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Religion on Trial: Paperback – July 28, 2008
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Moreover, the empirical process consequently refutes the fallacy that all religions are making the same or similar truth claims.
The first third of Religion on Trial is devoted to developing the method to evaluate religions, and this process is applied with abysmal results. Here, Parton effectively describes how most religions make fallacious claims that fail to pass even the most basic legal standards. The final two thirds of the book places Christianity on trial and scrutinizes its truth claims. The author concludes that not only are its claims admissible as legitimate evidence, but that evidence also has practical value for people’s lives. Two sections that I thought were particularly interesting are gauging the reliability of ancient documents (i.e. the bibliographical test, pgs. 45-52) and the question if the very existence of evil negates God’s existence (pg. 79).
The only negative comment I have to say about this book is that in the final chapter, the author drifts from his “interrogation” of the so-called facts and extrapolates the virtues of the Christian faith as it has added social capital throughout history. The information is worthwhile but observing a faith’s effects does not necessarily correlate to its validity or its truth claims.
Essentially, this book is a concise yet powerful apologetic for the Christian faith in a world saturated with so-called religions and subjective spirituality. It excels by revealing that in pursuit of the truth using reason and logic, subjective hearsays are debunked for the frauds that they are and only one resilient religion remains. Parton invites all readers to fully embrace their secular and logical minds, and the post-critical stance yields very thought provoking and illuminating dividends. I expect anyone who believes and embraces reason will find this book very valuable. And, after reading Mr. Parton’s book, you may find yourself agreeing with atheists—that most religions indeed are hocus-pocus.
Summary: Parton seeks to demonstrate that Christianity subjects itself verification instead of relying solely on subjective or existential claims. Truth suffers in the present context of broad pluralism within the world's religions. Parton suggests these religions be scrutinized according to the methods of logic which transcends cultural boundaries.
A key logical turn is the law of non-contradiction. It guides the remainder of his argument. Namely, if he can demonstrate Christianity's truthfulness than the other claims to truth must be false. Either one religion is true or all religions are false. He does so by subjecting Christianity to the same tests as other ancient documents, including he bibliographic, internal evidence, and external evidence.
The New Testament exceeds the attestation of even the Iliad with twenty-five times the extant copies and half the span between authorship and oldest copy. "The consistent conclusion of legally trained trial lawyers over the last 300 years is that this material comes with the absolute best manuscript tradition possible, that it comes on top of the events that it records, that it is highly unlikely to have been forged, and that is contains the type of stylistic and factual detail you expect from truthful witnesses." (57) Parton further disputes the methods of the source critics and those who highlight contradictions and disparities between various New Testament texts.
Parton believes the locus of the attack to disprove Christianity must be the death and resurrection of Jesus. Philosophy and scientific claims against said resurrection are disputed. Suggestions of theft or "swooning" of Jesus are discounted. Finally the theodicy question of evil is handled by returning to the narrative of the fall and the example of reality.
Finally, having "proven" Christianity, Parton offers a number of advantages offered by Christianity over the other world religions. Christianity seeks to relieve human suffering. Christianity values the intellect. Christians have been on the forefront of science. Christians hold the arts in high esteem.
Critique: The principle strength of Parton's text is his methodological precision. While many topics are covered only in brief, he offers the quick and yet thoroughgoing summary of his argument. The reader is provided defenses to the many arguments against Christianity. This reader is already compelled to the conclusion in faith but perceives this line of argumentation to be beneficial to the skeptic. Another strength is Parton's keen attention to contemporary religious movements and critics. This knowledge helps highlight the essential differences from the Christian religion and the multiplicity of other world religions.
By way of weakness, Parton is unwilling to suggest the same documentary tests be applied to the Old Testament. Christian readers may find this to be an accommodation to the critic because of the weaker source evidence of these texts. Also, Parton doesn't hesitate from theological conclusions despite these conclusions may be unverifiable and only received in faith (apart from his focus on the death and resurrection.)
Parton rightly acknowledges that Christianity exposes itself to verification. This offers an avenue to show the high probability of truth, high enough to undergo the scrutiny of the California and Federal legal code. His effort is well-suited to the lay reader or casual Christian who is easily persuaded by faulty logic and poor critical method. He rightly understands the stakes: "But what if God exists and has not been silent? It behoove anyone to check out the evidence for that existence and especially to take seriously any claims that God has entered human history, that He indeed understands our predicament, gives an answer to human suffering and evil, and desires ardently above all else for our salvation from both cosmic and personal rebellion. If that has happened, it would be the greatest news ever." (94)