Interesting book from one who is an expert on the theoretical side of particle physics. Includes some background on the importance of the Higgs field,...moreInteresting book from one who is an expert on the theoretical side of particle physics. Includes some background on the importance of the Higgs field, why it was proposed (decades ago), and how the recent discovery of a "Higgs particle" fit into the theory. The book requires some background in physics but certainly not a specialist level. Roughly like a Scientific American article, perhaps.(less)
The author does a good job of interpreting some of the latest information on cosmology in lay language. Especially good at explaining how ideas like i...moreThe author does a good job of interpreting some of the latest information on cosmology in lay language. Especially good at explaining how ideas like inflation, multiple universes, and the energy of empty space are not just ideas dreamed up to explain the unknown, but are driven by data.(less)
For the most part I agree with C. Murphy's review (True Reason? Not so fast...) but will explain below why I think the chapter on the Outsider Test for Faith was actually a failure, not a success.
A brief outline of the book:
Chapters 1-5: Lots of examples of atheistic claims (especially by Dawkins and Harris) and why they are unreasonable, arrogant, silly, etc. I guess this is a pop-the-balloon technique to help readers realize that Dawkins and Harris are not gods of reason, and that their claims must be subjected to careful analysis.
Chapter 6: Answering the Outsider Test for Faith. See below.
Chapter 7: Summary of the usual arguments against naturalism/materialism: cosmological argument; fine tuning; biological complexity and the origin of life; consciousness and reason; origin of values; logic ("Naturalism ... entails that there are no transcendent logical laws."); natural uniformity (science assumes uniform laws of nature, an unwarranted assumption unless the universe was put together by a rational mind; apparently Marshall doesn't consider the empirical nature of science but thinks it needs a philosophical basis of uniformity). Conclusion: "Naturalism is bankrupt as a worldview. . . . Hence, if science tells us anything, it tells us that Naturalism is a dead option."
Chapter 8: The impossibility of meaning and value in a purely natural universe. "Only a few atheists have understood that if there is no ultimate purpose behind existence, then ultimately none of the alleged purposes in existence have a basis." Really, so few understood that? Christianity provides a basis for morality and values with the image of God, the Fall, sacrifice.
Chapter 9: The Bible often appeals to evidence and reason, and tells believers to think, use their minds. "In Christianity, faith is an active, justified trust in God. It is neither `blind' nor irrational.... Rather, it simply follows upon sufficient evidence of trustworthiness." "The biblical pattern of coming to faith always begins with evidence." If naturalism is true, we can't trust our brains even to tell us so, since they have no built-in purpose as truth-seeking organs.
Chapter 10: Contradicting Richard Carrier's claim that early Christians accepted the Gospel on faith without rational inquiry, the NT gives seven ways which tied reason to faith in Jesus: "historical investigation, rational argument, critical accounts of Jesus' life, miraculous `signs' ..., prophecy, convincing depictions of Jesus' character, and the resurrection." "Trust in God is the ultimate act of rationality."
Chapter 11: There is no inherent conflict between religion and science. There are even some real scientists today who are Christians! Debunking the story of Galileo as paradigmatic for religion and science. Science only works because the universe is orderly. Atheists can't do real science unless they import the theistic assumptions of an orderly universe.
Chapter 12: I'm a bit unclear on the purpose of this chapter, but I think that it's designed to explain why God made the universe regular in the first place, rather than constantly intervening in it. Reasons include that without uniformity: we couldn't distinguish miracles from the ordinary; we couldn't learn from experience (broken law of consequences); science could not move forward; we could not be moral agents without the action-consequence connection.
Chapter 13: The oral tradition behind the Gospels may have been more constrained to consistency than previously thought; there may have been some written materials backing it up. John Mark is reasonable as the author of the 2nd Gospel, and Luke of the 3rd and Acts. The last part of Acts has been shown to be historically reliable, so it is reasonable that Luke wrote a factual Gospel as well. Nothing is said about non-canonical gospels or the 4th Gospel (John).
Chapter 14: God might have allowed suffering and evil in the universe because it builds our character (so we can be courageous and patient in the face of suffering, for example) and allows us to be true moral agents, with the free will to choose good or evil. [There is no real explanation of why it is so important to have creatures that can be patient or choose evil, we are just told that those are very valuable attributes.]
Chapter 15: Countering arguments that the Bible supports slavery (or turns a blind eye), we are given instances of how it was regulated in the Old Testament and how NT teachings undermined the very idea of slavery, ultimately (1800 years later) resulting in its abolition. Interesting examples of how the Church opposed slavery throughout history, and of how the Church saw slaves as persons rather than property.
Chapter 16: Nicely deals with the problem of the Canaanite genocide by saying that it was all a misunderstanding ... phrases like "killed every living thing" and "left no survivors" were just standard figures of speech in those days. All that really happened was that the Israelites conquered the Canaanites and drove them out of the land. No killing of women and children. Oh, and when Moses had thousands of Midianite women and children killed (well, the virgin women were kept for the Israelites) (Numbers 31)? That was on his own authority, not because God told him to do it.
My problem with David Marshall's chapter on the Outsider Test for Faith
In a nutshell, John Loftus' Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) says that when evaluating the validity of their religious views, believers should try to analyze its claims as would an outsider, impartially weighing the claims of any religion. For example, a Christian should apply the same rigor to the claims of Christianity as she does to those of Islam, a Protestant should be as critical of the evidence for his beliefs as he is for those of Mormonism, and so on.
I have summarized Marshall's response to the OTF more fully in my complete review ([...]), but to bring it down to the simplest terms:
* The OTF is "amusing, coming from an atheist from Indiana." * Some people do rationally evaluate their inherited faith, and some do convert. * Culturally-inherited knowledge is sometimes (usually??) valid. Just because my religion is a product of my culture does not mean I should doubt it. * Christianity's popularity proves it to be valid (or at least a major contender). Other popular religions don't count because they're not popular for the right reasons. * Religions are not all that different, anyway, and Christianity is the fulfillment of them all, so why stress about comparing them! * Christianity is the fulfillment of "hundreds" of prophecies from the Old Testament about the salvation of the world coming through the descendants of Abraham. * "The Gospel also fulfills specific archetypes and prophecies, beginning with the Jewish Scriptures, but even prophecies among Gentile writers who foresaw such a Savior."
What Marshall really seems to be claiming is that there are so many reasons to believe Christianity that we don't need to address the OTF on its own terms. I think the underlying message is summed up in this quote from the chapter: "Is not this vast movement of hearts and minds over centuries and continents, a more objective test of the Christian faith than the abstract mental exercise of an Indiana skeptic?"
Overall, I find this book depressing because it seems to just pick at the edges of atheism. It probably does achieve its stated goals of showing that atheists are not always reasonable, and Christians can be reasonable. For those new to the issues, or whose only exposure is to popular atheist arguments, the responses in this book will probably be helpful.
Excellent book for helping Christians understand how some misunderstandings about Jesus and church origins come across as anti-Jewish (not antisemitic...moreExcellent book for helping Christians understand how some misunderstandings about Jesus and church origins come across as anti-Jewish (not antisemitic, as the author makes the distinction). This happens largely when 1st century Judaism is portrayed negatively in order to provide a foil for Jesus. One example Levine gives is the treatment of women, which according to her was not nearly as negative as described in the standard narrative of Jesus who liberated women who were oppressed and marginalized by an oppressive religious system.
Levine is Jewish, attends an Orthodox synagogue, and teaches New Testament to mostly Christian (self-identified) students at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. She has a good understanding of the NT and Christian theology. Her assertions about Judaism in the first century (and other periods) are backed up with primary sources. While they may be selective and a matter of disagreement among scholars, they are certain to make us reconsider.
Despite the title, the point of the book is not primarily to add to our knowledge of who Jesus was, but to combat the anti-Jewish ideas that stem partly from seeing him as non-Jewish or repudiating important aspects of Judaism. She interacts more with liberal Christian theology than with Evangelical views, though in many cases the two are closely related.
From my limited readings of recent works on Christian origins, I am a little surprised that Levine does not seem to think that Jesus' Jewishness is being acknowledged much more in the past 50 years than in preceding centuries, but perhaps that is more true in conservative scholarship than liberal (?).
I recommend this book for any Christian, because most of us have little understanding of our relationship with Judaism and Jews today, and especially for those involved in ministering to Jews or working in inter-faith efforts. (less)