The Guardian gives us an extract from Dawkins’s new book, in which he talks about things I’ve been pondering myself for the past couple of days, I suppose prompted by that long discussion on ‘Explain’.
All Sagan’s books touch the nerve-endings of transcendent wonder that religion monopolized in past centuries. My own books have the same aspiration. Consequently I hear myself often described as a deeply religious man…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.'”…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”.
Since that generally is what people mean when they talk about ‘God’ – or maybe some of them mean something more ‘sophisticated’ but don’t say so in order not to affront or alarm the faithful – which comes to the same thing. Or some of them go back and forth between the two. Or some perhaps don’t know what the hell they mean, but the word is out there, after all, and people seem to understand something by it, so why not go on using it, however vaguely…
Much unfortunate confusion is caused by failure to distinguish what can be called Einsteinian religion from supernatural religion.
And/or by failure to distinguish what can be called Biblical or personal or cozy or lovable God from sophisticated abstract distant first-cause God.
[Interjection. Oh look – how funny. There’s Julian. I wasn’t expecting to see him here. But there he is – ‘But philosophers use ‘naturalist’ in a very different sense, as the opposite of supernaturalist. Julian Baggini explains in Atheism: A Very Short Introduction the meaning of an atheist’s commitment to naturalism’ and then he quotes a bit. Heh – small world. (Wish he’d quote a bit of Why Truth Matters instead. Or in addition. Perhaps he did. Why Truth Matters quoted him.)]
Carl Sagan put it well: “… if by “God” one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying … it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”…I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sense. The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miraclewreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible, of priests, mullahs and rabbis, and of ordinary language. Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, an act of intellectual high treason.
That’s just it, it seems to me. The interventionist, miraclewreaking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible and of clerics and of the newspapers and radio and discourse is a kind of person – a person with a lot of labels stuck on such as omnipotent and omniscient, but still a kind of person, who does person-like things, who loves us and pities us and helps and protects us, so that it makes sense to love it and worship it. The other god, the one that created the whole of the universe – can’t possibly be like that. No matter how many labels you stick on it, it still just can’t be like that. It can’t be both transcendent and immanent, it can’t be both outside the universe and our loving parent. It’s an either-or thing, not a both-and thing. It’s a fork. You can call it Benson’s fork if you want to; I don’t mind. Either God is a local human-like god that humans can sensibly love and pray to (in which case one wonders where exactly it is) or it’s something so far away and so strange that as far as we’re concerned it might as well not exist at all. But it’s a cheat to pretend it can be both.