The God Who Isn't There?*
Review of The Godless Delusion by Patrick Madrid / Kenneth Hensley
Review of The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010) by Patrick Madrid / Kenneth Hensley
(I give it 3 out of 5 stars)
I want to be honest with this book since I consider myself a "Catholic apologist" also. The Godless Delusion is good, but not great, and could have been more polite. It is certainly unique since I had never heard of "Catholic presuppositionalism" before I picked up this book.
What is surprising in a book sub-titled "A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism" is that Catholic writers (the Popes, Catholic theologians, etc) are not quoted for the most part (the Catechism is, and the evangelical anti-evolution lawyer Phillip E. Johnson is referred to often), and traditional Catholic arguments for the existence of God are not used or defended to combat atheism (a "presuppositional" approach is taken). This is in contrast to well-known evangelical apologists who use the traditional arguments for God quite effectively (William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Norman Geisler, etc). I would have preferred some direct quotes and refutations of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Vic Stenger, etc but it seems this book is a general reply to atheism, rather than a specific response to the "new atheists." (They are referred to a few times, but not quoted).
In chapter one ("A Tale of Two Worldviews"), we are given a nice distinction between "naturalism" vs. "Christian theism" and are told the problems began when "magicians in white lab coats equated science with naturalism." We are informed that "the two are quite distinct." Science is a "method for investigating the natural world" while naturalism "is a philosophy that says the natural world is all there is." This is commonly called "methodological" vs. "philosophical" / "metaphysical" naturalism. The authors state on science and God's existence that this is a philosophical (not scientific) debate:
Glad to see this made clear (contra Dawkins). The authors should have no problem then with the scientific theory of evolution, taken within its limits. Cardinal Schonborn (Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution and a Rational Faith) and Pope Benedict XVI (Creation and Evolution: A Conference With Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo, and In the Beginning...: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, and the 2004 ITC statement "Communion and Stewardship") agree there is no problem with Catholic dogma and natural evolution. But it seems the authors have reservations with the science (p. 34, 43-45, 98, i.e. evolution as interpreted by most scientists as a purely natural process) which they mistakenly call "random chance" (natural selection is not random, and is "the opposite of chance," as Dawkins has frequently pointed out). Theists who accept modern science believe God is behind evolution, so it would not be "blind" either. We need to find a better "theology of creation" to reconcile our theistic doctrine with the science, as the best Catholic theologians point the way (Schonborn, Popes JPII, Benedict XVI, many others, etc). Since the best informed Catholic writers agree the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, Catholic apologists (and Christian apologetics in general) need to stop attacking evolution in their arguments against atheism.
In chapter two ("A Solution to the Delusion"), we find a version of "presuppositional" apologetics used, what you normally see in the hardcore anti-Catholic Reformed writers (e.g. Greg Bahnsen):
Unfortunately, this is basically the only argument in the book, and presuppositionalism itself has been very well critiqued (by even fellow Christian apologists) as being circular and invalid (the logical fallacy of petitio principii, "assuming the initial point" or "begging the question"). Presuppositional apologists themselves admit their brand of "apologetics" is indeed "circular" (but still valid?, see Van Til quotes below). Although I don't want to misrepresent the book. The authors don't quote or seem to rely on Cornelius van Til (the "father" of presuppositionalism) or Greg Bahnsen (the best modern defender of presuppositionalism) or Reformed writers at all. The Godless Delusion is mainly a "comparison of worldviews" (naturalism vs. Christian theism) with a reductio ad absurdum (or "reduction to the absurd") tossed in against the atheist. That is just part of the presuppositional case they are using in their arguments against atheism, and those parts need not be circular.
While they do call their main argument "presuppositional" apologetics, they don't go as far as Van Til or the following statements from The Portable Presuppositionalist. For example, their moral argument basically comes from C.S. Lewis, not van Til. They also do a good job showing how a purely "evolutionary" or "naturalistic" origin of humanity (or a "naturalistic worldview") makes it difficult to explain free will, love, the mind/soul, consciousness, truth, knowledge, ethics, etc while a "theistic Christian worldview" makes better sense of these phenomena. It doesn't "prove" Christian theism in my opinion, but does make atheism implausible (or much less plausible).
What exactly is presuppositionalism, according to the presuppositionalists themselves? Here are some choice quotes from The Portable Presuppositionalist, which summarizes leading presuppositional apologists as Cornelius van Til, Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, and others:
Let's summarize the supposed "case for God" based on the "presuppositional" method outlined above:
I maintain there cannot be such a "Catholic presuppositionalist" given the statements above. It is inherently a Reformed and anti-Catholic method (Van Til spoke often of the "Romanists" and Arminians) of "Christian apologetics." It is subjective; it is circular; it is based on mere assertions; it is not an argument; it denigrates and confuses logic and reason with God; it rejects Thomas Aquinas; and it rejects the First Vatican Council which says that "God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason." The traditional Catholic approach is to start with logic, common sense, and reason, and end with God. These are linear arguments (not circular). God has indeed given us our reason since God is the God of truth and reason (Isaiah 1:18; 65:16), but we don't start with "God" as that would be circular and invalidate any argument for God.
Most Reformed don't even use the traditional arguments since they believe they fail to establish evidence or make a successful case for the Christian God. (Or they say these arguments only make God "possible" or "probable." But the Catholic position as defined in Vatican Council I is that God "can be known with certainty...by the natural power of human reason..."). Surprisingly, this book seems to follow these Reformed apologists in not using the traditional arguments. The authors go straight to Scripture as "God's Word" (p. 40ff) to establish (or assume) the "Christian worldview" vs. the "naturalist worldview." This seems to me is a Protestant fundamentalist approach to apologetics, not a traditional Catholic one. For traditional Catholic apologetics, see books like the following:
The book could have provided more standard arguments for God and against atheism, and could have directly dealt with the statements of the "new atheists" without appealing to Scripture. Although appealing to Scripture itself isn't circular, if we are just using the Bible to define the "Christian worldview." It only becomes circular when we use inspired Scripture as an argument to (somehow) establish or present the Bible as "God's Word" (which fallacy the full "presuppositionalist" apologist commits, as seen above: "To simply believe in God's Word because it is God's Word is to reason presuppositionally....").
Now I am not saying that Madrid / Hensley necessarily follow this fully defined "Reformed" version of "presuppositionalism." And there is a "presuppositionalist" type argument in Catholic apologetics that does come up all the time: when the Catholic challenges the "Bible-only" Christian to prove their "presupposition" (or assumption) of "sola scriptura" (Scripture alone) -- prove that by the Bible alone. In that sense, a "Catholic presuppositional" argument against "Scripture alone" is valid. The Catholic is merely asking the Protestant where the Bible teaches sola scriptura (their primary "presupposition").
Chapters 3 to 8 flesh out the author's "presuppositional" argument applying it to morality, ethics, consciousness (mind/body/soul), values, rights, love, free will, and knowledge. The book does make good arguments in favor of objective morality (from C.S. Lewis), free will, love, consciousness, etc which indeed make better sense if God exists. Also how can we know our reason or "cognitive faculties" are reliable if they are the result of a purely natural process? (Note especially Plantinga's "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" from his Warranted Christian Belief). These are parts of the "presuppositional" approach that may work.
A problem I can see is we all assume the laws of logic/reason are indeed sound. The law of non-contradiction stands, it cannot be "contradicted" (even if God doesn't exist). You cannot use logic/reason to argue against logic/reason. That would be circular, it wouldn't make sense. Cornelius van Til apparently agreed and believed (given our "presuppositions") that "all reasoning is...circular reasoning" -- some quotes from the father of presuppositionalism:
This argument of presuppositionalism, also called "the Transcendental Argument for God" (or TAG), might have the problem of the "Euthyphro dilemma" at least in terms of the "laws of logic" -- substituting "goodness" for "logic": Does God think in a certain way because it is logical to do so, or is thinking in a certain way logical because God does it? And, are the laws of logic (or morality, ethics, values, etc) based on God's thinking, or on his nature?
I am simply noting a possible rebuttal to the TAG (transcendental argument that the "laws of logic" depend on God) that is used in the book. This has been debated back and forth between Michael Martin (atheist philosopher, Boston Univ) and John Frame/Greg Bahnsen and other Reformed apologists at the largest atheist site, Infidels.org (The Secular Web). Martin even has a transcendental argument for the non-existence of God (TANG).
R.C. Sproul, a Reformed classical apologist, along with John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley, has written a book Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (1984). So this presuppositional approach has strong opponents even within the Reformed camp. Nevertheless, it is a popular argument among "Reformed" apologists (see Bahnsen's use of presuppositionalism vs. atheist Gordon Stein, and vs. atheist George Smith) which is why I find it surprising Madrid / Hensley use this. The whole "presuppositional" approach seems to be circular (quotes above). I much prefer the traditional (Catholic) arguments (First Cause/Kalam, Fine Tuning/Design, Moral Argument which is indeed covered well in the book, and the Resurrection argument as outlined by Craig, etc). I guess since these are well-known arguments, the authors wanted to try something "new" and use a "Catholic" version of the presuppositional approach. However, I never liked that argument. It is well critiqued and hammered by evangelical apologists in the book Five Views on Apologetics (Zondervan, 2000).
As an Amazon.com Catholic reviewer said, "My one disappointment with the book was the lack of any presuppositional apologetics that were specifically Catholic." This is basically my critique, since presuppositionalism is not a Catholic thing. It was an invention of the Reformed in the 1920s, 30s (Cornelius van Til, later Gordon Clark, Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, etc). It assumes "Christian theism" is true (God exists, the Bible is God's Word) without arguing for it (e.g. page 40ff in the book). A fully Catholic presuppositionalism should bring the CHURCH into the argument as well: the Bible is God's Word because the Catholic Church is God's Church, etc. However, I don't think you can get there without arguing for God first (the classical approach). Cardinal Avery Dulles writes in A History of Apologetics:
The Cardinal goes on to suggest some contemporary Catholic theologians (Rousselot, and Monden, who seek the credibility of the Christian religion from within the posture of faith) and even Vatican Council II "seems to endorse this style of argument" (see Documents of Vatican II, GS or "Church in the Modern World" 22).
One final point: proving atheism isn't true or is implausible / improbable doesn't mean the Christian God exists. If we have claims A and B, arguing claim B is NOT true, doesn't make claim A true. You still need an argument FOR claim A. Although the book does make a decent argument against claim B, more could be said in support of claim A:
There also may be claims C, D, E we are not considering. "Catholic Christian theism" is what the authors need to argue for. This is the same mistake creationists make in arguing AGAINST evolution. Even IF evolution were NOT true, or had poor scientific evidence, doesn't mean creationism IS true. Creationism needs scientific evidence of its own. Dawkins has pointed this out (along with Kenneth R. Miller), and I fully agree with him there.
There is the Kreeft / Tacelli Handbook of Christian (now Catholic) Apologetics which covers the 20+ arguments for God admirably, including all the main traditional ones, so perhaps Madrid / Hensley felt they should defend against atheism differently. Overall, The Godless Delusion is a decent book but might come down too hard on atheists, calling them foolish, deluded, absurd, "walking, talking contradictions," many of the same terms Dawkins calls religious believers.
text here expand, examples of name calling here
In answering Dawkins and the new atheists specifically, a few better (and more polite) books are:
Much of the language in the Madrid / Hensley book is simply not nice, they could have been more polite. That's why I prefer the calm, cool, collected critiques of Craig, Fr. Crean, and Ward contra Dawkins and the "new atheists."
*Note: "The God Who Isn't There" is a take off on the Reformed Francis Schaeffer's book The God Who Is There (some say Schaeffer was a "presuppositionalist") or could be a play on the title of an anti-Christian "Jesus Myth" DVD "The God Who Wasn't There." The Godless Delusion once mistakenly refers to Dawkin's book (The God Delusion) as "The God Who Isn't There" : "...according to the atheist-naturalist view of the cosmos, there simply is no creator-God out there to be known. This assertion is perfectly exemplified in the title of Richard Dawkins' recent book The God Who Isn't There" [sic] (page 26).
Five Views on Apologetics edited by Steven B. Cowan, Stanley N. Gundry, contributors:
The Defense of the Faith by Cornelius Van Til (defines "presuppositional" apologetics)
Atheism: A Philosophical Justification by Michael Martin (professional atheism)
Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig
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