Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Same Questions Through Different Lenses

I'm not all that smart, but I do read stuff written by very smart people. So, when I come across something that is really good and that can make the complex understandable, I try to let people know about it. I assume that mostly family and friends are reading my blog so, those are the people I have in mind when I recommend stuff. That is not necessarily what I am doing with this post.

I just read a book that I think the smart people ought to read. It should prove to be a rousing read for just about anyone but, for the academics, it provides insight that we (and I am using the "we" very loosely) need to be aware of and interact with.

The book is titled, Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism and Christianity, edited by Preston Jones. It contains about 2 years' worth of email correspondence between Jones, a believing history professor in Arkansas and Greg Graffin, lead singer of Bad Religion, who holds a Ph.D. in zoology from Cornell. Jones really likes Bad Religion's music and, considering himself a little rebellious within the Christian subculture, decided to engage Graffin in dialogue regarding God and Christianity, science and religion, faith and philosophy, etc.

The discussion is fascinating because, while both hold Ph.D.s and are therefore academics, Jones is not part of the swelling evangelical-philosophical tidal wave of the last 20 years and Graffin, being primarily a punk and not an academic, has not engaged much in the formal academic advance of naturalism. This, and the fact that the dialogue takes place via email and not in a lecture hall, means that all of their thinking is outside of the traditional categories. A huge bonus is that Jones went back and added comments, quotes, notes and study and reflection questions that would make the book useful in a variety of settings, not just for a stimulating read.

But the reason I think the academics should read this book is because it reveals how a dyed-in-the-wool naturalist — particularly one who hasn't engaged with any research of the aforementioned tidal wave — thinks about religion generally and Christianity specifically. There is a certain predictability to the standard debates between the evangelical masterminds and the naturalist and Gnostic gurus of the day. That predictability is not bad but it leaves certain key issues out of the discussion. But in this conversation we get the nitty-gritty. It should cause evangelical academics to assess how they present their material and consider how to better utilize the material they regularly use. So, if you're an academic, and accidentally reading this post, buy this book and think about how you'd answer a punk rocker with a Ph.D.

A few years ago I began compiling an annotated bibliography of Christian apologetic material. Below is the entry for Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?

Preston Jones, ed., Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism and Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006).

In this dialogue between historian, Preston Jones, and Bad Religion lead singer and Ph.D. in zoology, Greg Graffin, the reader will find the raw and real interaction of apologetics, rather than the prepared and formal stuff of academic debates. This has its positives and negatives. Negatively, since neither Preston nor Graffin have formal training in theology, philosophy or religion in general, many of the spoken and unspoken ground rules for this type of discussion are completely ignored. This means that questions raised are not addressed and fallacies committed are not confronted. It is clear that Graffin has no training in philosophy or theology, yet he speaks authoritatively of their shortcomings, failing to realize that most of what he says has no basis in the science, of which he is an expert, but is founded upon a philosophy of science which stands behind everything he says. Needless to say, his philosophy of science — a strong scientism claiming that the empirical method is the only way to have genuine knowledge — does not stand up to rational scrutiny and has been effectively criticized by J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig and others. Jones, also due to his lack of theological/apologetic training, misses key opportunities to address Graffin's questions and criticisms of Christianity of which someone familiar to such a discussion would take advantage. Positively, however, because they are expert academics in their fields and very intelligent men in general, Jones and Graffin carry on a very stimulating conversation, it is engaging and interesting on every level. It is amazing that Graffin and Jones were able to carry out such a dialogue for so long via email and that such a haphazard style of communication lends itself to such a good book. In the end both faiths, Christianity and naturalism, are given a fair hearing in a way that will enlighten the reader to new insights regarding how apologetics works (and sometimes doesn't work) in today's world.

1 comment:

shaun said...

Awesome, Eric. Very interesting.