on 7 July 2002
The first thing that struck me about this book was that it is much fatter than any of the other volumes in the "Routledge Contemporary Introduction to Philosophy" Series. This doesn't turn out to be too much of a problem, because it is quite easy to read. But there, just about anything positive that I have to say about it ends. It is probably one of the worst Philosophy books, in any subdiscipline of the subject, that I have ever read. Having a DPhil and and MA in Philosophy, I have read a lot.
There are a wide number of issues within the Philosophy of Religion that simply aren't addressed here. The problem of Religious Language is perhaps the most glaring, because a proper consideration of it might have tempered Yandell's hard-headed "positivistic" approach to religion - he treats religious creeds as scientific-type propositions which can be straightforwardly verified or falsified. Such an approach is not obviously wrong, but it requires a preliminary justification that only a rigorous examination of the status of religious language would be able to supply. As a result of this, Non-Cognitivist approaches are summarily dismissed on breathtakingly slender grounds.
In the section on the problem of evil, he consistently fails to distinguish 'evil' and 'suffering', with the result that many of his arguments just don't work. And he invents new (non) problems for the readers edification, such as - is God evil because he allows the extinction of species? Why the extinction of species should matter more than the extinction of individuals, or more than the sort of evil outlined in Dostoyevsky's 'The Brothers Karamazov' (the classic source for the philosophical formulation of the problem, but which nowhere appears in this work), we are not told.
And finally, there is the sheer length. Yandell spends a lot of time doing what is sometimes (in Philosophy) called "Chisholming" - writing numbered-step arguments, then re-writing them with minor changes when they are shown to be inadequate. In an introductory textbook, this just comes across as windy.
As many reviewers have said, the virtue of this book is that it treats of different religions (Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism as well as the Judaeo-Christian tradition). But this too has its drawbacks. The religions are consistently treated as proponents of monolithic creeds.
Overall, an extremely disappointing book. Sorry not to be more positive.
on 10 May 2009
If you're considering this book, there's a reasonable chance you'll have an understanding of philosophical terms. If so, can you tell what the sentence "X holds that having a mental property is kind-defining relative to the only kind of substances there are" is describing?
The answer is idealism, and this must be the poorest expression of it I've yet seen. Expand that type of language-abuse up to the scope of the book, and you have a title that is deeply frustrating to read, even by the low standards of philosophical writing. It also falls prey to the nasty tendency of analytic philosophy by attempting to rebut all possible objections by defining every conceivable term in advance. Such efforts never make the ship watertight, but they do leave it too heavy to float.
Sadly, the content does not reward the effort required to read it. Even when parsed carefully out, and taking in plenty of additional reading to understand exactly what the author is trying to say, the results are poor. The discussion of the cosmological argument is a masterpiece of that awful analytic game of chisholming the poor sentences into submission, until A''''' bears no relation to A, and certainly no relation to sense.
I would counsel against purchasing this book, and if it's the set text for your course, switch while you have the chance!
on 11 November 2003
Professor Yandell offers a clear, detailed, accessible and robust account of the philosophy of religion in its global, multi-faith context. The sections on Buddhism are especially useful and informative to someone coming from from a Christian background.
His style is engaging and logical, being accessible to the intelligent non-philosopher as well as to the specialist.
This introductory work gives a much more global perspective on philosophy of religion than is usual in an introductory volume and for that reason alone is quite exceptional.
Full marks for a provocative, thoughtful and insightful introduction to the subject!