New Books in Philosophy, Theology, and Apologetics

* Thinking About Christian Apologetics – James Beilby (IVP Academic, 2011)

“Most introductions to apologetics begin with the “how to” of defending the faith, diving right into the major apologetic arguments and the body of evidence. For those who want a more foundational look at this contested theological discipline, this book examines Christian apologetics in its nature, history, approaches, objections and practice. What is apologetics? How has apologetics developed? What are the basic apologetic approaches? Why should we practice apologetics? Countless Christians today are seeking a responsible way to defend and commend their faith. If you are one them, Thinking About Christian Apologetics is the place to start.”

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* Monopolizing Knowledge Ian Hutchinson (Fias Publishing, 2011)

“Can real knowledge be found other than by science? In this unique approach to understanding today’s culture wars, an MIT physicist answers emphatically yes. He shows how scientism — the view that science is all the knowledge there is — suffocates reason as well as religion. Tracing the history of scientism and its frequent confusion with science, Hutchinson explains what makes modern science so persuasive and powerful, but restricts its scope. Recognizing science’s limitations, and properly identifying what we call nature, liberates both science and non-scientific knowledge.”

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* The Moral Argument – Paul Copan and Mark D. Linville (Continuum, 2013)

“The Moral Argument offers a wide-ranging defense of the necessary connection between God and objective moral values, moral duties, proper function, and human rights. It presents several versions of the moral argument for God’s existence; a survey of the history of the argument, including the more recent work of Robert Adams, John Hare, John Rist, and others; an assessment of competing meta-ethical views that attempt to ground or explain ethics; a defense of moral knowledge; and an assessment of the Euthyphro Dilemma (and related objections) for any theistic conception of moral values. The book will examine—and find wanting— various non-theistic alternatives to ground or explain morality.”

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* Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality – R. Scott Smith (Ashgate, 2012)

“Philosophical naturalism is taken to be the preferred and reigning epistemology and metaphysics that underwrites many ideas and knowledge claims. But what if we cannot know reality on that basis? What if the institution of science is threatened by its reliance on naturalism? R. Scott Smith argues in a fresh way that we cannot know reality on the basis of naturalism. Moreover, the “fact-value” split has failed to serve our interests of wanting to know reality. The author provocatively argues that since we can know reality, it must be due to a non-naturalistic ontology, best explained by the fact that human knowers are made and designed by God. The book offers fresh implications for the testing of religious truth-claims, science, ethics, education, and public policy. Consequently, naturalism and the fact-value split are shown to be false, and Christian theism is shown to be true.”

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain

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“(1882-1973).  The best-known neo-Thomist of the twentieth century.  Having become dissatisfied with secularism and scientism, at the age of 24 Maritain converted to Roman Catholicism and spent the following sixty or so years elaborating a comprehensive philosophical system based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas and his scholastic followers, most especially John of St Thomas (1589-1644).

“His major contributions are to epistemology (The Degrees of Knowledge (1932)), social philosophy (The Person and the Common Good (1947)), and aesthetics (Art and Scholasticism (1920)).  Maritain is a staunch realist in metaphysics and epistemology; he advocates ontological pluralism, claiming that there are various non-reducible levels of existence, e.g., the physical, the biological, the psychological, the social, and the spiritual; and similarly he insists upon the diversity of our ways of knowing reality, emphasizing the role of rational and creative intuition and thereby linking metaphysics and aesthetics.”

— John Haldane in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 522.

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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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Richard Dawkins Refuses to Debate Stephen Meyer

As Evolution News & Views reports:

Today on the Michael Medved show, arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins, author of The Greatest Show on Earth, was asked point-blank by Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman why he wouldn’t debate Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell. His response? Weak sauce:

I have never come across any kind of creationism, whether you call it intelligent design or not, which has a serious scientific case to put.

The objection to having debates with people like that is that it gives them a kind of respectability. If a real scientist goes onto a debating platform with a creationist, it gives them a respectability, which I do not think your people have earned.

That’s too bad, because it would be a fascinating debate.

Unfortunately, too many people confuse “creationism” with intelligent design, as Dawkins does here.  Thinking Christian sums up the issues well:

The difference between the two terms is straightforward. Creationism begins in Genesis and argues for certain conclusions based on a certain understanding of the Scriptures. It is known for its persistence in seeking scientific data that fits that interpretation of Genesis, and for finding creative but irregular interpretations to help in that search. As such it has gained an unsavory scientific reputation.

Intelligent Design has a completely different starting point in observations of nature, and in both empirical and philosophical interpretations of scientific data. It sees phenomena like the high information content in biological organisms, instances of apparent irreducible complexity, or fine-tuning of the cosmos for life, and argues that the best explanation for them is to be found in a designing intelligence.

The two overlap in rejecting any a priori insistence that nature is a closed system of physical cause and effect, acting strictly according to natural law or unguided chance. There is also an overlap among their supporters, in that virtually all creationists are theists (Christian, Jewish, or Islamic), and most (not all) ID supporters are too. Still, many creationists are uncomfortable with ID methods and conclusions, and many ID supporters similarly disagree with creationist approaches and conclusions.

In a word, the two are not the same. But opponents insist on blurring the distinction.

He’s right, I think, when he speculates that the reason for this constant misapprehension is a kind of “worldview blindness” that sees science as the sole standard of rationality, and everything else as nonsense – i.e., scientism.  But scientism isn’t the result of any experiment, but a set of philosophical presuppositions about science.  Thus, when it comes to determining what counts as “science,” or even what counts as “rational,” we’ll have to hash it out in the realm of philosophy.


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Philosophy Word of the Day – Physicalism

Physicalism is the thesis that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on the physical. The thesis is usually intended as a metaphysical thesis, parallel to the ancient Greek philosopher Thales’s thesis that everything is water, or the idealism of the 18th Century philosopher Berkeley, that everything is mental. The general idea is that the nature of the actual world (i.e. the universe and everything in it) conforms to a certain condition, the condition of being physical. Of course, physicalists don’t deny that the world might contain many items that at first glance don’t seem physical — items of a biological, or psychological, or moral, or social nature. But they insist nevertheless that at the end of the day such items are wholly physical.

Physicalism is sometimes known as materialism. Historically, materialists held that everything was matter — where matter was conceived as “an inert, senseless substance, in which extension, figure, and motion do actually subsist” (Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge, par. 9). The reason for speaking of physicalism rather than materialism is to abstract away from this historical notion, which is usually thought of as too restrictive — for example, forces such as gravity are physical but it is not clear that they are material in the traditional sense (Dijksterhuis 1961, Yolton 1983). It is also to emphasize a connection to physics and the physical sciences. Indeed, physicalism is unusual among metaphysical doctrines in being associated historically with a commitment both to the sciences and to a particular branch of science, namely physics.

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Given that physicalism, and naturalism more generally, is the reigning orthodoxy today in higher education and in large pockets of our culture, it’s helpful to keep in mind that none of these worldviews are verifiable by science, or deducible from science.  Instead, these are philosophical approaches to science, which will have to gain their justification from philosophical arguments.  Many today mistakenly believe that physicalism (and naturalism, scientism, etc.) just somehow immediately follows from the scientific method or experiments in a laboratory.  But, that’s a misunderstanding, and quite false.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Scientism

The term scientism is used to describe the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences. The term is used by social scientists like Hayek[1] or Karl Popper to describe what they see as the underlying attitudes and beliefs common to many scientists. They tend to use the term in either of two equally pejorative[2][3] directions:

  1. To indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims.[4] as a counter-argument to appeals to scientific authority in contexts where science might not apply,[5] such as when the topic is perceived to be beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.
  2. To refer to “the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry,”[3] with a concomitant “elimination of the psychological dimensions of experience”.[6][7] It thus expresses a position critical of (at least the more extreme expressions of) positivism.[8][9]

(Via Wikipedia)

This is the fundamental mistake the New Atheists (and scientific atheists more generally) make.  Science becomes a Procrustean bed that is exalted as the standard for any belief to count as true or rational.  This ignores the fact that there are wide domains of intellectual inquiry that lie beyond science’s purview – for example, politics, history, philosophy, psychology, theology, and ethics, to name a few.

Science is good and beneficial in its own domain, but in our culture it tends to overstep its boundaries and attempts to force the rest of the academic disciplines to submit to its rule.

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Science and Religion are “Cousins” in the Search for Truth

Early science, particularly geometry and astro...
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John Polkinghorne recently told ABC Radio in Australia.  Here’s a great insight that those who adopt scientism fail to understand:

“People sometimes say that science is about facts and religion is simply about opinion, but that’s to make a double mistake actually,” the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, a physicist, theologian, and Anglican priest, recently told ABC Radio National in Australia. “There are no interesting scientific facts that are not already interpreted facts, and to interpret what’s being measured, you have to use theoretical opinions. So there’s a very subtle exchange between theory and experiment in science, which means its conclusions are never absolutely certain but well-justified. Similarly, religion isn’t just a question of shutting your eyes, gritting your teeth, and believing impossible things on some unquestionable authority. It’s also concerned with the search for truth through motivated belief, but it’s a different level and kind of truth, and so it’s motivations are a different kind of motivation. But I think, under the skin, science and religion are cousins in the search for truth.”

(Via Science & Religion Today)

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