No One Sees God--Michael Novak


In a word--superb. A quick review of this book shows that it is the same tightly reasoned, compassionate, engaging call to conversation and, it is to be hoped, conversion from one believer to other believers and non-believers. Mr. Novak's theme in the book might well be summed up in this excerpt:

from No One Sees God
Michael Novak

In my own life, I have tried to keep the conversation up between the two sides of my own intellect. The line of belief and unbelief is not drawn between one person and another, normally, but rather down the inner souls of all of us. That is why the very question stirs so much passion. I have known people who declaim so passionately and argumentatively that they do not believe in God that I am drive to wonderment: Why are they so agitated, if, as they insist, God does not exist? Why then do they pay so much attention? Some of the greatest converts, in either direction, are those who wrestled strenuously for many year to maintain the other side.

There follows a fascinating journey down the highways and byways of faith--both for and against God, because, when we boil down all terms, atheism is as much a matter of faith as is theism. In fact, it may take even more faith to remain a steadfast atheist than to remain a believer, although atheist apologists would argue that their entire worldview is rooted in reason. In reality, no more so than the average believer's worldview.

Mr. Novak skirts the territory of the "design" discussion and offers a refreshing insight into the use of the terms Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism as philosophies rather than the underlying scientific approaches to understanding the development of life on Earth. Not that he gives any quarter to the philosophy that entangles itself with a Darwinian view of evolution but he right points out that use of these terms obviates any term for the general theory of development through natural selection. He makes a very nice point here:

Source as Noted Above

Second, use of these terms would lead to costly and unnecessary misunderstandings. For example, when Catholic Cardinal Christoph Schöborn denounced "Neo-Darwinism" in the New York Times, he was understood to be attacking a scientific theory, and this mistaken impression caused shock waves that were unnecessary.

I would note that, additionally, he caused a great deal of confusion among the faithful as to what was actually being denounced. When talking about scientific theories, one must understand the science and the philosophy, which may not be so apparent. One must tease them apart and point out the problems with the philosophy without discarding the valid science. Indeed, the most powerful argument against the philosophy that underpins some scientific theories is the "rules" of science itself. Can what you propose be tested and repeatably, reliably tested in some way. If not, the matter is not a matter for science, but one for the salon.

Mr. Novak's book is fine and powerful--a wonderful discussion of the issues surrounding faith and belief and unbelief. He attempts a powerful rebuttal to the like of Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens without devolving to a "Yes He does," "No he Doesn't" kind of back and forth. The respect with which he treats views that vary from his own should be a model for us as we engage in conversation with those around us. Indeed, he delineates 5 offputting ways of talking about God: God as Scientific Entity, God as Redundant (gap-filler), The God of Infinite Regress, God as Superdad, and God as Subjective feeling.

If there is a downside to this remarkable book it is, perhaps, the allegiance and implied universalism of nihilism and existential self-definitions with which Mr. Novak leaves his introduction/preface. He acknowledges that not everyone experiences this nihilism, and I suppose our formative experiences would shape our ultimate philosophical view of the world. Growing up when he did, it is hardly surprisingly that nihilism has a certain appeal.

Let me leave with this passage and my strongest recommendation that everyone interested in a serious discussion of belief and unbelief--light without undue heat--should invest some time and energy in a perusal of this book.

You cannot see God, even if you try. But you can see your neighbor, the tedious one, who grinds on you: Love him, love her. As Jesus loves them. Give them the tender smile of Jesus, even though your own feeling be like the bottom of a birdcage. Do not ask to see Jesus, or to feel Him. That is for children. Love him in the dark. Love for the invisible divine, not for warm and comforting human consolation. Love for the sake of love, not in order to feel loved in return.


If a Christian has not yet known this darkness and aridity, it is a sign that the Lord is still treating him like a child at the breast, too unformed for the adult darkness in which alone the true God is found. Any who think they can make idols, or images, or pictures, or concepts of God remain underdeveloped in their faith. Darkness is not a sign of unbelief, or even of doubt, but a sign of the true relation between the Creator and the creature. God is not on our frequency, and when we get beyond our usual range, which in prayer we must, we reach only darkness. This is painful. In a way, it does make one doubt; in another way, experience shows us that when one is no longer a child, one leaves childish ways behind.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 5, 2008 7:45 AM.

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