Bethel College Philosopher Chad Meister and Biola University Philosopher William Lane Craig recently published a co-edited a response to the New Atheism. Below is our interview with Meister about their new contribution: God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible (IVP, 2009).
How did this book come about?
Bill Craig and I thought it was time for leading scholars in their fields to offer responses to the central challenges of the New Atheists (primarily Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett) and to provide some of the latest research on matters related to theism and Christian faith.
How does this book uniquely demonstrate how belief in God is both reasonable and responsible?
One of the objections to religious faith raised by the New Atheists and other critics of religion is that one must be both unreasonable and irresponsible to hold religious beliefs. This is often a criticism rooted in a reaction to fideism—a reliance on nonrational or irrational faith. In this book we attempt to demonstrate that faith need not be blind, unreasonable or irresponsible. Belief in God and Christ can be grounded on reason and solid evidence. Indeed, not only can one be warranted in holding Christian faith, but it may be much more intellectually honest and epistemically responsible —when taking into consideration the latest work in science, history, and philosophy—to be a believer than not.
Why is there sometimes a tendency in philosophy of religion literature to emphasize the “believing in God is reasonable” aspect and not so much the “believing in God is responsible” aspect?
Historically in debates about God’s existence and religious belief, the issues centered around evidences and arguments for and against them (e.g., design arguments, cosmological arguments, historical evidences for the resurrection of Jesus, etc.). In recent times, the New Atheists in particular have emphasized the point that religious adherents are not only basing their faith on specious evidence, but that doing so is irresponsible for an educated person in the twenty-first century. So religious people are not only unjustified in their religious beliefs, they are also morally culpable for their religious tomfooleries. For these critics of faith, religious beliefs are not only false, they are downright dangerous and therefore must be denounced and ultimately annihilated from the planet. In this book, we present sixteen essays (fourteen chapters, a postscript, and an appendix) which attempt to demonstrate that believing in God is both reasonable and responsible.
Let’s talk about the contributors. You’ve got a broad range of talent from philosophers to evangelism and apologetics experts. How does this range of contributors strengthen the book’s overall presentation?
The stakeholders in these issues are extensive and include students, scholars, pastors, teachers, and scientists, among others. In our book we have included a broad range of contributors, from theologians and Bible scholars to philosophers and experts in science. While a single-authored work may have had a smoother flow, we chose this format in order to provide the best responses and insights available to criticisms of theism and Christian faith today.
First, there are a number of robust arguments and evidences for God’s existence, and William Lane Craig argues that Dawkins’s criticisms of the cosmological, moral, teleological, and ontological arguments are not deadly to them, nor are they even injurious. To the contrary, in their contemporary forms these arguments (most especially the teleological argument) provide forceful reasons for believing in God. J. P. Moreland argues that, on the Christian worldview, God possesses five aspects (consciousness, libertarian free will, rationality, a unified self, and intrinsic value), none of which fits naturally in a scientific naturalist ontology. Paul Moser then argues that a morally robust understanding of theism is more impervious to criticism than many believe.
John Polkinghorne argues that theism offers a “vertical” story of the universe—one in which the laws of nature point beyond them to a deeper level of intelligibility. Michael Behe presents the case that three pillars of Darwinian evolution—random mutation, natural selection, and common descent—are insufficient to explain the overwhelming appearance of design in life, notably in the elegant molecular machinery of the cell. Michael Murray then offers a compelling argument such that even if human beings have a natural disposition toward belief in God, this in no way makes that belief disreputable.
I first note that the logical problem of evil has been decisively rebutted in recent years—a point often overlooked by critics of belief in an omnibenevolent God—and then focus my energies on atheistic accounts of morality. I argue that two main attempts are found wanting. Alister McGrath contends that New Atheist endeavors to demonstrate that religion is intrinsically evil are unsuccessful; in fact, such a belief is merely an article of faith held by its adherents, supported by a very selective use of evidence and a manipulation of history. In the next essay Paul Copan tackles the thorny issue of whether God and Old Testament laws are evil, and he makes the case that atheistic moral outrage to God’s character and laws lacks the metaphysical resources for making such charges; the God of the Old Testament is clearly not the moral monster some atheists maintain. In the final essay of this part, Jerry Walls focuses on the issue of a good God creating hell. He argues that it is precisely because God is a God of love that some may end up in hell.
Charles Taliaferro makes the claim that given certain frameworks, including one’s view of nature, history, and values, divine revelation doesn’t stand a chance. He challenges these frameworks and offers some positive reasons for recognizing divine revelation. Scot McKnight then examines the questions of why many of Jesus’s contemporaries didn’t recognize him as the Messiah, what their expectations were, and how they did in fact see him. Focusing on ten observations they made, he concludes that their expectations of the Messiah were transformed by the Messiah who came. In the next essay, Gary Habermas argues that two epistles widely recognized as being written by Paul, I Corinthians and Galatians, demonstrate that the resurrection proclamation was quite early and linked to eyewitnesses of the event. Lastly, Mark Mittelberg closes the book’s chapters by focusing on the question of why faith in Jesus matters. He points out that Jesus came so we could have life and have it to the full and concludes with these eternally significant words: “The God who is great and the God who is good is ready and waiting for you to come home to him.”
God is Great, God is Good brings together contributors in philosophy, theology, biblical studies, apologetics and evangelism, and the sciences. What are some other topics or areas of study where you’d like to see such collaboration?
I am currently working on several projects in which I’m attempting to bring together philosophers, sociologists, and scholars in religious studies from across the spectrum of world religions in order to address and dialogue about many of the major issues confronting us today. These include topics such as global ethics, theodicy, violence, secularization, diversity and public education, and the environment. As globalization increases and religious pluralism becomes more a part of Western culture, I believe such dialectic will become increasingly significant and profitable. I’m also working on a collaborative project with Oxford University Press in which theistic and atheistic philosophers and other scholars engage in dialogue about central matters of theism and Christian faith, such as the coherence of theism, the doctrine of the Trinity, the Atonement, and the Incarnation. An amiable exchange of ideas can be quite rewarding, and my hope is that these various venues of discourse will elevate the dialogue among those who disagree about fundamental matters of faith.
How would you like to see this book used among its readers? Give us a vision for its use.
Our hope is that the book will be read by both adherents and critics of faith. It is written in an irenic tone—this is no polemical screed—and is the kind of work a Christian, say, could give to an atheist friend or skeptic without concern about its being unnecessarily offensive or blatantly aggressive. It’s also a work that can be a real faith-booster for believers as it is filled to the brim with cutting-edge theistic arguments, evidences, and rebuttals to critics of God and Christianity.
Chad Meister is a Professor of Philosophy at Bethel College, Indiana. He is also one of our book review editors for Philosophia Christi. You can learn more about Chad by going to his website: www.chadmeister.com.