Thursday, August 07, 2008

Pot and Potter or Deus ex Ceramica

“Can you have a pot without a potter?” The question seems simple enough, and the man asking the question—some fellow next to whom I was standing in the evolution section of our local Barnes and Noble—seemed quite sincere. So, on the off chance that he really didn’t know the answer, I offered him one: “No,” I said. “You cannot have a pot without a potter.”

I should have known better than to answer. In fact I did, and got just what I expected: a delightful harangue about the heresy of Darwinian evolution. His point was simple: Just as you cannot have a pot without a potter so you cannot have creation without a Creator. Hence Darwin is wrong and Jesus is the only begotten Son of God who died for my sins on the cross and who, if I would only believe in him rather than the Flying Spaghetti Monster would provide me with eternal life in the world to come. (For the curious, belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster only gets you a one time 20% discount at Pasta House.)

It’s a nice argument as such arguments go, but it has a fatal flaw. If you cannot have a thing without its maker, having God only begs the question, Who made God? There is no end to such reductionist logic, and hence the pot—potter argument is both exhausting and useless.

But not wanting to sound snooty (I was wearing an Obama ‘08 button and feared being labeled an elitist), I didn’t offer it. Instead I said, “But of course cannot have a potter without a pot either.” This seemed to catch the man off guard, and I continued:

“Pot and potter define one another. If I told you that I was a potter and you discovered that I had never in my life made a pot, you would rightly think me a liar. A potter without a pot is not a potter, the two go together and are in fact inseparable. Applying this to God, a Creator who never creates is not a Creator. Creation, and by ‘creation’ I mean nature as you and I understand it, is absolutely necessary to Creator. They go together are not really distinguishable. As Spinoza said Deus sive Natura, “God or Nature” it is all the same.”

A word to the wise: When wearing an Obama ’08 button and wishing not to be considered elitist, it is best not to quote Spinoza, and certainly not to quote him in Latin.

The man looked at me, then at my button, and then back at me. Then he said half under his breath, “Go to hail.” For a moment I thought he was turning our attention to the meteorology books next to the evolution books on the science shelf, and I did indeed turn to look to see if there was a book on hail that would be relevant to our conversation. Not finding one I turned back, but he was already gone.

In hindsight I suspect he had said something else, but the fault is all mine nonetheless. I don’t think the man understood my Latin, and my Obama ’08 button is written in Hebrew, so that too was probably undecipherable. Had I only thought to converse with him in Greek, after all that is what he was speaking to me.

1 comment:

Peter Schogol said...

I'm wondering why, when Obama was at the shul in Boca Raton trying to convince scared retirees that he wasn't the second coming of Haman, he didn't mention that Bara(c)k in both Arabic and Hebrew means "thunder," with the same root as "blessing?"

Next year in Washington!