A few weeks ago Phil Torres asked me if I would review his book A Crisis of Faith, which he said would present a strong case against the existence of God. I agreed to take a look at it. I appreciate opportunities like that. I had high hopes for the book, in view of the fact that he (reportedly) did a year of graduate (?) study in philosophy at Harvard.
He divides the book into short chapters, of which I read thirteen before I realized that there he had adopted a pattern that was never going to alter. The book (as far as I got into it) is a nicely readable but painfully predictable compendium of Internet Atheist straw men, circular reasoning, red herrings, and misrepresentations of Christianity.
I was hoping to be able to say something more positive than that, but then he wasn’t really inviting it himself. He calls not only for rejection but for actual elimination of religion. The reasons he gives (starting on page 105) are tendentious with respect to “the rights of homosexuals” and hugely historically inaccurate with respect to the rights of women. He gets downright kooky when he posits cybernetic “cognitive enhancement” with the suggestion that a world full of people with million-power accelerated brains will be a world of atheists.
If you think it’s unfair for me to simply call that “kooky” without explanation, I admit it and agree. Torres deserves it, at least once. He did precisely the same thing on page 45, calling Richard Swinburne’s explanation for the necessity of the Trinity (a discussion having to do with God’s eternal loving nature) “nutty, confused, inane” without even a hint of what he thought was wrong with it. (I’m willing to bet Swinburne made his case more rationally than Torres describes it.)
Back to the beginning: On page 1 he distorts the definition of “faith.” Maybe he doesn’t realize he’s doing that; it is after all, the standard definition provided by people who don’t experience faith, don’t encounter faith in real people who have faith, and don’t read the definitions written by people who are actually explaining what we mean when we use the word “faith.” It is the standard Internet atheist definition, in other words: “beliefs that one accepts in the absence of facts or in the presence of facts which contradict those beliefs.”
That’s page 1. It’s a very poor beginning. Faith in God is actually a fact-based confidence or trust in him as a person, that he will be for me today and for all in the future the same God that he has been for me and many others in the past. It is trust that God will continue to be a promise-keeper, as he has done in the past. It is confidence built on an awareness of genuine love–factual awareness.
On page 4 he parrots the standard Internet Atheist meme of pulling OT verses out of context concerning punishments for homosexuality. This is the approach by which atheists tell believers what we think, and complain that we must be stupid for not thinking what we think, while ignoring the reasons we give for thinking what we actually think instead of what they tell us we think.
On page 9 he writes,
The best answer that philosophers have come up with [for how we can know what we know, and know it with justification] … is that good reasons consist of evidence…. This position is called evidentialism. It follows that a belief based on faith will always be unreasonable.
I was very surprised to hear that evidentialism has won the day among epistemologists. How much evidence can anyone adduce to show that evidentialism is true?
I’ll skip a few pages so as not to bore you with all the possible examples I could provide. Here’s a smattering from the next several chapters.
On page 19 he falsely claims that religious evidence is generally (entirely?) subjective. That’s just false. It’s ignorant. Sorry, Mr. Torres, but there you go.
On page 20 he shows his ignorance of how Paul’s “revelation of Jesus Christ” was carefully and independently confirmed at the time.
On page 22 he notes the various religious views and says it’s statistically likely that any one of them must be false, therefore they’re all false. He forgets that atheistic naturalism fits into the same set of statistically testable worldviews. If his argument were valid (which it isn’t) it would prove atheistic naturalism false.
On page 22 he picks on the most easily rebutted Intelligent Design claim, one that ID advocates don’t even use, and calls it the strongest. Ignorance on display.
On page 44 he seems to be illustrating incoherence in the concept of God: Can God create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it? The answer is that this that this is laughably easy to answer. What was Torres thinking?.
On page 52 he takes a naturalistic perspective on neuroscience and free will and concludes that it’s impossible for God to have imparted free will to his creatures. Bulletin to Phil Torres: if you assume the world is the way it would be if there is no God, it will indeed be impossible to fit God into that world. If you assume there is no God, in other words, you have effectively assumed there is no God. That’s called begging the question.
On page 66 he displays a desperate ignorance with respect to how details in the Gospels are harmonized.
Throughout Chapter 13 he makes a big deal about textual problems that actually mean nothing whatsoever with respect to theology. I repeat: a big deal about absolutely nothing.
I gave up reading after Chapter 13. Enough is enough.
Phil Torres opened his book saying “I provide a wide range of arguments that, when combined, produce an overwhelmingly convincing case that belief in the supernatural is unreasonable and, in our technologically advance world, profoundly dangerous…. the route I take to arrive at these conclusions is, I hope, somewhat original.”
No, the route he took was familiar, hackneyed, yawn-producing. You can find it anywhere (everywhere, really) on the atheistic Internet. And his “overwhelmingly convincing case” is riddled through and through with fallacies, misinformation, and utter ignorance of answers theists have provided to his supposedly insoluble problems.
He and I exchanged emails en route to my agreeing to look at his book. It was a pleasant interchange. I would like to have said something more positive. The most positive I can say to him now is it would do him real good to learn his subject matter before he attempts to write about it—and that he won’t learn it from Internet Atheists who don’t know it either.