Sunday, August 28, 2011

God as “a symbolic term”

8/28/2011—I’m always running into the criticism that I am redefining terms, especially the word God. So, when I run across usages having nothing to do with law, I gather them up. One such example comes in an article in Zygon by Edward Davis about the geologist Kirtley Fletcher Mather (1888-1978). (September 2011).

Mather used the term ‘administration of the universe” to suggest a unity and orderliness about nature and human life. Here is an example: “That the administration of the universe is going forward according to a consistent plan is a conclusion reached alike by the man or religion and the man of science.”

Maher clearly did not mean that a being like a supernatural creator God lay behind the universe. He observed, however, that “evolution has resulted in progress toward the attainment of ‘the good, the true, and the beautiful””. He sometimes used the word God, but he meant “a symbolic term used to designate those aspects of the administration of the universe that affect the spiritual life and well being of mankind….a creative and regulatory power operating within the natural order.”

Mather was criticized during his life for using the term God in this way. But he responded that people use the word atom even though atom used to mean “a unit of eternal matter” and no longer does.

Mather is a perfect example to show that much criticism by atheists of religious language is aesthetic and philosophical rather than, as usually claimed, “rational” or “empirical”. Mather’s way of understanding the universe is not inconsistent with science. But it retains great symbolic richness and hopefulness. Mather’s universe is a good home for human beings. We have no need to give that up.

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