Book Review – Why You Think the Way You Do

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  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (August 1, 2009)
  • Amazon
  • Christian Book Distributors
  • In this book, Sunshine attempts to explain “the development of Western civilization from the perspective of the changes in worldview from the Roman Empire to the early years of the twenty-first century” (16). While referencing major thinkers on occasion, the interest is more specifically on the non-elite, wider culture. He further contends that one cannot understand Western culture without an understanding of Christianity (17). While this is likely true, Sunshine turns this survey of Western worldviews into an apologetic for Christianity, specifically Evangelicalism.

    Central to his argument is the premise that Christianity has had a positive cultural influence on the West, starting with its transformation and redemption of the Roman world in which it was introduced (54). While Sunshine would likely admit that sometimes Christians have done bad things in history, the overall effect of Christianity has been positive. Clearly, this is directly antithetical to the claims of the New Atheists. Consequently, Sunshine argues that the further Western culture moves away from Christianity, the more it returns to the barbarism of Pagan Rome (211).

    In the interest of accessibility, very few citations are included. This omission makes many of the more controversial historical claims hard to support in dialogue with others who may not share Sunshine’s interpretation. For example, while the flat earth myth has been thoroughly debunked, it would be helpful to cite that since it is a common myth (109). A citation for Pascal, Gassendi and probabilism would have been helpful since at first glance Pascal opposed probabilism in his Provincial Letters and Gassendi was interpreting Pascal’s barometric experiments rather than the other way around.

    While an interpretation of history is often an aspect of communal identity, this work could have benefited from a more balanced handling of the shortcomings of Christians within history. As it stands, the author’s evident bias for Christianity and conservative American political values (such as capitalism and democracy) comes off more like partisanship than a survey of Western worldviews.

    – Reviewed by Adam Reece

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    Recent Apologetics Reading of Note

    A few recommended resources I’ve recently come across . . .

    • 9 articles by Dr. Douglas Groothuis originally posted at the defunct TrueU.org.

    A Royal Ruin: Pascal’s Argument from Humanity to Christianity

    Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

    Learning From an Apostle: Christianity in the Marketplace of Ideas
    (Acts 17:16-34)

    Reincarnation and the Challenge of Jesus

    The New Age Worldview: Is it Believable?

    Understanding the New Atheism, Part 1: The Straw God

    Understanding the New Atheism, Part 2: Attacks on the New Testament

    What is Truth? (On the Nature and Importance of Truth Today)

    Why Believe That Jesus Is The Only Way?

    (HT: Manawatu CAS)

    • Introduction and first chapter of Peter Hitchens’s The Rage Against God, in which he describes his return to faith from atheism, and his differences with his brother, Christopher.

    The book’s trailer is also interesting . . .

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    Philosophy Word of the Day – Pascal’s Wager

    Portrait of Blaise Pascal
    Image via Wikipedia

    “Pascal’s Wager” is the name given to an argument due to Blaise Pascal for believing, or for at least taking steps to believe, in God. The name is somewhat misleading, for in a single paragraph of his Pensées, Pascal apparently presents at least three such arguments, each of which might be called a ‘wager’ — it is only the final of these that is traditionally referred to as “Pascal’s Wager”. We find in it the extraordinary confluence of several important strands of thought: the justification of theism; probability theory and decision theory, used here for almost the first time in history; pragmatism; voluntarism (the thesis that belief is a matter of the will); and the use of the concept of infinity.

    (Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

    The argument “is a suggestion . . .  that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because so living has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.”

    The wager is described in Pensées this way:

    “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is….

    …”God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

    Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

    Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

    “That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. (Pensées #233).

    (Via Wikipedia)

    Any thoughts on this argument?  Do you think it has merit?

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