Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith by C. Stephen Evans is part of the “Contours of Christian Philosophy” series. This book in the series deals with philosophy of religion, defined as critical reflection on religious beliefs.
The book begins by exploring various approaches to philosophy of religion. These include the opposite approaches of fideism (the claim that faith is the precondition for any correct thinking about religion) and neutralism (the insistence that thinking about religion must be presuppositionless). The author settles on an approach to philosophy of religion viewed as a process of critical dialog, where reason is employed with a willingness to test one’s commitments.
Chapters two and three discuss theism and natural theology. Theism is defined among the other “isms,” such as polytheism, henotheism, monotheism, pantheism, panentheism, dualism, deism, absolute monism, agnosticism, atheism, and naturalism. The theistic concept of God and His attributes are discussed, culminating in Evans’ brief definition:
God is an eternal, self-existent spirit, unchangeable at least in his basic character and purposes, who exists necessarily. He is a personal being who is omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect. God is the Creator of all things other than himself, and he is omnipresent in his creation, though without a body.1
Before moving on to the arguments of natural theology (the attempt to see what can be known about God independent of any special religious authority2), the author discusses the use of proofs for God and what makes them successful.
Evans surveys the classical arguments for God’s existence: ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral – noting that there is no such things as “the” cosmological argument, or “the” teleological argument – these are just kinds of arguments. There are many specific cosmological arguments, as well as many specific teleological and moral arguments, etc.
Evans presents interesting angles when discussing the arguments, showing their merits, weaknesses, and uses that go beyond their main goal. For instance, he admits that the ontological argument may hold little sway with most, but it still can serve other purposes:
The argument also serves the function of “smoking out” the atheist. If the argument is valid, then the person who wishes to deny that God exists must claim that God’s existence is impossible. That may be a stronger claim than the person may initially have wished to make.3
He goes on to explain how this same principle can be applied to all the theistic arguments:
The arguments can be rejected, but the person who rejects them pays a price. For to deny a proposition is logically equivalent to asserting another proposition. To deny p is to assert not-p. In some cases the assertions required to reject theistic arguments may be troublesome ones.4
The author does an excellent job in summarizing the arguments by explaining their history briefly, outlining examples and objections, and showing their merits. He ends this section by discussing the value and limits of natural theology.
Evans switches gears and moves on to discuss religious experience, revelations, and miracles. He explores what religious experiences are and how they are experienced. Are they direct? Are they mediated? Are they veridical and how can they be verified? He notes the evidential value of religious experience:
Indeed, the existence of the community of religious believers who claim to have experience of God provides evidence of God’s reality even for those who personally do not have such experiences. A good deal of what humans know is not gained through firsthand experience but through the testimony of others. Why should not this be the case for religious knowledge as well?5
After investigating various views on revelation, the author tackles the question of miracles: Is it reasonable to believe in miracles? He sufficiently counters Hume’s two classic arguments against the belief in miracles before looking at the topic of special revelation.
At this point, the remainder of the book (the last quarter) deals with some main objections to theism. These include modernity, certain questions of science (and scientism), the argument from evil, the issue of religious language, and pluralism. Although these will not be summarized here, Evans’ succinct presentations of these issues and his subsequent critiques are to the point and excellent. One notable sidebar includes a discussion of the difference between logical doubt and existential doubt – and this book contains many such nuggets.
For those interested in philosophy of religion, C. Stephen Evans presents an excellent introduction. For the apologist, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith will serve as useful resource on the existence of God, the rationality of belief, the main objections to theism. Evans’ writing style is very readable and the length of the book (less than 200 pages) makes it very accessible to the student. This book is recommended along with the rest of the “Contours of Christian Philosophy” series.
1 C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 37.
2 Ibid., p. 38.
3 Ibid., p. 50.
5 Ibid., p. 95.