4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Where are Jesus of Nazareth and the New Testament?,
This review is from: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Paperback)
I bought this book about fifteen years ago, but did not get round to reading it until last week. The edition I have is the second edition, of 1993. I think that the current amazon (uk) advertisement for the book should have made explicit mention of the fact that it is a third edition, published in 2003, which is now on sale. I looked up the Table of Contents and the Introduction to this 3rd edition on the website, and was informed there that chapters 1 (Concepts of God), 8 (Divine Simplicity), and 9 (Omnipotence and Omniscience) are new in the 3rd edition. Chapter 8, 'Eternity', from the 2nd edition, is the only chapter that does not reappear as such in the 3rd edition. All the other 10 chapter headings of the 2nd edition reappear as such in the 3rd edition, as Chapter 2, Philosophy and Religious Belief; 3. Cosmological Arguments, 4. Design Arguments, 5. Ontological Arguments, 6. Experience of God, 7. Talking about God, 10. God and Evil, 11. Miracles, 12. Morality and Religion, and 13. Life After Death. All these have been updated for the 3rd edition, which adds about another hundred pages to the 234 pages of text of the 2nd edition.
My review here is for the 2nd edition.
My feelings about the book altered radically during the week that it took me to read the book.
The first 8 chapters, dealing largely with God, the arguments for his existence and the study of the attributes that go with the 'classical' concept of God, I found to be very satisfying. The author, of course, gives space to the sceptics as well as to the convinced believer of the traditional (Christian) view of God, and I found his method of treating the positives and the negatives, in turn, to be very illuminating and very convincing. He carefully outlined, say, some of the proofs from Aquinas for the existence of God, then pointed out what seemed to be weaknesses in Aquinas as proposed by, say, Anthony Kenny or Hume. Having conceded that at first sight the objectors might have a point, he then goes on to show that the case made by the attackers is never any more water-tight than the case which they are attacking. This is a simplification, but it is the constant impression conveyed by the author. Although the author leaves the final thinking to his (undergraduate) reader, I found his constant deconstruction of the deconstructors to be very satisfying.
I quote from a comment I made on a review of a book entitled `New Proofs for the Existence of God', by Fr Spitzer. The reviewer said, "I hate the word "proofs" when it means "evidence" for the existence of God." I replied: "Well, I have been doing a lot of reading recently on the topics addressed by Fr Spitzer, and I am becoming increasingly convinced both (i) that the type of 'evidences' advanced for the existence of God would often be accepted as 'proofs' in any other academic discipline (history, geography, literature, art, philosophy, psychology, religion, textual criticism, ... ) not tied to the limited field studied by the microscope and the geological and fossil records, and secondly (ii) that the 'proofs' against the existence of God, or against the need for there to be a God, as proposed by the experts in that limited 'scientific' field, are increasingly being shown to be themselves no more than 'evidences' which are also increasingly being shown to be invalid for their purpose."
So far so good, but then in the last three chapters Brian Davies began to talk about religion and the human being, and he lost my allegiance.
I am making rather a campaign of what I have to say here, and it is this: it is empty talk to discuss religion without concentrating on the historical records of the New Testament and the historical person of Jesus Christ, as observable `secular' realities, not only as objects or constructs of faith. I simply will not accept, that we do not know what religion is, that we either have no ideas about it, or else that we have to talk about the priest-king of Frazer's Golden Bough, or the Polynesian `cargo cults' of the 19th and 20th centuries, or African animist religions, or the Buddha, or whatever or whoever.
No, and no. St Thomas Aquinas identified Aristotle simply as `The Philosopher', so we know what a philosopher is: Aristotle, or someone who shares something of the qualities of Aristotle (thus Aquinas himself). In exactly the same way, we know what religion is: it is the Christian religion founded by Jesus Christ (and for me it is in fact Roman Catholic Christianity), and secondarily, other movements that share more or less fully in the qualities manifested in the Christian religion and its founder. In other words, we have a perfect paradigm of what religion is: its sources, its personalities, its beliefs, its historical context. Davies never even begins to introduce this point.
What I am insisting on is that the New Testament and Jesus Christ must be put into the centre of every discussion of religion. To discuss the nature of the soul by some smart maxim from Descartes or Wittgenstein, and to leave out what Jesus and Paul and the whole New Testament have to say about the soul, and morality, and eternal life, is to me simply farcical. To deny that the out-of-the-body soul exists after death puts on the denier not only the burden of disproving the New Testament's historical witness to this, but also the burden of disproving every one of the surely tens of thousands of apparitions of saints to people for the past two thousand years. And what better discussion of morality, of full human living, do we find anywhere outside of the New Testament?
I leave it there for now. Five stars for Davies on God, but one star on man and his religion. Two stars overall.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Dec 2011 22:47:19 GMT
Karen Wood says:
'What I am insisting on is that the New Testament and Jesus Christ must be put into the centre of every discussion of religion'
Why? Christianity is just one among many world religions and study of religion from a philosophical, psychological or sociological perspective is very different from study of it from the perspective of a believing adherent of a particular faith. You are free to insist all you wish but authors of academic texts are not obliged to comply.
In reply to an earlier post on 1 Dec 2011 23:45:39 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Dec 2011 19:46:13 GMT
Thank you for your comment of 1 Dec 2011, which happened to come up while I was 'live' on my computer - hence my immediate reply. (By the way, I keep tinkering with my reply here.)
I base my reply on your last sentence: " You are free to insist all you wish but authors of academic texts are not obliged to comply". I reply to this: As Antony Flew reminds us in his book 'There is a God', the true scientist (whether looking through a microscope or, like Aristotle and Aquinas, studying (especially) metaphysics and 'natural religion') studies the facts and follows the conclusions to which such study leads.
So I continue with your comment. You say: "Christianity is just one among many world religions". This statement is not defensible, from the point of view even of purely 'secular' scholarship. Christianity, as I point out in my review, is not 'just one religion among many'. It is the most pervasive and the historically best-supported of all religions, and, as Flew I think it was also says, in matters of religion it is the Christian claims which are 'the ones to beat'. May I sincerely suggest that you embark on a study of the case for Christianity, such as is outlined in the books you will find reviewed by me if you look up 'all my reviews'. You may not be convinced by the evidence given in these books (or in the huge number of supporting books which they mention), but at least you will not ever feel able again to make the totally unscholarly comment that "Christianity is just one among many world religions". In view of the claims for the life, death and resurrection of the undoubtedly historical person Jesus Christ, I challenge you to establish which other religion is more likely to be true, or even to be, seriously, in the same class for evidence, as Judeo/Christianity.
Again, you say that "a study of religion from a philosophical, psychological or sociological perspective is very different from study of it from the perspective of a believing adherent of a particular faith". Too true. But against your position, I protest with all my power against the exclusion, from the debate on 'the philosophy of religion', of the most powerful religious thinkers, even as purely 'secular' thinkers, namely Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, and all the Old Testament and New Testament biblical writers, and Plato and Aristotle and Augustine and Aquinas, while I am supposed to take the greatest account of African witch-doctors or New Guinea head-hunters, or other Asian religions, or Islam, or Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking or Ludwig Wittgenstein or whoever or whatever. Religion is not a level playing-field of totally equal claimants and reasoning and history. That is really a totally untenable position.
So finally, you must accept, I think, that the "study of it from the perspective of a believing adherent of a particular faith" has to consider carefully what is the probable strength of the "perspective of a believing adherent of a particular faith". The most powerful perspective, even from the point of view of 'philosophy, psychology, and sociology' to which you appeal, is the Judeo-Christian perspective.
(Of course I do also strongly defend the value of the testimony to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the experience of Judeo-Christian believers, as further testimony to the truth of Judeo/Christianity. You need to study carefully why "a believing adherent of a particular faith" is precisely that. The Christian believer's adherence to Christianity is the most defensible of any religious claim. Christian belief is NOT blind faith. The scholarly case in its defence is overwhelmingly stronger than the attempts of the sceptics to discredit its historical and logical underpinnings.)
Hence my finding fault with this book by Brian Davies, and my fundamental disagreement, on the grounds of scholarship, with the points you make in your comment.
I repeat: "What I am insisting on is that the New Testament and Jesus Christ must be put into the centre of every discussion of religion", for the very obvious historical fact that Jesus and Christianity hold a key position in world religion.
Therefore, contrary to the comment you make, "authors of academic texts" ARE "obliged to comply" with this obvious historical fact. They may not like this historical fact and what it points to, but it is the death of scholarship to ignore it or reject it.
It is straight-forward scholarship which demands the acceptance of the importance of the position of Jesus and Christianity in religion, not just the 'faith of a believer'. But indeed the 'faith of a believer' can then be hugely strengthened by what the scholarly examination of this central fact of history tells us.
In reply to an earlier post on 15 Oct 2013 20:58:50 BDT
Jim Beam says:
The thinly disguised rantings of religious intransigence, don't be fooled by this reviewers 'facts', the simple fact is he's just wrong.
In reply to an earlier post on 8 Nov 2013 09:23:19 GMT
Christian Jane-Heidsiek says:
"Christianity is just another religion". Is Kant just another philosopher no different from the rest?, is Balzac just another writer no different from Dan Brown? . Ideas are not all equally valid or valuable. We study them and try and reach a consensus as to which contain more truth. I don't think there is an intelligent person in the world (atheist or believer) who would argue that just because they are both religious books, the Bible and Dianetics have the same value.
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