Jason Rosenhouse takes on the “village atheist” criticism of Dawkins et al that Pagels and others are fond of using. (I personally encountered it several times in the last month.) In Wilkins vs. Myers, he lets John Wilkins erect the strawman:
Of course there are people who have a simplistic and literal view of God and religion. That is not at issue and never has been. But what Pagels is saying is something that the uppity atheists always seem to slide over – that there is a more sophisticated view of God that is not so easily knocked down as the idea that God has a backside. And what is more, there always has been (which is the point of studying the Gnostics)….
Of course, the more sophisticated view to which Wilkins refers is harder to knock down only because it asserts almost nothing in the way of empirical claims…. We uppity atheists do not slide over the possibility of such a God, we merely find it vacuous and irrelevant, and not the kind of God the large majority of Christians profess to believe.
In fact, Elaine Pagels herself (in the Salon interview in which she sneered at Dawkins) provides an excellent example of “sophisticated” beliefs that don’t really say anything:
So when you think about the God that you believe in, how would you describe that God?
Well, I’ve learned from the texts I work on that there really aren’t words to describe God. You spoke earlier about a transcendent reality. I think it’s certainly true that these are not just fictions that we arbitrarily invent.
For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or â€œexistentâ€: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves.
Feels like classic Spinoza. But where did the “he” come from? Anthropomorphism alert…. As Carroll puts it:
The problematic nature of this transition â€” from God as ineffable, essentially static and completely harmless abstract concept, to God as a kind of being that, in some sense that is perpetually up for grabs, cares about us down here on Earth â€” is not just a minor bump in the otherwise smooth road to a fully plausible conception of the divine. It is the profound unsolvable dilemma of â€œsophisticated theology.â€
(I’m quoting from a mammoth posting which does a wonderful job of analyzing the history of these two distinct conceptions of God.)
I’d like to see one of this Pagels/Eagleton/Wilkins/Collins/Jeffries crowd point us “uppity atheists” at one or two books that present the “sophisticated” arguments that we’re supposed to be addressing. While I personally agree with Rosenhouse that such arguments are unlikely to be recognizable by the average Christian in Kansas, I’ll be happy to spend some time on them. I’d prefer to see something that actually “connected the dots”, rather than jumping straight from the Kalam cosmological argument (or a “condition of possibility”) to the Nicene Creed, but whatever….