God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible is a collection of brief essays designed to give an answer to the recent critiques of religion that have come from the so-called New Atheism camp which includes Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and others. The editors state at the outset: “Our primary objective in compiling this book is to answer challenges advanced by the New Atheists and others raising objections to belief in God and the Christian faith.” Elsewhere, “Our aim with this project is to provide a well-argued resource—one that is irenic in spirit and not a vitriolic attack on any persons or groups” (9–10).
Critiquing the New Atheism
There are some specific aspects to this book that deserve commendation, not the least of which is the fact that a book like this exists in the first place. Craig and Meister seek to address the many recent attacks on Christianity, so taking up the task themselves as well as reaching out to a good number of scholars is certainly appreciated. The book is also well-organized, divided into four major sections that focus on theistic arguments, scientific arguments, moral arguments, and some arguments that wrestle with specific sticking points within Christian doctrine (e.g., the resurrection, hell). Collecting bright, Christian minds together to help those who are struggling with what Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and company say is something all Christians can get behind.
Some of the selections within the volume are very helpful examples of an internal critique of some of the claims made by the New Atheism. To put it another way, some of the contributors effectively analyze and address the atheists’ arguments, then draw out how the very claims that the atheists are making fall apart and are internally inconsistent. For example, the appendix by Alvin Plantinga is on its own worth the price of the book. In brilliant Plantingan fashion, he draws out the philosophical claims that Dawkins makes in The God Delusion and exposes how philosophically naïve and embarrassingly over-simplistic Dawkins’s attempts at arguments are. Plantinga’s contribution is well worth referencing when seeking a philosophical analysis of Dawkins’s content, method, and blatant lack of training in philosophical matters.
Before offering my own thoughts on the book, I would like to acknowledge that these contributors have helped many people who are struggling with intellectual challenges against the Christian faith. Their words and works have been used for good to strengthen the faith of some believers. So any critique comes in the context of an awareness that the contributors seek to help bolster and support the Christian faith.
Grounded on God’s Word?
But commendable intentions aside, many of these essays contain fundamental inconsistencies with the same Christian faith that the authors are seeking to defend, primarily with respect to their apologetic methodology. While I also recognize that each contributor understandably had very little space to set forth arguments that elsewhere require volumes, I do not believe that the problems below would be solved by mere additional chapters to the present volume. It seems that the problems are more fundamental in their nature.
Given the lack of space needed to do full justice to this volume, I’ll need to make a few more general statements in the critique, and therefore apologize in advance for the unavoidable lack of nuance in some of what is stated below. With that said, I do believe that the complete lack of even a mention of Scripture as the Christian’s ultimate starting point and epistemological authority is a telling indicator of where broadly evangelical apologetics finds itself.
I will assume that these Christian authors believe Scripture to be the Word of God, as Scripture itself says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is God-breathed.” I will assume that they believe Scripture to be God’s Word because the Christian God which they seek to defend has told us just that when Peter says in 2 Peter 1:19–21, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
I will assume they believe this because if they don’t, they have bigger problems than an inconsistent Christian apologetic.
The reason to point this out is not due to a disagreement with every point in this volume; in fact, there is much with which I am formally in agreement. But what the Christian claims to be true is not ultimately based on what may “seem obviously true” based on our own extremely limited experience and ability. We absolutely do not put our ultimate hope in our philosophical prowess, but use that philosophical ability as a gift that can illuminate the reality that God has revealed to us through his Word.
So for example, Michael Murray, after making efforts to defend the plausibility of belief in God by ordinary psychological processes, states in his last paragraph,
And perhaps ‘Newer Atheists’ will come up with better (or even some) arguments that show that religious belief is disreputable in light of these accounts. But so far they haven’t done so. Thus, for the moment, it seems perfectly acceptable for the Christian to hold that God created the world, human beings and human minds in such a way that when they are functioning properly, they form beliefs in the existence of rocks, rainbows, human minds and God. (Murray, 104, my emphasis)
Within a context that aims for the truth of Christianity, one would hope that Murray does not really mean that there may one day be arguments that “show that religious belief is disreputable” and that our comfort lies in the fact that those arguments have not been formed yet but may be some day. One would hope that he was not really saying that the truth of Christianity may one day be proven false by a supposedly credible argument. But when one’s ultimate authority is something other than the Word of God, philosophical truth (and all truth, for that matter) ultimately rests on a philosophical foundation, and thus one has to be open to the possibility that that current philosophical truth may one day find disfavor with one’s own particular religious belief system.
God is Great, God is Good will certainly expose the reader to a broad range of apologetic issues, both philosophical and theological, prompted by the very real attacks coming from the misnamed “New” Atheism. It is commendable that the authors are in fact addressing the issues that this movement sets forth, and more work needs to come to the surface on a popular level to help those who are sincerely struggling with what they unfortunately conclude as valid objections to religion in general and Christianity in particular. Hopefully, further work will be done that will extend the discussion. What is needed in these discussions, however, is a more explicit and robust system that acknowledges that God’s spoken Word must be the ultimate foundation for any philosophy and any ultimate apologetic answer.