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Return to Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism, and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God [Paperback]

By Kelly James Clark (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   172
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.48" Width: 5.39" Height: 0.47"
Weight:   0.45 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jul 1, 2000
Publisher   Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
ISBN  080280456X  
EAN  9780802804563  

Availability  94 units.
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Item Description...
Clark provides a penetrating critique of the Enlightenment assumption of evidentialism--that belief in God requires the support of evidence or arguments to be rational. His assertion is that this demand for evidence is itself both irrelevant and irrational. His work bridges the gap between technical philosopher and educated layperson.

Publishers Description
A penetrating critique of the Enlightenment assumption of evidentialism -- that belief in God requires the support of evidence or arguments to be rational. Garnering arguments from C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Thomas Reid, William James, and John Calvin, Clark asserts that this Enlightenment demand for evidence is itself both irrelevant and irrational

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More About Kelly James Clark

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Kelly James Clark is associate professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Kelly James Clark currently resides in the state of Michigan. Kelly James Clark was born in 1956.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A Convincing Return to Reason  May 1, 2008
Kelly James Clark in an amazingly short breadth of space, recapitulates the contemporary trends in religious epistemology and what has led to them. Reformed Epistemology far from being a fallacious excuse to say it is rational to believe in God, it is an epistemology that recognizes humans cognitive limitations and how it is often perfectly rational to believe without arguments and proof.

Clark pulls from a variety of authorities and makes all at once an interesting introduction to religious epistemology and a convincing case for reformed epistemology.
Plan B  Dec 13, 2005
This title of this book should be "Plan B". Here "Plan A" is to prove the existence of God through what Clark refers to as the classical proofs of natural theology (such as the cosmological argument or the argument from design). Clark discusses some of these proofs in the first part of the book, only to conclude that they are inadequate, in the sense that their premises and logic are not accepted by everyone. He even tears apart a version of the cosmological proof given in the book Classical Apologetics by R.C. Sproul et al.

Now, most people, when they realize that the arguments that shore up their beliefs are deficient, either adopt a new worldview that is more easily defended or hunt around for new arguments that support their current beliefs. Since Clark is a committed theist, he takes the latter approach. In short, if Plan A doesn't work, move on to Plan B. However, Plan B is far more modest than Plan A, for its goal is essentially to show that a person can believe in the existence of God and still be rational in doing so. Clark develops several arguments in attempting this, but the arguments are largely defensive and hence will appeal only to those who share Clark's theism.

For example, in Clark's treatment of evil, he notes that he is only mounting a defense that God and evil can co-exist; i.e., he merely wants to show that there is a logical possibility that God and evil can co-exist. One of the cornerstones of this defense (drawn from Plantinga) is to assign a role in the existence of evil to "Satan and his minions" (p. 75). Clark seems to be highly pleased with the purely logical success of this argument, despite the fact that it is tinged with insincerity. After all, from a strictly logical point of view the argument would remain unchanged if the proper name "Satan" were replaced by "Zontar, Thing from Venus"; but Clark would no doubt have been horrified if a meddling editor had made such a substitution in his text, since the name Satan has been introduced in order to evoke a favorable response in those to whom the argument is really addressed: believing Christians.

In conclusion, the arguments put forth by Clark in this book are mainly props to the faith of those who already believe. The whole development seems inverted, because Clark knows in advance the result he wants, and his purpose is to work up a system that will yield that result. However, because he is a sharp enough reasoner (or honest enough with himself), he sees that Plan A is not up to the job. The problem is that Plan B isn't much better: demonstrating a logical possibility with no concern for plausibility, or denigrating the use of evidence, will not persuade others. Thus Clark greatly overstates his case when, in the last sentence of the book, he writes "The pretensions of reasoning have been found out, signaling a return to reason and belief in God."
good philosophic writing  Sep 20, 2005
It is a straightforward, well written, beginner's introduction to either Reformed Epistemology or A. Plantinga. It's only 15 years old yet in many places it seems a little dated, surprising for a philosophy text. Written for Christian college students, not necessarily philosophy majors but interested in the philosophic basis of the faith, it is a short, rather nicely constructed, book suitable for Sunday School adult classes as well as personal enrichment. Very little philosophic jargon and great care to introduce and explain new concepts, nice job.

The book starts out with what he calls the challenge of evidentialism: the idea that you must have sufficient evidence for a belief to be rational. He uses this to build "the evidentialist belief in God" theme: 1-it is irrational to believe in God in the absence of sufficient evidence 2-there is either no or not sufficient evidence to believe that God exists. To the theist he offers 3 alternatives: theistic evidentialism means that there is sufficient evidence to be a theist. Fideism that belief in God is either contrary to or irrelevance to the faculty of reason. Reformed epistemology which he contends challenges the concept of rationality itself.

Chapter 1 is it possible to prove the existence of God? He looks at the cosmological argument, Paley's argument from design, R. Swinburne's probability argument. And ends up with: "the power of a theistic proof is, in part, a function of what one already believes." pg 40. He ends up with the useful distinction of proving something is cogent and persuasive is a personal issue, not an objective, one size fits all, proposition.

Chapter 2 is the problem of evil. He early on makes a useful distinction between a theodicy: a justification of God's ways to man, and a defense: to show that it is not irrational to believe that God is both good and powerful and that both natural and human evil exist. subsections 6 and 7, pg 82-89 are perhaps the best writing of the book, i'd start there to see if i'd wish to read the whole thing, although at about 150 pages that decision is not as important as say with a 1000 page book. It is a quick read and sums up current ideas more than introduces new ones. His argument is a defence on the lines of Plantinga's freewill: God achieved a greater good by allowing mankind to be free even though it introduced suffering and evil in the world.

Chapter 3 is the heart of the argument for RE, that is that evidentialism is just plain irrelevant to the issues, for God is not a scientific thing but a person, we need to use personal relationship qualities when dealing with God not abstract reasonings as we would with things. This leads to Plantinga's idea that the belief in God is like the belief that other minds exist, which appears to us as an immediate idea not something that we can or ought to reason to, but reason from.

Chapter 4 builds on this idea of basic beliefs and reasoning from vs reasoning to and criticizes foundationalism and introduces Plantinga's ideas about T. Reid.

I found the book interesting, worth the time to read, despite knowing most of the information (i found Clifford and James in Chapter 3 the most informative and new to me material, you might look there 2nd if you are just browsing the book). It's organization and argumentation are well above average and worth looking at closely as a model on how to write good philosophy. I suspect he is an excellent prof at Calvin College and this book does justice to the topic as presented as a beginner's intro.
The darkness of Enlightenment?  Jan 31, 2003
Because his objective is to expose the limitations of Enlightenment evidentialism, Clark begins with discussions of arguments for and against natural theology, concluding that all such arguments are inconclusive and thus fail as classical "proofs." Given both psychological differences and the stringent requirements of universal proof, none of these arguments can ever compel all rational beings to accept them. [Such arguments do often succeed as person-specific "proofs", more accurately, as sufficiently compelling inferences.] This standard -- to be universally accepted by all rational persons -- is one that extremely few propositions could ever attain. Held to this standard, one would be justified in believing nothing; he might even reject the proposition that his own mind exists (Descartes' famous argument not withstanding). The atheistic argument from the existence of evil and Plantinga's refutation of its claim of consistent logic receives more thorough attention than do the theistic arguments cited (cosmological, design, cumulative/probabilistic). The seemingly cursory treatment of the cosmological and probabilistic arguments becomes understandable in light of Clark's central argument, which emerges toward the end of chapter three. While recognizing that a professional philosopher should concern himself more with the form of an argument than with its species, it nonetheless seems that Clark misstates the probabilistic argument by citing inappropriate numbers (odds of one in one billion, one in ten billion). This is a mathematical argument and Clark's numbers are inconsistent with the actual mathematics of the argument. For example, mathematicians Hoyle and Wickramasinghe calculate the probability that an enzyme could be produced by shuffling amino acids at no better than one in 10 to the 6900th power. This level of improbability itself can only exist in a universe that is incredibly unlikely, Hawking and Beckenstein calculate a probability less than one over 10 raised to the power of 10 to the 123rd [Penrose says one over infinity]. None of this yet brings us to the odds of a living cell spontaneously appearing. Trillions of universes like ours would not be large enough to house the constituents (1, 2, 3 . . . ->) of the kind of number that would express odds like one over 10 to the 6900th, if the integrals of such a mathematical expression were be written out (the total number of particles in the universe, including the massless photons, is something like 10 to the one hundredth power, a miniscule number compared to those previously mentioned). These kinds of odds have no analogicity to odds such as a mere one in 10 billion!... None of this, of course, is what Clark intends this book to address. These mathematical (thus evidential) considerations do however carve a gaping hole in the beliefs of many 'Enlightened evidentialists.' The mathematician (information theory) Hubert Yockey notes that all college undergraduate textbooks present the primeval soup paradigm of spontaneous abiogenesis as an established fact although it cannot be evidentially supported either by biochemistry or by mathematics. Yockey says, "The belief that life on earth arose spontaneously from non-living matter, is simply a matter of faith in strict reductionism and is based entirely on ideology." The point being that the strict evidentiary standard of the 'Enlightened' agnostic is one that he himself does not satisfy in important instances where his will to believe sweeps aside his skepticism. While Clark is not particularly interested in probabilistic arguments, he does take some note of the practical inconsistencies of popular, so-called skepticism. In the second half of the book he examines the foundational structure of Enlightenment reasoning... That evidential investigation is important to scientific truth seeking cannot ameliorate this approach to all potential truths. Something is not proved false because it does not lend itself to evidential scrutiny, nor may it cease to be something that warrants rational belief. An authoritarian evidentialism may result in fear of error superceding willingness to risk truth-seeking. The interaction of minds provides relevant examples: Clark quotes C.S. Lewis; "There are times when we can do all that a fellow creature needs if only he will trust us. extracting a thorn from a child's finger, in teaching a boy to swim or rescuing one who can't, in getting a frightened beginner over a nasty place on a mountain, the one fatal obstacle may be their distrust. We are asking them to trust us in the teeth of their senses, their imagination, and their intelligence.... We ask them to accept apparent impossibilities: ... that hurting the finger very much more will stop the finger hurting -- that the water which is obviously permeable will resist and support the body -- that holding onto the only support within reach is not the way to avoid sinking -- that to go higher and onto a more exposed ledge is the way not to fall.... If the young mountaineer were a scientist, it would not be held against him, when he came up for a fellowship, that he had once departed from Clifford's rule of evidence by entertaining a belief with strength greater than the evidence logically obliged him to." Clark examines Plantinga's argument that belief in the existence of God is rationally a species of belief in the existence of other minds. As such, belief in God's existence cannot be reasonably restricted to scientific evidentialism. It may be a matter of properly basic reasoning -- this being the relevant concept in our relational knowledge of other minds. "No philosopher has ever constructed a good argument for the existence of other minds, and it is difficult to see how this task might be accomplished." Clark examines classical foundationalism and finds that in certain areas outside of physical science, namely in the realm of relational experience with other minds -- with persons, evidentialism is often irrelevant, rationally absurd, impossible, even perverse. This is the heart of the Reformed epistemological argument -- the rationality of immediate knowledge. The argument thus separates itself from evidentiary arguments.
Excellent argument, Wrong conclusion  Aug 15, 2002
I enjoyed this book tremendously. While I disagree fundamentally with the position argued in this book, I have nothing but high praise for the author. Clark writes masterfully; his summaries of philosophical ideas, even those espoused by his foes, are concise, accurate, and scholarly. Every sentence is well crafted and carefully reasoned. You will not find an ad hominum attack or a circular argument in this book.

Clark's thesis is that the existence of god is not a proposition that is appropriate to deem true or false based on an accumulation of evidence, as we would approach a scientific theory. Rather, it is a truth that is apprehended immediately and rationally in essentially the same manner that one immediately apprehends other minds, without subsequent need of rational proof. Clark maintains that "evidentialism" has been misapplied to theistic arguments, arguing that one does not base inter-personal relationships on objective evidence (at least not entirely), and thus it should be with man's relation to god.

Ironically, I find Clark an unwitting ally of atheism. I reason as follows. It is well known that the human mind is strongly predisposed to perceiving human faces and human intentions, even where none exist. We see faces in clouds and rocks, and ascribe intentions and attitudes to inanimate objects quite readily. A very likely explanation for this peculiar bias is that such perceptions are an over-generalization of the same mental machinery that allows us to immediately apprehend other humans and to assess their motives; a cognitive ability that is basic to all social interaction. With respect to this faculty false positives are far less troublesome than are false negatives, which is consistent with our innate tendency toward over-generalization. From this perspective, one can read Clark's entire book as a vehement first-hand account that betrays the source of religious conviction as a cognitive error; a result of a cognitive mechanism that is searching for evidence of human presence, and is apt to over generalize. In this light it is far more likely that the palpable sense of god's presence is an epiphenomenon of mind, not a perception of reality; in short, an illusion. (Theists will no doubt argue that this inherent sense is itself evidence of god's hand. This is an entirely different conjecture that would demands its own supporting evidence.)

Despite our diametrically opposed viewpoints, I concur with most of Clark's central argument -- we differ only on the ultimate inference drawn. Clark believes he has demonstrated the rationality of belief in god; I believe he has plainly exposed it as an illusion. Alas, even the most carefully crafted arguments seem only to widen the gulf between theist and atheist.

I gave this book four stars instead of five, not because Clark failed to reach the same conclusion as I did, but because he assiduously avoided asking the critically important question: How is it that our immediate apprehension of other minds can be trusted as valid evidence for god's existence? In particular, there are two enormous problems with Clark's premise that he does not address: 1) Our perception of other minds is on occasion demonstrably wrong, and 2) There is no evidence that this faculty has any validity whatsoever beyond the realm of natural human experience. Thus, not only is it possible that one's apprehension of god is in fact mistaken (i.e. has no referent), but there is absolutely no basis for claiming that it is applicable to a supposed supernatural realm. Unless Clark can face these obstacles squarely, and overcome them, the more parsimonious conclusion is that the apprehension of god is a mundane illusion, just as Freud and others have surmised.

The argument that the "perception" of god is in fact a common cognitive error (due to over-generalization) is explored and supported extensively by several authors, including Guthrie ("Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion") and more recently by Boyer ("Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought"). I urge everyone who has read Clark's book to read either Gurhtie's book or Boyer's book. I emphatically urge those who have read either of the latter two books to read Clark's book; it is a most startling admission in the light of recent insights into the human psyche.

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