Below is the cover of my selection for the book of the month in May 2012, and just following that image is the book trailer. Full disclosure: the author, Mitch Stokes, is a friend of mine, which some might assume could skew this review. But no, I write objectively, with steely-eyed resolve. And also, on another note, I am happy to say that no animals were harmed in the writing of this review.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a number of reasons. The first is that Mitch really knows how to write — his prose is engaging, funny, and clear. He takes some pretty high level philosophy and makes the arguments and concepts fully accessible to an average reader. Anyone who can write philosphy and write clearly at the same time is a ninja. People like this ought to be encouraged.
Another reason is that the history of philosophy since Kant is a history of doubling down on a dumb idea. David Hume was a Scottish philosopher whose radical skepticism shook Kant up, waking him, as Kant put it, from his “dogmatic slumbers.” Kant fixed everything by suspending his worldview from the diadem of Titania, queen of the fairies. Well, no, not actually, but if I told what he actually taught, you would never believe me.
Incidentally, speaking of Hume, does anyone know what really happened to that famous philosopher after he died? Well, he was ExHumed. Hahahahaha!
Anyways. It was convenient for Kant and all his downstream ilk to claim that Hume’s skepticism was unanswerable, but the inconvenient truth is that a fellow Scot, a one Thomas Reid, answered him at the time with common sense realism. Anyone who cites Reid positively and repeatedly, as Mitch does in this book, is providing us all with a public service.
The third reason is Mitch answers the actual words and snarky objections of atheists. For example, if one of our leading scientific shamans says something like “belief in God is stupid,” a lot of Christians rise to the bait, and immediately proceed to demonstrations of the existence of God. But careful philosophers say, “Not so fast. Let’s deal with the actual claim on the table first.” They then proceed to show that belief in God is not stupid.
Puddleglum once displayed this admirable trait of careful thinking. “Have to start by finding a lost city, eh? Not allowed to start by looking for it?” If atheists say that faith in God is idiotic, then the contrary position is that it is not idiotic — not that theism is in fact tha case. That is an important question, obviously, one to get to in due time, but you hit the pitches that are coming across the plate, not the ones that the pitcher ought to have thrown. Throughout this book, Mitch displays the kind of care that showcases this kind of careful philosophy at its best.
And last, I have to say something about what some might call my mushy VanTillianism. I would prefer to call it an eclectic VanTillianism, but I do have to admit that I am not very much of a card carrying purist. I like and appreciate the work of some evidentialists, for example. And what shall we call the followers of Plantinga? I like some of that too. Let’s call them Plantagenets. That can’t be taken.
Anyway, Van Til and Plantinga have a number of shared assumptions that we can line up alongside their differences in order to compare and contrast. While I have some differences with Plantinga’s general approach (which Mitch is making accessible), I still like a lot of what is being said, especially here in this book. Another example of this wayward tendency of mine is a recent interview I conducted with J. Budziszewski about natural law and natural revelation. I found us in agreement more than in disagreement, which I really am a VanTillian, but I first learned the foundational presuppositional approach from C.S. Lewis (in Miracles), and Van Til takes Lewis to task (in Defense of the Faith). So I have been kind of a mutt from the beginning.
A Shot of Faith (To the Head) is broken into three main sections. The first deals with the very common (and tiresome) claim of militant atheists that belief in God is irrational. The second section tackles the question of whether science requires us to believe that God does not exist. And if science doesn’t require disbelief in God, perhaps shouting “Galileo!” at us requires it. The third section addresses the problem of evil. Throughout, Mitch writes engagingly and well. This is a book for anyone whose faith is under assault, or even for those who know that “something is wrong” with the attacks, but who are curious to know what exactly is wrong. This book is a good one, and has a real capacity to go big. If I were you, I would help it do so.