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Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?

IS BELIEF IN GOD GOOD, BAD OR IRRELEVANT? by Preston Jones, ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 158 pages. Paperback; $13.00. ISBN: 0830833773.

Here is an e-mail exchange like few others. A lead singer/ songwriter for a punk band, "Bad Religion," exchanges honest and deep reflections with a history professor in a Christian college (who is a fan of "Bad Religion"). They talk about religion and science and naturalism and Christianity. Added to their inviting dialogue are sidebars that give further insights and illuminate the material being discussed plus an occasional "inquiry box" which raises questions addressed to the reader. Finally the endnotes lead to further exploration and reflection. The chapter headings in this book are simply indicators of the main subject of the dialogue exchange in the e-mails. For instance, the chapter titles include "Getting Acquainted," "Inquisitions," "Hating God," "Theism Versus Naturalism," "Freedom and Environment," and "Christianity and Violence."

Preston Jones, the John Brown University Professor of History, started the exchange of e-mails with a fan letter. To his surprise, Greg Graffin, the songwriter, wrote back, and they found many things in common. But, of course, the deepest thing found them on opposite ends of the spectrum. I wrote in the margins after the conversations, "Good format. Fascinating exchange. Fair to the positions taken." It opens my mind to another world and gives new insight to part of the world of those under 40 years of age.

Preston Jones seems a bit more sour on the world than I am. The punk songwriter, a recent Ph.D. in zoology under Will Provine at Cornell University, struck me as having been damaged by contacts he has had in the past with the Christian faith. I found him to be amazingly dependent on a rather naive faith in natural science. It is the only road to truth and the only hope for humankind, as he sees it. He seems to have read little in contemporary philosophy of science and not broadly in the history of science. I hope he stumbles across someone in his future who can expand his horizon. A summary of the book would be: "An honest exchange of a believer and an unbeliever chiefly focusing on science and Christianity with attempts to convert each other to their perspective positions." It ends before any changes are noted in either.

This book would make excellent reading for any college student in the sciences, for anyone studying for the pastorate, and for almost anyone who deals with young people in today's world. Those who are interested in apologetics would also find it stimulating. In fact, I would recommend it for anyone interested in how a Christian and an anti-Christian can intelligently and peacefully interact. Because it is an honest record of exchanged e-mails with very little editorial addition by Preston Jones, there really are no weaknesses to note. It is simply a factual account and a stimulating one. Reading this from a scientist's perspective, I had the itch to jump in and be part of the dialogue, because Preston does not use references to the nature of science, the history of science, and other disciplines which I think would have been appropriate responses to some of Greg's remarks. As, for instance, in the quote below:
 God is an answer for people who have no idea
 how the physical world works. Now, if you combine
 knowledge of how the world works with fear
 induced through theological "education" during
 youth, you have religious scientists who can accurately
 identify the gaps in scientific knowledge and
 are compelled to fill them with God's wisdom or
 plan or whatever.

Perhaps some readers could start up a correspondence with Greg on the basis of the book.

Reviewed by Terry Morrison, Director Emeritus, IVCF Faculty Ministry, Madison, WI 53711.
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Author:Morrison, Terry
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2007
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