Critique of Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City
The following appeared in The Frontline #27 (March 1990), a special issue on “Christian Books: Our Contributors Read Between the Lines.”
Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity
By J.P. Moreland, 1987, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House
267 pp., $12.95 paperback
J.P. Moreland, a professor at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University with a Ph.D. in philosophy from USC, has written a book hailed by leading evangelicals (e.g., Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig) as the best Christian apologetic work ever written. I’ll just briefly point out some of its flaws.
Moreland opens his book with the kalam cosmological argument (drawing from Craig’s work). The argument begins by (1) attempting to establish the impossibility of an actual infinite, or at least the impossibility of an infinite past. It then argues that (2) the beginning of the universe must have been caused, and finally that (3) the cause must have been personal. There are flaws in the argument at every step (e.g., (1) is ably critiqued in papers by Quentin Smith and in Richard Sorabji’s Time, Creation, and the Continuum; (2) looks to be falsified by quantum mechanics). Regarding (3), the sort of changeless causation necessary for a cause for the first event does not require that the cause be a person. (It is also difficult to see how something changeless could be a person.) Moreland’s argument to the contrary (p. 42) is a weak Kantian argument similar to the one he criticizes on p. 34.
In a discussion on science and Christianity, Moreland falsely says (p. 222) that the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution and creationism make the same predictions about the fossil record. That may be true of progressive creationism (multiple creations over time), but not of creationism proper, which has no explanation for the distribution of fossils in the geological column.
Moreland also gives design arguments, arguments from mind, and arguments for the historicity of the New Testament and the resurrection. Moreland would have benefited from reading a book such as Zusne & Jones’ Anomalistic Psychology before writing his resurrection chapter (his arguments regarding hallucination are quite weak). His moral arguments overlook the view that nihilism is a negligible position. (If it is true that there are no values, then there is no reason to act as if that is the case, since any such reason would have to depend on values.) And he flippantly dismisses ethical naturalism without any real argument.
Still, it is a well-written book which deserves a fuller critique than I have been able to give here.
JIM LIPPARD, Philosophy, University of Arizona
[Postscript added 13 March 1995: This was sent to Moreland shortly after publication. Moreland did not respond to any of the arguments, but Moreland and Habermas’s book Immortality cites Zusne & Jones on pp. 60-61 as a result of this review–but probably because Ed Babinski brought it to the attention of Habermas in correspondence. See my May 19, 1993 letter to Moreland and Habermas critiquing Immortality. -jjl]