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Letters to Doubting Thomas: A Case for the Existence of God Paperback – 5 Jun 2008


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This is (a significant accomplishment and a major contribution. There is a substantial need for works on this subject that are accessible and engaging for everyday readers and undergraduates, but without compromising the integrity of the philosophical arguments. Letters to Doubting Thomas does both.)

The book is exceptionally clearly written. It presents difficult arguments and concepts without undue technicality, but without sacrificing accuracy. It is a fresh, lively, up-to-date defense of theism. (Wesley Morriston, University of Colorado, Boulder)

About the Author

C Stephen Layman is Professor of philosophy at Seattle pacific University.

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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Flawed bu Entertaining 21 Aug 2008
By webcerberus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Stephen Layman of Seattle Pacific University has penned a spirited series of letters, between fictional correspondents Thomas and Zach, touching on various aspects of the philosophy of religion. As motivation for the exchange, Layman's Zach sets himself the task of convincing Thomas that "theism" - which he defines as belief in the necessary existence of a unique, perfectly good and omnipotent being - is a more convincing hypothesis than "naturalism" - the belief that there exists nothing beyond the physical world.

Together the pair explore a number of the factors that have traditionally been held to support or undermine the two positions, including mystical experience, the problem of necessary existence, cosmological fine-tuning, the question of free will, the problem of natural and moral evil, the appearance of design in nature, and the Euthyphro dilemma. Zach's initial statement of the issues surrounding each topic is in most cases clear and even-handed, and for this reason alone the book offers a useful introduction to the philosophy of religion for the freshman student and casual reader alike. Layman's dialog format also helps bring to life material that would otherwise often be technical and dull.

However, as each chapter develops Zach's balance quickly falls away to be replaced by a one-sided defense of theism, and Thomas rarely points out the many weaknesses and inconsistencies in his arguments (the only major exception has Thomas shooting down Zach's first attempt at framing an ontological argument for the existence of God in Chapter 9). Many of the rhetorical maneuvers Zach uses - such as appealing to the extreme claim that only a perfectly good creator can guarantee human cognitive reliability to stave off suggestions that God is morally indifferent, or insisting that naturalism cannot explain evil because it cannot explain life at all - smack more of apologetics than mainstream philosophy. And Zach's solution of the problem of evil commits him to the odd belief that (some) animals will experience life after death "if God's purposes [for them] are not fulfilled prior to death" [p. 202], a proposition that few theologians would likely embrace.

Moreover, Layman's Zach seems to be unaware that naturalists play this particular philosophical game with quite different ground rules. At one point in Chapter 8, Zach concludes a passage critical of naturalism's failure so far to explain the origin of life with the hedging remark "Let me hasten to add that if life did arise from natural causes, there is no reason for Theists to deny this" [pp. 211-212]. Far from being a point in favor of theism, most naturalists would regard this as a black mark against it. As the mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace famously retorted more than 200 years ago, "the precise difficulty with the hypothesis [of a creator]" is that "it explains everything, but predicts nothing".
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Demanding but rewarding 26 Oct 2006
By H. A Noetzel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In a day and age where sound bytes and cliches dominate it's nice to see a book that really makes you think. If you don't have much of a background in philosophy the book can seem daunting at times but as with all things worthwhile in the end hard work is rewarded. The author focuses his book on the issue of whether Naturalism or Theism is a better explanation of reality. In my opinion each hypothesis has its good and bad points. I don't think in the end there is a clear winner but at least I have a much better understanding of how to evaluate these two positions.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Not for Beginners -- But Well-Worth Reading 20 Feb 2010
By not me - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Letters to Doubting Thomas" offers a concise, careful argument for God's existence. The broad structure of the argument is hardly original: basically, the book contends that certain features of the world -- the existence of contingent beings, free will, the so-called fine-tuning of the universe, moral rules, and so forth -- are better explained by theism than by naturalism. However, many of the twists and turns are new and thought-provoking.

In particular, the book makes a smart move by invoking religious experience as evidence that theism is not an ad hoc hypothesis out-of-whack with our "background information" about the world. Having demonstrated that theism has SOME prior probablity, the book considers whether theism does a better job than naturalism in explaining free will, fine-tuning, etc. The author doesn't pretend to give a knock-down proof of God's existence. However, he does make a strong case that theism has more explanatory power than naturalism, its main intellectual rival.

The book is clearly written and logically organized. That said, it is not unsophisticated and it is NOT for beginners in philosophy. The argument has many steps and I suspect the book needs to be read twice before it can be fully appreciated. I plan to read it again.
Several good arguments here 21 July 2014
By Barrett Ingram - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is the first book I've ever read that has really convinced me to reevaluate many of my beliefs. Layman presents some really good arguments I had never heard before. I really enjoyed the humility in his approach. He doesn't pretend to offer an irrefutable case for Theism and acknowledges that no such case exists. He merely presents some arguments that support his belief that Theism does a reasonably better job of explaining our world than Naturalism. I have very little experience with philosophy but none of his arguments seemed too difficult to grasp although they certainly require some reflection to fully absorb.
3 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Layman Doesn't Know the Proof of God's Existence 2 Feb 2007
By David Roemer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'll begin my critique of Layman's book is with the following quote (This is an abridgment of a review on my website.):

"Just as a contingent truth is true but might have been false, so a contingent being is one that does exist but might not have. And suppose we claim, with regard to any contingent being, that it exists, e.g.,"I (Zach) exist" or "You (Thomas) exist." Such propositions are contingent truths, not necessary ones. More generally, we can state the relationship between contingent beings and contingent truths as follows: A being is contingent if (and only if) every proposition affirming its existence is a contingent truth. (p. 85)"

Not in the above quote, nor anywhere else in the book, does he say that humans are finite beings and that God is an infinite being. I agree that humans are contingent beings, but this is not as clear and unmistakably true as the proposition that humans are finite beings: Zach exists and Thomas exists, but Zach is not Thomas and Thomas is not Zach. Zach and Thomas are different beings, that is, finite beings. God is a being that is not finite. A finite being needs a cause outside of itself whereas an infinite being can be the reason for its own existence. Since the universe would be unintelligible if every being needed a cause, there must be at least one infinite being. QED.

Layman is butting heads with the Roman Catholic Church and St. Paul as can be seen from the following quote from the Baltimore Catechism:

"22. Can we know by our natural reason that there is a God?

We can know by our natural reason that there is a God, for natural reason tells us that the world we see about us could have been made only by a self-existing Being, all-wise and almighty.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice; because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. (Romans 1:18-19)"

The use of the word "know" and the phrase "wrath of God" constitutes a criticism of the character of naturalists, atheists, and agnostics. Layman says it's the best explanation without criticizing those who disagree.

One of Layman's arguments is that the "theistic hypothesis" gives a better explanation for the fact than humans have free will than naturalism, the philosphy that there is no supernatural being. Layman begins his argument by attempting to define free will:

"Free will is traditionally characterized as the power to do otherwise than one in fact does. Let's say you recently voted in a meeting by raising your right arm. If you performed this action freely, then you had the power to do otherwise, to refrain from raising your right arm. If you have free will, then when you face a decision between incompatible courses of action (such as speaking and refraining from speaking), although you cannot take more than one of them, each of them is within your power. Another way to put it: If you have free will, then when you are confronted with mutually exclusive courses of action, which one you take is genuinely up to you. (p. 139)"

All he is saying here is that free will is free will. It is another example of circular reasoning. Undaunted by or unaware of his inability to define free will, he goes on to discuss related concepts at great length: mechanism, determinism, compatibilism, and incompatibilism. I agree, however, with the following statement he makes about naturalists:

Many naturalists deny free will altogether because they see it as incompatible with a world governed by natural law. (p. 162)

I think I can do a better job than Layman of explaining why naturalists deny humans beings have free will. A "world governed by natural law" is a world in which there are no persons exercising their freedom. All Layman is saying is that naturalists deny free will because they don't think there is such a thing.

People who deny humans have free will in philosophical arguments act as if they had free will in the day-to-day living of their lives. They have the same experience we all have of existing, being aware of our existence, and acting through time. If they do something wrong they feel guilty, apologize, and promise not to do it again. If they work hard on a project for a few hours or a few days, they take pride in what they did. Their denial of free will is not only irrational, it raises questions about their sincerity and motives.

We can comprehend ourselves and recognize that we are finite beings, but we cannot otherwise define ourselves since we cannot define free will. This leads rational philosphers to say man is an indefinabilty or an embodied sprit, or that man possesses a spiritual soul as well as a body. Thomas Aqinas's formulation was that man is a compostion of two incompelete beings: a material incomplete being and an immaterial incomplete being that are metaphysically combined to form one being.

By denying free will, naturalists are really admitting, however perversely, that they agree with the logic of the proof of God's existence: If humans have free will, then they are finite beings. If finite beings exist, then an infinite being exists. If their motive for denying free will is not to refute the proof of God's existence, what is it?

I did not invent the proof of God's existence which is sometimes called the "cosmological argument." It can be found, for example, in the Baltimore Catechism:

"10. What do we mean when we say that God is self-existing?

When we say that God is self-existing we mean that He does not owe His existence to any other being.

I am who am. (Exodus 3:14)"

While the answer to the question is as vauge and circular as Layman's "theistic hypothesis," the use of Exodus 3.14 as a proof-text shows the authors understand the proof, which is based on Aquinas's analysis of finite beings. According to Aquinas, a finite being has two principles operating within it: an essence and an existence. To quote from the glossary of a textbook on metaphysics (N. Clarke, One and the Many):

"Essence = that in a being which makes it to be what it is, this being and not some other.

Existence = that is a being which makes it a real being."

An infinite being can be thought of as a being which does not have a separate essence and existence. In other words, an infinite being's essence is the same as its existence. Its essence is to exist. Just as God told Moses.
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