Assistant professor explores 'Clarity of God's Existence'
Timing is everything.
In his most recent book, “The Clarity of God’s Existence: The Ethics of Belief After the Enlightenment,” Owen Anderson joins a debate that is gathering momentum and earning much attention. Authors Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are intellectuals who have challenged the validity of belief in God while seeing their books included among this country’s best-selling.
In his new release, Anderson, an assistant professor of philosophy of religion in Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, offers an explanation as to why traditional proofs of the existence of God have failed, but also suggests why this issue is so important for religions like Christianity. If humans are guilty for failing to know God, as Christianity maintains, then they must be able to know God. Guilt means that one has no excuse, and yet many people argue that there are rational reasons for not believing in God – there are excuses. To show that there is no excuse would be to show that it is clear that God exists. In order to understand these excuses, he lays out the traditional arguments for the existence of God and why they are insufficient: the cosmological argument that the universe must have had a first cause, and this first cause is God; and the teleological argument that the universe displays signs of design, so it must have had a designer, and this designer is God. Anderson traces the history of challenges to these theistic proofs, including those of such Enlightenment thinkers as David Hume and Immanuel Kant.
“What those who are challenging the validity of belief in God are saying, in essence, is that in the modern world belief in God is unethical and tantamount to superstition, and that there is no excuse for continuing to believe in God,” says Anderson who holds five degrees – bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and in history, master’s degrees in philosophy and in religious studies, and a Ph.D. in philosophy. “My book looks at why rational support is so important if unbelief is what is inexcusable, and why the traditional arguments for God’s existence have not been successful. It considers the objections from thinkers like Hume, who was an arch-skeptic of the Enlightenment who challenged the ability of reason itself to know God, and how his challenges have not been addressed.
“What has been the tendency is to simply repeat the traditional arguments, which is not the same as actually responding to the challenge.”
Anderson says there must be clarity in the traditional proofs of God’s existence if Christianity is to continue the claim that unbelief is a sin. Anderson introduces the principal of clarity – this says that if the failure to believing something results in maximum responsibility (as in the case of eternal separation from God), then it must be maximally knowable. This would require that all alternatives to belief are rationally impossible so that there is no excuse for believing them. In fact, the final chapter is devoted to a surface exploration of what must be done, in Anderson’s opinion, to show that it is clear that God exists.
He is no stranger to the debate. His first book, “Benjamin B. Warfield and Right Reason,” was re-printed this year as “Reason and Worldviews” and is a study of Princeton theologian Warfield’s view of the role of reason in religious belief. The title explores the development of Princeton Theological Seminary, Warfield’s debate with Dutch politician and theologian Abraham Kuyper over the need for apologetics, and the way in which Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til attempted to adopt the best from both of them.
In “Clarity,” Anderson believes the timing is right and the audience widespread.
“The audience for this is anyone who is interested in questions about religious belief in the modern world,” says the author, who has received a grant from the Harvard Pluralism Project to study the religious diversity of the greater Phoenix area. “Are authors like Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens correct in challenging the validity of one’s belief in God? Do they successfully show that there is an excuse for unbelief, or even that there is no excuse for belief? My book looks at the many ways the need for clarity has been avoided, and how excuses have built up. I then suggest ways this might be addressed. For this reason, it should be of interest to both the believer and the non-believer.”
The foreword to Anderson’s book is written by Stephen H. Webb, a professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wabash College. A theologian and philosopher of religion, Webb says of the book, “This is an exciting book that advances the status of apologetics by analyzing and probing some fundamental issues in contemporary philosophy and theology.
“It is also a nice combination of historical criticism and contemporary analysis…Owen is able to pull this off due to the elegance and simplicity of his focus.”
Published by Wipf & Stock Publishers (www.wipfandstock.com), the book is available in paperback.
Anderson is a regular contributor to Reviews in Religion and Theology, and has published scholarly articles on the ethics of belief, religious pluralism, and on contemporary natural law theory. His research areas include the religious belief, world religions and common ground, and the problem of evil.
In addition to his work on an upcoming book that further explores the subject of clarity, Anderson is currently organizing a night of debate and discussion about religious diversity and its challenges. “Religious Diversity and Public Discourse” will feature presentations by scholars from the disciplines of philosophy, history and religious studies. It is scheduled Nov. 13, 6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. in La Sala on ASU’s West campus. More information is available by contacting Anderson at 602-543-6027 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.