Thursday, April 5, 2012

If God Then What? - Disappointingly Good

Over the last year or so I've tried to read at least one book I disagree with a month, generally on Christianity. It's an odd hobby. Sometimes it's laborious work. On several occasions I've had fun combing texts for errors, contradictions and absurdities. Some I've broadly liked, but separating where I agree with the author and where we differ has always seemed a tough review to write. I'd like to tell you why Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and Atheist Delusions are both worth reading despite my disagreements in areas, but It's easier to point at ID authors who think all languages originated at the Tower of Babel.

A few weeks ago, after a year of off-and-on blogging, I was asked if I'd read the recently released "If God Then What?" and discuss with the author on a radio show called Unbelievable?. Despite my accent I do love the sound of my own voice so I leapt at the opportunity. I expected a fun week of debunking, drawing up lists of flawed arguments, rehashing old debates and preparing to retaliate for slights against my fellow atheists. I'd heard the author, Andrew Wilson, on radio shows before and he seemed the sort who'd enjoy a vigorous debate.

Without wishing to give away too much, my opening words on the book were 'disappointingly good'. On a show that leans towards the debate format I found myself in the awkward position of thinking Wilson had done a useful job. I went so far to say that those considering a book on apologetics should seek his out.

It's natural and important for us to want to talk about what ideas we hold dear, and I understand the drive to evangelise. Some Christians can talk about their faith quite well. Some are great at winning arguments. Some  frankly trespass on hate speech, though in fairness these criticisms can apply to many outside Christianity's fold.

I think this is a book a parent could give to a teenager and entertain reasonable hopes of them reading it through, with a better than average chance of having a decent discussion as a result. He's done well to keep the book to an appropriate length for such situations. He hasn't sought to bring entirely new arguments forward, rather he's collected several and presented them in an accessible, readable and engaging fashion. Most books in this genre seem to try to win conversations or close them down. Wilson seems to be trying to open them up. The negative comments on non believers, so frequent among his competitors, are absent here. There are no attacks on science or hamfisted links with Hitler, and he makes good efforts to show how much weight his arguments will bear as opposed to painting each as a certain proof.

Obviously this is written from a Christian perspective and a non-Christian would develop the points differently. There is nothing wrong in the author having a worldview and expressing it, I often do so on my blog, and Wilson makes no attempt to paint this as a disinterested view of the questions involved. Where Wilson stands above some others is that he has avoided the trap of bending facts to suit his points - he even jokes how much easier it would have been to quotemine Hawking rather than tackle a chapter on fine tuning. I think he's misunderstood Dawking's Weasel program, but the error doesn't affect the point he's aiming for and it comes across as an honest mistake. I put time and hard work into finding flaws and that's really the best I can find.

If you're a Christian and you'd like to share your faith with others, buy this book. It's the best I've read in the genre and extends a hand of friendship rather than a wagging finger of disapproval. It didn't convert me, but did leave me wanting to join the author for a coffee and a long chat.

You can buy If God Then What? on A podcast of our radio show with Unbelievable's Justin Brierley is available for download here.


Anonymous said...

A refreshingly pleasant and civil review. Thank you.

helenmarplehorvat said...

Hashtag Fair Minded Atheist. A review like this encourages me to want to get the book for my teenagers. It also gives me an insight about exactly what you dont like about other apologetic books and arguments. Note to self!! xx

Naomi said...

Think I will be seeking this one out, I have two teenagers, one of whom asks a lot of God questions! On a separate note - I like the sound of your voice too! Looking forward to the show!

Geoff said...

My accent is entirely designed in post production. Justin's something of a technical wizard.

The book is available on Amazon.

Dan Ray said...

Hi Geoff,
I heard the show on a podcast and admit your own evenhandedness and graciousness in the discussion convicted me. I've often been guilty of wanting to win the argument rather than engage the person. Your testimony of patiently examining and even speaking complimentary of the book made me realize even more so just how much grace I have NOT extended to those who disagree with me. So thank you. Jesus still uses good Samaritans to teach us "religious" folk a lesson or two.

A question from the discussion, though, and perhaps you've answered it elsewhere and could direct me, what generally is your standard explanation of evil from a purely materialistic/evolutionary paradigm? It would seem that the problem of evil is even more accute for the materialist, in that evil, because it exists, has to be explained in some evolutionary/natural selection context. This would imply that there is something inherently "useful" in its adapting and surviving to the present day. I don't know, I've never heard a detailed analysis of evil from a materialistic/atheistic point of view.
Thanks again,

dwz said...

This post reminds me Jose Mourhinho speaking to the press after another Chelsea loss...