Book Review: "More Reasons" (to believe in God) - Part 1: The Introduction

By John Bedson

'More Reasons' is a new 227 page book edited by Christadelphian Thomas Gaston BA (Hons) MPhil(b) DPhil (Oxon) published under the auspices of the Christadelphian EJournal of Biblical Interpretation.

The book is a sequel to a previous book 'Reasons' by the same editor, which I have not yet reviewed, but will do soon.

It's authors include Christadelphians Colin Attridge, John Launchbury MA (Oxon) MSc PhD FACM, David P. Levin MS LPC, Deborah Perrott BSLT BA (Psych) MA PhD, Andew Perry BA (Theol) MA PhD, Dev Ramcharan PMP, Ronnie van Rooyen MPhil LLM, Don Styles BA (Hons), JohnThorpe MA MA MSc PhD and Paul Wasson.

The sales blurb for 'More Reasons' reads as follows:

"In many respects the case for faith has never been stronger. The discoveries of modern physics have provided strong indication that there is an intelligence behind the universe. A renaissance in Christian philosophy has provided robust and respected defences against traditional challenges to theism. Scholars find they can no longer justify the hasty dismissal of the biblical text as either legendary or outdated. And yet despite these positive changes, religious believers find their sincere convictions dismissed as ill-founded and irrational. In this book (First Edition June 2014) a number of authors bring together their various expertise and experience to continue laying out reasons for believing in God, Jesus and the Bible. Arguments are drawn from areas such as the fact of human rationality and religious experience, the divine character of the Bible, and intelligent design. These arguments provide additional support for faith in the modern world."

Although presented in an attractive glossy cover with a great design, the book shares the same substantial disadvantage, as with many of the books distributed by Lulu, that the binding quality is so poor that every time you turn a page, the page that you have just read falls out and by the time that you finish reading the book it has mostly fallen apart in your hands and you are left with only a collection of loose pages. Therefore if anyone wants to borrow my copy I will have to send the pages in a plastic bag, rather than in the original book format.

This is a good metaphor for the content of the book. Some of the best intellectual minds in Christadelphia have come together to produce an excellent looking book filled with fine words and an impressive academic veneer of professionalism and competence. However as I completed reading each page I was left bemused and befuddled by the illogical and often irrelevant content I had just read. As I turned to the next page and the previous one unglued itself and fell to the floor of my study, the same thing happened to the arguments contained in those pages. Viewed through the spectacles of common-sense the book unravelled as a mishmash of reasons to hang on to the superstitious beliefs of the family religion, rather than a well written treatise explaining convincing reasons why an invisible, extra planetary being created hundreds of billions of galaxies merely to achieve the salvation of a few thousand humans. 

For example in his Introduction to the book, Thomas Gaston has a section on 'What Justifies Belief' in which he argues that 

".....there are a substantial number of beliefs that we hold without argument or evidence."

He "proves" this by four examples:

  1. When I see a tree I form the belief "there is a tree". I do not infer the existence of a tree from the evidence."
  2. I believe I had porridge for breakfast this morning. I do not infer this belief from the evidence (such as an empty bowl), I accept my memory without question.
  3. If someone introduces himself by saying "my name is George" I believe him.
  4. Think of the proposition "the Universe did not pop into existence five minutes ago with in-built appearance of age". I could not infer the truth of this proposition from evidence.

These appear to me to be weak examples to prove that we are justified in forming beliefs "without argument or evidence." If I see a tree that is sufficient evidence for me that I'm looking at a tree. If I remember eating porridge for breakfast that is sufficient evidence for me that I did eat the porridge. But Thomas has to lay a foundation of illogical gobbledygook in his Introduction in order to allow his authors space to give the most bizarre reasons for belief without subjecting them to the usual principle of common-sense that it does not make for good thinking to believe things without any evidence or reasoned argument.

Nevertheless, having made his case that it is acceptable to believe things without any evidence for those beliefs, Thomas proceeds to discuss the question "What justifies belief in God?"

He asks "who bears the burden of proof?" Atheists consider the existence of God to be an exceedingly unlikely proposition lacking any form of cogent argument or convincing evidence. Therefore they hold that the burden of proof should be on the believers to come up with some sort of evidence that their God exists. However Thomas considers this to be merely a "debating tactic" that "stacks the deck against the believer." He writes:

"Whilst atheists might consider the existence of God to be an unlikely proposition, believers are likely to feel that it coheres well with their experience." 

This follows from his previous proposition that belief does not require any evidence. The fact that a believer believes in something extraordinary is sufficient for him to expect the atheists to falsify his belief without him needing to provide any evidence for his belief or to explain any form of logically deductive argument to substantiate his belief.

The same goes for agnostics. Thomas does not consider this to be a "neutral" position to take because

" we have already seen, many of our beliefs, if not most, are accepted without inference from evidence." "I accept my perception of a tree unless I have reason to doubt it."

The starting position in the debate for Thomas is that there must be a God (without any evidence that there is a God) because 

"belief in God (is) the majority position across the globe." Furthermore, "it is widely accepted amongst psychologists that young children believe in some kind of God."

So Thomas's primary two "reasons" to believe are:

1. That belief in God is democratically mandatory because the majority of the world's population think it to be true.

2. That there must be a God because that's what kids think.

That makes no sense at all. The majority of the population of the world, including the majority of Americans, still believe that the Sun goes around the Earth; but that does not make it true. Children believe in Santa Clause, but that does not prove that he exists.  

But wait - there's more! 

Thomas quotes the view of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga who argues that

"If there were a God he would seek to implant within us a way of perceiving him."............."This .... might be an enduring feeling of God's presence, or the result of specific transcendental experiences, such as gazing at the stars." ..... "One accepts the experience as it is."

Thomas continues:

"Plantinga's approach is useful for several reasons. First it means that atheists cannot simply dismiss theism as unjustified or unjustifiable. Belief in God is neither arbitrary or irrational. Anyone wishing to reject theism will need to prove that it is false, rather than attacking the believer's cognitive faculties. .......... believers are under no epistemic obligation to reserve judgement regarding the existence of God .................... Believers are justified in believing in God in a properly basic way, that is, without any argument or evidence whilst that belief remains undefeated." 

Thomas's problem is that he is confusing hypotheses with beliefs. The existence of God is an unverified hypothesis that might incline a person to investigate if it were true. In order to investigate a hypothesis it is necessary to test the hypothesis in various ways to determine if it is true or false. Moreover the hypothesis has to be falsifiable in order to ascertain if it is true. It the hypothesis is not falsifiable then it can't be proven to be true and cannot logically be held as a belief.

But the God hypothesis is so extraordinary and peculiar that it is not falsifiable. One of the continuing problems for philosophers of Christianity is that their God appears to hide from everyone who searches for him to test the hypothesis that he exists. The cosmological argument for God, the fine tuning argument, the argument from prophecy perhaps fulfilled, the argument that Christ might have risen from the dead, the origin of morality argument; all of these things can only infer the likelihood that God might possibly exist, but they prove nothing definitively. If the existence of God can only be argued from inference, inference from evidence that always has a simpler and more obvious explanation than that of a paranormal God, then that evidence is likely fuelling a superstitious belief in God rather than a reasoned and deductive proof of the God hypothesis. 

Moreover the strongest arguments for the existence of God are rejected and argued against by a very considerable body of people, like the Ex-Christadelphians, who don't agree that the evidence is at all convincing. This should not be the case if God really does exist. We are Ex-Christadelphians; we wanted our religion to be true. Confirmation Bias skewed us towards belief in God and the truth of our religion. But despite all of this cognitive bias we dispassionately weighed the evidence and concluded that the God hypothesis was not proved.

It's not good enough for Thomas to pretend that existing beliefs don't require proof or evidence. Preconceived ideas are by definition not proven fact. The extraordinary claims of the Christadelphians demand extraordinary evidence. The fact that Thomas has to use his Introduction to argue that Christadelphians don't need any evidence to support their preconceptions is an indication that he knows that the evidence that his authors are presenting is feeble.   

I will continue this review at a later time by analysing selected chapters from the book and defeating its strongest arguments. I shall ignore the weaker chapters where the "reasons" for belief border on the ridiculous.

Click here to buy the book.

Carl Sagan on the God hypothesis 

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