Posted July 18, 2013
Book: God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet
Author: Nathan Schneider
University of California Press. Berkeley, CA. 2013. Pp. 253
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
In this tour of the history of arguments for and against the existence of God, Nathan Schneider embarks on a remarkable intellectual, historical, and theological journey through centuries of believers and unbelievers --- from ancient Greeks to medieval Arabs to today's most eminent philosophers and the New Atheists. Framed by an account of Schneider's own unique odyssey, God in Proof illuminates the great minds who have wrestled with one of religion's biggest questions, together with their arguments, bring these thinkers to life in their time and in our own. Schneider's sure-handed portrayal of these figures and his exploration of their ideas challenge how we think about doubt and faith while showing that, in their quest for certainty, seekers on both sides of the God divide have often been closer to each other than one might think.
An Excerpt from the Book:
The idea of God, after it first became lodged in me, and once I even partly entertain it, began to take on a life of its own. This process started through other people, but the idea transcended even them. As Anselm replied to Gaunilo, there's something special about the one most perfect idea, something that applies to no other. You might be able to grasp a humbler notion enough to refute it. But this necessary and infinite being is more elusive, while being also more fully present, than anything else we know. No refutation can suffice. It's too big. Its possibilities never stop exceeding what we might happen to rule out. This God exceeds what we think about it, and what we think we know about it. It even exceeds those of us who can't believe in it anymore, and those who never did.
I used to lie in bed at night and try, maybe by squeezing some dormant muscle in my brain, to see a vision, a confirming signal, even a schizophrenic voice. For all the waking hours I would spend thinking about God in uncountable forms, to my disappointment, none of them ever appeared in my dreams -- no savior, no incandescent dove, not even a ghost. Lying in the monastery bed during my first stay there a decade ago, I figured that would have been as good a place as any for it to happen, but no such luck.
Years later and still basically visionless, I would now dare to nominate this genre of proof which I've toured so much and at least peripherally experienced for consideration as itself a special kind of sight. Like visions, the genre is a gift (or a burden) not given to everyone, one whose recipients share a common bond. We're tempted to consider some instances of it more legitimate or valid than others, or even more clinically sound --- but good luck assigning which to which. The proofs can be explained and taught and respected from a distance, yet still there remains the fact that you either grok it or you don't and that's that.
Table of Contents:
1. First causes: ancient times and reasonable measures
2. The island and: Muslims and Jews make proof safe for revelation
3. Grammars of assent: a comeback in Christendom
4. On certainty: early modernity upends a familiar proof
5. Coming of age: from all-destroyer to an absolute idea
6. Grandeur in this view of life: design and its discontents
7. The deaths of God: human progress and divine absence
8. Not dead yet: Theism makes a comeback in philosophy
9. God, hypothesis: proof sneaks into the latest science
10. The proof of industry: old proofs turn into viral movements
11. God alone