Commentary Magazine


The Idea of God

To the Editor:

I would like to comment on a single crucial passage in Professor Hook’s “Modern Knowledge and the Idea of God” [March]: “The finitude of the human intellect is no bar to adequate knowledge of other things [than the nature of God], even of things which are not finite. . . . Nor can our inability to describe God adequately flow from the presumed uniqueness of God because there are unique things in the world which we can describe adequately in terms that apply to other things.”

Professor Hook leaves open the question whether there are not unique things which we cannot describe adequately, etc. . . . It is the consensus of most physicists that the Heisenberg principle of indeterminacy is an absolute blind alley. It is in the nature of things that the motion of subatomic particles cannot adequately be plotted. . . .

Gödel’s Theorem has a wider bearing on Professor Hook’s statement. . . . [And concerning it] P. W. Bridgman says in Reflections of a Scientist: “We here encounter a regress that has no logical end, and, humanly, ends in human weariness and the finite end of human life. . . . the human intelligence can never be sure of itself. . . .”

Maurice Samuel
New York City

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To the Editor:

Professor Sidney Hook is always fiercely logical and brooks no nonsense. . . . I enjoyed reading his article and happily subscribed to everything he said—until I came upon the following: “Tillich interprets religion as an expression of man’s ultimate concern. God, therefore, can be defined as the object of man’s ultimate concern. This means that there are as many Gods as there are objects of ultimate concern.”

Not so. Paul Tillich’s “Ultimate Concern” is one grandiloquent phrase which (a) points up the area where true religiosity dwells and (b) can be applied . . . in . . . separating the truly religious from the non-religious. . . . Where man’s concerns are many, they are not ultimate. . . .

Immediate concerns are divisive, ultimate concerns unify. . . . Somewhere inside the rarified world of Ultimate Concern is where God dwells. . . . However, you may not succeed in finding Him even there, but, this is where one must go when out on a safari of God hunting.

David Tabak
Brooklyn, New York

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Mr. Hook writes:

In reply to Mr. Samuels: I do not believe that the Heisenberg principle of indeterminancy, however interpreted, or Gödel’s Theorem have any logical bearing upon the question of whether the human mind can have adequate knowledge of the nature of God. Whether knowledge is “adequate” or not depends upon the purpose and context of the knowledge we seek. The fact that I speak of the “finitude” of the human mind indicates that I do not believe it is omnipotent or omnicompetent. Intelligence is the only reliable judge of its own limitations. The crucial point in my argument against Father Copleston is that from the fact that the human mind is finite, it does not follow,. except by arbitrary definitions, that we cannot have adequate knowledge of the existence of God. “Adequate,” of course, must not be equated with “complete.”

I have serious doubts about Bridgman’s interpretation both of the indeterminancy principle of Gödel’s Theorem. The inference he draws from Gödel’s Theorem seems to be a philosophical commonplace widely accepted before Gödel. It is a consequence, for example, of Peirce’s probabilism. The interpretation of Heisenberg’s principle I have discussed in Determinism and Modern Freedom. I take the liberty of referring interested readers to that volume which also contains contributions by Bridgman. . . .

In reply to Mr. Tabak: Mr. Tabak’s prose I find more difficult to understand than Professor Tillich’s. It seems clear that human beings have concerns whether ultimate or not. One man’s ultimate concern may not be another’s. Consequently if God is defined as the object of man’s ultimate concern, the objects may be different and Gods therefore plural. Theism has always appeared to me less credible than polytheism.

Further, it is false to say as Mr. Tabak does that all immediate concerns are divisive. And it is obvious that not all ultimate concerns unify, vide, the history of religion. After all, it would be rather presumptuous to suggest that either the religious orthodox or the religious heretics whom they zealously persecuted, or both, lacked ultimate concern because their concerns were divisive. If Mr. Tabak finds the logic too fierce, I am willing to settle for a pinch of common sense.

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To the Editor:

I believe that the best comment on Sidney Hook’s recent article is found in a poem by George Meredith: “Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul/ When hot for certainties in this our life!”

M. H. Levine
Maryland State College
Princess Anne, Maryland

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