Book Reviews

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Book Review: “Faith Founded on Fact” by John Warwick Montgomery

fff-jwmJohn Warwick Montgomery (hereafter JWM) is about as evidentialist as they come, and Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics is a collection of his essays which shows, through application, his apologetic method from a number of contexts. Here, I will go through the book to highlight main points of the individual essays and the book as a whole. Then, we’ll discuss some of the main theses in the text. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know what you think of JWM’s theses.

Central to JWM’s apologetic methodology is the notion that one need not presuppose the truth of the Bible in order to defend it. For him, one may make the appeal to the skeptic by going to the skeptic and battling their reasoning on their own grounds. He states his thesis succinctly:

Few non-Christians will be impressed by arguments… in which the Christian stacks the deck by first defining ‘rationality’ and ‘internal consistency’ in terms of the content of his own revelational position and then judges all other positions by that self-serving criterion. (xix, cited below)

JWM surveys various attacks on the practice of evidential apologetics and argues that they fail (28ff). Although he deals with various liberal objections to apologetics, the core of his concern is for the objections raised by those who feel as though the evidentialist approach does injustice to faith. In response, he notes that any approach which removes Jesus from historical investigation–from hard evidence capable of being explored by all–reduces Him to a “historical phantasm” and does injustice to the reality of the incarnation (34-35).

The possibility of miracles and the argument of Hume engages in “circular reasoning” for Hume’s argument relies upon “unalterable experience” which is, of course his own experience and that of those who agree with him. Moreover, the definition of miracle has been slanted in such a way as to make it either irrelevant or beyond the realm of evidence by various parties (46ff). A case study of the miracle of the resurrection provides proof that miracles may be examined with an evidentialist mentality, for any who wish to deny the notion must relegate history to a place which may never be accessed through evidence (56ff).

JWM analyzes Muslim apologetics and concludes that it provides a number of lessons for Christian apologetists. Among these is the notion that merely showing the falsity of other religions is not enough for an evidential defense (93-94), the notion that “no religion is deducible from self-evident a prioris…” (97), and mere appeal to “try out” a religion is not enough to establish its credibility (98).

One of JWM’s most famous (or infamous, depending upon your view) essays is “Once Upon an A Priori,” in which he launched a broad-spectrum attack on presuppositional apologetics as a methodology. In this essay, JWM argues that when one suggests there is no neutral epistemic ground between two positions whatsoever–as presuppositional apologists do–”Neither viewpoint can prevail, since by definition all appeal to neutral evidencve is eliminated” (115). Because there are no neutral facts, there can be no appeal to facts to make one’s case; instead, all one is able to do is argue in circles against each other… “appeal to common facts is the only preservative against philosophical solipsism and religious anarchy…” (119). Instead, Christians must, like Paul, “become all things to all” people (122) in order to make the case for Christianity.

The practice of apologetics, for JWM, is intended to break down the barriers to belief. But the evidences are so strong that they obligate belief in Christian theism. However, the work of the Spirit is the work of conversion. The “evidential facts are God’s work, and the sinner’s personal acceptance of them… is entirely the product of the Holy Spirit” (150).

After an essay appealing to Christians to continue to use mass communication to spread the Word, JWM turns to “The Fuzzification of Biblical Inerrancy.” By “fuzzification,” he means (following James Boren), “the presentation of a matter in terms that permit adjustive interpretation” (217). In its application to inerrancy, it means the constant adjustment of inerrancy to make it invulnerable to attack in often ad hoc ways. What one is left with is “inerrancy devoid of meaningful content…” (223). In order to combat this, JWM suggests explicit definitions of terms such that one has a firm grasp upon what is meant by inerrancy, rather than a constant modification of the term and meaning.

There are a few areas of disagreement I would express with JWM’s theses. First, his apparent dismissal of the practice of taking the “falsity of one religion” as proof of another (93-94). He is correct in that the falsity of any given religion does not entail the truth of any other one. However, it seems to be the case that the falsity of any one religion does entail that any which have not been proven false are inherently more probable. Second, I think his reaction against presuppositionalism has led him to reject all of its tenets a bit too vehemently. For example, it seems to me that in his rejection of the notion there can be “no neutral ground” he also seems to jettison the notion that facts are interpreted no matter what the facts are. However, at times it is difficult to distinguish whether he is making a statement in a vaccuum or against a context. In relation to “facts,” he clearly holds the facts are determinative enough to demonstrate Christianity; but he also holds that people will not accept said facts other than through God’s action. Thus, perhaps the gulf between his position and that which he rejects is not so wide.

These disagreements aside, I also have enormous respect for and agreement with much of the content of Faith Founded on Fact. JWM effectively disposed of any apologetic method which inherently ignores the value of evidentialist reasoning, and he did so through not only apologetic but also theological reasons (i.e. it turns Christ into an “historical phantasm”). Moreover, his critique of presuppositional methodology–though at times off base (as noted above), does not entirely miss the mark. In particular, his critique that presuppositionalism voids any kind of objective method for determining facts is troubling for those who have presuppositional tendencies (readers should note that I myself think presuppositionalism has some merit–see my posts on the topic).

Faith Founded on Fact, put simply, is fantastic. In this review, I have only surveyed a small number of the areas I found to be of note throughout the work. JWM is witty and clever as usual, but he also raises an enormous number of points to reflect upon whether one agrees with his views or not. He offers a number of ways to approach apologetics from an evidentialist perspective, while also offering some devastating critiques of those who would allege that evidentialism fails. The book is a must read for anyone interested in apologetics.

Links

“How Much Evidence to Justify Religious Conversion?” – John Warwick Montgomery on Conversion- I summarize and analyze an incredible lecture given by John Warwick Montgomery which I had the pleasure of attending at 2012′s Evangelical Theological Society Conference. JWM argues for an evidential view of religious conversion.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy Inc., 2001).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism” by Winfried Corduan

ibg-wcRarely does a book come along which forces a reader to completely rethink how they’ve viewed a whole slew of interrelated topics. Winfried Corduan’s latest work on the origin of religion is just such a book. I’ve waited some time to finish writing the review simply because it’s taken a while to reflect upon its content and reread and absorb many of the arguments to support the conclusions Corduan provides. Here, I offer some thoughts which can only touch upon the wealth of information in this fantastic book.

The Thesis

Winfried Corduan’s central thesis is simply stated:

Regardless of how one explains the origin of human beings, one cannot get around the fact that the first religion of human beings was monotheism, the recognition and worship of one God.

The way Corduan defends this claim is initially through analysis of competing claims of major thinkers in the past and present on the origin of religion. He then provides a positive case for original monotheism.

Critical Examination of Competing Views

Corduan surveys a number of major thinkers in anthropology who have proposed various ways that religion may have arisen and developed. A central thought throughout many of these thinkers is the notion that cultures, like organisms, evolve. Thus, the thought was that the earliest stages of religion would be “primitive” while later stages of religion would be more complex and perhaps people would even move beyond religion.

The various theses Corduan examines are each interesting in their own light. Max Müller’s theory that mythology is corruption of human language is wonderfully imaginative, though ultimately bereft of real evidential backing. E.B. Tylor’s application of Darwinism to the development of religion remains highly influential but also provides insight into how a paradigm may corrupt and even create evidence. Andrew Lang set the stage for later thought about how religion may have developed, but unfortunately his theory suffered from assumptions that anyone not “developed” like the Europeans was clearly inferior or lower on the evolutionary scale. Thus, his theory suffered from its own brand of self-confirmation and key blind spots.

A telling critical insight Corduan provided which applies to many of the evolutionary perspectives on the origin of religion is that the field evidence gathered for these hypotheses operated under a critical assumption: “nineteenth-century anthropology proceeded on the premise that the ancient past has preserved itself. We can still see it in full bloom in the cultures of tribal people. Human beings who are now living on a stone-age level must have preserved stone-age culture, they argued.

But of course this doesn’t follow at all. It is perfectly possible for such “stone age” societies to in fact be extremely complex and advanced. In fact, Corduan provides much evidence to suggest that this is exactly the case. Highly complex rituals and traditions are often found in these allegedly primitive societies. Moreover, many of these societies show kinds of vestiges of original monotheism, which itself provides counter-evidence to the hypothesis that these societies support the notion of evolution of religion.

A Case for Original Monotheism

Corduan’s case for original monotheism incorporates many aspects of Wilhelm Schmidt’s work. Thus, he dedicates a few chapters to analysis and defense of Schmidt’s theories. Schmidt’s theories are based off of his analysis of how cultures shift. Corduan provided fascinating and practical examples to look at how cultural movement works. One application of this to the origin of religion is that societies shift and push competing cultures either to adapt and integrate or to be pushed more to the fringes. Early settlers are often supplanted by later explorers who stayed in one place and developed before moving on. Allegedly primitive societies are often found in the deserts or at the outskirts of society because they were the first to move on and thus developed only as they settled in ever-distant areas. However, this cannot be used to support the notion that a “stone age” level of a society today entails the preservation of cultural behaviors and practices from such a time period.

The shifting of cultures through “culture circles” thus is used to evaluate how religion may have developed and moved across the Earth. Most importantly, Schmidt worked with the anthropological data that other researchers used, but he approached it without the dogmatic stance that the development of religion must have been Darwinian. This assumption led many other researchers to reject or downplay aspects of the observational evidence because they did not fit the theory. Schmidt discovered, however, that a number of cultures had vestiges of monotheism from earlier times. This resulted in Schmidt hypothesizing that one possible explanation for the shared original monotheism of these cultures could have been an actual deity.

Corduan then provides analysis of a number of critical responses to Schmidt as well as more modern evolutionary or simply agnostic approaches to the origin and diversification of religion. Finally, he surveys a number of world religions to see if aspects of original monotheism may still be found therein.

religious-symbolsInteresting Avenues to Explore

Other avenues are opened as Corduan analyzes specific cultures, such as Egypt or China, and finds that Egypt’s brief affair with “monotheism” may not have been as significant as some take it or that China’s modern religious thought perhaps reflects an original monotheism beneath the surface.

The application of various aspects of anthropological research and the rejection of agnostic approaches to the origins of religion also open up new avenues for research and exploration. If we don’t assume that we can’t know something, how might we approach the project of discovering how religion may have originated and spread? Corduan, of course, provides Schmidt’s theories as one way, though he also integrates insight even from those scholars with whom he disagrees. Thus, he provides a rather integrative approach to the question.

The analysis of various anthropologists who have thought on issues of the origins of religion also open up new ideas to explore, books to read, and evidence to consider.

Avenues for exploration like this are found throughout the book in droves. I mean that: there is so much in this book that makes me want to know more, to learn more. That is coupled with the fact that it made me realize, again, how little I do know regarding entire fields of research and study. In the Beginning God is a call not only to re-evaluate one’s presuppositions, but also a vast treasury of topics to explore.

Of course another extremely interesting thought to examine is that if monotheism were the original religion of people of all sorts, might this have implications for apologetics? Ultimately, Corduan answers in the affirmative. He argues that at least some aspects of this study point to the existence of a monotheistic deity as a possible explanation for the data. He does not think that the anthropological study provides a comprehensive case for the Christian truth, but he does ultimately argue it can be one factor among many to show the truth of Christianity.

A Final Defense

The immediate reaction of some might be that Corduan’s bias yields his results. Similarly, in Schmidt’s time, some alleged that missionary influence led to the purported evidence for original monotheism. However, it should be clear that although everyone has a bias, the evidence presented by Corduan seems impossible to dismiss as simply the wishes of a theist. Rather, he has provided sound reasons for thinking that original monotheism is a relevant hypothesis which perhaps outstrips its opponents in terms of explanatory scope.

Conclusion

In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism  is a simply incredible read. Each new layer of the text provides new insights and discoveries, each of which builds off the body of the text already perused. Corduan has provided critical insight into the state of modern anthropology regarding the origins of religion. He has also established original monotheism as a significant rival theory to those schools of thought. The book will shift paradigms, cause wonder, and provide resources for you to explore and engage with wonderfully exciting topics. Corduan has truly created a masterwork, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?- I analyze some of Corduan’s comments regarding Sigmund Freud’s theorizing about the origin of religion.

Sunday Quote!- Is Monotheism from Egypt?- I provide a brief quote from Corduan’s book and note how it may interface with some theories related to the source of monotheism.

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth – A Christian review of the book

Divergent-VRVeronica Roth’s Divergent has been hailed as “the next Hunger Games.” It has hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. The series is on the cutting-edge of young adult literature. Here, I’ll examine the book to explore several themes in relation to worldview within the book. There will, of course, be SPOILERS in what follows.

Factions/Divergence

In the world of Divergent, Factions are the way of order. The people of the city of Chicago came together after a cataclysmic event (left largely unexplained in the book) to try to restore order. The thought was that they would split people into various Factions which each held to a certain primary guiding principle to combat evil and wrongdoing. For example, the Candor Faction felt that lies were the primary way in which evil entered the world. Deception was how anger and hatred could be brought into the world again, with dire consequences. Other factions-Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, and Dauntless-follow a similar structure of thought: each is constructed around the notion that a specific weakness led to the destruction of the world.

However, Tris, the main character of the book, is Divergent- she does not fit well into any one faction. Those who are divergent are considered dangerous because they are not as fully in line with the thinking of a faction, which makes it harder for them to be conditioned behaviorally to fit into any of the differing paradigms. Thus, they are not only dangerous to the system, but also dangerous to life: they might ruin the system which has protected those inside it.

The notion that humans would divide into different groups which each see a certain facet of human nature as dangerous for the thriving of the species is intriguing. It did seem a bit of a stretch for me to believe that people would willingly divide up into such factions and focus on nothing but those aspects of the human psyche, but it helped to drive the plot and it is perhaps more believable in light of Roth’s statement (through Tris, of course) that each faction began to mock even the good aspects of the others. For example, those who were in Dauntless like Tris would often mock the perceived need for Tris to take an extra step to care for others; or they would laugh at the difficulties with telling lies some people had (“You should have been from Candor!”).

Human nature in Divergent is shown to be more complex through those who are themselves divergent. They see beyond the narrow limits of each individual faction and are therefore immune to the conditioning others succumb to.

Family

Throughout the book, Tris repeats the mantra: Faction before Family. However, the mantra does not play out in reality. Instead, Tris find herself continually longing for her family and the familiarity of her former faction. Although she also finds herself becoming loyal to her new faction, the Dauntless, Tris is ultimately saved by the reunification (however brief) of her family.

The theme is rather poignant, for it suggests there is something to the notion that the family is the proper realm of interaction. It’s not that everyone has a perfect family in the “real world,” rather, the point is that in an ideal situation, everyone would have a support structure within a family. This support structure would be a place for ultimate refuge.

Choice

The book’s cover focuses on choice: it is one choice that defines who you are forever, it says. That choice, of course, is which faction to join. But when push comes to shove, so to speak, towards the end of the book, it turns out that a whole series of choices define you, not just which faction you want to belong to. It is not one choice that defines Tris and the others; it is the choices they make in times of crises, alongside those choices they’ve made throughout their lives, which ultimately determines who they are.

The concept of choice in the book resonates alongside the notion of divergence. After all, the Divergent are those who cannot be neatly categorized into any of the factions. Their choices, it seems, have a bit more freedom, or at least freedom from conditioning. I can’t help but think of the choice made in Eden that led to the Fall. Before that fateful choice, humans had a very wide range of choices available to them; afterwards, humans became bound to sin and much more narrow in their vision. In seeking freedom, we became bound; in trying to open more opportunities, we limited them.

Conclusion

Divergent is a very interesting book written by a woman who professes her Christian faith. The book is very dark at times and there are many more themes I could explore. The interest in “choice” and “divergence” related to human nature and sin is fascinating to me. I’m interested to hear your own thoughts on the issue, so be sure to leave a comment below!

Links

Divergent- Anthony Weber over at Empires and Mangers, one of my favorite sites (and one you should follow!), reviewed the YA Book Divergent. He examined it from a worldview perspective. The book is being made into a major motion picture and has been hailed by some as the “next Hunger Games.” That means we’re going to run into it everywhere. What questions can we bring to the table? There are SPOILERS in this linked post.

Be sure to check out my other looks into popular books (scroll down for more posts).

Source

Veronica Roth, Divergent (New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin of religion- Who cares about facts?

ibg-wcIt is amazing, even before Freud’s psychoanalyticial theories were discredited as such, that this idea was ever accepted as anything but an utterly groundless fabrication. (134, cited below)

Oddly, a challenge I still sometimes see to Christianity (and indeed religion in general), is the notion that somehow it is merely cosmic project of some strange psychological phenomena. Although the idea didn’t originate with Freud, his theories seem to be the most popular. Freud’s idea for how religion came to be was essentially a wish-fulfillment of his own: he turned humanity’s religion into a kind of Oedipus complex.

For Freud, religion clearly often involved a father figure. Thus, he reasoned, religion must have come about over some conflict with a father figure which later caused guilt and the lifting up of a kind of father in the sky- God. The conflict, he proposed, came about due to the notion that the dominant male was the only one allowed sexual access to the women in the primitive family (I’m not making this up!). Winfried Corduan’s latest book, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism, analyzed a number of aspects of origin of religion theories which are relevant to this thesis. Freud’s theory does not survive empirical analysis.

First, Freud’s notion of shared sexuality and group sex among alleged primitive societies was a popular theory at the time, but one utterly unfounded and based upon essentially no observable evidence. Corduan noted the notion of group marriage was largely derived from presuppositions about how the origin of religion and social institutions “must have happened” (114-115). The theory itself was put forth by L.H. Morgan and not based upon observation but rather “his support of evolution and Marxist-like social theories in which he construed ordinary social conventions… as late inventions in human history” (116). Some anthropologists in the field bought into the theory and thus allowed their observations to be directed by the theory, rather than using their contradictory observations to revise the theory. In fact, their theory-driven research resulted in confusion over the actual social constructs which they were observing (116ff).

Second, Freud’s analysis of the way religion developed is itself mistaken. The climax of Freud’s story is the cannibalistic totem feast upon the Father figure as a way to honor the Father and begin the worship thereof. But Freud’s story is again bereft of observational evidence. Freud acutally used the concept of the totem feast to try to discredit Christianity with its teachings on the Lord’s Supper (communion/Eucharist). However, totem feasts are, themselves, extremely rare in totemistic societies (133-134). Totem feasts were observed in  only a few societies, but then–as Corduan noted was often the case–the irregular was applied generally and so reporting on the various societies began to rely upon the rarity rather than the norm (if indeed a “norm” can ever be said to apply to wildly diverse practices). Moreover, there is simply no record whatsoever of a cannibalistic totem feast. The very notion was invented by Freud to discredit Christianity.

Freud’s generalized application of an extremely rare and unusual practice to a theory made up through psychoanalysis of peoples who left no record and no longer exist is unfounded. His use of his theory to attempt to discredit Christianity seems to actually teach us more about Freud’s psyche than the actual origins of Christian practice.

Anyway, I’m finding this book highly informative. I highly recommend it. I have found it to be extremely thought-provoking. It is interesting to see how many things we have simply assumed to be true about the origins of religion stem from unchallenged (and unsupported) theories proposed around a hundred years ago. Perhaps it is time to revisit these theories. So far as Freud goes, it seems his bell has tolled.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Winfried Corduan, In the Beginning God: A Fresh Look at the Case for Original Monotheism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013).
SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “A Visual Defense” by Robert Velarde

avd-velardeRobert Velarde’s A Visual Defense: The Case for and Against Christianity is a unique work among the growing number of introductory apologetics books on the market. In some ways, this is a good thing; in others, it is a disadvantage.

Positives

The clear and extremely important benefit of the work is that it really does provide a way for people to envision how a number of arguments related to the truth of Christianity would look mapped out. The way that Velarde brings this out is by making a flow chart with the argument mapped out alongside objections and rebuttals.

The flow charts themselves are extremely helpful, because they really do allow one to sit with the book and use a finger to trace how the argument would work in practice. Although I was familiar with the arguments given, I felt as though I learned some things simply by seeing the arguments lined up in such a way as to follow them pictorially.

The format of the book is also very helpful. Each chapter begins with a flow chart that addresses a specific topic via an argument(s). The different parts of the flow chart have different shapes depending on whether they are the conclusion, assumption, premise, or rebuttal. These flow charts have every bubble numbered. The chapter following the flow chart simply lays out the numbers in order and explains in greater detail the conclusion, the premises, the objections, and the rebuttals. Thus, the format is highly readable and helps to draw out the flow chart more readily. I found myself flipping back to the flow chart very frequently as I read through the book.

Negatives

This book cannot really be used in isolation. One either needs another stack of books to get to the heart of many of the topics introduced or to come to the book with a working knowledge of a wide range of apologetics topics. The numbered outline of each part of the flow chart often gives only a small paragraph in defense of rather major apologetics topics. For example, the defense of the argument from religious experience comprises a page and a half and three bubbles on the flow chart (46-47). The argument itself is an area of major interest for me and, having read ten books and multiple articles on the topic, I realize it is a really massive issue. But due to the format of the book, this diminishes its value somewhat, as it seems like it would best be used as part of an apologetics class or an introduction to the issues related to the defense of the Christian faith. However, in order to do so, one would need a hefty general apologetics book(or a couple more specialized ones) to use alongside it.

I’m sure this was a conscious decision on the part of Velarde and others–the book is surely intended to be used in this fashion–but that doesn’t make the price of entry for newcomer any less.

The “visual” aspect of the visual defense could also be better integrated in the body of the work. The flow charts are extremely helpful, but it perhaps could have been even better to have a few more of them scattered about to use as defenses of various premises or other issues. I’m not a visual learner, so I admit it is hard for me to brainstorm on this, but I also think that the book could have perhaps integrated more pictures to show how the argument moves from one point to the next.

Conclusion

Robert Velarde is to be commended for taking a unique approach to introducing apologetics. The importance of providing a way for visual learners to understand these arguments in a pictorial fashion should not be understated. That said, the book essentially requires others to be read alongside it. I would imagine this book would be most useful for professors or small groups wanting to introduce the topics as opposed to a book to pick up and hand to a friend interested in apologetics. It would be a great tool to utilize in an apologetics class to introduce each major argument and then proceed into lengthier defenses of each.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Robert Velarde, A Visual Defense: The Case for and Against Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2013).

I was provided with a review copy of the book from Kregel. I was in no way asked or required to offer any specific type of review. My thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “What’s Your Worldview” by James N. Anderson

wyw-andersonWhen I first learned about What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (I heard about it at The Domain for Truth), I was struck by the notion of an apologetics book written like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” Novel. Genius!

The book’s format is set up such that it outlines something (like what it means to say there is objective truth), then asks whether you believe in it. If you choose yes, you flip to one page; if no, you flip to another. Ultimately, your answers will land you in a worldview. Each worldview has a few pages of brief discussion on how it views reality and what problems might arise with that worldview.

I decided to indeed choose my own adventure and start out reading it from an atheist’s perspective. I figured that would give me a good look into the approach. I quickly realized that answering the questions in such a way got me to “dead ends.” If I said “No” to whether I believed in objective truth, I flipped to the worldview of “Relativism,” had the view explained and some major issues brought up. The end. Full stop. Or is it?

Anderson encouraged readers to go back to the previous question after any worldview evaluation if they didn’t like the conclusions drawn. Thus, continuing the example of relativism, he argued that it is self-defeating: after all, if all truth is relative, is that itself a relative truth? If so, why should I hold to it? Back to the questions! The book encourages such flipping back and forth. It encourages engagement in a way many apologetics books do not.

There is, however, one major drawback to the approach. That is, because it is a book about worldviews, and because it is only just over 100 pages long, there’s not a lot of meat to the discussion. If you’re looking for major critiques and interactions with response-rebuttal-counterpoint on various worldviews, this is not the book you’re looking for. Alongside that, there is a real danger of oversimplification. For example, in the “worldview” section on “nihilism,” it was stated that nihilism is “the view that there are no objective values” (Kindle location 1022). Properly speaking, this only refers to moral nihilism, not nihilism as a full system, which would entail a whole system of “nothings”: no meaning, no objective values, possibly even no reality one can access, etc. Due to the short length, much nuance to each worldview must be lost. Possible objections to Anderson’s brief critiques abound, and readers may be left thinking their own view was perhaps a bit too blithely dismissed.

Of course the length could just as easily be seen as an advantage. One can very easily pick it up and read it in an afternoon; one could hand it to an interested neighbor; it lends itself to use in a brief study period (youth group? adult forum?). These are all advantages. Readers just need to be aware of some disadvantages as well.

I was also very impressed by the depth of insight Anderson gave to rival theist worldviews. Once one answers that there is at least “a” deity, the book still has many more questions to peruse: do you think there is only one?; is Jesus God?; did God communicate with humans? If so, was this communication open?; etc. I found these to be fun to flip through and very informative and on-point. This isn’t an apologetics book that focuses purely on the existence of God; it is, really, a book on worldviews: complete totalities. That said, remember it is not intended to be comprehensive, by any means.

What’s Your Worldview is a really fun apologetics book. The fact that I’m able to write that shows how unique it is. I don’t know of any other book in the same format. It’s refreshing and handy. That said, at times it does feel just like those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books; you come to the end too quickly. It was a conscious decision on the part of the author/publisher to keep it light and easy to read. And, to that extent, they succeeded. I just found myself wanting a little more. However, I do think this would be an excellent book to pick up and hand off to a friend or relative who may have doubts or may want to explore the beliefs of various worldviews. Just remember the caveat: the book may raise more questions than it answers; so be prepared to have some reasons for the hope within (1 Peter 3:15).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

James N. Anderson, What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever. 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician”- A brief look at the e-book by Tom Gilson

question-week2I recently downloaded Tom Gilson’s evaluation of Peter Boghossian’s epistemology for my Kindle. The work is witty but also to the point. Gilson launched a full-on attack against Boghossian’s mission to create atheists. The best parts of the book–and let me be clear, I think the entire work is essential reading–were his critique of Boghossian’s view of faith and his appeal to Christians regarding the importance of the topic.

Gilson makes it clear how important it is to provide a reasoned answer to Boghossian’s view. However, he goes much further than that; he notes that Boghossian’s mission is specifically to destroy the faith of Christians. For any Christian, this should be a disturbing thing to hear. Unlike many other atheists, Boghossian seems to have a plan: he’s going to actively work to proselytize Christians for atheism. He may be called an atheist missionary. Gilson called Christians to see this as a serious threat for Christianity. It’s not that Christianity doesn’t have the resources to answer Boghossian’s arguments; instead, it is that we have not equipped ourselves to do so. The average Christian-in-the-pew is basically incapable of refuting Boghossian-esque reasoning, and so will, possibly, have their faith seriously challenged by arguments which are basically vacuous.

Part of Boghossian’s mission, Gilson notes, is to redefine the meaning of faith. For Boghossian, faith should always be understood as “pretending to know what one does not know” (kindle location 118). Gilson notes that not only would such a redefinition be catastrophic for people of faith [of "pretending to know..."], but it is also a completely invented definition with no basis in reality. That is, Boghossian sems to be pretending to know what he doesn’t know. On his own definition, he is very faithful.

Why think that Boghossian’s definition is wrong? Gilson offers a number of points. Among them is the fact that the redefinition of the term cannot account for its usage among the faithful. Gilson shows how the redefined “faith” would lead to an absurd meaning for any number of texts in the Bible. Not only that, but he also cites a number of Christian thinkers to demonstrate that the usage of “faith” is much more grounded in evidence and true belief than it is grounded in a “pretend” world. By the time Gilson has finished dismantling Boghossian’s usage, it becomes clear that the latter is truly living in his own fantasy. The problem is that if Christians do not equip themselves to combat it, the dream may become reality.

There are a number of other excellent portions of this quick read, such as Gilson’s direct interaction with a number of Boghossian’s interviews and writings. He also approaches Boghossian’s work from several angles, providing a solid ground for the refutation of the atheistic work.

In short, I implore you to pick up and read this work by Gilson. He has done an excellent job of showing how Boghossian’s work may prove to be a challenge to Christianity. But the greater service he has done is provided a tool to equip believers to combat this challenge. Read it, spread it. Keep the faith.

Links

You may get Gilson’s e-book for free at this link [I am unsure of how long this offer will last]. You may also support the ministry of Ratio Christi by purchasing the e-book.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Tom Gilson, Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactician (2014).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus” by Adam English – A Seasonably Appropriate Book Review

swsc-english

In the quest for the real Santa Claus, what is discovered more often than not is that he can assume any shape. He can accommodate anyone… (191)

There are many discussions floating around about the “real” Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas. I have a bit of a side interest in the topic because I was never a believer in Santa Claus and so I’ve always been interested in the reality behind the myth. So, when I received The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus
for Christmas last year, I was excited to dive in for the season this year

Perhaps the most interesting portion of the work is English’s discussion of the historiographical difficulties related to unearthing the historical Nicholas of Myra. The difficulty with discovering the “real Santa Claus”–Saint Nicholas–is compounded by the fact that Nicholas of Myra (the Nicholas in question) is often confused with Nicholas of Sion (10; 80; 120; 174). Historical accounts of the life of Nicholas have often conflated these two persons, which means historians must extract them from each other in order to make an account of either. English confronts the possibility that Nicholas did not exist–a possibility put forth by some scholars, in fact–head-on by noting the multiple, independent sources for his life. Although Nicholas did not leave behind a legacy of his own writings, the extant evidence, argues English, is enough to acknowledge his existence as well as a historical core of stories about his life (11ff).

English does a great job of reflecting upon the apparently historical narrative while also drawing out the legends and apologetic tales which grew up around the narratives. Throughout the book, he reports a number of stories related to the life of Nicholas of Myra. He reports these stories seemingly in order of legendary development. For example, the famous story of Nicholas’ gift of gold to three women in need (about to be sold into prostitution) received more embellishment as time went on (57ff). However, English does not always do a great job of making the distinctions clear when these various types of tales are discussed. Part of this is probably due to the historiographical difficulties noted above, but it would have been nice for English to at least offer his opinion regarding the stories he related as to which he felt might be accurate as opposed to inaccurate. At some points he does, but at others he simply offers a series of increasingly surprising accounts without any commentary as to the possible historicity of the accounts.

A central part of the work focuses upon the council of Nicaea and the famous incident of Nicholas’ alleged slapping or punching of Arius or a different heretic (Arian) at the event. English argues that it is unlikely that it would have been Arius, because Arius was not a bishop and so likely would not have been present at the council itself  (101-107). Moreover, English believes that a different story, in which Nicholas reasons with an avowed Arian to change his view, is more likely the historical background for the story (107-109). Nicholas’ own place at the council is disputed, but his orthodoxy is acknowledged by all his biographers, and it is likely that he defended the orthodox position at the council itself (107ff).

Apart from his participation at Nicaea, Nicholas also, of course, performed the basic functions of a bishop, which at his time included helping to resolve issues in Myra and the surrounding area (115ff). He helped with the struggle against pagan belief and practice, and at this point some of the stories and legends of Nicholas of Sion were often intermixed with those stories of Nicholas of Myra (120-125).

English’s work also draws out the way that Nicholas of Myra has been adapted for multiple purposes and occasions. Whether this is through the adaptation of his apparently real, historical life to various theological discussions (including Aquinas) or legends which were developed to supplement his legacy and individual viewpoints, Nicholas’ story continues to have widespread appeal.

The Saint Who Would be Santa Claus is an interesting read on a compelling man. Perhaps the most interesting part is the frequent fusion of myth and legend with the historical account. Those interested in the life of the “real Santa Claus” should immediately grab the book for their collection.

Links/Source

Adam English, The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012).

Saint Nicholas- A Christian life lived, a story told- I wrote about the interplay between myth and reality in the stories about Nicholas. I wrote about how the myth of Nicholas actually bolsters the Christian worldview by pointing toward our longing for the ideal.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins” by James Stroud

phnr-stroud

…Either we will stand behind objective truth or sink into the abyss of relativism in the name of political correctness. (278)

One area Christian apologists need to explore further is the study of historiography. Historiography is, basically, the study of how to study history. It provides the framework in which one might seek truth in understanding historical facts. The way we study history will directly impact the results of historical investigation.  John Warwick Montgomery, Michael Licona, and N.T. Wright have done an excellent job integrating historiography into their approach, and there are several treatments of historiography in works on archaeology with apologetic import (K.A. Kitchen is but one example), but there remains much room for development of this essential discipline in the area of Christian evidences.

James Stroud, in his work The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins, has provided much development in this area. Historiography, he noted, touches upon a number of extremely important questions such as “What does it mean to know something?”; “How do we come to know something?”; “Can we know the past?”; “How does one study history?”; “Is there objective meaning to history…?” (30-31). He does a good job presenting some of the difficulties inherent in the study of the past, as well as providing a few possible solutions. Central to Stroud’s argument is the notion that “one’s personal philosophy and presuppositions guide.. one’s interpretation of the available data…” whether one is talking about science, history, or religion (31).

Next, Stroud turned to an analysis of positivism and academic freedom. His argument is essentially that one should not pre-commit to a “closed” philosophy of history such that one cuts off any and all debate about the presuppositions one uses to interpret history and historical sciences. The winners write the history, but they are also capable of restricting the direction research may turn (49-50). There must be a distinction between the definition of science and science in practice; that is, one should not restrict scientific study through the use of one’s presuppositions to determine what is even capable of being studied or used as a hypothesis. Instead, people should be allowed to follow the evidence where it leads, even if such a project may discover things which lie outside the accepted explanations.

It must be acknowledged that Christianity is, by its nature, a distinctly historical religion: “[T]he truth or falsity of Christianity stands or falls with individual events within history…” (69). Thus, Christianity is almost uniquely capable of being approached in such a manner as to discern its truth through historical claims.

Interestingly, Stroud did not limit his use of “philosophy of history” to the study of history. Rather, he expanded it to include origin sciences, which are, he argued, a kind of historical science themselves. Thus, he examined both the origins of the universe and the origin and diversity of life alongside the historical portions of the book. In these sections on the historical sciences, he presents the design argument both in its cosmological and biological forms.

The meat of the book, however, may be found in the exploration of human history, which comprises approximately half the book. Here, Stroud really gets into stride. One central part of his argument is that “Language, writing, civilization, and religion all seem to be in a fairly advanced stage of development [from the beginning]….” (146). Proposed solutions which argue for a gradual evolution of human culture continue to be confronted by discoveries to the contrary, such as Gobekli Tepe, which shattered preconceived notions of the history of religion (155-157). Language appears to be highly complex from the beginning, and there is little reason to think that some languages are more primitive (in the sense of development) than others (149-150). Stroud relates these points back to the expectations one might get from the biblical text and argued that the biblical text presents a plausible interpretation of such evidence (163ff).

The Flood served as one of the case studies Stroud utilized to make his point. He argued that the preponderance of evidence suggests that the biblical flood is accurate (174-177). The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 also hints at “astonishing” accuracy regarding the historical recordings in the earliest portions of the Bible. Moreover, stylistic evidence within Genesis places its date as very ancient, just as one might expect from taking the book at face value.

Yet Genesis is not the only portion of the Bible which received insight from Stroud’s analysis. The conquests recorded in Joshua have been backed up by archaeological findings. The history of David also garnered attention, and Stroud’s handling of the archaeological data is informative and concise.

The New Testament is, of course, centered around Christ, and Stroud explores the evidence for the Resurrection and the narratives related to Him. One very important point he made is that “…it must be pointed out that the… manuscripts we have for Jesus today did not start as a ‘Bible’ but were later [collected into one]… [T]o dismiss any of this manuscript evidence is in effect to dismiss the most primary sources we have on the Historical Jesus” (240). Yet even sources apart from these can account for a number historical aspects of Christian faith and practice, to the point that it becomes very difficult to reject entirely the Christian story (240ff). Stroud defended the Resurrection itself with a type of “minimal facts” argument, in which he reasoned from several largely established facts of the historical Jesus to the resurrection (248ff).

Naturalism, argued Stroud, fails to account for the historical and scientific evidences for the origins of the universe, life and its diversity, civilization, and the evidence related to the historical Jesus. One should therefore not be constricted to operating within a naturalistic paradigm when one investigates origins or history generally. An a priori rejection of the supernatural is unwarranted.

Thus far, I have shown a number of  positive portions of the book. That is not to say there are no areas of disagreement or any problems. First, Stroud’s writing style often comes across as autobiographical, which takes away from the academic feeling of the overall work. Second, there are a number of grammatical errors in the book which are sometimes quite distracting. Third, there is a tendency to overstate the case in some places, such as asserting that any discussion of evolution beyond microevolution is “100 percent speculative”  (117) or that “all scholars” in some certain field agree with some fact or another. Fourth, at points Stroud states the view of the opposition in ways that I suspect would be objectionable. One example may be found here: “[T]he vast majority of naturalists confirm that humankind did indeed share a common language…” (177) or the notion that “even the most adamant proponents of naturalism” would admit that the origin of life is unexplainable through naturalistic means with the current understanding (115). I suspect that adamant naturalists would object to this and argue that the RNA world hypothesis or some other origin-of-life scenario does, in fact, explain the origin of life.

Many of these difficulties are minor, but they tend to pull down an otherwise excellent work. It is unfortunate, because it also seems like these could all be solved by a good editor. As it stands, however, one should be careful when reading the work to be aware that in many cases one should perhaps temper the sweeping conclusions Stroud makes. In any field of study, there are rarely (if ever!) times where “all scholars” might agree on something, and the language in the book constantly implies that there are many such agreements in some of the most contentious areas of all historical or scientific studies. Although this does not throw his conclusions out the window, it does somewhat devalue the work, as one must read it with an actively cautious eye.

I don’t often (in fact, I can’t think of ever mentioning this before) discuss the cover of a book I’m reviewing, but I have to say this has what might be the coolest cover for an academic book I have seen. I mean seriously, look at it! It is awesome.

With The Philosophy of History James Stroud has provided much needed development for Christians who might want to look into the study of the methods of historical investigation to develop their own understanding of Christianity. He also applies these methods in sometimes surprising ways. I have noted a number of areas of difficulty found within the work, but it should be noted that these are comparatively minor when compared to the project as a whole. Stroud has provided some necessary development in an area of study that Christians should continue to develop. Historiography is an essential field for Christians to study and become involved in, and The Philosophy of History has provided a broad framework for others to continue the work (and hopefully for Stroud to continue, himself). It is an excellent, thought-provoking read which illumines areas of which many apologists, unfortunately, remain unaware.

Source

James Stroud, The Philosophy of History: Naturalism and Religion- A Historiographical Approach to Origins (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing, 2013).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review. The author only asked that readers provide feedback of any kind, including negative, in order to broaden the dialogue in this area. 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know” by James Miller

hardwired-jmIrreverent. That’s how I would describe Hardwired by James Miller in one word. Miller appeared unimpressed by Natural Theology, and perhaps even less impressed by current scholarly apologetics. Yet this is, unabashedly, an apologetics work. It’s just not the type that many readers would expect going in. Miller’s approach is presuppositional: that is, he sought to discuss the questions about faith by analyzing those things that people already assume or know.

Illustrative was his comment early on in the work. Miller was approached by a mother who was heartbroken over her son leaving the faith. She asked him, “‘How do I convince him there is a God?’” Miller’s answer is indicative of his apologetic method: “He already believes in God.” This startling statement forms the basis for the rest of the book. Miller’s approach revolved around showing people the God they “already know.”

How might one justify this outlandish claim? First, Miller argued that human beings are not “blank slates”–that is, the human mind is in fact shaping that which it observes even as it observes it: “You and I, witnessing events through the same pair of glasses, would not know the same thing, because your brain and my brain do different things with the knowledge” (42). All knowledge is filtered through the preconceptions one has that sorts it into different levels of experience. Miller provided several reasons for thinking that the notion of our minds as blank slates is wrong (42-44; see also 58-61).

The notion that we are not “blank slates” also means that we filter ideas through a number of pre-existing categories. It also means that a wholly objective approach to discovering truth is impossible; we simply cannot step entirely outside of our presuppositions about reality. Moreover, human beings seem to have a shared experience of certain affirmations, even though some may attempt to deny them. For example, “we assume that our perceptions of the world… are accurate… We assume that there are real moral rights and wrongs… We assume that life has a purpose… We assume that there can be meaningful communication in which two people accurately share what they are thinking” (26). These assumptions are not uncontroversial; indeed, many have sought to deny any or all of them. Hardwired featured concise arguments for the fact of each of these notions.

Apart from these seemingly universal human experiences, Miller also argued that the very position of agnosticism is one which does not cohere with reality. Agnosticism is fundamentally a witholding of belief, but that is itself based upon a supposed ignorance of all the available data. He compared it to a court case regarding evidence: “People are only off the hook when they can show both that they didn’t know and that there was no way they could have known.” It is not enough to plead ignorance: “they are still guilty if they didn’t know because they avoided finding out” (55). The Bible clearly states that all people are capable of knowing God, and stand without excuse (Romans 1). “The onus is on honest agnostics to produce a pretty substantial bibliography of failed research” (56).

The fact of God’s existence may be found throughout reality, argued Miller. First, there is the reality of religious experience, but Miller prefers to view these as “epiphanies” which are “a sudden piercing discovery…” which may “draw our attention to things we’ve previously taken for granted or ignored” (69). Second, the existence of moral absolutes is a universal experience. However, this is not to be taken as a proof for God; rather Miller suggested that it means we have “inclinations that cannot be filled by anything but the exisence of God” (91). Even the atheistic moral objection to the God of the Bible assumes objective morality, because it assumes that they are capable of discerning real right and wrong (91-92). The very fact of valuation hints at the Creator (108-111).

The Christian faith gives compelling reasons to believe because its story matches and exceeds the criterion of embarrassment: its “hero,” Jesus, is scorned and shamed, not glorified and given rule over all nations (121ff).

The existence of God, Miller argued, is not tied to arguments or debates, rather, “What convicts us of the existence of God [are]… the soft, subjective facts of an experience that resonates with human longing and confirms are deep suspicions” (156). Hardwired is Miller’s attempt to point to those experiential factors.

By way of analysis, I first note that I think Miller has done an excellent job summarizing a number of extremely complex and difficult issues in ways that the “person on the street” could pick up the book and understand. He is concise and clear. Moreover, I sympathize in many ways with his approach. It seems to me to be true that humans cannot approach a topic as though we are “blank slates” ready to take whatever input we are given without layers of interpretation. That, I think, is the greatest strength of Miller’s approach. He pointed out the deeply seeded assumptions we hold which influence the way we view reality and showed how these lead to God.

However, I wonder about the coherence to Miller’s approach. His critique of natural theology does not sit well with his appeal to some of the very types of arguments that natural theologians use. For example, his appeal to objective morality is essentially no different from the defense provided for the “moral argument” by natural theologians like William Lane Craig, whose approach Miller criticizes. His presuppositional argument itself depends upon some forms of evidentialism (and here I am intentionally wording this to avoid being accused of being unaware of the fact that presuppositional apologists do use evidence–it is manifestly true that even the staunchest presuppositional apologist uses evidence… my point is that the method Miller uses is often evidentialist in its approach). Ultimately, readers will be left with what essentially amounts to an existentialist evidentialism, which seems itself to rely upon natural theology in a number of traceable ways.

Another difficulty I had with Hardwired is that it seemed Miller sometimes overstated his case. Perhaps the most obvious example of this, in my opinion, is his discussion of evolution. He discussed natural selection and sought to evaluate it by looking at humans: “[I]f natural selection actually works, a few million years should make for some pretty shiny, strong, effective gladiators who have good teeth and rarely catch cold… Specifically, there are some traits of humanity that should by all means have been weeded out by now: sleep (which makes people vulnerable to predators for a third of their lives)… endoskeletons, appendices, wisdom teeth, birth defects, stupidity, and obesity” (94).

I’m not about to dive into biology, which is by no means an area of my expertise, but it seems to me that none of these are required expectations given Neo-Darwinism. Miller’s critique does not take into account the fact that humans have worked using their intelligence to circumvent many of these difficulties (i.e. we live in shelters which keep us safe while sleeping; appendices still have function; etc, etc.). The critique offered here also seems shamelessly teleological, which is the very thing Neo-Darwinists would deny within their system.

Hardwired is a brief missive which applies presuppositional apologetics in a straightforward, easy-to-understand fashion. Miller doesn’t fall into using terminology that will be difficult for the uninitiated to understand. Instead, he provides a coherent beginning-to-end approach in how to argue for faith from his presuppositional approach. It is a commendable work for its simplicity, and despite the areas of disagreement I noted above, I certainly think it is worth a read. Miller has a way of answering the difficulties that people raise against Christianity in concise but convincing fashion. It’s a mixed bag, but one well worth the time spent.

Source

James W. Miller, Hardwired: Finding the God you Already Know (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013).

Disclaimer

I received a copy of Hardwired free of charge for review. I was only asked to give an honest review of the book.

SDG.

——

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