Book Review: Evidence for God by William A. Dembski and Michael R. Licona
William A. Dembski (ed.) and Michael R. Licona (ed.), Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2010)
Evidence for God, edited by William Dembski and Michael Licona, consists of 50 short essays written by various philosophers, scientists and theologians, all arguing for God in general and the Christian God in particular. The 50 essays are split into four sections: Section one deals with the question of philosophy, section two with the question of science, section three with the question of Jesus and section four with the question of the Bible. Perceived objections to God and the Christian faith in these four areas are dealt with accordingly, with the intention of proving the existence of God and the truth of the Christian faith.
The thrust of the book stems clearly from a classical and evidentialist perspective on apologetics. Classical philosophical arguments for the existence of God are given in the first section including the Cosmological Argument (Chapter 1), the Moral Argument (Chapter 2), interaction with the presence of suffering (Chapter 5) and responses to the argument from evil (Chapter 6). Anticipating the next section on science, chapter 4 attempts to repudiate the philosophy/worldview of naturalism as being insufficient to explain the origin of a complex universe (p. 29), and of being unable to prove itself as being true (p. 30).
The second section attempts to prove the existence of God through science by attacking the ability of evolutionary process to explain the origin of the world, and mainly through the vehicle of Intelligent Design (ID), which can be succinctly defined as the theory that living organisms and their components are too complex to have come about via normal evolutionary processes. This lies within the field of one of the editors, William Dembski, who contributed two essays here—Chapter 20 which is an introduction to the theory of Intelligent Design, and Chapter 26 which outlines a strategy of how to use arguments from Intelligent Design to persuade people that “their defense of evolution and opposition to ID are prejudicial, ideologically driven, and above all unjustifiable on the basis of the underlying science” (p. 132). This section would not be complete without one essay by the founder of the ID movement, Phillip E. Johnson, who in Chapter 15 writes a situational assessment of the ideological battle between ID proponents and evolutionists.
Sections three and four deal with the questions of Jesus and the Bible respectively, along traditional apologetic trajectories. The typical issues related to Jesus’ existence, his messianic claims, his death and resurrection are dealt with, along with issues regarding the one way of salvation and whether those who have never heard the Gospel can be saved. The section ends with Ben Witherington III addressing the question of whether Paul invented Christianity.
Section four deals with the issue of textual transmission and translation of the biblical text, and then ends by addressing the challenge of various apocryphal books like the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter and the more recent Gospel of Judas.
The book is a succinct resource arguing for the classical and evidentialist proofs for God and the Christian faith. This is done in a short format of around 250 pages, and therefore serves as a brief and engaging introduction to various apologetic arguments and the common arguments against Christianity.
While brief, the scholarship behind the essays can be clearly seen, regardless of whether one agrees with the arguments and conclusions that they present. Besides the scholars writing in their fields of specialization, the citations in the endnotes are illuminating. Chapter 9 which deals with the history of the development of science cites in its endnotes original texts by scientists such as Galileo Galilei and Nicholas Copernicus. Chapter 16 endnote 6 on the other hand contains a citation from PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), one of the higher tier (though not the top) science journals, a fact that this reviewer who has experience in the biological science research field can testify.
It must be stated also that Chapter 14 is extremely helpful as it debunks the myth behind the Scopes “Monkey Trial” as supposedly being a conflict between religion and science. Rather, it was the attempt of a state law to regulate and restrict what is being taught in schools, not the promotion of any religion or religious persuasion let alone biblical Christianity.
Sections 3 and 4 are edifying and are the least controversial parts of the book as it deals with the historical facts of the Faith. In these sections, the person of Jesus Christ and the trustworthiness of the Scriptures are historically set forth to be true.
Coming from a presuppositionalist perspective, this reviewer is unconvinced of many of the philosophical arguments presented in the first section of this book, finding some of them logically fallacious. For example, the first chapter in the Cosmological Argument commits the logical fallacy of ad-hoc argumentation. Realism is assumed to be true without proof, as the contrary is stated by fiat to be “not a rational option” (p. 17). Similarly, the argument that the Cosmological Argument can only prove one infinite being (p.19) is akin to mathematical sleight of hand. In fact, we are nowhere shown why the first cause must be infinite or even personal. In Chapter 1 therefore, the traditional foe of Modernism seems to be in mind here, as the Cosmological Argument does not seem to be capable of addressing Eastern mysticism as manifested in the Indian idea of Maya or Reality as Illusion, and the New Age idea of Cosmic Humanism with its various forms of Pantheism/ Panentheism.
Similar problems are found in the rest of the section. The moral argument for God in Chapter 2 does not distinguish between ethical objectivism and ethical absolutism, with God being unnecessary for the former system, and therefore arguing for objectivism does not constitute a proof for God. While certainly one shouldn’t expect too much from a short essay, some acknowledgement and discussion of this distinction in moral philosophy would be helpful.
Chapter 6 promotes a free-will theodicy defense as one of the options to solve the problem of evil, which Reformed Christians most definitely reject. Chapter 7 attempts to show the greater explanatory power of theism over atheism, but it does not differentiate between the methodological (method) and the teleological (purpose), for surely theism does not have supremacy in explaining of the mechanics of the world, while not having purpose is not considered a problem in atheism. So while theism is superior in its teleology, the attempt to judge atheism based upon it being purposeless is to judge one system with the criterion of another and is thus fallacious.
In conclusion, this book is an excellent and succinct introduction to the arguments for God and the Christian faith from a classical and evidentialist perspective. While one may not agree with all the arguments, other arguments, especially from the third and fourth sections, are helpful. Their brevity aids those who are busy and have little time to read to be able to read and digest the essence of any argument in the book even in the midst of their busy schedules.