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VINE VOICEon 11 October 2015
Professor Ward is a theist philosopher, eminent both at Kings College London and as Regius Professor of Theology at Oxford, and very influential on generations of Theology students. This modest little book fairly gently dissects Richard Dawkins arguments, exposing them as brittle or worse. Thomas Aquinas' philosophical proof for God still needs to be disproved and Ward shows that Dawkins doesn't succeed. The book draws attention to the problem of consciousness which materialism can't explain. The answers to Dawkins are mainly to specific points that are made in the God Delusion chapter 2-4.. Dawkins talks about simple structure, but Ward points out that there is nothing simple, we don't any longer know what matter actually is, and very precise cosmic laws have to apply to get any matter at all. The appearance of things is an interaction between energy fields in the external world and quantum processes in our brain. However we have to observe and theorise with our own consciousness, the basis of all knowledge. Many modern physicists and mathematicians believe in the Platonic realm where mathematical laws exist outside of space and time, for example Sir Roger Penrose. The laws are uncovered by thought to which they are connected. What sort of laws would lead to life and where do they come from? It may be that this is indeed the only sort of Universe and this is the only place in it where humans exist, and can contemplate the cosmos and discover the laws. The degree of complexity in astro and quantum physics, and in biological systems, and the very deliberate ordering of the cosmos doesn't only look like there is a designer, it makes design far and away the simplest and the most coherent conclusion. Other solutions are not only inelegant, they are mathematical theories beyond observation and verification, but not philosophical analysis. Professor Ward writes with good humour and some restraint considering that Professor Dawkins does not think Theology is a valid subject, and opposed Ward's appointment at Oxford. Extraordinary. I liked this book, it is very balanced, and it is amazing how accurate the Greek philosophers were without a single microscope, telescope or even a Hadron collider!
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on 18 October 2008
With such a preponderance of books attacking Dawkins tending to uncritically recommend each other, it is hard to choose which makes the best case for theism to read as a foil to Dawkins. While the evangelism of John Lennox (or even the heartfelt sermonizing of David Robertson) might appeal more to committed Christians (and atheists playing "spot the special pleading"), this book comes closer to addressing Dawkins directly. More challenging than McGrath's rushed polemic, Ward describes his underlying position with clarity.

Having written books attacking fundamentalism, Ward shows himself a more reasonable apologist than most with statements such as "The judgment as to whether or not the resurrection happened as recorded in the Bible is likely to depend on whether or not you already believe in God." Unfortunately the same is likely true for the claims of this book. Key claims such as the fundamental validity of personal explanation are justified briefly by (tenuous) analogy, a "most philosophers agree that..." assertion, and the implicit "trust me, I'm a much nicer guy than Dawkins". More space is devoted to Ward's musings on consciousness and quantum mechanics.

The book starts inevitably with praise for Dawkins' previous works followed by castigation of his temerity to comment on faith and a list of historical theist philosophers, with more barbed insults popping up throughout. For a book directly addressing Dawkins, Ward needs understand what he criticizes more carefully. For example he seeks to characterize "the ultimate nature of reality", and assumes Dawkins is attempting to do the same. Ward is brave to tackle Dawkins on evolution, and does make some interesting points on probability and complexity which challenge rather than undermine Dawkins' more accessible writing.

Ultimately, Ward's view of God will be too abstract for many: "Could there be an unembodied mind, a pure Spirit, that has knowledge and awareness? I can see no reason why not." So where's the evidence? Ward has an answer: "So it seems that God does make a difference, but it is not a neutrally testable difference that could be settled by experiment." More work is needed to show that he is describing something more substantial than metaphor - if indeed he is.
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on 26 June 2015
Book arrived on time and was as described. The book contents are not easy to understand (very deep philosophical arguments). Those that I could get my head around were very helpful so that I'm in a better place to argue against Dawkins atheism.
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on 23 June 2009
The previous book which I read by Keith Ward was both balanced and stimulating. There is very little which I can find to say about this book which is positive. Maybe the only thing to his credit is that he appears to have completely abandoned any attempt to defend the ontological argument.

However, he does attempt to resuscitate the argument from design by renaming it as the 'new argument for design'. The argument from design is unusual in that it can be cast in mathematical terms and be shown to be unsound. Essentially, it reflects a flawed understanding of the relationship between probabilities and their inverses. For anyone interested, there is a good treatment of it in 'Logic: A Very Short Introduction' by Graham Priest.

What Ward seems to be describing as the 'new' design argument involves a dash of fine-tuning with a dash of probabilities. His understanding of probabilities appears to repeat the same misunderstanding which is buried in the more usual formulation of the argument from design. And he does not appear to appreciate that the fine-tuning argument is a powerful argument _against_ the existence of an omnipotent creative deity (who would have no need to 'fine-tune' anything!) The philosopher Gilbert Fulmer has argued that the fine-tuning argument is logically incoherent anyway.

His discussion of consciousness was, in my opinion, little short of an embarrassment. He was dismissive of Daniel Dennett and appears to have little appreciation of how much research has been done in this field. He seems to think that it is a problem which is 'so difficult that no one has any idea how to begin to tackle it, scientifically'. Although it is true to say that it is a difficult problem, and it is very early days, Ward seems to be unaware of the research which has been done by neuroscientists over a period of 60 years or so. There are a number of popular books available on consciousness and there are already valiant attempts to deal with the problem of qualia. ('Seeing Red' by Nicholas Humphrey, for example.)

His conclusion on this is, roughly: we have no evidence for disembodied consciousness but it *might* exist. And then, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he concludes that, if we can imagine this, we can imagine 'God' as the ultimate form of disembodied consciousness.

He discusses cosmology and, for such a short book, I found this section appeared deceptively long. At times, I had to pinch myself as a reminder that this was supposed to be addressing 'The God Delusion'. And reflecting that there are other writers who deal with cosmology in a much more engaging manner.

I awaited, in vain, for the 'clear definitions' and 'sharp arguments'. Coming in at around 143 pages, I was reminded of Woody Allen describing the two ladies discussing the food at a mountain resort. The first lady says, "The food in this place is really terrible." To which her companion replies, "Yes, and such small portions." Well, this more or less sums up my opinion of this book.
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on 14 July 2014
Excellently argued, an academic discussion but easy to follow, very convincing although I didn't need convincing, and makes much more sense than the improbable and subjective views that are postulated by Richard Dawkins and Co. who are hell bent on proving that there is no God. Why on earth would a so called intellectual like Richard Dawkins spend his life arguing against something/one that doesn't exist! It doesn't make sense. I think that perhaps he is too biased and stubborn to admit to another point of view.
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on 28 November 2012
I bought this book as a recommendation from a religious friend on the basis that it might convince me to believe in god. (A big ask!) Anyway it failed on the basis you already have to believe in the supernatural to get on board with what the author is saying. He starts on quite firm ground but then suspends all rationality and ends up making huge untestable claims.

Once again a big fail on proving anything except wish thinking!
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on 19 July 2009
Like the curate's egg this book is good in parts in that it partially succeeds and partially fails in its intention to show 'Why there almost certainly is a God'. One of its successes is to highlight some of the philosophical weaknesses in 'The God Delusion'. It is, however, not surprising that a professional philosopher and theologian should score some points over a zoologist on this account. In my view as a lay reader of philosophy and serious sceptic of the existence of God, Ward fails to convince that there almost certainly is a God other than through the acceptance of premises that are far from secure. What he does do is to show that it is possible to construct a coherent and rational argument for the possible existence of a God but is it the God that many adherents of monotheistc religions would recognise? For people interested in reading accounts on both sides of the current battle between theists and atheists, this is a worthwhile contribution to look in to. It is not an easy read though and probably requires some familiarity with analytical philosophy to fully appreciate.
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on 29 July 2010
I purchased this book because the reviews seemed to indicate that it was the best of the responses to 'The God Delusion'. I was, therefore, astonished to read a series of arguments that were so riddled with flaws and fallacies that my sixth form Critical Thinking students would be able to tear it to shreds. From my own experiences as an undergraduate, I assumed that everyone who studied Philosophy would have to take a course in Logic. What I don't understand is how someone as eminent and respected as Keith Ward could have gone through his entire academic life without studying Logic, for this is the only explanation I can find for this crude attempt at rebuttal (NB I am sure there must be another explanation but I want to give a flavour of the nature of Ward's arguments). I would love to spend some time with Ward going through his book paragraph by paragraph and hearing from him in person what he was actually thinking when he wrote it and whether he genuinely believes what he wrote has any grounding in logic.

There is so much circularity, assertion, poor use of analogy and factual (and conceptual) inaccuracy in this book that I felt cheated by the author. This is certainly not the 'satisfactory response' by a theologian to Dawkins that Polkinghorne claims on the back cover. Buy this, if only to see how not to construct logical argument.
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on 8 October 2010
I thought long and hard about how to write a review of Keith Ward's book, 'Why there almost certainly is a God?' precisely because reviews of theistic books are normally perceived as being merely partisan - 4-5 stars from theists and 1-2 stars from non-theists - and it's not my desire to write a merely partisan review, so I want to detail, clearly, those things that I believe to be the most egregious failings. So, beyond the fact that I don't find Ward's book even slightly persuasive, what is one to make of it?

The title is borrowed from one of the chapters in Dawkins' book, 'The God Delusion' with, in Ward's words "... one little difference: I have changed the word 'no' to the word 'a', because I think that change reflects the situation more accurately."

So, this is partly a 'response' to Dawkins' book but, more importantly, it is also an attempt to justify the claim that 'there almost certainly is a God'. Does it succeed? Well, firstly, I don't doubt that Dawkins' book is flawed, in some respects, and that a competent philosopher ought to be able to illustrate 'why' Dawkins' book will not be the last word on the subject of 'God' but, then again, it wouldn't take a professional academician to accomplish that. With reference to the rather more ambitious project of demonstrating that 'there almost certainly is a God' does Ward succeed? No - of course not.

On that score, Ward's book offers approximately the same combination of questions gone begging (i.e. circular arguments) and arguments from ignorance that one has come to expect from any book attempting to defend theism. The reason for the two stars, then, is because this is not absolutely terrible and certainly not comparable to the dross that creationists routinely produce but, yet, there are more weak (indeed, very weak) links in Ward's reasoning than one should expect from a philosopher of Ward's credentials. As a skeptic, is it unreasonable of me to ask that Ward put together at least a moderately 'persuasive' argument, rather than merely asking me to suspend my critical faculties altogether?

Although Ward is obviously a theist (a Christian theist), most of his arguments are, in fact, Deistic in nature. Even if these arguments were persuasive (and they aren't in the least), he would, to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, still have all of his work in front of him. Rather than critique each and every one of Ward's assertions and ineffectual arguments, however, I'll try and focus on the fundamental reasons why, I believe, this book, and others like it, are simply doomed to fail.

There are a couple of jokes that I used to like, as a child that go something like this:

Q: How does an elephant hide in a cherry tree?
A: It paints its toes red. [Cue laughter].

Q: How does an elephant get down from a cherry tree?
A: It sits on a leaf and waits `til autumn (or fall). [Cue hysterical laughter].

My point is that these jokes have no chance of being funny to somebody who does not understand that the idea of an elephant sitting in a cherry tree is nonsensical, in the first place. If anybody has actually got so far as to persuade themselves that elephants *are* capable of hiding in cherry trees, it's unlikely that they're going to be easily dissuaded from this viewpoint and so, I suggest, it is with theism.

Ward's book is predicated on the fundamental presupposition that "there is a consciousness that does not come into being at the end of a long physical process. In fact it does not come into being at all. It did not spontaneously appear out of nothing. It has always existed, and it always will. There is something that has thoughts, feelings and perceptions, but no physical body or brain. Such thoughts and perceptions will be very different from human thoughts." This is, to Ward's mind, 'The God Hypothesis' and, yet, he cannot offer any reason whatsoever for supposing it to be so. Many objections against it can be raised, but two points come to my mind immediately:

1. Ward goes to some length to illustrate just how poorly understood is the idea of 'consciousness'; in fact, 'consciousness' does not even have an agreed definition, never mind a sufficient explanation.

2. Having asserted, then, that we know close to nothing about what 'consciousness' is or from whence it arises, he then goes on to assert that whatever 'it' is, this self-same mysterious phenomenon (called 'consciousness') does, in fact, exist (contra-Dennett, for example) and that it is the basis of the 'God Hypothesis' - except with the important proviso that "[s]uch thoughts and perceptions will be very different from human thoughts."

So, 'God-consciousness' is the same as human 'consciousness', but different, right?? So, in what sense, can it still be referred to as 'consciousness'? Remember, 'consciousness' is a word for which we have no sufficient definition, in the first place, so it can - essentially - be used to mean *whatever* Ward wants it to mean.

Ward's book is plagued by this kind of nonsense but, to be fair, he's somewhat handicapped by his theistic belief set; Elephants in cherry trees, anyone? So, to summarize Ward's position:

1. We know precious little about what 'consciousness' actually is or from whence it arises.
2. What we do know, which relates entirely to human beings, could lead one to the (incorrect, according to Ward) conclusion that 'mind' and 'brain' are, in fact, inseparable.

So, then - if a) we don't know what 'consciousness' is, and b) 'God-consciousness' is not much like 'Human-consciousness', in any case - is Ward *really* in a position to even speculate about the reasonableness of a) substance dualism and b) the likelihood that 'God' is some form of 'consciousness'?

Methinks Ward may be extrapolating just a teensy weensy bit beyond what his data set can reasonably bear. Ward seems to think that, if he can sell 'substance dualism' the rest of his theistic enterprise will follow straightforwardly but, I suggest, that a) he can't sell it (to anyone who hasn't already bought it) and b) the rest doesn't follow, in any case. Substance dualism really is a pretty tough sell to just about anyone who isn't already a committed theist, for the fundamental reason that there simply isn't any good reason to suppose that it's true.

He writes: "Could there be an unembodied mind, a pure Spirit, that has knowledge and awareness? I can see no reason why not."

Let's pause here, for a moment, to ask 'just what *exactly* does Ward mean when he asserts that he "can see no reason why not."?' Does he mean, for example, that he cannot see any 'logical' reason 'why not'? Ward's entire case hinges on the plausibility of this claim; in fact, Ward's entire case cannot even get off the ground, because he cannot offer *any* good reason to suppose it to be so. He cannot - surely - be suggesting that there is no 'physical' reason why not - how could he possibly know that? So, it must be the former. Ward, therefore, actually seems to be arguing that because *he* cannot see any 'logical' reason why it couldn't exist that therefore *it might actually exist*. This is truly a fantastic assertion and fantastically vacuous.

As remarkable as this line of 'reasoning' is, he goes on to assert that "The God hypothesis has at least as much plausibility as the materialist hypothesis. Both are hard to imagine, but neither seems to be incoherent or self-contradictory. Either might be true."

Really? This is simply laughable! We *know* that 'material' (comprising matter and/or energy) entities exist, even if we do not understand, in totality, exactly what this entails. We do *not* know, however, that anything 'immaterial' exists at all, not least because we don't even have a meaningful ontology for the non-concept (as things stand) of the 'immaterial', i.e. the word 'immaterial' is presently meaningless, except to distinguish something from that which is 'material' - but if we don't understand the limits of the 'material' world, to begin talking about 'things' that are 'immaterial' is question-begging *in the extreme*. Ward's entire theistic premise is, indeed, question-begging, which (in essence) he later admits, as we shall see.

What Ward is asking one to believe (just for starters) is that it is *logically possible* for me to continue to exist without my body or any part of it such as my brain. But - and this is an important point - 'possibility' is what is not inherently contradictory: if A does not entail logical contradiction, A is 'possible'. But how does one get from 'logical possibility' to actual 'being'? As such, 'logical possibility' is all but empty possibility; almost anything is 'possible' this latter way, depending only on the limits of conceivability, e.g. flying pigs, people with 5 arms and the idea that the planets, and their positions, have a crucial bearing on who we are and what we do, but 'logical possibility' alone does *nothing* to establish 'ontological possibility' - that would require reference to the physical world *as it really is* and would necessitate reference to what is actually known and understood - e.g. in chemistry and physics. When we then start to look at the reasons why 'unembodied consciousness', in fact, makes logically no sense at all - for example, if it were reasonable, by the same token, it would be similarly reasonable to speak about a 'whole body amputation' - what is one to think?

There are, I suggest, only two options, ultimately: One is to conclude that the knowledge (and logic itself) that we (presently) have is of no consequence, and has, in the final analysis, no bearing on the matter, because one already 'believes' it (a priori) to be true, or one must surely conclude that Ward's theistic enterprise is intrinsically irrational and based on little more than wishful thinking.

The 'idea' (such as it is) of 'unembodied consciousness' is, I suggest, one of those things that theists really have no choice but to just 'chalk it up to faith'. Such speculative reasoning *may* seem profoundly reasonable to someone who believes that elephants can be found hiding in cherry trees, so long as they haven't painted their toes but, really?? Who could Ward possibly imagine might be persuaded by such argumentation?

Things really don't get any better from here on in.

Ward draws on the arguments of Richard Swinburne; for example, his assertion that there is a class of 'explanation' that can be referred to as 'personal explanation', but he completely fails - indeed he doesn't even try, so far as I can see - to separate the idea of a 'personal explanation', which may be perfectly adequate for most everyday purposes - i.e. with reference to the intentional actions of *known* entities (human beings)- from a bad case of subjectivity and wishful thinking, when applied to things that are (currently, at least) beyond our scope. It's like trying to utilise 'commonsense' to reach conclusions about deep cosmology - i.e. profoundly daft.

At a deep level, Ward's 'argument' (and the theistic 'argument', at large) poses a fundamental epistemological question - 'if it were true, (how) could we know it to be so?' Since Ward strongly objects to Dawkins' suggestion that 'the God Hypothesis' is a scientific hypothesis - Ward even asserts that, "Of course, he [Dawkins] really knows this is not true." - it's very hard to see how he could possibly begin to construct a rational (i.e. non-circular) answer to this question.

To illustrate, as one reviewer (a one star reviewer, of course) of Dawkins' book wrote: "If you truly understood science you would know that science neither supports nor denies the existence of God. Science is properly relegated to the understanding of material things, laws etc. Science lacks the tools to inquire into the non-material being of God or to understand His possible interaction in this world."

So fantastically question-begging is this assertion, it pre-supposes (in addition to the non-concept of 'immateriality') that, although 'science' (the only reliable means humans have so far discovered of uncovering reality) "lacks the tools to inquire into the non-material being of God..." the reviewer himself, however, somehow and from somewhere *does* have "the tools to inquire into the non-material being of God..."

Amusingly, in the final chapter, Ward supposes that "for Dawkins, all this must seem like a wish-fulfilling fantasy." Personally, I can't possibly imagine why Dawkins might think such a thing!! He goes on to say - having spent almost an entire book arguing for 'Why There Almost Certainly Is a God' - that "The question of God is not purely an intellectual puzzle. It is bound up with the basic ways in which we see our lives, the cultural histories and traditions from which we spring and against which we often react, and the most fundamental values, feelings and commitments we have. It is not just a question of evidence, in the sense of clear public data that put matters beyond any reasonable doubt. It is a question of basic forms of perspective and action."

So, there we have it, in a nutshell! Having failed to demonstrate to you, dear skeptical reader, that there is any compelling reason whatsoever to cross the line from non-belief to believing what I (Ward) happen to believe, I'm going to lay it on the line for you - at the end of the day, it's not really all about evidence and reason, but about "basic forms of perspective and action." Blinding!
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on 13 December 2015
Professor Ward is, generally, a voice of sanity in the field of Christian theology so a riposte to Dawkins from his pen should be worth reading. In fact I was rather disappointed with this attempt to burst the new atheist bubble. It is definitely not a book for the interested general reader. It is ‘angels on the head of a pin’ stuff – abstruse philosophising about necessary beings and contingent universes, probability functions and possible multiverses.

Ward puts forward two main arguments for God (ignoring many of the traditional ‘proofs’) – that God is the best ultimate explanation for the universe and that various personal experiences support the reality of transcendent values. For Ward, God as the final, timeless cause of the cosmos is either a necessary or an impossible concept. The basis of objective morality in duty and love arising from the nature of a wholly good god who created out of a desire to realise a range of intrinsically valuable potentialities means that behaving morally is never in vain.

The conclusion is that the ‘God hypothesis’ (the belief that a personal creator best explains the nature of existence) is probably true – provided that you accept that such a god is possible in the first place (and if you don’t then it isn’t). Theoretical and practical certainty is only possible if the truth of idealism as opposed to materialism is already accepted and that truth can never be completely certain.

This is not the sort of stuff the average pew-warmer or enthusiastic amateur evangelist can readily turn into a telling response to their sceptical friends! It is not really the knockout blow that theists might have hoped for. Nor is case presented comprehensive. This is partly because of the general nature of the discussion (it tries not to be about any particular version of God) but there are too many atheist arguments that are simply ignored. The discussion of visions, art and personal experience seems particularly weak given that there is no way to distinguish the ‘genuine’ inspiration from the fraudulent in that sphere. Other reviewers have detailed some of the other major faults with the reasoning presented by Prof. Ward.

Ward is, I think, essentially correct in what he says (in so far as I understand it!). Conscious purpose probably is at the heart of objective reality and there is good, if not absolutely, compelling evidence to support that claim. The problem with this book is not so much that it is difficult but that it is too abstract and philosophical for what appears to be its intended audience.
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