TWO GREAT TRUTHS: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith by David Ray Griffin. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. 115 pages, notes, references, index. Soft-cover. ISBN: 0-664-22773-2.
Epicurus is credited with the paradox: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?" From this, the argument that God does not exist is formulated, as follows: (1) If God exists then he is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good; (2) If God were omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good then the world would not contain evil; (3) The world contains evil. Therefore: (4) It is not the case that God exists.
Since Newton's time, the conventional world view is that the material world consists simply of "particles hitting particles." This view makes the freewill concept difficult, for there is no known mechanism by which a non-physical mental state can act upon physical matter. The conclusion of many thinkers, Sagan, Dawkins, and others has naturally (sic) been to accept what David Ray Griffin, the author of this book, calls "maximal naturalism," or in Sagan's words, "The universe is all there is." Griffin resolves the paradox and refutes the argument. A forward by Howard Van Till, friend of the ASA, endorses him highly, and on that basis alone ASA members should study this book.
I reviewed Griffin's longer book on this subject, RELIGION AND SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM, in PSCF Vol 54, Number 3, Sept 2002. This review may be accessed on the ASA web site (www.asa3.org\fs24fs24 ) under "book reviews," or at www.burgy.50megs.com/griffin.htm. This volume is a summary of that book, based on lectures given in October 2002 at Christ Community Church, Spring Lake, Michigan. It is very readable.
In chapter 1, "Scientific Naturalism: a Great Truth That Got Distorted," Griffin argues that "Scientific Naturalism" is understood to rule out religion, but this is a distortion because naturalism may be theistic. He rules out supernaturalism, holding that it is not possible for there to be a divine being who can interrupt fundamental casual processes.
In chapter 2, "Christian Faith: a Great Truth That Got Distorted," Griffin summarizes his primary Christian doctrines. (1) A good God created us; (2) A loving God desires that we treat each other with justice and compassion; (3) Our world, though full of evil, is essentially good; (4) God acts in the world, mostly through human beings; (5) God's attributes are shown to us through Jesus; (6) God's purpose is to overcome evil; (7) Salvation can be experienced now, albeit only partially; (8) Our lives have ultimate meaning; (9) Life beyond bodily death is a reality.
Griffin distinguishes these primary doctrines from secondary doctrines, such as the virgin birth, original sin, the immaculate conception, the fall, Satan, the 6000 year-old earth, and others. Primary doctrines must surely be true; secondary ones may or may not be. Teaching secondary doctrines s as if they are primary doctrines causes many of Christianity's problems. The main secondary doctrine distortion is "creatio ex nihilo," which, for Griffin, makes the paradox of Epicurus, and the resulting argument against God's existence, terribly persuasive. Most of chapter 3 is devoted to a discussion of this topic.
In chapter 3, "Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith: A New Synthesis," Griffin, while rejecting modern liberal theology, reflects on the views on Bergson, Einstein, William James, Charles Peirce and Whitehead, arguing "panexperientialism," the idea that all actual things have "experience." (Conscious experience is enjoyed only by humans and animals). This solves, for Griffin, the mind-body problem. As absurd as panexperientialism appears, it has been endorsed by several leading thinkers, Hartshorne, Bohm, Hiley, Waddington and others. Panexperimentialism holds that the mind and body are distinct, interacting, entities and that therefore humans can exercise self determination. Griffin holds, of course, a panentheistic view, a form of process theology. The divine power is persuasive, not coercive. Humans directly experience God at all times.
In chapter 4, "Christian Faith: From Arrogance to Timidity to Respectful Confidence," Griffin sums up his thesis. The great truth of the Good News of Christianity has been distorted by the idea of God's omnipotence. Consequently, the Christian message developed an arrogant doctrine of exclusivity, which ultimately led to the Crusades, the Holocaust, and the peculiarly American theology of "manifest destiny." The Enlightenment challenged this arrogance; the church retreated into timidity; theologians were systematically excluded from intellectual discussions. Griffin asserts that only by embracing process theology can Christianity again become "robust" and regain a place at the table.
Reviewed by John Burgeson, Rico Community Church, Rico, CO 81332.
Submitted to PSCF Feb 2006