CGE asks me to comment on an argument [to speak] by Herbert McCabe, who lectured at Oxford. The reference is here:
It would be too much to summarize McCabe's argument, so I am going to have to simply assume that anyone who is interested will take the time to follow the link and read McCabe's short article. I realize this is not the way with the web, which seeks instant gratification, but I am too old to change, so I will do it the old-fashioned way.
McCabe's "argument" is typical of efforts by academic and intellectual believers in the post Hume and Kant era to keep talking in the old familiar ways while acknowledging that they no longer really have any coherent meaning. McCabe seems to think that the endless quest for answers is God, or is belief in God, or is the search for God -- he really fails to distinguish among these. He wants us to suppose that the persistence of the scientist in seeking the cause of each effect and the explanation of each as yet unexplained thing reveals a failure or unwillingness to ask the ultimate question, which is, why is there in general something and not nothing [as Heidegger put it]. I am reminded of Kierkegaard's wonderful observation [somewhere in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, but I do not recall exactly where] that philosophers ask for the cause of an effect, and the cause of the cause, and the cause of the cause of the cause, and then after a while grow weary and conclude that they have proved the existence of God.
Kant has a more elaborate story about essentially the same thing [Kierkegaard had read Kant, of course.] The mind forms a number of concepts of the Unconditioned, which Kant calls Ideas of Reason. These Ideas can never be adequately instantiated in experience, because experience s through and through conditioned. But the Ideas serve as Regulative Principles that guide ever further investigations. So, for example, confronted with Galileo's laws of terrestrial motion and Kepler's laws of planetary motion, Newton seeks, and finds, laws of motion in general from which both Galileo's laws and Kepler's laws can be derived as special cases. And then Einstein finds a way to unite Newton's laws of motion with the laws of electromagnetism. And so forth.
Notice, by the way -- this is actually important -- that McCabe, after acknowledging and granting the standard critiques of Rational Theology, then goes right on referring to God as "he" or "him." [But not with capital letters -- a big concession, we must imagine.]
McCabe actually invokes the notion of a Category Mistake introduced by Gilbert Ryle in his Concept of Mind, but without mentioning Ryle. McCabe observes that it is an error to suppose that we can list the things in the world and then add God as though God were one more thing previously not mentioned. Ryle's example is of someone who asks to be shown Oxford University, and after being taken to each college and to the Bodleian Library, then says, "But where is Oxford?" as though Oxford were something over and above the totality of the colleges, etc. This is a category mistake, Ryle says [he is introducing the notion in order to argue that various classes of mental activities and powers are not things over and above their manifestations in behavior -- Logical Behaviorism, as it was called.]
But although McCabe is very sophisticated about all of this, and also quite charming and engaging, he really really really does not want to stop talking God talk, so he denies its meaning, and then goes on talking it anyway, as though the denial insulated him from the refutation.
Well, my apologies to CGE. I am sure he [or she] would have liked something more positive and admiring. But there it is. No God really means no God.