Religion without God

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Overview

In his last book, Ronald Dworkin addresses questions that men and women have asked through the ages: What is religion and what is God's place in it? What is death and what is immortality? Based on the 2011 Einstein Lectures, Religion without God is inspired by remarks Einstein made that if religion consists of awe toward mysteries which "manifest themselves in the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, and which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive ...

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Overview

In his last book, Ronald Dworkin addresses questions that men and women have asked through the ages: What is religion and what is God's place in it? What is death and what is immortality? Based on the 2011 Einstein Lectures, Religion without God is inspired by remarks Einstein made that if religion consists of awe toward mysteries which "manifest themselves in the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, and which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive forms," then, he, Einstein, was a religious person.

Dworkin joins Einstein's sense of cosmic mystery and beauty to the claim that value is objective, independent of mind, and immanent in the world. He rejects the metaphysics of naturalism--that nothing is real except what can be studied by the natural sciences. Belief in God is one manifestation of this deeper worldview, but not the only one. The conviction that God underwrites value presupposes a prior commitment to the independent reality of that value--a commitment that is available to nonbelievers as well. So theists share a commitment with some atheists that is more fundamental than what divides them. Freedom of religion should flow not from a respect for belief in God but from the right to ethical independence.

Dworkin hoped that this short book would contribute to rational conversation and the softening of religious fear and hatred. Religion without God is the work of a humanist who recognized both the possibilities and limitations of humanity.

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Editorial Reviews

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George Carlin described atheism as "a non-prophet organization" and others have castigated it as the devil's workshop, but Ronald Dworkin thinks that religions without God have been doing good since ancient times. In this revised version of his 2011 Einstein Lectures, left unfinished at his death earlier this year, the prominent legal philosopher makes a noble attempt to bridge differences between religion and science by showing that the vast majority of us possess a sense of value, whether or not we embrace a belief in God.

Publishers Weekly
10/07/2013
For years, the Christian Right has been arguing that secular humanism, an ethical and humanistic system of viewing the world without reference to God, should be considered a religion. Now, from the opposite direction, Dworkin (Justice for Hedgehogs) argues the same. In his last book, the late Dworkin, an atheist, believes that atheists share with theists a strong ethical sensibility as well as an appreciation of aesthetics that opens them to a sense of awe and an experience of the sublime that is similar to religious transcendence. He also asserts, in what is no doubt music to the ears of Christian evangelicals, a belief that “the two assumptions—that a god does or does not exist—seem on a par from the perspective of science.” Although it will possibly outrage such fellow atheists as Richard Dawkins, who want to keep a distinct demarcation between religion and atheism, Dworkin’s characteristically well-argued book raises many provocative questions worthy of further discussion. (Oct.) ¦
Booklist - Christopher McConnell
Dworkin claims a religious attitude that acknowledges two things. First, human life has objective meaning and importance. Second, the physical universe is something of intrinsic value and wonder. This broad and inclusive definition has a significant implication. Both theists and atheists can assent to it because it points to a shared, fundamental commitment that goes beyond their differences. In this sense, atheists can be religious, and religion does not necessarily require a god. Because religious atheists lack a god who legitimizes those values and both creates the physical universe and endows it with sublimity and beauty, they need an alternative explanation. To that end, Dworkin offers a metaphysics of value before exploring the relationship between beauty and physics. Although Dworkin does not embrace theism, his book is neither antitheistic nor pro-atheist. Rather, his novel definition of religion may serve as a way for theists and religious atheists to engage in constructive conversation. Both camps will benefit from reading Dworkin's engaging and philosophically rigorous analysis.
Boston Globe - James Carroll
[Dworkin] shines a brighter light on the true meaning of religion than anything produced lately by defenders of the faith. By his own account, he was a religious man, but also an atheist. That paradox leads him both to a deeper sense of faith and to a fuller appreciation of what it means to disavow the divine.
New Republic - Moshe Halbertal
Ronald Dworkin’s profound and moving final book, now published posthumously, is unique among the works that he wrote throughout the decades of his extraordinarily creative life. Anyone who read Dworkin or heard him lecture knows that he possessed a brilliant and elegant mind, conceptually sophisticated, analytically astute, and always at the service of a moral, legal, and political cause. But this book is marked by a different tone and style. It does not present a set of arguments that aim at changing beliefs and convictions; instead it conveys a philosophical, even spiritual sensibility. Its ambition is to effect not a shift in any particular position but a transformation in the way we see the world and in the stance we take toward the most basic features of our existence. The incisive qualities of Dworkin’s mind are evident in various arguments that appear throughout the book (especially in the chapter titled “Religious Freedom,” which examines the nature of the constitutional protection of religion), but the main endeavor of Religion without God is to convey an attitude--not so much to argue as to ‘show,’ to set before the reader a certain philosophical temper and to share a particular stance…It is rare in the life of a philosopher that a set of detailed arguments can be transfigured into a fundamental stance toward the universe and the human moral realm. In such a moment, the articulation of the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Religion without God is an attempt to articulate such a stance. Its ambition and its achievement make it a deep and precious book.
The Guardian - Jeremy Waldron
The position taken in Religion Without God reflects a commitment to objective value that has been indispensable for Dworkin’s broader jurisprudence.
Post and Courier - Adam Parker
Essentially sidesteps the regular theist vs. atheist debate to argue something altogether original and refreshing: that the religious impulse is (a) widely shared and (b) much bigger than a belief in God…Convictions of value are the common glue of humanity, Dworkin writes, and this idea is so appealing and so thoughtfully rendered in Religion Without God, that it is hard to find any fault with his logic…[It] inexorably lays out in lucid terms Dworkin’s moral philosophy. The logical argument he makes is itself an example of the sort of inevitable beauty he describes…Dworkin reveals the profound humanism that has informed his life’s work. He believes, tenaciously, that there is objective ethical and moral truth, ‘a right way to live’ that is independent of theistic assumptions, and therefore available to religious atheists.
Prospect Magazine - Jonathan Derbyshire
A short but profound book.
The Nation - Michael Rosen
[A] marvelous little book…Dworkin is always wonderfully clear and honest about what is involved in his position--it is part of what makes his book such a pleasure to read…I am at one with Dworkin in thinking that even a fully secular individual should contemplate the universe not just with curiosity and wonder but with reverence and gratitude.
NPR online - Adam Frank
Dworkin offers a way into discussions of science and human spiritual endeavor that is actually engaging and interesting, not combative and dogmatic...Dworkin is keen to show that--even for people who call themselves atheist--there remains a sense or a value to the world which bears so much in common with attitudes we call religious or spiritual...What Dworkin pursues is insight into the core of what makes us human and how it might be grounded in something other than an idea of God.
Library Journal
Religions without God are ancient. Attempts to reconcile religion and science by separating them still have currency. What Dworkin (law & philosophy, New York Univ,; Justice for Hedgehogs) attempted in his 2011 Einstein Lectures was to simultaneously explore religions without God and how the tenets of science and religion may find reconciliation. This work was intended to be an expansion of the lectures, but the long illness that led to Dworkin's death in 2013 prevented him from doing more than minor revisions. Dworkin argues that religious sentiment is pervasive and comes down to two things: wonder and meaning (the latter, he explains, is linked to morality) and that these aspects are objectively real and cannot be reduced to something more basic, whether that be the will of God or some sort of biological imperative. The third chapter is the strongest in the book as it deals with freedom of religion from a constitutional point of view and reinterprets freedom of religion as the freedom of each person to fulfill the obligation to live well. VERDICT A work cut short, this title is unlikely to engage partisans on either side of the debate over religion as it leaves too many questions to those who might otherwise have been sympathetic; does not advance beyond Dworkin's previous works.—James Wetherbee, Wingate Univ. Libs., NC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674726826
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2013
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 129,532
  • Product dimensions: 4.40 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald Dworkin was Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University.
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  • Posted October 26, 2013

    Dworkin presents his views in a very unobtrusive way, accepting

    Dworkin presents his views in a very unobtrusive way, accepting the views of everyone with respect.  The world would no doubt be a better place if more people could talk about religion as he does.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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