he calls for a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.Contrary to the view that the British are shallow empiricists (compared to the profound Continental thinkers) the reality is more surprising. Perhaps they just love a good debate and the pursuit of a line of thought to its logical (or extreme) conclusion. As the wag said, in Cambridge they know next to nothing about everything and in Oxford they know everything about next to nothing (or it may be the reverse).

I'm continually struck by how childish Dawkins' conception of God is. He doesn't seem interested in really engaging the possibility that God is anything other than a sky puppeteer.

Several of former nun Karen Armstrong's themes in the WSJ piece were covered in an interview she had with Bill Moyers about six months ago. (The text of the interview is available here: ) Moyers introduced her as a self-described "freelance monotheist." I know she was once (and might still be) part of the Funk/Crossan Jesus Seminar, but in the interview with Moyers she expressed the opinion that religious people must move beyond belief systems and embrace the ethical "compassion" that she said she finds common to all of the great religions. Though there is still a theological distance between Armstrong and Dawkins, Armstrong seems to me to be moving towards an amorphous deism that Dawkins would not agree with, but which he would likely find more tolerable than the tenets of the three great monotheistic religions.

Fr. Imbelli '--I don't think they're saying the same thing. Dawkins rejects what he considers to be the traditional Western concept of God on the grounds that it is self-contradictory, and he concludes He is impossible. Armstrong rejects that description on the grounds that it is contradictory, but she retains something of the apophatic mystical tradition as a solace and way of turning oneself into an ethical person. But she also accepts a different self-contradiction, her "God beyond God". She also speaks Vaticanese as well as any Vaticanista -- changing the meaning of a word (in her case "religiona") and then claims to have solved the problem. For her "religion" is a source of spiritual comfort without any relationship to a personal God which can turn us into more ethical humans.. Hardly the usual meaning.Ignorant and nasty as he sometimes is, I'll take him over Armstrong.. I don't think she is the splendid scholar some claim she is. She fairly often misrepresents what the theologians have said, probably unconsciously, I grant you. But that just means she isn't profound. At least Dawkins doesn't claim to be a scholar of religion. Perrhaps I should add that Dawkins too accepts some contradictory premises, but I'm not sure he is actually aware that there are inherent contradictions in set theory and other important logical and mathematical systems. Still he uses them.

Friends:Try Georgetown theologian John Haught's magisterial _God after Darwin_ or Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller's _Finding Darwins God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution_. Go back and read (hopefully re-read) some Teilhard de Chardin. Darwin has certainly changed our ways of thinking about God (and everything). Great! But to claim evolution obliterates God is quite unscientific. The militant atheists like Dawkins ignore the deeper questions we humans ask. Their dogmatic proclamation "evolution explains it all" refuses to ask the further questions: Why are we here as products of evolution? What does it mean the evolution has produced us? What happens to this marvelous reality that is me/us after death? Can God work through Evolution? (cf. Miller's book).Most importantly, those who constrict their thinking to an "evolution alone world view" (the contemporary version of sola scriptura) ignore the meta scientific reality of consciousness. All those chemical reactions in my brain... why do they give me the sense of me, and of me as someone in relation with something beyond myself that constitutes and continues my being? To just claim the game is over in the 6th inning only works in Little League. There's a lot more to be learned by exploring evolution and religion/spirituality than claiming "evolution is all there is."I love Karen Armstrong's books, especially her rich reflections on her own experience of religious life years ago, but I think she's out of her league here. Her historical studies of religions don't prepare her to comment cogently on the rather recent (past 100 years or so) eruption of evolution's implications for religion.Rick Malloy, S.J.

Let me put in a plug for Nicholas Lash's "Theology for Pilgrims," especially the first two essays, which bear directly on Dawkins. The crucial point: God is not a being. Properly speaking every being is always and necessarily just one among several beings. All beings are, in other words, entities belonging somehow to this world. Thus evolution has nothing to say about Him.

I appreciate the reading recommendations of both Rick Malloy and Bernard Dauenhauer.Nicholas Lash is one of the most bracing writers doing theology -- a tad too "apophatic" for my taste, but always challenging.I reviewed his "Theology for Pilgrims" in the July issue of "Worship," with much appreciation and some criticism.Apropos today's Gospel, the cross is firmly at the center of Lash's theological vision.

Fr. Molloy,Like you I that a main problem with Dawkins is that he draws philosophical conclusions without offering any philosophical premises. He assumes that only the physiccal world is real, in spite of evidence to the contrary.Not only that, on the basis of the randomness of natural selection (the lynchpin of the theory of evolution) he claims that there is no necessity in the process, -- things could have turned out differently. From this he cncludes that there is no Great Designer. Yet he also claims that the process is due to the nature of physical laws. In other words, the evolutionary "process" is both random and ordered by the laws of physics. But he really can't have it both ways. Hmph.

Yet [Dawkins] also claims that the process is due to the nature of physical laws. In other words, the evolutionary process is both random and ordered by the laws of physics. But he really cant have it both ways.There is no contradiction. The physical laws define the universe of possibility within which randomness operates. Just like the design of the die determines the possible outcomes when the die is cast. In other words, the evolutionary process yields results which accord with the laws of physics.

Sure, one can believe in a Divinity that exists outside of the physical universe, but on Sunday the layperson is still asked to accept the God of Genesis, Adam and Eve, the Fall and Original Sin etc, etc. Science may have disclosed the immensity and mystery of the cosmos and the physical world, but the religious dogma retailed to the average believer seems firmly rooted in Genesis as literal truth with its cozy little earth-centered universe.

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