True Reason Book Review
I was given an advance copy of a brand new book True Reason to review before its launch. I’ve managed to just finish the book in time for the launch (today – 1 March) so I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well. I have spent a long time reviewing and critiquing Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, so in order to be fair (and in keeping with the theme of this blog), I thought I’d review another book, ‘on the other side’.
True Reason comprises 18 essays written by wide variety of authors attempting to refute the notion that ‘reason’ is the defining mark of atheism not Christianity. The book attempts to demonstrate that Christianity in fact has more ‘rational’ credibility than atheism.
The book covers an enormously wide subject area including essays on philosophy, history, theology, exegesis and science. The variety of subjects makes this book a useful introductory collection for someone wanting to engage the issues surrounding modern atheism. Generally the articles are well researched and well written. The book is accessible yet remains sufficiently scholarly to make it a worthwhile contribution.
Many of the authors are relatively unknown. No ‘big name’ Christian apologist wrote an original piece for the book. William Lane Craig is probably the best known contributor (and his work has obviously influenced several contributions) yet his essay was republished from an earlier work. Similarly, Sean McDowell’s contribution was also republished.
In terms of the content of the book, the better contributions were generally towards the middle of the book. Tom Gilson’s critique of the Craig vs Harris debate (Chapter 5) was very helpful and served to outline a number of the weaknesses in Harris moral landscape paradigm. My main criticism with his essay was that I would have liked further and more detailed articulation of the content of Harris’ arguments at the debate to make a fair adjudication of his points. David Marshall (Chapter 6) makes a clear response to the ‘insider-outsider’ test articulated by John Loftus where he claims that ‘if Christians dared to view their religion from an objective, outsider perspective, they would abandon it in droves’ (p.76). Marshall’s point that converts are hard to make is helpful, as is his point that people have a general sense of God – which Christianity tends to fulfill (although he does tend to underplay the differences between major religions, his point is worth considering). Lenny Esposito (Chapter 7) makes a calm and clear articulation of the ‘argument from reason’.
Peter Grice and David Marshall (Chapters 9 & 10) make some very helpful comments about the nature of Christian ‘faith’ and how a Christian understanding of faith actually rests on ‘reason’ (see pp. 123-4). They also distinguish between types of ‘faith’ (p.139) i.e. faith in mind, senses, other people and God. I found this a very useful clarification on this often misunderstood topic.
Samuel Youngs (Chapter 12) provided probably one of the best chapters in the book as he explored questions of morality and meaning and demonstrates quite persuasively the ultimate emptiness of atheism, which is so often masked by new atheist protagonists. He provides a devastating critique, yet maintains a demeanor of respect and even offers an artistic and creative flair.
Randall Hardman’s (Chapter 16) discussion of the historical issues pertaining to the New Testament was one of the clearest, succinct and most scholarly up to date and summaries I’ve recently read.
All the essays have worthwhile points to make in the ‘atheism vs Christianity’ dialogue. It’s a very good introductory work. It will give readers a good understanding of some of the key arguments and is worthwhile engaging with.
Whilst I generally found the book helpful and insightful, it (like any work) has its weaknesses.
I was concerned with the tone of some of the authors. Despite the claims of Weitnauer in the Epilogue (p.303), the book doesn’t always maintain a tone of respect for opponents, e.g. William Lane Craig ‘crowning’ Dawkins with the ‘worst ever argument’ (p.40). It may be true that Dawkins argument is bad, but it seems a little unnecessary make the judgement that it is the ‘worst ever’ and insult Dawkins with an imaginary crown. Other examples include Chuck Edwards (Chapter 4) where he spoils otherwise penetrating analysis with unnecessary remarks and often rhetorical comments like, ‘If he had done his homework’ (p.48), ‘So much for Dawkins’s “incisive logic” (p.49), ‘You will be amazed at Dawkins’s reasoning, or, rather lack thereof’ (p50), and so on.
I wonder if this is a function of the fact that most of the authors are from the United States where Christianity is culturally mainstream with a large, confident following? It was noticeable that the tone of those not from the United States was consistently more humble and respectful. On this point it was also noticeable that there were no European authors.
I felt that some of the arguments, material and debates were dated. Indeed several of the essays were republished from earlier works. These essays added very little to the modern conversation. Also, The God Delusion was published eight years ago. Many works have been published engaging directly the themes of this book. It’s hard to see how this book adds much to some of these discussions, which have been run for quite some time. In fact True Reason fails to engage more recent arguments and works published by the ‘New Atheists’. There was nothing directly dealing with Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing and there might have been a more sustained engagement with Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape. Further omissions from the other crucial areas of ‘New Atheist’ engagement included no sustained discussion on modern morality (e.g. homosexuality) and role of religion in the public space. Contributions in these areas would have made the book more ‘current’.
I also had some difficulties with the material of some of the essays, which would be profitable to explore in their own right at some point (in future blog posts) For example Sean McDowell’s essay on the relationship between science and Christian faith was excellent (though not originally written for the book), but he seemed to ignore the conflict perpetuated by certain ‘Young Earth Creationist’ groups like Answers in Genesis. I felt this point was missing and in many ways the critiques of the New Atheists against this group have some merit. Further, I was frustrated at DePoe’s essay on evil because whilst offering ‘rational’ defences to the problem of evil, it was unclear how clearly ‘Christian’ they were for there was very little biblical engagement. The defences offered were more philosophical than explicitly Christian. I was also frustrated by Matthew Flanagan’s essay on the genocide of the Cannanites. Whilst the topic was the correct one to tackle, it was unclear what Flanagan meant by a ‘literal’ reading of the text. His exegesis at times was confused and he never addressed the point why God still commanded the Israelites to kill anyone at all.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading the book. It made some very helpful comments and is a very good introductory book to a broad range of topics engaging the New Atheists. I will be referring to it and I will be critiquing further some of the essays on this blog. My overall rating 3.5 stars out of 5.