What do I think of R. Scott Smith’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I wish to thank IVP for providing a copy of this book for a review first off. I find the moral argument to be a highly interesting argument. Now my own variation of it is that I prefer to use the fourth way of Aquinas and have it be the argument from goodness of which morality is a subsection of that. Yet insofar as it goes, the moral argument works fine and Smith has given an impressive tour de force on this.
Smith starts off with the history of how we got to this point in understanding morality today. He starts with the Bible and what is found in both testaments. He then goes on to look at the work of Plato and Aristotle and takes us through the medieval period and then through many of the great philosophers of the Enlightenment period and beyond and even goes up to interacting with postmodern looks at morality. At this point, there can be no doubt that Smith has done his research and done it well.
Smith also seeks to be as fair as he can with those whom he is dialoguing with. He admits that he has made errors in understanding past opponents at times and tries to read their works in light of all that they are saying. Smith indeed shows impressive scholarship in the field. At this point, I do think it’s important to let the reader know that I think he will need more than a layman’s understanding of the field to get the most out of this book.
Smith in the end concludes that naturalistic theories not only do not account for moral knowledge, but that they do not account for any knowledge whatsoever. This is true in whatever case he looks at as each position begs certain questions. There is also the problem that many of them deny essences and for Smith, a physicalist explanation of the nature of man is just incapable of being able to provide knowledge. We have to have essences of some sort.
Smith then roots the knowledge that we have in God. The book ends in the last chapter with a more apologetic approach looking at various issues such as the case for the resurrection of Jesus and the problem of evil. No doubt, each of these is brief and I would have liked to have seen even more in some areas at least in terms of other works that were cited since these would be out of the field that Smith is normally writing in which is fine. There were a few points on each section that I would disagree with, but they do not detract overall as Smith does provide excellent sources still in each case, though as I said I would have liked still more.
One main problem I would have liked to have addressed that rarely is is that I do not often see a definition of good given. It is as if we assume when we get together and debate what is good and what is evil that we all know what these terms really mean. In fact, this is the first question I usually raise when I debate moral issues with someone. I agree with Smith of course that love and justice are good and that murder, rape, and torturing babies for fun is wrong. Yet when I say “X is good” what do I mean?
Still, in the end, I think Smith’s work is an excellent one that will certainly leave much food for thought. For anyone who is wanting to deal with the moral argument, mark this down as essential reading.