2009-02-16

“God, Actually” by Roy Williams (1)

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by Neil Godfrey

godActuallySubtitle is “Why God probably exists, Why Jesus was probably divine, and Why the ‘rational objections’ to religion are unconvincing”

When I first saw dozens of copies of this new book piled high and red near the entrance of my local ABC bookshop (Australian, not American, broadcasting) I was compelled to investigate. First thing I noticed from the back cover was that the author was a lawyer. That reminded me, worryingly, of another lawyer’s attempt to prove Christianith with “Who Moved the Stone?” That book was so riddled with logical and historical-methodological fallacies that it has left me wondering why a publisher would want to advertize that yet another apologetic book was coming once again from the same profession that had failed so dismally once before to go beyond talking to the choir.

Since my interest has been largely in the historical evidence for Christian origins I turned quickly to where Roy Williams discusses “the historical Jesus”. Unfortunately, he does not appear to engage with the critique of the normal things (the usual texts and even archaeological (sic!)) evidence for Jesus’ existence, but brushes it all aside under the collective rubric of ” G. A. Wells and others” who are merely said to strike R.M. as “too clever by half”.

A brief discussion of Michael Onfray‘s critique is included, but his main fault appears to be that his is “[t]o put it mildly . . . a minority view.” (p. 153)

Williams then proceeds to repeat the normal routine arguments for the existence of Jesus found on any fundamentalist website or that are asserted (never proved) in general Christian texts.

Much in his book is also a response to recent atheist publications by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

This was my first encounter with Roy William’s book, and since his arguments on the historicity so disappointed me, not engaging at all with the serious critiques against both their logic and historical methodologies, I didn’t think anything more of it. And I had little confidence in how he would have handled works by Dawkins et al given what I had seen of his treatment of this side of the argument, including the case made by Onfray.

But some months later I still see this book at many more bookshops, not only in Australia, and so I had another look. I even went so far as to break my promise not to bother to buy a copy.

So here I have it, and only need time to read it more completely (alongside many others on my list) and I hope I can respond in some detail to some of the points made in this book — if only for Australian lay audiences who may not so familiar with much of the scholarship and serious critiques of Jesus’ historicity as others in the home countries of Europe and North America where much of the debate and publishing on these topics takes place.

Will try to get to continuing with this and other posts in coming months.

Meanwhile, to comment on one specific argument I read while resting in the Singapore heat and humidity yesterday:

Why God cannot allow Children to avoid an early death

Roy Williams writes in part:

Imagine a world in which, say, no one could di before the age of twelve; a world in which a supposedly more loving God ‘spared the innocent’, at least for a fixed time. Would that be a better world? No. The possibility that such a world could work satisfactorily really does not hold up for a moment. Children at a certain age would be known to be indestructible, and with what results? Parents would not care for them so painstakingly, nor love them with such protective tenderness, all kinds of monstrous evils (short of death) would be all the more likely to be visited upon them, by their parents and by others. (p.220)

Fact: Anthropologists know all too well, and it has been a fact of history since history began, that there have been many cultures where a parent (especially a father) is less likely to care for a child until it has survived past a certain age and has proven itself more likely to be a candidate for long-term survival!

It is the prevalence of early death to so many children throughout so much of human existence that has been a factor in withdrawal of deep parental love. Many parents have too often sought to avoid the pain of emotional attachment and the wasted time and energy on a child until they can be sure it will survive in the long term.

It is the evil of the fact of too much early death that has bred this evil.

Parents don’t love a child, or do so “painstakingly” or with “such protective tenderness” because of the fear they might otherwise die, but because they are a part and extension and fruit of their own very selves, and for whom they naturally wish all the best in the world, for the sake of a happy life both now and in the future.

Allen & Unwin blurb of this book.

ABC publisher blurb of this

Author’s blurb

Adelaide Arts Festival blurb

Christian bookstore blurb

Christian propagandist site blurb

Richard Dawkins net discussion

Christian blog discussions — blog 1, blog 2

Good Reads web discussion

LibraryThing details

(let no one say i don’t give the other side a good chance to be heard! 😉

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Neil Godfrey

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  • Steven Carr
    2009-02-17 20:32:51 GMT+0000 - 20:32 | Permalink

    ‘Children at a certain age would be known to be indestructible, and with what results?’

    People would believe in God?

  • Valentinus
    2009-04-10 06:59:44 GMT+0000 - 06:59 | Permalink

    Williams is a very bad book, true. Can we dispose of one long-cherished social-science illusion? Ever since the work of Linda Pollock (if not before) we have known that parental love is unrelated to offspring survival rates. There is abundant evidence of parents of large families, for example, despairing when a single infant dies. Motherhood studies further confirm the endurance of these emotional bonds.

    Nothing to do with the theology, of course, good or bad. But a myth that has persisted since Aries and now merits oblivion.

    • 2009-04-10 08:31:13 GMT+0000 - 08:31 | Permalink

      Research establishes the fact, and personal experience illustrates it — I have seen parents of 11 children grieve and suffer as long and painfully over a tragedy befalling one of their children as parents of one or two.

  • Clive Williams
    2010-07-13 09:02:21 GMT+0000 - 09:02 | Permalink

    This review of his book may be of interest as well.

    http://aufiles.creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j23_1/j23_1_35-39.pdf

    • 2010-07-14 22:07:47 GMT+0000 - 22:07 | Permalink

      This is indeed an excellent review. Thanks so much for posting the link here.

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