New Books in Theology, Philosophy, & Apologetics –November 2012

Christian Confidence: An Introduction to Defending the FaithChris Sinkinson (IVP, July 2012) **

Philosophy, archaeology and science are hot topics in Christian circles, perplexing many believers about how these issues relate to faith. Fortunately for us, Chris Sinkinson has investigated these areas and gathered historical Christian perspective. The result is this accessible introduction to apologetics, which enlightens minds and inspires confidence.

Christian Confidence is a one-stop shop for anyone desiring to engage thoughtfully and persuasively in the difficult conversations surrounding faith in the twenty-first century. This book will deepen your understanding of Christianity and empower you to present the case for faith convincingly, credibly and cleverly.Chris Sinkinson has achieved something rather remarkable here. In just a few hundred pages he looks at the craft of apologetics from almost every angle. He examines the history of apologetics, methodology, key figures in the discipline and the most important arguments. And he does all this with wit and terrific style. One of the best introductions to apologetics I have seen.” (Craig J. Hazen, founder and director of the graduate program in Christian apologetics, Biola University, and author of Five Sacred Crossings)

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The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit TrailsRandal Rauser (IVP, October 2012)

In the real world, we don’t usually sit in lecture halls debating worldview issues in systematic arguments. Chances are that we’re more likely to have haphazard, informal conversations over a latte in a coffee shop.

Meet Randal Rauser, a Christian, and Sheridan, an atheist. Over the course of one caffeinated afternoon, they explore a range of honest questions and real objections to Christian faith. Do people hold to a particular religion just because of an accident of geography? Is believing in Jesus as arbitrary as believing in Zeus? Why would God order the slaughter of infants or send people to hell? How do you know you’re really real, and not just a character in someone’s book?

Their extended conversation unfolds with all the rabbit trails, personal baggage and distractions that inevitably come in real-world encounters. Rauser provides substantive argument-based apologetics but also highlights the importance of apologetics as a narrative journey. As we get to know Sheridan, we better understand the personal history that drives his atheism and the issues that motivate his skepticism.

“Rauser’s dialogue brings the best tools of philosophical thinking within the reach of thoughtful believers and skeptics alike. His representative in the conversation knows when to stick to his guns, and when to admit to uncertainty and fallibility. His atheist counterpart is no straw man–he knows his Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens. Rauser has the philosophical chops to cut through a lot of rhetorical nonsense, but he also has the intellectual honesty to face up to the genuine difficulties confronting his faith. This enjoyable book is a model of candid, winsome, thought-provoking apologetics.” (Dean Zimmerman, professor of philosophy, Rutgers University)

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God and NecessityBrian Leftow (Oxford University Press, Nov. 2012)

Brian Leftow offers a theory of the possible and the necessary in which God plays the chief role, and a new sort of argument for God’s existence. It has become usual to say that a proposition is possible just in case it is true in some “possible world” (roughly, some complete history a universe might have) and necessary just if it is true in all. Thus much discussion of possibility and necessity since the 1960s has focused on the nature and existence (or not) of possible worlds. God and Necessity holds that there are no such things, nor any sort of abstract entity. It assigns the metaphysical ‘work’ such items usually do to God and events in God’s mind, and reduces “broadly logical” modalities to causal modalities, replacing possible worlds in the semantics of modal logic with God and His mental events. Leftow argues that theists are committed to theist modal theories, and that the merits of a theist modal theory provide an argument for God’s existence. Historically, almost all theist modal theories base all necessary truth on God’s nature. Leftow disagrees: he argues that necessary truths about possible creatures and kinds of creatures are due ultimately to God’s unconstrained imagination and choice. On his theory, it is in no sense part of the nature of God that normal zebras have stripes (if that is a necessary truth). Stripy zebras are simply things God thought up, and they have the nature they do simply because that is how God thought of them. Thus Leftow’s essay in metaphysics takes a half-step toward Descartes’ view of modal truth, and presents a compelling theist theory of necessity and possibility.

 

 

Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and the Proof That Will Change the Way We Live Our LivesMario Beauregard (HarperOne, April 2012)

“The brain can be weighed, measured, scanned, dissected, and studied. The mind that we conceive to be generated by the brain, however, remains a mystery. It has no mass, no volume, and no shape, and it cannot be measured in space and time. Yet it is as real as neurons, neurotransmitters, and synaptic junctions. It is also very powerful.”
—from Brain Wars

Is the brain “a computer made of meat,” and human consciousness a simple product of electrical impulses? The idea that matter is all that exists has dominated science since the late nineteenth century and led to the long-standing scientific and popular understanding of the brain as simply a collection of neurons and neural activity. But for acclaimed neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, Ph.D., along with a rising number of colleagues and others, this materialist-based view clashes with what we feel and experience every day.

In Brain Wars, Dr. Beauregard delivers a paradigm-shifting examination of the role of the brain and mind. Filled with engaging, surprising, and cutting-edge scientific accounts, this eye-opening book makes the increasingly indisputable case that our immaterial minds influence what happens in our brains, our bodies, and even beyond our bodies. Examining the hard science behind “unexplained” phenomena such as the placebo effect, self-healing, brain control, meditation, hypnosis, and near-death and mystical experiences, Dr. Beauregard reveals the mind’s capabilities and explores new answers to age-old mind-body questions.

Radically shifting our comprehension of the role of consciousness in the universe, Brain Wars forces us to consider the immense untapped power of the mind and explore the profound social, moral, and spiritual implications that this new understanding holds for our future.

“Mario Beauregard shows convincingly that the materialistic philosophy of the 19th century is an impoverished framework incompatible with contemporary science, from physics to psychology. The concepts he develops in Brain Wars are required reading for scientific literacy in today’s world.” (Bruce Greyson, M.D. Research psychiatrist, University of Virginia. Co-author of Irreducible Mind )

 

A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy: From Russell to RawlsStephen P. Schwartz (Wiley-Blackwell, June 2012)

A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy: from Russell to Rawls provides a comprehensive overview of the historical development of all major aspects of Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Beginning with the seminal works of Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, Stephen P. Schwartz covers the foremost figures and schools of analytic philosophy, including, in addition to those already mentioned, Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine, Davidson, Kripke, Putnam, Rawls, and many others. As well as presenting arguments put forth by individual philosophers, Schwartz traces the various social and political influences that helped shape analytic philosophy as it evolved over the last century. Topics considered include the emergence of logical positivism and its critics, ordinary language philosophy, Wittgenstein’s self-critical philosophy, the American neo-pragmatists, analytic ethics, late-20th-century developments, and future directions.

A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy offers illuminating insights into the origins and 100-year evolution of the dominant force in Western philosophy.

“Stephen Schwartz’s A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy provides an engaging, non-technical historical introduction to central themes in analytical philosophy, the dominant approach to philosophical issues in the English-speaking world since the onset of the 20th century.  Schwartz illuminates topics for novices and specialists alike by tracing their sources to pressing disputes among mathematicians and scientists as well as philosophers. The book, captivating in its own right, will prove especially useful when read alongside targeted original sources. There is nothing else quite like it.” (John Heil, Washington University in Saint Louis)

 

** Descriptions and endorsements are provided by the publishers.

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The Missing Links — March 7, 2011

Alvin Plantinga after telling a joke at the be...

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  • Alexander Pruss, professor of philosophy at Baylor, writes on “Eight Tempting Big-Picture Errors in Ethics,” such as “Sometimes you should do the wrong thing” and “Some areas of life are exempt from morality.” Other papers by Pruss are available here.
  • Insightful non-Christian critique of the new atheists at ABC Australia. “The militant atheist bandwagon – driven by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett – continues to paint their theist opposition as irrational simpletons who favor superstition and myth over reason and science.”
  • The top philosophy journals according to a poll of 36,000 contributors.  The top 10 are:
  • 1. Journal of Philosophy
    2. Philosophical Review
    3. Philosophy & Phenomenological Research
    4. Nous
    5. Mind
    6. Ethics
    7. Philosophical Studies
    8. Synthese
    9. Philosophy & Public Affairs
    10. Analysis


Philosophy Word of the Day – Moral Character

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Questions about moral character have recently come to occupy a central place in philosophical discussion. Part of the explanation for this development can be traced to the publication in 1958 of G. E. M. Anscombe’s seminal article “Modern Moral Philosophy.” In that paper Anscombe argued that Kantianism and utilitarianism, the two major traditions in western moral philosophy, mistakenly placed the foundation for morality in legalistic notions such as duty and obligation. To do ethics properly, Anscombe argued, one must start with what it is for a human being to flourish or live well. That meant returning to some questions that mattered deeply to the ancient Greek moralists. These questions focused on the nature of “virtue” (or what we might think of as admirable moral character), of how one becomes virtuous (is it taught? does it arise naturally? are we responsible for its development?), and of what relationships and institutions may be necessary to make becoming virtuous possible.

Answers to these ancient questions emerge today in various areas of philosophy, including ethics (especially virtue ethics), feminist ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of education, and philosophy of literature. Interest in virtue and character was also indirectly the result of a more practical turn in political philosophy, inspired by the publication of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971. In Part III of A Theory of Justice, Rawls provided a picture of how individuals might be brought up in a just state to develop the virtues expected of good citizens. Although his interest was not in moral education per se, his discussion of the nature and development of what he called self-respect stimulated other philosophers to explore the psychological foundations of virtue and the contributions made by friendship, family, community, and meaningful work to good moral character. (continue article)

— Marcia Homiak in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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C. S. Lewis on the Inability of Science to Define Morality

“I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But…questions about the good for man, about justice, and what things are worth having at what price…on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value. Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do so-and-so; but whether life is worth having on those terms is no more a question for him than for any other man.”

— from the essay “Is Progress Possible?” in God in the Dock, 315.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Naturalistic Fallacy

“The relation between is/ought, fact/value, objectivity/normativity, and science/ethics all touch on the notion of the naturalistic fallacy. In general terms, this notion is an expression of the philosophical argument that one cannot infer from the one to the other; one cannot infer from is to ought, nor can one make an inference from scientific observations to ethical arguments. Any such attempt means committing the naturalistic fallacy. Historically, David Hume (1711–1776) and G. E. Moore (1873–1958) were the primary advocates of the invalidity of a moral argument based on such an inference.

“. . . The term naturalistic fallacy goes back to G. E. Moore, who in Principia Ethica (1903) argued that the notion of the good could not be based by reference to nonmoral entities. The good is a simple, indefinable concept, not composed by other nonmoral parts. This is precisely the problem of the naturalistic fallacy, which points to nature or to some other nonmoral entity and argues that this serves as the basis of moral normativity. Thereby the difference between these parts is ignored, as is the invalidity of inferring from one to the other. By committing the naturalistic fallacy, one would substitute “good” with a nonmoral property.” (continue article)

— Ulrik B. Nissen in Encyclopedia of Science and Religion

* It would seem that Sam Harris’s latest book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, largely falls into the category of the naturalistic fallacy.

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Book Giveaway – Moral Choices by Scott Rae

I used Scott Rae’s book Moral Choices in two different ethics classes in seminary and benefitted from it a great deal.  It’s now in it’s third edition, and thanks to the generous folks at Zondervan (@Zondervan on Twitter, Facebook here), I’m giving away a copy at Cloud of Witnesses.

As the subtitle says, the book is an introduction to (Christian) ethics.  In the first four chapters, Rae lays out some theoretical groundwork by pointing to various elements of a Christian approach to ethics, and then surveys various ethical systems such as utilitarianism, deontological approaches, and virtue ethics.  Chapter 4 provides a general framework for making ethical decisions.

Chapters 5 through 12 take up a variety of ethical issues and treat them from a Christian viewpoint.  These timely topics include abortion, cloning, euthanasia, sexual ethics, war, and economics.  Each chapter includes review questions, case studies for discussion, suggestions for further reading, and helpful sidebars.

If you’re looking for a concise but comprehensive survey of Christian ethics from an evangelical perspective, Moral Choices is one of the best in print in my opinion.

Giveaway Details:

To enter the giveaway, comment on this post and tell me the best book you’ve read recently.  (Please include your email address in the comment form so I can contact you if you win.)  Also, please share this post on the social media site of your choice (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).  I’ll announce the winner this weekend.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Aquinas’ Philosophical Theology

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“In addition to his moral philosophy, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is well-known for his theological writings.   He is arguably the most eminent philosophical theologian ever to have lived.  To this day, it is difficult to find someone whose work rivals Aquinas’ in breadth and influence.  Although his work is not limited to illuminating Christian doctrine, virtually all of what he wrote is shaped by his theology.  Therefore it seems appropriate to consider some of the theological themes and ideas that figure prominently in his thought.

“The volume and depth of Aquinas’ work resists easy synopsis.  Nevertheless, an abridged description of his work may help us appreciate his  philosophical skill in exploring God’s nature and defending Christian teaching.  Although Aquinas does not think that philosophical reasoning can provide an exhaustive account of the divine nature, it is (he insists) both a source of divine truth and an aid in exonerating the intellectual credibility of those doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith.  From this perspective, philosophical reasoning can be (to use a common phrase) a tool in the service of theology.

“An adequate understanding of Aquinas’ philosophical theology requires that we first consider the twofold manner whereby we come to know God:  reason and sacred teaching.  Our discussion of what reason reveals about God will naturally include an account of philosophy’s putative success in demonstrating both God’s existence and certain facts about God’s nature.  Yet because Aquinas also thinks that sacred teaching contains the most comprehensive account of God’s nature, we must also consider his account of faith—the virtue whereby we believe well with respect to what sacred teaching reveals about God.  Finally, we will consider how Aquinas employs philosophical reasoning when explaining and defending two central Christian doctrines:  the Incarnation and the Trinity.” (continue article)

— Shawn Floyd at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Dallas Willard on Outrageous Claims Made in the Name of Science

Philosopher Dallas Willard writes, “[I]ndividuals with standing in a particular professional field sometimes feel free, or even obligated, to cloak themselves in the authority of their area of expertise and make grandiose statements such as this by a professor of biological sciences [Willard quotes William B. Provine of Cornell University]:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear. . . . There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind.  There is no life after death.  When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead.  That’s the end for me.  There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.

“Logically viewed, this statement is simply laughable.  Nowhere within the published, peer-reviewed literature of biology—even evolutionary biology—do any of the statements of which the professor is “absolutely certain” appear as valid conclusions of sound research.  One trembles to think that an expert in the field would not know this or else would feel free to disregard it.  Biology as a field of research and knowledge is not even about such issues.  It simply does not deal with them.  They do not fall within the province of its responsibilities.  Yet it is very common to hear such declamations about the state of the universe offered up in lectures and writing by specialists in certain areas who have a missionary zeal for their personal causes.”

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne, 2009), 5.

Well said.  I do admire Provine, however, for following his naturalism to its logical conclusions, and being willing to state those conclusions openly:  there are no purposes, no life after death, no objective right and wrong, no meaning to life, and no free will.  I absolutely agree with Provine that these are the logical implications of metaphysical naturalism.  They are the stark realities that atheists of previous generations (such as Nietzsche and Sartre) embraced—and lamented.  But most popularizers of atheism today want to have their atheism and eat their cake, too.

They want to proclaim a universe without deity, but also make moral pronouncements (as if they were something more than mere opinion), live as if the will is free (do they embrace atheism because it’s rational or because they couldn’t choose otherwise?), and maintain an unjustified optimism about human life and progress through science (why bother doing science if life has no meaning?  Why even get out of bed every day?  And how do we explain the great evil human beings are prone to do?).

Provine is right.  But why anyone wouldn’t fall into the deepest depression if they held such beliefs is incomprehensible.  Such propositions can live freely in the ivory tower of abstract academic thought, but they’re unlivable in concrete human experience.  Thus, I can only conclude that those who hold such views don’t actually take them very seriously.  If they did, we would witness their lives spiraling into chaos in a very short time.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Foundationalism

Epistemic foundationalism is a view about the proper architecture of one’s knowledge or justified beliefs.  Some beliefs are known or justifiedly believed only because some other beliefs are known or justifiedly believed.  The claim that one has heart disease is known only if some other beliefs are known—for example, that doctors have reported this and that the doctors are reliable.

This dependence among our beliefs naturally raises the question about the proper epistemic structure for our beliefs.  Should all beliefs be supported by other beliefs?  Are some beliefs rightly believed apart from receiving support from other beliefs?  What is the nature of the proper support between beliefs?  Epistemic foundationalism is one view about how to answer these questions.  Foundationalists maintain that some beliefs are properly basic and that the rest of one’s beliefs inherit their epistemic status (knowledge or justification) in virtue of receiving proper support from the basic beliefs.  Foundationalists have two main projects: a theory of proper basicality (that is, a theory of noninferential justification) and a theory of appropriate support (that is, a theory of inferential justification).

Foundationalism has a long history.  Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics argues for foundationalism on the basis of the regress argument.  Aristotle assumes that the alternatives to foundationalism must either endorse circular reasoning or land in an infinite regress of reasons.  Because neither of these views is plausible, foundationalism comes out as the clear winner in an argument by elimination.  Arguably, the most well known foundationalist is Descartes, who takes as the foundation the allegedly indubitable knowledge of his own existence and the content of his ideas.  Every other justified belief must be grounded ultimately in this knowledge.

. . . [Debates over foundationalism] touched off a burst of activity on foundationalism in the late 1970s to early 1980s.  One of the significant developments from this period is the formulation and defense of reformed epistemology, a foundationalist view that took as the foundations beliefs such as there is a God (see Plantinga (1983)). While the debate over foundationalism has abated in recent decades, new work has picked up on neglected topics about the architecture of knowledge and justification. (Continue article)

— Ted Poston, “Foundationalism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

* Hyperlinks are mine

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Quotable — God and Objective Morality

“If evil truly exists, what we could call ‘objective evil’ — then there also exist objective moral values, moral values which are binding on all people, whether they acknowledge them as such or not.  If rape, racism, torture, murder, government-sanctioned genocide and so forth are objectively evil, what makes them so?  What makes them truly evil, rather than simply activities we dislike?  What made the atrocities of the Nazis evil, even though Hitler and his thugs maintained otherwise?  One cannot consistently affirm both that there are no objective moral values, on the one hand, and that rape, torture and the like are objectively morally evil on the other.  If there are objective moral values, there must be some basis — some metaphysical foundation — for their being so. . . .

But [you] can’t have [your] cake and eat it too.  If good and evil are objectively real, they need an objective foundation.  No atheist has provided one, and it’s doubtful that one will be forthcoming.  We can put the problem concisely:

(1) If moral notions such as good and evil exist objectively, then there must be an objective foundation for their existence.

(2) Atheism offers no objective basis for the existence of moral notions such as good and evil.

(3) Therefore, for the atheist, moral notions such as good and evil must not objectively exist.”

— Chad Meister, “God, Evil, and Morality,” God is Great, God is Good, 109, 115.

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