What can come of trying to read Richard Dawkins while using the Library of Hartford Seminary (or vice versa)

Richard Dawkins tells us in his 2006 New York Times Bestseller - The God Delusion:

 

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

 

In the Preface to the paperback edition, Dawkins indicates his own methodological procedure. Since religious faith is uniquely privileged – above and beyond criticism – all you can do is to throw out your phrase at God and then clarify that his intention was closer to a robust but humorous broadside than shrill polemic. This leaves a kind of impression or idea in the reader’s mind, but at the same time prevents him from committing himself to it too fast and fixedly.

 

Behind the God Delusion stands a matrix of differences that enables meaning to exist. Dawkins is careful when he insists that it was a joke only, by an odd repetition of pseudo-scholarly words (filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal) to guard against the supposition that he was describing God as it is. “Thomas Jefferson was of a similar opinion; describing the God of Moses as “a being of terrific character – cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.” All this is, of course, equivalent to say that God alone can make an affirmation about Himself, seeing that God alone knows His own nature infallibly and exactly.

 

The following description of God is not a statement of belief but an image transmitted by the Biblical authors. What the prophet Isaiah says that he saw in a vision which he describes as “sitting on a throne high and lifted up,” suggests a visual image of God as the highest being in all human thought: supreme chief and creator of the universe, superior to all other beings, transcendent, wonderful, worthy of admiration or reverence, naturally conceived as dwelling in the radiant sky, the Other that defies comprehension by systematic knowledge, always thieving below our radar. Consider the double negative in the words of Philo of Alexandria, “God is not only not human in form. He is without qualities at all.”

 

 

 

Ancient Ideas about God

 

Today is a common place for us that about God and the spiritual world you can speak only in language which is inadequate and symbolical but it was far from being a commonplace in the ancient Greco-Roman world, the parent of our European civilization. Epicurus believed – as he probably quite sincerely did – that divine beings greater and happier than man existed in the empty spaces between the worlds, their existence was not, for him, existence in a mode inconceivable to human thought. He specially insisted that the gods had a bodily shape similar to the human, and converse as men do.

 

 

Quote

 

“The idea of a primitive revelation is not altogether incompatible with the modern Darwinian view of human origins. It has only to be supposed that at some point of time, after the creature whose body came by descent from lower animal ancestors had become man, ideas of a certain kind arouse in some one man or some set of men, through the operation within the human mind of the Divine Spirit, and that these ideas were passed on with various corruptions or distortions to later generations.”

– Edwyn Bevan in Symbolism and Belief, first published in 1938.

 

 

 

II

Leave a Little to Richard Dawkins

 

 

How we could reply to a bishop who mistakenly thinks evolution has designed sin.

 

As a member of the Department of Pathology at Ohio State University, Janet Schulte described herself “a science nerd.” She taught and worked in the field of science all her life, and now she can’t wait to have a degree in theology. Janet said to Bishop John Shelby Spong:

 

“When I learned about Darwin, I had an Ah-ha moment. If the human species lives according to the model of the survival of the fittest, we will become extinct. That is part of the model that is often overlooked. Every organism must successfully fill a niche to survive. Only those organisms that learn the "law of cooperation" will ultimately win the day. That is what Jesus was trying to teach us. It is all about relationship — not domination.”

 

Bishop Spong, a well-know Anglican theologian, replied, “Survival is a quality found in life itself. There was no fall. Self-centered, survival driven, self-conscious creatures is simply who we are. You are correct, however, in your assessment that survival, as the ultimate goal, will lead finally to extinction. Our hope does not lie in an external rescue. It lies in the process of evolution to carry us beyond the limits of humanity into a sense of being one with the universe.”

 

As I read, pasted and selected this passage, I said to myself, stunned, “Why this son of a bitch is talking Darwinism.” Spong imagines that he could reconcile science and religion by blaming our self-centeredness to the process of evolution. Natural selection must be held responsible.  Thus Spong speaks of the myth of the fall concerning the doctrine of the original sin “from which we need to be rescued by a divine invader,” a striking remark which shows up his own fundamentalist past, though he admitted that traditional Christianity assumes a false premise.

 

Natural selection takes place at the level of species, not at the individual level. Not only is the metaphor too threadbare for our humanist drama, it is altogether wrong, for it implies design, and I. it is all egocentric. Evolution is the reverse of egocentrism. Samuel Bowles put the Darwinist view in the fewest best words, “Genetic differences between early human groups are likely to have been great enough so that lethal intergroup competition could account for the evolution of altruism. Because mutually beneficial cooperation may unravel unless most members of a group contribute, people often gang up on free-riders, punishing them when this is cost-effective in sustaining cooperation.”

 

In the realm of higher theology, Original sin was not about personal sin. It was not about the whole vast net of individual egos creating a sense of guilt and worthlessness transmitted generation after generation starting in the Garden of Eden. Basically the purpose of the theory was to explain the problem of the existence of evil. Why human beings have the almost irresistible pressure to behave badly.

 

How was it, then, that Adam's sin affects everyone? Well, for one thing, in Hebrew Adam means dust, man, mankind, living One. It is important for us to know the way Augustine developed his soon-to-be doctrine. He thought that the whole essence of human nature was contained in Adam. Therefore, when Adam disobeyed God, the whole of human nature disobeyed God. All at once, the whole of human nature became sinful and the whole human race was damaged for all time. So, therefore, Augustine challenged pagans to baptize babies as soon as possible after birth, in order to demonstrate that human beings are totally “reliant on God's grace and all-powerful goodness.” He is using poetic language. He didn’t know that later generations will take his reasoning to the letter.

 

 

Quotes

 

“It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil – which is the view that religious has. The stage is too big for the drama.”

– Richard Feynman

Tags: Augustine, Darwin, Evolution, God, Nature, Sin

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