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.