As a confirmed atheist, I was about to do some research on the coincidences of atheist philosophers converting to catholicism in later life (Wittgenstein ? McLuhan ? and a couple of others ?), basically wondering if there was an intellectual elitst attraction with the hierarchy in said church. That’ll have to wait.
I stumbled across the BBC’s John Humphrys’ “In Search of God“, in an extended discussion with Anglican Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams.
Apparently Humphrys was a believer, but lost the faith in recent years. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Beslan schoolchildren’s massacre. He is challenging multi-denominational faith leaders to re-convert him.
I’m no great fan of Humphrys, but I’ve noted before that the Archbishop does seem to speak sense in public life.
Williams was painfully honest in trying to address questions, about what is the God he believes in and why. I made a lot of notes, but here are just a few.
He believes in a God, which at some level of abstraction is the root of causality, first cause, but not in any literal direct (interventional) cause of any specific events. The setter of the framework of the processes in the physical world, the only set of processes the world can have, even a god created world. God’s “omnipotence” limited by that physical framework “he” created. Ditto prayer, “somehow” a channel of “hope” for such influence, but no identifiable or explicable causal effect. He pretty freely used love and bliss as almost synomyms for God.
Since the true nature of that abstract God is unknowable, crude anthropomorphic metaphors – the bearded wise omnipotent old man – were actually preferable to any more sophisticated abstractions, because they may have the illusion of being closer to a real picture of God, whereas they cannot really be. At least with the crude metaphor, you are unlikely to forget “he’s” only a metaphor.
(A fair bit of stuff about “free-will” and “eternal afterlife”.)
Here is the main point, if I can articulate it. “Faith” in that God, and that description of the divine creation, underlies a belief in the observable facts that the world (governed by “his” physical framework) comprises uncertainty, contingency, complexity, risk & probability and arising (emergence) of unwillable outcomes, unwillable even by God.
Significantly, the Archbishop didn’t draw on any arguments of authority, biblical quotations, or historical weight of numbers to support any of his answers. (Compare the christian non-theologian response to Sue Blackmore on “A Good Read”)
Ultimately he appeared to see faith as “sense-making intellect”, and god as that “sense” ? Some significant silences, in trying to distinguish mysticism from theistic faith. Apart from “historical doctrine” only “holistic consistency” distinguished religious faith.
Even Dawkins might struggle to find anything to disagree with there, if he could get past the choice of word and metaphor.