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

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)

book cover


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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Randal Rauser on The Shack

Cover of "The Shack"
Cover of The Shack

Over the last year or so I have often heard William Paul Young’s novel The Shack compared to a cake with a teaspoon of arsenic in the batter. Given the book’s title, we might recast the warning in terms of a shack loaded with the theological equivalent of asbestos. Either way the lesson is the same: the book contains a number of heresies that could be theologically fatal, and so we had better stay away from it altogether.

As a professional theologian who has written a book on The Shack, I take this advice seriously. Nonetheless, I find it deeply misguided for three reasons.

To begin with, I find that this response has a troubling impact on the Christian mind. Whether the chosen analogy is an asbestos shack or an arsenic cake, the claim is the same: there is no way to read The Shack without being infected by the gross errors contained therein. But clearly this warning is spurious. When I eat an orange, I throw away the peel . Likewise, if I “consume” a book, I need not digest all of it. Even if The Shack contained some heresy, surely I could leave that behind and still benefit from that which is nourishing.

What is especially disturbing about the arsenic and asbestos analogies is that they discourage nuanced, critical thinking among Christians. Rather than helping us to test everything and hold on to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21), they encourage simplistic all-or-nothing judgments. Either the book has all its theological ducks in a row or you shouldn’t read it at all. But very rarely is anything completely right or completely wrong. Children may see everything in terms of black and white, but becoming an adult means learning to navigate the grey.

Second, this advice misses the way The Shack has reoriented priorities. Every day I encounter Christians more interested in what they will do for the weekend than in the grand topics of Christian doctrine. How sad it is that we allow all sorts of trivialities to crowd out really important conversations. Now enter The Shack for whether you like it or not, it has undoubtedly led people to ask important questions about a range of pivotal issues ranging from the nature of God to the problem of evil. And that is a marvelous gift.

Finally, I find the charge of heresy in The Shack to be simply false. Since I make that point at length in my book Finding God in The Shack (Paternoster, 2009), I won’t rehearse the arguments here. But suffice it to say, charges that the book promotes “goddess worship” or “modalism” are so far off base that for the sake of charity I must assume those who make the charges did not really read the book.

To sum up, the Latins had a great phrase: “Sapere Aude” or “Dare to know”. Although this slogan can be abused, it remains a great piece of advice. Don’t let other people tell you what to think, whether that person is William Paul Young or his most fiery critics. Read for yourself, pray, reflect, and hold on to that which is true.

(Via The Christian Post)

Are there other thoughts on this book?  If you’ve read the book, do you agree or disagree with Rauser?

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Is Faith Irrational?

Randal Rauser, a professor of theology at Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada, is writing some good articles these days for The Christian Post.  His article today is entitled “Is Faith the Product of an Irrational Mind?”  He wisely points out that every area of life requires a faith commitment – even the practice of science, which presupposes the reliability of sense perception, although sense perception can’t be proven reliable in any non-circular way.

These days those who tend to reject faith typically are enamored of science. One of the cornerstones of science is observation, and the cornerstone of observation is human sense perception. This raises a crucial question all too often overlooked by the devotee of science: how do we know that sense perception is reliable?

Philosophers have long attempted a non-circular way to defend the reliability of sense perception (that is, a demonstration that does not depend already on the reliability of sense perception). But there are only two avenues that one might accomplish such a proof: either through pure rational reflection or empirically (that is, through sense perception). Sadly all attempts at the former have failed woefully: we can’t establish through reason alone that sense perception is reliable. As for the second alternative, it depends on the very thing that needs to be proved: i.e. the reliability of sense perception!

The result is that we must trust our sense perception. We must have faith in our experience of the world. This is striking indeed, for it means that our fundamental engagement with the world all the way from an infant grappling with colored blocks to a nuclear physicist studying the latest test results, is predicated on faith.

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