Naturalism: The view that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws.
Theism: Belief in the existence of a god or gods.
[--American Heritage Dictionary]
With these two definitions that appear before any of the dialogue, the reader has a fairly good idea of the debate that is about to be showcased in Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?: A Professor and a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism & Christianity. The book features an email correspondence between Preston Jones, a history professor from a Christian college, and Greg Graffin, frontman of Bad Religion and holder of a Ph.D. in zoology, who wrote his dissertation on evolution, atheism, and naturalism.
The conversation was initiated by Jones, who sent a pretty standard fan email to Graffin, but as their correspondence continues it becomes less that of fan and hero and more that of two intelligent minds searching for a sort of universal truth. However, despite the fact that there are two intelligent minds conversing, it becomes apparent after a while that neither of these men specializes in theology, Graffin even admitting he was "never aware of a single story from the Good Book.” And Jones, a history professor, is almost equally as oblivious to the study of naturalism. Interestingly enough, it is this lack of knowledge that, though one of the book’s main pitfalls, is also in a strange way its strength. Throughout the book, you see two men who grow in their understanding of the other’s viewpoint, and while neither are convinced at any point to change where they stand on the issues, both have clearly developed on a personal level from their communication. The book also gives great insight into Graffin’s hectic schedule near the end of 2003, as the band was touring and preparing The Empire Strikes First.
One of the strongest aspects of the text is Jones’ intuitive editing. The book is very easy to read, and as you are presented with both men referencing various philosophers and scholars, Jones highlights a quote from such references to help the reader follow along. These quotes come from both sides of the argument, and while Jones does seem to favour his own side slightly in the ratio of Christian to non-Christian references, there is still a good amount of paragraphs pulled from various naturalist thinkers, such as Richard Dawkins, Julian Huxley, and many others. There is even a study guide at the end of the book intended to help readers focus on some of the key themes that run through the text.
For those interested in Graffin’s life and personal theories, or those who are looking for a good starting place to a few fundamentals of naturalism or Christianity, Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? does a decent job of both. The book doesn’t offer any startling revelations, but it is well-designed and is an easy, interesting read.