Paul Copan. A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Paul Copan teaches philosophy at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
As the subtitle of this book indicates, this book talks about the
advantages of studying philosophy. It seems to be aimed at people who
wonder whether they should pursue philosophy as an academic study,
perhaps for a career in academia.
The book thoughtfully explores a variety of subjects: the increasing
acceptance of theism within philosophical circles, arguments for the
existence of God, the existence of the soul, verificationism,
similarities and differences between the God of the Bible and the
philosophical God (i.e., the picture of God influenced by Greek
philosophy), the question of whether atheists bear any burden of proof,
and what to do with religious doubt. Copan also defends the study of
philosophy against Christians who regard it as antithetical to
Christianity. Not only does Copan offer an alternative interpretation
of Bible verses that have been cited against philosophy, but he also
effectively argues that Scripture itself, along with Christian minds
throughout history, have encouraged the life of the mind.
Copan also offers a lay-of-the-land of academia, as he speaks from
experience as an academic philosopher. For Copan, Christian
philosophers should exemplify the fruit of the Spirit in how they treat
colleagues, including those with whom they disagree. This may sound
obvious, but Copan offers practical advice on how to be a Christian in
academia: how to view one’s own work, how to help others, and how being
in a group of Christian philosophers can be important. Cohan also
shares how he went through Coppleston’s series of books on philosophy,
and that may be helpful to people who are seriously interested in the
field, as well as people whose minds can easily wander when they are
I would like to quote some of my favorite lines in the book, just to give you a taste:
“Practicing philosophy in the way of Jesus, for instance, requires
that professors never publicly dismantle a graduate student’s paper at a
conference” (page 81).
“So whether we publish much or little, whether our work is widely
admired or falls stillborn from the press, we will be a faithful
presence wherever God has placed us” (pages 82-83).
“My PhD advisor told me not to attempt anything earthshaking for my
dissertation…He suggested I keep my nose to the grindstone, work hard
and save any bold work for later” (pages 92-93).
And, as someone who wonders if James 1:6-8 condemns all doubt, I
appreciated Cohan’s interpretation: “Actually, James is condemning a
mindset of divided loyalty between God and the world—-a spiritual
adultery” (page 103).
The book may help Christian students at secular universities to feel
less alone when their Christianity is challenged. This book
demonstrates that intelligent people have embraced Christianity and have
pursued careers in academia.
This book, by itself, may not provide Christian students with
sufficient arguments to use against atheists and skeptics, who can
easily respond with “Where’s the proof for God’s existence?”, dismiss
some arguments as wishful thinking, or see some arguments as “God in the
gaps” arguments. Copan criticizes “God in the gaps” arguments as lazy,
but he also seems to prefer theistic explanations because they at least
attempt to account for things that puzzle naturalists. Naturalists
would probably see that approach itself as a “God in the gaps” approach,
believing that we should not dismiss the possibility of a natural
explanation just because one currently eludes us. The book may still
provide Christian students with a starting-point in addressing atheist
and skeptical arguments.
A disappointment, in terms of the book, is that it did not really
explore how Christians can be edified by philosophical insights.
Granted, it talked about how philosophy can sharpen one’s mind, but,
when it came to philosophy, it largely focused on the questions of
whether God and the soul exist. Can philosophy do more than buttress
what Christians already believe to be true? Can it teach them anything
new? On pages 38-39, Copan refers positively to analytic theologians
who “haven’t focused primarily on Christian apologetics or arguments for
God’s existence…” Copan’s book would have been better had its horizons
The book also had somewhat of a siege mentality, in places:
Christians must try to protect their faith, and Christians should hang
around their own. I should stress, though, that, the opposite approach
is in the book, too, as it encourages those interested in philosophy to
learn the thoughts of major philosophical figures and to engage atheist
and skeptical philosophers. Copan also has reasons for holding the
Christian faith, which include arguments, its explanatory power, its
satisfaction of human longings, and the experiences of the supernatural
by people he knows. I doubt that Copan is insecure in his faith. It
just seems that he is for exploration, but he wants it to arrive at
Christian conclusions. Of course, there are atheists and skeptics who
are the same way, with their own worldviews, but is there a way to be
open-minded while holding a particular worldview, as opposed to being in
a no-man’s land?
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!