I’m sorry to say that Stanley Fish is treading the same futile path that every defender of religion follows: there’s the knee-jerk detestation of atheism, then there’s the argument that atheism is nothing but faith itself, and now he’s reduced to impotent handwaving about a sublime but unknowable god, and therefore religion is … what? He’s not clear. He seems to be saying we can’t criticize religion because we have imperfect knowledge of a perfect being.
It’s very silly stuff. These are the desperate excuses of a theologian who wants to believe but knows he’s got nothing of substance, so he has to make sure his god is hidden away from skeptical eyes. Here are his pathetic efforts:
If divinity, by definition, exceeds human measure, the demand that the existence of God be proven makes no sense because the machinery of proof, whatever it was, could not extend itself far enough to apprehend him.
Nobody has demanded that the existence of god be proven—the case for its existence is much shakier than that. All we ask for is some evidence, some token of an objective, reasonable clue that there is a divine intelligence. It has not been forthcoming. Instead, we get rationalizations like the one above. So we can’t measure the awesome magnitude of divinity; I’m not asking for the whole thing, just show me one millimeter of god-stuff. All these people who claim to believe surely must have some reason, beyond the usual mundane indoctrination from childhood, right? Or if they do not, it seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that their beliefs are a delusion and a product of human culture.
I’m not even going to get that tiny demonstration of god’s reality, though: Fish uses one of the oldest excuses in the book.
The criticism made by atheists that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated is no criticism at all; for a God whose existence could be demonstrated wouldn’t be a God; he would just be another object in the field of human vision.
Not only won’t Fish show us any evidence for a god, he can’t — by his eminently convenient definition, any being who deigned to show so much as a bit of lace from the edges of his/her robe wouldn’t be a god at all. It creates an interesting potentiality. Imagine that a great bearded man, 10 miles tall, suddenly manifests himself on Earth, and shouts out in a voice every human being on the planet can hear, “I AM JEHOVAH, LORD OF LORDS, CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, ULTIMATE JUDGE OF YOUR WORTHINESS,” and he’s accompanied by a flock of winged angels with trumpets, and all the birds and beasts congregate around him, bowing and acknowledging his majesty, everyone who uses his name in vain abruptly bursts into green flame and crumbles to ash (I won’t even mention the horrors that descend on those who break the other commandments), laws of nature are suspended, televangelists are teleported to his outstretched right hand and stand their wearing crowns of gold, etc., etc. etc.
Every atheist will be saying “Right, well, I guess I was wrong then—there is an almighty awesome being.” And we’ll be rummaging in our closets for that tatty old bible we got from our devout spinster aunt years ago.
Stanley Fish, on the other hand, will be standing there squeaking, “I can see him, therefore he isn’t a god.”
Douglas Adams dealt with this particularly silly conundrum well enough and long before I tried.
The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy recieved not from its own carrier but from those around it, It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. the practical upshot of this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any language.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes like this : “I refuse to prove that I exist”, says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
“But”, says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? it could not have evolved by chance. it proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.”
“Oh dear”, says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
The curious thing, though, is that many of these same people who insist that their god is not subject to common demands for evidence because that would nullify the faith that is an essential component of his existence will also turn around and insist that they have good reason to believe in god — other than that it was dunned into their heads by their Sunday school teacher in childhood — and that, for instance, the existence of a creation itself implies a creator, or that the malaria parasite is evidence for special creation, or that the power of prayer is a testimony to the power of Jesus.
Stanley Fish has now declared that his god is unreachable by evidence or reason and that demonstrating any facet of his existence contradicts his nature. I take it this means that Fish is now done trying to support the existence of any gods, and that next week, he’ll be writing about Piers Plowman or something similarly tangible. I don’t think I want to bet on it, though—more likely, we’ll get yet more indignation at atheists and sympathy for religion.