Saturday, May 10, 2008

a stark choice

I just found another attempt to polarise the debate over the existence of the divine (unsurprisingly, in chapter 1 of The God Delusion):
The Nobel Prize-winning physicist (and atheist) Steven Weinberg made the point as well as anybody, in Dreams of a Final Theory:
Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that 'God is the ultimate' or 'God is our better nature' or 'God is the universe.' Of course, like any other word, the word 'God' can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal.
Weinberg is surely right 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'.
That certainly isn't what most polytheists mean when they refer to a god or a goddess. Also pantheists and panentheists don't regard the Divine as supernatural, i.e. beyond Nature.

And the debate over whether God is personal or impersonal, ultimately unknowable or fully revealed in the person of Jesus, has been raging for centuries. There is no consensus view of what God means. Even among believers who subscribe to a creed, you will get different ideas of the divine. People have not necessarily always regarded 'God' as a supernatural creator. Some regard the creation as being a constant process, upheld by the Holy Spirit as the Sustainer; some people think it's all a metaphor; and some Pagans believe the immanent divine to be the Goddess, the one who gave birth to all that is. There is also a huge debate over the gender of the Divine (the Orthodox Church, confusingly, has regarded God as genderless since the 4th century, but persists in referring to God the Father).

If Dawkins want to demolish the idea of God, he'll have to demolish all the unique and distinct ideas of the Divine in everyone's heads. The best way to demolish the idea is to replace it with something better, not just replace it with a vacuum.

Actually I don't believe in a creator; if you must have a poetic metaphor for the beginning of the universe, I prefer birth. I believe consciousness to be an emergent property of matter, and not the other way around. But if people want to refer to the Universe as divine, that is absolutely fine with me.

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