Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland

Partners

OOPS. Your Flash player is missing or outdated.Click here to update your player so you can see this content.
Issue 33: February 2009
Book Review: God, Actually Print E-mail

book_god.jpgBy Roy Williams
Published by ABC Books1

This book is about the existence of God. Hearsay's book review editor, Stephen Keim SC, came up with a novel approach for such a weighty topic - he arranged for the book to be separately reviewed by an atheist (David Crews) and a believer (Dr Louise Floyd). Both reviews appear below.

The Atheist’s Review - David Crews

The book deals with an antediluvian and much debated question: Does God exist?

In reviewing this book from the perspective of an atheist, I was excited at the thought of reading a logical and well structured analysis to convince me that God exists. Williams’ argument, although fundamentally flawed, was coherent and ordered, but relied on a myopic socialized perspective contingent predominantly on the doctrine of Christianity.

Although citing many examples drawn from science, politics, history, sociology, the arts and the Bible, the author failed to persuade me, even slightly, that there is something more. In formulating his controlled ideology of the existence of God, Williams appeals to well founded logic and intelligence to support the foundation of his thesis. This esoteric notion loses a bit as, in the absence of blind faith, only an intelligent individual has the capacity to conceptualize the existence of God and can rationally formulate the belief structure to support this proposition, and an idiot can look forward to purgatory. This analysis is extremely individualistic and elitist. It is similar to the proposition that Santa Claus will only provide a gift to a good child at Christmas. Perhaps, God is analogous to Santa for adults: the believer (and only the believer) will be granted a place in heaven.

In rebutting the deductions of renown atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, Williams attempts to shows that belief in God can and should be based on logical deductions from known facts. In doing so, Williams is less than convincing. In being critical of atheists, William fails to address the passive atheist view or agnostic point of view which holds that one does not know and need not care about the existence or otherwise of God.

From this passive point of view, I am disappointed that Williams does not address the question as to why we should believe at all. He only poses a series of questions that he feels need answers2 such as `why is there something rather than nothing.’3

Who cares?

His conclusions are fragile and desperately try to support the existence of a fictional character, such as his first conclusion that: ‘the physical universe is to too delicately contrived to be a glorious accident. Rather, it gives every appearance of having been designed and constructed by a ‘mind’.4 This suggestion may be considered arrogant because it assumes that we as humans know all that there is to know, rather than accepting that there are unknowns in life.

The analysis, although well structured, is based primarily on Christianity. I felt this was disappointing but unsurprising since a white, middle-class Australian male with a university education in Law is likely to have been indoctrinated in this particular faith, namely Christianity. Although, touching briefly on other faiths, Williams quotes extensively from the Bible and attempts to rely on an ancient text while claiming that it remains relevant in the twenty-first century.

Perhaps, Williams’ book should be renamed the “My God (not your God), Actually.

Although the book is primarily about Christianity, it covers a lot of ground in addressing a wide range of subjects. Williams doesn't preach to the converted and is unlikely to convert the damned or other denominations. Instead, he attempts to persuade, using rational argument drawn from both religious and non-religious sources. The argument is rational, well constructed and I found parts of it interesting. Other parts were unconvincing, particular the analysis of suffering.

Suffering, he says, `promotes wisdom and humility, and true thankfulness for the things that make life worthwhile’5. This hypothesis is very unconvincing and goes nowhere. I am not convinced that suffering on any level can support the existence of God. It does, however. support the existence of a Devil but Williams fails to mention this possibility.

Williams cites the Bible, broadly, rather than citing it, critically. The text is well footnoted and there is a well compiled endnote with which Roy Williams seeks to use, again, unconvincingly, to support his viewpoint.

Conclusion

If Roy Williams’ objective, as stated in the preface, is ‘if anything in this book causes just one person to begin to think more closely or more clearly about even one issue, then it will have served a valuable purpose’,6  he may have been successful. Writing this review has caused me to think carefully about a number of issues.

However, if the objective was that the reader ‘be persuaded that the likelihood of the Christian God’s existence lies well above 50 percent on what Richard Dawkins has call the ‘spectrum of possibilities’,7 then he may have failed.8

David Crews

Footnotes

  1.   See http://shop.abc.net.au/browse/label.asp?labelid=2.    

  2.   Page 337-338.

  3.   Page 337-338.

  4.   Conclusion – page 59.

  5.   page 242

  6.   Para 5 – page 8

  7.   Para 5 – page 8

  8.  The book may be accessed at http://shop.abc.net.au/browse/searchresult.asp?SearchID=559395&SearchRefineID=1079920&KeyWord=Roy+Williams. The publisher’s price is $35.   





The Believer’s Review -  Louise Floyd1

“Be not defined by your circumstances – bloom where you grow…”
(from a service at St Pauls Anglican Church East Brisbane – 2007.)

Roy Williams begins his work God Actually by telling his readership his own story.  Initially having a secular view of the world, this Sydney lawyer came to believe in God through the ebbs and flows of his own life – from the birth of his daughter through to debilitating illness.
 
Perhaps, then, with a type of fervour that goes along with being a lawyer who “grows into” a belief, Williams sets about arguing the case for Christianity. His concluding chapter is interesting in this regard. The chapter is entitled “What is your verdict?”. In the chapter, Williams cites the High Court of Australia: 

“the jury should not be told to look at the evidence of each witness ‘separately in, so to speak, a hermetically sealed compartment’, they should consider the accumulation of the evidence.” (page 339)

Indeed, Williams examines the whole gamut of religious issues in his work from Creation Theory through to Intelligent Design through to religious fundamentalism, terrorism and the writings of Dawkins. Always acknowledging the difficulties, contradictions and doubts associated with believing in something spiritual like God, Williams is a committed advocate – God exists and the complexity of the world and faith are but part of the reason for this.

In reading God Actually, I found a number of aspects to be particularly rewarding. 

First, Williams is an avid reader.  Throughout his work are references to the rich literary history that surrounds Christianity – he discusses, Spong, CS Lewis and Martin Luther King to name but three. Sadly, though, I am not sure whether Williams shares my undying love of William Blake’s poetry. (In fact there a few things on which Williams and I would disagree.) 

Secondly, Williams does ‘fill a gap’ in the literature, as they say.  He is not an extremist author of the fundamentalist right and he is Australian. Clearly, much gets written from an American perspective.

Thirdly, he is sincere – and uses his legal training to both argue for and speak openly about the intangibles that matter to him.

And that is where my own bias comes in. 

Obviously, our book review editor, the learned Mr  Keim SC, has set up this article drawing deliberate attention to the innate and overt biases of the two reviewers. He is a smart man to do that. Books about God are evocative and strike at the root of what makes us tick. It is personal stuff.

I come from a long line of clergy.  My grandfather, Rev John Roberts, was the Presbyterian Minister for Ascot and Naval Chaplain for Brisbane in World War II.  My great uncle, Rev Bern Frederick, was the Minister at Albert Street Uniting Church which has a very large gold leaf and marble memorial to him: “True Prophet of God, wise councillor, loyal friend.” Relatives in Britain include Oxford-educated grammar school headmasters who are lay clergy.  Further relatives also include a train driver’s son who loves Gough Whitlam and is every bit as Christian, decent and smart as the Conservative Oxford educated scholar relatives.

Interestingly, Williams, who states that he came to Christianity late in life, is also related to a Presbyterian Minister and his dad worked for Whitlam.

As a Christian, if there was one verse of the Bible I would take as summarising the entire faith, then it would be John  3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 

Ultimately, Christianity is a faith – a belief.  It is not about absolute proof so much as what sustains us. Or, as the verse from my favourite church service above states:  it is about our ability to bloom where we grow and not have oscillating values that change with our moods and circumstance. Williams, himself, acknowledges this in the opening to his work.  His contribution, then, is not to establish an irrefutable case for God that no one has thought of before in the past 2000 years, nor to remove the intangible faith-based elements of Christianity, but rather to counter the claims of Dawkins and others who look at Christianity with incredulity and disdain. Williams establishes that this is a reasonable approach– and that Christians are not always “dopes” or charlatans or people looking for a “crutch” in life. (eg pages 8 and 11)  

As a lawyer, I am so glad Williams has written this book (and I am so glad our book review editor asks us to review books which are removed from the law). Reflecting on my particular experience as a lawyer (that unusual creature called “the academic who practices”)…I have been blessed to have many colleagues (at all levels of and in all branches of the profession) who “sing openly” with their lives. They use their careers for the greater good; their natural ability is a joy to watch; they enjoy the arts, sport, nature, academia; and drink the elixir of life.  But I have also met pockets of the profession who are wooden, to say the least.  Isn’t it wonderful, then, to read the work of a Sydney lawyer who actually makes us think?

Louise Floyd

Footnotes  

  1. In loving memory of my dad who passed away on 14 January 2009.

  2. Earl Spencer, Lady Di’s eulogy.

  3. The book is an absolute steal at publisher’s price of $35. See http://shop.abc.net.au/browse/searchresult.asp?SearchID=559395&SearchRefineID=1079920&KeyWord=Roy+Williams.

 


 

 




| | | | |