Book Review: True Reason
Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer have donned their spiritual armor and charged the front lines of the New Atheists to capture a flag waved with arrogant exclusivity: the banner of reason. In True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism, William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, and a host of credentialed Christian apologists confront the rationality of the New Atheism in a work that will have you looking for your armor and enlisting to help defend the Christian faith.
This book is a megadose of reason. The authors make a strong case for the intellectual bankruptcy of metaphysical naturalism by using strong logic and sound reasoning to challenge popular arguments espoused by the New Atheists. The result is a palate cleansed of the boxed-wine aftertaste of secular programming. After revealing the folly of embracing a worldview based on bad arguments, the authors present a strong case for the grounding of reason and ultimate meaning in a supernatural, transcendent being.
I would recommend this book for:
- Christians interested in the philosophy behind their theology
- Anyone who believes that Christianity is anti-intellectual
- Atheists interested in strong responses to common objections against Christianity
- Pastors looking to strengthen their knowledge of apologetics
- People curious about the reason of Christ, and how Christ is required for reason
Tom Gilson begins by showing how the supposed “party of reason” crashes itself with fallacious debates, emotional appeals, and a wanton mishandling of evidence. Gilson shows how the New Atheists’ claims represent significant logical fallacies and calls out their vacuous ownership claim on the brand of reason. Ironically, in order to capture the flag of reason, atheists must first infiltrate the Kingdom of God.
Carson Weitnauer quotes atheists past and present and allows them to help illustrate the irony of atheism in their own words. And in case vitriolic rhetoric alone fails to dissuade you from militant atheism, Weitnauer argues for the irrationality of atheists and their champions’ predilections to believe things on faith–just like Christians.
Next, William Lane Craig crowns Richard Dawkins the King of Bad Arguments by showing how the central idea in his best-selling book is philosophy at its worst. Dawkins never claims to be a philosopher, and this chapter reminds the reader to take his metaphysical musings with a grain of salt.
Chuck Edwards carefully dissects weak arguments in The God Delusion and explains why Dawkins even makes some of his contemporaries embarrassed to be atheists. Dawkins single-handedly battles an army of straw men by propping up weak versions of old arguments and bops them with a Nerf blade reddened by the blush of ignorance. He explains how even Dawkins must fill his gaps in understanding with something—in his case, not with God, but with “sheer luck.” He exposes luck as a common (albeit unsatisfying and unscientific) hypothesis for the important questions such as the origin of first life and consciousness. Edwards shows how despite Dawkins’s accusations of Bible-based child abuse, the only thing parents should fear is that their children mistake Dawkins’s rhetorical well-poisoning for reasonable arguments. Edwards’s reasoned and logical responses make Dawkins’s performance in The God Delusion resemble more a high school cheerleader than a tenured university scholar: his gyrating lips, while exiting his base and grasping the world’s attention, mask a lack of depth regarding the philosophy he attacks.
Tom Gilson describes the marked difference in tactics between philosopher and Christian apologist William Lane Craig and the neuroscientist and outspoken atheist Sam Harris during a debate to answer the question, “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural, or Supernatural?” After highlighting an example in 2011 where the co-founder of Project Reason essentially refused to use reason after a fatal challenge to his theory on the grounding of morality, he cites specific examples of Harris’s unrecognized use of non sequitur, equivocation, circular reasoning, and question begging. Gilson’s illustrations of how Harris’s blunders extend beyond his debating and into his published works beg to give Project Reason a subtitle: Under Construction.
David Marshall puts ex-Christian John Loftus’s “insider-outsider test for faith” to the test and gives it a failing grade while showing how the claim that most people who view Christianity from the outside will reject it is unfounded. I can attest to this as a person who grew up with a secular worldview and did not accept the truth of Christianity until adulthood. Marshall concludes by making a case of how Christianity passes the tests of history, prophecy, transformation, and lo and behold, the insider-outsider test for faith.
Lenny Esposito explains why it’s a long way to get to reason when you’re traveling via Naturalism. In fact, he explains how you can never get there. Esposito’s chapter provides a succinct explanation for a simple concept: you cannot get reason from non-rational causes. Referencing Dawkins, Lewis, and Nagel, he shows how the atheist can only claim ownership of reason by borrowing from theology. His closing argument is valid and sound—characteristics frequently absent from naturalism-based arguments for reason.
David Wood begins his chapter by alerting us to the growing shift from methodological naturalism to metaphysical naturalism—the belief that the natural world is all that exists. He goes so far as to say that science actually offers no support for naturalism. His chapter is significant because it turns traditional naturalist thinking on it head by proving that if science is true, then naturalism is false. By highlighting eight fatal problems for naturalism including the problems of consciousness, reason, and value, Wood delivers a combination of knockout blows to the self-defeating presuppositions of naturalist thinking. He not only shows that naturalists have given little thought to the ramifications of their philosophy, but also how any thought they have given is meaningless and irrational if not grounded in transcendent moral values.
Peter Grice’s explanation for reason in a Christian context will invoke a collective sigh of relief from believers desperate to explain what they intuitively know to be true: reason is a requirement for meaning, and God is required for reason. The significance of this conclusion is that it undercuts every argument springing forth from the human mind. Grice uses teleology to show how all theories involving purpose directed processes (including evolution’s direction towards functioning organisms and survival) must reach beyond merely naturalistic principles.
David Marshall skillfully expounds upon how faith and reason are the product of a marriage undefiled. After properly defining faith (which has nothing to do with blindness) he unpacks seven different ways that the New Testament ties faith to reason. Touching on topics such as historical investigation, critical accounts of Jesus’s life, and the resurrection, Marshal combines logic, philosophy, and careful exegesis to explain how no man can put faith and reason asunder.
David Marshall and Timothy McGrew provide a thorough review of how Christians—including the early church fathers and modern-day scholars—have historically viewed faith. They use contextual analysis to set the record straight against false characterizations of Christian faith as an uninformed, lazy default position.
Samuel J. Youngs’ chapter introduces Alvin Plantigna’s argument that naturalism cannot account for the connection between the content of our beliefs and the corresponding neuromuscular response. This chapter is a bit more difficult to get through; however, the prize at the end is a new understanding of how naturalism and evolution are actually self refuting.
Sean McDowell’s chapter is brief easy-to-read, and convincingly explains why Christianity is far from at odds with science. In fact, he shows how Christianity provided the philosophical foundations and motivations for doing science. After putting to bed a few common myths resurrected by the New Atheists, McDowell explains how the real incompatibility lies between naturalism and theism. This chapter is significant because it highlights a crucial distinction between the false dichotomy used by anti-theists for shock value and the real incompatibility which should be further investigated by seekers.
Tom Gilson’s chapter about how God and science do mix uses fascinating illustrations to show how Christianity has a high view of science, and explains how a rational universe must be the product of a rational God in order for us to learn by experience. His arguments and illustrations are significant because they point out how Christianity is not only compatible with science—it’s literally a match made in heaven.
John M. DePoe delves into the problem of evil and emerges with reason intact. He shows how it is perfectly reasonable to believe a loving God could have morally sufficient reasons for allowing some evil in the world. He goes on to explain why free will is valuable and how it is inextricably linked to evil. DePoe takes some common Christian responses to the problem of evil and dives deeper into the arguments, leaving the reader with an enriched understanding of the traditional responses. This chapter is significant because the problem of evil is commonly recognized as the most difficult challenge to the Christian worldview. Understanding that there are reasonable responses to this problem will allow the reader to investigate Christianity with the optimism it deserves. DePoe also describes how natural evil is a result of free agency.
Randall Hardman examines historical evidences for the Gospels while addressing criticisms of critical scholars. He discusses oral tradition in the first century, the Gospel writers’ concern for historical accuracy, and concludes with arguments as to why it is reasonable to assent to the New Testament’s historicity.
Matthew Flannagan comments on atrocities in the Old Testament using the genocide of the Canaanites as an example. Through a detailed discussion of several interpretive methods, he explains why the troublesome passages in the Book of Joshua should neither be read as a single narrative nor be taken literally. Flanagan compares the style and figures of speech used in Joshua with other ancient near Eastern texts and concludes that the language in question is most likely hyperbolic. This is significant because, if true, one of the New Atheists’ most emotional charges against Christianity—that it is led by a genocidal, bloodthirsty God—would be leveled by the hand of reason.
Finally, Glenn Sunshine addresses the frivolous claim that Christianity somehow endorses slavery. He looks at slavery in the early church, the middle ages, and modern times to show how Christianity was actually the foundation required for the movement to end slavery. He explains how the belief that every person has equal intrinsic worth is based on Christian values and highlights the important distinction between what the Bible describes and what the Bible affirms. Atheists often use slavery in the Bible as an argument against Christianity. Sunshine sheds some much needed light on this shady argument.
In summary, True Reason is a densely-packed, reason-filled mix of helpful analogies and deep philosophy. It has chapters for the scholar, the pastor, the parishioner, and the doubter. By the end, the authors successfully wrestle the flag of reason from the white knuckles of the New Atheists and return it to its rightful place: at the right hand of God.
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Carson Weitnauer is the founder of Reasons for God and the co-editor of True Reason. He serves as the U.S. Director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and as the President for the Christian Apologetics Alliance. You can connect with Carson on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. To receive all of his new posts, join his email list for free.
Tom Gilson is a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ, serving in Southwest Ohio in cooperative ministry with King’s Domain. He holds an M.S. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Florida and helps ministries and leaders understand more deeply to minister more wisely.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will add value to my readers or will assist them in establishing a coherent worldview. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
About Jason B. Ladd
Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.