Daughter who spies me reading the book: “Daddy, isn’t R.C. Sproul boring?”
“No, honey. Not to me.”
She is only 9 and R.C. is still a bit over her head. But one of Sproul’s strengths has always been putting the cookies where average people can reach them (not necessarily 9 year-olds however). As a young Christian I read his books and listened to his tapes. I owe him a great debt, so to speak.
In Not a Chance R.C. Sproul turns (most of) his attention away from theology and toward the philosophy of science. His concern is the growth of irrationality in science particularly as it intersects with issues related to creation. For people who don’t usually read philosophy, or haven’t in quite some time, he strives to make it accessible. He also strives to see the application. He interacts with a very long list of philosophers. He mostly succeeds in his goal of accessibility.
He begins with discussing the notion of chance. It can be used in the mathematical sense of probabilities, which is appropriate in science. We speak this way often: what are the chances of rain today? It can also be used to speak of something being accidental or unpredictable. This is typically an inappropriate use of the term in science. This use is growing as some scientists talk about things being created by chance. His point is that chance is not an entity and therefore cannot create anything. To speak as it can is to descend into irrationality. It is not irrational to say we don’t understand something at this point in time. But speaking of it as by chance is.
“I have been contending for the rigorous application of the laws of logic to inferences drawn from induction. Indeed that is what this book is all about.”
He also delves into the question of the universe as created, self-created or self-existent. Sometimes self-created and self-existent are used interchangeably by some scientists. They are not the same. All scientific data at this point in time would appear to rule out a self-existent universe. There was a “time” when it was not. Self-creation is also a logical nightmare. It cannot be and not be in the same sense and at the same time. The universe would clearly appear to be contingent as a result. He makes a brief argument for a Creator.
I recently delved into some old tapes of his while driving around town. Some of the material was from his series on the Westminster Confession of Faith, particularly the resurrection and after life. There was a fair amount of overlap in the material in some of these chapters.
The material Sproul interacts with is a bit outdated now. He originally wrote this in the 1990’s. In the updated version, Keith Mathison adds a chapter that interacts with more recent works, and provides a brief review of Stephen Barr’s Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.
Mathison examines some of the more recent absurd statements by leading scientists including Stephen Hawking. Like Sproul, Mathison makes this material accessible to those who don’t dabble in this regularly. The reason some of what they write doesn’t make sense is that it is irrational, or they keep changing definitions on the fly. Near the end of the chapter I wrote a note about how this is how Peter Enns speaks about Scripture (this might be an idea for Keith’s next book).
The book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith makes the argument that the real conflict isn’t between science and religion but materialism and religion. In many ways it appears that the problem of science is its commitment to materialism which leads to irrationality like self-creation.
This book is helpful if you interact with people who are materialists or fascinated with the newest books that seek to explain life, the universe and everything without God. In one spot Sproul mentions his even older book The Psychology of Atheism (now entitled If There is a God, Why are There Atheists?). There he sounds much like John Frame in explaining that this is part of their flight from accountability. There is a presupposition that drives the materialism which devolves into irrationality.
(I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.)