Up and Away

by MW Cook

I’ve been reading a book by Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. I have half a chapter left, and I’ll probably write a full review at some time. I’ve been itching to deal with one thing I’ve noticed in the book since about chapter three, especially since my father-in-law crossed the river. So I’ll deal with it a little bit right now.

Dawkins talks about the popular idea of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria). That is, the idea that science cannot comment on things related to religion (and, presumably, that religion cannot comment on things of science). Dawkins denies NOMA, and I think I do, too. Dawkins finds no reason why our scientific knowledge cannot give us a clue to whether there is a God or not and (if he exists) what he is up to. Makes sense to me. But then he takes a fatal turn in his logic.

One of his main arguments is about regress. Where did a God complicated and powerful and personable enough to create such a vast and complex universe come from? Christians give the almost cop-out answer that God was always there and they generally leave it at that. That sort of answer does not satisfy Dawkins. Nor, I suppose, does it satisfy me. It’s a true answer, I think, but it’s missing something.

When we talk about God, especially in regards to his existence, we usually miss the most important concept. If any kind of God exists, he is necessarily transcendent. When we talk about God without keeping utter transcendence in mind we will always make mistakes. God is not a He or a She. He is transcendent. He is not a person as we know people, but he is more like a person than anything we know. We can only imperfectly compare him to things we have come in contact with.

Trying to talk about God is usually like a couple amoebae talking about the scientists that are growing them. The scientists are completely transcendent to the amoebae and there is no way the amoebae can even conceive of the scientists in any real ways (unless the scientists somehow gave them that ability, but that’s another blog).

So when we talk about the God Hypothesis we will be talking utter nonsense unless we acknowledge transcendence. Which is why Dawkins, arguing from a purely biological standpoint, cannot understand why regress cannot end with God. In his book he never argues metaphysically, but any discussion about God must needs be metaphysical. Not to say that science cannot tell us anything about God, but science, because of our own limitations, cannot ‘pin him down.’

This makes me think about my father-in-law. He is the amoeba who has now evolved into something higher. I am sitting here in my little petri dish, my tiny thoughts stabbing in the dark at something beyond me. He has been taken out of the dish and given a chair in the scientist’s house. I can hardly conceive God without falling into idolatry, but he can walk and talk with him now, metaphysically speaking.