God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity
by Rupert Shortt
C Hurst & Co (Publishers) Ltd (10 March 2016)
The new atheists frequently argue as follows: The theists claim that things have a cause. They further claim that all causes must have an ultimate cause and this they call God. But who made God? Shortt's response is quite brilliant. The atheists have put forward a proposition that theists frankly do not uphold. There are things in the world and God, for the theist, is no thing among many things. Hence the title of the book. As Aquinas would have said, God is not just one being among many other beings. Rather, he is Being itself. In order to give explanation to all other causes, there must be a first cause which by definition cannot be conditioned by anything outside of itself. This we call God.
The atheists have argued that something can come from nothing without having God as an explanation. Stephen Hawking, for example, says that the laws of gravity can explain this. But Shortt quotes Denys Turner in response: no thing means precisely what it says, no process and no law of science.
The section on whether religion leads to violence is also very good. If anything, Shortt concedes too much to the new atheists: there is really nothing that new about the new atheists apart, perhaps, from their stridency of tone and their feeble attempts at confusing terrorists with all believers. Even their apologetics are far from original. I concede that Stephen Fry won many to his atheist cause by his famous comment that a good God does not allow the innocent to suffer. But the Book of Job did a much better job of this as did CS Lewis and so many other greater minds.
Shortt's dismissal of scientism, the philosophical view that science can explain everything, is excellent. As he notes, the proposition that the only meaningful statements are those derived from science is itself not something that could be proved by science!
Shortt is at his weakest when he takes the liberal view of scripture
for granted. Also, he has a poor understanding of Augustine on original
sin. He assumes that Eastern Christianity has a rosier picture of the
human condition than the Western version. In truth, the difference is not
that great on this matter.
Overall, I found this book a really helpful and somewhat gentle response to the new atheism.
Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan