New Books in Philosophy, Theology, and Apologetics – January 2013

 

God & Morality: Four Views – Edited by R. Keith Loftin (InterVarsity, 2012) **

Is morality dependent upon belief in God? Is there more than one way for Christians to understand the nature of morality? Is there any agreement between Christians and atheists or agnostics on this heated issue?

In God and Morality: Four Views four distinguished voices in moral philosophy articulate and defend their place in the current debate between naturalism and theism. Christian philosophers Keith Yandell and Mark Linville and two self-identified atheist/agnostics, Evan Fales and Michael Ruse, clearly and honestly represent their differing views on the nature of morality.

Views represented are 1) naturalist moral non-realist, 2) naturalist moral realist, 3) moral essentialist, and 4) moral particularist.

 

Reason & Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (5th ed.)  Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger (OUP, 2012)

Reason and Religious Belief, now in its fifth edition, explores perennial questions in the philosophy of religion. Drawing from the best in both classical and contemporary discussions, the authors examine religious experience, faith and reason, the divine attributes, arguments for and against the existence of God, divine action (in various forms of theism), Reformed epistemology, religious language, religious diversity, and religion and science.

Revised and updated to reflect current philosophical discourse, the fifth edition offers new material on neuro-theology, the “new Atheism,” the intelligent design movement, theistic evolution, and skeptical theism. It also provides more coverage of non-Western religions–particularly Buddhism–and updated discussions of evidentialism, free will, life after death, apophatic theology, and more. A sophisticated yet accessible introduction, Reason and Religious Belief, Fifth Edition, is ideally suited for use with the authors’ companion anthology, Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, Fourth Edition (OUP, 2009).

 

God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with PainEdited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. (InterVarsity, 2013)

The question of evil—its origins, its justification, its solution—has plagued humankind from the beginning. Every generation raises the question and struggles with the responses it is given. Questions about the nature of evil and how it is reconciled with the truth claims of Christianity are unavoidable; we need to be prepared to respond to such questions with great clarity and good faith.

God and Evil compiles the best thinking on all angles on the question of evil, from some of the finest scholars in religion, philosophy and apologetics, including

  • Gregory E. Ganssle and Yena Lee
  • Bruce Little
  • Garry DeWeese
  • R. Douglas Geivett
  • James Spiegel
  • Jill Graper Hernandez
  • Win Corduan
  • David Beck

 

 

From Morality to Metaphysics: The Theistic Implications of our Ethical Commitments – Angus Ritchie (OUP, 2012)

From Morality to Metaphysics offers an argument for the existence of God, based on our most fundamental moral beliefs. Angus Ritchie engages with a range of the most significant secular moral philosophers of our time, and argues that they all face a common difficulty which only theism can overcome.

The book begins with a defense of the ‘deliberative indispensability’ of moral realism, arguing that the practical deliberation human beings engage in on a daily basis only makes sense if they take themselves to be aiming at an objective truth. Furthermore, when humans engage in practical deliberation, they necessarily take their processes of reasoning to have some ability to track the truth. Ritchie’s central argument builds on this claim, to assert that only theism can adequately explain our capacity for knowledge of objective moral truths. He demonstrates that we need an explanation as well as a justification of these cognitive capacities. Evolutionary biology is not able to generate the kind of explanation which is required–and, in consequence, all secular philosophical accounts are forced either to abandon moral objectivism or to render the human capacity for moral knowledge inexplicable.

From Morality to Metaphysics

 

Mappings the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of EverythingGerald Rau (InterVarsity, 2012)

What are the main positions in the debate over creation and evolution? Why do they disagree? Can the debates about origins and evolution ever be resolved? Gerald Rau offers a fair-minded overview of the six predominant models used to explain the origins of the universe, of life, of species and of humans. He aims to show the contours of current debates both among Christians and between Christians and non-theists.  He accomplishes this by not only describing the options on origins, but by exploring the philosophical assumptions behind each and how evidence is counted corresponding with each model.  He also notes the limits of a scientifically gained knowledge. Readers will not only become better informed about the current debates on origins but better thinkers about the issues at stake.

 

** Descriptions provided by the publishers.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Entropy

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“Entropy is a thermodynamic quantity whose value depends on the physical state or condition of a system. It is useful in physics as a means of expressing the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That is, while the law may be stated in terms of it being impossible to extract heat from a reservoir and convert it totally to usable work, in terms of entropy the law states that any changes occurring in a system that is thermally isolated from its surroundings are such that its entropy never decreases.

“This behavior corresponds to the fact that entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system. On average all of nature proceeds to a greater state of disorder. Examples of irreversible progression to disorder are pervasive in the world and in everyday experience. Bread crumbs will never gather back into the loaf. Helium atoms that escape from a balloon never return. A drop of ink placed in a glass of water will uniformly color the entire glass and never assemble into its original shape.

“. . . This progressive tendency of nature toward disorder has been considered by many scholars as one of the primal natural processes that serve as a gauge for the irreversible nature of time. Accordingly, a considerable number have identified the relentless increase of entropy with what they term the thermodynamic arrow of time. In addition, the degradation associated with the increase of entropy has been discussed by some scholars of science and religion as a meaningful metaphor for evil.”

“Entropy” in Encyclopedia of Science and Religion

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Manichaeism

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“The widely influential gnostic religion of late antiquity, founded and spread by the Persian Mani (216-77), taught a radical dualism of good and evil that is metaphysically grounded in coeternal and independent cosmic powers of Light and Darkness.  This world was regarded as a mixture of good and evil in which spirit represents Light and matter represents Darkness.  Manichaean morality was severely ascetic.  Before his conversion to Christianity, Augustine was an adherent of Manichaeism.”

— Philip L. Quinn, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford, 1995), 519.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Skeptical Theism

Skeptical theism is the view that God exists but that we should be skeptical of our ability to discern God’s reasons for acting or refraining from acting in any particular instance.  In particular, says the skeptical theist, we should not grant that our inability to think of a good reason for doing or allowing something is indicative of whether or not God might have a good reason for doing or allowing something.  If there is a God, he knows much more than we do about the relevant facts, and thus it would not be surprising at all if he has reasons for doing or allowing something that we cannot fathom.

If skeptical theism is true, it appears to undercut the primary argument for atheism, namely the argument from evil.  This is because skeptical theism provides a reason to be skeptical of a crucial premise in the argument from evil, namely the premise that asserts that at least some of the evils in our world are gratuitous.  If we are not in a position to tell whether God has a reason for allowing any particular instance of evil, then we are not in a position to judge whether any of the evils in our world are gratuitous.  And if we cannot tell whether any of the evils in our world are gratuitous, then we cannot appeal to the existence of gratuitous evil to conclude that God does not exist.  The remainder of this article explains skeptical theism more fully, applies it to the argument from evil, and surveys the reasons for and against being a skeptical theist. (continue article)

— Justin P. McBrayer at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Does Religion Promote Dissension and Conflict?

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It can, and sometimes does, but so does politics, ideology, race, and gender.  Atheists often caricature religion as the most corrosive force on earth, but as Alister McGrath points out, this is sociologically and historically naive.

Suppose [Richard] Dawkins’s dream were to come true, and religion were to disappear.  Would that end the divisions within humanity and the violence that ensues from them?  Certainly not.  Such divisions are ultimately social constructs which reflect the fundamental sociological need for communities to self-define and identify those who are “in” and those who are “out,” those who are “friends,” and those who are “foes.”

. . . . A series of significant binary oppositions are held to have shaped Western thought—such as “male-female” and “white-black.”  Binary opposition leads to the construction of the category of “the other”—the devalued half of a binary opposition—when applied to groups of people.  Group identity is often fostered by defining “the other”—as, for example, in Nazi Germany with its opposition “Aryan-Jew.”

. . . . The simplistic belief that the elimination of religion would lead to the ending of violence, social tension or discrimination is thus sociologically naive.  It fails to take account of the way in which human beings create values and norms, and make sense of their identity and their surroundings.  If religion were to cease to exist, other social demarcators would emerge as decisive . . . [As they did, for example, during the French Revolution and in the Soviet Union.]

Michael Shermer, president of the Skeptics Society, has made the significant point that religions were implicated in some human tragedies such as holy wars.  While rightly castigating these—a criticism which I gladly endorse—Shermer goes on to emphasize that there is clearly a significant positive side to religion:

“For every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go unreported . . . . Religion, like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil.”

— Alister McGrath, “Is Religion Evil,” God is Great, God is Good (IVP, 2009), 129-131.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Omnibenevolence

Whereas classical Greek religion ascribed to the gods very human foibles, theism from Plato onward has affirmed that God is purely good and could not be the author of anything evil (Republic). . . .

As to our knowledge of divine goodness, Aquinas separates the order of being from the order of knowing: all goodness derives from God but we understand divine goodness by extrapolating from the goodness of creatures. For Aquinas, this requires an analogical (as opposed to an equivocal) relationship between divine and human goodness. For Kant, divine goodness is known as a postulate of pure practical reason: God must be there to reward virtue and punish evil.

The greatest challenge to belief in divine goodness has been the fact that evil exists, or more recently, the amount and type of evil rather than the mere fact of it. The problem is lessened if it is acknowledged that divine goodness does not require that each creature always be made to experience as much happiness as it is capable of experiencing. Reasons may include, for example, that: it is impossible that all creatures collectively experience maximal happiness (e.g., because the maximal happiness of one precludes the maximal happiness of another), or that there is some higher good than the happiness of all creatures (e.g., John Hick’s view that maturity is that higher good, and acquiring it may entail some displeasure), or that some forms of good are manifested only when certain types of evil exist (for example, forgiveness requires wrongdoing . . . ); or because God’s favor is undeserved and not given in response to merit, it cannot be owed and God cannot be faulted for not giving it. (See full article)

— Brian Morley, “Western Concepts of God,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Would Christ Have Come Even If Man Had Not Sinned?

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“[T]he primary purpose of the Incarnation, according to the Christian creeds, was ‘for us and for our salvation.’  However, philosophically minded theologians have given some thought to the wider implications of that ‘for us.’  One way of doing so is to ask, as Austin Farrer did, whether Christ would have come even if the human race had never sinned.  Farrer’s answer was a categorical yes.

Christ would still have come to transform human hope, and to bring men into a more privileged association with their Creator than they could otherwise enjoy.  For it is by the descent of God into man that the life of God takes on a form with which we have a direct sympathy and personal union.

. . . [Richard] Swinburne expresses some doubt as to whether there are strong arguments allowing us ‘to say what God would have done under certain unrealized circumstances,’ but he does consider a number of reasons, over and above the soteriological ones, why God might well become incarnate.  Incarnation would manifest divine solidarity with God’s creatures; it would demonstrate the dignity of human nature; it would reveal the nature and extent of God’s love for his personal creatures; it would exemplify an ideal human life; and it would provide uniquely authoritative teaching.  A sixth reason, based on God’s willingness to subject himself to suffering and evil, spells out the themes of solidarity and love . . . ”

— Brian Hebblethwaite, Philosophical Theology and Christian Doctrine, 70-71.

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