Non-supernaturalist theology

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

A few clarifications and expansions of the previous post are in order, I think.

  1. The ‘ungraspability’ of God as spoken about in this Einsteinian-Spinozan-Maimonidean-Avicennan-Thomist tradition is not simply an assertion – as it were, an attempt to rope off from rational discussion the claim being made. It is a rational consequence of the central claim being made. Roughly speaking, anything graspable, anything literally describable, would be one part of ‘everything that there is’. To speak of a source, or ground of possibility, of everything that there is to do something logically distinct from speaking about any graspable, describable thing. That’s a point we will come back to (and discuss rationally!) when we reach Dawkins’ discussion of Aquinas.
  2. The claim, within this tradition, that God exists is not an attempt at explanation. It is not an explanation of where ‘everything’ comes from, or how, or why. If I have understood Einstein’s claim properly, his claim to sense ‘a something’ behind all things was not at all a comment in the same kind of logical category as his theories of special and general relativity, or as the theory of evolution by natural selection. This again is a point that we will be coming back to.
  3. The existence of God, in this tradition, is not a matter of particular empirical fact. To treat it as such is to mistake what is being said: it is, as it were, to confuse two radically different philosophical grammars. (‘Philosophical grammars’ refers, roughly, to the patterns of argument and discussion appropriate to differing realities. Different grammars govern talk about the cup in front of me, about Beethoven’s 5th symphony, about my headache, about love, about the number two, about the evil of murder, about Tintin, about the law of gravity, about the Flying Spaghetti monster, and about God. It simply looks different to ask, in each case, ‘Does this exist? In what does its existence consist? What would count as a good reason for asserting its existence?’ and so on.)
  4. For this tradition of thinking, ways of talking about God are at the same time ways of talking about everything that is: they are ‘takes’ on everything. Within that broad logical form, there can be major differences, widely differing readings of everything that is – and I have no doubt that, say, Einstein’s and Aquinas’ readings would be very different ones. I don’t think that undermines my basic point, however.
  5. Dawkins is, accidentally, partly right to say that Einstein’s talk about God is ‘wholly metaphorical’. All talk about God in this kind of intellectual tradition is going to be indirect, or at least is not going to take the form of descriptions of a graspable object. And since ‘metephor’, taken broadly, is closely bound up with ‘ways of seeing’ (seeing as), metaphor in some form or another is likely to be a fundamental structure of what is said about God, for this tradition.

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