DIVINITY of DOUBT
by J. A. Kleehammer
The title for my message today is from a book of the same name by Vincent Bugliosi, the LA District Attorney that successfully prosecuted 105 out of 106 felony jury trials, which included 21 murder convictions without a single loss. He was best known for prosecuting the Charles Manson murders of August 1969 and for his book about it Helter Skelter in 1974. In his book, The Divinity of Doubt, Vincent Bugliosi takes his skills as a prosecutor and turns them against one of the most nefarious characters of history, the God of the Bible. However, to not show partiality, he also attacks the claims of atheists in addition to the Bible theists.
Today’s message is not a review of Bugliosi’s book, but rather my own ramblings based on my personal and academic studies. However, in some ways, my take on Bugliosi’s agnostic view could best be summarized in a Facebook meme I saw, which read along the lines of, “Dear Theists and Atheists, you are both crazy. Sincerely, the Agnostics.”
The point of today’s message is that although science continues to give us new truths about our normal, natural, and physical realm, it does not give us answers to the paranormal, supernatural, and metaphysical realms. The answers we do have from religion and philosophy do not satisfy our rational inquiries about the immaterial realm, and they leave us wanting more.
Let’s start off with a quick review of common theist arguments for the existence of the Biblical God. First, ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Around 1077 Anselm of Canterbury wrote a book to explain how God can have qualities which often seem contradictory. His book, The Proslogion (Latin Proslogium; English translation, Discourse on the Existence of God), was the first known formulation of the ontological argument for the existence of God. His main argument could be outlined as "God is the greatest of all conceivable beings ... the ideal of God exists, therefore God is real." While this might make sense to someone that believes that there is an almighty deity and that their deity is the greatest of all beings, it does not, in fact, prove that such a being does exist. Even other Christians have pointed out this blatant flaw. For example, the 11th century Benedictine monk named Gaunilo paralleled and parodied Anselm’s argument. Gaunilo explained that ‘out there somewhere’ is a perfect island of which no greater island could ever be conceived of, therefore it must exist! Obviously, this is not the case, but some people still use this argument as a way to ‘warm-up’ skeptics and other unbelievers for more arguments.
Another argument that theists make is a cosmological argument about the beginning of the cosmos, that is, existence. As explained by the Christian Apologist Douglas Groothuis the three-step argument goes along these lines;
Everything that exists must have a cause,
2) the universe exists and must have a cause, therefore [big leap in logic!]
3) the universe was caused by a first cause, an unmoved mover, which is known as God.
That sounds somewhat logical to most people; however, the Devil is in the details. If everything that exists has a cause, and God exists, then God has a cause or Creator. This solves nothing and continues the argument ad infinitum. However, even if we allow divine intervention, and allow that the divine party never had their own creator; then just who is this original creator? There is nothing in this argument to point towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or if you prefer, the “Abrahamic God”. What if the Creator is actually Hinduism’s Krishna or a pair of Gods – the Lord and the Lady, or maybe creation came from a council of primordial gods before the Titans and the Olympians. What if our universe was made by aliens from another dimension? Who knows? Who can really say for sure? More importantly, does it impact our daily life that much?
Another problem I find in theism is in our definitions. When we talk about the Creator, or God, what do we really mean? Which god, how many gods? What is God, an exalted man, an alien, a figment of our imagination, an ancient Mesopotamian myth?
reason Thomas Paine the American revolutionary, wrote in The Age of Reason,
“The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches,
is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles;
it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing;
and it admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science,
without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and
as this is the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.”
Ludwig Feuerbach, the atheist philosopher sought to dissolve theology in his work Principles of the Philosophy of the Future: "The task of the modern era was the realization and humanization of God – the transformation and dissolution of theology into anthropology." This mirrored his earlier 1841 work The Essence of Christianity, in which he had said that theology was a "web of contradictions and delusions" and, for which, he was banned from teaching in Germany.
Now that the theists have been beaten on, let’s briefly turn our attention to the atheists.
In his book The God Delusion Richard Dawkins assures his readers first that one “can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything” but then commits the rest of his book to positively prove that God does not exist. It looks good from a scientific standpoint. However, if we examine some assertions from scientists we can see that they border more on speculation. As Bugliosi pointed out in his book, many scientists presume that their evidence of evolution precludes the want or need of a God-like figure. But who determined that? “Just because man evolved from bacteria, flatworm, or what have you, obviously doesn’t negate the possibility that God created these original lifeforms.” In other words, there is a hypothetical possibility for what is termed ‘theistic-evolution’, though I must confess that neither side really appreciates meeting in the middle like that.
In a similar way, some of the New Atheists have taken to attacking the very concept of religious faith as the sworn enemy of intellectual reason. In the book The End of Faith Sam Harris does an admirable job of attacking anyone with faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful God that allows evil in the world. But is it possible that God is evil, or that God is transcendent and aloof from our daily struggles?
In a supposed antidote to Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, the Christian chemist turned theologian Alister McGrath wrote The Dawkins Delusion. In it he asks the age-old questions of ‘where did we come from’, ‘why are we here?’, ‘where are we going?’ and ‘do we, or does life, serve a purpose?’ McGrath points out that although science likes to give answers to these questions, science may not be the best source for the full answer that people are looking for when he explains that,
theories cannot be said to ‘explain the world’ –
they only explain the phenomena that are observed within the world…
scientific theories do not and are not intended to describe and explain
‘everything about the world’ – such as its purpose.
Law, economics, and sociology can be cited as examples of disciplines
which engage in domain-specific phenomena without in any way
having to regard themselves as somehow being inferior to,
or dependent on, the natural sciences.
Natural science, while striving to understand the material, cannot and should not address the subjects of the immaterial. In the same way, the immaterial realm of the philosophers and religionists should not tread on the path of the material. Both areas of study leave us with many unanswered or untenable solutions. Bugliosi’s book seems to imply that it is safest and most intellectually honest to admit that there are things that cannot be proven and may not even be important to the average person in daily. Therefore it is safest and wisest to be Agnostic.
Now then, many of us among the agnostic and atheistic community don’t really like or care for the terms atheist or agnostic, because they only explain what we don’t believe in… either belief in a god in the case of atheists, or the possibility of knowing and experiencing a god in the case of agnostics. For that reason some of us have chosen to adopt other terms such a freethinker or humanist, which expresses our focus on the freedom of inquiry and the emphasis on humans as our main concern rather than some hypothetical afterlife or cosmic karmic debt system, which may or may not exist, of course!
So then, enough of this "theory bashing" which is ultimately getting us nowhere. Instead, what should we be thinking and doing with our time? Based on volume three of American Religious Creeds (1991 edition) the "Basic Statements assumed by the Society of Evangelical Agnostics" are listed as follows:
1. A person should approach all questions and issues with an open mind;
2. A person should consider it immoral to advocate conclusions without adequate or satisfactory evidence; and [above all in my opinion],
3. A person should accept ‘not knowing’ as a fundamental reality in one's life.
I believe that these are wise words to live by.
A statement often attributed to
Mohandas Gandhi is for us to,
“become the change that you would like to see in the world.”
That should be the goal of everyone hearing this message.
It has been said that if you really
want to know what Unitarians believe
you need only to read their hymnal which reflects our shared values.
In our closing hymn we will be invited to “be that guide”.
Here are the words for us to meditate on for a moment: #124 Be That Guide
guide whom love sustains. Rise above the daily strife:
Lift on high the good you find. Help to heal the hurts of life.
helper nothing daunts –Doubt of friend of taunt of foe.
Ever strive for liberty. Show the path that life should go.
builder trusting good, Bitter though the test may be:
Through all ages they are right, Though they build in agony.
teacher faith directs. Move beyond the old frontier:
Though ‘the frightened’ fear that faith, Be tomorrow’s pioneer!
This morning as we complete our
fellowship and renew our friendship,
I would like to call to mind some of the lessons learned today.
Like in hymn #6, someday when someone asks you what you did well,
Tell them that when ‘disappointment pierced you through’,
As long as you had breath, you said “yes to life, truth, and love.”
And if they ask why you would do that, or why anyone would care, tell them
‘To free the bonds that binds the mind to narrow thought and lifeless creed,
Free from a social code that fails to serve the cause of human need. #145
And if they ask how you went about freeing the minds of people, say #124
I AM that builder that faith directs. I move beyond the old frontier:
Though ‘the frightened’ may fear that faith, I AM tomorrow’s pioneer!
Let us become the change that we would like to see in the world.
Bugliosi, Vincent. Divinity
of Doubt: The God Question.
New York, NY: Vanguard Press, 2011.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Erickson, Millard J.
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998.
Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity,
trans. George Eliot.
Amherst, New York, Prometheus Books, 1989
R. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith.
Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.
Harris, Sam. The
End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.
New York: W.W. Norton &, 2005.
McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction.
Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
———The Dawkins Delusion: Atheist Fundamentalism and the
Denial of the Divine.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007.
Melton, J. Gordon. American Religious Creeds.
New York, NY: Triumph Books, 1991.
Paine, Thomas. The Life and Major Writings
of Thomas Paine, ed. Philip S. Foner.
New York, The Citadel Press, 1945