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Doug Groothuis’s harsh book review

December 10, 2011

warburtonNigel Warburton (Open University) is a well known author of several philosophy textbooks.  His latest book is the completely charming A Little History of Philosophy, published by Yale University Press, and intended for teenagers. 

Here is the entirety of what Nigel Warburton said about Bertrand Russell and the so-called “cosmological argument” (p. 185) – note that this is just a half page of a 260 page book.

Bertrand’s non-religious “godfather” was the the philosopher John Stuart Mill (the subject of Chapter 24).  Sadly, he never got to know him as Mill died when Russell was still a toddler.  Reading Mill’s Autobiography (1873) was what led Russell to reject God.  He had previously believed the First Cause Argument.  This is the argument, used by Thomas Aquinas amongst others, that everything must have a cause; and the cause of everything, the very first cause in the chain of cause and effect, must be God.  But Mill asked the question, “What caused God?” and Russell saw the logical problem for the First Cause Argument.  If there is one thing that doesn’t have a cause then it can’t be true that “Everything has a cause.”  It made more sense to Russell to think that even God had a cause rather than believe that something could just exist without being cause by anything else.

doug groothiusNote that Warburton’s description of Russell’s thought is neutral.  Warburton does not praise nor criticize Russell in this paragraph.

However, one Doug Groothuis of Denver Seminary was apparently upset that Warburton even mentioned Bertrand Russell.  Groothuis had such a strong reaction that he decided Warburton’s book had minimal value, and he posted the following review on Amazon (giving Warburton the lowest possible ranking, one star):

The author, a secularist, does not bother to treat philosophical arguments for God’s existence seriously. For example, he lauds Bertrand Russell’s attack on the cosmological argument (p. 185) when, in fact, Russell created a straw man. In "Why I am Not a Christian," Russell says that cosmological arguments all fail because they depend on this premise:

P1: Everything that exists has a cause
Or order to reach this conclusion along with one more premise:
P2: The universe exists.
C1: Therefore, the universe has a cause (God)

But Russell claims that C1 (God) would be subject to P1. God would require a cause for God’s existence. If so, the argument fails.

This is absurd because I have never read a version of the cosmological argument (in 35 years of studying and teaching and writing about philosophy of religion) that used this argument premise. Of course, P1 will defeat a cosmological argument, but no one uses it!

For example, the kalam cosmological argument reasons this way:
P1: What every begins to exist, has a cause of its existence.
P2: The universe began to exist.
C1: Therefore, the universe has a cause (God).

Notice that the kalam’s P1 differs radically from Russell’s version: "Everything that exists has a cause." God, of course, did not (by definition) begin to exist, so is not subject requiring a beginning cause for God’s existence. In order words, there is no reductio ad absurdum. Neither do the Thomistic or the Lebinizian cosmological arguments rely on Russell’s manufactured premise.

One could go on about the cosmological argument (I devote 30 pages to it in my book, Christian Apologetics), but suffice to say that this book does not bother to critique the argument at its best, only at its worst.

That is a very bad sign indeed, but I find that many British secular philosophers are often dismissive of philosophical theism. Shame on them.

Wow.  This Groothuis fellow has quite a temper. Not only is Warburton condemned, so are all the (secular) philosophers on his island.  Groothuis even reposted his harsh review on his blob.

There is a subsequent discussion in the comments to his Amazon review in which Groothuis, again, pushes his book, Christian Apologetics. (As you read, in his original review, Groothuis claims that he devotes 30 pages to the argument in that book, but in the comments somehow Groothuis expands his claim to say that he has “answers to all this” in “hundreds of pages” in that same book.) 

This is one of those book reviews that tells much more about the reviewer than about the book.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 11, 2011 12:31 am


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