During a debate appearance on WPRI-TV’s (CBS 12) Newsmakers this past weekend, Providence Democratic Mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza was asked by panelist Ted Nesi what he meant about having disproved the existence of a theist God with sufficient certainty to have it taught in public schools…
Ted Nesi: You wrote in a 2010 law review article that, quote, the evidence shows that it’s overwhelmingly unlikely that the theist God exists. Therefore, you wrote, it’s Constitutional to teach in public schools that, apparently, the God of Christianity and Judaism does not exist. Why do you believe that, and would you seek to implement that in the Providence public schools?
Providence Mayoral Candidate Jorge Elorza: No, absolutely not….This is a 60 sixty page article, and it’s a special definition of what the theist God means. Effectively, I wrote this article because there are a number of quote-unquote angry atheists arguing that since evolution has proved true…God doesn’t exist. And I wrote this article to combat them and say that look, you might be right on this small slice, but everything else that God entails remains intact…I don’t seek to have this be taught in the public schools. This is a hypothetical that I laid out over 60 pages in an academic article.
TN: But you did write it’s unlikely that the theist God exists…Do you believe that yourself, or are you saying this is what those scientists believe?
JE: As narrowly defined, within that article, then yes, I believe that. But that’s a very special definition. There is so much more to what God entails.
Irrespective of the length of the paper, the definition of “theist God” employed doesn’t seem all that narrow or specialized. 15 pages into 65 (on page 67 in the original), Elorza makes a sweeping claim that all possibilities of God can be reduced to “four views of God that cover the entire spectrum: the theist, deist, atheist, and what I call the memist view”. The meaning of the atheist belief is clear: there is no God. The deist God, meanwhile, “does not perform miracles, does not interact with His believers, and does not intervene in the natural world”, while the memist God, according to Elorza, “resides entirely in the minds of its adherents”.
Remember, it’s Elorza who claims that his categories are comprehensive. That means that if there is a God but no “theist God”, then God either exists entirely in the human mind or, if He does exist outside of the human mind, then He “does not interact with His believers”. By any reasonable analysis, this leaves God as something decidedly less and not “so much more” than the “theist God”.
In the end, what Elorza said on Newsmakers is very different from what he claimed in his law review article. The article is not an argument that God is “so much more” than a “theist God”; it is an argument that religion is so much more than a God who exists outside of the human mind and who interacts with His believers, religion doesn’t require a living and active God at all…
If the non-existence of the theist God comes to form part of a basic public school education, it will not spell doom for religion.
And of course, it’s OK to teach this theology in public schools, in Jorge Elorza’s opinion, because it’s just true!