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Books: God without faith

Books | A new book on the evidence for God's existence forgets that we need to be saved.

Issue: "New attacks on taxes," April 18, 1998

Patrick Glynn is receiving some undeserved praise these days for his new book, God: The Evidence. Mr. Glynn is known in conservative circles for his work at think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. But he's the sort of conservative who has always left me a little confused; he rejects religion and "dogma" yet demands "Judeo-Christian ethics." He's a secular moralist. He wants the United States to be good without God-at least, without any god in particular. God: The Evidence is more a philosophical diary than a work of science or spirituality. The Harvard-educated Mr. Glynn tells of how he was confirmed as an atheist during the 1970s, when God was dead and love was free, if a little unsanitary. But during the next two decades, the evidence mounted, and he became convinced that some sort of god does exist. "I have not said I am claiming reason can bring one to belief in God," he writes. "What I am saying is this: Reason no longer stands in the way, as it once clearly did." Mr. Glynn builds his argument for the existence of God on three pillars: the Anthropic Principle, the fact that religion is good for you, and Near Death Experiences. The Anthropic Principle is an updated watchmaker argument: There's just too much design in the universe for there not to be a Designer. Cosmologists have slowly awakened to the fact that our surroundings seem to have been created for one particular purpose: to support life on Earth. It's a good principle, but it's nothing new. Neither is the God-is-good-for-you argument-people long have known that churchgoers tend to be healthier than people who are hopeless, hapless, and helpless. The last piece of evidence Mr. Glynn presents is the ubiquitous Near Death Experiences. For him, these seem to serve as eyewitness accounts of an afterlife. What emerges from all of these proofs, however, is not necessarily the God of the Bible. Mr. Glynn's project is reminiscent of the Deists, who could not accept the possibility of divine revelation and so sought to construct a religion based on reason alone. The conclusion, based on some of these same proofs, was the cosmic watchmaker who wound up the universe but now leaves us on our own. As Thomas Aquinas once pointed out, reason might prove there is a God, but it can tell us little about him. Specifically, reason cannot establish our relationship to him, how he is disposed to us sinners, and what he has done, if anything, for our salvation. Not only are we incapable of fathoming the Trinity, we would never dream of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and free grace of Jesus Christ. Since we are fallen, so are our minds. Only God can tell us about himself. And for that we need his word. We need not only an intellectual belief in "a god." We need to be saved. The problem with praising Mr. Glynn's book too much (however grateful we might be that the reality of God is being acknowledged) is that his proofs are not science; they're zeitgeist-and fleeting zeitgeist at that. He states that reason once stood in the way of faith-but what changed? Only trends among some thinkers that could change again tomorrow. Mr. Glynn would be much better off relying on another evidentiary principle: that of habeas corpus. Where is the corpse? It's not there, Mr. Glynn. We should pray that Mr. Glynn takes the next step of encountering the risen Christ.

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