The God Debate

April 22, 2013    By: Jeff G @ 12:34 pm   Category: Life

Literary theorist Terry Eagleton provides a fascinating criticism of the New Atheist movement:

My favorite part: “To imagine the Christian faith is meant to be an explanation of the world is rather like supposing that Moby Dick is meant to be a report on the whaling industry.”


  1. Haha. You also then may enjoy his Terry Lectures given at Yale entitled: Faith and Fundamentalism: Is Belief in Richard Dawkins Necessary for Salvation?

    Comment by Joseph Smidt — April 22, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

  2. Thanks for linking to this. And to you, Joseph Smidt.

    Comment by ricke — April 22, 2013 @ 8:50 pm

  3. I’ve not listened to the whole video yet. However I wonder if the framing of the issue doesn’t highlight a pretty big gap between traditional Christianity and Mormonism. That is (to paraphrase Nietzsche) traditional Christianity is other worldly focused. While it will sometimes deal with this world this world is always incidental to the thinking. This allows traditional Christian apologists to defend Christianity by simply pushing an absolute gap between the topics of Christianity and science which is the wedge which most atheism attacks Christianity.

    Contrast this with Mormonism which takes a view of Christianity seeing it fundamentally as about this world. Everything is focused on this world to the extent that even our heaven is this world perfected. And that perfection isn’t some magic God given utopia but a utopia created here and now by people like us. Further unlike especially liberal Christianity but often even more conservative forms, fundamentally Mormonism espouses religious phenomena in the here and now as a materialist phenomena. As was often said in Joseph Smith’s time: angels in the age of steam engines. Now we might say angels in the time of automated drones and the internet.

    In a certain way our position puts us much more in the atheist camp to the degree that we, like Nietzsche, fundamentally deny the “other world.” God isn’t something “other” but an embodied being like us.

    As such, I think we should be wary appealing to much to these sorts of apologetics against atheists. The ground the apologists concede to atheists is often the only ground we see as mattering. Likewise often the ground the apologists seek to defend from the atheists is the ground we reject.

    Comment by Clark — May 2, 2013 @ 9:10 am

  4. Clark,

    I’m fascinated by your interpretation of the video since it differs drastically from my own. I’m guessing I’ll have to re-watch it to be sure, but I don’t recall there being a strong emphasis on the other world. I thought he was simply taking a more Wittgensteinian approach in saying that science and religion are simply different games and as such shouldn’t be faulted for not living up to each other’s rules. (There also seemed to be a rather moderate dose of Marx in there too.)

    Comment by Jeff G — May 2, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

  5. Also, it’s really nice to hear from you again. :)

    Comment by Jeff G — May 2, 2013 @ 10:51 pm

  6. The different games works, I think, not merely by having different rules (the way soccer and football are different games) but because they literally take place in different realms. Of course I must also say I’m not terribly persuaded by Wittgenstein on religion as it seems a dodge as well.

    BTW – I’m starting my blog back up. Should have some stuff coming soon.

    Comment by Clark — May 3, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

  7. “…they literally take place in different realms.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. Could you elaborate?

    Comment by DavidF — May 5, 2013 @ 9:10 am

  8. Clark,
    I would loathe a Mormonism that was the way you described it (I deny that it is that way). I know personally that Lewis was right when he said that our deepest desire was to pierce to something beyond the veil of this world. I also know from experience that the Holy Ghost can be a transcendent experience, not this-worldly at all.

    Mormonism has any number of elements that are ‘otherwordly’–the need for transfiguring to see God, the ascended Christ not setting his foot on the ground until he comes to break the world, the temple and the veil of the temple, even the quite interesting passage in D&C 50 that says through the Holy Ghost we can truly understand each other–and we share much of the otherworldly elements in Christianity, like Paul saying that we now see through a glass darkly. Eschatology has an irreducible other-worldly element.

    The proper understanding of Mormonism (and of Christianity in general) is incarnational. It is the marriage of this world and otherworldiness. Mormonism is a very homely religion but it ties that homeliness to eternity.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 9, 2013 @ 8:15 am

  9. Adam G, I believe Clark is making a metaphysical point. In those terms, the other side of the veil is part of “the world”. By the standards of classical metaphysics, we do not believe in a transcendent God but an immanent one. Not a God beyond time and space, without body, parts, and passions, but more like the God of the ancient Hebrews who ruled the world from a throne in the heavens above.

    Of course we appropriate the words “supernatural” and “transcendent” to a much more common and colloquial meaning, but by the standards of classical theism (the very thing that made Christianity respectable to the academics) Mormonism is not committed to the supernatural, the immaterial, or transcendent at all.

    We say that “all spirit is matter” for a reason. If it weren’t spirits would literally not be anywhere or anywhen, heaven wouldn’t be a place, and so on. We reject the God of the philosophers, whereas in most Christian denominations, the proposition that God the Father is the God of the philosophers is a de facto article of faith.

    So unlike most religious types, we cannot say that God is beyond nature. If we did, we would be conceding that his body is irrelevant, that a suffering atonement wasn’t necessary, that evil has no reason to exist, and on and on and on…

    Comment by Mark D. — May 11, 2013 @ 9:42 pm

  10. If you are defining ‘supernatural’ in that highly rarefied sense (which most Christians wouldn’t, because most Christians don’t have the philosophical chops to even understand what is being argued), then I don’t see the necessary connection to Eagleton. Nor do I see why we should let a thin tradition of classical philosophy appropriate the supernatural and transcendence. Those are things we experience and we should put them as primary to their explication in a particular philosophical tradition.

    We can say that God is beyond nature (and we should) just not that he is *wholly* beyond nature.

    Comment by Adam G. — May 14, 2013 @ 10:26 am