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Isaac Chotiner hasn’t spent much time talking to religious folks, and he hasn’t read David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, but he does think the book’s picture of God differs vastly from that of most believers:

I cannot speak for everyone, of course, and the amount of time I have spent with deeply religious people (Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims) is relatively limited. But I have talked somewhat extensively with people in each of these religions and not a single one of them has ever described his or her belief in God in anything like these terms. As Jerry Coyne puts it in response to Linker, “Yes, it turns out that the 99% of believers who see God as an anthropomorphic being are wrong, and only the theologians—that is, some theologians—truly know what God is.” (Ideas such as answered prayers, or the parting of the seas, don’t really mesh with what Linker is laying out.)

In hopes that Chotiner is more of a blog reader than a book reader, I herewith present a blockquote:
The more persistent sort of skeptic will often then assert that, be that as it may, it hardly matters what the philosophers and theologians may think, because the “common believer” has only a hazy notion of any of that and “most people” think of God in a much more primitive way. On the one hand, this is a totally irrelevant argument. It is always true, of any shared body of knowledge, conviction, or belief that the principles and logic of the whole “system” are most fully known only to a few individual who have gone to the trouble to study them. . . .

On the other hand, however, I have to note that the skeptics’s complaining is not really true anyway, or at least not nearly as true as he or she imagines. Certainly the average believer may have very little knowledge of the history of metaphysics or the technical language of philosophy, and might not be able to formulate propositions regarding the logic of divine transcendence with the practiced ease of some saturnine old Jesuit in some Midwestern Catholic college’s philosophy faculty or of some frail but strangely effervescent Vedantist sadhu lecturing his disciples by the banks of the Ganges in Benares.

Nevertheless, if one asks that average believer certain question about what he or she understands God to be, the answers will often be in principle perfectly concordant with the more arcane formulate of the metaphysicians: that God is Spirit, incorporeal, not an object located somewhere in space, not subject to the limitations of time, not a product of cosmic nature, not simply some craftsman who creates by manipulating materials external to himself, not composed of parts, but rather residing in all things while remaining perfectly one, present to us in the depths of our own beings . . . (and so forth). As a practical reality, the God of faith and the God of philosophers are in many crucial respects recognizably one and the same.

Read the whole thing, as they say. Or, I suppose one could just keep reading Jerry Coyne.

Articles by Matthew Schmitz


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