God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason

God and the PhiliosophersGod and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, ed. Thomas Morris

I really wanted to like this book. Discussing the intersection of faith and reason is a topic I’m intensely interested in, for one thing. For another, I’m interested in philosophy but much of philosophy currently seems to be focused on an atheistic belief system, and disproving faith and free will, so I was interested in reading a different view point, from philosophers who have struggled with this personally and professionally.

Sadly, I was highly disappointed. While the book says it’s about the “Reconciliation of Faith and Reason” it’s really about religion and philosophy, and just the one religion—Christianity—and primarily a more conservative version of it at that. There was, I believe, one essay by an Orthodox Jew, but that’s it. It’s not that it’s a problem that it was really only from the Christian point of view, but people should be up front. I do get irritated when ‘faith’ or ‘interfaith’ or ‘religion’ are used when one only means ‘Christianity.’

The essays, being written largely from the perspective of people from the same faith, and from the same, traditional, branch of that faith, working in similar institutions with similar secular (at best) and anti-theist (at worst) leanings, covered much of the same material. From my perspective, the book became quite repetitive quite quickly. I had highlighted a few passages in the first couple of essays, or found something worth pondering, and then found that same point returned to again and again over the course of the book. It droned on without most essays introducing anything new.

My last complaint is regarding the arguments themselves that were used. The essays largely covered two broad topics: the first, why the author him or herself believed in God and was a practicing Christian and what that meant to them as working philosophers, and the second, why would anyone believe in an omnipotent and benevolent God when there are so many reasons not to, particularly when one considers how many bad things happen to good people? A good question, to be sure, and one about which there have been literally millennia of discussions.

The thing is, almost all of the essays in the book focus on the problem of evil. How and why would evil exist in the world? People are horrible to each other. How, then, can we believe in the Christian God? For me, though, this question is not of very much interest. I understand how it can pose an issue to some, but there is a very obvious answer: God gave us free will, which means that sometimes humans are free to choose terrible things. If one believes in free will, which I do, then of course some people can be evil. And, in fact, I think a belief in free will is a strong argument for a belief in God or gods of some sort. After all, if there is free will it means there is something beyond a deterministic view of the world, something to ‘us’ beyond just chemicals and particles. And if there is some part of us that is beyond our physical, properties, then there is something to everything beyond the physical, measurable properties. In my mind, the concepts of God and of free will are inextricably linked.

So, several essays on why a writer still believes in God when there is evil in the world didn’t interest me as much as it might have interested others. (And even for those who are interested in it, I think this would have been too many essays on the same topic with the same conclusion-that we must believe anyway and remember that Christ is in the suffering. A very Christian answer, and another place where they could have benefited from a variety of theists.) By contrast, there is a question along these lines that interests me: why do bad things that are entirely outside of human control happen? If there is a benevolent, merciful and loving God why are there volcanoes, and tornadoes, and hurricanes, why are there plagues and why does cancer exist and why does anyone ever die in childbirth? This doesn’t have anything to do with free will, and for me has always posed a much larger problem in the ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ question. And I don’t have a great answer, and would have been interested to read one or two philosophers –not all of them—grappling with that. Although perhaps others would have found that boring. I don’t want to criticize a book for not being the book I wish had been written, but I was surprised that this aspect of suffering barely received a mention.

In summary, God and the Philosophers was full of essays that may have been interesting on their own. Each one of them was fine, although I didn’t find any particularly intriguing. However, altogether, these essays became repetitive. I just don’t think it needed to be a book.

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