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Dawkins' Atheism Is OK, But So Is Theism

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In addition, Dawkins says, "Religion teaches us to be satisfied with non-explanations and this is viciously corrosive of science and of the life of the mind generally." But has Dawkins taken into account the number of people in science who were also people of religious faith?

But let's consider the life of the mind. We usually look to Copernicus and Galileo as marking the historical emergence of modern science. Modern science emerged historically out of the Christian tradition of thought, with significant inputs not only from ancient thinkers but also from medieval Muslim thinkers. Once modern science emerged with Copernicus and Galileo, it continued to be advanced in Christian culture in Europe.

Evidently unbeknownst to Dawkins, the Christian tradition out of which modern science emerged and was nurtured had a long-standing reverence for seeking knowledge and understanding. In Dawkins' terminology, Christian religious faith was not deeply corrosive to the development of modern science. Let me explain why not.

In the Christian tradition, the Word (Greek "logos"; Latin "verbum") has been worshipped as the Second Person of the supposed divine trinity. I myself think that the doctrine of the divine trinity is an absurdity, just as I think the doctrine of Jesus' divinity is an absurdity. Nevertheless, let's discuss the extensive tradition of thought in ancient Greek and Roman culture that was taken over by the Christian tradition of thought.

The Word is a conceptual construct that was developed in ancient Greek and Roman Stoic thought. In short, it has a pre-Christian pagan origin.

Next, we come to Philo the Jew of Alexandria. He was a practicing Jew. He lived in Alexandria, but he knew nothing about the early Jesus movement that had arisen among his fellow Jews. But Philo set out to weave together his understanding of ancient Hebrew scripture with his understanding of ancient Greek and Roman Stoic thought. Among other things, he worked with the conceptual construct of the Word.

Next, we come to the anonymous author of the Gospel of John. In the prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-18), the authors works rather elaborately with the conceptual construct of the Word. But the use of the conceptual construct of the Word in the prologue to the Gospel of John strikingly resembles the use of the same conceptual construct in a certain passage by Philo. For this reason, critical biblical scholars today assume that the author of the Gospel of john was familiar with the passage by Philo.

From the prologue of the Gospel of John, the conceptual construct of the Word entered the Christian tradition of thought. Arguably the most famous formulation of the doctrine of the divine trinity can be found in the Nicene Creed, which was originally formulated at the Council of Nicea in 325. Roman Catholics today recite it at Sunday Mass.

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According to the doctrine of the divine trinity, there are supposedly three divine persons in God. Jesus is considered not only to be the Christ (the Greek rendering for the Hebrew word for "messiah," meaning anointed one), but also God. Which is to say that Jesus has a human nature and a divine nature. Fully human and fully divine. As divine, he is said to be the Second Person of the divine trinity, with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit being the other two divine persons.

But the Second Person of the divine trinity is also known as the Word. As the Word, he strikingly resembles the Word in ancient Greek and Roman Stoic thought, and in the relevant passage by Philo and of course the Word in the prologue to the Gospel of John.

From the time of the Nicene Creed down to our today, Christian theologians have not tired of discussing the Word. The conceptual construct of the Word has been a fertile idea for Christian theologians over the centuries to work with. In the book "Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas" (1997), Bernard Lonergan, S.J., devotes more than 200 pages to explaining the richness of Thomas Aquinas's thought about the Word.

So what? What difference does the Christian tradition of thought about the Word make?

Not only in the Christian tradition of thought, but also in ancient Greek and Roman Stoic thought and in Philo, the Word has always been considered the source of intelligibility. Inasmuch as modern science, starting with Copernicus and Galileo, aims to figure out the intelligibility of various aspects of the world, modern science presupposes the intelligibility of that which is being studied. The traditional conceptual construct that has been used over the centuries in western culture to refer to the warrant for any such intelligibility that there may be in the world is the Word.

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Have you ever noticed how many sciences are referred to by names involving the Greek suffix for the "word" (Greek, "logos")? For example, anthropology, biology, zoology. These sciences involve words about what is judged to be intelligible in a given branch of science.

No words, no science.

But no Word, no intelligibility.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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