Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Three books

Sand in the Gears has an interesting challenge:

So, here’s what I’m asking. If you are a leftist, what three books do you believe would best persuade thoughtful people who disagree with you that they are in error? And if you are a conservative or libertarian, what three books do you recommend to thoughtful leftists? In each case, assume the reader is intelligent and educated. Assume as well that he has a life, which means you probably shouldn’t roll up in here with Mises’s Human Action. Unless you really want to.

A few responses have been made here, here, here, and here. He's obviously talking about politics, but I'd like to redirect it to religion. What three books would you recommend to people who disagree with your religious beliefs, whatever they are, and why? They can be academic or popular-level, but exclude the Bible and other holy books (that includes God's Philosophers). Leave your answers in the comments, at the Quodlibeta forum, or write a post on your own blog linking back here. I tentatively offer this as my list of popular-level books:

Six Modern Myths about Christianity and Western Civilization by Philip J. Sampson. Most people have many misconceptions about Christianity that keeps them from being able to consider it as a viable worldview. In this excellent and heavily footnoted book, Sampson goes over Galileo, Darwin, the environment, missionaries, the repression of the human body, and witches to effectively remove these as potential stumbling blocks.

Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. There are plenty of good books on general apologetics, but I would choose this one because it has the most breadth of any other I've read, and because it is the most accessible.

The Son Rises by William Lane Craig. Again, there are plenty of books defending the resurrection, many of which are excellent. I would choose this one because Craig's argument is very simple and straightforward: there are several facts about Jesus' alleged resurrection that are accepted as demonstrably historical by the consensus of scholarship (his burial, the empty tomb, Jesus' post-mortem appearances, and the early belief in the resurrection) and the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead is the best explanation of them. By basing his arguments on facts that are acknowledged by the scholarly community, Craig is able to present a case based on premises that are not controversial. His conclusion, of course, is controversial, but he explains well why the resurrection is the best explanation of these four facts.

The reason for choosing these three is because the first one clears the way, the second one explains the reasons for accepting Christianity in broad strokes, and the third gives a detailed (but not difficult) defense of one of Christianity's central claims. Obviously, there are many other subjects that I would like to cover -- Christianity and science, Christianity and culture, catalogues of worldviews, common objections to Christianity, etc. (I posted a longer list here) -- but if I had to limit it to three books, I would probably choose the above.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


Matko said...

Only giving three books is highly limiting, but I'll try:

Richard Swinburne's Existence of God - for establishing that there is a God.

Richard Swinburne's Resurrection of God Incarnate - By this, I establish that the God that made us is the Christian God.

Daniel Howard-Snyder's Evidential Argument from Evil. - Problem of Evil is the greatest obstacle for people to come to Christ. Howard-Synder shows you can believe in the God of classical theism despite horrendous and despicable evils inhabiting our world.

Addendum (next titles are optional supplements or can be used for replacements of aforementioned titles):

Søren Kierkegaard's Sickness Unto Death - Analytic philosophy or religion can bring you so far. You need complete and utter disarmament. The Dane strikes at the very core.

John Earman's Hume's Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles - To finally blast Hume's argument to oblivion.

Anything from Nietzsche - To show the only viable alternative.

Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica - I just added this because I'm catholic. 0=)

James said...

I second the Handbook of Christian Apologetics. I'd add Kreeft's Christianity for Modern Pagans (based on Pascal's Pensees) And finally, C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce.

Sceptic said...

I don't think Swinburne is a good choice. Outside Christian circles, his use of logic is shown to be deeply flawed and he has been taken to task for the totally inappropriate use of logic in cases such as the historical evidence for the resurrection. I think that this had its effect. In Cornwell and McGhee's Philosophers and God, published this year (Continuum) there is only one reference to him and that in a footnote. Many people consider it a deep mystery why he is taken as seriously as he is, and OUP has even been taken to task for publishing him.

Humphrey said...

Hi Sceptic

Out of interest, which books would you recommend for theism (or atheism)?

sceptic said...

Try Anthony Kenny, What I Believe and The Unknown God -at a philosophical level way beyond Swinburne. Many of the essays in Philosophers without Gods, Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (Ed. Louise Antony) are also excellent and there is a good range of essays in Philosophers and God, already cited.

Timothy Mills said...

A fascinating challenge. I don't tend to try to persuade people, but I am very interested in helping people to understand my position.

To that end, I would include a good book on humanism, such as Richard Norman's On Humanism.

If my interlocutor didn't accept evolution, I would be tempted to include Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale. (I recommend it even to people who accept evolution, because it's an awesome pilgrimage through the details of our biological history.) However, I suspect that just the author's name would be a roadblock to persuasion. So I'd probably try something by Carl Sagan (Demon-Haunted World) instead.

And I'd recommend a practical book on skeptical thinking, which is more important to me in terms of persuading others than religious belief or non-belief, though the two are of course related. Probably Ben Goldacre's Bad Science.

(Matko, I'm surprised that you suggest that Nietzsche is "the only viable alternative". While I don't know Nietzsche, I guarantee you that if you approach persuasion with that attitude, you are unlikely to succeed. At least, you won't persuade anyone who has experience in the actual, modern atheist community.)

Humphrey said...

The Ancestors Tale is by far the best of Dawkins's book. It's an excellent narrative and he doesn't do too much preaching.

You should defiantly read Nietzsche, especially something like 'On the genealogy of morality'.

Jim S. said...

Sceptic, I'm sceptical of your repudiation of Swinburne. In my experience he's generally considered one of the top philosophers around.

Tim, I think Matko's description of Nietzsche as the only viable alternative (to Christianity or Platonism) is based on Nietzsche's own take on these things. He claimed that without God all metaphysics goes out the window -- "metaphysics" meaning any sense of about-ness, and this would include any true-false statement. Thus atheist's who argue at any level are essentially using Christian/Platonic tools to attack Christianity/Platonism.

Of course you can reject Nietzsche's take on this. From an analytic point of view it's hard to see how Nietzsche could formulate any kind of statement if all statements are invalid. But if you want, check out his essay "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense".

Matthew said...

Outside Christian circles, his use of logic is shown to be deeply flawed and he has been taken to task for the totally inappropriate use of logic in cases such as the historical evidence for the resurrection.

Is this implying that christians don't want to accept that Swinburne's logic is demonstrably flawed? That's a lot to buy.

ushas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ushas said...

Apologies, I deleted my earlier comment by accident. My point was that Sceptic is being overly hard on Swinburne. He has his critics (I'm not wildly keen) but his ideas are taken seriously by most of his peers. Sceptic gives a false impression.
That was all...

Timothy Mills said...

Jim, thanks for the clarification. I've finally got around to reading the Nietzsche essay you mentioned. I confess that I was baffled - I didn't see anything familiar to me as an atheist and humanist, and in general it seemed like a weakly argued screed rather than a carefully-shaped philosophical argument.

I guess I'll defer my application to become part of the new Nietzschean race. For now.

To anyone who thinks Nietzsche represents "the only viable alternative", I would reiterate my recommendation of Richard Norman's On Humanism. Also worth a look is Julian Baggini's What's It All About?. Both of these books were discussed in a humanist philosophy book group I was a member of a few years ago - I think they are representative of the philosophical outlook of at least a good portion of self-identified atheists/humanists.