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THE RELEVANCE OF GOD: A REPLY TO RONALD DWORKIN

  • Timothy P. Jackson (a1)

Extract

When Ronald Dworkin was to deliver his 1988 Tanner Lecture on Human Values at Stanford University, he was introduced by the university's president, Donald Kennedy. Kennedy offered an appreciative account of Dworkin's background and achievements, noted the title of the upcoming talk, then gathered up his notes and turned the podium over to the speaker. Dworkin proceeded to give a two-hour oration on the foundations of liberal equality, breathtaking in its detail and logical rigor and flowing eloquently without a hitch or hesitation. Just as he was concluding, Kennedy rushed up to the dais and exclaimed to the audience: “Please forgive me, I just realized that when I picked up my notes, I also inadvertently picked up Professor Dworkin's manuscript.” Without missing a beat, Dworkin had delivered his entire lecture from memory.

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1 Augustine, “Concerning the Nature of Good,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 4, St. Augustine: The Writings against the Manicheans and against the Donatists, ed. Schaff, Philip (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 351.

2 Such is my best recollection of what happened. I cannot claim to quote Kennedy verbatim, but I am confident that I recall the gist.

3 A bibliography of Ronald Dworkin's work on law and religion, including the works cited herein, is included following the review essays in this issue.

4 Nietzsche, , “The Antichrist,” in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Kaufmann, Walter (New York: Viking Press, 1954), 13, 579.

5 Dworkin's “godless religion” and “religious atheism” find an interesting contrast in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's “religionless Christianity.” For Bonhoeffer, it is religion, not God, that is dispensable. See Bonhoeffer, , Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Bethge, Eberhard (New York: Macmillan, 1972).

6 Nietzsche, “The Antichrist,” 2, 570.

7 David Hume is typically cited as subscribing to the fact/value distinction, but Alasdair MacIntyre thinks this is a misreading. See MacIntyre, , “Hume on ‘Is’ and ‘Ought’,” in Hume: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by Chappell, V. C. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).

8 Augustine, “Concerning the Nature of Good,” 351.

9 Compare Dworkin, Religion without God, 105, with Rorty, Richard, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

10 Several cosmologists do currently dispute the usual Big Bang theory, in part because it rests on a “singularity” not subject to further investigation. See, for example, Steinhardt, Paul J. and Turok, Neil, Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang (New York: Broadway Books, 2007).

11 Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 267.

12 Weil, , Waiting for God, trans. Craufurd, Emma (New York: Perennial Classics/HarperCollins, 2001), 45, 83.

13 See Penrose, , The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); Kauffman, , Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion (New York: Basic Books, 2008); Nagel, , Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

14 See Wilson, , Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975); Dawkins, , The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976); Ruse, Michael, Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1998); Joyce, Richard, The Evolution of Morality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006).

15 See Joyce, The Evolution of Morality, 223.

16 Gould, , Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999), 56.

17 Gray, “Natural Selection Not Inconsistent with Natural Theology,” in Atlantic Monthly (July, August, and October), 1860.

18 See, for instance, Smolin, Lee, The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006); Woit, Peter, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law (New York: Basic Books, 2006). The 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson, the “God particle,” at CERN's Large Hadron Collider provided crucial support for the Standard Model, but it has not been the key to reconciling relativity and indeterminacy in a theory of quantum gravity.

19 See Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Pevear, Richard and Volokhonsky, Larissa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990). David Cortesi notwithstanding, the Russian equivalents of the quoted words do appear in the novel. In part 4, book 11, chapter 4, page 589 of my edition, they are said by Dmitri Karamazov, echoing Ivan.

20 See my chapter, The Return of the Prodigal? Liberal Theory and Religious Pluralism,” in Religion and Contemporary Liberalism, ed. by Weithman, Paul (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997).

21 See my Political Agape: Prophetic Christianity and Liberal Democracy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015).

22 See Rosenblum, Bruce and Kuttner, Fred, Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); see also Cannavo, Salvator, Quantum Theory: A Philosopher's Overview (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2009).

23 For excellent analyses of the relation between alethiological realism and finite and divine minds, see Alston, William, “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Real World,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 52, no. 6 (1979): 779808; and Plantinga, Alvin, “How to Be an Anti-Realist,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 56, no. 1 (1982): 4770. Both authors tie a realistic account of truth to theism.

24 Antony Flew now endorses theism on a similar basis. See Flew, , There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).

25 Kierkegaard, , The Sickness unto Death, trans. Hong, Howard V. and Hong, Edna H. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 1417.

26 Kauffman, Reinventing the Sacred, xi, 1–2.

27 Ibid., ix, xi.

28 Ibid., xiii.

29 Charles Sanders Peirce observes that “almost every branch of science is surrounded with a hazy cloud of opinions, not scientific,–too general to be by any means sure,–philosophical beliefs which the science tends to encourage. . . . [Physics] seems to me to encourage a necessitarian doctrine, which I believe to be a generalization both false and pernicious.” See Peirce, Unpublished Manuscript #954, Houghton Library, Harvard University, pp. 2–3. I am inclined to say something similar about evolutionary biology and anti-teleological doctrine.

30 Kauffman, Reinventing the Sacred, 3.

31 See my chapter, The Christian Love Ethic and Evolutionary ‘Cooperation’: The Lessons and Limits of Eudaimonism and Game Theory,” in Evolution, Games, and God, eds. Coakley, Sarah and Nowak, Martin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

32 Hitchens, , God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Warner Twelve, 2007).

33 If “religion” means ritual practices and social institutions oriented around a person's or a community's “ultimate concern,” to adopt a phrase from Tillich, then both Buddhism and humanistic naturalism are religions. But if, as Dworkin suggests, “religion” implies specific belief in the supernatural, in a Good or goodness not reducible to material objects or human desire, then religion is a much more limited set of actions, convictions, and communities.

34 The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, His Holiness Gyatso, Tenzin, Kindness, Clarity, and Insight, trans. and ed. Hopkins, Jeffrey, co-ed. Napper, Elizabeth (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1984), 32; see also The Dalai Lama, An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, ed. Vreeland, Nicholas (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2001).

35 Rorty, “Private Irony and Liberal Hope,” in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, 85; see also Rorty, Richard and Vattimo, Gianni, The Future of Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). In The Future of Religion, Rorty calls himself “nonreligious” but praises “the gradual weakening of the worship of God as power and its gradual replacement with the worship of God as love.” Rorty, The Future of Religion, 40, 56. Oddly, Rorty views the difference between religious and nonreligious people as “not a matter of conflicting beliefs about what really exists and what does not.” Ibid., 40. Surely a Christian theist believes that God is really existent loving power.

36 Stout, personal communication with author. The relevant dialogue took place in the lounge of the Religion Department at Princeton in 2002. Stout, Eric Gregory, Cornel West, and I happened to cross paths there, and we struck up a conversation about, in effect, religion without God. Two highly enjoyable hours later, nothing was resolved, but we had become better friends for wrestling together with the ineffable.

37 “The Antichrist,” 623.

38 See my Love Disconsoled: Meditations on Christian Charity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), chapters 5, 7; The Priority of Love: Christian Charity and Social Justice (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), chapters 2, 4.

39 See the preface to The Priority of Love.

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Journal of Law and Religion
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