Sean Carroll has a long, thoughtful, and complicated atheist apologetics post at Cosmic Variance (HT: Harold Henderson @ The Daily Harold). But, largely it misses the mark that it shoots at. It might serve well as a doctrinal statement of “unfaith”, but as an assault on Christian theology, perhaps because of the assumption that knowledge of same is not required when attacking the foundations is not required … turns out to be wrong.
Now, I don’t yet have the scholarship or the facility at hand (yet) to meet Mr Carroll’s arguments face to face, however … I can point to them. This essay starts out as a critique of Mr Eagleton’s review of Mr Dawkin’s recent book. Some of his errors include:
- Mr Carroll starts out by pointing out that one need not be current in theology to dismiss it. If God doesn’t exist necessarily the whole deck of cards collapses. This argument is not new. However … it misses two points. First, theology is the study of God, belief is not required. Disproof of God is theology as is Mr Carroll’s post. Second, it might be relevant to study what those theologians have said concerning the particular objections being raised (it might be noted that this point is noted by Mr Carroll, but then he only considers Mr Eagleton’s contribution to the theological argument not more qualified individuals).
- Mr Carroll then defines the “insoluble” problem of “sophisticated theology” as
It’s a millennial-old problem, inherited from the very earliest attempts to reconcile two fundamentally distinct notions of monotheism: the Unmoved Mover of ancient Greek philosophy, and the personal/tribal God of Biblical Judaism.From Lossky (link below)
But theology must be of universal expression. It is not by accident that God placed the Fathers of the Church in a greek setting; the demands for lucidity in philosophy and profundity in gnosis have forced them to purify and to sanctify the language of philosophers and of the mystics, to give to the Christian message, which includes but goes beyond Israel, all its universal reach
The point being, that the Christian Fathers did address these issues and more importantly resolved them.
- Mr Carroll then presents the thesis that the Hebrew development of monotheism as primarily a political one. Over at Postiive Liberty some weeks ago, Mr Rowe (I think if I recall rightly) similarly dismissed the possibility of the theological relevance of the first Ecumenical council as it as had been called to assembly by Constantine for largely political reasons. The thrust of this point is unclear. It’s not as if, the development of the use of Nuclear fission loses its validity because it was developed in response to political exigencies.
- Mr Carroll writes:
Unsurprisingly, the monotheistic conception reached its pinnacle in the work of Aristotle.
This is apparently incorrect. After Aristotle, Greek monotheistic philosophical/theological reasoning reached its pinnacle in Plotinus, or so say the “expert” theologians dismissed as irrelevant by Mr Carroll (and others).
- Mr Carroll’s next point is that for Aristotle, motion was teleological not mechanical. Today Descartes notions of the mechanical universe prevail, which would perhaps make the author of Genesis proud. Genesis 1 by modern ideas following Umberto Casuto, Leo Strauss, and Leon Kass is a ontological/cosmological description of creation from which one of the authors leading points is the Universe is intelligible and that Man is special because the Universe is intelligible to him. That is to say, the project of understanding how creation is ordered has its success because God created the world to be intelligible by man.
- Mr Carroll notes the influence that the ideas of Conservation of Momentum have had on modern theology, but neglects the influence on modern ideas of person from the idea of the Trinity. Descriptions of quantum reality reflect similar lines of thinking to the apophatic descriptions of the God given by the Fathers mentioned above.
However, ultimately, Mr Carroll is right. Christian theology is … well … folly or a scandal. In a very short little book by Vladimir Lossky (Orthodox Theology: An Introduction) writes:
- “scandal to the Jews”: how could the unique, the transcendent, the God without common measure with man, have a Son, Himself God, and yet a man, humiliated and crucified?
- “folly to the Greeks”: how could the impersonal Absolute incarnate itself in a person, how could the unmoving eternity enter into time? How could God become that which one must, necessarily, go beyond to merge with Him?
Theology and belief is folly and a scandal if and only if one rejects revelation. Revelation must be an experience of the insane (delusional) or liar. It requires the rejection of the experience of … well … likely millions of people throughout history by insisting on their incompetence and your personal lack of the same. Is Atheism just an elitist impulse of the spiritually deaf?