In “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and theorist of cognition at Tufts, refers again and again to the “brave” researchers (including himself) who challenge religion. In “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins, a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford, once again likens religious faith to a disease and sets as his goal convincing his readers that atheism is “a brave” aspiration.But supposedly on the other side,
In “God’s Universe,” Dr. [Owen] Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard, tells how he is “personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos.”If that's all they're arguing about, it's not about anything. That is, it's about nothing that makes any difference in the real world. Dawkins and Dennett have no problem acknowledging that there are things about how the universe works that we don't yet understand, they just don't anthropomorphize the Great Unknown. They think of it rather as Terrain to be Explored. Gingerich and the other authors Dean reviews here are happy calling it "a superintelligent Creator." Neither side can disprove the other, because they are talking about nothing -- nothing at all, except which metaphor makes them happy.
The problem with the anthropomorphic vision, that there is a "Creator" with something like what we human beings flatter ourselves by calling "intelligence," is that then people (presumably less sophisticated than Dr. Gingerich) are mighty tempted to attribute intentionality to it, as though it were a person. "Things are the way they are because God made them that way" is a formula for irrational resistance to change. "We are acting on God's will" is even more dangerous, allowing people to grant themselves divine permission to do great harm to other people. That's why I prefer the "terrain to be explored" metaphor; if and when we do meet God in our explorations, He, She or It will no doubt turn out to be nothing less (and nothing more) than a fuller understanding of the universe. Meanwhile, let's leave the hypothetical divine personality out of it.