Daily Archives: September 5, 2007

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The supernaturalist God

Ch.1, §1: ‘Deserved Respect’ (pp.31–41), continued

What is Dawkins’ target? Later on, he will say (p.57):

I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been invented.

Here, though, on p.33, he acknowledges with Steven Weinberg that the word ‘God’ can be used in all sorts of ways, but then explains that

if the word God is not to become completely useless, it should be used in the way people have generally understood it: to denote a supernatural creator that is ‘appropriate for us to worship’.

Hmmmm. Back on p.57, with his sweeping declaration that his target is ‘all gods’, Dawkins was trying to forestall the ‘inevitable retort to the book’ that he expects to leap to the lips of some reviewers:

The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either. I don’t believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.

Well, I promise not to mention the old man or his beard, but I’m going to ignore Dawkins warning, and admit that by this point in the book (p.33, three pages in to the main text) I already begin to suspect that ‘The God that Dawkins doesn’t believe in is a God that I don’t believe in either.’ Of course, I’m writing this blog entry having read on to the start of his chapter 4, at a point where my suspicions have been pretty decisively confirmed, but already in the notes I made on my first reading, I underlined ‘supernatural’ in ‘supernatural creator … appropriate for us to worship’ and wrote ‘uh-oh’, and then listed some forms of religious belief that I suspected were not covered by Dawkins definition:

  • Buddhism. (I suspect Dawkins would not disagree with me – see p.59)
  • Some forms of Hinduism – certainly advaita (or ‘non dualist’) forms, and possible more ‘theistic’ forms as well, if those who stress the compatibility between the theistic and non-dualist forms are right. I don’t know whether Dawkins would deny this; Hinduism is not clearly in his sights, and given what he says about Buddhism he might be willing to think again about at least the more philosophical variants of Hinduism.
  • Much classic Christian theology – the theology of Thomas Aquinas, for example.
  • Much contemporary Christian theology – Rowan Williams’, for example, or mine.

Dawkins would, I imagine, be extremely sceptical about the last two claims, and I’m not yet in a position to back them up. We’re going to have to keep going, clarifying what Dawkins means by ‘supernatural’, ‘creator’ and ‘worship’, and then looking at how some pretty prominent strands of Christian theology are not captured by his definitions. We’re also going to have to talk about the implications if it should turn out that Dawkins attack misses these strands of Christian theology, but still hits large quantities of popular Christian piety. All I am doing at this stage is indicating where I think the really interesting tussle is likely to be: not so much in refuting Dawkins’ arguments, as in disputing what he is arguing about.

The first, small-scale arena for this tussle is in Dawkins’ presentation of Einstein’s ‘religion’ – but that’s a matter for a different post.