God Matters

God Matters by Peter and Charlotte Vardy was published by SCM Press in 2013 and is now a widely used introductory text in the Philosophy of Religion.

In 2014, in his review for the Church Times, The Revd Dr Andrew Davison (Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences at Cambridge University) wrote…

“this is one of the best textbooks to have emerged in this field for years. It is a mine of well-chosen quotations, and a supporting website offers many more, at greater length. That resource will appeal to teachers, as will the multi-faith perspective. Undergraduate students of science and theology would also have much to gain from reading the first half of this book.” 


Reviews of God Matters follow…

Review by Dr Graham English, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education at the Australian Catholic University  3rd August 2013

The Irish writer George William Russell, or AE as he signed his articles, died in 1935. AE used now and then comment, ‘These days everyone is a critic.’ He meant that these days everyone has an opinion whether they know what they are talking about or not. ‘I know nothing about art but I know what I like,’ or, ‘I don’t know what I’m talking about but I am not going to let that stop me having an opinion.’

These days everyone it seems is an atheist. Here in Sydney one prominent writer in the sports pages regularly tells us he is an atheist and mocks those who for whatever reason still believe in God. He is one of those folk who whether it is relevant or not to what they are saying or doing feel the urge to assure us that they do not believe in God, much as in the 1950s folk assured us that they did not have body odour. Atheism is in fashion. Belief is not.

Peter and Charlotte Vardy are resisting the fashion.

The title and the final chapter state the Vardys’ case, God Matters. While arguing mostly philosophy they are putting the case for belief in God. It is a western philosophical account of God and why God exists and a clear, concise introduction to the philosophy of religion.

They begin by acknowledging that atheists might have a case at least for being critical of religion. Western Christianity is in trouble. Some is of its own making what with sex abuse cover ups and the venality of some church officials and other believers. The churches have often been slow to react to change and of late seldom able to instigate good change. They are frequently unable to explain themselves and unsure of how to proceed. Often they have remained stuck with explanations of God that are no longer credible or helpful. Fundamentalist Christians do not help either. Particularly they do not help educated or rational people for whom literalism does not make sense.

Some of Christianity’s troubles come from outside and are exacerbated by the churches’ faults. The Enlightenment, evolution, revolutions, modern philosophies, general education, Freud, all the crises of the twentieth century, and now the new cosmologies have left Christians struggling to keep up.

God Matters is basically about keeping up; indeed it is about being ahead of the game. It sets out the arguments for and against and comes out firmly for belief in God.
Chesterton once wrote that if we are advertising to take a lodger into our home we need to ask the applicants, “What is your philosophy?” before we ask if they can pay the rent. God Matters, like Chesterton makes the case that what we believe is important. Belief is not just a private matter because our beliefs affect our actions. If people have sound beliefs they are more likely to act well.

God Matters sets out the different arguments and the different kinds of arguments for and against belief in God: cosmological arguments, arguments from contingency and sufficient reason, for example. The authors quote pagans from the Greek and Roman traditions, Moslems like Ibn Sina, Jewish, Hindu and Christian thinkers like Aquinas who have been believers and they deal with the arguments against belief by philosophers and others who question the arguments for belief in God.

A feature of the book is that they engage a generous collection of thinkers. This book takes its readers seriously. A student reading God Matters will be introduced to many serious thinkers, believers and non believers either in the text or as introductions to the chapters. Those thinking students who follow up on people and ideas will find this text enriching and exciting.

The authors do not fear people who differ from them and they always present them fairly. God Matters is never tendentious and unlike some of the modern atheists, Richard Dawkins springs to mind, it does not set up straw men or Aunt Sallies to easily destroy. It takes all the arguments and theorists seriously. God Matters is in short an invitation to serious thinking about belief and religious experience.

The authors are good teachers. They are set on teaching their readers how to argue – they are teaching people how to philosophise – not unlike an old fashioned apologetics book but it is different in that it is not sectarian. It seeks to have students engage in a conversation rather than a debate and it introduces them to thinkers eminently worth conversing with. The summaries at the end of each chapter help too.

I have two quibbles with God Matters. ‘Choosing not to live a religious life effectively rules most people out of developing in faith’ it says. This is arguable. It is possible to be seeking God without living a religious life. People who do believe in God sometimes come to belief in all sorts of ways.

And a bigger quibble, I find the conclusion, ‘God Matters!’ unconvincing especially as the book has been a reasoned and reasonable text all the way through. The authors are sure that if God does not exist ‘then human beings seem like robot vehicles’ and ‘in the end it is hard to see how life really matters.’ I can understand how this is their opinion but it is not my experience. For Plato philosophy starts with ideas and for Aristotle it begins with experience. Whether it be temperament, training or what, I am essentially on Aristotle’s side and I know atheists who are neither robot vehicles nor hopeless. Perhaps if no one believed their scenario would come to pass but we cannot know that.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in religion and thinking but especially for teachers of religion who have intelligent students, whether they think they are atheists or believers, and for sports writers who think they are atheists but seldom know or take the trouble to find out what intelligent believers are talking about.

Dr Graham English spent forty six years working in Religious Education: teaching primary and secondary schools, writing policy and text books in a Catholic Education office, and finally for sixteen years working in the School of Religious Education at Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

Review by Dr Paul Rout OFM, Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion at the University of London, 7th August 2013

Works by Peter Vardy within the field of Philosophy of Religion have been very well received by Year 12 and 13 students, their teachers and many others for the past 25 years. This latest work, God Matters, by Peter and Charlotte Vardy, will be no exception. Peter is regarded as one of the leading experts on Religious and Values Education in Britain and Australasia. When he writes on the Philosophy of Religion, he seeks to draw his readers into critical dialogue with the latest and best philosophical and religious thinking concerning major issues within the field. God Matters amply succeeds in achieving this.

God Matters skilfully illustrates the value of seeking to gain new insights into the present by reflecting on the wisdom of the past. The work examines all of the traditional issues within the Philosophy of Religion – Arguments for the Existence of God, Religious Experience, Religious Language, God’s Action, Prayer, Miracles, the Problems of Evil and Suffering – clearly setting out the varying points of view while at the same time adding new background information which certainly assisted this reader in making a more nuanced evaluation.

What really interested me about this book was its willingness to delve into the exploration of new areas of controversy and debate, which any course in Philosophy of Religion should not ignore in today’s world. We find sections on God and the New Physics, Evolution and Fine Tuning, Quantum Reality, Parapsychology. We are also introduced to the thought of recent thinkers who, in one way or another, have impacted powerfully upon our contemporary world – Wittgenstein, the school of Logical Positivism, Neils Bohr, Einstein, Stephen Hawkings, Richard Dawkins, James Lovelock, to name only some. As in the rest of the work, their basic approaches to the question under discussion are clearly outlined, leaving the reader with the necessary information to come to a clearer and more critical assessment of the issue. The employment of concise summaries and extensive extracts from primary sources works as an invaluable aid in this process.

Whether one is a religious believer or not, God Matters demonstrates that questions concerning God do matter. It additionally demonstrates that those who have entered into the challenge of critically addressing these questions have produced profound insights that are of great value for all who are searchers for truth. This book is a must-read for Year 12 and 13 Philosophy of Religion students and their teachers and will also be of great value for Undergraduate students pursuing further studies in this field.

March 9, 2014
Book review: God Matters
Sunday, March 09, 2014 | Posted by Emma

At a time when religion tends to disappear from the public sphere, the authors invite here to put again God at the center of reflection on man, truth, and the world. Their book is intended for students in philosophy or theology and anyone taking the time to think.

The emphasis is on an accurate use of terms (religion , faith, belief) and the different approach to every facet of this issue in Christian and even pre-Christian centuries. A lot examples are provided, from the great masters of Hindu, Muslim and Jewish wisdom for example, from Christian spirituality, philosophy (from the first philosophers to Alvin Plantinga in particular, often quoted), from psychology, science and the world of arts (literature, cinema). Many quotes, sometimes quite long, come from modern and contemporary Protestant authors.

The approach, very clear, intends to be very systematic and objective. Even topics such as miracles and near-death experiences are discussed. Each chapter ends with an excellent summary. One limit to the book: as for the world of Christian liturgy, only the West is taken into account, and the Eastern Christian centuries are completely ignored.

This is a good general view of the subject if you need a refresher.

Readers’ Comments

“Those who have read previous books by the Vardys will not be surprised to find once again their trademark clarity, straightforwardness and acessibility. What makes this book such an important addition is the range of scholarly reference and extensive quotations from thinkers ancient and modern. The explanation and contextualisation of the different scholarly approaches to the key debates in the philosophy of religion make this book valuable not only for those beginning their study of the issues, but also for those looking to be stretched and challenged beyond the limits of routine examination specifications. To provide breadth, depth, rigour and accessibility all in one introductory text is quite an achievement, but it is one that Peter and Charlotte Vardy have managed. It really is an excellent read!” Roger Meadowcroft (Head of Religion & Philosophy, The Royal Grammar School, Guildford)

“Another inspirational book from team Vardy and my ‘A’ Level course on a plate. Charlotte recently said to me, ‘How do you update philosophy of religion?’ Yet they have and it’s like a breath of fresh air. This is a work of genius yet totally accessible to students of all levels and all interested parties alike – it must go mainstream! Impeccably researched and covering familiar ancient and modern philosophers, lesser known but equally important ones and even quotes from people you would never have thought of – Steven Spielberg, Peter Pan et al. Each chapter is laid out logically and with full analysis and evaluation of arguments and counter arguments ending in really useful summaries. This is definitely an outstanding and truly entertaining book and a unique contribution to what has latterly been a very boring bookshelf – a HOT book not a MOT book (higher order thinking book not more of the same). Enjoy, I certainly did!” Anne Needham (Head of Religious Studies, Walthamstow Hall, Kent & Examiner, Teacher Trainer and Author)

“Once again Peter and Charlotte Vardy have done what so many teachers find so difficult – communicated complex philosophical and theological ideas with clarity, ease and a good deal of humour. This new book concentrates on providing material for the high ability A level student – variety of perspectives and critiques feature more than pure overview. There are some particularly helpful new considerations – my own favourite is Chapter 5 God and the New Physics. Whatever your position; theist, atheist or agnostic you will find yourself challenged by this book – challenged to think and to consider a perspective other than your own; surely the raisin d’être of any good philosophy book.” Catrina Young (Deputy Headmistress, The Dixie Grammar School)

“Does God exist and if so what is the nature of the Deity? What is the essence of Faith? Does God matter in our modern world? In this thought-provoking new book the widely-read Peter and Charlotte Vardy draw on their extensive knowledge of the thoughts of many of the most influential philosophers throughout the ages to the present day to provide an insight into possible answers to these questions. They also discuss the issues surrounding such concepts as Evil, Suffering and Life after death in the concept of the nature of God. I found their work to be very informative and a challenge to me to reconsider my own philosophy of life. It certainly made me think and I recommend this book to those people that are seeking a better understanding of the mysteries of life”. Diana Parsk (Chairman of the Banstead 5 Churches and RE teacher at St. Bede’s Ecumenical School, Redhill)

“God Matters is a much needed and refreshing new look at the important philosophical questions raised when studying religion. It leaves the reader wanting to and able to engage in active debate with others to further their own personal understanding. Exactly what I was hoping to find for my students to encourage and stimulate learning in this intellectually rigorous and demanding subject.” Christien Bembridge (Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy, St Peter’s School, York)

‘The Vardys have written an impassioned book about the many topics of the Philosophy of Religion. The reader is treated to the usual philosophical greats but also to more modern scholars on each subject, thus one feels as if one is really at the forefront of contemporary thought on these matters. The Islamic and Jewish slants combined with the different Christian stances challenge readers to be inclusive in their search for the truth. Last of all, underpinning the whole book is an invitation to think again about the title that God Matters! I did!’ Sarah Allen (Teacher of Religious Studies, Bootham School, York)

“The Vardys are gifted communicators and many have benefitted from their excellent conferences. Now they have transferred their high standard of scholarship into this book and, as ever, all ideas are presented with clarity and precision. In a sea of introductory books, this is a very welcome development – an incisive text which will stretch and challenge those looking for the higher grades. ‘God Matters’ will prove to be the ‘go to’ book for both the seasoned teacher and the enquiring young philosopher. ” Tim Madeley (Assistant Vice Principal and Director of VI Form, Carmel College, Darlington)

“This book is the embodiment of the authors; engaging and intellectually stimulating! It is presented in a style which is not unnecessarily complicated and absorbs the reader; the clarity with which it is written makes it an invaluable resource. The depth and breadth of research allow students to encounter the rich tradition of philosophers who have engaged with the question of God. Whether readers are believers, noncommittal or non-believers this book’s honesty will appeal, as it is authentic to the intellectual discourse around the quest for God.” Gerard McNulty (Religious Education Coordinator, Mount Carmel College, Hobart)

“An inspiring, engaging read that promotes enquiry, a perfect springboard from which to launch an essential journey to contemplate truth. In short, I found it engaging and accessible with essential pointers to promote further enquiry for the more able.” Janet Thomson (Vice Principal & Head of RE, Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone)