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Ric Barline

I just finished reading the book and came away feeling cheated. The promise of the book was to explore whether man is inventing God or discovering God, or, as it asks on the jacket, "Did God create us, or did we create God?" I made the mistake of starting at the beginning and reading all the way through until the end. What I should have done is start with the last chapter titled "Discovering God"; I would have saved myself a lot of time. Only there does Stark finally get around to delivering on his promise to answer the question, but even there he fails to do so. Instead, once you boil it all down, he basically says that the answer simply depends on whether or not God exists - if He does, then we are discovering God, and if He doesn't then we are inventing God. Really, that's about it.

Of course, although he tries hard to sound objective and academic, and tries not to reveal his personal religious beliefs, it becomes evident in the final chapter that Stark is a Christian (can one even hold the position of co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor without being a Christian?), and so he finishes the book with why God does indeed exist, and hence why the history of religion is the history of "discovering" God. Unfortunately, here he completely switches topics from his area of expertise, religion and theology, and bases his argument for the existence of God on the fact that, quoting Einstein, contrary to what we might expect, the world is completely accessible to inquiry by science. Amazingly, he also uses the scientific discovery of the Big Bang as proof that the universe had a beginning after all (as opposed to an eternal universe with no beginning or end which, according to his endnotes, was the theme of Carl Sagan's Cosmos). He also bases his belief that God exists on the idea that Intelligent Design must be correct, again switching gears completely.

His argument goes like this: We are not inventing God, because if we were it would mean that the revelations of the prophets were just voices in their heads, and therefore God does not really exist. But since God does exist, we must be discovering that God. And how does he know God exists? Well … because he believes God exists, based on the facts that 1) the universe had a beginning (and therefore must have been created by a Creator) and 2) the universe is knowable through empirical inquiry, contrary to what it would have been had there been no God. That's about it.

Now you can see why I felt cheated. I bought the book on the basis of its title (good titles really do sell books, as I'm sure Stark is aware), and took the time to read it cover to cover, always expecting that the central question would be answered in an intelligent way that I could understand. But it never was. As interesting and edifying as was the short course in the history of religion and his theory of the religious economy, that is not what I was set up to expect; I was expecting him to answer the question posed at the outset. As I said, the last chapter was the only part of the book that even pretended to address the question, and really it was quite pathetic (if Stark knew anything about Carl Sagan he would know that Sagan believed in the Big Bang, and if he knew anything about Einstein he would know that he was an atheist who believed that all ideas are just conceptions in the mind).

Although the question "Did God create us, or did we create God?" is arguably tautological, I think there are meaningful arguments that could have been offered in support for the idea that we are not inventing God (and Stark came very close to using them, but he did not). Namely, what if we generalized the question to read "do we invent or do we discover any kind of knowledge?" To ask this would of course change the subject from religion to epistemology, not Stark's area of expertise, but let's see where this could lead. If we could cobble together a plausible argument that there is any kind of knowledge that is clearly being "discovered" by mankind, then we could argue, by analogy, that God is similarly being discovered.

Take mathematics for example; have we invented the body of knowledge we call mathematics, or has it been out there all the time just waiting for us to discover it? I know what you will say … from an epistemological point of view the question doesn't make sense … but to me it is much more intuitive (and less highly charged) than the question about God. We can ask the same question about the laws of physics and probably many other things as well. To me, it makes sense that some things are discoveries as opposed to inventions (although the techniques of mathematics and physics are clearly inventions). The facts of mathematics and physics seem like they have been there all along (did gravity exist before our minds were here to observe it? Of course). So … by analogy, albeit assuming that God exists, God has been out there all along, and as we evolve our consciousness we slowly discover Him.

I am not proposing this as a good argument for the idea that we are actually discovering God, as one could easily counter that philosophical or religious knowledge is fundamentally different than mathematical or physical knowledge. But wouldn't this line of reasoning be more interesting and powerful than what Stark gave us? Apparently the purpose of Stark's book was to showcase his extensive knowledge about religions and sneakily, in the end, to reinforce a Christian's reader's belief system, and to show non-Christians the error of their ways. It was definitely NOT an honestly attempt to answer the question on the book jacket. I'm going to be much more careful in the future.

Bible Timeline

The Samaritans were snubbing someone far greater than Elijah. They were snubbing the Son of God. If anyone deserved to be struck by lightning, it was them. But that was not the Spirit of Christ. He came to show us a new way. You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5.43-44. In Luke 9, Jesus shows us what grace looks like. He refuses to strike back at the Samaritans.


The Black Adder obviously had Starks pretentious simplications in mind when he uttered his immortal words: Utter Crapp!

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