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

God, Freedom & Human Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered CultureRon Highfield (IVP Academic, February 2013) *

Does God’s all-encompassing will restrict our freedom? Does God’s ownership and mastery over us diminish our dignity? The fear that God is a threat to our freedom and dignity goes far back in Western thought. Such suspicion remains with us today in our so-called secular society. In such a context any talk of God tends to provoke responses that range from defiance to subservience to indifference. How did Western culture come to this place? What impact does this social and intellectual environment have on those who claim to believe in God or more specifically in the Christian God of the Bible? Professor of religion Ron Highfield traces out the development of Western thought that has led us our current frame of mind from Plato, Augustine and Descartes through Locke, Kant, Blake Bentham, Hegel, Nietzsche–all the way down to Charles Taylor’s landmark work Sources of the Self. At the heart of the issue is the modern notion of the autonomous self and the inevitable crisis it provokes for a view of human identity, freedom and dignity found in God. Can the modern self really secure its own freedom, dignity and happiness? What alternative do we have? Highfield makes pertinent use of trinitarian theology to show how genuine Christian faith responds to this challenge by directing us to a God who is not in competition with his human creations, but rather who provides us with what we seek but could never give ourselves. God, Freedom and Human Dignity is essential reading for Christian students who are interested in the debates around secularism, modernity and identity formation.

God or Godless?  One Atheist.  One Christian. Twenty Controversial QuestionsJohn W. Loftus and Randal Rauser (Baker, April 2013)

Perhaps the most persistent question in human history is whether or not there is a God. Intelligent people on both sides of the issue have argued, sometimes with deep rancor and bitterness, for generations. The issue can’t be decided by another apologetics book, but the conversation can continue and help each side understand the perspectives of the other.
In this unique book, atheist John Loftus and theist Randal Rauser engage in twenty short debates that consider Christianity, the existence of God, and unbelief from a variety of angles. Each concise debate centers on a proposition to be resolved, with either John or Randal arguing in the affirmative and the opponent the negative, and can be read in short bits or big bites. This is the perfect book for Christians and their atheist or agnostic friends to read together, and encourages honest, open, and candid debate on the most important issues of life and faith.

Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character DevelopmentPhilip E. Dow (IVP Academic, April 2013)

Templeton Foundation Character Project’s Character Essay and Book Prize Competition award winner! What does it mean to love God with all of our minds? Our culture today is in a state of crisis where intellectual virtue is concerned. Dishonesty, cheating, arrogance, laziness, cowardice–such vices are rampant in society, even among the world’s most prominent leaders. We find ourselves in an ethical vacuum, as the daily headlines of our newspapers confirm again and again. Central to the problem is the state of education. We live in a technological world that has ever greater access to new information and yet no idea what to do with it all. In this wise and winsome book, Philip Dow presents a case for the recovery of intellectual character. He explores seven key virtues–courage, carefulness, tenacity, fair-mindedness, curiosity, honesty and humility–and discusses their many benefits. The recovery of virtue, Dow argues, is not about doing the right things, but about becoming the right kind of person. The formation of intellectual character produces a way of life that demonstrates love for both God and neighbor. Dow has written an eminently practical guide to a life of intellectual virtue designed especially for parents and educators. The book concludes with seven principles for a true education, a discussion guide for university and church groups, and nine appendices that provide examples from Dow’s experience as a teacher and administrator. Virtuous Minds is a timely and thoughtful work for parents and pastors, teachers and students–anyone who thinks education is more about the quality of character than about the quantity of facts.

Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem – Heath A. Thomas, Jeremy Evan, & Paul Copan, eds. (IVP Academic, April 2013).

The challenge of a seemingly genocidal God who commands ruthless warfare has bewildered Bible readers for generations. The theme of divine war is not limited to the Old Testament historical books, however. It is also prevalent in the prophets and wisdom literature as well. Still it doesn’t stop. The New Testament book of Revelation, too, is full of such imagery. Our questions multiply.

  • Why does God apparently tell Joshua to wipe out whole cities, tribes or nations?
  • Is this yet another example of dogmatic religious conviction breeding violence?
  • Did these texts help inspire or justify the Crusades?
  • What impact do they have on Christian morality and just war theories today?
  • How does divine warfare fit with Christ’s call to “turn the other cheek”?
  • Why does Paul employ warfare imagery in his letters?
  • Do these texts warrant questioning the overall trustworthiness of the Bible?

These controversial yet theologically vital issues call for thorough interpretation, especially given a long history of misinterpretation and misappropriaton of these texts. This book does more, however. A range of expert contributors engage in a multidisciplinary approach that considers the issue from a variety of perspectives: biblical, ethical, philosophical and theological. While the writers recognize that such a difficult and delicate topic cannot be resolved in a simplistic manner, the different threads of this book weave together a satisfying tapestry. Ultimately we find in the overarching biblical narrative a picture of divine redemption that shows the place of divine war in the salvific movement of God.

The Mystery of Existence: Why Is There Anything At All?John Leslie & Robert Lawrence Kuhn, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell, April 2013)

This compelling study of the origins of all that exists, including explanations of the entire material world, traces the responses of philosophers and scientists to the most elemental and haunting question of all: why is anything here—or anything anywhere? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why not nothing? It includes the thoughts of dozens of luminaries from Plato and Aristotle to Aquinas and Leibniz to modern thinkers such as physicists Stephen Hawking and Steven Weinberg, philosophers Robert Nozick and Derek Parfit, philosophers of religion Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, and the Dalai Lama.

  • The first accessible volume to cover a wide range of possible reasons for the existence of all reality, from over 50 renowned thinkers, including Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, Bertrand Russell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Weinberg, Robert Nozick, Derek Parfit, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, John Polkinghorne, Paul Davies, and the Dalai Lama
  • Features insights by scientists, philosophers, and theologians
  • Includes informative and helpful editorial introductions to each section
  • Provides a wealth of suggestions for further reading and research
  • Presents material that is both comprehensive and comprehensible

Mind, Brain, and Free WillRichard Swinburne (Oxford University Press, May 2013)

Mind, Brain, and Free Will presents a powerful new case for substance dualism (the idea that humans consist of two parts–body and soul) and for libertarian free will (that humans have some freedom to choose between alternatives, independently of the causes which influence them). Richard Swinburne argues that answers to questions about mind, body, and free will depend crucially on the answers to more general philosophical questions. He begins by analyzing the criteria for one event being the same as another, one substance being the same as another, and a state of affairs being metaphysically possible; and then goes on to analyze the criteria for a belief about these issues being justified. Pure mental events (including conscious events) are distinct from physical events and interact with them. Swinburne claims that no result from neuroscience or any other science could show that interaction does not take place; and illustrates this claim by showing that recent scientific work (such as Libet’s experiments) has no tendency whatever to show that our intentions do not cause brain events. He goes on to argue for agent causation, and claims that–to speak precisely–it is we, and not our intentions, that cause our brain events. It is metaphysically possible that each of us could acquire a new brain or continue to exist without a brain; and so we are essentially souls. Brain events and conscious events are so different from each other that it would not be possible to establish a scientific theory which would predict what each of us would do in situations of moral conflict. Hence given a crucial epistemological principle (the Principle of Credulity) we should believe that things are as they seem to be: that we make choices independently of the causes which influence us. According to Swinburne’s lucid and ambitious account, it follows that we are morally responsible for our actions.

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* Descriptions provided by respective publishers

The Missing Links — May 15, 2011

Opening logo to the Star Wars films

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  • Audio of the 2010 debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza at Notre Dame.  The video is here.
  • The blog of the recently formed Christian Apologetics Alliance is up and running.  You can follow us on Twitter as well.  If you’re on Facebook and a student of apologetics, you can search for our name and request to join the Facebook group.
  • Alvin Plantinga’s recent Bellingham Lectures on the topics of  God and Evolution:  Where the Conflict Really Liesand “Does Science Show That Miracles Can’t Happen” can be viewed online here.  It’s not clear whether both lectures are included on the video or only one, but the running time of two hours, 22 minutes seems long for a single talk.
  • I love this video.  Your favorite characters from Star Wars quoting Jean-Paul Sartre. : )
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The Missing Links – Nov. 21, 2010

  • PhilPapers Philosophy Survey: The survey asked questions on a variety of topics and surveyed over 1800 faculty and PhDs as well as over 800 graduate students. Here are some of the results . . .  * Results show what positions these philosophers take on epistemology, free will, mind, and truth.
  • A helpful review of The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology (Charles Taliaferro and Chad Meister, eds.), at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
  • Download a free chapter of Fazale Rana’s The Cell’s Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator’s Artistry (Scroll down the page).

 

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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 — Omniscience

“While a few like Avicenna and Averroes seem to have held that a God who lacks certain types of knowledge would be more perfect, most have claimed that God knows everything. This is sometimes refined, for example, to the claim that God knows everything that is logically possible to know.

“An area of concern going back to Aristotle (On Interpretation 9) is the claim that propositions about future contingent events (that is, those whose causes are not determined by past events) have no truth value. If so they are unknowable, even by an omniscient being (a view held in modern times by so called Open Theism). Some have claimed that even if future events have a truth value, they are logically unknowable. Of special concern is the relationship between omniscience and human free will: if yesterday God knew infallibly that I would do x today, it seems I have no alternative but to do x today–a conclusion that seems to violate free will.

“To solve this, Boethius and Aquinas appealed to the concept of God’s timelessness, which entails that none of God’s knowledge is past or future. Aquinas also said that God determines all events and determines that they will be done freely. De Molina objected that this amounts to removing free will. He constructed his own view, which said that God’s knowledge is logically prior to his decree of what will be. God knows what an individual will do in all possible circumstances (a capacity called middle knowledge), and he decrees those circumstances in which a person freely cooperates with the divine plan. Thus foreknowledge is compatible with free will.

“Others have conceded that foreknowledge is incompatible with free will but claim that God voluntarily limits his knowledge of future events so that there can still be freedom. This makes omniscience a matter of having an ability to know rather than having specific knowledge. Another solution to the problem of omniscience and freedom challenges the idea that God’s knowledge limits future free actions in any way. While God knows necessarily that I will do x tomorrow that does not entail that it is necessary I do x. What God knows is what I will freely choose to do. So God knows today that I will do x tomorrow because tomorrow I will freely choose to do x. But if tomorrow I choose to do y, then today God knows that tomorrow I will do y. This view is consistent with what we know about less than infallible knowledge of future events. I may know that a person will choose steak over bologna though I in no way influenced their choice.” (go to article)

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

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Introspection

Le Penseur, Musée Rodin, Paris

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Introspection, as the term is used in contemporary philosophy of mind, is a means of learning about one’s own currently ongoing, or perhaps very recently past, mental states or processes. You can, of course, learn about your own mind in the same way you learn about others’ minds—by reading psychology texts, by observing facial expressions (in a mirror), by examining readouts of brain activity, by noting patterns of past behavior—but it’s generally thought that you can also learn about your mind introspectively, in a way that no one else can. But what exactly is introspection? No simple characterization is widely accepted. Although introspection must be a process that yields knowledge only of one’s own current mental states, more than one type of process fits this characterization.

Introspection is a key concept in epistemology, since introspective knowledge is often thought to be particularly secure, maybe even immune to skeptical doubt. Introspective knowledge is also often held to be more immediate or direct than sensory knowledge. Both of these putative features of introspection have been cited in support of the idea that introspective knowledge can serve as a ground or foundation for other sorts of knowledge.

Introspection is also central to philosophy of mind, both as a process worth study in its own right and as a court of appeal for other claims about the mind. Philosophers of mind offer a variety of theories of the nature of introspection; and philosophical claims about consciousness, emotion, free will, personal identity, thought, belief, imagery, perception, and other mental phenomena are often thought to have introspective consequences or to be susceptible to introspective verification. For similar reasons, empirical psychologists too have discussed the accuracy of introspective judgments and the role of introspection in the science of the mind. (Continue article)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Consciousness

The Knight's Dream
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Explaining the nature of consciousness is one of the most important and perplexing areas of philosophy, but the concept is notoriously ambiguous. The abstract noun “consciousness” is not frequently used by itself in the contemporary literature, but is originally derived from the Latin con (with) and scire (to know). Perhaps the most commonly used contemporary notion of a conscious mental state is captured by Thomas Nagel’s famous “what it is like” sense (Nagel 1974). When I am in a conscious mental state, there is something it is like for me to be in that state from the subjective or first-person point of view.

But how are we to understand this? For instance, how is the conscious mental state related to the body? Can consciousness be explained in terms of brain activity? What makes a mental state be a conscious mental state? The problem of consciousness is arguably the most central issue in current philosophy of mind and is also importantly related to major traditional topics in metaphysics, such as the possibility of immortality and the belief in free will. (Continue article)

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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