The Wisdom Page 

A Realistic View of God — A review by Copthorne Macdonald of:

by Nicholas Maxwell

Published by Pentire Press, London, UK
2010      ISBN: 978-0-9552240-2-7

If you are a religious person, the message of this book is worth considering. If you are not religious, its message will also be understandable and meaningful to you.

The problem, as philosopher Nicholas Maxwell sees it, is that the Christian, Islamic, and Judaic concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God is flawed because too much has been rolled together. Early in the book he points out that "If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then God must be knowingly in charge of natural phenomena, in particular those natural phenomena that cause human suffering and death as a result of earthquakes, drought, disease, accident." Such a God could hardly be called all-loving. As Maxwell puts it: "The obvious conclusion to draw is that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God exists is refuted by the most elementary facts of human existence."

Maxwell's solution to the problem is to sever the God-of-Cosmic-Power from the God of love: "the God that is the source of all value." He sees the God-of-Cosmic-Power to be "utterly impersonal. It is that impersonal something, whatever It may be, that exists everywhere, eternally and unchanging, throughout all phenomena and determines (perhaps probabilistically) the way phenomena occur."

And what of the God-of-Value? Maxwell sees it as "what is best in us. It is that potentially or actually aware and loving self within us that sees, feels, knows and understands, and either does intervene to prevent disaster or is powerless to do so. The God of Value is the soul of humanity, embedded in the physical universe, striving to protect, to care for, to love, but all too often, alas, powerless to prevent human suffering."

So there is nothing to be done about the God-of-Cosmic-Power — "the underlying unified It of the universe" — except perhaps to understand it more clearly. But there is much that could be done to help the humanly-embodied God-of-Value to "help what is of value in us to flourish in the real world." Doing this is what Maxwell sees as humanity's task, and by the end of Chapter 1 he has gotten that point across very effectively.

Doing what he advocates is, however, not easy. And Maxwell devotes the rest of the book to presenting his views on what, specifically, needs to be done and his suggestions for ways of doing it. Maxwell is a philosopher, and not all of the rest of the book is casual reading. In fact, he is a philosopher of science, and the rigor of both the philosopher and the scientist pervade these later chapters and his problem-solving approach. Maxwell delves into intellectual history, and critiques some current views in both philosophy and science. He advocates "wisdom-inquiry" to replace the "knowledge inquiry" that now dominates academia. He makes a strong case for the existence of free will. He deals with the issue of conflicting values, and in response to a review of humanity's major problems he advocates a much stronger academic focus on those problems.

In writing CUTTING GOD IN HALF, Nicholas Maxwell has, as in his other books, focused on what really matters. It is a powerful, thought-stirring read — one that just might shift a reader's worldview in some positive directions.