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A Review of God Exists But Gawd Does Not: From Evil to the New Atheism to Fine Tuning by David Ray Griffin
David Ray Griffin is one of the world’s most important thinkers. I first encountered his work in the mid-1990s while preparing a Ph.D. on Moroccan Sufi legends. It quickly dawned on me that Griffin’s analysis of postmodernism was more sensible than most of the trendier literature on the subject, while his work on such empirical topics as the scientific evidence for psi showed him to be an uncommonly flexible yet rigorous thinker who followed logic and evidence wherever it led. So while most contemporary Christian theologians were not terribly relevant to my Islamic Studies related Ph.D., Griffin and his mentor, John Cobb, the two biggest names in Process Theology, could not be ignored.
Since then, Griffin’s work has been even harder to ignore. In 2004 he published The New Pearl Harbor — which still stands as the single most important work on 9/11 — and followed it up with more than ten books expanding on his analysis of the false flag obscenity that shaped the 21st century. Then he turned to the other critically-important issue of our time, climate change, with Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? Taken together, David Ray Griffin’s works on 9/11 and climate change are a rousing wake-up call for a planet sleepwalking toward disaster.
Griffin’s new book on the existence of God could be equally important. That may sound like a strange claim, given our era’s pervasive anti-theistic bias. But God Exists but Gawd Does Not is important precisely because it can cut through those biases and convince open-minded atheists and agnostics that, based on the best available logic and evidence, God’s existence is far more likely than not. And while spreading not just belief, but knowledge of God’s existence might or might not save the world, Griffin ends the book with a postscript featuring convincing arguments that it could be helpful.
As its title suggests, God Exists but Gawd Does Not is divided into two sections, but with the order reversed: The first part argues against the existence of the omnipotent ex-nihilo-creator “Gawd” of classical theism, while the second argues for the existence of God as understood by Whiteheadian process theologians in general and Griffin in particular. Though the whole book is argued rigorously and coherently, the second part — the argument for God’s existence — is more difficult to refute than the initial debunking of “Gawd.”
So why is God’s existence so much more likely than His/Her/Its non-existence?
Griffin begins the second part of his book with a series of arguments which, while sound, are not slam-dunk proof, at least to us non-philosophers. These claims — that the actual (not imaginary) existence of mathematics, morality, logic and rationality, and truth implies a cosmic mind or world soul as a “place” in which these non-material realities could exist — have been proffered in one form or another since at least the time of Plato. But Griffin’s version is the most concise and elegant I’ve yet seen.
Moving on to consider the question of religious experience, Griffin sensibly finds the ubiquity of religion and the experiences that give rise to it (direct contact with the holy, transcendent, or numinous) are certainly not absolute proof, at least to those who haven’t had such experiences, but do “provide simply one more reason to believe in the existence of God.” Likewise, considerations of metaphysical and cosmological order add weight to the cumulative argument.
Griffin’s Chapter 14, “Teleological Order,” provides the strongest stand-alone rational-empirical argument for God’s existence, one that should convince any open-minded person who is willing to invest some time in thinking about it and investigating the cited sources. This argument rests on the observation that at least 26 of the fundamental constants discovered by physicists appear to have been “fine tuned” to produce a universe in which complex, intelligent life forms could exist. A very slight variation in any one of these 26 numbers (including the strong force, electromagnetism, gravity, the mass difference between protons and neutrons, and many others) would produce a vastly less complex, rich, interesting universe, and destroy any possibility of complex life forms or intelligent observers. In short, the universe is indeed a miracle, in the sense of something indescribably wonderful and almost infinitely improbable. The claim that it could arise by chance (as opposed to intelligent design) is ludicrous.
Even the most dogmatic atheists who are familiar with the scientific facts admit this. Their only recourse is to embrace the multiple-universes interpretation of quantum physics, claim that there are almost infinitely many actual universes (virtually all of them uninteresting and unfit for life), and assert that we just happen to have gotten unbelievably lucky by finding ourselves in the one-universe-out-of-infinity-minus-one with all of the constants perfectly fine-tuned for our existence. But, they argue, we should not be grateful for this almost unbelievable luck — which is far more improbable than winning hundreds of multi-million-dollar lottery jackpots in a row. For our existence in an amazingly, improbably-wonderful-for-us universe is just a tautology, since we couldn’t possibly be in any of the vast, vast, vast majority of universes that we couldn’t possibly be in.
Griffin gently and persuasively points out that the multiple-universes defense of atheism is riddled with absurdities and inconsistencies. Occam’s razor definitively indicates that by far the best explanation of the facts is that the universe was created not just by an intelligent designer, but by one that must be considered almost supremely intelligent as well as almost supremely creative: a creative intelligence as far beyond Einstein-times-Leonardo-to-the-Nth-power as those great minds were beyond that of a common slug.
So should we all rush back to our church, mosque or synagogue and accept everything our religious authorities tell us about God?
Griffin’s answer is no. He argues that the “Gawd” of classical theism — an omnipotent, impassible, and immutable source of creation-ex-nihilo — is not only a delusion, but a harmful one. According to Griffin, this “Gawd” has been criticized, with some justification, by the New Atheists and others on a long list of grounds. The most important is the problem of theodicy: How can an infinitely good, infinitely powerful god permit evil?
Griffin distinguishes between prima facie evils, those which appear evil but give rise to good, versus genuine evils which “make the world worse than it would have been without them, all things considered.” Since genuine evils exist, he continues, any all-good all-powerful Gawd, had He existed, would have eliminated them. Since He didn’t, He does not exist.
The major problem with this argument, and the many associated ones, is the phrase “all things considered.” What human being is ever really in a position to consider all things?
In the Qur’an’s Surat al-Kahf, Moses, the human law-giver, seeks enlightenment by following al-Khadir, the timeless and ageless Green Man who has been blessed with direct knowledge from and of God. Al-Khadir commits three prima-facie-evil (or at least wrong) acts: He murders a youth for no apparent reason, sinks a fishing boat depriving the fishermen of their livelihood, and seemingly returns good for evil by rebuilding a wall for inhospitable townspeople. Moses cannot help objecting to each of these acts, even though he has sworn to follow al-Khadir and observe in silence. After Moses’s third offense, al-Khadir explains that the youth he killed was evil and a better replacement is on the way; the fishermen’s boat was about to be hijacked by an evil king and used in a war of aggression (presumably thwarted by the scuttling); and the crumbling wall he repaired was about to reveal a hidden treasure to the evil townspeople, who did not deserve it. By re-immuring the treasure, al-Khadir ensured that it would go to a deserving future generation.
In all three cases, Moses’s best “all things considered” understanding was that each of al-Khadir’s three acts was genuinely evil. And in each of the three cases he was mistaken.
If we are at all open-minded, curious, and engaged in real inquiry about the world, we often discover that what we had thought was the case is completely wrong – or at least cast in a whole new light by new information. And our emotional reactions to evil and suffering, especially when we become obsessed with it, may blind us to the larger picture, or even create perverse attachments to the very evils that plague us.
Consider the case of the Nazi holocaust. This event, more than any other, has been used to disparage “Gawd”: How, many ask, could an all-good all-powerful deity allow such an atrocity? And to His chosen people?! Obviously such a deity cannot exist; therefore we must worship in His place an idol called “Israel,” a symbol of Jewish strength that vaunts its ability to protect the lives of the chosen over other lives by its systematic murder of Palestinian children, its Samson Option policy of threatening the world with nuclear holocaust, and so on.
The Nazi holocaust would seem to be the perfect example of an event that “all things considered” the world would have been better off without. Yet Zionists, and with them the West they dominate, cling so tenaciously to their “world in which the holocaust happened” that any historian who questions some of the central tenets of the Nazi holocaust narrative — six million Jewish victims, gas chambers, and an official fuhrer extermination order and comprehensive bureaucratically-administered extermination program — is likely to be imprisoned, suffer physical attack, and have their career and reputation ruined by a vicious chorus of incessant vituperation. Clearly, tens if not hundreds of millions of people in the West not only prefer to “live in a world in which the (maximal) Nazi holocaust happened” but actually insist on it so strongly that they are driven to destroy the lives of those who might show them otherwise.
One would think that any historian who claimed to have arguments and evidence that the Nazi holocaust, while terrible, wasn’t as incomparably horrible as it has been made out to be, would get a positive, enthusiastic reaction. Such a historian could conceivably be opening the gates to a better world — or at least a world that is not quite as awful as the one our orthodox history books and media describe. Who wouldn’t want to live in that better world, at least if the evidence and arguments were reasonably convincing?
I’ll tell you who wouldn’t: The Zionists, and the rest of the West. Ours is a culture of lunatics who fanatically insist on imprisoning themselves in a horrible world, while crucifying anyone who offers them a key to that prison cell — without even seriously investigating whether or not the key is genuine.
The bottom line here is: What do we really know from evil? It seems to me that anyone who thinks they can distinguish prima facie evil from genuine evil lacks a certain humility. We are likely to see “evil experienced as such by us” (ourselves, our family, our tribe, our nation) as genuine, whereas the evil we commit — such as the holocaust of the Germans perpetrated by the Allies, discussed in such books as Goodrich’s Hellstorm, M.S. King’s The Bad War, and Bradberry’s The Myth of German Villainy — as virtually invisible, and, if considered at all, excusable in light of the supposedly good things we imagine emerged from that evil.
So the human view of evil is inevitably subjective. Is there a “God’s-eye view” out there, from which all evil is only apparent evil, and no genuine evil exists? The scriptures of Middle Eastern monotheism, and the experiences of the mystics, suggest as much. The Old Testament story of Job’s horrible sufferings and final redemption offers a theodicy that many of us find less than convincing. But God’s last word to Job, “where were YOU when I created this vast, unimaginably beautiful universe” (I’m paraphrasing, of course) can be read as symbolizing Job’s final realization, in the form of a mystical experience, that IT’S ALL GOOD.
The New Testament and other gospels hint at something similar. Jesus’s teaching that “the Kingdom of God is all around us” suggests that we go through life virtually blind, unable to see the riches and beauty surrounding us. Once we awaken to it, we enter this “Kingdom of God” by way of shedding our all-too-human egos and enjoying the sheer overwhelming beautiful abundance of existence with others, in communal fashion, while gaining psychic (especially healing) abilities. This, not the illusory vale of tears we previously inhabited, is the actual reality — as mystics from time immemorial, from all traditions, have affirmed.
The Qur’an, too, teaches that “it’s all good.” Dissolving key mistakes that plague the Old and New Testaments — priesthoods, “chosen people,” original sin, the trinity, the patriarchal and anthropomorphic misconceptions of God — the Qur’an, like Jesus, tells us that God made us and the world perfect. Our sins, terrible as they may be, are the result of forgetting, negligence, heedlessness. God is Reality is Truth is Beauty: As Keats said, “that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” And the proper human posture is awed, ecstatic submission (islam) to that Reality.
Our culture is not one of awed, humble submission, or of reveling in loving communal abundance. It is rather one of chronic dissatisfaction, of whining and complaining, of arrogance and ambition, of material obsession and power-seeking and spiritual blindness. It is terminally afflicted by the diseases of the ego, and whether we die of nuclear holocaust, biowar pandemic, global warming, or — worst and most likely of all — extermination at the robotic hands of the soulless Darwinian “intelligent” machines we are creating — it is likely that civilization as we know it, and most of its inhabitants, will perish in the not-too-distant future. If we do, it will not be God’s fault. It will be our fault, for not listening to God and heeding His/Her/Its word.
Would this world have been better had humans not been given so much free will? I cannot even imagine the degree of arrogance required to presume to answer such a question.
As the above discussion suggests, I find Griffin’s arguments against Gawd, rigorous and coherent as they are, far less convincing than his arguments for God. But even if he tries too hard to make his conception of God square perfectly with human perceptions, human emotions, and human reason, as understood by the cultural environment he inhabits, Griffin is simply carrying out the task he has inherited as a contemporary philosopher and theologian. And he carries it out well — so well that his attempt to “write the best book on the existence of God ever written” has, to the best of my knowledge, succeeded.