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Complex and capricious - Dawkins refutes a God of his own creation

I happened across Richard Dawkins' review of Richard Swinburne's Is The A God? in the Royal Institute of Philosophy's THINK magazine. It's short, accessible, and brilliantly lacklustre.

Brilliantly written - it would be well worth including in a textbook on the rhetoric of ridicule.

Lacklustre in its reasoning on two main points: he offers two substantial assertions (which would undermine Swinburne's hypothesis) but presents scant evidence for either.

Swinburne generously concedes that God cannot accomplish feats that are logically impossible, and one feels grateful for this forbearance. That said, there is no limit to the explanatory purposes to which God’s infinite power is put. Is science having a little difficulty explaining X? No problem. Don’t give X another glance. God’s infinite power is effortlessly wheeled in to explain X (along with everything else), and it is always a supremely simple explanation because, after all, there is only one God. What could be simpler than that?

Well, actually, almost everything. A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe is not going to be simple. His existence is therefore going to need a modicum of explaining in its own right (it is often considered bad taste to bring that up, but Swinburne does rather ask for it by pinning his hopes on the virtues of simplicity). Worse (from the point of view of simplicity) other corners of God’s giant consciousness are simultaneously preoccupied with the doings and emotions and prayers of every single human being.

To take these assertions in reverse order:

Assertion 1: God is necessarily complex. Now the flying spaghetti monster is, it would seem, necessarily complex - at least in common depictions with pasta and meatballs. Any created (ie. material, occupant of the universe type) God would need to be exceedingly complex - if he/she/it was to influence/understand/respond to the universe in any conventional godlike sense. But the assertion that a God who is essentially different - ie not part of the created order, eternal, independent, indivisible etc - would have to be equally complex assumes that God has to be subject to the constraints of the material universe. The assertion of commensurability between the being of God and the being of the material universe is irrational and yet his argument for divine complexity crumbles without it.

Assertion 2: God is capricious. The first paragraph quoted above assumes an unreliable God. It is only if God cannot be relied upon that the mindless assertion of divine interference that Dawkins describes could occur. Yet this vision of a capricious God who becomes the universal solvent of scientific explanation again utterly unlike the God that Swinburne is describing: if God were unreliable or changeable or capricious then he/she/it would be the end of science as we know it. But the God who Swinburne describes, the designer/creator/lawgiver/sustainer of the natural universe, exhibits none of these characteristics; the God of scripture is a God who is consistent, reliable, immutable.

Yet despite it's manifest absurdities, the article is magnificently written. Read it. Enjoy it. Just don't be surprised to find the only thing Dawkins demonstrates is an ability to weave luxurious rhetoric.

The Final Words of Anticipated Time

Or... The Last Sermon You'll Ever Hear

"Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. ...Behold, I am making all things new....
It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." Revelation 21:3-8 (ESV)

Mark Driscoll is wrong (well... partly). The last "sermon" that is preached in the bible, is not an angel proclaiming the gospel in Revelation 14:6. It is God himself, declaring the good news that the gospel is fulfilled. That the hope of everyone worshipper has come true: that God has arrived.

The gospel is God's message about himself. And from the declaration of determined intent in Genesis 3 to the declaration of accomplished redemption in Revelation 21, to preach it is to preach the words of God. The honour of being a preacher is entirely that God uses us to speak his gospel (because it comes from him), with his authority (because he commands it) to his people (because he loves us). And on that point, Mark is right. Preaching is not pagan; it is not passé; it is powerful, honourable and necessary.

Oh - and it's also foolish. (1 Corinthians 1:21)