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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The Missing Links – January 13, 2013

 

  • A number of insightful responses to the controversy over Louie Giglio and the presidential inauguration.  For example, Joe Carter writes, “as the Giglio incident reveals, no amount of good works can atone for committing the secular sin of subscribing to the biblical view of sexuality. . . . Anyone who has ever spoken about the issue—or at least has not recanted from believing what God says about homosexuality—is to be treated as a bigot.”

  • Jonathan Morrow writes on “The God Gene, Neuroscience, And the Soul.”  As Francis Collins wisely observes, “Yes, we have all been dealt a particular set of genetic cards, and the cards will eventually be revealed. But how we play the hand is up to us.”

  • Bob Prokop on the extreme measures many skeptics demand as evidence for Christianity. “Some, like Loftus, have quite specifically demanded to see stars arrange themselves to spell out Bible verses, or some such nonsense like that.”

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Plato on the Soul

“The human soul is considered by Plato to be an immaterial agent, superior in nature to the body and somewhat hindered by the body in the performance of the higher, psychic functions of human life. The tripartite division of the soul becomes an essential teaching of Platonic psychology from the Republic onward. The rational part is highest and is pictured as the ruler of the psychological organism in the well-regulated man.

“Next in importance is the “spirited” element of the soul, which is the source of action and the seat of the virtue of courage. The lowest part is the concupiscent or acquisitive element, which may be brought under control by the virtue of temperance The latter two are often combined and called irrational in contrast to the highest part.

“Sensation is an active function of the soul, by which the soul “feels” the objects of sense through the instrumentality of the body. Particularly in the young, sensation is a necessary prelude to the knowledge of Ideas, but the mature and developed soul must learn to rise above sense perception and must strive for a more direct intuition of intelligible essences.

“That the soul exists before the body (related to the Pythagorean and, possibly, Orphic doctrine of transmigration) and knows the world of Ideas immediately in this anterior condition, is the foundation of the Platonic theory of reminiscence (Meno, Phaedo, Republic, Phaedrus). Thus the soul is born with true knowledge in it, but the soul, due to the encrustation of bodily cares and interests, cannot easily recall the truths innately, and we might say now, subconsciously present in it.

“Sometimes sense perceptions aid the soul in the process of reminiscence, and again, as in the famous demonstration of the Pythagorean theorem by the slave boy of the Meno, the questions and suggestions of a teacher provide the necessary stimuli for recollection. The personal immortality of the soul is very clearly taught by Plato in the tale of Er (Repub. X) and, with various attempts at logical demonstration, in the Phaedo. Empirical and physiological psychology is not stressed in Platonism, but there is an approach to it in the descriptions of sense organs and their media in the Timaeus 42 ff.”

— Vernon J. Bourke, “Platonism,” in Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. by Dagobert D. Runes

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Philosophy Word of the Day – First Philosophy

René Descartes (1596-1650)

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“In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the study of being qua [as] being, including the study of theology (as understood by him), since the divine is being par excellence. Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy was concerned chiefly with the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the nature of matter and of the mind.”

— Panayot Butchvarov in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 311.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Logos

The famous Greek word logos — “word, speech, a...

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“A Greek word, of great breadth of meaning, primarily signifying in the context of philosophical discussion the rational, intelligible principle, structure, or order which pervades something, or the source of that order, or giving an account of that order.  The cognate verb legein means ‘say,’ ‘tell,’ ‘count.’  Hence the ‘word’ which was ‘in the beginning’ as recounted at the start of St. John’s Gospel is also logos.

The root occurs in many English compounds such as biology, epistemology, and so on.  Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, makes use of a distinction between the part of the soul which originates a logos (our reason) and the part which obeys or is guided by a logos (our emotions).  The idea of a generative intelligence (logos spermatikos) is a profound metaphysical notion in Neoplatonic and Christian discussion.”

— Nicholas Dent, “Logos,” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 511-512.

On John’s use of logos in the prologue to his gospel, William Temple writes that the Logos “alike for Jew and Gentile represents the ruling fact of the universe, and represents that fact as the self-expression of God.  The Jew will remember that ‘by the Word of the Lord were the heavens made’; the Greek will think of the rational principle of which all natural laws are particular expressions.  Both will agree that this Logos is the starting point of all things.”

— William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London: Macmillan, 1939) 4, quoted by Millard J. Erickson in The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology (Baker, 1991), 26.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Omnipresence

“The attribute of being present everywhere, motivated by biblical claims such as Psalm 139:7-9.  God’s omnipresence is not defined physically or spatially.  Since God is not a spatial or material being, God cannot be physically present at every point in space.  Rather, God exercises God’s powers and goodness in all places at every moment.  God is spacelessly present everywhere.

“By contrast, pantheism maintains an identification between God and everything else, so it may be said that everything is God and God is everything.  Panentheism is the view that God is the soul of the universe.  God’s soul enlivens the whole universe as the human soul enlivens the body.  The overwhelming majority of the Christian traditions reject both of these views.”

— Kelly James Clark, Richard Lints, James K. A. Smith, 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology, 62.

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Consciousness Remains an Intractable Problem for Naturalism

I mentioned a few specific reasons for this in a recent post.  However, I think many people believe these objections to a naturalistic account of mind are the creation of Christian critics.  So, here are a few corroborating statements from those on the other side.

[P]hilosopher of mind . . . Ned Block . . . confesses that we have
no idea how consciousness could have emerged from nonconscious matter: “we have nothing—zilch—worthy of being called a research programme…. Researchers are stumped.”6

Berkeley’s John Searle says this is a “leading problem in the biological sciences.”7

Jaegwon Kim notes our “inability” to understand consciousness in an “essentially physical” world.8

Colin McGinn observes that consciousness seems like “a radical novelty in the universe”; 9  he wonders how our “technicolour” awareness could “arise from soggy grey matter.”10

David Papineau wonders why consciousness emerges: “to this question physicalists’ ‘theories of consciousness’ seem to provide no answer.”11

If, however, we have been made by a supremely self-aware Being, then the existence of consciousness has a plausible context.

6. Ned Block, “Consciousness,” in A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, ed. Samuel Guttenplan (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994), 211.
7. John Searle, “The Mystery of Consciousness: Part II,” New York Review of Books (Nov.16, 1995): 61.
8. Jaegwon Kim, “Mind, Problems of the Philosophy of,” s.v. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 578.
9. Colin McGinn, The Mysterious Flame (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 14.
10. Colin McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 10–11.
11. David Papineau, Philosopical Naturalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 119.

From Paul Copan, Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion, p. 105

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