By J. P. Moreland
Abstract: A treasure of excellent arguments especially directed at defending Christianity against the materialistic worldview
Difficulty: 4 (difficult)
From the Foreword of the book, by Norman Geisler:
(...) J. P. Moreland musters new arguments, tackles new problems (...) His insights into the contemporary philosophical issues make him one of the ablest young apologists in America.
C.S. Lewis once wrote: "To be ignorant and simple now-not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground-would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered."
This book not only will help the average Christian, but also will challenge the best scholars. It is another good example of the renaissance of classical apologetics, in a day that refuses to either capitulate to the philosophical skeptics or give a reason for our hope.
Norman L. Geisler
James P. Moreland. Scaling the Secular City. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987.
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Copyright © 1996, 1999 Luigi Farricella, Voorburg, The Netherlands
The question "Does God exist?" is one of the oldest and deepest questions of
mankind. The answers can only be "yes" or "no", but the discussion
around this question has been possibly the widest and most disputed one ever. Somebody
might even ask: "is it possible to ask such a question?". I do not wish to make
here a detailed discussion of the problem: I only want to say that last summer I was busy
with "the question" when a friend advised me to take a look at this book.
Well, you might imagine that this book would not be the most advisable book to read during a summer vacation, but indeed I read it during the period I spent at the beach in southern Italy. The first reaction was the opposite reaction from the one you would expect when reading a book about "philosophical questions". You normally think that these books are difficult to read; interesting, maybe, but not appealing. This one "wanted to be read". The discussion about the "proofs for the existence of God" is written in a simple and appealing style so that you do not want to stop reading. You are discovering so many interesting things that stopping is just not possible. The level is not to difficult but neither so easy to become simplistic: issues are discussed correctly, the problems are correctly stated and the solutions are given without diverting from a correct rational path.
The book is divided in two main sections plus two chapters of conclusions. The first main section tries to prove that God exists. The most famous (and soundest) proofs for the existence of God are explained and analyzed and the most relevant critique is discussed. The discussion is so convincing that it seems difficult to object to it. Up to now I have not met such a clear and convincing discussion from the atheist or agnostic side: theism here scores a very clear point!
In the second part there is a discussion of the Christian approach: if God exists, why should we believe in the God of Jesus of Nazareth and not, for example, in the God of Mohammed? The historical value of the writing of the New Testament is analyzed and the evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is carefully scrutinized. The result is amazing: Moreland has been able to set up a correct defense of the orthodox Christian doctrine without using abstruse arguments or without appealing to "feeling" or "direct experience of the divine". Very good job!
The last chapters deal with side issues, albeit very important ones: "Christianity and Science", "Why is God not visible to man?", "God as psychological projection"... These issues are only shortly treated but the discussion is introduced very effectively.
When I read this book I was more or less convinced that faith had little to do with reason: the two were two different aspects of our spiritual life. After reading this book I changed my mind and now I still think that faith and reason are two different aspects of our being but I know that reason can be used to "look at faith". Beliefs are not anymore "things I believe in" but I tend to accept only "justified beliefs". This book is advisable to all the people that once have asked themselves: "... but God, does He exist in reality?" Probably they will answer "Yes".
Copyright © 1996, 1999 Luigi Farricella, Voorburg, The Netherlands
Copyright © 1997, 1999 Bruno D. Gedressac, The Hague, The Netherlands
J. P. Moreland is currently a professor of philosophy at Biola University (California) and has written several books about apologetics or philosophy. When he wrote this present book, he was teaching at Liberty University (Virginia.)
Moreland tackles certain issues in a thorough way. He uses a scholastic style, clearly laying down all the arguments and counterarguments so that his conclusions seem inescapable. The book certainly does not read fluently, but it has the great advantage of revealing in depth the logic of the arguments. In addition to this:
I wish that more serious nonfiction books were written in Morelands exemplar, praiseworthy style.
Moreland's aim is to make Christianity credible with several "positive " arguments that support it and by answering some minor objections (he does not deal with one of the major objections, the problem of evil.) His arguments are not tight together, and for a coherent, integrated case one will have to resort to the classical apologetics "masterpiece" by Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976.) Moreland's contribution is to present very well some arguments that are not so common (Kalam cosmological argument, mental argument), to give a fresh, updated version of more common arguments (teleological, moral, resurrection), to interact with the distortions of the natural sciences, and address some issues that are often neglected (visibility of God, projection, etc.). Moreland's apologetics, with its arguments for God, the New Testament and Jesus, has much in common with the apologetics of William Lane Craig, the latter writing works that are either more difficult, scholarly such as his The Kalam Cosmological Argument (London: Macmillan, 1979), or his Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Toronto: Edwin Mellen, 1989) or easier, popular such as his The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe (San Bernadino: Here's Life, 1979) or his Apologetics: An Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.)
The first four chapters contain each an argument supporting the existence of God. However, all these arguments could be as well used to argue for the existence of several gods. Moreland mentions too briefly, in two lines (p. 65, middle) during his answers to Hume's objections against the design argument that "One God is a simpler explanation than the polytheistic one and it makes more intelligible the fact that we live in a universe and not a plurality of universes." This is clearly too short, subject to some criticisms. And even if each argument would get only one god, how do we know that each leads to the same God, not to several different "finite" gods? Moreland should have treated these issues in a metadiscussion about his different theistic arguments. To get the full-blown theistic God, one needs Aquinas' existential cosmological argument (as used for example by Geisler in his Christian Apologetics and his Philosophy of Religion.) Such an argument is however too abstract for those who have no knowledge of philosophy, whereas the arguments Moreland uses will have more appeal to the mainline culture that is presently still dominated by the natural, technical sciences.
The first argument exposed by Moreland is Craig's recent version of the Kalam cosmological argument; Moreland answers some critics and misunderstandings about it. It requires some mathematical notions, making it difficult for some readers who then will have to read it a few times. It is extremely powerful, It leads to the conclusion that the universe had a beginning caused by a (or: some) timeless, spaceless, immutable, free and personal agent(s). The second argument is the well known design (teleological) argument, which shows that there is some intelligence (and thus a person or several persons) who designed the universe. Moreland exposes the different kinds of design that can be used, as well as the different formulations of the argument, and refute some criticisms, such as Hume's or those based on macro-evolutionary hypotheses, or those against the probability form of the design argument. The third argument is the argument of mind (or mental argument) where he shows the inadequacy of the physicalist reductionists accounts of the mind, and strongly argues for the existence of the soul. He then shows that emergent views cannot account for the origin of our finite minds, and concludes hastily that the best explanation is that of a fundamental, divine Mind. His fourth and last argument is the moral one, which shows that there is a (or some) lawgiver/judge(s) beyond the universe, that is a (or several) transcendent person(s.). He powerfully shows that nihilism (absence of morality) is unacceptable and that only "cosmic purpose" can ground the meaning required for morality. He identifies cosmic purpose with Biblical Christian theism, but it could also be identified with other forms of theism, and even with polytheism. This is not cogent, but acceptable given that the other "species" of theism are currently philosophically inexistent, as well as polytheism.
The second half of the book is less homogeneous. A first chapter argues for the historicity of the New Testament: much of this is found in many apologetics books. Particularly interesting are Moreland's answers to certain objections, and his treatment of marks of historicity. The following chapter establishes the facts of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances and some key-features of the early church and shows that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the only acceptable explanation for these facts. Those postmoderns with a relativist a priori against the possibility of historical knowledge or those liberal theologians with a deist priori against the possibility of miracles will not accept this conclusion, but Moreland is rather addressing those more common readers who are more influenced by the materialism still dominating the natural sciences at the end of the twentieth century, and these may have not the a priori of the deist against miracles, this a priori being mostly based in the believed fixity of Newton's "laws of mechanics": they know that Newton's "laws" were shown to be not true and no "laws" at all but only some approximate description that are not valid in certain cases where relativist mechanics (Einstein) have to be applied, and that in turn relativist mechanics is supplanted in other cases by quantum mechanics. The a priori of the modern mind against miracles has more to do with the supposed inexistence of God, and this should have been removed with the first chapters of the book which argue for God's existence. Moreland does not discuss these issues, so that his book is more a very helpful and up-to-date rejoinder of the complete, integrated case made by Norman Geisler in Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976.) Moreland ends the chapter by refuting the idea of Hellenestic influences on the resurrection stories.
A seventh chapter deals with the relation between "science" and Christianity. I find it a pity to see a Christian philosopher follow the Kantian, positivist reduction of the word "science" (which means "knowledge", and used to be applied to all organized, methodic bodies of knowledge, such as theology, history, etc.) to the natural sciences. Moreland probably wants to avoid confusing the general readers with a discussion that is not essential to the point he wants to make, namely removing the idea that knowledge can only come from the natural sciences. He first exposes the different philosophical interpretations of natural (physical, etc.) theories, showing that most do not consider that the natural sciences give any truth about the real world (Moreland does not agree with these and holds a realist view.) He then briefly shows that the view that all truth come from the natural sciences is self-refuting. He also exposes the philosophical presuppositions of the natural sciences and discusses how to integrate the natural and theological sciences, ilustratres this with the case of origins (creation vs. evolution.)
The last chapter deals with four different issues. It powerfully refutes arguments about the invisibility of God, the idea of God as a projection, and for moral relativism. A part exposes two arguments based on religious experience, the causal one (God as the best explanation for the transformation of the believer) and the direction-perception one, which argues for the analogy between sensory and numinous (such as those of the Bible, opposed to the Hindu ones) experiences, and thus for the veridicality of the latter. These arguments from religious experience are quite less "airtight" and convincing than the other arguments in the book.
This brilliant book is worth reading and reading again. Those reading for the first time a serious apologetics/philosophy book may be impressed by this demonstration of the power of the human mind and even of the Logic (or "Logos" as the apostle John says) who created it. It is mostly directed against the (atheistic) materialism that dominates the Western world, and therefore much needed. It should have in particular much appeal and be enriching for those who have a background in the natural sciences.
Copyright © 1997,1999, Bruno D. Gedressac, The Hague, The Netherlands
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