Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Letters to a Doubting Thomas

Hey Readers,

I know I haven't done a book review in a long time, but I read a great book and I felt it was worth it. This will be stored permanently on my website Godriddance. By the way, I'm going to address the arguments in this book much more thoroughly in my upcoming book.

"Letters to a Doubting Thomas" by C. Stephen Layman

This book is, by far, the most intelligent and rational of its kind. The book is set up as a dialogue between two characters: Zach, a well-read and thoughtful theist, and (Doubting) Thomas, a constantly questioning agnostic. The entire book consists of letters exchanged between the two. This style actually makes for very clear reading, as each letter lasts only a few pages, and doubting Thomas is allowed constant interjections to ask questions and challenge Zach's conclusion.

Overall, however, the arguments within the book are flawed, and it will take a careful eye and thoughtful mind to find out just where the flaw lies in some of these arguments. For example, Zach appeals to Free Will as an argument for the existence of God, using mainly intuition as his source of evidence and moral horror to scare people away from considering determinism (If we're not really free, then maybe we shouldn't punish criminals, after all, they're not really responsible since what made them do it was facts about their brains that they cannot control).

Allow me to explain what I mean: Incompatibilism (which Zach and most theists support) holds that our actions are not the result of any deterministic physical processes whatsoever. Compatibilism would hold that our actions are determined, but that they are determined by what we want most. Let's think about this: How could you actually perform an action which you did not want to do? Sure, you may sit through a chick flick with your girlfriend, but you only do that because you want even more to do something to make her happy.

Secondly, this deterministic version of free will can indeed hold people responsible for what they do. The threat of imprisonment and/or fines prevents crime amongst those who want to stay out of prison more than steal, murder, etc. And if someone commits a crime knowing the punishment, this only tells us that they desire their own fulfillment even at the expense of others, and so they society is well advised to put these people away. If the criminal pleads that he had no choice in his action, the judge can reply that he has no choice in his action of sending the him to prison. It's that simple.

There are other problems in the book, of course. Zach-the-theists claims that to explain the "fine-tuning" of the laws of physics, atheists must postulate a lot of other universes and some sort of universe generator. This is mistaken. Even if atheists are forced to postulate other universes, we need not postulate any 'universe generator', as universes may be born from pieces of spacetime breaking away from prior universes or born in black holes. Neither of these ideas introduces anything new or postulates any new laws of physics.

All in all, I did not find this book convincing, although I have to say I consider it far better argued than other books like it, and would highly recommend it to atheists and agnostics if they are interested in seeing the best case for theism.


Luke said...

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Robert Morane said...

It's always a good idea to remind god believers that if there is no god, then the universe is not fine-tuned.

So the claim that the universe is fine-tuned already begs the question of a god. But since whether there is a god is exactly what is being debated, they are reasoning in circle.

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