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Deepest Differences: A Christian-Atheist Dialogue [Paperback]

By James W. Sire (Author) & Carl Peraino (Author)
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Item Number 391880  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   203
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.26" Width: 5.46" Height: 0.61"
Weight:   0.53 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 1, 2009
Publisher   IVP Books
ISBN  0830833587  
EAN  9780830833580  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Christian author Jim Sire engages in an extended email dialogue with atheist Carl Peraino. In this frank, honest exchange, views about God, morality, science, minds and brains are discussed by two friends deeply divided by their differing beliefs about God and the nature of reality.

Publishers Description
If you're looking for clear-cut answers to difficult questions about God--or for your guy to score a quick knock-out of a toughened sparring partner--then this book is not for you. But if you're open to an authentic, no-holds barred, respectful dialogue about one of life's most important issues, then take up and read. There are no straw men here. Sparked by a chance meeting between two book-club acquaintances and their discussion of Kurt Vonnegut's obituary, this dialogue between long-time Christian Jim Sire and forthright atheist Carl Peraino developed through extended email exchanges exploring minds and brains, science and morality, faith and reason, God and violence, doubt and rhetoric. You'll find much to ponder, weigh and explore in this lively, down-to-earth book. A study guide is included if you wish to delve deeper into any of the issues raised.

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More About James W. Sire & Carl Peraino

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Born on a ranch on the rim of the Nebraska Sandhills, James W. Sire has been an officer in the Army, a college professor of English literature, philosophy and theology, the chief editor of InterVarsity Press (a Christian publisher of books for thoughtful readers), a lecturer at over two hundred universities in the U.S., Canada, Eastern and Western Europe and Asia, and the author of twenty books on literature, philosophy and the Christian faith. His book The Universe Next Door, published in 1976 and now in its fifth edition, has sold over 350,000 copies and has been translated into 18 foreign languages. He holds a B.A. in chemistry and English from the University of Nebraska, an M.A. in English from Washington State College (now University) and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri. His most recent book is a memoir, The Rim of the Sandhills (eBook on Kindle and Nook).

James W. Sire has published or released items in the following series...
  1. IVP Classics
  2. Lifeguide Bible Studies
  3. Wheaton Literary

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Respectful Dialogue of Drastically different worldviews  Feb 12, 2010
Deepest Differences: A Christian-Atheist Dialogue

Deepest Differences: A Christian-Atheist Dialogue by James W. Sire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Deepest Differences is accurately titled. The book is made up of actual emails between two very different people. It is great to see how both James Sire and Carl Peraino talk to each other as friends and yet with passion to their points of view.

James make is clear that his position is one of a biblical theist. I'm pretty certain that he is a theistic evolutionist so I don't personally believe that he is consistent with the "biblical" part. However, to be fair James never says this and instead argues that logically you do not have to believe in creationism to believe in theism. James makes many good arguments but clearly respects the man at the other end of the email.

Carl is clearly a naturalist who believes that evolution and social constructs explain the origin of life and the morals that rule our society. He has very little open mindedness to anything supernatural. I would believe that his pre-suppositions would cause him to reject even the most objective proof for a miracle or supernatural event. Again, Carl is quick to apologize when he feels his passion might offend his friend.

I was able to learn quite a bit about the two viewpoints these men espoused but I would not recommend an email format for this purpose. It is way more efficient to read summary statements about these world views. The real value I see in this book is the opportunity to hear the passion and heart of a real person's worldview and the example of respectful dialogue. You might think that this book is a debate but I would disagree. Every debate I am familiar with takes on the format of the following: One person states a position; the next person takes an opposite position and seeks to prove the validity of his view. There is little regard for the other person's feelings, background or peripheral concerns that would be effected (possibly even devastated) by finding that his view might be wrong. Reality is that they do not focus on helping someone change their view as much as winning an argument. The two gentlemen in this book do argue passionately for their respective views but they clearly value the other person. I believe they could have done a better job of caring for the other person by becoming more concerned holistically with the other person rather than with just the viewpoint.

By only discussing viewpoints they finally came to the position that there were DEEPEST DIFFERENCES that were irreconcilable and thus agreed to stop discussing those differences any further. I do recommend this book but not if you are specifically looking to learn how to argue either of these views.
High Expectations--dashed  Jun 9, 2009
I heard of this book during a radio interview with James Sire. It sounded interesting, and I really enjoyed Sire's book "The Universe Next Door". Unfortunately, my high hopes were soon dashed. I was expecting a legitimate dialogue on what the atheist believed vs. what the Christian believed. Dr. Peraino spent almost his whole time bashing God and Christianity, oftentimes with gross generalizations and time worn complaints about what he perceived to be Christianity. He did very little to articulate his own atheistic position, other than to keep insisting that he was operating on the basis of reason. One came away with the idea that atheists have nothing to offer other than their rantings against their perceptions of the Christian God. He never gave a basis for moral decisions, other than the survival of the species, seemed completely oblivious that the worst atrocities of the 20th century came at the hands of atheistic/Darwinist governments, (e.g. Hitler's Nazi Germany and Stalin's Communist USSR) and in general never gave anything positive to say other than that atheism was a rational conclusion whereas religion, Christianity in particular, was irrational.

For his part, Sires seemed content to defend Christianity. Whether out of politeness or just the course the discussion followed he never seemed to make a determined attempt to get Dr. Peraino to state his position, especially in responding to the worldview questions Sire's had in his book "The Universe Next Door". To Sire's credit, he did not respond in kind to Dr. Peraino's snide remarks, and general arrogance.

In summary, if you are looking for an apologetic for Christianity, there are far better books available, including other books by Sire. If you are looking for a defense of atheism I would assume there are better books out there. If there aren't, then atheism is in a sorry state of affairs. The old adage about debating appears to be at work on the part of Dr. Peraino, if you don't have anything to support your side of the argument, then tear down the other side.

Your money and time can be better spent on other books.
The mind has mountains: radical materialist atheist versus orthodox theist  Jun 2, 2009
The mind has mountains: radical materialist atheist versus orthodox theist

This dialogue between a Christian and an atheist (or more specifically between an orthodox theist and a radical materialist atheist) through the argumentative set-up of the book, an e-mail debate, invites the reader to take part and the deepest divisiveness of the issues, since the days of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley, makes the choosing of sides almost unavoidable for any engaged reader.

I should look at this atheist-Christian dialogue, and be fair: seventeenth- and (enlightened) eighteenth-century (mostly impolite) polemicists have battered each other's brains (!) which in the end led to some sort of political toleration of individual religious experience. In the post-Darwinian nineteenth century atheists joined the debate about the immortality of the soul. After an initial deist attempt at harmonizing faith and new science, most atheists used Darwin's theory for their own anti-Christian exercise. The polemics in old (early modern and modern) Europe addressed the by then (already) age old issues of the theodicy or the problem of evil, (ex nihilo) creation or the magnificent handicraft of the demiurge, human morality and free will, reasoned faith and revelation. Then Darwin and Nietzsche came along wreaking even more social, political and religious havoc, then Einstein and Hawking. The debate only intensified in the twentieth century, now on issues such as radical religion and sectarianism, slavery, colonialism, nationalism, racism, war and holocaust.

This book was published by a Christian publisher, and it happens to be the Christian co-author's publisher, and the Christian believer, James Sire, when he is not citing or referring to the Bible to support his beliefs (sola scriptura?), does not miss an opportunity to throw books written and published by himself and with the same publishing house at the atheist Peraino and the Christian reader, in order to prove his position to his intended readership, something he more than once fails to do in response to the challenges actually laid down by the atheist in the dialogues. One such book is even offered twice, and once, the polite atheist deftly declines yet another offer of more heavy tomes of religious learning (p. 81-2).

As I understand it, Peraino was invited by Sire at their book club meeting to challenge him and the scientist lived up to that challenge, at times with steam coming out of his ears. More than once Peraino feels frustrated only countering, or in fact running into, the believer's statements of belief. What can he do otherwise? It is braver to honestly (logically, rationally, as he would say) challenge beliefs than to be sure (in the faith) with some mostly suppressed lingering doubts. If the book had been published by an atheist publisher, and geared to a new American nonbelievers' audience, it would have been a different book and a different rhetoric (sure, some would say).

In the meantime Peraino has much more to offer than he realizes. Curiously, the atheist's comments on the crucifixion and human suffering as well as his historical (anthropological) approach to the pre-Christian cultic religions are moving in a way that the believer's religious clichés of non-dialogue fail to be. For on this point of suffering for (and of) mankind, where he most needs a response, Peraino meets Sire's silence or the preacher's admonition that understanding atonement would require him to be a profound Christian. The book serves an important purpose if people, be they religious or nonreligious, feel challenged by it to think about these matters.

However, Sire's final editorial comments, although Peraino was asked to sum up his position first, appear to want to have the last say (Word): we finally end up in an apocalyptic situation, and the nonbelievers, sadly, are left (spiritually) blind for ever and ever (a footnote, usually stated in the third person - Sire or Peraino - is now suddenly first person Sire). Sire can only conclude that in the naturalist and godless world "Humanity's pluralist lifetime on earth will be cut short not by global warming but by its inability to sustain itself. Totalitarianism or extinction: those will be the options. And neither of them will be any worse than the other, for better and worse have passed away as a category." (pp. 172; and cf. 181ff.) Thank God (I almost said) there are still scientists to help us mortals take care of the problem of global warming at least.

But seriously, why do these observations hurt, after an impressive exposition on human morality and several successful attempts at civil dialogue (including the atheist's apology for some snide remarks), attempts at trying to wear the other's moccasins (it is Sire, rather, who mostly fails to fit on Peraino's shoes)? This is nineteenth-century post Darwinian religious fear of atheism. Plato's cave and the beginnings of teleology are not far, also not to a post-Reformation Christian. The principle of the survival of the fittest (first described as such by Herbert Spencer) is clearly misunderstood by Sire - and that in this Darwin year 2009 (!) - as the end of the real, natural, world as we know it. But what is perhaps more hurtful is the (latent?) Calvinism here (Calvin is not in the index, nor in the book): paradise is for the elect.

Finally I might add some more points scored by Peraino, the argument versus creationism and the pseudoscience (or pseudoreligion) of intelligent design, his observation on the coming into being of the natural world (p. 160), and his reading of E.L. Doctorow's novel City of God. Just to maintain some balance for future readers, and these, if they care about the issues and are not indifferent, will be divided.

Theodor Harmsen
Cameo Illustration of Atheist-Theist Divisions  May 17, 2009
My purchase of this book was suggested by the co-author, Carl Peraino, with whom I was engaged in an on-line discussion. I am not disappointed, because the discussion portrayed in the book illustrates more clearly than any other I have read how far apart two intelligent individuals can be, not just on the worldviews that each holds, but on the validity of the reasoning used by each in arriving at their respective positions. For the most part, the book is a friendly conversation between the atheist Peraino and the theist James Sire, who reached the same impasse in his interactions with Carl as did I.

The book provides nothing in the way of new answers to the questions that divide atheists and theists; it probably never intended to do so. But what it illustrates very clearly is how the same facts that persuade one side of the argument can be dismissed without proper understanding by the other - as Peraino says at one stage - "I know most of my arguments are going to bounce right off you, just as yours do off me."

The most disappointing aspect of the book is that on many occasions the parties just agree to differ rather than getting down and dirty on the liberties each takes with the other's primary arguments. In particular, I found myself wondering why James had not responded more forcefully to the many admissions of presupposition by Carl: "My tether connects me to the natural world and the logic that flows from its workings ... you have to try to understand the scientific method. What is primary is observation. A set of observations can give rise to a hypothesis, which attempts to explain them ... The problem I have with this viewpoint is that it doesn't comport with logic or the way things work in the natural world."

What the above quotes, taken in context, illustrate is that the atheist in the "debate" never ventures out of his comfort zone of the natural world - defined as that which is conducive to the normal scientific method. The theist, James, never succeeds in persuading Carl to venture out of this intellectual cocoon and to acknowledge that the evidence he seeks may consist of more than can be proven by science. This passivity towards a presumption of materialism explains why Dawkins can conclude that believers must be "mad", "deluded", "infantile," or "non-thinking" - because he never suspends his naturalist presupposition long enough to follow the very real logic flow for the other side. Carl seldom indulges in Dawkins-esque rant but he asks questions for which he shows no interest in understanding why his intelligent opponent can reach truly rational answers: "I don't understand why it's necessary to overlay a perfectly clear and rational Darwinian explanation for the existence of morality with the dross of a supernatural ubermorality" James answers this question quite comprehensively, but Carl misses his point. "Why would God indulge in this nasty little game? (referring to the Problem of Evil - Plantinga has answered this but James did not fully invoke that argument).

Observing a non-dialogue like this can be immensely useful; if we want a dialogue between intelligent people on a subject that we should all care immensely about it will serve us better to work at breaking down the barriers to effective communication rather than fortifying then with, on the one hand the aggression and rhetoric of the Dawkins-Harris-Mills brigade and on the other the quasi-scientific stance called ID.

A very interesting debate  May 12, 2009
Deepest Differences: A Christian-Atheist Dialogue
The beauty of this book is in its unscripted dialogue between two very bright, highly educated gentlemen that took place through email exchange over many months with no target audience other than themselves. Such an exchange of minds on topics that are so highly sensitive too often polarize or intimidate leading to distorted positions. Sire, the Christian believer, is sufficiently comfortable in this format to reveal some confusion and a little doubt concerning the Christian Theology he is defending. He seems to be repaeatedly saying there are things we don't know and there is much we must take on faith alone. Peraino is the more agressive challenger sometimes employing humor and mocking to argue against the Christian concept of God. Were these gentlemen writing for a commissioned book or magazine article, the reader would no doubt have been deprived of much emotion and genuine thinking. One can sense the difficulty encountered in editing the emails into a coherent book form. There are too many nonsequiturs, redundancies and convoluted arguements especailly when Sire is responding to a Peraino provocation. For example, the controversey between evoluton and intelligent design is debated much too often. The reader is left hanging when Peraino challenges with the ultimate question of how a loving, all knowing, omnipotent God could allow so much human suffering through the ages down to the Holocaust and beyond. This follows with no direct response from Sire. It is an issue that torments believers and is used by nonbelievers as evidence to confirm the absence of the Christian concept of God. One has to go back to reread Sire's discourse on good and evil to discern his take on the subject. The Peraino/Sire give and take is not a debate that is won or lost but a fascinating exploration by sharp minds of the atheist challenge to Christian Theology that leaves one with much to ponder. This modestly priced book is well worth the read.

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