Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Truth Matters

Book Review: "Truth Matters: Life’s Five Most Important Questions" by Tom Gender


Tom Gender and his book Truth Matters was brought to this reviewer's attention just a few months ago. The opportunity came to receive a copy and review the book, which was gladly accepted. Excitement built after just reading the introduction and the preface. This review is designed to be a chapter-by-chapter summary to give the reader a mere taste of the content of each chapter. The reviewer's thoughts will be offered at the end of the summary. The book is 307 pages, divided into five sections. It has one appendix and an index of terms.


Before diving into the main reason for writing this book, Tom Gender provides a good worldview and logic primer for the reader to assist in properly evaluating his evidence and arguments. He begins with a quick overview of worldviews and their relationship to truth. He goes over the different general worldviews, the importance of testing each one for truth, and four different tests for truth. In the worldviews, he covers everything from atheism to panentheism. In the section on logic, he looks at three different ways to reason, then he finally proposes four different tests for discovering truth. He explains each of their strengths and weaknesses, emphasizing that all the tests must be used in tandem to keep the weaknesses in check.

Question 1: Where did everything come from?

Chapter 1: Something Rather Than Nothing

Having setup his book with a quick primer on worldviews and reasoning, Gender begins his investigation of five of life's most important questions by asking the most basic question: Why is there something rather than nothing. In Chapter 1 Gender examines the universe as a whole. He explains why the universe requires an explanation for its existence, then moves towards finding the explanation. He provides two arguments for the universe having a beginning. The philosophical: the impossibility of actual infinities, and the scientific: the strong for the Big Bang. From here Gender goes into the details of the physics of the expansion of the universe: the delicately balanced ratios and exquisitely fine-tuned mathematical values of the laws of physics. Gender offers that there are six viable explanations for the universe. One-by-one he explains the option and removes it from the table. He lands on a being that exists outside of the universe: God. He concludes this chapter by showing how we can derive eleven attributes, from the content in this chapter alone, to help us identify what this God is like.

Chapter 2: The Greatest Show on Earth

In Chapter 2 Gender zooms in on the existence of humans and their unique attributes. He begins by  discussing the options and issues surrounding naturalistic theories regarding the origins of life in general. With each following section he introduces the reader to another fact about humans that naturalism cannot explain the origin of: consciousness, reason, free will, language significance, and morality. With each one the possibility of there being a naturalistic explanation for humans becomes more and more remote. At the end, Gender again derives attributes of the explanation: God. And this time he points out thirteen.

Chapter 3: All The World's A Stage

In the third chapter Gender moves into discussions of design. He begins by explaining what he means by "design", namely that something must exhibit both complexity and specificity. He shows how design theory is already used to reliably identify design when it is unknown or in dispute. Gender then shifts his focus to nature. He begins with the largest structure, the universe, to show evidence of complexity and specificity (design). He progressively looks at systems that are on smaller and smaller scales: the earth, the human body, the cell, the DNA molecule- each one exhibiting design. Gender then answers seven common objections to the design hypothesis

Question 2: What is wrong with the world?

Chapter 4: Not The Way It Is Supposed To Be

In order to answer the second question, it must be established that there is a norm that the world is supposed to adhere to. Gender begins by addressing the challenge that evil proves that God does not exist by first establishing the objective nature of morality in theism and comparing it to a relative view in other worldviews. He immediately answers the challenge that evil is a thing that God created (making God the author of evil, and thus malevolent). In doing that he explains how there must be objective good in order for objective evil to exist. He introduces the reader to the Euthyphro dilemma and explains that what is good is grounded in God's nature rather than his commands or a standard outside of himself. He concludes that rather than evil being evidence against God's existence, that it is evidence for God's existence.

Chapter 5: Transcendent Purposes

Before discussing possible purposes that God may have for pain and suffering, Gender explains the different versions of the problem of evil. He shows the logical problem (the claim of incompatibility of an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God with the existence of evil) and the evidential problem (the idea that there is too much evil for God to exist). He explains that the logical problem has been adequately answered and offers that God values human free will thus is willing to allow evil. He then addresses the evidential problem. This is where Gender appeals to the attributes of God, established in the previous section, to derive some of the possible purposes that would entail the existence of pain and suffering. There is a distinction made between moral evil and natural evil, and perspective is offered in Gender's presentation of the afterlife. He concludes that not only is evil not incompatible with God's existence, but that it is necessary for God's purposes to be realized; thus the existence of evil provides a second line of reasoning to argue for God's existence.

Question 3: What happens after we die?

Chapter 6: Clues To An Afterlife

In Chapter 6 Gender begins to look at the possibility of existence beyond death. He introduces the topic by appealing to several attributes of humans, already identified previously, that have no physical properties. He then introduces a new one: mental entities. He describes sensations, feelings/attitudes, and volition as examples of mental entities. Gender looks at the debate between the distinction between the mind and the brain. He uses five different evidences to support the idea that the mind is distinct from the brain. He then identifies the mind with the soul. Through the soul's distinction from the brain (and consequently, the body), Gender concludes that the soul can exist apart from the body, thus opening up the possibility for life after the death of the physical body. He then examines claims of near death experiences and focuses on ones that cannot be explained naturalistically, but can be explained via the existence of an independent soul. He also appeals to the intrinsic value of human life and man's desire to live forever as further evidences for life after death.

Chapter 7: Back From The Dead

The content in chapter 6 only offers clues to life after death, but no definitive evidence. Rather what would stand as direct evidence would be in someone had completely died, then was alive again. In chapter 7, Gender provides the evidence for just such a case. The person is Who the entire Christian worldview revolves around: Jesus Christ. Gender presents his case based on a minimum number of facts that are generally accepted by the majority of critical scholars. He assures the reader that he is not making an appeal to the majority but rather just noting the fact of acceptance- the reason for the wide acceptance is due to evidence for each of the facts. He also reminds the reader that the claim of Jesus' resurrection is a historical claim that is subject to the same tests that other historical claims are- it must be either accepted or rejected based on the same criteria. The evidences that Gender puts forth are Jesus death by crucifixion, burial in a privately owned tomb, the discovery of the tomb being empty, Jesus' postmortem appearances, and the transformation of his cowardly followers into martyrs. After explaining each evidence, Gender addresses to common alternative explanations for the evidences. He demonstrates that no other explanation can consistently account for all the evidence, while the claim of resurrection can.

Question 4: Can we be sure?

Chapter 8: Special Delivery

In Chapter 8 Gender examines the possibility that God has spoken in history via special revelation (written documents). He rules out beginning with the testing of non-theistic religious texts because of the evidence for God in the previous chapters. He decides to begin with the Christian Bible because it covers two of the three theistic religions (Judaism and Christianity). Before going into a discussion of the reliability of the transmission and translations of the text, he addresses challenges that the Bible is full of mythology that was borrowed from neighboring cultures. Here he establishes that scripture was meant to be understood as history. Next in his discussion of transmission he looks at processes used to ensure proper transmission, the number of manuscripts that have been found, and the dating of the manuscripts relative to the original writing, compared to other ancient writings that are believed to accurately record history. Gender concludes that if we are to believe the writings of other ancients accurately records history, then we must accept the Bible as accurately reporting history also.

Chapter 9: History Speaks

However, Gender does not rest his case of the historical reliability of the Bible with reliable transmission and translation. In Chapter 9 he looks for corroborating historical records from other ancient texts and archaeological artifacts. Gender discusses six extra-biblical authors and the biblical claims about Jesus and the early Church that each of their writings support. He includes a table that lists 16 more biblical claims along with their extra-biblical supporting document. Gender then moves on to archaeological discoveries that support various claims of scripture. He examines twelve different finds that support the biblical accounts and have shown concerns over reliability of certain biblical accounts to be unnecessary. Gender concludes that with how much verification the Bible has for its historical records, that it should be generally given the benefit of the doubt, and that Luke's writings should be used to verify the truth of other documents.

Chapter 10: Divine Fingerprints & Chapter 11: Divine Signature

Even though Gender has shown that the Bible is historically accurate on the verifiable claims, thus it can be trusted on the claims that cannot necessarily be verified, there is still room to believe that the Bible is ONLY a book of history and not a book that has divine origins thus it has implications for all people. He goes into details describing the Bible's supernatural orientation, supernatural unity, supernatural insight, supernatural impact, supernatural survival, supernatural events, supernatural predictions, and supernatural testimony. He explains what these characteristics appear like in writings that people do not claim to be of divine origin, then contrasts that to the Bible. The Bible surpasses human writings in these characteristics to such a degree that it does not seem possible if the Bible were merely a collection of human writings with no supernatural purpose.

Chapter 12: The Voice of Truth

Having established the Bible as a trustworthy source on both historical and spiritual matters, Gender heavily uses scripture to help the reader identify attributes of God that are not found by the other means of investigation already used. He also revisits the questions already covered to show that the Bible affirms everything already discovered (further establishing its trustworthiness) and reveals more about what has already been discovered. He concludes the chapter by explaining that intellectual knowledge alone cannot bring a person into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and is not even necessary; it is only the work of the Holy Spirit (with or without evidence) that can do that. Even though he grants that the evidence already set forth in his book is not necessary for salvation, it is important to grow in knowledge of God and strengthening our trust in the reliability of the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Question 5: How should we live?

Chapter 13: An Audience of One

In chapter 13 Gender begins to look at how all the information in the previous chapters applies to our lives. He explains that we should live as if God is watching, because He is. God is everywhere and knows everything. We should live to bring God glory by fulfilling the purposes he has for us. He explains that since God exists, there is no greater satisfaction that we could get than to live for God and have a personal relationship with Him. Gender also addresses the challenge that many people raise against God about God being vain because He wants glory. He explains that since God is the greatest being, His wanting the glory of any inferior being would be idolatry and contrary to God's moral nature. Gender does not leave the reader with some vague idea of what a relationship looks like, but he goes into the details- that a person must be focused on Jesus Christ

Chapter 14: A Reasonable Faith

Gender has spent the entire book without really talking about faith. In chapter 14, he recognizes the misunderstandings of what a biblical faith is and provides the correct understanding. He explains that rather than faith being opposed to knowledge or reason, that it actually heavily depends on both. Faith is a reasonable trust that is based on reliability of the object of faith. Reliability is gained by our experience- knowledge. He then builds upon the conclusion of the previous chapter by explaining what faith in Jesus Christ is. At this point, Gender presents the Gospel in a clear and concise manner for the reader.

Chapter 15: Follow The Leader

The concluding chapter focuses on the person of Jesus Christ- who he believed that he was, the reverence of other worldviews for him, his ministry, his mission, and his resurrection. Gender explains the significance of each and that if what has been discussed in this book is true, then it has profound implications on the lives of every person. This final chapter is a call to a reasonable action based on evidence- to surrender our lives to our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Reviewer's Thoughts

At first glance, Truth Matters appears to be just another book defending the truth of Christianity. But it is anything but "just..." Gender presents an extremely wide range of arguments all marshaled in an effort to answer five of life's most penetrating questions. He does so while keeping technical terminology to a bare minimum and speaking so clearly and concisely that his book would be a great resource for teaching the defense of Christianity to the average Christian.

The sheer range of arguments in Truth Matters and the great balance between depth and simplicity of the arguments presented made writing this summary quite a challenge. Gender certainly does not waste any space in his 300 page book, and that makes Truth Matters this reviewer's top recommendation for an introduction into defending the truth of Christianity. If a person were to choose only one apologetics book to add to their library, this should be it.

It is also recommended for the skeptic who is curious about the amount of evidence there is for the truth of Christianity. Gender offers many recommendations for further reading at the end of each section, so the skeptic will know where to go next for further investigation if they still have questions.

Gender has put together a well-rounded book that won't overwhelm the average Christian but may overwhelm the average, unsuspecting skeptic. This reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the book and hopes that the reader of this review will not be satisfied with the content here and get the book.

Check out the NEW Book Reviews Page for more.

Thanks to Brian Auten at Apologtics 315 for originally publishing this review on his site. This review is only one of many in a project by Auten to build a solid collection of reviews of books of interest to Christian apologists. His collection grows on a weekly basis; check it out here.

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