What do I think of Matthew McCormick’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I was asked by someone to read this book and see what I thought about it. I was expecting to see a really strong case. McCormick is a Ph.D. in philosophy. While it’s not history, philosophers usually tend to be really good thinkers and I was really thinking I’d see more of the same.
In fact, the book started out with a lot of promise on why we should believe something and that the benefits we get from believing something don’t entail the truth of that something. All of this had a lot of promise to it. Unfortunately, that promise died quickly. It died so quickly that I soon realized that to review this book, I would need to do a lot more than just one blog post. McCormick’s book is full of errors and bad analogies and show really the same typical approaches from atheistic writers.
It’s also worth noting that I don’t get much hope still when I see the acknowledgments include thanks to John Loftus and Richard Carrier. I saw both names and thought “Well maybe he’ll make a better case anyway.” I was disappointed.
At the start, McCormick is partially right when he says at location 71 that “A God who performs miracles to accomplish his ends, prove his divinity, and foster belief is the foundation of the Christian religion—as well as many other religions.” I would not say the resurrection is there to prove that YHWH is divine for instance. It would not even be to prove that Jesus was divine per se. Many of us have this idea that the Gospels were written to show Jesus is fully God and fully man. While they do that, that is not their purpose.
I also think McCormick is wrong about miracles. For instance, classical Islam only claims one miracle, the Koran itself. Buddhism would not have miracles and they do not fit well in Hinduism either. You could look at a more modern religion like Mormonism, but as we’ll see later on, that builds on a Christian foundation already.
Still, McCormick is right that a God who performs miracles is essential for the Christian religion. You can take the miracles out of Christianity and you might have a nice ethical system, but you do not have a religion. Jesus is just another great teacher and frankly, we’ve had a hard time listening to great teachers already anyway.
I also wonder what McCormick means when he says “We must reject attempts to redefine God in some nonliteral fashion.” (Loc. 94) Why must we do this? Should I believe God literally in His nature has a body and that passages speaking about the hand of the Lord are literal? Would it surprise McCormick to know that a lot of passages that we might think are “literal” today were not seen that way by the early church because that would not be seen as fitting for the glory of God?
Now to say something I definitely agree with, I agree at loc. 102 when McCormick says “If the typical claims about Jesus are true—he is the son of God, he died for our sins, his forgiveness promises eternal salvation, he was resurrected from the dead, and so on—then he is the most important person in human history.” One would think with such a recognition that McCormick would take the case more seriously. As we will see, he does not.
McCormick also at 149 has the usual atheistic view of faith. “Faith is how we describe believing when the evidence by itself, as we see it, does not provide adequate justification, but we are motivated to believe anyway by hope.” Of course, I have my own view on faith. While McCormick’s view might be what Joe Christian means today, it is not what the Biblical writers meant and if we are approaching the Biblical text to see what it says, we need to see what the authors meant.
I do agree also at Loc. 173 that if the historical facts do not matter, then all religions are on the same footing, insofar as they claim to be true. Christianity is a historical religion. That needs to be acknowledged. This isn’t about events that happened long long ago in a galaxy far far away. These are events that happened at a real place and a real time.
Around 211, McCormick points out that Carrier says Herodotus mentions several bizarre events that took place at a battle. Many of these are fascinating, but unfortunately, McCormick is not a researcher. In fact, there isn’t even a primary source cited but rather just a reference to Carrier himself. A researcher when seeing these claims would want to know “Where does Herodotus say them and what is the explanation?” “What is the distance between the events and the time of writing?” “What do leading historical scholars, especially those specializing in Herodotus, say about these events?” Unfortunately, these are not asked. As we will see later, the evidence for Jesus is far better.
There’s also of course something on science and Christianity. After making a case for evolution, McCormick says at 266 that “These discoveries are at odds with Christian views of sin, vice, weakness of will, or the magical transmission of moral guilt across centuries from Adam and Eve on to their remote descendants.” One wonders what would happen if McCormick came across Christians that have no problem with the idea of evolution. Perhaps it is not Christians that have the problem with literalism but rather atheists?
I also agree at loc. 334 that a miracle is not just a fortuitous event, though I think describing it as a violation of the laws of nature is problematic, and I will have more on that when we discuss miracles later on. I do think sometimes it can be a fortuitous event. Let’s suppose the Red Sea parting happened and it was due to a wind and that this does happen from time to time as is claimed. The miracle then is not that it happened, but that it happened when it happened.
Of course, McCormick is right throughout that we must take the evidence seriously and that we shouldn’t believe just because we like the outcomes of Christian belief or it makes us good people. The question will be, does McCormick have a case? As we will see, he does not.
Part 2 can be found here.
Part 3 can be found here.
Part 4 can be found here.
Part 5 can be found here.
Part 6 can be found here.
Part 7 can be found here.
Part 8 can be found here.
Part 9 can be found here.
Part 10 can be found here.
Part 11 can be found here.
Part 12 can be found here.
Part 13 can be found here.