A Shot Of Faith To The Head Paperback – Apr 16 2012
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About the Author
Mitch Stokes is a Fellow of Philosophy at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame under the direction of Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen. At Yale, he earned an M.A. in religion under the direction of Nicholas Wolterstorff. He also holds an M.S. in mechanical engineering and, prior to his philosophy career, worked for an international engineering firm where he earned five patents in aeroderivative gas turbine technology. He and his wife, Christine, have four children.
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Top Customer Reviews
You'll find a variety of books on how to go about apologetics, but Mitch Stokes goes the extra mile in bringing you deeper into the intellect. With pointers at the end of each chapter, and a smooth progression from the first chapter to the last, you'll equip yourself at a higher level intellectually to grapple with the most difficult of non-believers. It is with a gracious heart that I recommend this book to any serious student of apologetics and philosophy; it is an invaluable resource and an assisting tool for the primary discipline of evangelism. Mitch Stokes, you've written what is now one of my favourite academic books.
I've received this complimentary book from the Thomas Nelson Publishing House through the Book Sneeze program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.
As part of helping to equip Christians to be able to defend their faith, the author introduces the reader to the work of Alvin Plantinga, and to a lesser degree, Nicholas Wolterstorf and Peter van Inwagen. These are three very intelligent and articulate Christians who also happen to be stellar philosophers by anyone's measure and who successfully defend their Christianity in the academy. One of the key ideas Stokes brings forward is the idea of warrant. Plantinga argues (and Stokes boils it down for the reader) that there is reasonable warrant for belief in God and that, far from what the new atheists claim, and which they themselves cannot live consistently with, not everything ought to be disbelieved until proven by incontrovertible and observable fact. Stokes shows how Plantinga argues convincingly that there is much in life and thought that people, including the new atheists, take on the testimony of someone else or by the authority of a document (like the time and place of their birth, or who their parents are).Read more ›
Shortly into the book, Mr. Stokes accuses atheists of not being "humble." What does he call the Vatican with its billions of dollars of wealth, the huge churches in the United States, the 60-foot crosses by the highways, the blockbuster movies about Noah and heaven, the robes, the gold crosses, the constant begging for money for the glory of God, and the call to arms for religious war? Is this what Mr. Stokes thinks of as humble? Apparently, he does.
I haven't got enough time or space to point out all of the poor arguments and comments in this book. If you like to have faith without question, then this is the book for you. If you like to question and think about what a writer is saying, then this book will frustrate you with its sad logic.
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Over the past decade, New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor J. Stenger have answered these questions affirmatively. Their best-selling books have promoted the ideas that Christian faith is based on insufficient evidence; that in light of scientific advances, God is a "failed hypothesis"; and that suffering--when not actively caused by believers--disproves God's existence.
Stokes disagrees. Building on the philosophical insights of Alvin Plantinga (who blurbs the book), Stokes argues that theistic belief is rational, that science points to a designed universe (and where there's a design, there's a Designer), and that the problem of evil actually points to an incoherence in atheism (for how can there be moral law without a Moral Lawgiver?). One-sentence summaries don't do justice to the nuances of Stokes's arguments, but they point in the right general direction.
Although New Atheists can read this book with profit, its subtitle points to Stokes's intended readers, namely, Christians. He aims to help them "be a confident believer in an age of cranky atheists" (and I would've added, "atheist cranks"). It is less a book of apologetics, then, than a book about apologetics. And that's a shame, for the Christian book market is saturated with apologetics books written for Christians, and Stokes writes clearly and winsomely enough to directly engage nonbelieving readers. Nevertheless, the book is still worth reading, if only for its discussion of evidentialism.
In epistemology, evidentialism is the notion that, "to be rational, a belief must be supported by sufficient evidence." The "evidentialist objection" to theistic belief is that it "is not supported by sufficient evidence and therefore is not rational." Some Christian apologists subscribe to evidentialism and think Christianity crosses the evidentialist threshold for rationality. Following Plantinga, however, Stokes argues that evidentialism itself is self-defeating, since the chain of evidence for it--or for any other belief--will be circular or infinitely regressive, or will terminate in a basic belief that requires no further evidence. Since circular reasoning and infinite regresses do not produce knowledge, for evidentialism to work, it must be grounded in a basic belief, a belief which requires no evidence. Which means that evidentialism is a belief that doesn't have sufficient evidence. Obviously, that's a problem for evidentialism.
Thankfully, there's a better way to understand rationality. Again, following Plantinga, Stokes argues that "a rational belief is one formed by a properly functioning cognitive faculty operating in the appropriate environment." If, for example, my eyes are working properly and there is enough daylight for me to see clearly, I will form the belief, when I look out my window, that there are cars parked outside my office building. I don't need to infer this belief from other beliefs or provide a chain of evidence for it. Such a perception is a basic belief. There are many other kinds of beliefs that are basic in this way: beliefs formed on memory, for example, or testimony or personal experience. Perhaps, Stokes argues (again following Plantinga), belief in God is also such a basic belief that doesn't need an argument, let alone "sufficient evidence," to render it rational for the believer.
As Stokes point out, basic beliefs have potential "defeaters." Perhaps, for example, my perception of cars in the parking lot below has been caused by a holograph that my coworkers pasted to my windows. Stokes interprets science and evil as potential defeaters for belief in God, but offers arguments for thinking that both potential defeaters are unsuccessful, based on the design of the universe and existence of a moral law. While a believer can be rational in the absence of such arguments or evidences for faith, Stokes nonetheless thinks arguments can be helpful in clearing away objections and in shoring up a Christian's faith.
How, then, should a Christian use this book? In two ways, one intended by Stokes and another not. The intended way is as a manual in Christian apologetics. The unintended way is as an introduction to Alvin Plantinga's epistemology and philosophical theology. Either way, I highly recommend this book to Christian readers.
The book is divided into three sections, each one addressing a different argument for atheism: that belief in God is irrational, that science has shown that God doesn't exist, and that the existence of evil in the world shows that God doesn't exist.
One of Stokes's central tasks here is deconstructing evidentialism - the argument that any belief must be supported by sufficient evidence to be rational, and which is used to criticize belief in God. This is probably the highlight of the book. In fact, Stokes generally does an excellent job of picking apart atheistic arguments. He doesn't do near as good a job, however, on his pro-Christian arguments, which are often too cursory. That this book was put together solely with Christians in mind makes this understandable (Stokes explicitly assumes a Christian worldview on the part of the reader), but it also means that this isn't really a book you can hand to your atheist friend to read.
While he covers a wide range of atheist scientists and philosophers in his discussions, Stokes leans too heavily on Plantinga for his pro-Christian arguments. A Shot of Faith to the Head thusly serves well enough as an introduction to Plantinga, but it would have been nice to get some other perspectives. However, Plantinga is always Stokes's go-to guy.
A Shot of Faith to the Head will be accessible to any reasonably educated person without a philosophy degree, but it may prove a great deal of work for the reader, as the philosophical and logical concepts here tend to be complex. The summaries at the end of each chapter are helpful in this regard, but the reader will still have a great deal of cognitive processing to do.
On the whole, Stokes's refutation of various atheistic arguments and defense of a rational belief are solid, and A Shot of Faith to the Head is a challenging but worthwhile book.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
It turns out, however, that only one or two layers beneath the overly confident surface lies a surfeit of good ideas. With a little guided and informed examination it is revealed that their bark does not measure up to their bite. Mitch Stokes' book is that examination, and is a very well-guided tour of the problems with the so-called new atheists.
But the book begins in an unexpected place. In fact, I'm not sure I have read a non-technical or popular level book on Christian thought or apologetics that begins where he does. You might expect a book like this to open by dealing with the major arguments for God's existence or the reliability of Scripture or even a blow-by-blow examination of the new atheist's arguments. Instead, Stokes begins with the issues of argument, reason, and knowledge in the first place. Specifically he uses the epistemological work of Alvin Plantinga to argue against the evidentialism, Enlightenment rationalism, and scientific provincialism inherent (and necessary) to the work of the new atheists. In essence, he pulls the rug out from underneath their entire scheme.
From there Stokes deals with what are probably the two most popular and potent attacks on the faith - the assertion that science has `disproved God' and the problem of evil. Both sections are rich with table-turning insight and are profitable for anyone who has confronted these arguments or even doubted because of them.
If you are accustomed to a Christian apologetic being primarily about various arguments, you might end up a little frustrated with Stokes' take on their role and usefulness. He does not get rid of the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, but he does see a need for good arguments to bolster the reasonableness of faith. If I have a quibble with the book it is that I might place more emphasis on the power and usefulness of the arguments themselves, but that did not get in the way of the value of this work for me.
If you are worried because you don't know what any of that means, you are in luck. Though his book will force you to think and slow down a bit, it is entirely readable and accessible if you are ready to do so. I thoroughly enjoyed discovering this book, its treatment of Plantinga's ideas, and it thorough treatment of the new atheists and their arguments.
Stokes states that he wrote this book to encourage the believer and even possibly help anyone toying with doubt, and I think he has done a wonderful job.
Stokes begins each chapter with a slew of questions (sometimes by the pageful), and evenhandedly builds the case for atheism, or mostly the popular case for it. I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book, which focused on epistemology (which is just a three-dollar word for the study of how we know what we know). He presents both arguments and assumptions of atheism, many of which involve being angry at a God who isn't there, or being angry at Christians whom they see as refusing to let go of outdated philosophies.
The irony that Stokes presents so well is that atheism cannot account for its own belief system. What has evolution to do with beliefs, let alone account for them? Why have we any more reason to respect the convictions of the human brain than we do the convictions of, say, a monkey's brain?
Also, the evidence that most atheists demand of Christians for the beliefs they hold is in many ways an irrational demand. Evidence is in no way a precursor to most beliefs that we hold. How do I know that I live in the United States, or that I was born in the city of my birth, or that man has landed on the moon? I must accept these facts, along with an infinite amount of others, based on the testimony of others. In fact, I must even rely on the testimony of my own senses.
All this and more is found in this exciting and engaging book by Mitch Stokes. I highly recommend it.
My thanks to Booksneeze for providing me with this complimentary review copy of "A Shot of Faith to the Head."
That's why I like Dr. Mitch Stokes. Rather than sorting the New Atheists' hash, he recognizes that it's more important for Christians to have sufficient insight and mental hygiene to hold their own in a discussion. Drawing primarily on his mentor, Alvin Plantigna, Stokes brings Christians up to date on spiritual philosophy. This is no small task: as Stokes makes plain, Christian philosophy, once left for dead, is now a thriving enterprise.
Like Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher) and Alister McGrath, Stokes is a former atheist who could not sustain his unbelief. Having studied philosophy and religion after a successful career in engineering, he is supremely qualified to stand in the gap between religious and secularist mindsets, translating each for the other. And, though he definitely takes sides in that debate, he treats even those he opposes with remarkable fairness.
In the first part of his treatise, he discusses epistemology, the philosophical study of how we know what we know. This matters because many prominent atheists decry theism as an irrational proposition which flies in the face of supported reason. Stokes discusses what reason really looks like, as well as the limitations humans routinely place upon their own faculties. Some people try to constrain reason by simply declaring certain topics off limits a priori.
In fairness, atheist adherents probably don't know they have done this. Like a fish explaining water, these advocates have been so immersed in their position for so long that they see it as eminently reasonable. And has happens in such situations, disagreement looks like unreason, even when it's not. Stokes shows, in several diverse ways, why the evidence does not lead to the conclusion, and why belief in God is as reasonable as its opposite number.
Following on that, Stokes graduates onto the two most common objections to religion: that science renders God moot, and that evil contradicts the presence of a good God. But in both cases, the premises fail to sustain the conclusions. Stokes approaches both questions from multiple angles, allowing both believers and unbelievers to examine why we cannot consider atheist reasoning as ironclad as its proponents claim.
Consider, first, science. The feud between them did not arise until very late; Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton were deeply religious. (Darwin, a parson by training, vacillated throughout his life.) Early conflicts, like that surrounding Galileo and his trial, turned not on whether science refuted God, but whether Galileo's science accorded with Christianity better than Aristotle's. Even the Vatican now concedes it does.
More important, science, by creating explanations that do not follow inevitably from observation, takes a theological tack. Whether we believe our universe was designed or arose through mechanical principles, we cannot discuss origins without taking some position on God. (Bonhoeffer realized this eighty years ago.) Modern physics has reached a point of dependence on principles which exist outside nature, and are therefore supernatural.
Stokes does less justice to the problem of evil. I fear he takes too much as written. He makes the point, like many before him, that we have no concept of evil without absolute standards, which imply a First Cause. Even Nietzsche, nobody's theist, fled atheism because it lacked moral foundation. But Stokes ignores recent atheist strides in codifying non-religious morality.
Unlike the perennially frustrating Hank Hanegraaff, who tries to instill faith by outmaneuvering doubt, Stokes does not try to convince others to believe. Creating faith is, by Christian reckoning, the exclusive domain of the Spirit. Rather, Stokes attempts to create head space in which belief is simply possible. Christianity, for him, is as much intellectual as religious, and he wants believers to take faith as seriously as any other mental proposition.
Stokes admits few people have ever been converted to theism by weight of argument. But that does not absolve Christians from having solid intellectual positions. In fact, this lack of learning has contributed to Christianity's more egregious failings. Stokes translates the newest Christian scholarship into plain English, so believers can not only counter unbelievers' arguments, but can test their own doubt, and thus grow stronger in their own faith.