God: The Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason
in a Postsecular World
By Patrick Glynn
1997, Prima Publishing
Reviewed by Tony Morse
Patrick Glynn is an associate director and scholar in residence at the George Washington University Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies in Washington, DC. He is the author of Closing Pandora's Box: Arms Race, Arms Control, and the History of the Cold War. He has written articles for major publications such as The New Republic, Commentary, The Washington Post, National Review and The Times Literary Suppliment. He also has appeared frequently as a commentator on network television. Cover indorsements are supplied by Andrew Greely, Michael Novak, Robert Bork, and Hans Kung among others. This book is an excellent overview of the current relationships between science and religion, succinctly written and provocatively stimulating.
Glynn's "evidence" is primarily rooted in two theories: Brandon Carter's 1973 extrapolated Cosmological Anthropic Principle and Raymond Moody's studies in Life After Life of out-of-body or near death experiences. Glynn's interpretation of these theories leads him back (after an atheistic relaspe, forgoing his Jesuit teachings) to the revelations of the New Testament. His view should be contrasted with Frederik Turner's The Culture of Hope (1995) that relies on the earlier findings of the physicist John Archibald Wheeler for a culturally value laiden view. Or with Richard Tarnas's The Passions of the Western Mind (1992) in which these new scientific discoveries lead him to the depth psychologies of Carl Jung and James Hillman. Or with Theordore Roszak's The Voices of the Earth (1991) in which the earliest (1920's) and most poetic exponent of the Anthropic Principle, Lawrence J. Henderson, leads him (also a lapsed Catholic) to theorize an environmental revolution. Henderson states: "All time and all matter are implicated in the creation of life."
Glynn begins his book by telling us that "Our intellectual culture has been dominated by skepticism, unbelief", and how he fell into this skepticism as a student of philosophy. It is his personal trial through atheism to a born-again believer that points up the radical transformation of the existence-of-God debate.
For Glynn, it is the physicist, Brandon Carter's rendering of the Anthropic Principle that supplies new support for belief. The Anthropic Principle is the opposite of, or answer to the ideas of a random universe, much adhered to by most modern scientist and postmodern philosophers. It supports the theory of "creationalism", the teleological doctrine that our world is "preplaned", has purpose, is "designed" for life; the universe is a product of intelligence and aim. "All the myriad laws of physics were fine-tuned from the very beginning of the universe for the creation of man - that universe we inhabit appeared to be expressly designed for the emergence of human beings". This is Glynn's elegant translation of Carter's idea and he reminds us that Kant, himself, marvelled at "the flower problem" as I would also of Blake's "fearful semetry" of the tiger and Shakespeare's poetic description that man is "the paragon of animals". Modern mechanistic science can explain everything in the world but beauty and organism. It is the case of the atheist vs. the atheticist!
Toward the middle of the book, Glynn buttresses this support from the Anthropic Principle with further "evidence" from studies of "out-of-body" and "near death" experiences starting with Moody and ending with the most current findings. While all of this is as well presented as can be expected, I find it to be less convincing, certainly less elegant and noble, always begging the "atheist" Freud's question of wishful thinking. My main concern with Glynn's book is not, though, that the "evidence" does not hold up, but, given its value and importance (certainly in the case of the Anthropic Principle), how is such "evidence" to be wielded. It is the tone of Glynn's book that I question.
In the very beginning of the book, Glynn attacks the "atheist" Socrates, countering a long tradition of respect and honor. Socrates did not believe in material causation that ignored evidence of purposesive intelligence. He believed in a soul establishing it for the first time as the seat of individual consciousness and moral character. He believed in inwardness and was most fundamental in supplying Plato with his theories of "Forms" and "Ideas", which is the beginnning of transcendental thinking in the western world. Even Voltaire, of all people, offers his story of the two Athenians conversing about Socrates -- "That is the atheist who says there is only one God." As a political journalist and Reagan administrator, Glynn reminds me of that faction of the extreme right who are political mainly to advance, with government support, their personal religious beliefs (certainly not a Marxist interpretation of the situation). I.F. Stone in his The Trial of Socrates (1991) attacks Socrates also but the issue is democracy not atheism: Athenian society broke down and Socrates was its timely and symbolic victim. Aristotle's quip concerning Socrates is, at the end of the 20th century, most seriously to the point: We cannot sin against philosophy again!
Glynn's book, because of his strident, contentious, and well organized arguments leads us to an area that has not been covered, thus far, when discussing the converging influences of these discoveries: Politics. To begin with, Glynn labels all thinkers who have not been blessed with the new knowledge and the theistic convictions they should convey, atheist - and of course, this is retrogressive. This is a label that many readers and the writers themselves (including Darwin, Marx, Freud and Nietzsche) would not use in describing most of their work. He bandies about the word "atheist", all the while qualifying his own position: "all-but", "almost", "increasingly doubtful", "mounting", ending with "of course, the Anthropic Principle tells us nothing about the Person of God or the existence of an after life; it has nothing to say about such issues as right and wrong or the problem of evil!" Freud and particularly the most influential Nietzsche would never buffer their ideas with such disclaimers.
Most disturbing for me is Glynn's distortion of Nietzsche's statement "God is dead", taking it out of context and then quoting someone (it cannot be the Walter Kaufmann under whom I studied at Michigan) that Nietzsche was a "shock jock". His reference to Kaufmann's Portable Nietzsche (1954) eludes me. The Nietzsche statement does not mean God does not exist but that man has lost his belief in God, that man has "killed him" by substituting man's knowledge for faith in God. This is a book for the converted, not one for a close or serious reader. Glynn's political claws are showing! This is no where more obvious than toward the end of the book where he introduces his protagonist, "America's leading Postmodern philosopher", Richard Rorty, and opens his attack with the faint acknowledgment that Rorty's general attempt is "admirable". On this point Glynn is correct: Richard Rorty is the finest examplar of Postmodern thinking in America.
If Glynn's interest in Rorty was related to the religious, scientific, and philosophical implications of these new scientific discoveries (in all of which Rorty is opposed to Glynn) we would have an important discussion on the matter. But Glynn passes all this ( and it is all there in Rorty to be,with work, gleaned) and presents a case of "the purist of hypocracy" in Rorty's vision of humanism, democracy, and freedom. Glynn accuses Rorty of appropriating the New Testament message while denying any foundation while, for me, Rorty's (beyond an easy rebutal) approach may be a closer approximation of the message. After all, Rorty's maternal grand father was the famous theologian, Walter Rauchenbusch, who was a Christian socialist. Glynn, by his political stance could be considered the hypocrite.
Ironically for Glynn, politics is, for Rorty, the pragmatic ground on which all ideas will be judged - what will they do for us and will they work. Glynn is a right wing Republican (he worked for Reagan) and it understandable, given his polemical and political stance, that Robert Bork (a strick constitutionalist) and Michael Novak (conservative capitalist theologian) should offer their praise for the book. Rorty, the prophet and poet of a new pragmatism, is the philosophic spokesman for the liberal left. His latest book is a good short review of his ideas and is the best defense of liberalism to arrive on the scene this decade: Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in 20th Century America, Harvard University Press (1998). It is Rorty's pragmatic application of his philosophy that, I think, bothers Glynn most. It is the arena of politics that Rorty will meet anyone's challenge.
I present these points to question Glynn's final prediction that "Postmodernism is Postsecularism waiting to be born." We are waiting for God - or for Becket's Godot. And there has been a great fall in our loss of a religious world view as Glynn describes. But all the King's scholars and all the King's scientist will never show us the whole truth again. (Reread your Job, the greatest anti-theological tract in world literature). The question becomes: What kind of world would Glynn's fundamentalist vision give us as opposed to Rorty's pluralistic vision? I, for one, hope for the expansion of democracy and freedom. What could be more fearful than a future based on someone elses vision?
Privately and personally we will have all the beliefs imaginable - the more the merrier for Rorty - the less the merrier for Glynn. Publically and transpersonally we will hopefully continue to live in Richard Rorty's world of human toleration where both he and Patrick Glynn are allowed to separate the wheat from the chaff, each in his own way. In the meantime we can take pleasure in the discoveries of science, take their measure, and yet wonder still at the face of a flower and the tiger's semetry - and, if we wish, ply the poetry of politics.
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