Skip to main content

That which our mind cannot grasp - reflections on the God Delusion

I know I'm really late in blogging about Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and I'm sure there's a huge amount of stuff on them there interwebs all about it. But we've just had a very nice little discussion group about the book at church so it's on my mind. So I thought I'd give just a small thought about it.

I think the key part of the book is the first chapter when Dawkins discusses in some detail the beliefs of Albert Einstein. Einstein clearly had a kind of a naturalistic mysticism, which Richard Dawkins argues is completely different from "supernatural religion." I think that conventional religion (if such a term is meaningful at all) is not in a completely different category from "Einsteinian religion." They are both in some sense, religion. But that would mess up Dawkins' argument so he pushes against it (a book about supernatural religion vs natural religion would be, in my opinion, much more interesting).

The key quote from Einstein is this:
"To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness."

Dawkins says he agrees with this "with the reservation that 'cannot grasp' does not have to mean 'forever ungraspable'" (page 40). In other words the mystery, the "something" that Einstein talks about means simply to Dawkins "that which science has yet to discover." Dawkins believes mystery is simply the facts we have not collected yet, that which spurns science on to discover more.

But Dawkins has missed the key word in the Einstein quote: "there is a something which our mind cannot grasp." There is "something" which cannot ultimately be grasped by the scientific approach, by the rational mind. Perhaps the mind can describe it in some way. But that will not really get at it. You will not understand why it is so meaningful to people, how it can change people's lives by externally describing it. You can biochemically describe what falling in love might be, but that will not really get at it. That will not help you understand the power of the experience from the inside. The only thing that will approach that is poetry.

Mystery is not simply that which we have not yet rationally described. Mystery expresses the limitations of rational description.

There is that which the mind cannot grasp, but the heart can grasp it. And it is only in allowing the heart to grasp it (and be grasped by it) that you understand it in any meaningful way.

I spent many a sleepless night trying to grasp it with my mind, I spent years of study trying to grasp it with my mind. Ultimately you cannot. If I followed only my mind I would be an atheist. I find no argument for the existence of God convincing on any level.

I am a theist, I am a Christian, I am a Unitarian, because my heart has grasped a Love that will not let me down, will not let me go, and will not let me off the hook. I do not claim to understand it. And if you want to describe it in purely naturalistic terms, that's fine by me. But it does not change the fact that that Love has transformed my life, has saved me, and continues to do so every day, if I keep opening my heart to allow it.

And that's why I'm one of them weird religious people.


Steven Rowe said…
Wonderful post!

Popular posts from this blog

From liberalism to radicalism

I've been reflecting recently on the journey I've been making from liberalism to radicalism, and how I'm beginning to see it as a necessary evolution if you're not going to get stuck in a kind of immature liberalism that fails to serve both you and the world. By liberalism I mean ideas and movements that emphasise personal freedom and not being restricted by the patterns of the past. By radicalism I mean ideas and movements that emphasise justice, solidarity, and liberation from oppression. Yes, I'm using broad categories here. Let me give an example. Let's talk about sexual liberation in a Western context for example. We can talk about women getting more agency over their bodies; gay and bi people being able to have sex with one another and marry one another; we can talk about the work of overcoming shame around sexuality. All of that is liberalism. It's good stuff. It's still ongoing. So we might ask the question "where next for sexu

Am I an activist?

  I remember being at some protest outside the Senedd once, and someone introduced me to someone else, and said, "Stephen is an activist." I remember thinking - am I? I don't know. What does it mean to be an activist? Who gets to use that title? Am I an activist because I turn up at a few protests? Or do I have to be one them organising the protest to be an activist? Do I have to lead? Do I have to do the organisational work to be an activist? Because the truth is that since I moved to Cardiff I have kept myself at the periphery of a lot of activist groups. I go to meetings, I hear about things, I turn up at protests, but I have rarely got really fully involved. Why is that? It's not for the reason that I don't have time. I do, in fact. But often I sit in these meetings and protests and think "Is this effective? Is it worthwhile? Is it going to produce something at the end of it all that is worth the effort?" I suppose, coming from the world of church I

LOST and theology: who are the good guys?

***Spoiler alert*** I'm continuing some theological/philosophical reflections while re-watching the series LOST. One of the recurring themes in LOST is the idea of the "good guys" and the "bad guys." We start the series assuming the survivors (who are the main characters) are the "good guys" and the mysterious "Others" are definitely bad guys. But at the end of series 2 one of the main characters asks the Others, "Who are  you people?" and they answer, in an extremely disturbing way, "We're the good guys." The series develops with a number of different factions appearing, "the people from the freighter" "the DHARMA initiative" as well as divisions among the original survivors. The question remains among all these complicated happenings "who really are the good guys?" I think one of the most significant lines in the series is an episode when Hurley is having a conversation with