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A Book Review . . . Theism Reconsidered

November 28, 2022 Featured Today No Comments

By GARY BULLERT

Paul Herrick’s latest book, Philosophy, Reasoned Belief, and Faith (University of Notre Dame Press, 2022, 459 pages, $45.00), constitutes the capstone of a forty-year career as an instructor, professional philosopher, and author. It augments more synoptically his earlier book, Think with Socrates: An Introduction to Critical Thinking. Like Socrates, philosophy is a way of life, not a hobby.
Though Herrick didn’t walk barefoot through the streets of Seattle, engaging his fellow citizens in civil discourse (a perilous enterprise), he maintained for decades an active network of colleagues. This dialogue, exemplifying the Socratic Method, is alluded to throughout the book. It facilitated sharpening and clarifying his examination of classical/contemporary philosophical issues. These include proofs of God’s existence, the problem of evil, God and evolution, epistemology, the mind-body problem, free will, political theory, and ethics. Though marketed as an introductory college text, the book far eclipses standard boiler-plate narrative.
Drawing upon Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga, Herrick formulates a sophisticated yet digestible treatment which is also heavily referenced for subsequent examination in the context of current scholarly literature. He delineates the most formidable arguments on both sides of the issue. The cultural conflict is capsulized as between theism and naturalism. The popular paradigm, largely embraced by default, accords with materialism, hedonism, relativism, and secularism.
While candidly adopting theism, Herrick endeavors to facilitate a self-examination where students (readers) think for themselves. He advises that before judging an argument one should first understand it. This process can induce not just a respect for critics but an honest attempt to address and defend compellingly your point of view. One pedagogical exercise requires the reader to explain and summarize counterarguments. Rather than a polemic, Herrick concludes many chapters with “you decide.”
Science continues to provide a trump card for secular materialism. It presupposes the intelligibility of the universe. Scientists exercise the capacity to rationally deliberate, which necessitates human consciousness, free will, and a means to acquire knowledge. Reductionist materialism contradicts the basis for the scientific enterprise. Herrick concludes generally that scientific advances were not in conflict with religion; the universe’s intelligibility reinforces the plausibility of the theistic worldview.
An impressive number of famous scientists historically were theists. He incorporates a chapter on C.S. Lewis’ Argument from Reason as well as God and Morality. Herrick mirrors Lewis’ lucid prose and pithy analogous reasoning. Throughout the book, Herrick provides useful summaries of the arguments.
One example is the following on the Design Argument. 1. The laws of the material universe at the most fundamental level appear to be related in a significant way to mind, reason, intelligence. This is the data to be explained. 2. The data make sense on the hypothesis that the universe is the product of an intelligent mind. 3. The data make no sense on the atomist or chance hypothesis. 4. Therefore, intelligent design is the best explanation of the data. 5. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the material universe is the product of a superintending intelligence. After forthrightly posing the major criticisms, Herrick delineates the cumulative case for theism.
The target audience is not confined to philosophy instructors at Christian colleges. It would also convince parents that philosophy is actually “the most practical of disciplines, for it is aimed at attaining the most realistic worldview possible.”
Instead of parents sending their sons and daughters off to college with a credit card, a better option would be to provide them with a copy of Herrick’s book. Such an investment is the best antidote to the poisonous learning environment on most campuses.
(Gary Bullert is an author and a professor of political science.)

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