This September, Mary will enter college. Mary's parents have lovingly raised her in a traditional Christian home. She has been part of the family's church since her "cradle roll" days, confirmed, sang in the choir, active in her youth group.
Mary is about to experience a sea change. In college, she will encounter a diversity of worldviews, philosophies, learned professors, and other young people who seem to "have it all together," who challenge her with questions and claims she had never before considered, in particular the views of Richard Dawkins and the "New Atheists." Some of the new ideas will seem very plausible over a late night pizza party. Mary needs help!
This book appears to have Mary as its primary target audience. Fourteen authors contribute essays to address what they believe are her main concerns. Some of the writers are very good, John Polkinghorne and Alvin Plantinga being particularly outstanding. Unfortunately, the book fails to meet its objective on many counts.
First, it overreaches, presenting a "Reader's Digest" of philosophy and Christian theology, attempting to address all the important questions from atheism's refutation to a defense of traditional Christianity. The objective is admirable; but it was not achieved in 236 pages.
Second, the book includes a defense of ID by Michael Behe, who confidently writes (pg 82) "That should have been the end of Darwinism's strong claim right there - to explain all of life as the product of random mutation and natural selection - but intellectual inertia and wishful thinking kept it going" (pg 82). His argument is unpersuasive and Mary will have trouble in biology class if she takes it seriously. The implication is, of course, that a Christian must necessarily embrace I.D.
Third, the last essay, by author Mark Mittleberg, is an unconvincing "altar call," His recommended bibliography includes a book by Josh McDowell, who not long ago was preaching young earth creationism.
Fourth, the book does not end with Mittleberg's sermon, but adds a postscript. In it, Anthony Flew argues his case for simple theism. Following Flew is an appendix by Alvin Plantinga. These two articles seem seriously out of place.
Fifth, the essay by William Lane Craig contains a particularly inept argument against Dawkins' idea that the universe "just popped out of nothing." Craig's argument (pg 14) seems to be as follows: (a) it is a necessary truth that something cannot come from nothing; (b) The very idea of something else is resorting to magic; (c) If one thing popped out, why are there not other things? (d) Our experience confirms that everything has a cause. These arguments can also be used, of course, to "refute" some of quantum mechanics.
Craig also attacks the person of Dawkins. He describes him as "marvelously oblivious" (pg 19), "laboring under the delusion" (pg 23), "apparently unaware" (pg 25), "smug and self-congratulatory" (pg 28) and imagining Dawkins as "making a silly ass of himself" (pg 30). It may be argued that Dawkins deserves such treatment, but Col 3:12 refutes that argument. I don't want Mary to read that kind of stuff and possibly conclude it is OK for a Christian.
There are other defects in the book, such as no discussion of natural evil, a reliance on only Euro-American writers, and no feminist, Afro-American, Hispanic or Asian voices. Scot McKnight commits a serious blunder, repeating one of C. S. Lewis's rare errors when he writes, "either the disciples are liars or they are truth-tellers"(pg 200). And some other writers seem to delight in "digging" Richard Dawkins, one of them, Michael Murray, making the gratuitous aside that Dawkins was on his second marriage (obviously moral turpitude).
I believe that acceptance of Christ usually happens through social interactions with real Christians, not as an intellectual process. Skip the book. If you do buy a copy, don't give it to Mary. She will get hurt.
John W. Burgeson
Retired physicist, retired IBMer
Houston, Texas, April, 2010. Published in PERSPECTIVES, December, 2010
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