Book Review: Finding an Unseen God

Thanks again to Bethany House Publishers for sending me this review copy.

Finding an Unseen God: Reflections of a Former Atheist (AMZ/BHP) is Alicia Britt Chole’s auto-biographical account of her conversion to Christianity from her atheism. I hasten to add that this book isn’t a book detailing all the steps in her conversion but rather a heavily introspective, subjective account of her turn to faith. It becomes quite clear that Alicia is a bright person who is familiar with the maze of debates between theists and atheists, but thankfully this is not another book listing facts and evidences in a dry manner. That isn’t to say she ignores them, but instead she focuses on what I can only call spiritual awakening.

As I mentioned before, the book makes heavy use of introspection and, I imagine, is enough to scare a few people analytically-minded folks off. That would be a mistake, though. Don’t think stream-of-consciousness-beatnik-first-person reporting but something akin to C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy. With that being said, she does have a choppier style- most chapters are only a page or two long- and it can take a while to acclimate to her style. But once you get moving the pacing is spot-on and the book will be over before you know it.

As a philosopher I really appreciated what I took to be the main thrust of the book which take the form of a question: Is your worldview conversant with the way things actually are? Alicia makes the case that her atheism was not, in fact, conversant with reality. She has some rather personal stories that I’ll save for you, but they are interesting looks into the dynamics of human relationships. Some of the stuff she recalls about her parents made my eyes misty now and then, but you never lose focus of the point throughout it all.

A few things to note in closing.
This is not a typical read for me. I’ve done atheists both new and old as well as their theist opponents. I’ve read some poorly written conversion stories by evangelical Christians, and I’ve interacted with many atheists as they propound various child abuse theories of doctrinal inculcation. But rarely do I get to enjoy a book that has some philosophical rigor to go with a beating heart.
Alicia is obviously an accomplished and seasoned writer. She successfully draws you into her world without artificiality or sob stories. I work with publishers and even though I’m only an average writer (at best) it gets pretty easy to see the difference between shoddy work and the genuine article. She belongs to the latter group.
Lastly, I’d be interested in seeing some responses from both atheists and atheists-turned-Christian. Does she accurately portray the journey from skepticism to faith? Are there similarities with other stories like this? Does she give atheism its due in the book? I hope this book stirs up enough interest to get the ball rolling on these questions.

I’ve been in the book industry for a few years now, and even though I’m removed from the bookstore “floor” these days I still have to add the compulsory “who I would recommend this book to” gag. First, this book is the perfect escape from apologetics as usual. If you’ve had your nose in a scholarly book for a while and want a well-reasoned book on someone’s turn to faith, give it a go. This is also a perfect introductory work that will hopefully lead to careful study of Christianity. But this is also a bit of a devotional. So while it has many things to offer different people, don’t pick it up if you want an answer to the so-called “New Atheists”– this book does not speak to that kind of debate. For the people I mentioned earlier, don’t miss this one. You’ll be sorry.

(Follow Alicia Britt Chole on the web here)

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GFP’s reading group

GFP is one of the premier philosophical stops on the internet, and hands down the single best discussion of free will on the web. They’ve kick-started their reading group with a piece by Mark Balaguer (you can find it here). Some rules:

Y’all will remember the format: a paper gets posted for your reading pleasure, then a commentator, well, comments, and finally we have a free-for-all careful discussion open to all.

[…]

Here’s here things will unfold. On June 9 I will post Mark’s paper (if you’re keen, you can find it yourself beforehand); within a week of that date I will post my comments and Mark’s response. Then we shall proceed in an orderly fashion to rip Mark to pieces offer constructive criticism.

The paper looks interesting and I plan to keep my blog updated with the discussion that takes place there.

Nick Norelli’s list of discussons on Tom Wright’s new book

What an unwieldy title for a blog post (I couldn’t decide what the cut out; it all seems relevant). Rather than attempt to summarize any of it, please head over to RDTWOT to see the list of the blogosphere’s scholarly discussions on Tom Wright’s new book on justification.

My favorite discussion so far.

Francis Bacon on blogging

If a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not.

The wording is a little weird, but it seems to be the way he wrote.

Is the dollar dead?

A new op-od in the NYT yesterday outlines the coming rejection of the dollar in favor of the Chinese Renminbi. Clearly this is a logical choice IF China can continue to stabilize economically and begin importing (sending its money abroad). Right now China holds huge cash reserves of foreign currencies, but as the world suffers through a global recession we’ve seen the dollar take its licks. It may now be time for a new reserve currency.

Details here.

Hilary Putnam’s anti-Skepticism Argument

1) If I am a brain in a vat, I express a falsehood in uttering the sentence “I am a brain in a vat.”
2) If I am not a brain in a vat, I express a falsehood in uttering the sentence “I am a brain in a vat.”
3) I am either a brain in a vat or I am not a brain in a vat.
4) In uttering the sentence “I am a brain in a vat,” I express a falsehood. (From (1), (2) and (3))
5) In uttering the sentence “I am a brain in a vat,” I utter a sentence meaning that I am not a brain in a vat.
.: I am not a brain in a vat. (from (4) and (5))

This is not a very convincing argument. His argument hinges on meaning externalism, and this is where he gets the un-utterability of “I am a brain in a vat”, which actually means something like “I am not an English-speaker in a vat.” Of course, if we actually are brains in a vat then we actually aren’t english-speakers in vats either.

New Book

Thanks to Bethany House Publishers for sending me a copy of “Finding an Unseen God” (AMZ; CB) by Alicia Britt Chole. I’ll be ready for it after a long semester.