Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy by Greg Ganssle is an introduction to philosophy that is extremely accessible and readable, while at the same time not sacrificing depth or substance. This brief review will outline the overall content the book for prospective readers of this really good philosophy intro.
Ganssle begins with the question: Why bother thinking about God? That is, before doing the heavy lifting, the author lays a good foundation for the reasons one should do serious thinking about the question of God and all that it entails. One of the reasons to think about God is that it affects nearly every area of one’s life. It is also one of the foundational questions explored in philosophy, which, the author proposes, is “the rational investigation of the most basic questions.”(152) Ganssle also discusses the tools of philosophy and good reasons for doing philosophy. He emphasizes that thinking and faith go hand in hand.
One of the first things Ganssle deals with in his introductory chapters is the idea that you can’t prove the existence of God. This idea, he explains, tells us more about the nature of proof than it does about the existence of God. This leads to a discussion of what constitutes a good argument and what can be considered proof. The author dovetails this naturally into a chapter on faith: what it is, what constitutes belief, and knowledge. Ganssle explores the question of neutrality as well; can we really be open-minded when exploring these issues if we already hold to a particular position. This ends part one of the book and moves on to reasons to believe in God.
Part two consists of ten chapters exploring the existence of God and arguments in favor of it. The question of why there exists anything at all, the cause of the universe, first causes, design and designers, darwin and design, the fine-tuning of the universe, moral realities, and a cumulative case approach. These chapters are not designed to give comprehensive treatments of any of these arguments. Rather, they are very readably introductions to the various strands of argument that form the overall case for God’s existence. It should be emphasized here that as a writer, Ganssle has the ability to keep complex subjects accessible to the reader. Jargon, if used at all, is introduced and explained carefully. Ideas are unpacked with common-sense examples. His style is conversational, as if he is speaking to the reader over coffee. This will makes part two on the existence of God a much smoother read for those new to the arguments.
Part three is on God and evil. The author doesn’t only lay out the case in favor of God, but also shows what the strongest philosophical arguments are against God’s existence. This section includes a discussion on evil and how it can be reconciled with the existence of God, exploration of the topic of freedom and determinism, the accusation that there is not enough evidence for God’s existence, and more. Ganssle also tries to explore the nuances of various positions and arguments without overcomplicating the issues.
Part four is entitled “What is God Like?” and looks at what God can do, what God can know, and whether or not God has communicated. This is a introductory look at some of the attributes of God such as omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Part of this exploration includes the question of whether God can know the future. The idea of God’s knowledge inevitably leads to questions of the nature of time, so Ganssle dips into one of his areas of expertise and briefly explores some of the main philosophical views on the nature of time as it relates to the existence of God. And finally, the author talks about the concept of revelation and whether or not we have good reasons to believe that God has spoken — and how He has spoken.
The book concludes with a section with suggestions for further reading. What makes this section unique is that Ganssle doesn’t just provide a topical list of books — he also explains the reasons each book is on the list and what the reader will find helpful in each of them. Now this is an author who is teaching well through his writing.
In sum, Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy (which has been used as a textbook in philosophy at various schools) can be highly recommended for beginners as a great place to start when studying philosophy.