Saturday, November 07, 2009

Book Review: The Big Argument - Does God Exist?

The Big Argument: Does God Exist? is a collection of twenty-four essays from various scholars in a variety of fields such as philosophy, science, history, and archaeology. Judging the book by its cover, the book’s cover art, paper, and binding gives the impression that the content might be equally poor in quality. However, that is not necessarily true. The content was much richer than the first impression may let on.

The goal of the book is to present an overall cumulative case for the God of the Bible through an easily readable yet intellectually satisfying collection of scholarly essays. The book achieves the goal of readability by having a conversational element to it and a logical presentation of the content. It is split into two parts: Part one is God, Science, and Philosophy; Part two is God, History, and the Bible. Read more...

The first question addressed is whether science has disproved God. Barry L. Whitney essay concludes that it has not. He defines some basic terms such as naturalism, faith, skepticism and the like. From there, Danny R. Faulkner introduces an overview of natural theology, pointing to the principle of sufficient reason, the cause of the universe, and the design of the universe. Kennett E. Himma picks up in chapter three with an exposition of the kalam argument. These are good basic treatments for someone unfamiliar with them and can serve as fair overview.

Chapter four is one of the most notable chapters: Design by Information by Werner Gitt. The author of this essay jumps right into information theory and makes some very interesting points on the nature of information. While this chapter may be one of the more profound, Gitt’s conclusions are very extensive. There is no modesty in what he attempts to prove through information. He spells out a total of eight conclusions from the existence of God, the impossibility of the big bang, the impossibility of evolution, and more – all within a short number of pages. It is also at this point that the reader will notice the diversity of viewpoints that are presented in this collection.

Chapter five explores evidence for intelligent design in the human body. Here Frank J. Sherwin provides numerous examples of biological systems within the body from DNA and molecular machines to the brain and the immune system. Ariel A. Roth follows suit in chapters six, presenting evidence for the creator in the design of nature. Systems and interdependencies in nature, along with various illustrations and examples provide a compelling addition to the argument. George Javor rounds it off with remarks on abiogenesis and the possibly options for life’s origin.

Chapter eight is a critique of evolution by David Catchpoole. Natural selection, Darwin’s finches, mutations, antibiotic resistance, and vestigial organs – these all make their appearance right alongside the notorious peppered moths. Catchpoole concludes that the biological evidence for evolution (on a macro scale) does not stand up to scrutiny.

Chapter nine, The Geological Evidence for Creation by Andrew A. Snelling, brings a case for the geological evidence for the flood and a young earth. This essay is the high-water mark in the book for the more conservative view of the age of the earth, which completes the spectrum of opinions represented. After this chapter the book shifts gears to explore consciousness, morality, and the problem of evil.

In Where Do Thoughts Come From?, Charles Taliaferro looks at consciousness. He compares theism and naturalism and shows that theism is in a better position to explain consciousness. Steven B. Cowan contributes an essay on moral values in chapter eleven. He elaborates on the concept of objective moral values, the classical moral argument, objections, and the euthyphro dilemma. Jon Paulien then writes on the problem of evil in a chapter that deals with the subject more from a theological perspective than a philosophical one. While touching on many of the standard issues, Paulien weaves narrative and redemptive themes to reach a cross-centered climax:
There is a silver lining to the dark cloud of human evil. God has turned the Cross into a powerful act of reversal. The greatest evil ever done has been transformed by God into the most powerful act of goodness ever performed. By death God brings life. Through defeat comes victory. Through shame, humiliation, and rejection come glory, grace, and acceptance. Through the Cross, God has turned the tables on evil and death. The greatest evil has become the basis for the greatest good.1
Chapters thirteen and fourteen explore the nature of God. Who is God? What is He like? Steven Thompson and Eric Svendsen explore some of the attributes of God according to the Bible. This begins the shift to part 2 and Stephen Caesar presents a chapter on Can the Bible Be Relied On? Standard evidence for the reliability of the Old and New Testaments are presented. This is followed by Jerry Bergman’s Historical Evidence for the Biblical Flood. Most notable here is the comparison of the flood myths found throughout the world and their similarities with the biblical account. Bergman concludes by showing why the biblical account stands out.

Continuing with historical and archeological evidences, chapters seventeen through nineteen cover the archeological evidence for the exodus and the New Testament. Most notable here is the historical reliability of the Old Testament – something not as common in most popular-level apologetics books. And finally, rounding out the biblical evidences are three more chapters devoted to biblical and messianic prophecies that have come to pass.

The book concludes with two very good chapters: one by Michael Licona on the resurrection of Jesus and the other by Phil Fernandes on the absurdity of life without God. Licona presents his “minimal facts” approach for the historical case for the resurrection – an excellent contribution to a book of this kind. Fernandes’ final chapter looks at the meaning of life and man’s need for God for purpose, fulfillment, and ultimate meaning.

The Big Argument: Does God Exist? will leave the reader with mixed thoughts. For one thing, there seems to be a trade-off when compiling essays on such a wide variety of subjects. The benefit is the breadth of the cumulative argument: many subjects are addressed and the overall impression is a diverse body of evidences and arguments all pointing to one conclusion. However, the draw-back is that none of the individual arguments are fully developed; they are spread too thin. For that reason, this book may be best suited to believers new to apologetic arguments as a broad introduction. It would not be suited to a very critical reader, as each essay only has enough time to present an outline of an argument without adequate defense of the finer points.

In conclusion, The Big Argument does have a lot of good content and number of the essays could serve as useful references. But the fact is, there are much better apologetics primers for beginners and much more effective books for the questioning unbeliever. The book as a whole falls short of being one this reviewer would recommend.

1 Jon Paulien, in The Big Argument: Does God Exist? (Green Forest, AZ: Master Books, 2005), p. 196.


RkBall said...

Thank you for bringing this book to our attention.

Lee said...

"Standard evidence for the reliability of the Old and New Testaments are presented."

That must have been a short chapter :-)

So, what did it have to say about the 6 hours of darkness, earthquakes and dead saints making themselves known?

Or is that to be 'proven' in the next book.

Telling me that a city existed here, or a battle happened there is no reason at all to believe the miracle accounts.

Shakespeare wrote of history - so what? Does this mean the account of what happened to Romeo and Juliet should be believed?

"much more effective books for the questioning unbeliever."

Excellent - can you point me to one of your reviews of such a book?



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