The Believing Brain

Michael Shermer is a well-known spokesman for atheism and scepticism. Over the years he has debated many Christian apologists including William Lane Craig and John Lennox. He is personable, likable, and an excellent communicator. In his early work in this area he seemed for more balanced and nuanced in his approach to faith than the four horseman of Atheism namely Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens. His Book “Why Darwin Matters” opposes Creationism and Intelligent Design whilst being informed and respectful of some aspects of traditional Christian Theology. However, I have noticed that in recent years he seems to have hardened his position somewhat (perhaps the side effect of constant debating or spending too much time with Richard Dawkins!) and I find that somewhat sad. The link below is to a review of Shermer’s popular book “The Believing Brain” by Eugene A Curry. It is excellent: everything one would hope for in a critical review. It is fair, balanced, informative and penetrating in its analysis. I think this is an excellent resource for the Church. Not only does Shermer raise important challenges for Christian theology but he represents a perspective that is common in Evolutionary Psychology. Therefore it is even more important that we have responses and rejoinders like this review by Curry.

I warmly recommend it for personal use by anyone interested in Christian apologetics and the science religion debate. I also think it would be a good resource for group discussion within a church fellowship dealing with these issues. Even if you are not familiar with Shermer the review will inform you of the subject matter and its importance. Well worth a read.


by Rev Dr Russel Moffat

14 Responses

  1. /February 3, 2020/ by David Fergusson /

    A fine critical review - measured, meticulous and accessible in its analysis and rejoinders. Along the way, Curry alludes to a question posed by Shermer. Why do people like me not get it? I’ve met scientists who have pointed out that this is a question which theologians need to answer. If people can live well without religious belief or practice, how do we explain this?  Perhaps it’s always been a question which secularization has merely intensified - it arose when European intellectuals first encountered the riches of Confucian culture. Are there material conditions under which the religious instinct is suppressed? Or might there be positive reasons why faith is not shared by everyone? Or is the life of the spirit refracted in other pursuits such as art or sport or politics? These questions are now on the apologetic agenda and require some sensitive handling.

  2. /February 8, 2020/ by Russel Moffat /

    Hi David

    Thanks for your post and for raising this issue. It is a very personal and almost disarming question isn’t it? Then I always thought that Shermer was a genial type who has had a few beers with the original “gang of four” Intelligent Design crowd in years past. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in these discussions. The question is a genuine one and not polemical and aimed at “point scoring” but it does put the ball firmly in the theist’s court and even more in the “card carrying” Christian one.

    I am fascinated and pleased you raised this as perhaps we need to move beyond “debate” to genuine conversation where it is not a zero sum game with atheists and humanists. When this happens, complex issues can be explored honestly and reasonably. I have noticed that Sam Harris over the last few years is less combative with religious people especially on his podcast. Nonetheless, he poses real hard questions for the faithful in the soft but penetrating manner which is his trademark. The fact that we may find it easier to shoot down some of the sillier and more ill-informed atheist rhetoric may have made us lazy and complacent. If someone says, like my eldest son who is philosophically sharp and, I have to say, one of the most open minded people I know, that he just doesn’t get it, then I really have to take this question absolutely seriously.

    Where do we begin? Perhaps readers of this blog can offer suggestions on this!

  3. /February 9, 2020/ by Russel Moffat /

    Hi David

    Just a follow up thought to my last comment. The issue works both ways does it not? If atheists can ask us how we respond to or explain someone like them who in all sincerity and genuineness can honestly state that they just don’t “get” God or faith, is the same not true the other way around? What if we say we just don’t get atheism and unbelief…we find it impossible to accept. Of course, from the New Atheist perspective we are “faith heads” (Dawkins) who are ignorant, stupid, gullible or, in the worst case scenario, malevolent.  This is an approach which not only makes dialogue impossible or at the least very difficult, but is not intellectually sustainable.
    Furthermore, if it is true that we are the product of a meaningless and purposeless process, why has the majority of the human race seemingly been obsessed with meaning and purpose? Why is there even a why question?

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