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Thursday, February 27, 2014

"True Reason" (Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer)

TITLE: True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism
AUTHOR: Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (320 pages).

We have become familiar with the criticisms and rising attacks on religion and Christianity by atheists, skeptics, and intellectuals. Sometimes it does come across as the non-religious being more rational than their religious opposite. This book seeks to debunk any such argument, in particular, that Christians cannot reason out faith. Thus the title for the book, which seeks to "theism in general and Christian theism in particular to be reasonable, and it exposes areas in which secularism is not at all reasonable." The authors are leaders in their respective fields of apologetics and organizations that train and uphold the place of reason and faith. Tom Gilson is the National Field Director for the Ratio Christi Student Apologetics Alliance, while Carson Weitnauer is the U.S. Director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. They bring together 13 other contributors who were former atheists, Bible school professors, philosophers, authors, Church leaders and various ministry thinkers, to show emphatically that faith in Christ does not mean kissing our brains away.

Tim Gilson kicks off the discussion by arguing that Christianity is a lot more reasonable than what the New Atheists think. Taking aim at Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and other new atheists, Gilson argues that the New Atheists' claim to their version of reason is an empty one. Continuing this trend of thought, Carson Weitnauer calls the atheists use of reason as more rhetorical and emotional, without much reference to "serious historical and sociological research." He pushes for readers to re-consider the claims of Christianity and not to swallow wholesale what the New Atheists are saying. Famous apologist, William Lane Craig prefers to target Richard Dawkins by pointing out the flaws in Dawkins's six basic argumentations, and points out Dawkins's fundamental assumption that erroneously treat "a divine designer" is a complex entity rather than a simple person. For God is one, not many. Chuck Edwards sustains the attack on Dawkins by debunking any thought of the New Atheists having the upper hand on reason and rationale. Of interest is David Marshall's article which attempts to neutralize John Loftus's claim to his credibility as an ex-believer. Loftus seems to suggest that Christianity lacks objectivity. Marshall argues that while the atheists score high on theoretical ideas, they fail to sustain the same with historical research. Instead, he proposes that both atheists and Christians subject their arguments to four tests: History, Prophecy, Transformation, and "Insider-Outsider" tests, with the latter referring to Christian truths being upheld by Christians and non-Christians over the years.  Lenny Esposito takes an interesting position by equating the atheists' way of argumentation with Luddites, who basically lay exclusive claim to reason as their property. Basically, what the atheists have done is like saying because they have denied the existence of a supernatural world, others do not have a right to claim any existence of the same. In other words, because atheists have already declared there is no God, others who fail to declare the same are automatically "an enslaved thinker, irrational, and dull." One may think one is right, even when one is fundamentally wrong. David Wood questions the claim about naturalism and science's potentially to eventually explain everything. For naturalism can mainly explain parts of the natural world. Take it to the supernatural domain and it struggles. At the same time, there is a limit to how much one can reason. One's logic and rationale is ultimately dependent on the existence of certain absolutes that are beyond us. Peter Grice's article begins the turn toward a less polemical orientation. Grice explains what reasoning means from a Christian standpoint, that the way the believer reasons is not simply about thinking but also about living. David Marshall returns by affirming that faith and reason can be married together. Going through the gospels and Acts, Marshall puts forth four levels of faith: 1) faith in mind; 2) faith through the senses; 3) testimony of others; 4) belief in God. All four levels are connected to reason. Samuel Youngs connects faith with meaning and morality, and establishes the key point that subjectivity itself is not to be dismissed, but plays a big role in the experience of living. Sean McDowell claims that science and Christianity do not necessarily contradict each other. If there is any contradiction, it is naturalism that is at odds with science. Put it simply, science and the assumptions about science are not exactly the same thing. Science can explain some phenomena, not all. Tom Gilson agrees that God and science do not contradict, for the success of science does not necessarily mean the demise of faith.

John DePoe takes on the challenging topic of the problem of evil by arguing that the presence of evil does not mean a total exclusion of God. For even in the presence of evil, a lot of good can still come out of it. The presence of evil is also linked to the free will man possesses, otherwise free will is a fallacy. Randall Hardman addresses three popular questions surrounding the reliability of the gospels and applies objective reasons to why we can treat the gospels and historically true and dependable. Matthew Flannagan boldly addresses the problem of genocide in the Old Testament. Upholding Wolterstorff's contention that the genocide was not commanded by God, but the contexts show how the Israelites had deteriorated into human destruction when they deliberately disobeyed God. The language used in Joshua is "full of ritualistic, stylized, formulaic language," that the way to understand it is to see the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges, as one unified narrative. Joshua may not be as literal as Judges. Glenn Sunshine tackles the issue of the Bible and slavery, showing us that slavery is not as simple as modern people refer them to. Carson Weitnauer concludes with an anticipation that this book will create an atheistic pushback, which invariably points a finger at the Christian apologists camp as arrogant and judgmental. Weitnauer argues back the same and questions why the public media do not scrutinize the new atheists in the same way they have done for Christians.

So What?

This book covers a lot of ground. Not only does it deal with the many attacks from the New Atheists camp, and the many common arguments that attempt to divorce faith and reason, supernatural and natural, God and science, rationality from belief, etc, it deals with several classic problems such as the Problem of Evil, slavery, genocide, the reliability of the Scriptures, and so on. In doing so, the authors have tried to cover as many of the top accusations that faith and reason do not mix. The consistent point throughout the essays is that, the New Atheism may not be as rationale as people think. At the same time, the Christian faith is not as unreasonable as the atheists camp paint them to be. Straddling both arguments is the care and intentionality the authors put to make room for both to co-exist: that is, reason and faith.

One key way that the atheists use is to attack the existence of a metaphysical world with the tools of a physical one. They will argue as if reason and rationale are the reserved domain for them, conveniently branding religious groups as irrational, irrelevant, and unreasonable. With this book, readers will find plenty of evidence, lots of arguments rationally thought out, and a passionate plea to all readers both Christians and non-Christians: "Don't believe everything the New Atheists say. Don't reject everything the Theists say."

Eventually, it boils down to one single purpose. It is not about reasoning, believing, or arguing that matters. It is about the pursuit of truth. One can reason well and not believe. Others can believe without attempting any reasoning. There are also those who can argue back and forth without much idea for where they are going. The objective is clear. The battle is for truth and the way ahead is the pursuit of truth. With this as the guiding rail, we are on the right track to true reason. This is one book of apologetics that many would love to have.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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