God in Proof

God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet

Nathan Schneider
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt3fh2mp
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  • Book Info
    God in Proof
    Book Description:

    In this tour of the history of arguments for and against the existence of God, Nathan Schneider embarks on a remarkable intellectual, historical, and theological journey through the centuries of believers and unbelievers-from ancient Greeks, to medieval Arabs, to today's most eminent philosophers and the New Atheists. Framed by an account of Schneider's own unique journey, God in Proof illuminates the great minds who wrestled with one of history's biggest questions together with their arguments, bringing them to life in their time, and our own. Schneider's sure-handed portrayal of the characters and ideas involved in the search for proof challenges how we normally think about doubt and faith while showing that, in their quest for certainty and the proofs to declare it, thinkers on either side of the God divide are often closer to one another than they would like to think.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95756-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. SKETCHES OF BABEL
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. ONE First Causes: ANCIENT TIMES AND REASONABLE MEASURES
    (pp. 1-20)

    The first time I remember thinking about proofs for the existence of God was when I was seventeen, thanks to a book I came across at my friend Corinne’s house. It was muddy green and fairly large—an encyclopedic, spirited compendium of things about which one should know. The proofs took up no more than a couple of pages, and they weren’t cast in an especially favorable light. They were more like a centuries-old joke, actually, a joke that one should be prepared for just in case anyone ever tries passing them off as anything other than that. One should...

  5. TWO The Island: MUSLIMS AND JEWS MAKE PROOF SAFE FOR REVELATION
    (pp. 21-40)

    Back in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a fad for tropical islands. This was the generation of Americans that had fought on such islands in the Pacific and had since begun blowing up some of them with nuclear tests. People couldn’t get enough of island music (lap-steel guitars), island swimwear (named after the Bikini Atoll test site), or island fantasy vacations (in the country’s newest state). Gilligan had an island of his own on TV. The anthropologist Margaret Mead’s stories about life on distant islands described a liberated sexuality that would influence both the coming counterculture and the consumer...

  6. THREE Grammars of Assent: A COMEBACK IN CHRISTENDOM
    (pp. 41-62)

    Anselm couldn’t sit still. Rising before the sun, even on the coldest winter mornings, he and the other monks would gather in the church to chant psalms. They all wore the same habit, and their voices all sang the same tones, whose echoes cascaded through the stale air and against the stone walls. But Anselm was distracted. The prayers on his lips couldn’t compete with his thoughts, and his thoughts were stuck. “I hoped for gladness,” he wrote, “and, lo, my sighs come thick and fast!”¹

    The Benedictine abbey at Bec, in what is now northern France, was less than...

  7. FOUR On Certainty: EARLY MODERNITY UPENDS A FAMILIAR PROOF
    (pp. 63-84)

    The story almost repeats itself: another dim room, another silent flash of insight in the mind of a man. Yet while Anselm was alone among his brother monks and under the roof of his church, this solitude, five centuries later, was more complete.

    René Descartes, a slight, sickly Frenchman in his early twenties, was in Germany serving as a volunteer in the Bavarian prince Maximilian’s army. A war was on, and would be for thirty years. Its lines were drawn along the same ones that, over the past century, had divided Europe: Catholic on one side—Maximilian’s side—and Protestant...

  8. FIVE Coming of Age: FROM THE ALL-DESTROYER TO AN ABSOLUTE IDEA
    (pp. 85-104)

    My conversion started smack-dab in the middle of the time when these sorts of things tend to happen, statistically speaking: the major identity formation years, as the puberty fires begin to cool and congeal. I have a theory that this period of radical doubt and radical impressionability is a mechanism built into human nature to test our belief systems, ensuring that they haven’t gotten stale with later-life obfuscation and complacency. To impress a teenager, an idea has to satisfy certain criteria. It has to be simple enough to grasp quickly while also having huge explanatory scope. It should make one...

  9. SIX Grandeur in This View of Life: DESIGN AND ITS DISCONTENTS
    (pp. 105-126)

    We notice purpose around us, all the time. Cognitive scientists find that their subjects, particularly children, have a bias for seeing some kind of intentional agent at work behind events; we’ll assume there is one until good reason comes along to suggest otherwise. When strange lights appear in the sky, or an economy crashes, or there’s a sound in the other room, we think, Who did it? Why? Only later, even if by just a few moments, will we begin to wonder, How?

    I began to see, over the course of my conversion, the hand of God in my world....

  10. SEVEN The Deaths of God: HUMAN PROGRESS AND DIVINE ABSENCE
    (pp. 127-148)

    On October 7, 2008, twenty-two-year-old Jesse Kilgore drove out into the woods near his home, in Upstate New York, and shot himself with a rifle. In the days before the end, Jesse had been planning for the future. He reenlisted in the military and asked his father for a ticket to visit his grandparents in Florida. He was close to completing an associate’s degree. As he was getting in the car to leave home for the last time, he talked about seeing a movie with his family later on. But then Jesse’s father, Keith Kilgore, got a call from the...

  11. EIGHT Not Dead Yet: THEISM MAKES A COMEBACK IN PHILOSOPHY
    (pp. 149-170)

    Antony Flew, as it turns out, came around. Sort of. At eighty-one years old, in early 2004, the author of some of Anglophone philosophy’s seminal atheist texts—“Theology and Falsification,” The Presumption of Atheism, God and Philosophy—began telling people that he thought God probably exists.

    The son of a prominent, absent Methodist minister, Flew lost his faith as a teenager. He served as an intelligence officer in World War II and afterward wound up at Oxford studying philosophy. While still in his twenties, he took a public stand against God and kept it up over the course of a...

  12. NINE God, Hypothesis: PROOF SNEAKS INTO THE LATEST SCIENCE
    (pp. 171-192)

    Another young man with a gun to his head; another beginning with nearly another end.

    The night of his twentieth birthday, John Clayton held a .22-caliber rifle between his legs, pointed upward. “I was finding pleasure,” he says, “but I was not finding happiness.”¹ Even more troubling, though, was that his way of seeing the world had been falling apart. As a follower of the atheist provocateur Madalyn Murray O’Hair, he was the founder and self-appointed president of the Indiana Atheist Association, which made good money organizing lawsuits against churches’ tax exemptions. His father, an atheist philosophy professor, was proud....

  13. TEN The Proof Industry: OLD PROOFS TURN INTO VIRAL MOVEMENTS
    (pp. 193-222)

    C.S. Lewis heard a recording of himself for the first time in early 1941. “I was unprepared for the total unfamiliarity of the voice,” he wrote a few months later; “not a trace, not a hint, of anything one could identify with oneself.”¹ A producer from the BBC’s religious broadcasting department had come up to have lunch with him at Oxford’s Magdalen College, where Lewis taught, and they used the occasion to rehearse. They were getting ready to bring proofs to the masses.

    By August of that year, Lewis was commuting down to London on Wednesday evenings to give fifteen-minute...

  14. God, Alone
    (pp. 223-230)

    The plan, originally, was to build a monastery of stone. Monks first arrived at Berryville, Virginia, in 1950, after Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island burned down, but the community never grew big enough for stone. Holy Cross Abbey consists mostly of cinder-block buildings painted sky blue, which surround a mansion constructed in 1784 by a man named William Wormeley. His father, Ralph Wormeley, had bought the land before the Revolutionary War, apparently on the advice of George Washington. Even the mansion’s stone walls are hidden under blue paint. Cistercian monasteries have never been grand, but their simplicity...

  15. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. 231-232)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 233-246)
  17. TIMELINE OF PROVERS
    (pp. 247-249)
  18. TABLE OF PROOFS
    (pp. 250-254)