Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: The Well-Crafted Argument that Was Not

Debbs McKown wrote an essay in 1984 which was later published in F. D. White & S. J. Billings (Eds.), The Well-crafted Argument: A Guide and a Reader (pp. 587-591). New York: Houghton Mifflin. Professor of philosophy McKown’s main purpose is to warn about a future constitutional conflict between science and religion. As professor of philosophy, he marshals his philosophical training to try proving his premise. Since the Founding Fathers designed an “utterly secular Constitution,” (p. 586) he asserts they did not provide enough safeguard for the free practice and advance of science. Furthermore, because science opposes Christianity’s religious myths, there is peril that technology “would, one day… be endangered by it” (p. 586). The author goes on to describe religion’s threat to science and chastises Stephen Jay Gould for believing that “science and religion, properly understood, do not conflict” (p. 587). Especially since American fundamentalism’s “blood is boiling at present” (p. 587). McKown also asserts that “creationism threatens biology” (p. 587) and that all major sciences would “be gutted,” “emasculated,” and “suffer substantially,” (p. 587) at the hands of creationists. The author goes on to assert that “Christianity is scientifically unsupported” (p.588). The author insists that speaking about God is philosophically pointless, and the claim to religious experience as validation for religion can render contradictory results that cannot be verified.

McKown then accuses Christianity of historical fraud, asserting that the Gospel stories are suspect because they were written to convince people to believe in Christ. He points to alleged Christian misuse of the Jewish Old Testament to prove Jesus as Messiah, and the “suspiciously different resurrection tales” (p. 589). He surprisingly concludes that the Christ of the New Testament “never had any existence” (p. 589).

McKown claims that if schools were to teach modern science then a wholesale adoption of rational empiricism would be necessary. McKown proposes a 7 step plan of action that includes “the possible use of professional sanctions, to help safeguard the integrity of science instruction in public schools” (p. 590). He also proposes education that would help wean Americans from religion.

After reviewing the article, we concluded that McKown has not effectively proved his claim. His stated title seems to require a more thorough treatment of the Constitution as it relates to the relationship of religion, science and education. One expects to see some treatment of current proposed amendments that may in the future bear on the author’s subject, but none are given. McKown’s claim that the Constitution is “utterly secular” (p. 586) may be contradicted by religious people, but he offers no evidence for his claim.

A surprising claim is the one that asserts that the “useful arts” in the form of “technology” are endangered by religious people (p. 586). This sounds like an unfounded exaggeration, especially considering the churches’ use of technology to disseminate their beliefs. This should have been clarified by the author. McKown sees American fundamentalism as a threat to science (p. 587), but does not define the term. This would have been useful; especially considering the range of meanings that “fundamentalism” has had since its inception into American religious life. He also asserts that creationism is an enemy to all sciences, but fails to comment on the fact that a great amount of modern science discoveries were pioneered by Bible believing scientists. No specific examples are given to show that his assertions are true. I found this trend one of the greatest weaknesses in McKown’s paper. Also, because the range of beliefs in American Christianity is so vast, defining the group that he is addressing would have helped to make his paper intelligible to a general audience.

McKown claims that real religion involves “scriptural literalism,” and because the scriptures are mistaken regarding the nature of the universe, the earth, life and other subjects, then a conflict with science is inevitable. Although by the end of the paper it is obvious that Christianity is the object of his attack, he nowhere declares so. He uses the term “religion” but seems to define it (in his own mind) quite narrowly. This makes the above claim about “scriptural literalism” meaningless, and even wrong, apart from a Christian (fundamentalist?) understanding, especially because many religions in America do not have holy scriptures in the manner Christianity has, and some religions that do actually do not interpret them literally (i.e. those of the Gnostic persuasion and others).

The author’s claim that “Christianity is scientifically unsupported” (p. 588) needed a lot more detail. Declaring in what way it is unsupported; explain what scientific, repeatable experiment had proven it to be so would have been helpful. Some of the gaps in his arguments are quite surprising given the fact that the author is a professor of philosophy. It seems to me that most Christians probably do not have anything against science per se but McKown’s entire paper seems to depend on that supposed fact. The author nowhere defines what he understands as “science,” and this, again, weakens his position. McKown quotes Ralph Alpher approvingly when he states that if there is a god “it will become evident to the scientist” (p. 588). But it seems that if God is defined as the all-powerful, all-knowing Designer and Creator of the universe, His knowledge would be so far above mankind’s that it would be easier for a “scientist ant” (if there was such a thing) to understand man’s science than for a human scientist to understand God’s. McKown contends that Freud had it right when he wrote that “biological research robbed man of his particular privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to a descent from the animal world.” (p. 588) The author does not interact at all with modern scientific models like Intelligent Design and does not seem to be aware that unproven traditional evolutionism (a la Darwin) has been mostly rejected in favor of other theories like punctuated equilibrium. The author’s dogmatism does not take into account that evolution, far from being a law, is still a “theory” of origins.

The most powerful arguments were expected to be under the heading of “No Support from Philosophy,” but none are given. He asserts that “nowadays, philosophy is not a welcome place to land,” but does not provide a logical argument why that is so. He does not interact with the theories of current Christian philosophical scholars. Interestingly, one of the most publicized debates between atheist and Christian philosophers have rendered results that seem to contradict the author’s position. Prolific British atheist writer Antony Flew and Christian philosopher/historian Gary Habermas debated the subject of the historical fact of the resurrection of Christ and the scholars present, atheists among them, concluded that Habermas won the debate. Some years later Flew abandoned his atheism when the evidence of intelligent design pointed him to the existence of God.

When it comes to historical evidence, the author asserts that Christianity has massively misused the Jewish Old Testament, but again no proof is given. Christians could point out to Isaiah 53 which describes the life and death of Jesus in astonishing detail, even though it was written hundreds of years before he was born. McKown calls the resurrection a “tale” and incredibly decides that Jesus “never had existence” (p. 589), a point of view that had been quite popular in the eighteenth century but finds no modern support. Jewish historian Josephus wrote about Christ in the first century, and Roman historian Tacitus recognizes the existence of the followers of Christ around the same time. Furthermore, it would be interesting to find out what McKown would do to explain the empty tomb and the origin of the Christian church apart from Jesus’ real existence and resurrection. To assert that the Apostles invented Him would not explain their willingness to die as martyrs for their beliefs.

The author hopes for constitutional guarantees for scientific inquiry “equivalent to those enjoyed by religion” (p. 590) and shares his seven step plan to obtain better science education in American schools. One of them suggests “the possible use of professional sanctions, to help safeguard the integrity of science instruction in public schools and to shield science teachers against uninformed [Christian?] Public opinion” (p. 590). It seems to me that if enforced in the way the author envisions this, especially considering he would like some kind of constitutional amendment to guarantee similar results, it would cut off any and all divergent points of view. It would birth a totalitarian system where dissenters could end up losing their professional status and the opportunity to work for public schools unless willing to conform to the current “scientific” regime. Public (paternal?) opinion would not matter and children could be indoctrinated without any opposition. It seems to me that giving that much power to either side (religious or atheistic) would be a grave mistake. Openness to different points of view in the market place of ideas is a better way to guarantee a better science education.

The author ends his paper appealing to “a new and unique source of truth” that can be used to revise “ethical premises” (p. 591), but he does not clarify how and in what way could science, the science of empirical experimentation, provide a basis for an ethical system, when, by definition, ethical systems are not quantifiable in a laboratory. Is he suggesting that a test tube could be the foundation of morality?

Throughout his writing McKown assumes what he wants to (and should) prove. In the end, one is left wondering if the author did not provide evidence for his many assertions because his goal was to make an emotional appeal only, without a scientific basis, or perhaps because he is not informed enough to do so, or whether evidence for his point of view simply does not exist. In the end, his essay is not worthy to be included in an anthology such as The Well-crafted Argument, because there is a patent lack of any such argument in his biased writing.

G. Jorge Medina
Defenders of the Faith


Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: The Henry Morris Study Bible

Subtitled: Apologetics Commentary and Explanatory Notes from the 'Father of Modern Creationism,' this is an impressive work considering it was done by a lone man, the famed founder of the Institute for Creation Research. Morris does his best to provide a literal interpretation of the Bible, defending  young earth creationism, while using the King James Version of the Bible (contrary to the modern trend of using anything but the KJV).

The Index to Major Topics in Annotations is quite helpful and the 22 Appendices treat relevant apologetic issues like "Science and the Scriptures," "The Universal Flood," "Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecies," and others. Students of the Bible and apologists will greatly benefit from reading and thinking through them.

The Bible has 2204 pages. Even then, the one complaint about this (and other Study Bibles) is the all too brief Concordance. The Bible one uses ends up being a constant companion and the one resource one turns to time and again. Not being able to find a verse one is looking for in the Concordance of a Study Bible is very frustrating.

I do recommend this Bible for anyone looking for a conservative source of Bible believing study notes. While the author does not share all my doctrinal convictions, his effort to be faithful to Scripture is noted.

Disclosure: The book was received for free from the publisher. The program does not require a positive review, only an honest one.

Book Review: The End by Mark Hitchcock

Book Review: The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days

I was somewhat excited when reading Hitchcock's introduction to his book in which he admits he would like this book to become the successor to J. Dwight Pentecost's classic Things to Come. So, I was hoping Hitchcock's would be a worthy replacement. Of course, I was expecting scholarly treatment of most eschatological issues. I was dissapointed because The End is really not a the level of Pentecost's treatment of pro and con views on various prophetic positions. Do not get me wrong, however. I read almost everything Hitchcock writes on the subject and he is a good author on eschatology. The End is written at the popular level and most Christians would benefit from reading it. For those that know about Bible prophecy this book will not cut it. This one is not Hitchcock's magnum opus, yet. An overview, it is. Complete, it is not. In no way could a prophecy student do without getting the older classic by Pentecost or even Walvoord's Every Prophecy of the Bible.

Hitchcock would do well to update Pentecost's Things to Come for a new generation as he has done with some of Walvoord's classics.

Disclosure: The book was received for free from Tyndale House Publishers. The program does not require a positive review, only an honest one.

Book Review: Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day

Book Review: Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day

The book's title is quite ambitious. Trying to describe any religious movement or cult in about 15 minutes is an enormous challenge. Overall, I'd say Garry Morgan succeeds in giving an overview of each religion. Where more than 15 minutes were needed, he breaks up a religion in more than one chapter (e.g. Islam). I think he does that wisely. Some chapters spend too much time on side issues (or pet peeves?). In the end, more than 15 minutes are really needed to address some cults.

For anyone that has absolutely no background knowledge (or time for research) on a specific cult, the book will be helpful. Anyone that has been involved in apologetics for any amount of time will find the book too basic.

Each chapter reads like a fair introduction to a larger work on the movements addressed. It would be great for the author to develop each into a full-fledged book.

If you are not interested in investing too much time on learning what each religious cult teaches, this book will give you a sufficient overview. It is always recommended that you read more than one author's take, however, to overcome author's biases (and we all have them!). For a more thorough treatment on the subject, Walter Martin's updated Kingdom of the Cults is a must for every library.

Disclosure: The book was received for free from BethanyHouse. The program does not require a positive review, only an honest one.

Book Review: The Gospel According to Isaiah 53

Book Review: The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser

The book's subtitle: Encountering the Suffering Servan in Jewish and Christian Theology is an apt description of the journey one embarks on when delving into the pages of this book.
A great contribution to the scholarly investigation on the identity of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. As an apologist I often wished that the book was a little stronger in its affirmation of the Messiahship of Jesus, especially over against the Jewish claims to the contrary. However, since the book seeks to be a scholarly resource for the student, some of the polemics have to be toned down. For a stronger case for Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy I would recommend Michael L. Brown's series on Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.
I do recommend this book, however, for its scholarly value. I usually try to read anything Bock writes about Jesus and this was a quite informative journey.

Disclosure: The book was received for free from Kregel Academic & Ministry review program. The program does not require a positive review, only a truthful one.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: The Truth About Grace by John MacArthur

Book Review: The Truth About Grace by John MacArthur

Most of the time MacArthur is a very biblical, engaging writer. When it comes to pet theologies of his, he makes the same mistake of going beyond the biblical evidence. This book has some great stuff, but his belief in predestination tints his exposition on this subject. Sadly, that is the one point that affects the whole doctrine of grace. Either God’s grace is for everyone or only for the elect. MacArthur says, “Grace is not coercion. But by transforming the heart, grace makes the believer wholly willing to trust and obey.” (p. 13). The problem is, in this view, the non-elect do not receive this grace and therefore remain completely unable to believe. They can not be “willing” to believe without God’s grace, but since He did not predestinate them for life but condemnation, He didn’t grant them this special grace.
Because of this, I cannot recommend MacArthur’s book.

Disclosure: The book was received for free from the Thomas Nelson Publisher's BookSneeze review program. The program does not require a positive review, only a truthful one.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Review: A Shot of Faith {to the Head} by Mitch Stokes, PhD

Book Review: A Shot of Faith {to the Head} by Mitch Stokes, PhD

When a book that involves critical thinking is recommended by foremost Christian thinker Alvin Plantinga you have got to get it and devour it.

Stokes delivers a well-informed response to the not-so-well-informed attacks of the so-called New Atheism. Stokes proves that there is hardly anything "new" or worthwhile about the atheist movement of the 21st century.

He takes atheist writers' own words and analyzes them with razor-sharp philosophical rigor; once measured, such arguments are found wanting.

Although I would not recommend the book to beginner apologists, it is a great book for those interested in thinking beyond the rhetoric to the (very few) actual arguments the new atheists and their ilk have fabricated to try to unseat the Unmoved Mover.

Disclosure: A copy of the book was received for free from the Thomas Nelson Publisher's BookSneeze review program. The program does not require a positive review, only a truthful one.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review: Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber

Book Review: Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber

Carolyn Weber tells her unforeseen journey to faith as she leaves Canada to obtain a Master’s Degree at Oxford University in England. Her writing is engaging. She is truly a wordsmith. I cannot say enough of her mastery of the written expression. Weber brings the reader into her world. The reader finds himself along for the journey, sharing her emotions every step of the way.

Her account of that one Christian professor in Canada that was respected and looked up to both by students and professors alike brought to mind how important it is for anyone to represent God in a Christian way, especially in academia. That was the proverbial pebble on her shoe that made her think outside the box to see that maybe, just maybe, there may be something worth pursuing in the idea of God.

Even as she relates her surprise at finding God in a most unlikely place—Oxford University—I found myself surprised to find romance in her account. Well-written romance, mind you. But not something one expects in what is expected to be a Christian Apologetic.

The book is worth the read for those that have the time to. I certainly would recommend this book over most of the Christian romance available in local bookstores. Weber’s book will make you think, smile, maybe even cry. One wishes more people would write at her level.

Disclosure: The Kindle version of the book was received for free from the Thomas Nelson Publisher's BookSneeze review program. The program does not require a positive review, only a truthful one.