Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Irrationalist on the big questions"

Michael Novak is interviewed by First Things about his new book, No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers. It would seem to complement the kind of argument for the faith Tim Keller makes in Reason for God. Novak on why atheism seemed inadequate:
At times in my life I have been driven toward atheism, wanted to become an atheist. Was left in the dark about God, felt nothing, nada. But none of the various sorts of atheism I encountered (and these were many) seemed intellectually satisfying. All felt—to me, at least—like dodges. Any line of questioning that brought pressure on atheism was simply defined out of existence or at least treated as irrelevant. For example, the question “Why is there something, not nothing?” was ruled out as a question that cannot be answered by science, therefore meaningless. That is much too easy. And so with other questions.

Many of the books responding to the new atheists emerge from evangelical or other traditions that root their belief in feelings, sentiments, or experiences of conversion. I have never found this approach helpful in my own case. I want to go as far as reason will take me. This is the principal difference between my book and others. I seek a reasoned path, a way rooted in reason—a path through the very structure and constitution and methods of human understanding.

To my mind, our understanding of God emerges from our questions about our own understanding.

It certainly seems like our conscience comes from a light over which we are not master, a light greater than ourselves, which often faults our own behavior down to its roots far below the surface of our rationalizations. It certainly seems as if the questioning of our own long-held assumptions, and the relentless probing of our comfortable beliefs about ourselves, comes from somewhere within ourselves—but greater than ourselves and not subject to our own self-deceptions. Thinkers since Plato have discerned this, quite rightly—you can test it in your own experience.

So mine is a book about reason’s path to God. Whether at this task reason succeeds—or fails.

The thing that makes me most curious: Why do you find atheism unsatisfying? Take the typical atheism of a university professor or of the literary world. Why doesn’t it grab you?

To me it seems a contradiction to insist that all things flow from blind chance and then to go on calling oneself a rationalist. Irrationalist on the big questions, rationalist on the things amenable to science, and something like “emotivist” on matters of practical choice and ethics. In the perennial inquiries of the human race, this mix doesn’t add up.

I can understand why atheists invent a heroic image for themselves—Bertrand Russell’s Prometheus, or Dylan Thomas’ raging against the night, or Sisyphus, or even Milton’s Lucifer refusing to “serve.” But all this seems to be striking a literary prose to cover up the emptiness of meaning in human life. .... [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » No One Sees God

1 comment:

  1. I'm writing to invite you to see my recent review of Michael Novak's "No One Sees God" at ReligionDispatches.org. Since I saw that you've discussed the book herean, I thought you might be interested.

    I hope you'll consider responding to my review, either at my blog, The Row Boat, or here. Please let me know if you do.

    The review:
    The discussion on my blog:


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