Thursday, April 01, 2010

Interview with Dr. Jim Spiegel author of The Making of an Atheist

Making of an AtheistFor those who have been following this blog, you would have been reading about The Making of an Atheist blog book tour.

It is my privilege today to interview Dr. Jim Spiegel on his book The Making of an Atheist.

1. Just thinking...: Hi Jim, welcome to Just thinking...!
Dr. Jim Spiegel: Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers.

2. JT: Tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, your family and how you came to Taylor University.
DJS: I grew up in Michigan and Mississippi.  I did my undergraduate work in Biology at Belhaven College in Jackson, then went on to do graduate work in philosophy at University of Southern Mississippi and then back up north to Michigan State University for my doctorate.  I arrived at Taylor in 1993 and have been teaching there ever since.

3. JT: You are Professor of Philosophy at Taylor University. What inspired you to go the philosophy route?
DJS: My intention as an undergraduate was to go into medicine, but I never felt entirely at peace with that plan.  Since Belhaven is a liberal arts college, I had to take a variety of courses.  And when I took my first philosophy course—difficult as it was—I was hooked.  Probing the foundations of knowledge and developing a worldview was fascinating to me.  My philosophy professor, Wynn Kenyon (who still teaches there), did a great job of showing us how good philosophy builds faith and motivates a virtuous life.  And this is precisely what I try to do for my students at Taylor.

4. JT: Many Christians will say that as Christians we should not bother with philosophies that capture our minds, pointing to Colossians 2:8. To them philosophy per se is just wrong. How would you handle that criticism?
DJS: That passage actually is an implicit endorsement of philosophy, since the only way one can tell whether a philosophical theory is built on human tradition rather than on Christ is by being philosophically alert, trained in worldview analysis.  But, of course, it doesn’t endorse just any way of doing philosophy but doing Christian philosophy, where all of one’s philosophical analysis and theorizing is done from a biblical perspective.

5. JT: Did you find it a natural thing to move from philosophy to apologetics? Aren’t these two disciplines perhaps closely related, like a brother and sister in a family?
DJS: I’m inclined to see the field of apologetics as a multidisciplinary field with a specific aim of showing the reasonableness of the faith.  But among the disciplines involved, philosophy has primacy, since it is the critical philosophical method that one brings to all of the relevant apologetic issues, from the existence of God to the problem of evil to the nature of science.

6. JT: The Making of an Atheist is your tenth book, is that true? Are there any of your books that you would recommend to the ordinary Christian above The Making of an Atheist? Why, or why not?
DJS: It’s actually my seventh book as either a main author or editor.  I have contributed to several other volumes, though.  As for other books of mine that I’d recommend to all of your readers, Gum, Geckos, and God would be one that should appeal to everyone.  It is basically an introduction to Christian apologetics in the form of conversations with my kids.  It’s entertaining as well as informative.  My book How to be Good in a World Gone Bad is a discussion of Christian virtues, so anyone interested in spiritual formation would find that useful.  And The Love of Wisdom, which I co-authored with Steve Cowan, is a Christian introductory philosophy text.  Naturally, your more philosophically inclined readers would be interested in that.

7. JT: I really enjoyed reading your book. I found it easy and quick to read. Did you write that way intentionally? Is that your normal writing style? (I haven’t read your other books yet!)
DJS: That’s my writing style for books that I gear toward a general audience.  Gum, Geckos, and God is written in a similar voice.

8. JT: You mention evolution several times in your book as it is impossible not to do so when dealing with atheism. Do you think it is important to believe how God made the earth, whether in 6 days, over a long period of time, or perhaps even through evolution?
DJS: I do think the question of origins is a very important one with implications in several areas of life.  So I think all Christians have an intellectual duty to study the issue as fully as they are able.  Whatever position they hold, it should be well-informed and humbly held.  There is just so much we don’t know when it comes to the issue.  Having said that, as a proponent of intelligent design, I do think the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning and design at the organismic level is very strong.  As for the age of the earth, I don’t have a firm commitment there, but I am intrigued by Gerald Schroeder’s theory that the old earth and young earth views can actually be reconciled (see his book Genesis and the Big Bang).

9. JT: In your book you mention that there are several factors that lead people to atheism, such as distant or absent fathers, immoral lifestyles, willful rebellion and more. In your research, have you found any one thing that has more influence than any others in pushing someone toward atheism?
DJS: It appears the overriding factor is the corrupting effect of sin on the mind. As Alvin Plantinga has explained so well, our cognitive faculties were designed to form true beliefs, but like anything else, cognitive operations can be warped or disabled through misuse or exposure to debilitating factors.  Among the most damaging influences on the mind is moral vice, whether that takes the form of immoral behaviors, such as violence, theft, and sexual promiscuity, or more “hidden” sins like pride, envy, resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness.  The more we indulge in such things, the more warped our cognitive capacity will be, particularly as regards forming beliefs about ethics and religion.  In some cases the cognitive warping is so extreme that a person denies even the most fundamental reality and source of all value, God himself.  So the atheistic perspective is a consequence of sin, which, of course, is just what we learn from Scripture in such passages as Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:18-20, and Ephesians 4:17-19.

10. JT: My blog, being close to the end of the blog book tour for The Making of an Atheist, I can ask you, what has your experience of the tour been?
DJS: It has been a very positive experience.  I’ve been pleased with the quality and diversity of questions, comments, and applications of my thesis.  I’ve also been impressed with the devotion of the bloggers such as yourself to careful discussion of apologetic issues for the building up of the Christian internet community.

11. JT: Thank you Dr. Spiegel, for giving me this opportunity to review your book and to interview you! It has been a privilege for me to do so! May your further endeavours bring great fruit and growth in the body of Christ.
DJS: The privilege is all mine.  Thanks so much!

After landing at this blog, the blog book tour will move on to other blogs. Only three more blogs to go to the end of this book tour.

My review of The Making of an Atheist will be published in three parts, one later today (1 April), one tomorrow and the last on 3 April.

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