This begins a look at Mitch Stokes’ new book A Shot of Faith [to the Head]. This first post will deal with the intro, preface, and first chapter.
According to his bio, Mitch Stokes holds five patents in something called aeroderivative gas turbine technology. He has received an MA in religion from someplace called Yale and a PhD in philosophy from Notre Dame (the one not in Paris). Stokes now serves as Senior Fellow of Philosophy at New St. Andrews College in Moscow (the one not in Russia). Apparently he is a smart dude. He also seems to be a relatable guy. What I mean by relatable is he doesn’t seem stuck in an ivory tower of academia only to come down and grace us commoners with his book. In the preface Stokes brushes briefly with his own history of doubt and delves into the book’s topic– philosophy. The stated goal of the book is to equip Christians with “powerful intellectual weapons, ones proven in the war between faith and unbelief.”
Within the introduction Stokes gives a look at many of today’s influential atheists and their militant reaction to Christianity. I found the quote from Dawkins’ article “Religion’s Real Child Abuse,” disturbing. It made me think to a recent blog post by Douglas Wilson on authority and instruction.
“We were not designed to figure everything out for ourselves. We are to think about what we are taught, and we are to question. But we are not to start out with a blank slate. We are not to require our little ones to become small Cartesians, eliminating all accepted beliefs and building a world view by reason alone.
Instead, we are to bring them up in “the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4b; Deut. 6:7). God does not believe in teaching children to swim in the waters of truth by throwing them in the deep end. They are to be patiently guided and taught until they are able to swim on their own.
Children, then, should be taught the truth on the basis of authority. But the teaching, like all good teaching, should include not only the content of the truth, but the reasons for believing it. The result will be a balanced, well-taught individual.”
I don’t know if Stokes fully subscribes to the quote he shares from William F. Buckley Jr. that “the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world,” but he has written this book equipping Christians with an arsenal to take up this “duel.” Peter Kreeft has argued paganism is the most serious threat to Christianity. While Ravi Zacharias has argued Islam is the serious threat since it is comprehensive, “embodying a political, moral, cultural, and financial theory.” I’ll let the big heavies duke this out, I’m not even in the same galaxy to enter the debate with these names. However, we need an answer for atheists, pagans, and Muslims. Stokes is providing us with an accessible tool to answer atheism, but we should not ignore the questions leveled by others hostile to Christianity. As Stokes states “respect the questions…questions are natural, and ignoring them is unnecessary and even dangerous. Addressing them, on the other hand, usually yields sizable dividends.”
We should also not fear doubt, and Stokes has some helpful words regarding doubt, especially from his mentor at Notre Dame, Alvin Plantinga. “Believers are constantly beset by doubts, disquietude, spiritual difficulty, and turmoil…It never goes that well with us, and it often goes a good deal worse. There is an unbeliever within the breast of every Christian.” This is a philosophical book and provides the reader with an arsenal of intellect, but I appreciate Stokes not ignoring the spiritual side to the battle. Stokes uses the allegory of Tokyo Rose, which I find to be an apt comparison to Satan, the father of lies. In this battle it “seems to make pretty good sense sometimes…and it isn’t the strength of the arguments that rattle us, but the way they resonate with the unbeliever in each of us (what the bible calls the ‘old self’).” We should be much more concerned with apathy, not doubt, in regard to faith. This is why it is good to exercise our minds, to supplement our bible reading with books that hone our discipleship such as this. Jesus reminds us of the greatest command in the Gospel accounts to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
The title of chapter one hails from a quote by Bertrand Russell, when asked what he would say if confronted with God after death, he answered “not enough evidence God! Not enough evidence!” in this first chapter Stokes addresses what he labels “evidentialism.” He points out two claims. The first, “to be rational, a belief must be supported by sufficient evidence.” This is what Stokes labels evidentialism and traces its roots, ironically, to a Christian, the English philosopher John Locke (any Lost fans out there?). Locke argued ” any rational religious belief will be supported by sufficient evidence.” The second claim Stokes points out is “belief in God is not supported by sufficient evidence and therefore is not rational.” This receives the label “evidentialist objection.” So it comes full circle and the atheist now uses the objection created from a Christian argument for belief in God to object to belief in God. The atheist staes “belief in God isn’t supported by sufficient evidence and is, therefore, irrational.” I do enjoy the little twist Stokes ends the chapter with explaining evidentialism is “one of the few things that believers and unbelievers agree on.” Oh, and “it’s also false.”
We’ll pick up chapter two and three next week.