24 October 2011

Book Series: Letters to a Doubting Thomas | Layman

In the following series, I'll be posting my notes on Letters to a Doubting Thomas by C. Stephen Layman.

The book takes an interesting format; rather than the typical monologue, we have a dialog between an inquisitive skeptic, Thomas, and his former college friend, Zach. Zach is said to have been a philosophy major in college, and so when Thomas gets bitten by the "god question," he turns to Zach for input. The two dialog back and forth in letters about various questions. What I like about this format is that it does create a partial feel of real world exchanges -- Zach might make a case and Thomas will question it, or think of an alternative hypothesis and put it forth. I will say that it's a bit artificial. Zach monopolizes the boook, and Thomas' questions are usually only a few lines compared to Zach's paragraphs of philosophical explanations. Furthermore, usually after the first explanation from Zach, Thomas responds with, "After reading your last letter, you have sold me on X." He's somewhat of a pushover during the book, despite this conclusion (final letter from Thomas):
Dear Zach,

You've given me a lot to think about! As you know, I'm not a person that changes his mind very easily or often, so, frankly, I'm still in a state of doubt... But I will admit this much: You've convinced me that Theism has a lot more going for it than I supposed.

The book came highly recommended via Common Sense Atheism for my own Truth-Seeker Challenge. I've since decided to pretty much abandon that goal, but I'd already purchased this book, and so I read it. I'll be putting together comments by chapter, which each correspond to a line of argument presented by Layman via his philosophical apologist character, Zach.

Posts in this series
  • Ch 1: Theism and Naturalism
    • Zach puts forward that to really compare two things, you need to compare apples to apples. Thus, he says, that one needs a positive case for something as an alternate to theism. The two agree on naturalism and then Zach puts forward definitions for both theism and naturalism. They discuss the prior probabilities of each.
  • Ch 2 and 3: Religions Experience
    • Zach suggests religious experience as a basis for increasing the probability of theism. They discuss types of experience and whether they, as a category, are reliable as far as material for inferences.
  • Ch 4: Cosmological Argument
    • Self explanatory; a discussion about the origin of the universe.
  • Ch 5: A Design Argument (in actuality, a fine-tuning argument)
    • A discussion of the fine-tuning and what better serves to explain this phenomenon -- theism or four naturalism-compatible alternatives: coincidence, necessity, percentage of possible worlds, or the many-worlds hypothesis.
  • Ch 6: Free Will
    • Zach approaches this dialog from the angle of free will. What is it? Do we have it? (He thinks yes.) Given that we have it, what better explains it -- theism or naturalism?
  • Ch 7 and 8: The Problem of Evil
    • Zach takes a chapter each for theism and naturalism to examine how one might explain evil in the world.
  • Ch 9: A Moral Argument
    • What's right and wrong? How best can we explain the "moral order"?


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