Monday, July 17, 2017

Book Review: Inference to the One True God

Introduction

Fellow Christian apologetics blogger Evan Minton (Cerebral Faith) contacted me not too long ago about a book that he was writing on his investigation into the truth of Christianity. I have enjoyed his past work on his blog and his discussions on social media, so I was excited to hear that he was officially publishing a book and could not wait to see the final product. Evan sent me a copy of "Inference to the One True God: Why I Believe In Jesus Instead of Other Gods" for review. The book is 200 pages divided into eight chapters, each one designed to get the reader one step closer to the identity of the One True God. This review will be a chapter by chapter summary and conclude with my recommendation.



Chapter 1: The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Minton begins with his favorite of the arguments for God's existence: the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA). The KCA is a fairly simply argument that goes like this:
  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist; therefore,
  3. The universe has a cause.
Minton provides a defense of each of the premises through both philosophy and science. He not only provides reasons to believe each of the premises, he shows how to believe that they are false is actually absurd. He also takes the argument further by identifying several characteristics of the cause. The characteristics clearly put the monotheistic God as the only possible cause. While this does not take the options down to only the Christian God, 99% of all other worldviews have been eliminated by a single argument. So, while the KCA does not settle the question of "which God," it eliminates so many that it is a great argument for the skeptic to begin with. 

Atheists have offered many challenges to the KCA; however, none of the challenges stand. Minton takes several pages to address the most common challenges and shows how they fail to undermine the truth of the conclusion. He reminds his readers that, in a deductive argument, if the premises are true and the logic is formally valid, then the conclusion necessarily follows (is true). Since the conclusion still stands, Minton continues his case and begins to narrow the field even further.

Chapter 2: Teleological Argument #1- The Fine Tuning Argument

The KCA's conclusion is compatible with a deistic god, the Islamic god, and the Judeo-Christian God, so even though most of the world's religions have been eliminated with that single argument, more narrowing still needs to be done. Next Minton turns to the argument from design based on the fine-tuning of the universe's physics. Over thirty examples of finely-tuned constants have been discovered. To keep the chapter brief, Minton only describes nine. He also explains the precision with which they are set and provides illustrations to help the reader grasp the precision of the values and their consequences if different. He then provides the argument as a simple syllogism:
  1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due either to physical necessity, chance, or design.
  2. The fine-tuning of the universe is not due to either physical necessity or chance; therefore,
  3. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to design.
As with the KCA, many objections have been raised by opponents of design. These challenges range from attempted ways to deny fine-tuning to ways to explain it naturalistically. After addressing the most common ones, Minton explains a nuance in the fine-tuning argument. The argument claims that this universe is finely-tuned for life (not necessarily for the constants we observe). Since indicates that the fine-tuner has purposes created this universe for life, which would mean that the Fine-tuner was concerned with what this universe could support. This is contrary to the concept of a deistic god (starts everything, then doesn't care), so Minton concludes that the deistic god has effectively been ruled out by the fine-tuning of the universe for life.

Chapter 3: Teleological Argument #2- The Local Fine Tuning Argument

In the previous chapter, Minton removed the deistic god (purposeless creator) from the possible fine-tuners because the universe's fine-tuned constants reflect values consistent with an explicit purpose: the creation of life. Minton now examines the successful execution of that purpose (further removing deism from possibility). He describes roughly thirty different examples of fine-tuning of our planet (and its neighborhood) that would allow for life to exist in a particular part of the life-permitting universe. A few examples would be the size and rotation rate of our planet, the size of our moon, the size of our star, and the locations of the various planets in our solar system. He presents a slightly altered version of the argument in Chapter 2 that specifies fine-tuning of our local area. Many of the objections raised about the fine-tuning of the universe also are raised against local fine-tuning; Minton refers the reader to the previous chapter to address those. He also addresses a couple challenges that are unique to the local fine-tuning argument.

Chapter 4: The Moral Argument

Still on the table of possibilities is all three theistic options: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. To move further, one or two of those must be removed. The next argument investigated is the argument from morality. To help the reader follow the argument and its defense, Minton begins by defining his terms and making necessary distinctions. The argument presented is this:
  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist; therefore,
  3. God exists. 
As with the previous arguments, Minton defends each premise. For the first, he explains the difference between objective and subjective moral values. He grants that the latter can be found in atheism; however, the claim of the argument is not about subjective values but objective ones. He explains that in order for objective moral values to exist, they must have a foundation, and if atheism is true, then no such grounding exists. The second premise is usually granted by most people, and it is often understood to be as evident as the existence of the world around us. Because both premises are true, the conclusion necessarily follows.

But does this do anything to help us identify which God exists? Minton offers two observations that allow the options on the table to be reduced further. To take Islam off the table, he cites the Qu'ran's claims that Allah is a deceiver. If Allah is a deceiver, and deception is objective wrong, then Allah cannot be the foundation for objective morality. Moving to Judaism, Minton explains that in order for a God to be the foundation for objective morality He must be loving. However, it is impossible to love if only a single person exists. Before the creation of humanity, in Judaism, only the singular person of God existed, thus He could not love before humans existed. However, in Christianity God is triune, meaning that three persons have existed in the single Godhead eternally; that means that love prior to the creation of humanity was possible and happening if the Christian God exists. So, the moral argument has left us with the Christian God as the only possible option.

Chapter 5: The Ontological Argument

Even though the previous chapters combined reduced the options to a single one, it never hurts to cover an argument that reinforces the same conclusions. One of the more powerful arguments for establishing God's existence and His identity is the Ontological argument. As with the previous one, Minton begins by defining his terms and making appropriate distinctions. He presents the argument in the form of a hypothetical syllogism:
  1. It is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists.
  2. If it is possible that a Maximally Great Being exists, then a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a Maximally Great Being exists in some possible world, then is exists in every possible world.
  4. If a Maximally Great Being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a Maximally Great Being exists in the actual world, then a Maximally Great Being exists.
  6. Therefore, a Maximally Great Being exists.
As with the previous arguments, Minton defends each of the premises and addresses the most common objections to the argument. He concludes his chapter by identifying which of the possible gods (from the full range) could be identified as the Maximally Great Being of the ontological argument. He reinforces his conclusion from the previous chapters that it is the Christian God of the Bible.

Chapter 6: A Recap of Our Case for the One True God

As the name indicates, this chapter is an intermission, of sorts, to give the reader a quick review of what has already been covered and what is next on the agenda. The reader has already been fed much information for contemplation throughout the other chapters, so this chapter is a nice breather to help the reader digest what has already been given before moving ahead.

Chapter 7: The Self-Understanding of Jesus

Even though it has been established through arguments the identity of the one true God, it still remains to be seen if Jesus of Nazareth is that one true God. That is the focus of the final two chapters. Minton begins with an examination of whether Jesus believed himself to be God or not. Minton makes it clear that in the presentation of the argument he treats the Gospels merely as historical documents. Even though he does believe that they are inerrant, his argument does not rely on their inerrancy. He explains tests for authenticity that are applied to historical documents by historians to determine if the claims made actually happened. He describes principles of embarrassment, dissimilarity, multiple attestation, early attestation, enemy attestation, and historical fit. With that in place, Minton examines Jesus' claims to be the Son of Man, Son of God, and Messiah using only passages that pass one (or more) of the tests of authenticity. He addresses explicit claims and implicit claims. Once all verifiable claims are put together, it is quite clear that Jesus of Nazareth believed himself to be God.

Chapter 8: The Minimal Facts Case for Jesus' Resurrection

However, just because Jesus believed he was God does not mean that he was. This fact must be independently established. Before beginning the investigation into the evidence, Minton reiterates that he will not be treating the Gospels as inspired but rather as historical documents, and that he will be using tests and principles of historical investigation. In this chapter Minton takes the "minimal facts" approach to defending the Resurrection. This approach uses only five historical facts to establish the case:
  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Jesus' tomb was found empty the following Sunday morning.
  3. Jesus' disciples believed that they saw Him alive shortly after His death.
  4. A church persecutor named Paul converted to Christianity on the basis of what he perceived as an appearance of the risen Jesus.
  5. A skeptic named James converted on the basis of what he believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus. 
Minton takes each one of these facts and explains all the evidence that has convinced even the majority of critical scholars. He addresses several of the most common challenges to the evidence and several alternative theories. He explains that the Resurrection is the only explanation that can account for all the evidence. The final challenge that he addresses is the fact that dead people do not rise from the dead. He corrects the skeptic's understanding of the claim of the Resurrection: the claim is that Resurrection did not happen by natural means but by a miracle performed by the One True God (established to exist in the previous chapters). If Jesus claimed to be One True God, and he was risen from the dead by a miracle performed by the One True God, then his understanding that He is the One True God is true.

Reviewer's Thoughts

I really enjoyed reading "Inference to the One True God." Evan Minton's writing style is very casual and flows like day-to-day conversation. Evan included so much material that the systematic way that he laid out the book allows the reader to easily follow his arguments and the case as he builds it. While the book was an "easy read," it was heavy on content without really feeling heavy. My recommendation for this book will be for anyone who likes intellectual discussions but may be hesitant to delve into more technical material on the case for Christianity. I particularly see this as an excellent text for teens and college students who are not sure what they believe about God. If you have students in your sphere of influence, you should definitely grab a copy or two of this book. If would like to interact with Evan on any of the content in the book, you can email him directly at cerebralfaith@gmail.com, and he will answer on his Q&A page on his blog

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