Friday, May 9, 2008

God's Observably Inobservable Existence

Recent comments by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, England's highest-ranking Catholic official, don't cohere very well at all. It would be charitable to impute this to the way the remarks are presented in the BBC article -- too charitable, I'm afraid. The comments in question:

God is not a "fact in the world" as though God could be treated as "one thing among other things to be empirically investigated" and affirmed or denied on the "basis of observation", said Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor.

"If Christians really believed in the mystery of God, we would realise that proper talk about God is always difficult, always tentative.

"I want to encourage people of faith to regard those without faith with deep esteem because the hidden God is active in their lives as well as in the lives of those who believe."
He begins by insisting that god's existence is not, in principle, amenable to observation; then he affirms this (I think) by declaring god a mysterious sort of entity, all talk of which-or-whom is stubbornly difficult and tentative; but then takes the red pen to these claims and pastes a very definite claim over the top of them, namely, that god is active in the lives of believers and non-believers alike.

I have no idea what it means to say god is outside observable reality and then to say that god is actively involved in observable reality. Hitherto, I have been reliably informed that A ≠ Not-A. Ophelia Benson shares my befuddlement, so I take consolation that I am not uniquely at sea on this point.

While I appreciate the Cardinal's conciliatory spirit, in substance he only begs and deepens open questions.



George Junior said...

Somewhat mischievously, I took the Archbishop's statement that 'God is not a "fact in the world"' as an admission of atheism and a renunciation of Catholic doctrine.

Yes, he's got some funny ideas about "hidden things" and "mystery" but to say that "God is not a fact in the world" seems to me to be an outright denial of either the historical existence of Jesus or his supposed divinity.

However, I'm not sure the Archbishop understands what he is saying since, as you point out, he goes on to talk about how God is active in people's lives.

The only way I can reconcile the two parts of what he said is to distinguish between God as a fact (not true) and God as an (active) idea. But I'm pretty sure that isn't what the Archbishop meant.

So really, it's just another clergyman talking nonsense.

mikesdak said...

I think he was trying to say that while God itself is a mysterious entity, it's actions are observable. This effectively says something that has been mentioned here before (and is the basic fall-back argument)by thiests: that we have no way of understanding the reasons for God's actions. Which implies to me that we can't hope to act according to God's "plan", and are pretty much on our own.

What is it about British clergymen? It seems like one or another is regularly spouting gibberish.

Dale said...

It occurs to me that cancer is mysterious, that talk of it -- even among leading oncologists -- tends to the difficult and tentative, and yet it is sometimes active in the lives of people, whether they 'believe in it' or not.

Should we take the Cardinal as saying that god is cancer?

If I candidly admit I don't want cancer in my life, and that I want scientific thinking to banish it from everyone's life, permanently, have I offended god?

Call it a parable.

Ophelia said...

"It would be charitable to impute this to the way the remarks are presented in the BBC article"

The speech itself is available on the Cardinal's website; it's even more nonsensical than the BBC extracts make it sound.

Anonymous said...

Its really quite simple.

Presuming that the Indivisible Divine Conscious Light existss, it is obvious that he really hasnt got a clue as to what he talking about.