Thoughtful Theism: A Book Review

Thoughtful Theism: Redeeming Reason in an Irrational Age by Fr. Andrew Younan
Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017

From atheists who equate belief in God with irrationality to an increasing number of religious people who seem to agree, this is an age of very little reason and dialogue.  Mainstream thought is largely forgetting the rich Christian tradition of the faith and reason relationship.

Thoughtful Theism by Fr. Andrew Younan is an addition to this rich intellectual tradition that I hope reminds people that theism is a rational position to hold.  Believing in a god and becoming religious does not mean we check our brains at the door.

One thing Younan makes clear is that arguing for belief in God is all he attempts to do in the book.  From the beginning he states that this book is not about proving the Christian God but only about proving a God.  All the other questions about who God is are secondary to the first question about whether God even exists.

There are a couple of introductory chapters mainly dealing with some general fallacies and definitions of terms.  He discusses thinking, believing, and opinion and says, “Thinking is hard work….Having an opinion is the easiest thing of all.”

In chapter 3 Fr. Younan dives in and gives the classic proofs of God given by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century.  Younan says atheists do a terrible job refuting Aquinas’ proofs and adds “I haven’t found a single atheist writer who actually quotes Aquinas.”

Chapter 4 is about the Big Bang and how it “implies the existence of an eternal, immaterial, all-powerful, and intellectual Creator.”  Somehow over time, many theists and atheists came to regard the Big Bang as the province of atheists.  This is a strange position considering the theory was first proposed by George Lemaître, a scientist and Roman Catholic priest, and that even atheists at the time originally did not like the theory because of its theistic implications.

Chapter 5 is about evolution.  He begins with a story of being in a biology class and a fellow student wanted to discuss the topic of evolution vs religion.  The professor said, “The debate about evolution is not a debate between science and religion, and never has been.  It is a debate between atheists and Protestants.”  You can imagine how the rest of the chapter goes. 🙂

Chapter 6 is about the problem of evil.  This is indeed the hardest case for theists to deal with—at least theists who believe in an all-good and loving God.  It is also the case against God used most frequently by atheists.  Unfortunately, the issue is made worse by the fact that it is saturated with emotion.  Pain is such a personal thing and almost impossible to think through rationally, especially if we are experiencing an ocean of it.  But it is an issue that requires an answer.  Younan warns that his words will be blunt.  “I’m going to say them bluntly.  It’s not because I want to be mean, but because I want to deal with evil as an objection to God’s existence, not as something that has hurt you personally.”  In fact, he adds, “I’m also going to speak bluntly because the objection is a blunt one.”  A blunt accusation often requires a blunt answer.  Regardless, I believe Fr. Younan handled this topic quite well.

Chapter 7 is the last and has some general discussion about religion and epistemology.  There is also a great paragraph toward the end that I believe is worth quoting here.

“Oddly enough, the New Atheists and the Roman Catholic Church have something very deep in common.  They both consider heresy (false belief) harmful to humanity.  What they disagree on is what exactly the heresy is.  But for both of these groups, believing something false can have serious consequences—not only in its ‘extremist’ form, or only in exceptional circumstances, but simply in itself.  It is the ‘militant’ atheists who have the most in common with old-school religion.  It’s the watered-down religions and atheisms who would rather not discuss the issue at all, since it’s impolite to make people think.  To my observation, this is the final result of the ‘coexist’ mentality.”

I believe this is a great book for atheists who paint theists as irrational and for the many theists who seem hell-bent on confirming such a caricature.