The unparalleled awesomeness of the Letters to the WSJ Editor this weekend:
Debating the Really Big Questions of the Universe
The combination of Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong as presenters of two contrary views on the existence of God (“Man vs. God,” Weekend Journal, Sept. 12) is in itself a “creative act.” For one, God is a fairy tale, and for the other “at least it’s a nice fairy tale.” One may as well have asked Osama bin Laden to write his thoughts on America and then ask Hugo Chávez for a counter perspective.
Mr. Dawkins says: “What is so special about life? It never violates the laws of physics.” Let’s grant him that for the moment. But the fact of physics is that however you section physical, concrete reality, you end up with a state that doesn’t explain its own existence. Moreover, since the universe does have a beginning and nothing physical can explain its own existence, is it that irrational a position to think that the first cause would have to be something nonphysical?
A spiritual, moral first cause is a much more reasonable position than questions that smuggle in such realities without admitting it.
G.K. Chesterton said: “When belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from him. But in heaven’s name to what?”
Unwilling to concede that God is cruel, Ms. Armstrong seems to conclude that God isn’t in control. But there are other ways of resolving the age-old question, “If God is good and all-powerful, why do evil and suffering exist?”
The best answer was provided by the medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas. In his “Summa Theologica,” he wrote that God wills only the good directly but permits some evils and indirectly wills others. God wills the beautiful harmony of the whole created order, but for the sake of the whole, God permits and indirectly wills defects in some of its parts.
While Thomas Aquinas didn’t conceive of evolution, his thought complements it, for evolution teaches us that defects produce conditions for new, more wonderful things to emerge.
The wisdom of this plan peaks in humanity. But while we are the high point of this world, we are its most dangerous part, uniquely able to destroy the whole. Why would God make something capable of such evil? God permits the evil of sin because God directly wills the good of human freedom
The ultimate wisdom of this order is apparent only in light of what Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan calls the “supreme good,” namely love. There is no love without freedom, and no freedom without the chance of evil.
Thus, this world order—with all its current imperfections—shows not that God is redundant as Mr. Dawkins believes, nor that God is not all-powerful as Ms. Armstrong implies. Rather, an evolutionary world order demonstrates more clearly the wisdom, goodness and power of God.
Mark T. Miller
As a retired scientist, I know that while parts of evolution are well-explained, there is no scientific explanation of the origin of life. If you accept that life began only because of random events, then you and science are acting on faith. Accepting an explanation on faith isn’t a part of science, but is the way to God.
Albert Einstein famously said: “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” Mr. Dawkins has taken Einstein up a notch and has chosen to play dice with God. Any bets on the outcome?
Mr. Dawkins fails to recognize that religions view this world as fallen. This fall doesn’t impugn or dismiss a creator. We learn from the challenge.
Chris W. Kite
My friend and erstwhile neighbor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was asked by reporters in the 1960s for his reaction to the fact that some intellectuals thought God was dead. The president replied, “That’s odd; I was just speaking to him this morning.” Mr. Dawkins goes one better; he says God was never alive in the first place. I’ll cast my lot with the former president, as well as the Psalmist who wrote “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”
Ms. Armstrong opts for God, but her God is no more than a mythic evolutionary journey on a road less traveled that we make up as we go along. No “unsustainable certainty” for her. Presumably she’s OK with the “story” of the death and resurrection of Christ, for example, if (making no pretentions to historical accuracy) it gives one the needed psychological boost to cope with human grief and helps one find ultimate meaning in life’s struggles. St. Paul would beg to disagree. Writing to the early Corinthian church, he said that if Christ isn’t raised, then our faith is in vain; and if we only have hope in Christ in this life, we are of all people to be pitied. Once again, I vote with St. Paul rather than Ms. Armstrong.
John E. Archibold
So life has evolved from the simple to the complex, and there can be no intelligent design to the universe because intelligence itself is complex and therefore can only exist through Darwinian evolution? I’m supposed to look at this amazing planet and galaxy and universe (with my eyes and brain), and rule out any intelligence behind its design based on this weak argument? I don’t think so.
The only thing of which I am truly convinced is that anyone who claims to know the origin of the universe and our astonishing lives is certain to be wrong.
Mr. Dawkins should leave the God question to others and stick to the evolution-versus-creation debate. Even I, an agnostic scientist, find his commentary polemic and off-putting. It is no wonder the God crowd is gaining in number; they are easier to read.
If we accept Mr. Dawkins’s point of view, we have only the human mind left to worship, and if we accept Ms. Armstrong’s description of God beyond God, we are in danger of wandering off into the ethereal mists. While her approach may work for mystics and academicians, it offers little solace to most of us as we slog through our work-a-day world.
Whether God is a separate reality (my view) or a figment of our wishful thinking, we are a deeply flawed species and need God to save us from ourselves. Voltaire recognized this fact when he wrote, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”
Thomas M. Hyers
I only had two semesters of college physics, so I must have missed the part where Mr. Dawkins’s much vaunted laws of physics began permitting man to love, laugh and cry.
San Antonio, Texas
One day Mr. Dawkins will discover God, not by looking up into the cosmos and failing to see God, nor by looking down into an electron microscope and failing to see God, but by looking deep within himself and finding his own inadequacy. When that day comes he will be astonished and delighted, not that he has invented God, but that long before he ever thought of God, God invented him. God will also be delighted, but not astonished.
William G. White
Franklin Park, Ill.
I conclude from their writings that both essayists are here on planet Earth totally by accident, and that their ancestors evolved from some primeval stuff that just happened to be around. That leads one to think that there is no reason for their existence. They have no purpose, no one to answer to, nothing to look forward to after death, and when they die, they will cease to exist. Their accomplishments during their 70 years of life, compared to eternity, will be completely insignificant. Boy, what a bummer!
However, I have a purpose and a future. I was created by God to worship him and to enjoy being in his presence forever. I am in unity with God through his son Jesus Christ and am assured of going to be with him when I die. I will live forever with joy, contentment, etc. No pain, no tears.
Frankly, I prefer my position to theirs.
Donald C. Dowdy
Ms. Armstrong doesn’t speak for Christians, who believe that historical events are foundational to faith in God. Whether God used evolution or some other means to create the Earth, the belief that he did so in an historical act is foundational to the Christian faith.
For Christians in the mainstream of the faith, God was never as Ms. Armstrong asserts, “merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence.”
The Rev. Josh Miller
Church of the Ascension