‘Nuff Said Award Winner: A Daily Dish Reader

Karen Armstrong has recently written a book defending an apophatic God against both atheists and religious literalists. Recently she and Richard Dawkins were both asked by the Wall Street Journal to write essays on where evolution leaves God.

In reply to Andrew Sullivan’s accommodationism, which came out in his discussions of this debate, one of this readers wrote the following:

It sounds as if you think that the two forces, Atheism and Religion, need to be kept from fighting. But the idea that some ‘middle ground’ can be reached and held is fallacious. This conflict is going to happen. Both sides hopefully will keep civil of course, but promoting a middle ground here is similar to saying gays shouldn’t demand marriage when they can settle for the easier civil unions. Or that African Americans should accept segregation instead of fighting for full freedoms and equality.

As an atheist I’d be very happy if all theists took up Armstrong’s fluffy definition of God, we’d all be safer for sure, but Dawkins point isn’t that compromise is bad, the point is that it is untenable.
Our disagreement is with the dangerous parts of religion, but you and I come to different conclusions with how to defeat them. You think they can be convinced that their God is more abstract then they think so they’ll be less judgmental, and we think they should let go if it completely like many of us have done happily.

Either position, however, is just as opposed to a serious theist. It is natural and expected in social conflicts like this for there to be peacemakers like Armstrong who hope to diffuse the conflict by recasting the terms of the debate. But Dawkin’s criticism is not because Armstrong wants to play peacemaker, but because her abstract concept of God will not end the conflict. Armstrong’s position is weak theology, and weak theology is easily used by fanatics to ‘purify’ the faith and return to the fundamentals. Dawkins is trying to promote a world view that many think is much better suited to protect against man’s ability to delude himself that a Supernatural wants him to save the world from ‘the others’. This conflict, like gay rights, will play out over decades upon decades, but to try hush the debate by offering up confusing and poorly defined middle ground is in the end not helpful, even if well intentioned.

I understand where you’re coming from I really do, but Dawkins is staring down a monster and Armstrong thinks we should just put it in a cage for display. But a cage will not hold forever.

‘Nuff Said.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • VorJack

    Speaking practically, I don’t know if there’s enough difference between Dawkins’ “God in no way exists” and Armstrong’s “God in no way exists – but is nevertheless the most important reality” for Armstrong to work as a moderate. Folks like Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are just lumping her in with the atheists.

    And despite what Armstrong seems to think, people with her mystical approach to religion have always been in the extreme minority throughout history. I don’t think that’s likely to change.

    So I don’t think Armstrong is likely to have much success in converting people, and so I generally consider her a side show without much chance of making it to the big tent.

    If Armstrong ever brings any unity to the warring sides, it’s because atheists and fundamentalists are joining forces to beat up on the moderates.


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