Book Reviews

Book Review: The Recalcitrant Imago Dei by J.P. Moreland

This is the first of what will probably be many book reviews. Yes, it is indeed just another way to put easy content up on my site. Since school started I have less time for this, but I’m still reading as much as I can. Any feedback would be wonderful. I’ll post the review criteria at the bottom of this review, and probably make an individual post about it so the criteria can be easily accessed. Also, any suggestions for other categories to review would be appreciated (or suggestions to remove categories).

J.P. Moreland’s The Recalcitrant Imago Dei is a work that outlines a case against naturalism based on what a Christian would define as the “image of God.” These recalcitrant (as far as naturalism is concerned) facts include consciousness, free will, rationality, a substantial soul, objective morality, and intrinsic value.

J.P. Moreland has, I believe, outlined a rather magnficent critique of naturalism in this work. Chapter by chapter, he lays out philosophical defeaters for naturalism that are based on some of the most basic facts of human life. Each chapter contains clear, though often intellectually challenging, arguments against naturalism based on such things as consciousness or free will.

The chapter on Consciousness was, I believe, great, but I’ve read almost all the material in other works (specifically, J.P. Moreland’s Consciousness and the Existence of God and William Lane Craig/Moreland’s Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology). I believe that current apologists are certainly on to something when they consider the argument from consciousness, which I would consider a rather impressive defeater of naturalism. Moreland’s version of the argument is actually an argument for theism, and as far as I’m concerned, that makes it even better.

The next chapter considers the case of the freedom of the will. I believe that Moreland is correct in suggesting that naturalism generally, and physicalism specifically are almost certainly defeaters of the freedom of the will. Morelands argument in this chapter is again similar to some of his other works (here it would be Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview), but there is some material here that is both not recycled and very useful. I believe that this is a chapter I will continue to open to in my debates with physicalists.

One argument that continues to pique my interest is the argument from rationality. In this chapter, Moreland doesn’t so much employ an argument from reason for the existence of God as he uses the existence of reason as a defeater for naturalism. I believe many of the aspects of the argument from reason tend to mirror some of the teleological argument’s claims, and because of this I generally am biased against it, but I find Moreland’s methodology of using it against naturalism rather than as a proof for God quite interesting and will probably use it in application.

The chapter on the substantial soul is, I believe, less useful as an argument against naturalism (I think naturalists who argue that the soul is a physical object are, well, generally ignored nowadays), but the chapter contains several pages of highly useful definitions. It’s another chapter I will almost certainly continue to open to in order to clearly outline my responses.

Objective morality is a continual problem that I don’t see naturalism having any way around. I’m a huge advocate of the moral argument, and while Moreland doesn’t advance any specific moral argument in this chapter, he uses the idea of objective morality as a defeater for naturalism (and vice versa). Further, he argues that naturalism has no way to give humans intrinsic value, due to the idea that, according to naturalism, humans are merely animals and have no significant differences between them and, say, a dog as far as the physical world is concerned. His discussion in this chapter and the previous chapter on the errors of various philosophers using species relations when they should be discussing genus relations is highly interesting, though I’m unsure of the applicability.

The appendix has a few useful things, but it is mostly just Moreland observing various philosophical trends. He does offer an argument against naturalistic dismissivism that I will probably make use of in the future.

Overall, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei is a fantastic work. Although some portions of it are clearly recycled, including almost an entire chapter, it is a work that I will almost certainly use again and again. Moreland’s style of writing is almost always clear, but he sometimes suffers from an overuse of philosophical terms that are usually obvious in meaning, but could probably have been better said in a simpler fashion (like qualia, desiderata, etc.). I got this book hoping it would have some good arguments in it to help formulate a general critique of naturalism and I was not disappointed. I recommend this book highly, but be aware of the fact that it is certainly not easy reading.

Contents:

Naturalism, Theism and Human Persons: Identifying the Central Crisis of Our Age —1

Naturalism, Consciousness and Human Persons —16

Naturalism, Free Will and Human Persons —41

Naturalism, Rationality and Human Persons —67

Naturalism, a Substantial Soul and Human Persons —104

Naturalism, Objective Morality, Intrinsic Value and Human Persons —143

Appendix: Dismissive Naturalism: Responding to Nagel’s Last Stand —165

Scores:

Quality of Arguments (if it applies): 8

Overall Content: 9

Difficulty: 7

Clarity: 9

Theology/Doctrine: N/A- other than fairly fundamental Christian belief, this doesn’t really have enough to judge the work based on Doctrinal or Theological stances

Value (price): 8- Amazon has it for around 30-40$ The book’s actual material (before the notes/index start) comprise 180 pages. Normally I think this is a little low for a 40$ book, but there is no wasted space here.

Relevance: 9

Review Criteria:

The Quality of arguments is just what it says. Obviously this is subjective. Do I think the arguments presented in the book (if there are any) are valid and/or useful?

Overall Content is a general judge of how good I felt the book is.

Difficulty is the amount of work it takes to get through the work. Higher values don’t necessarily mean the book is better, just more difficult to read.

Clarity simply outlines how clear I believe the author was.

Theology/Doctrine is my judgment, clearly based on my presuppositions, of how good I felt the author’s theological or doctrinal content was (if there is any).

Value is a determination of whether I believe the book is worth the asking price.

Relevance outlines whether I think the book has real-life applications. A low score in this doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad, just that I believe there may not be much to use. In other words, a book could score low on this criterium, but I might still find it quite good.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

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