Monday, July 21, 2008

The Reason for God

I've been salting my reading list with a lot of good books regarding Christianity and responses to the recent spate of fundamentalist atheist attacks on Christianity (because, let's face it, the popular books by atheists these days really all go after Christianity, and are not so much about the debate about whether God exists or not, as they claim).

The best one, hands down, is The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller.

This is the book I've been waiting for someone to write for a long, long time. Only, C.S. Lewis is a better apologist, but now I'd recommend him AFTER this particular book, only because this one cuts to the chase on so many topics, and it's more accessible to the average American as the style is straightforward American English (as opposed to Lewis' very learned, early 20th century British prose).

This is the one I'd hand to people who are honestly interested in what real Christianity is about, and what our beliefs really are. (Though Keller does recuse himself at the beginning that his views are going to skew protestant as he is one, yet he makes a case that everything he says would not conflict with Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox views.)

This is the one I'd had to the dabblers, the Buddhists-because-they-don't-require-a-stance Buddhists, the agnostics, and the atheists who are open-minded.

And I'd particularly hand it to the fans of any of the "unholy trinity" (see below).

To give you a taste, here are some excerpts; they are long and there's more to this post after them, so scroll down if they do not interest:

The Gospels were written relatively soon after Christ's death and subsequent resurrection using the testimonies of actual witnesses, as opposed to the current popular public trope that they didn't hit papyrus until long after the events occurred and after they'd been mythologized (or borrowed from other mythologies):

Here's a fun passage about the character of Christians, particularly those with "character flaws" (or, the answer to "why are some of the Christians I know so deeply fucked up?"):

What about those fanatical Christians? The ones who hold up placards listing all the things God supposedly hates and who tell everyone else they're bound for hell (hint: "they are not Christian enough"):

Christian treatment of women, in the context of the culture of the time:

An intriguing definition of what sin really is:

If you're ever going to read a book about true Christianity, (outside of the Bible), Keller's The Reason for God should be it.

Then there's The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition by Paul Rhodes Eddy (Author), Gregory A. Boyd.

Now, this book is a pretty hardcore academic exploration of the validity of the Gospels. If what Keller proffers is just not enough for you, and you still want darned good proof that the Gospels are a historical account of actual events, this is the book for you.

Be warned though, it has all the grace and charm of highly academic tomes: overly complex grammatical constructions (meaning you'll have to re-read many sentences a few times to grasp them, probably with a look much like this on your face)...

...passages that would lull someone whose genitals are actively on fire to sleep, and exhaustive analysis of every wrinkle on the idea.

But, if you want proof, here it is.

I've read two direct challenges to the Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens books.

The first one, The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens by Vox Day, pretty much takes them apart on their own turf. Day is a believer, but states at the outset he has no interest in converting anyone to Christianity; he just wants to knock down the atheist screeds.

I think he does a decent job, but he does stay in the sandbox of arguing with the atheists on their own terms. This is both a good and bad thing; while he disarms them and puts his point to their little hears with a valiant cry of "touché!", he does not (usually) step back further and examine how the arguments themselves are bogus. (Btw, please consider that a very faint damning. It's still efficacious, and it's something I don't have the wit to do myself. Just like a tone-deaf music fan (which I am), I can hear, understand, and appreciate the melody, even if I can't sing it myself.)

It was a fun read. To get an idea of his style, and if you just need yet another well-written blog to visit regularly, here's his blog (and his "main" site).

While Vox is entertaining, David Berlinski in The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions is a fucking crackup. Berlinski is witty. (When was the last time you read a book that was witty?)

I laughed. Hard. My wife had to endure out-load readings of particularly snappy retorts.

Perhaps most interesting to atheists and other non-Christians, Berlinski isn't a Christian, or even necessarily a believer in God, but (like Vox) was annoyed by the fact the "unholy three" were just polemics that claimed to be on the side of science, while actually not doing a very good job of handling the whole science side of the argument very well.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on physics guys confronting the evidence that the universe had a beginning, which implies something outside of it started it all, and all the writhing they've done to try to get past that one fact - stuff like string theory and alternate universes. A couple years back it became clear to me that all theories for multiple universes are nothing more than a (pathetic and silly) attempt to provide a model of a universe with a clear beginning that wouldn't involve an entity who created it, and/or to address the sheer odds against anything like our universe coming into existence with the strict tolerances necessary to allow the formation of stars and the rise of life on planets. (To be fair, reportedly, a good half of all physicists don't have a problem with the implications of the discoveries that point toward a primary mover, and many believe in such a thing.)

So, you get two, two, two books in one: a stand-up comedian's educated take on the silliness of some scientific and philosophical stances that are nothing more than whistling in the dark, and a clear description of those very theories - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

(TLD: the wiki article linked above really really tries to make Berlinski look bad. What's funny is that his stance is consistent: he doesn't accept unproven "scientific" theories on faith anymore than he does religious claims. He's everyone's skeptic. I'll admit that his relationship with the wingnut attack shrew, Ann Coulter, makes me hoist an eyebrow, but we all have friends that don't fit conveniently into the approval criteria of our other friends. Personally, I think evolution is a pretty sound theory (having waffled on my feelings about it a while ago), but things like the Cambrian Explosion are pretty hard to overlook, much like the Big Bang is hard to ignore. Plus, evolution has never struck me as being mutually exclusive of the idea of God creating everything; it certainly could've been the mechanism He used to create humans. Given some of our more egregious behaviors, it makes some sense, actually.)

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