Religion on Trial. By Craig A. Parton. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008. 97 pp. Paper, $14.00.
Craig Parton’s Religion on Trial is an introductory defense of Christianity in the tradition of legal apologetics. The back cover description claims that Parton “argues that religions uniformly fail the simplest tests of admissibility for their respective claims.” I expected that Parton would be examining a variety of religious claims and would refute them according to established legal principles. Unfortunately, that is not what Parton does.
Instead of treating religious claims seriously, he dismisses Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age, Shintoism, Taosim, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Judaism, and Islam in little more than 3 1/2 pages (pp. 37-40). Parton makes the blanket statement that none of these faiths make “truly verifiable historical claims that can be seriously investigated” (p. 37). Parton ends his “refutation” by saying “we can only investigate religious claims which actually allow for factual testing. We have seen that virtually all of the world’s religions do not allow for such investigation because their claims are not factual in nature. It is pointless to spend time investigating the truth claims say of Buddhism or the New Age movement when they make no such falsifiable claims” (p. 40).
I don’t think it’s pointless at all. Anyone familiar with other religious traditions will know that they all make historical and contemporary miracle claims. For example, the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba (d. 2011), was said to have performed many of the same miracles as Jesus, including raising the dead. Mormons make claims about civilizations living in the Americas. Likewise, Muslim apologists regularly claim that the Qur’an contains scientific knowledge that could not have been known in the 7th century, proving its divine origin. All of these claims are falsifiable.
Alarmingly, Parton even rejects the Torah on the grounds that the manuscript evidence is so late that it “offers no primary or eye-witness historical attestation for the miraculous and allegedly revelatory events found in the Old Testament” (p. 37). Apparently, he sees no room for establishing the credibility of the Biblical manuscripts through archeology, linguistics, and comparisons with other Near Eastern ancient documents.
In sum, despite Parton’s blanket dismissal, every religious tradition claims their mystics, gurus, and prophets have performed miracles. Of course, these may all be lies, but many of them are falsifiable and deserve a more serious treatment than what Parton is willing to give. Parton’s book is supposed to be a rational, impartial, evidence-based approach to religious claims, a standard he fails to live up to in his evaluation of other religious traditions.
The book ends with the standard legal apologetic for the historicity of the resurrection. Beginners may find it a helpful summary of an argument better developed by F. F. Bruce and John Warwick Montgomery. The rest of Parton’s book is taken up with resolving some Bible difficulties, alleged contradictions, the problem of evil, and so on. None of these are particularly helpful or in-depth.
This book may serve as a introduction to the legal arguments for the resurrection, but there are better resources available.
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