Monday, October 10, 2016

Brilliant, Educational, and Enlightening--A Review of David Ray Griffin’s Book, "God Exists But Gawd Does Not"

Even before reading David Ray Griffin’s God Exists But Gawd Does Not, I realized that this book—apparently targeted mainly to theologians and philosophers (of which I am neither)—would be way over my head, intellectually speaking.  As it turned out, I was right.  Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed reading this brilliant work which opened my eyes and mind to the varied perspectives expressed over the centuries, and to date, about the entity known as “God.”   

Professor Griffin has a careful way of explaining things, and his analytical approach is brilliant, as is true here and with regard to other books of his that I have read. In this instance, I especially appreciated how the author breaks down each chapter into separate subsets, provides smooth transitions, and offers clear explanations as to what his positions are regarding the numerous controversies at issue.  He also has an excellent way of breaking down complex topics so that even those of us who are not theologians or philosophers, can understand and enjoy this work.

I also very much respect how Professor Griffin presents the positions of others with whom he does not agree, in a fair and professional manner. Often, I couldn’t tell until a presentation about the writings of “X” or “Y” was completed, whether Professor Griffin agreed or disagreed with the opinions being presented.   So fair and objective is he.

Further, the author’s “Conclusions” at the end of each chapter let the reader know in no uncertain terms, exactly where Professor Griffin stands on the topics at issue.  While I do not always agree with the author’s positions, his incredibly insightful analysis has inspired me to further research the subjects discussed, and the questions they trigger, thereby advancing my own knowledge.

The book begins with the author agreeing with atheists, that the world in which we live was not created by an omnipotent being—such as the “God” of the Old Testament, who would be called “Gawd,” a term that is defined as “the omnipotent creator of the universe as portrayed by traditional theism.” (Page 1)  The second part of the book argues that, nevertheless, God (vs. Gawd) does exist, and that it is “important for individuals and societies to believe that our world has been brought forth by a divine creator.” (Preface)

Chapter 1, entitled “Evil,” raised a number of issues for me, more than any other chapter in the book, by far.  Here, Professor Griffin focuses on the “logical problem of evil,” i.e., the idea that, if there is both an “all-good and all-powerful” god, then evil should not exist. (Page 15)  I have a basic problem with this problem.  Specifically, how on earth did all of the brilliant minds referenced in this chapter come to theorize that “God” could be “all-good?” For, isn’t this biblical “God” the same entity who decided to inflict on all women, very severe pains while bearing children, simply because Eve took a bite out of an apple?  (Genesis 2:4-3:24)  Isn’t the “God” of the Old Testament the same entity that cast a plague that killed 70,000 men just because David ordered a census of the people? (1 Chronicles 21) Didn’t this same entity arrange for the destruction of 60 cities, while prompting the killing of all the men, women, and children of each city, and the looting of all of their value? (Deuteronomy 3) Isn’t this the same “God” who led Joshua to destroy every living thing in Jericho—men and women, young and old, along with all the cattle, sheep and donkeys? (Joshua 6)  Etc., etc.
I submit that if the “God” of the Old Testament did create the world, it would be as insane and unjust a place as it is today.  Witness (to name but one example): the mass murders on 9/11 which were, at a minimum, aided and abetted by members of the U.S. government, and which prompted the ongoing and endless “war of terror” [sic, my term], and the resultant deaths, injuries, and sufferings of hundreds of thousands if not millions of innocent people (still counting). So, in contrast to the author’s viewpoint (and somewhat in sync with early Gnostic teachings which identify the “God” of the Old Testament as the evil “Demiurge”), I would not rule out the idea that the creator of this world is Gawd.

At the end of Chapter 1, Professor Griffin concludes, “If the world is said to have been created ex nihilo [out of nothing], then the defense of the creator’s goodness will be impossible.” (Pages 38 and 39) But as evidenced in the writings of the Old Testament (examples provided above), the defense of Gawd’s alleged “goodness” fails whether or not he created the world, and whether or not he created the world out of nothing.  Thus, I don’t really understand why theologians and philosophers have persisted in this discussion for centuries on end.

Another problem I had with Chapter 1 has to do with the shamanic idea that God (vs. Gawd) may have created this “evil” world (if you want to call it that, as some Gnostics have) as a most challenging “school” for souls to attend (via their own free will), and hopefully progress by standing up to evil in defense of humanity.  This idea springs from my hearing renowned shamanic teacher Hank Wesselman say that Earth is known throughout the galaxies as “a very tough learning school.”  If so, Earth may be a place where evil is designed (or at least allowed) to be in control, and where good souls can freely choose to incarnate and strive to make a difference, against all odds; and as a result of their dedication to Truth and the betterment of humanity, thereby progress spiritually.  In other words, one could argue that the creation of this “evil” world may have been God’s way of setting up an ultimate challenge for all those souls who choose to incarnate as human here, to provide them with an opportunity to achieve soul growth at an accelerated rate, and thereby become more “God-like” sooner rather than later.

Chapter 2 focuses on “scientific naturalism,” which is the doctrine that “there are no supernatural interruptions of the world’s normal cause-effect relations.” (Page 44)  In other words, God does not intervene in the goings-on of man.  This chapter involves not only an analysis of the “Hermetic Tradition,” but also the views of Descartes, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton.  It’s a fascinating discussion.  In his conclusion, the author asserts that “the scientific worldview now rules out Gawd…however, God is compatible with scientific naturalism—as long as it is not the sensationalist and materialistic version of naturalism.”  (Page 57)

In Chapter 3, Professor Griffin deals with evolution as a main reason for atheism.  This, of course, involves a detailed discussion of Charles Darwin.  The author delves into issues like “Evolution vs. Gawd,” “Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian Evolution,”  “Are Gawd and Evolution Compatible?” and (as a subset), “Intelligent Design.”   It’s an intriguing read.

Unlike the first three chapters, which discuss anti-theistic arguments, Chapters 4 and 5 discuss arguments for the existence of Gawd.  Specifically, Chapter 4 deals with “Consciousness,” and Chapter 5—my favorite chapter in the book—analyzes “Miracles.” 

The reason why I enjoyed Chapter 5 so much is because Professor Griffin dares to focus on “The Importance of Psychical Research,” “Parapsychology vs. Supernatural Miracles,” and “Apparitions and the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus.”   One must read Professor Griffin’s analysis to fully appreciate his conclusion at the end of Chapter 5 that “the New Testament’s ‘miracles’ were actual but not supernatural,” and that “The discipline called psychical research or parapsychology has provided empirical support” for this view. (Page 113)

“Immoral Effects” is the title of Chapter 6, and presents the idea that “The so-called New Atheists…have provided a restatement of the claim that theistic religion promotes immorality, so that atheism would improve morality.” (Page 119)  There seemed to me to be, in this chapter, an appropriate opportunity for Professor Griffin to delve into 9/11 truth, given the references to Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith,” written in the wake of 9/11, and the discussion of the mainstream-manufactured (my term) “Islamophobia.”  However, Professor Griffin, the author of a dozen fabulous books on 9/11 Truth, chooses not to go there.  Perhaps that is all for the best, given to whom this book is apparently directed, i.e., theologians and philosophers.

Chapter 7, on “Mathematics,” begins Part II of the book, which in turn is entitled “Why God Does Exist.”  Chapter 7, for the most part, was totally beyond my comprehension, though I was excellent at math from grammar school thru college. 

After delving into the depths of math, Professor Griffin concludes, “Mathematics points to the existence of God, understood as the mind or soul of the universe, in four ways.” (Page 170)  Four ways which I won’t go into here, but which the mathematically inclined, I’m sure, will very much appreciate.  The phrase describing God as “the mind or soul of the universe,” resonated strongly with me.

The author’s thesis of Chapter 8, entitled “Morality,” is that “an adequate moral philosophy is impossible without the affirmation of a divine reality.” (Page 192)  Originally, I disagreed with this statement, since some of the most “moral” people I’ve met are atheists.  In my view, one doesn’t need to believe in God to adhere to the so-called silver rule: “Do not do unto others that which you would not have done unto you.”  If we all followed that rule, the world would be a better place, whether or not we believe in God.  But after additional readings, it seems that “morality” per se is not what Professor Griffin is getting at.  Instead, the chapter is about  “moral realism,” i.e., the position that moral norms are real (or at least can be) in the nature of things (not simply made up by us).  This is a topic which, I must confess, I find elusive.   

Similarly, Chapter 9, on “Logic and Rationality,” is a chapter that is very much beyond me.  However, I appreciate and tend to agree with the conclusion reached at the end, that, “The present book, by speaking of a world soul, describes a view of deity that is radically different from Gawd—a deity that is not an omnipotent, supernatural being…”  (Page 213) 

“Truth,” the title of Chapter 10, “is concerned with the existence of factual truth, including historical truth, as pointing to the influence of the world on the cosmic actuality…” (Page 216) As reference points, Professor Griffin asks, “Is the standard account about the Pearl Harbor attack accurate? Was President Kennedy really killed by Lee Harvey Oswald?  Were the 9/11 attacks engineered by Muslims?  With all such questions, we presuppose that the answer is either true or false.  Otherwise, there would be no debates about them.” The author then goes on to define truth as “the correspondence of a proposition with the reality to which it refers.” (Page 217)  All this is a prelude to an in-depth discussion of truth which leads Professor Griffin to conclude that “the existence of factual truth should be added to the list—along with the existence of mathematics, morality, logic, and rationality—of reasons for affirming the reality of God.” (Page 227)

In Chapter 11, Professor Griffin delves into the topic of “Religious Experience.”  Here, the author focuses on “The Academic Study of Religion,” and ultimately concludes that, “if we think in terms of a divine reality that is universal but not omnipotent in the traditional sense, the reality of religious experience simply adds one more reason to the list of reasons to believe in the existence of God.” (Page 240)   As is true throughout this book, the joy is in the reading and dissecting of the author’s own analyses that lead him to his conclusions.

Professor Griffin’s analyses in the last three chapters— “Metaphysical Order,” “Cosmological Order,” and  “Teleological Order”—set forth more reasons to believe in the existence of God, if one is to approach the subject from a purely intellectual perspective. 

In a subchapter entitled “Fine-Tuning Evidence For Gawd Or God,” Professor Griffin advises that “scientists and others should do their best to avoid being unduly influenced by their hopes, looking as dispassionately as possible at which alternative has the best evidence.” (Page 292) Sound advice, to be sure. But I would argue that there is no way to scientifically prove one way or the other whether Gawd or God exists or doesn’t exist. Unlike, say, with regard to 9/11—where the laws of physics demonstrate that Building 7 could not have collapsed as the government says it did (i.e., as the result of office fires)—there is no physical proof possible that can be evaluated to determine whether or not God or Gawd exists, and/or created the planet Earth.   It is seemingly more a matter of metaphysics, or something even more intangible, involving rules which are quite undeterminable, and perhaps even unimaginable. Perhaps as early Gnostics believed, God is unknowable. 

Toward the end of the book, Professor Griffin addresses “Why Belief in God, Not Gawd, Is Important.”  Surprisingly, the author’s focus is on “the overriding issue of our time: whether civilization will be destroyed by global warming and the climate change it causes.” (Page 307)  He goes on to say, “The central difference between God and Gawd is that God is not in complete control.  We humans exist only because God persuaded the evolutionary process to bring forth higher forms of life, but to believe in God as our creator is not to believe that our planet’s climate is controlled by God.” (Page 315) I agree that it is up to humans to save the planet for human habitation, but sadly, I don’t see that happening.  I hope I’m wrong.

Professor Griffin indicates that he “wrote this book with the hope that it would be the best book on God ever written.”  (Preface) Having read no other books on this topic, I will leave that judgment primarily to the theologians and philosophers to whom this work is apparently directed. From my point of view, the book is brilliant, educational, and enlightening, and well worth reading by anyone who has ever considered the seemingly unanswerable question of, “Who is God?”

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