Craig, William Lane and Chad Meister, ed. God is Great, God is Good. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. $19.00. 265 pages. ISBN: 978-0830837267.
Richard Dawkins and his infamous book The God Delusion, is wrong. William Lane Craig and a host of other Christian philosophers, theologians, and scientists set out in the well put-together and thought-provoking book God is Great, God is Good to prove it. And when I single out Richard Dawkins and his brand of New Atheism in the first sentence of this review, I am following in suit with literally every other contributor to this book in calling out Dawkins on what he has said or written, and why he is wrong. This book fluctuates between highly academic and highly layman. There are essays ranging from intelligent design to the problem of evil to the philosophy of mind to discussions on Jesus and everything in between. To be sure, this is a hodge podge of essays written by experts in their field on various apologetic themes and issues. And of course: calling out Richard Dawkins on how wrong he is.
My aim is not to be smug with the prior references to Dawkins or his views. What I am attempting to get at is to really drive home that it seems as though this entire book is directly written for and against Richard Dawkins. At times, the reader will notice direct quotations from Dawkins, followed by a rebuttal from the essayist. At other times the reader will engulf an essay whose theme is centered on an objection to the Faith by, you guessed it, Dawkins. While it is true that Richard Dawkins is a force to be reckoned with in apologetic communities (and I use that word “force” in the sense that the guy just won’t give up on his attacks; and he has quite the following. One might even say a religious following, which is supremely ironic); this reviewer at least wished that the book was more broad in its refutation of Atheism or New Atheism and less focused on refuting one man – Dawkins.
In my thinking at least, the New Atheism movement, which is indeed a movement, a grassroots movement as opposed to the Atheism of the ivory tower in times past, is easily refutable by a simple explanation to somebody of what a “straw man” logical fallacy is. Nonetheless, the New Atheism attacks with all their colorful and witty ad hominems remain as strong as ever. Perhaps the motivation from the editors of this book – William Lane Craig and Chad Meister – to intentionally go after Dawkins and his claims about religion and God is well maneuvered. After all, Dawkins is at the least one of the most everpresent mouthpieces of New Atheism, and at the most is their statuesque thinker and theory mover on the subject. But then again, New Atheism is most widely present (and harshest in its forms) among the every-man --- the blogger on the internet, the coworker with a chip on her shoulder, and the Amazon.com book reviewer who more than likely never actually read the book he is slandering!
So perhaps the notion of taking out one’s leader and the disciples will scatter is valid. But I don’t know if that is necessarily the best strategy. In an ironic sort of example, Mark 14:43-52 tells us this very thing happened where a charismatic figurehead is “dethroned” and taken into captivity at which point His disciples flee. The difference though here with Jesus of Nazareth and Richard Dawkins is that I’m quite certain that if Dawkins either converts or dies, his disciples won’t welcome martyrdom in his name. Perhaps New Atheism will continue post-Dawkins, but will it then be a Newest Atheism, or will it simply revert back to good ol’ Atheism? Either way, just as the arguments for Atheism have changed little since the origin of doubt, so do the claims of “New” Atheism pack any real intellectual punch or search for “the evidence, wherever it may lead” to quote an Atheistic detractor Antony Flew.
I think maybe a slightly better approach, which God is Great, God is Good does relatively well (if one gets past the constant reference to Dawkins) is to take the arguments for Atheism or objections to the Faith head on. The consistent claim of the uninformed, especially of those on the internet and among common misperception, is that Christians and religious people are fideistic idiots who cannot hold to the intellectual rigor of the “brights” (to again quote Dawkins and Dennett’s self-congratulatory and arrogantly narcissistic catchphrase). The “brights” of course being anyone who is a “free thinker” and not strapped down to the idiocy of backwoods religious thought and Tooth Fairy believing fundamentalists. Or so they claim.
This book covers fourteen powerfully intellectual and thought provoking chapters by some of the top-notch Christian thinkers of our time. If a person is indeed open-minded and tolerant (as understood in the classical sense of the term, see Os Guinness’ Prophetic Untimeliness), then I am convinced that the reader will be challenged to think about God and religion in an entirely new way. Even if the reader is a Christian! For that purpose alone, this book is worth reading. There are good biographies at the end of each chapter for further study on each topic. I can even see this book being used as a springboard for discussion in a “seekers” group at a church or some other format where people are serious about learning what Christianity is really about and who God really is. This, opposed of course to the aforementioned straw man via the ad hominem shotgun blast of New Atheism.
My favorite chapter in the whole book was philosopher Paul Moser’s Evidence of a Morally Perfect God. In this, Moser looks at the omnibenevolence of God in an entirely new way (at least for me), where he centers it on morality and God’s supreme goodness as witnessed in the uncoercive and cooperative (read: libertarian free will) objective morality of humanity. What Moser gets dead on, and what I really wish the other essayists would have spent more time on, is the notion of kardiatheology or “theology aimed at one’s motivational heart (including one’s will) rather than just at one’s mind or one’s emotions.” (pg. 53)
At the end of the day, and I am becoming more and more convinced of this, is that why a person rejects God is not sufficiently because of intellectual reasoning. Yes, even as much as the nonbeliever denies it, when it’s all said and done they choose not to believe because their will and “heart” is not positioned to do so. Romans 1 is true: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” And so, “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…” (vs. 21, 24)
As in many examples of conversion accounts, intellectual barriers becoming knocked down can certainly help (see C.S. Lewis’ account from philosophical Atheism to theism and then finally to Christianity in Surprised By Joy). But as in Lewis’ account, and I think all of our accounts, we are not mere brains on a stick. We are human beings, made in the image of God (whether you like it or not) and thus maintain a significant portion of our being as having a free will – a will to accept or reject God as the Romans passage above describes. Are we in the twenty-first century so arrogant as to believe that Romans 1 is “okay for them, but not for me” (taking the Postmodern route) or that we are simply smarter or more “bright” than first-century people?
Books like God is Great, God is Good can certainly fill that nagging intellectual question, definitely, but God doesn’t want just a passive intellectual understanding of God; He wants the whole thing, the will and all. I doubt Richard Dawkins will ever be convinced of Christianity through the fine-tuning argument or Behe’s irredicubile complexity. But we can, and should, pray that Richard Dawkins and those he has influenced come to stop exchanging their Creator God for a god who doubles as a microscope or a god in themselves. The God of the Bible has indeed revealed himself sufficiently to all mankind and having books like this and scholars like this are helpful to point the way to that God, in which foregoing of one’s will be foregone and “Yet not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14:36) to be proclaimed and lived out.