Why won’t Paul Copan respond to Thom Stark?
They say it is better for a book to be reviled or attacked than ignored. If ever there was a case to challenge that common wisdom, it is found with Thom Stark’s book-length review of Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster? (Baker, 2011). Stark’s review is called Is God a Moral Compromiser? It was originally published in early June (or thereabouts). The review is a book all its own and is, by my reading, as devastating a sustained critique of another published work as I’ve come across.
Thom took some heat however for some of the rhetorical flare in the original edition and so of course he revised it and put out a new edition in early July because he’s just that kind of guy. That is the edition you should read:
Now we come to the important bit. It has been almost three months since the revised and expanded second edition of Is God a Moral Compromiser? came out and still no response from Paul Copan. This is very disappointing. Paul Copan is one of the nicest guys in Christian apologetics. He is also one of the smartest. So for him to remain silent looks suspiciously like (1) he has no answer and (2) he hopes the whole thing will just go away.
But we can never let concerns about careers and reputations and constituencies trump concerns for the truth. So if Paul is unable to respond to Thom he should let us know. If he wishes to retract or revise some of his arguments, he should let us know that too. And if he has decided he needs to adopt a new understanding of scripture he should definitely let us know that.
I am reminded here of an exchange between Professors Sleigh and Chisholm which is recorded by Alvin Plantinga in his autobiographical essay in the book Alvin Plantinga. The setting was a philosophy of mind conference. Chisholm had just delivered a paper on the marks of intentionality which Plantinga described as “clear and ingenious”. However, clear and ingenious apparently didn’t mean perfect because Professor Sleigh then raised a critical problem. This is how Plantinga recalls Chisholm responding: “I see that, ah, Professor Sleigh has, ahum, demonstrated that my paper has at least one philosophical virtue: it is falsifiable.” But that’s not the end of the story, for Plantinga then adds: “a few days later he had an improved substitute. That quality in Chisholm is impressive and is one source of his capacity for constant growth.” (James E. Tomberlin and Peter van Inwagen, Alvin Plantinga, Profiles (Springer, 1985) 29.)
I want to challenge Paul Copan with this parting thought. Perhaps Thom has showed that your book has the philosophical virtue of being falsifiable. If so, let us know. And then get to work on an improved substitute. As Plantinga recognizes, this capacity for constant growth is one mark of a great scholar.