Paper-tigers

Linda R. Barrett (barrett@uakron.edu)
Tue, 31 Mar 1998 17:44:41 -0500

I have been lurking on the discussion for the past couple weeks. I want
to thank you all for thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion. My
only regret is that I cannot afford the time to thoroughly digest many
of the posts!

I have followed with interest the exchanges between Will Provine and
various others, especially concerning Will's view that a god that isn't
dramatically observable to scientists isn't a god worth having. He has
expressed this viewpoint several times; for example, on 3/19 he said:

> I appreciate this theological point, made so many different times, and especially by
> liberal theological formerly mainstream churches (such as my old Presbyterian
> church). The problem is that this kind of God seemed to me then so intellectually
> contrived, so distant, that it wasn't worth much to me. It is so easy to say, "God
> is everywhere and works through the laws of nature." What I cannot see, is why such
> a God would be of any real use to anyone. I am extremely curious--do you on this ASA
> list think this kind of God is comforting to you?
>
The term "paper-tiger" has been applied to such a god several times.

Since Will's 3/19 posting I have been pondering the question of what
our world would be like if we had a god that did NOT primarily work
using consistent, regular, and describable laws. It seems to me that if
that were the case, the world would be unpredictable, chaotic, and a
truly fearful place to live. I doubt that we would be able to recognize
miracles if that were the case, as we wouldn't have "laws" to be broken.

If, on the other hand, God is intimately involved in our world, such
that what occurs occurs somehow through him (though exactly _how_ , I
don't understand), but he chooses to (almost always) work in a regular,
consistent way, I don't see why that would be a negative. I find it
very comfortiing to feel as though I can understand or predict in some
small measure what will occur in my surroundings. Many things which
occur in a predictable pattern are beautiful, and yet are carried out by
someone's agency. I am thinking of, for example, a patchwork quilt or a
knitted cloth. In these cases much of the beauty is there precisely
_because_ of the pattern and predictable symmetry. In very great quilts
or knitted textiles, the maker may see fit to introduce an occasional
exception to the pattern, which may add to the beauty. But quilts or
knits with NO pattern would just be a mess, not even comprehensible. I
would not consider the maker of a beautiful, regular quilt to be a
paper-tiger.

As for those exceptions, I am sure that God does sometimes do things
which do not conform to the regularities he normally uses. It does not
seem that God finds "showing off" his ability to do these things to
result in a beautiful quilt. He does not seem to care to perform
miracles on-demand, simply to prove to people that he exists and can do
miracles. Yet a God working through what we would consider normal,
natural means (because this is God's usual way of acting) can still act,
and those actions are comforting and beautiful to many who discern them
(even if such discernment requires faith, not direct measurement).

--
Dr. Linda R. Barrett
Department of Geography and Planning
University of Akron
Akron, OH  44325-5005
(330) 972-6120
Fax:  (330) 972-6080
barrett@uakron.edu

The Department of Geography and Planning's Web Page: http://www.uakron.edu/geography/