5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2000
Wells reaches highly skeptical conclusions which are, nevertheless, based on a suspect epistemology, viz. empiricism. One of empiricism's recurrent problems lies implicit in the text: How to construe reality in terms of sensations. Wells asserts, on one hand, that reality takes its meaning from details always available to further discovery - an idealist-like interpretation of real objects. On the other hand, he admits that language of perception cannot be reduced to language of sensations. There's a genuine inconsistency here, of the type that has plagued `reality=sensations' for centuries.
Distinguishing the book's attack on Christian apologetics are the sections on de Wette and Strauss, those 19th century historians who subjected Biblical fact to withering historical criticism. By highlighting the naive phase of Christian belief, Well's takes dead aim on Fundamentalism which insists on the literal truth of the Bible. Since Fundamentalist nonsense has undergone a recent emotional revival in America, it's not a mere academic exercise to insist that the Bible be examined for historical accuracy.
Another notable contribution points out how Fundamentalism and Christian Liberalism benefit from each other, often a central point overlooked by critics. Fundamentalism benefits from the intellectual respectability Liberals provide; Liberals benefit from Fundamentalism's raw recruiting power. His discussion of Christianity's survival power also includes social and psychological factors such as the Soviet-American Cold War, which indicates the author's well-rounded understanding.
Fundamentalist beliefs may be debunked by historical criticism; however, attacking metaphysical beliefs requires a philosophical position. Here Wells employs the aforementioned empiricism, an epistemology oriented against metaphysics of all types. Moreover, his brand appears to emulate the purist tradition of Hume and Mill in their construal of knowledge and science. The difficulties with this classical tradition are historically well known. Oddly missing, however, is any recognition of those more recent varieties of anti-metaphysics contained in linguistic philosophy, leading to the conclusion that Wells is just as interested in defending an eclipsed epistemology, viz. empiricism, as he is in attacking Christian apologetics. Eighteenth century battles, it seems, are still being waged by the same armies, unchanged, except for the faces. All in all,it's still a worthwhile read for believer and non- alike.