27 January 2014

A Shot of Faith (to the Head)

I first became familiar with the work of Alvin Plantinga as a freshman in college. My philosophy prof was a big fan of Plantinga’s ideas on properly basic beliefs, warrant, and proper function. It wasn’t until much later that I encountered the presuppositionalist followers of Van Til and Bahnsen. Although I did (and do) appreciate presuppositionalism, I noticed the similarity to Plantinga’s work, and to be honest I preferred Plantinga. The problem is that, until now, there haven’t been any popularizers of Plantinga’s philosophy as there have with Van Til. This is one reason I’m excited about A Shot of Faith (to the Head) by Mitch Stokes.

A Shot of Faith is an apologetics book, intended to help believers to become more confident in their faith in the face of the onslaught of the New Atheism ,a more self-assured, aggressive, insulting form of atheism. (For those unfamiliar with the New Atheism, its more recognizable public representatives are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens; its anonymous internet representatives generally form the species Coprotrilbyus Neckbeardicus commonly found on message boards.)

The book divides into three basic sections. In the first section, Dr. Stokes lays out the argument that Christian belief is properly basic and therefore rational and justified. This whole section is a response to the common charge that Christianity is self evidently irrational and that those who believe the claims of Christianity are, in the words of Richard Dawkins, "ignorant, stupid or insane". Stokes frames Plantinga’s arguments for properly basic beliefs in easy to understand language and shows how Christian belief qualifies as properly basic. If Christian belief is properly basic, then atheists cannot simply argue that Christians are irrational, but must bring charges against Christian belief in order to defeat it. Stokes says that these charges usually come in two forms. 1) Science has disproven God. 2) The Problem of Evil disproves God.

The second section of the book takes on the first charge. Stokes leads the reader through a history of the Enlightenment and modern science, correcting some common historical misinformation and showing the philosophical dead ends created by the Enlightenment’s secularist project. This section ends with a discussion of mathematics and the problem of mathematics as an explanation of the universe in an atheistic worldview.

The final section of the book deals with the problem of evil. For those who have studied the problem of evil before, the answers are fairly standard, but good and thoroughly discussed.

Throughout the book, Dr. Stokes is thoughtful in his writing. He is very careful to avoid creating straw men and even goes so far as to present possible atheist objections to his arguments. His tone is erudite but easygoing. He is comfortable with philosophy to the point of being able to walk inside, kick off his shoes, and help himself to a drink. In other words, he can take complex philosophical ideas and, without dumbing them down, distill them into a series of small chapters that even someone without a background in philosophy can apprehend and appreciate. I highly recommend this book to Christians looking for some ballast against the current push by cocky, popular atheist writers. It would also make a great philosophical/academic counterpart to N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl which is a more poetic/narrative book and just as important for Christians today.

3 comments:

Michael Seal said...

Hey Rick, I've run into Plantinga a few times since I moved up here, and it was a little surprising that he's just a regular guy. I don't really know why that surprised me, but it did.

As we've lost touch since I moved and you got off of facebook, how did you come across my little blog?

Rick said...

Michael,

It's good to hear from you. At this point, I don't really remember how I found your blog. I think at some point someone at church mentioned that you had collaborated on a book and so I googled you and found the blog. Then about a month or so ago I thought I'd look it up again and actually read some stuff on it.

It's awesome that you've met Plantinga, by the way. Are you near Notre Dame now? For some reason I thought you guys had moved up to Michigan somewhere.

Michael said...

I was expecting publication to make me feel accomplished... not so much, but I guess it looks nice on a resume. My blog work is scarce; working full-time, seminary, and family keep me busy.

I am in Michigan. I'm working at Calvin College, and Plantinga moved back up here about the same time I did. He teaches one or two classes a year at Calvin now.