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David Bentley Hart, in The Experience of God (Yale, $25), dismisses those classical gods and goddesses. He is robustly convinced that there is only one definition of God, and that is his own:

one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.

Hart suggests that his book may be “extremely unambitious,” but apparently he has been goaded into writing it by the “crude,” “magical,” and “infantile” theories of such atheists as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking. Like many theologians, he frames his arguments quite narrowly: he has limited patience for Bible-believing fundamentalists, though he considers them “poignantly pathetic” rather than “confused” like Hawking. In fact, Hart writes unequivocally, “there simply cannot be a natural explanation of existence as such; it is an absolute logical impossibility.”

How does he know this? Hard to say, because every time he might lay out his evidence he lays out his eloquence instead (and he is eloquent). Although Hart is an Eastern Orthodox scholar, he enlists Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism in his argument, and labels the three prongs of his proof after the Hindu concepts of Being (Sat), Consciousness (Chit), and Bliss (Ananda). He seems to believe consciousness is his ace in the hole — unexplainable by neuroscience. Subjectivity, he states, “cannot be denied without a swift descent into nonsense.” I was reminded repeatedly of Werner Loewenstein’s Physics in Mind (reviewed in this column in January), a persuasive model of how consciousness might have evolved in the quantum universe and a powerful argument against Hart’s assertion that “materialists” cannot explain what he calls “subjective awareness.”

One virtue of Hart’s argument, especially in today’s fragmented religious world, is that he is inclusive — but inclusiveness is finally proof of very little. As Rebecca Goldstein points out in 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, the “Argument from the Consensus of Humanity” (the idea that if different cultures develop similar belief systems, then those systems must be true) is flawed because

Our beliefs arise not only from well-evaluated reasoning, but from wishful thinking, self-deception, self-aggrandizement, gullibility, false memories, visual illusions, and other mental glitches.

Hart seems to think that aggression mixed with passion will persuade the reader, but his disdain is off-putting and his argument circular.

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