God Exists, but Gawd Does Not

From Evil to New Atheism to Fine-Tuning

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David Ray Griffin
Theological Explorations, Volume II
  • Anoka, MN: 
    Process Century Press
    , April
     2016.
     344 pages.
     $24.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781940447155.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

This book, God Exists But Gawd Does Not, has a remarkably simple yet ambitious goal: that it be the best book on the existence of God ever written. And since David Ray Griffin’s bibliography is counting upwards of forty books—and growing—he brings a certain theological depth and literary maturity, not to mention something of an activist’s “street cred,” to his ambition. Among these forty tomes Griffin has tackled some of the most perennially intractable topics in the study of religion: the supposed religion vs. science dualism, the importance of religious pluralism and ecumenical theologies, parapsychology’s relationship to religion, and he has even explored how the theologies of evil and sin relate to the greater political experience of the nation in a series on international terrorism and war—issues of paramount concern, one could argue, for the nation as a whole. He is also a founder of the Center for Process Studies which promotes the teachings of Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophical thought known as process philosophy and where Griffin continues to work as Emeritus Professor.

Griffin uses the term “Gawd” (which he got from an unnamed “British philosopher with extremely conservative theological views”) as a moniker for “the omnipotent creator of the universe as portrayed by traditional theism.” Whereas “God” is “divine reality without the attribute of omnipotence” (1). This latter definition is the “fine-tuning” alluded to in the title and is based on Griffin’s theology rooted in process philosophy. Most objections to God among the “New Atheists” are in actuality objections to “Gawd” and the theology of Thomas Aquinas, which constitutes traditional theism, specifically including the problematic attribute of omnipotence—a Gawd who can do something but doesn’t (2)—clearly the source of much intellectual angst in the course of human history.

Griffin ranges across the ideas of traditional Western theologians and philosophers such as David Hume, C.S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, John Hick, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, to the New Atheists Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and even considers how these latter have fueled Islamophobia. These New Atheists apparently found it to be only a small step to insert into their atheism an “abhorrence to religion in general with a specific distaste for Islam” (125). The degrading social and political outcomes of these New Atheists fueling Islamophobia constitute a separate book in their own right—and has been done elsewhere.

Suffice it to say, this fine-tuning is a more positive (and perhaps palatable to a wider audience and therefore socially responsible in that it has potential to be more influential) spin on the previous terminology used in the “Death of God” movement that emerged in the late 1950s. Those old objections to traditional theism now sound less radical than the proclamation “God is Dead.” Especially in an age of sound bites where “Gawd Does Not Exist” is a far more easily comprehendible conceptual-theological construct—especially in an age when “Dawg” as a greeting between hipsters constitutes a meme in the general culture. The arguments generally and mostly, however, remain the same: revision of the old theological construct of the omnipotent Gawd in favor of a less rigid formulation of God’s existence.

The book makes six arguments to refute the idea of “Gawd,” and eight to defend belief in God. Each essay in its own right is a brief and succinct argument in the history of a difficult recurring theological problem. The six arguments against belief in Gawd are: the theodicy problem, scientific naturalism, the challenge posed by Darwinian evolution, the weakness of the Cartesian philosophy of body-mind-soul, the problem of supernatural miracles, and the demonstrably false claim that atheism leads to immorality. Each of these issues has posed problems for the traditional theist, or believer in Gawd, but it need not be so.

Instead, if God is not omnipotent but rather panentheistic—that is to say, “God and the world have the same locus” (151) and God’s reality unfolds through the natural order or cosmos, or the universe is actually contained within God and so God works through the natural order and is thereby limited to it and by it—then the first six objections not only melt away, but a theological description becomes possible. Griffin explains this in the first of eight arguments for belief in God—mathematics, wherein an element of mystery remains in defining God as with the very nature of numbers themselves and their relationship to physical reality. Or put another way, “given sensate empiricism, how could one understand the objectivity of mathematical truths” (139). Here Griffin again ranges far and wide, referring to thinkers such as Pythagoras, Kurt Gödel, Hillary Putnam, William James, among numerous others and, most influentially for Griffin, Whitehead. The chapter on mathematics culminates with Griffin’s description of panentheism that he derives from Whitehead, and in which he finds a solution to those persistently intractable theological problems. The remaining seven arguments for belief in God are morality, logic and rationality, truth, religious experience, metaphysical order, cosmological order, and teleological order.  

Griffin has had a long career of endeavoring to reconcile difficult “truths,” as our culture sees them anyway, and as his 2004 book title asserts Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith. Griffin has found a way to speak about these issues in a thoroughly cosmopolitan, inclusive, and modern way. In a postscript, Griffin admonishes his reader not to lose faith in God but instead to view the intellectually challenging journey of belief in God much as scientist Rupert Sheldrake did, as “passing through the purifying fires of atheism” (132, 318) to arrive at anatheism—a return to belief in God, but with a new understanding that reconciles faith with an awareness of the universe as we experience and articulate it through science.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Blair Alan Gadsby is Adjunct Faculty in Religious Studies at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Arizona.

Date of Review: 
July 29, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

David Ray Griffin is Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Theology, Emeritus, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University, where he remains a co-director of the Center for Process Studies. He has published (as author or editor) more than 35 books in theology, philosophy, philosophy of religion, the relation between science and religion, and social and political issues.

Comments

David Griffin, Author

I greatly appreciate the review by Blair Gadsby, which gives a good account God Exists, but Gawd Does Not. I would, however, make two comments. First, after my statement in the preface that I hoped that my book would be “the best book on the existence of God ever written,” I added: “Readers will, I trust, let me know how far short I fell.” 

Second, Gadsby took the term “fine-tuning” in the title to refer to fine-tuning the doctrine of divinity (from “Gawd" to “God" understood pantheistically). That is certainly the book’s main point. But the term refers to the chapter on “Teleological Order, which discusses the recent development in cosmology according to which "the universe has been 'fine-tuned' to enable the possibility of life" (276).

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