Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Why It Doesn't Matter What YOU Believe If Its Not True

Book Review: "Why It Doesn't Matter What YOU Believe If Its Not True" by Stephen McAndrew


I am always on the look out for books that take different apologetic issues and puts them into bite-sized chunks that a complete beginner can understand and begin interacting with. That task is quite difficult because many authors take concepts and mutilate them in such a way that the beginner would actually be more confused than when they began.

The opportunity was given a while back to review a copy of Stephen McAndrew's new book "Why It Doesn't Matter What You Believe If It's Not True". The book is a short read of only 86 pages. The eleven chapters break up the short book into sections that are extremely manageable for those with only spurts of time to read or need time to digest. This format holds much promise to being a great introductory book. But does it come through?

Chapter 1: Introduction

In the introductory chapter McAndrew draws out his intentions of this book. His goal is to explain that there is extreme tension between the post-modern idea of moral relativism and the inner desire of every human being to grant all other humans "human rights". He critiques the current "sound bite" culture and explains that ideas need to be thoroughly investigated. From that, he moves right into establishing that absolute truth does, in fact, exist.

Chapter 2: Footnotes to Plato

The second chapter is quite nice. McAndrew uses it to show the historical progression of absolute truth to relative truth. He begins with Plato and his concept of The Forms and ends with Wittgenstein's ideas of dynamic language. He covers empiricism and logical positivism and shows how they connect between Plato and Wittgenstein. Being able to understand the philosophical cahnge from absolute truth to relative truth helps the reader to better understand from where people are coming when they promote such a theory.

Chapter 3: The Tyranny of Freedom from Absolute Truth

In chapter 3 McAndrew begins his actual critique of the idea that truth is relative. Beginning here and through the rest of the book, he draws heavily upon Orwell's novel 1984 to show the logical consequences of such a theory. He goes into how the idea that truth is relative demands that to change truth, the meaning of words just need to be changed.

Chapter 4: Can We Believe in Universal Human Rights & Moral Relativism Simultaneously?

Next McAndrew shifts from fiction to history. He takes the reader back to Nazi Germany to remind the reader of what happens when a society gets to decide what is true and what is not. In this chapter, he makes the connection between truth in general and moral truth specifically. He shows that anyone who believes that Nazi Germany committed an absolute moral evil cannot affirm relative truth or even relative morality at the same time.

Chapter 5: The Contingency Contradiction

In chapter 5 McAndrew focuses on showing how the idea of truth being relative actually self-destructs. He points out that if truth is dependent upon culture, then that concept, itself, is a relative statement, which then calls even it into question. He also compares the search for metaphysical truth to the search for scientific truth. He observes that no one allows for scientists to ignore evidence- they must draw conclusions about reality based on the evidence. McAndrew states that based on that, no one actually believes in relative truth- they only claim truth is relative when discussing metaphysical ideas...including morality.

Chapter 6: Re-Imagining Reality

Chapter 6 is McAndrew's invitation to imagine what the world would be like if there were no such thing as absolute truth. He begins by explaining that if the reader agrees that absolute truth exists, that it must be grounded in something metaphysical- God. He guides the reader through a few different philosophies that have tried to deny God's existence, and takes them to their logical ends regarding truth. He concludes that the reason that philosophies keep attempting to deny absolute truth (thus are self-defeating) is because of man's stubborn refusal to accept a transcendent foundation for truth (God).

Chapter 7: What Might a Source of the Human Rights Urge Look Like?

In chapter 7 McAndrew shifts to a positive argument for the Christian God from the existence of objective moral truth. He shows how human rights is a direct implication of the doctrines of Christianity. A contrast is drawn between Christian morality and utilitarian morality to show how the desires of men for human rights fits better with Christianity than with a naturalistic view of morality.

Chapter 8: On Hedonism

Next McAndrew proposes a possible motive in the desire to deny absolute truth- individual pleasure without consequences. He appeals to the desires of every person to show how strong such a desire can be. But he turns it upside-down by explaining that it undermines itself as soon as the fulfillment is granted to all people.

Chapter 9: This is My Truth - A la Carte Belief

Chapter 9 builds upon the discussion of hedonism in chapter 8. McAndrew examines the implication of relative truth that everyone is allowed to have their own set of truths- even contradictory ones. Logical consistency and reason take a backseat to the desires of the individual. He also explains that in such a world that it is actually useless to hold any belief fervently- everyone is just as right as everyone else; everyone is just as wrong as everyone else.

Chapter 10: Some Thoughts on Art

Art is an area that many consider to be quite subjective. Chapter 10 addresses the ideas that beauty is objective and that art may be able to inform man about what is objectively true. McAndrew shows some connections between the current philosophy of art and the philosophy of truth- are things beautiful because society tells one it is beautiful or because one has an innate idea of what is beautiful?

Chapter 11: Final Thoughts

The conclusion of the book is not the typical summary of the content, rather it is a call to action. McAndrew clearly does not want the reader to simply use the content of his book for additional "head-knowledge". He wants the readers to take the new knowledge they have gained. He challenges them to resist holding contradicting beliefs, to examine ideas thoroughly, to see where ideas logically end, and to be willing to be wrong about truth, but be willing to change it to coincide with reality.

Reviewer's Thoughts

"Why It Doesn't Matter What YOU Believe If It's Not True" is a very thoughtful writing. McAndrew is extremely succinct in his presentation. This book may be short in length, but it is not short on thought-provoking content. This reviewer can see this book being used effectively for small groups of beginners to the philosophical concepts of truth or morality. Because of its short length, it is also highly recommended to keep copies on hand for giving to people who may be curious but don't want to invest too much time in the subject...yet.

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  1. Generally speaking, could a book not be written by an atheist with the title, "Why It Doesn't Matter What YOU Believe" period?

    If nature is all that there is and if survival is the only thing about which nature cares (speaking anthropomorphically and, of course, not knowing why it cares about it) one could survive by ascertaining empirical truths, sure. But one could also survive by being utterly deluded.

    Thus, on atheism it does not matter what we believe as long as what we believe assist us to survive.

    Is this, after all, not their explanation for religion, faith, theism, etc. that humans came up with these delusional ideas, they assisted our survival...and it is now time to evolve beyond them (thus saith the neo-arbiters of unnatural selection)?

    1. Mariano,
      Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you stopped by. :)

      Absolutely, they could do that. It would be consistent with the naturalistic philosophy. But I predict that they won't for two reasons:

      First, if they do, they know that it would undermine their entire effort to convince people of the delusion of theism and the superiority of atheism.

      Second, most of them don't actually believe that it doesn't matter what one thinks. Even if we were to point out that this is inconsistent, they could counter by point out that consistency is of no greater value than inconsistency in naturalism- they are free to be inconsistent if they so desire...thus, my first reason for my prediction.

      Ironically, inconsistency in reason, actions, and between the two is perfectly consistent in naturalism. In fact, there is no distinction between inconsistency and consistency on naturalism...the former just happens to be an unexploited implication that renders naturalism untestable philosophically. Hence the reason that so many atheists are saying that philosophy is dead. If naturalism is true, then philosophy IS dead. And if philosophy is dead, we can't know that naturalism is true. And if naturalism is true, but we can't know it, and philosophy is dead, but we can't know it, then it really doesn't matter what anyone believes or does, and they don't have to be "consistent".

      Of course, This could be undermined by the naturalist easily...I've used an evolved logic to reason to my conclusion about naturalism...why should anyone trust my reasoning and not theirs?

      What do you think?

  2. I just read this post from J.W. Wartick regarding the issue of naturalistic epistemology:

  3. Indeed, it is a worldview(s) that one cannot live consistently...and one in which consistency is not imperative.
    You know you are in trouble when you have to abandon your worldview in order to navigate day to day life. It is as G. K. Chesterton noted, “The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts.”
    Atheism is, in short, an anti-Christian support group.
    On the other hand, within the Judeo-Christian worldview truth is not only essential, it is personified in the Messiah Jesus.


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