Saturday, October 28, 2006

Kneeling in the grass

Our militant scientist atheists are front and center these days, with full page ads in the newspapers for their books, a front page review in the NYT Book Review (Richard Dawkins), an op-ed essay in the Boston Globe (Sam Harris), and a cover story in Wired magazine called "The New Atheism" (Dawkins, Harris and Daniel Dennett). They have certainly roiled the waters of religious debate with their scathing attacks on theistic belief, evoking equally indignant rebuttals.

What we seldom hear on either side of the contretemps are two points I have often emphasized here:

1) Do away with the notion of God as a person and there's not much left to debate. It has always seemed to me that the personhood of God is a pathetically idolatrous meme. If the best we can do for whatever it is that creates and sustains the (possibly infinite) universe is a somewhat exalted version of ourselves, then we have paltry imaginations. Saint Columbanus, a 6th-century Irish monk, asked in a sermon: "Who shall examine the secret depths of God? Who shall dare to treat of the eternal source of the universe? Who shall boast of knowing the infinite God, who fills all and surrounds all, who enters into all and passes beyond all, who occupies all and escapes all?" Who indeed?

2) What then is God? Why is there something rather than nothing (the ontological argument)? Where did the universe come from (the cosmological argument)? Why does the universe seem perfectly tuned for conscious life (the design argument)? And why -- why, oh why -- is it so hard for so many people to say those three little words "I don't know"?