In a Guardian column, Oliver Burkeman tells us about the theology book that atheists should read David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God,
The God attacked by most modern atheists, Hart argues, is a sort of superhero, a “cosmic craftsman” – the technical term is “demiurge” – whose defining quality is that he’s by far the most powerful being in the universe, or perhaps outside the universe (though it’s never quite clear what that might mean). The superhero God can do anything he likes to the universe, including creating it to begin with. Demolishing this God is pretty straightforward: all you need to do is point to the lack of scientific evidence for his existence, and the fact that we don’t need to postulate him in order to explain how the universe works.
Some people really do believe in this version of God: supporters of ‘intelligent design’, for example – for whom Hart reserves plenty of scorn – and other contemporary Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, too. But throughout the history of monotheism, Hart insists, a very different version of God has prevailed.
Now Hart, a scholar, probably didn’t really say anything like that. [Update: A friend who has read Hart’s book kindly writes to say that Hart did in fact say something like that. Puzzle intensifies.] What would he then do with this?
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse
in the New Testament. We can be quite certain that Paul, its author, was addressing people who saw God as fashioning the heavens and Earth, and not because they were stupid, either. Similarly, the Creed calls God “factorem caeli et terrae” = “craftsman of heaven and Earth.”
Before the professoriate got started, to call someone a craftsman was actually high praise.
Hart strikes me as someone who is hostile to ID because it addresses modern, not ancient ideas. Information realism vs. materialism, for example. He and the atheists might well share a need to caricature, but they have different underlying reasons. And the atheists are right to be more concerned about design in nature than about arcane proofs in logic.
After all, if the new atheists are right, believing in God is an accidental misfunction of a primate brain. If the information realists are right …