Review: Gregory Ganssle, Thinking About God

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Greg Ganssle has produced the most fun and readable introduction to philosophy of religion I have ever encountered. His target audience runs from high school seniors to introductory college students, and I can say that I have enjoyed teaching an introductory philosophy course using this book. He presents the issues in a clear-headed way while drawing readers in with fun examples and humor.

After arguing for the value of thinking through philosophical questions in a reasonable way, Ganssle argues for open-mindedness in the sense of not being so sure of your views that you are not open to reason, but he also dismisses the idea that we must be neutral or that we must not make exclusive truth claims. Open-mindedness does not require having no views in those ways. I especially like seeing this in a book designed for younger students unfamiliar enough with philosophy to need some kind of way of heading off the simplistic kind of relativism that many students of philosophy find themselves stumbling over.

The main body of the work considers philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God. His presentation of the cosmological argument is the clearest I have ever seen, avoiding technical terminology when it is not needed but making the concepts as clear as can be done without such terms. His treatment of the design argument focuses on the fine-tuning argument after showing why very few are today convinced of biological design arguments, a choice perhaps reflecting a desire to stay out of intelligent design controversies in the political realm but nonetheless reflecting the philosophical consensus among believing philosophers today. His moral argument discussion helpfully begins by showing the difficulties in naturalistic accounts of morality, thus showing reasons why someone would turn to God as an explanation. I wish he had treated some naturalistic accounts of morality that are not relativist or eliminativist, and I really wished for a discussion of Euthyphro objections, but I do think his treatment of this argument is among the best I have read at this level.

On the problem of evil, he presents a quick summary of the logical problem and why Plantinga's free will defense has convinced most atheistic philosophers that the logical problem does not in fact lead to a contradiction. After an excursus defending libertarian free will, he proceeds to the evidential problem of evil and very briefly suggests why we might not think we are the sort of beings who should know all the explanations for why God might allow evil. I thought some of the explanations that we can arrive at might have been nice, but the point he does make is probably the most important one available to a theist.

Ganssle ends the book with some philosophical theology. He deals with the problem of defining omnipotence as the ability to do anything, arguing with the majority of philosophers on this question that omnipotence does contain the limits of being able to do only what is possible. He treats the problem of an atemporal God knowing what time it is and the foreknowledge and freedom problem. It is difficult to say a lot about some of the most important views on those topics if you need to avoid getting too technical, so sometimes Ganssle just reports that there are responses to certain objections or views that try to avoid certain problems. This is one place I wanted more where it was hard for me to figure out myself how more would have fit the way he was writing the book. Finally, he argues that if a being something like the traditional monotheistic God exists, we should expect such a being to want to communicate with us, arguing in the process that such communication would be best if it were written language, thus something like the kind of revelation most monotheistic religions think God has given.

Overall, I highly recommend the book for introducing students at the intended level to philosophical issues about God. Despite where I would have written things differently, I have never seen a book that does what this book does as well as it does it.

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