The book's first chapter, "Excluding God," begins with what I regard as an accurate portrayal of the modern intellectual's arbitrary and illogical refusal to countenance any explanation of the world's origins, no matter how cogent that explanation may be, if it happens to include God. The roots of this mindset reach back centuries, Mr. Gregory says, to the late-medieval theologian John Duns Scotus, who argued that God and man both exist in the same essence of things and that therefore man may speak of God with "univocal" as opposed to "analogical" language. In Scotus's thinking, the word "wise," for example, might apply to God in the same sense in which it applies to man. This had the effect, says Mr. Gregory, of defining God as if He were bound by the material world rather than transcendent over it. And when this view combined with William of Occam's "razor"—the principle that the best argument is the one with the fewest unnecessary parts—philosophers eventually felt emboldened to exclude God from any explanation of natural phenomena: and, in time, from any argument at all.
Very interesting, one might think—except that the book presents no evidence that any Protestant reformer actually espoused "univocal metaphysics," in the author's phrase. Nothing from Luther or Calvin on the subject, nothing from William Farel or Martin Bucer. Mr. Gregory does mention the Swiss Reformation leader Ulrich Zwingli and his disavowal of Christ's real presence in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, but that position is hardly the "logical corollary" to univocal metaphysics that the author claims. Transubstantiation is a far more "univocal" reading of the words "This is my body" than Zwingli's interpretation. But never mind. When Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Nietzsche and, more recently, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris formulated their skeptical views of religion, Mr. Gregory says, they thought of God in reductive, univocal terms, and this was somehow a long-term consequence of the Protestant Reformation.
Leaving aside Mr. Gregory's preposterously overwrought characterization of modern Western societies, especially America—he sees little beyond depredation, exploitation, consumerism and global warming—his complaint that modern Western morality elevates acquisitiveness to the status of a virtue is justified. But blaming this state of affairs on events that occurred and people who lived five centuries ago is a sort of rearview-mirror utopianism: If only the right social order had been left in place—if only the Protestant reformers hadn't shattered medieval Catholicism's "institutionalized worldview"—life today would be so much better.