God? Very Probably: Five Rational Ways to Think about the Question of a God
By Robert H. Nelson; Foreword by Herman Daly
Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2015.
Pp. xvi, 306. $38 hardcover.
Robert Nelson offers us a brilliant, refreshingly written, well-informed case for theism. His book is an excellent contribution to the debate over the probability of theism, a debate that includes participants ranging from the not-so-new-anymore atheists such as Christopher Hitchens to Richard Dawkins (who currently describes himself as an agnostic who is less than 100 percent sure there is no God) and Nelson's counterparts (for example, Richard Swinburne, who has written a series of books arguing that the probability that God exists is greater than 0.5 (philosophers sometimes identify certainty with the number 1, no credibility as 0, and 0.5 as the median), and Keith Ward, author of the book Why There Almost Certainly Is a God ). In an autobiographical aside, Nelson observes: "I have benefited greatly from an outpouring of writings in recent years that have newly discussed developments in the philosophy of human consciousness, mathematics, physics, evolutionary biology, and theology that are of true theological significance--even as such recent writings and developments were not available to previous inquirers into the age-old question of the existence of a god" (p. 8). The breadth of his research is impressive indeed, and so readers will benefit from Nelson's wide reach.
In the introduction, Nelson expertly sets the stage for his investigation. In the current intellectual climate, it is often assumed that we have a problem-free concept of the material world and a comparatively befuddled grasp of what is mental (consciousness, beliefs, feelings). As Nelson argues, this assumption is increasingly recognized as philosophically spurious. We are most keenly and primarily aware of our conscious experience, and our concept of a mind-independent world is itself the result of our mindful theorizing. "The very concept of 'matter' is itself a creation of the human mind" (p. 3). The introductory chapter offers a great preview of Nelson's style of blending philosophical arguments with observations about the cultural status of the questions he is addressing.
Chapter 2 begins with a disarming line: "I have faith, dear reader, that you exist" (p. 20). This chapter continues the theme of chapter 1 that our cognitive grasp of the world of experience and thoughts is...