Monday, September 06, 2010

What do we mean by "God"?

Here Archbishop Williams speaks with Richard Dawkins, making the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Virgin birth sound like "poetic language"--which is not, I gather, how he would have wanted to come across after being edited. "Nature opening up to its own depths" can be understood in other ways, but would Williams agree with Dawkins that the Church is committed to it as a "statement of fact" that is true or else false? Just what did Williams mean to say?

Some (see the comments) have responded to Dawkins on God by saying, or agreeing with the saying that "I don't believe in the God that Richard Dawkins doesn't believe in, either." OK, fine, but then what God are we talking about? Is there a consensus among the faithful or are we each stumbling in the divine darkness? As with Williams, an important part of the content of the faith, referred to in the Quadrilateral and in the Creeds, seems to be read in a new way; in just what way is it being read?


At 3:44 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Good questions and observations, as always; but it seems to me the problem has to do as much with metaphysics as with physics. Dawkins is a materialist, and empiricist. Williams is a poet. Right there we are dealing with different "languages" -- and translation is difficult.

I'd add that among the faithful there are similar differences of metaphyisics. What Anselm would understand "Maker of heaven and earth" to mean is not quite the same as William of Ockham, right? Because even the nature of what "heaven and earth" is varies with one's philosophical or metaphysical view. And of course the same is true for physicists: string theorists see "what is" as different from what other seekers after a GUT do.

So in a sense it isn't fair of Dawkins to insist on a single final answer from theologians than it is to insist on a final single answer from cosmologists.

I think we do "read" the Creeds in new and different ways depending on our metaphysical convictions -- and in spite of the absolutists in theology who say philosophy has no place in it. I think it inescapable; if theology is to speak to reality at all there must be some posited way to describe reality.

I still think a process philosophy is able both to speak to the theological traditions and contemporary science in ways that make sense both of "what is" and to the pilgrimage of "faith seeking understanding." Suchocki's "God, Christ, Church" is, I think, a good modern effort to systematize such a view.

At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Tim said...

Is there a consensus among the faithful or are we each stumbling in the divine darkness?

I very much doubt there to be any consensus - Tobias has done a good job of demonstrating variety.

But I wouldn't say `stumbling in the divine darkness'. I'd prefer to be `rejoicing in mysteries' instead, thank you very much. :)

At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this mean you have to live and die for a poem? For a metaphor?
Just on your say-so?
I'm afraid this is why atheists/agnostics don't show up except for funerals and weddings; it's just not believable anymore.

At 3:04 AM, Anonymous Carson Clark said...

Hello. Just came across your blog. Really enjoyed the read and the consequent discussion.

I'm an aspiring clergy-writer who's new to the Anglican tradition, and am trying to find Anglican readers. The title of my blog is "Musings of a Hard-Lining Moderate: The assorted thoughts of an evangelical Anglican."

Right now I'm doing a series on the doctrine of Scripture, which was prompted by the crisis in the global communion. Don't know if you'd be interested, but here's the link:

Have a great day.

Grace & Peace,


At 8:47 AM, Anonymous James said...

When Williams says, "that's poetic language," what he is referring to is his own language about God's action in the world at specific times: "nature opening itself up to its own depths." He does not say that, e.g., Mary's conceiving of Christ without having had intercourse, is poetic language.

It's only one who doing a rather lazy job of listening who will conclude that this "sounds like" the Incarnation and the Virgin birth are also specifically "poetic language."


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