Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: “O” God

OGodBookI just completed the newest book by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett which focuses its attention on some of the spiritual teachings that have been advocated in recent years on the Oprah Winfrey Show.  The book deals with the works of several different authors that mostly emphasize New Age concepts. 

The works addressed in this book include those by Eckert Tolle, Rhonda Byrne, and A Course in Miracles International

This book has several things to recommend it.  First, it’s written as a novel and is not your standard book on Christian theology or apologetics.  Instead, you are invited to read about a brief period in the life of Lindsey and her friends.  Following the death of her father, Lindsey has a number of questions.  She is a fan of Oprah (both the show and the magazine), and has shaped much of her spiritual views around those advocated by Oprah Winfrey.  Lindsey’s friend, an Indian philosophy student named Avatari, is a Christian convert from Hinduism who engages Lindsey in dialog about her faith.  This sets the stage for a book that is reminiscent of The Shack (using a novel-like setting with fictional characters and events to allow for theologically-driven dialog).

As a novel, the situations are admittedly a bit contrived.  But I view these as necessary in order to allow for the characters to engage in the dialog which is the focus of the book.  As it turns out, the dialog is the second reason to read the book, and it’s perhaps the best reason.  By reading this book, one not only gets a good foundation in Christian doctrine to refute some of the New Age ideas espoused by Oprah, but it provides an opportunity for people that would like to share their faith to see what a dialog with one of their questioning friends might look like.

In so many books today, we are introduced to information that, while helpful, doesn’t really shows us how to use it in a conversation.  This is where “O” God excels.  It takes these foundational concepts and applies them to an imagined conversation between two friends.  In doing this, the reader is taught not only what to say, but how to say it.

The third thing I really like about this book is that it has a specific focus.  There are so many books you can pick up that try to cover many different topics.  But this one takes a direct look at the spirituality taught by Oprah and her friends, and it responds to these teachings in a succinct and straightforward manner.  For those who have watched the Oprah Winfrey show (and to hear the Nielsen ratings, that’s quite a lot!), this book provides direct responses to direct statements made both on the TV show and in the magazine.  And it does so in the form of a dialog that is easy to understand.

Finally, this book doesn’t assume a great deal of background knowledge in order to understand the theological points being made.  It takes the reader from where they are and gently offers a Biblical alternative to the teachings that are found within Oprah’s show and magazine.  This book knows its target audience, and it does a great job of speaking directly to it without becoming confusing or preachy.

If you’re a fan of Oprah’s spiritual ideas, or if you know someone who is, this book will provide a great resource for you.  It will give you a Biblical alternative to these teachings, and it will do so in an engaging and easily understood way.

Learning Apologetics-Part4: The Podcasts

To wrap up this brief series on the various apologetics resources I’ve found useful, I want to address my favorite one…the podcasts.  While reading books, articles, and blogs is extremely valuable, there is nothing quite like loading a podcast and listening to it as you commute to the office, as you go through your workday, or as you (hopefully) follow your daily exercise routine.

I’ve personally found that listening to podcasts not only has the benefit of teaching me new things, but it also focuses my mind as I prepare to engage in the day’s activities.  Because of this, and the wide range of settings where I can use them, using podcasts to learn apologetics has become one of my favorite things to do.

And the good news is that there are some truly excellent podcasts out there!  In fact, I just checked my iTunes player and I’ve got over 1500 podcasts queued up for me to listen to…yes, there are a few that are political in nature, but the majority of them are either philosophical, theological, or apologetic in nature.

Finding Podcasts

In many cases, you can find apologetics websites advertising their podcasts, showing you how to subscribe to them online.  But if you don’t find any of those, I’ve found it useful to go to the iTunes store (and I’m sure other devices such as Zune have similar ways to do this) and use a keyword search to find all sorts of free material to subscribe to.  When I search for content I tend to use keywords like: apologetics, theology, Christiany, philosophy or worldview.  By doing this, you should quickly find yourself with more material than you’ll have time for.

The Podcasts

To help sort through this list, here is my top-10 list of favorite podcasts:

  1. William Lane Craig’s Defenders Class – this is Dr. Craig’s weekly bible class, which he teaches at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  He records his class and makes it available online for those too far away to attend his class personally.  Dr. Craig’s class is easily the most influential of all of the podcasts on this list.  It serves as an ongoing “college level” class that goes into great depth on all subjects related to Christian theology, apologetics, and (in many cases) philosophy and even science.  Don’t let the depth of content scare you, however.  He makes this material accessible to the layman who has no formal background in any of these subjects!
  2. William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith – while I’m on the subject of Dr. Craig’s podcasts, I want to make sure I don’t forget this additional podcast.  Unlike his Defenders class, this podcast is a series of conversations between William Lane Craig and Kevin Harris (and the occasional guest) on a wide variety of topics related to theology and apologetics.  Here, Dr. Craig addresses current events and the things his ministry is engaged in, as well as addressing theological/apologetics topics and answering questions from his listeners.
  3. Let My People Think – You can listen to the sermons and lectures of Ravi Zacharias each week via this podcast.  And if you don’t know Ravi, you’re in for a huge treat.  Ravi’s lectures are both informative and very inspirational.  Coming from India and having traveled the world extensively, he is both very compassionate and highly educated.  His lectures appeal to both believers and non-believers as he makes the case for the Christian worldview
  4. The Theology Program – This series of podcasts (also available as a series of videos you can purchase and share with your local congregation) is intended to give listeners a firm grounding in Systematic Theology. 
  5. Unbelievable? – This weekly podcast is tied to a radio program broadcast in the UK every Saturday.  Justin Brierley, the host of the show, selects a topic related to theology or apologetics and invites someone from each side of the issue onto the show for a discussion.  Each week, these people engage in a respectful debate on the selected topic.  Because this program offers both sides of each issue, it’s a wonderful way to learn about various topics, get the chance to hear scholars you may never have known about, and hear conversations that may help you when engaging unbelievers on your own.
  6. Stand To Reason – Each week, Greg Koukl hosts a radio call-in program in which he deals with the questions his listeners raise regarding Christian theology and apologetics.  His shows feature a selected topic, and may include interviews of scholars related to that topic, in addition to the call-in portion of the program.
  7. Please Convince Me – This podcast deals with all manner of topics related to apologetics.  This particular program advertises itself as the only one hosted by a “cold case homicide detective”.  Wallace is an excellent speaker, reasoning effectively on different topics on each week’s program.
  8. Cross Examined – Frank Turek is the co-author of the extremely popular book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.  He travels around the country lecturing on this topic, and now runs his own radio and TV show related to Christian apologetics.  Turek is an engaging speaker, well versed with the questions raised by non-believers and able to offer reasoned responses to those questions.
  9. I Didn’t Know That – This podcast is tied to Hugh Ross’ ministry and offers a scientific perspective on Christian apologetics.  Working to demonstrate how science and Christianity are partners rather than enemies, Ross and his organization Reasons To Believe offer some excellent information for those seeking answers about science that are raised by the non-believing community.
  10. Apologetics.com Weekly Radio Show – Finally, I need to make sure I don’t overlook the excellent weekly broadcast happening over at Apologetics.com.  This program also focuses on a wide variety of topics related to Christian apologetics, and they do so in a fun, engaging way.

Just from this list, you can see that there are many resources available for your listening and viewing enjoyment.  The podcasts I’ve selected are ones that I have found to be informative, interesting, and helpful in providing a reasoned defense to the questions being raised by the unbelieving community around us.

Hopefully this series on the apologetics resources I’ve found helpful was enlightening and useful.  Next time I’ll continue with additional topics related to Christian theology and apologetics.

Until then…

Monday, May 30, 2011

Learning Apologetics–Part 3: The Blogs

One resource that many overlook, but which provides some truly excellent content, is the various blogs written by Christian apologists.  With the ability to subscribe to the information being posted within the blogging community, this category of resources is almost like receiving free apologetics-related emails every day.

In this post, I’m going to I’ll introduce you to the tool I use to keep track of these blogs, and then I’ll list a number of the blogs I personally follow (which is certainly not all of them).

Blogging Tools

There are many different readers that are available for you to use for free to help you keep track of the blogs you want to follow.  These include such tools as the following:

  • Google Reader
  • NewsGator
  • FeedDemon 

Depending on your preference, you can select one of these tools and use it to set up news feeds of the blogs that interest you.  As new blog posts are released, your chosen reader will update automatically so that you can keep track of the latest from your chosen sites.


The tool I use is FeedDemon (the latest version allows synchronization with Google Reader).  It’s free, quick to download, and easy to use. 

The download site for FeedDemon is:


The Blogs

First, let me recommend a new group that’s recently been started called the Christian Apologetics Alliance.  It’s a collection of blogs by Christian apologists, and it’s growing all the time.  As a single source to locate blogs devoted to Christian apologetics and theology, this is a great place to start.

Beyond this group, of which my blog is a part, there are some excellent blogs that everyone should be following on a regular basis.  As always, it’s impossible to list every blog out there and there are undoubtedly excellent ones I’m not even aware of.  The ones below are sort of a top-10 list of the blogs that I consider essentials for anyone beginning to study apologetics:

  1. Apologetics 315 – This is probably the most complete source of apologetics material on the internet.  The owner of this site puts out daily updates, including podcasts, articles, quotes, and valuable links of all sorts.  If you only go to one blog site, this is the one for you.  I can’t say enough good things about it.
  2. Parchment & Pen – This blog is by the folks over at Credo House that bring you the Theology Program, and as such it’s focused more on theology than apologetics.  But given that doing apologetics requires a deep understanding of theology, I consider this blog to be essential reading.
  3. J.P. Moreland’s Blog – While this site doesn’t (yet) contain as much content as some others will, J.P. Moreland is one of the leading Christian Apologists in the field today.  As such, when he speaks it’s always beneficial to listen.
  4. William Lane Craig’s Weekly Q&A – For those of you who are unfamiliar with William Lane Craig, he is perhaps the leading Christian apologist working today.  His site Reasonable Faith is a virtual warehouse of information, all related to his ministry.  Though Dr. Craig doesn’t write a standard blog, he does allow his members to send in questions, and each week he chooses a particular question to answer.  He archives them so you can read every questions to which he’s responded, and in many (most?) cases you can find the questions you’re grappling with already dealt with.
  5. Stand to Reason – This blog is part of Greg Koukl’s “Stand to Reason” ministry.  This ministry is one of the most influential groups working in Christian apologetics today.  As a published author and lecturer, Greg also hosts a weekly radio call-in show that is available either online or via podcast.  He is very influential in training new apologists in not only what to say, but how to say it.
  6. Edward Feser’s Blog – This blog may surprise some, since Feser is not regularly listed among the top apologetics websites.  I admit that I found Feser by accident when I picked up his book “Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind”.  I wasn’t aware he was a Christian, but as I read the book it became obvious that this was his orientation.  After finishing that book, I checked up on him and found that he’s written a number of other books (including an excellent apologetics book called “The Last Superstition”) and also manages a very informative blog.  Especially if you’re interested in a philosopher’s view of things, this is a great blog to check out.
  7. Stephen C. Meyer’s Blog – I include this blog because Meyer is one of the leaders in the Intelligent Design movement, and his thoughts in this area should be something that any Christian interested in ID should be aware of.  If you’re not interested in Intelligent Design, or you don’t understand it, I’d encourage you to check out Meyer’s book “Signature in the Cell” before you make your final decision.
  8. Reasons to Believe Blogs – this is a family of blogs made available by Hugh Ross’ Reasons to Believe organization.  Focusing on how science and Christianity are partners rather than enemies, these blogs do a good job of addressing various science-related topics from the perspective of the Christian Worldview.
  9. Alpha and Omega – James White runs an excellent ministry over at Alpha and Omega ministries.  He is an excellent writer and speaker, and also regularly engages in debates with atheists and others who would challenge Orthodox Christianity.  His blog is often directly related to his radio program, with many video clips so you can watch rather than read.
  10. The Poached Egg Apologetics – If you want a blog site that has lots of content, this is another great one.  Because this site is composed of multiple authors, it is able to turn out a large quantity of excellent material on a regular basis.  Not only that, but it’s one of the best looking sites I’ve seen.

At this point, we’ve covered most of the basic resources that will help you as you begin to study Christian apologetics.  In the 4th and final part of this series, I’ll recommend a few podcasts that will be useful in helping you round out your self-study.

Until then…

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Learning Apologetics: Part 2–The Websites


In Part 1 of this series, I provided a list of books that I have found useful in learning about Christian apologetics.  In Part 2 I will be focusing on the websites that continue to be very useful to me in my study of the topics of apologetics and theology.

As before, this is in no way an exhaustive list and I’m sure I’ll end up overlooking some resources that are excellent.  But these should provide a good foundation and (hopefully) will encourage everyone to seek out additional sites of this sort.

While it’s not easy to list these sites by difficulty as I did with the books, I have endeavored to categorize them by their primary focus.

General Apologetics

Christianity and Science

Jesus Christ and the Resurrection

Philosophy and Ethics

Christian Theology

The Bible


Atheist Sites

While this category might seem to be a bit misplaced, it isn’t.  In order to truly understand the positions that the other side will take, it’s important to read what they’re writing.  While there are many non-believer websites, the following list is considered to be “essential reading” if you want an understanding of where our non-believing friends are coming from.

In the next part of this series, I’ll focus on some of the blog sites available to related to Christian apologetics.

Until then!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Learning Apologetics: Part 1-The Books

Today, I thought I'd start a multi-part series to share some of the material that has been helpful to me in my study of Christian apologetics. For those who don't know what apologetics is, it's derived from the Greek word apologia which, according to Wikipedia, defined as "giving a defense". When the Christian engages in apologetics, he or she is seeking to give a defense for his Christian faith.

When I began looking into this topic several years ago, I had no idea how much depth there was to it or how many resources I would end up going through in my studies. In retrospect, I realize how much I would have benefited from a list of the different resources available to me. With that in mind, I've decided to provide a list of some of the resources that have been influential to me. This is by no means a complete list, and it's growing all the time. But it will hopefully give an idea of what's out there, and will provide a good start for anyone seeking to begin their own course of study.

In Part 1, I have decided to focus exclusively on the books that been helpful to me. In future posts, I’ll look at other types of resources such as websites, videos and podcasts.

For clarity, I’ve broken down the books by topic and complexity. If you’re new to this topic, you might want to start with the less complex material and go from there.


  • 100 = Introductory
  • 200 = Intermediate
  • 300 = Advanced


  • General Apologetics
    • Level 100
      • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
      • The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel
      • I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek
      • Why I Am A Christian edited by Norman Geisler
      • Who Made God? edited by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler
      • The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists by Ravi Zacharias
      • The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias
      • Hard Questions, Real Answers by William Lane Craig
      • Passionate Convictions edited by William Lane Craig and Paul Copan
      • Contending with Christianity’s Critics edited by William Lane Craig and Paul Copan
      • The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister McGrath
      • Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith by Alister McGrath
      • Intellectuals Don’t Need God & Other Modern Myths by Alister McGrath
      • Why Good Arguments Often Fail by James Sire
      • Why You Think The Way You Do by Glenn Sunshine
      • Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
      • Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey
      • The God Conversation by J.P. Moreland
    • Level 200
      • Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler
      • Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
      • Does God Exist? The Debate Between Theists and Atheists by J.P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen
      • Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Rational Christianity by J.P. Moreland
      • The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer
      • Escape from Reason by Francis Schaeffer
      • He is There and He is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer
      • Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft
      • There Is A God by Antony Flew
      • Why There Almost Certainly Is a God by Keith Ward
    • Level 300
      • The Existence of God by Richard Swinburne
      • Is There a God? By Richard Swinburne
      • God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification for the Belief in God by Alvin Plantinga
  • God and Science
    • Level 100
      • The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel
      • Why the Universe Is The Way It Is by Hugh Ross
      • The Fingerprints of God by Hugh Ross
      • Dawkins’ God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life by Alister McGrath
      • A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology by Alister McGrath
      • Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson
      • Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells
      • The Soul of Science by Nancy Pearcey & Charles Thaxton
    • Level 200
      • Time and Eternity by William Lane Craig
      • God, Chance and Necessity by Keith Ward
      • Creation Out of Nothing by William Lane Craig and Paul Copan
      • Creation and Time by Hugh Ross
      • The Creator and the Cosmos by Hugh Ross
      • Intelligent Design by William Dembski
      • Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer
      • Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
      • The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe
      • Genesis and the Big Bang by Gerald Schroeder
      • The Hidden Face of God by Gerald Schroeder
      • The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder
      • Science and its Limits by Del Ratzsch
      • Christianity and the Nature of Science by J.P. Moreland
  • Miracles
    • Level 100
      • Miracles by C.S. Lewis
      • Miracles and the Modern Mind by Norman Geisler
    • Level 200
      • In Defense of Miracles edited by Douglas Geivett & Gary Habermas
    • Level 300
      • Hume’s Abject Failure by John Earman
  • Naturalism & the Existence of the Soul
    • Level 100
      • The Spiritual Brain by Mario Beauregard & Denyse O’Leary
      • The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz & Sharon Begley
    • Level 200
      • Does it Matter? By Graham Dunstan Martin
      • Mind and Body by J.P. Moreland
    • Level 300
      • The Recalcitrant Imago Dei by J.P. Moreland
      • The Evolution of the Soul by Richard Swinburne
      • Naturalism by Stewart Goetz & Charles Taliaferro
      • The Waning of Materialism edited by Robert Koons & George Bealer
  • The Problem of Evil and Suffering
    • Level 100
      • The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
      • The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
      • Deliver Us From Evil by Ravi Zacharias
      • What’s Good About Feeling Bad by Gary Habermas and John C. Thomas
      • Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft
      • If God Is Good by Randy Alcorn
    • Level 200
      • Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright
      • Can God Be Trusted? Faith and the Challenge of Evil by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
      • Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and the Canaanite Genocide edited by Stanley Gundry
    • Level 300
      • Providence and the Problem of Evil by Richard Swinburne
      • God, Freedom and Evil by Alvin Plantinga
  • Right and Wrong (Ethics)
    • Level 100
      • Can Man Live Without God? By Ravi Zacharias
      • How Then Should We Live? By Francis Schaeffer
      • The Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer
      • Making Choices by Peter Kreeft
      • Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft
      • Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics by Steve Wilkens
    • Level 200
      • Christian Ethics by Norman Geisler
      • Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions by Arthur F. Holmes
  • The Reliability of Scripture
    • Level 100
      • The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? By F.F. Bruce
      • How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot
      • The Origin of the Bible by FF. Bruce and others
      • Searching for the Original Bible by Randall Price
      • The Stones Cry Out by Randall Price
      • Is the Bible True? By Jeffrey L. Sheler
      • Can We Trust the Gospels? By Mark D. Roberts
      • Misquoting Truth by Timothy Paul Jones
      • Why You Can Have Confidence in the Bible by Harold J. Sala
      • Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan
    • Level 200
      • The Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg
      • The Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce
      • Inerrancy by Norman Geisler
  • The Life and Resurrection of Jesus Christ
    • Level 100
      • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
      • The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel
      • The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus by Gary Habermas
      • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona
      • Who Moved the Stone? By Frank Morison
      • Dethroning Jesus by Darrell Bock and Craig Wallace
      • The Real Jesus by Luke Timothy Johnson
      • Reinventing Jesus by Daniel Wallace, James Sawyer, & Ed Komoszewski
      • The Jesus Who Never Lived by H. Wayne House
    • Level 200
      • What Have They Done With Jesus? By Ben Witherington III
      • Jesus Under Fire by J.P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff
      • Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright
      • The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright
      • The Jesus Legend by Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd
      • Jesus In An Age of Controversy Doug Groothuis
      • The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright
      • The Historical Jesus: Five Views edited by James Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy
      • The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Mike Licona
  • Christian Philosophy & Cultural Relativism
    • Level 100
      • Love Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland
      • Good Ideas from Questionable Christians and Outright Pagans: An Introduction to Key Thinkers and Philosophies by Steve Wilkens
      • Postmodernism 101 by Heath White
      • Philosophy 101 by Peter Kreeft
      • Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Greg Koukle and Francis Beckwith
      • Kingdom Triangle by J.P. Moreland
      • Reason in the Balance by Philip Johnson
      • The Wedge of Truth by Philip Johnson
    • Level 200
      • Philosophy of Religion by C. Stephen Evans and R. Zachary Manis
      • Habits of the Mind by James Sire
      • Truth or Consequences by Millard Erickson
      • Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective by Norman Geisler and Paul Feinberg
      • Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous by M. Jay Wood
      • Metaphysics: Constructing a World View by William Hasker
    • Level 300
      • Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland
      • Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga
      • Warrant and Proper Function by Alvin Plantinga
      • The Nature of Necessity by Alvin Plantinga
      • The Coherence of Theism by Richard Swinburne

There is little doubt that I’ve left out many great books which are definitely worth everyone’s attention. Please don’t look at this as an exhaustive list. It’s purpose is to provide a starting point rather than a complete list of everything available.

In the next post, I’ll focus on some of the best Christian apologetics websites. Until then…

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review: Why There Almost Certainly Is a God

Numerous books have been written in response to Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. Keith Ward's contribution to this topic is brief (only 149 pages), but offers a convincing refutation to several of Dawkins' main points.

The book begins by addressing the idea that God, as the creator of the universe, must be more complex than his creation. Dawkins' assumption seems to be that God would have had to evolve as any other living creature has, and that this makes God's non-existence a virtual certainty (it also allows Dawkin's to ask "Who made God?").

Part of Dawkins' argument is the position that matter is fundamental to reality, which Ward challenges at the outset of his response. He points out that no one is even sure what matter is, and then proceeds to build his case that 'mind is the ultimate reality. This is nicely summed up in the following quote from page 20 of Ward's book:

Obviously such arguments will not work if you simply assume that materialism
is true. Then you will see the arguments as starting from a purely physical universe, and magically arriving at God as an extra entity just outside the universe, or snuffling around its boundary, who is made of very thin supernatural matter, and needs just as much explanation as the universe does. That seems to be exactly how Dawkins sees the arguments for God. No wonder he thinks he can dispose of them quite easily!

Arguments for God do not work like that. They are arguments to show that mind is the ultimate reality, and that materialism is a delusion caused by a misuse of modern science. The arguments do not 'prove' that there is one extra pseudo-physical thing in or just outside the universe. They provide good reason for thinking the
ultimate character of the universe is mind, and that matter is the appearance or manifestation or creation of cosmic mind.

The remainder of the book is Ward's case that the 'ultimate character of the universe is mind'. And to make his case, he addresses the idea of God as an unembodied mind that is not composed of parts, and is thus not complex (Divine Simplicity). He also talks about issues such as the multiverse, which is very popular as an ultimate explanation by materialists.

While Ward is happy to admit the existence of the multiverse, he describes this as all possible worlds existing in the mind of God. And while all possible worlds may exist in God's mind (including universes in which horrific evils prevail), only those universes that can be characterized as good will ever be actualized (or brought into actual existence).

There is a brief mention of Anselm's Ontological Argument, with Ward making the point that while this argument doesn't prove God's existence it does require one of two conclusions. Either God is necessary (in the sense that He must exist) or the very concept of God is logically incoherent, thus He cannot exist. According to Ward, there is no middle ground.

The book concludes that God's existence is both logically coherent and necessary. As he describes it, if the universe is coherent then it calls for an explanation. And if it has an explanation, that explanation will be personal in nature. God's existence is not only necessary, but with God we have a personal explanation that renders the universe purposeful and explainable.

While this is only a short book, it is quite dense with some excellent thoughts by a great Christian theologian and philosopher. It serves as an excellent addition to the growing body of literature that offers convincing responses to the claims of Dawkins and his fellow atheists.

Are Infants Atheists?

Today, many non-believers define atheism as lacking a belief in a god. The problem with this definition is that on this view babies and animals and even rocks or furniture would qualify as atheists! While most would tell you that calling a rock an atheist is a bit of a stretch, many of them would tell you that atheism is the default position, and would contend that infants do meet the standard as being atheists.

In light of this, a 2008 article from an Australian newspaper known as The Age is quite interesting. The article notes the work of Dr. Olivera Petrovich from Oxford University. In Dr. Petrovich's study, there was evidence that the belief in God exist within us from the start. The link below takes you to the full article:

Infants 'have natural belief in God'

As Dr. Petrovich concludes, "atheism is definitely an acquired position".

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Does Evolution Fully Explain Morality?

In recent years, the idea that morality can be fully explained as a result of evolution has become quite popular. The proponents of this idea claim that, through a process similar to "survival of the fittest", mankind has developed moral standards that enhance our ability to survive as individuals and groups.

If you listen to them for very long, you will hear them talk about the need for early man to band together in groups for protection. Because these groups were better able to flourish than individuals who had not banded together, the traits that led these "group minded" people had the opportunity to be passed to future generations while the traits of those who were "individual minded" died out. Over the centuries, we inherited the traits of the "group minded" people and this is the reason we all feel moral obligations toward one another today.

While I agree that there is some merit to the idea that early man may have learned the advantages of living in groups for protection and mutual benefit, I don't think this idea fully explains our sense of moral duties and obligations. In a recent conversatio with someone who subscribes to this view, I listed a number of limitations that I see with this idea. Below is the list I generated from our discussion:

  1. In the evolutionary model, the most horrible things could be considered moral if they enhanced survivability. As an extreme example, if it enhanced survivability to ingest certain nutrients that could only be obtained from live infants, and if these nutrients were only produced when the child was undergoing the most intense suffering, then cannibalizing live children to feed on these nutrients would be considered moral.

  2. The evolutionary model is fully deterministic, but in order for moral duties to make any sense there must be the ability for someone to choose to behave in a moral way (also known as 'libertarian free will'). On the deterministic model, there is no free will and thus one cannot choose to behave in either a moral or an immoral way. Instead, our behaviors are fully determined by external causes over which we have no control. To put it another way, if I feel that I ought to treat a child with kindness (if I have a moral duty to do this), then that implies that I can make the choice to do this. On the evolutionary model, I don't have the ability to choose anything, so how can I be morally obligated to anything?

  3. While the idea of groups banding together for survival has merit in that it provides an opportunity for early man to learn that some behaviors are "better than" others, it ultimately fails as an explanation for morality since it cannot account for people's behavior when in power. On the evolutionary model, people should be "imprinted" with the desire to share with, care for, and protect the group. The argument is that if someone chooses not to participate in this, then they will be cast out of the group and thus their survival is questionable. But what about people in positions of power? They can (and do) choose to abandon this notion of "group mindedness" and they suffer no consequences as a result. Examples of this include Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, and Joseph Stalin. Each of these men brutalized people, but the predicted consequences of the evolutionary model did not occur.

  4. On evolution, heinous acts such as those of Adolf Hitler are perfectly legitimate if they serve to enhance the survivability of the group. In Hitler's case, he was trying to establish/maintain a pure Aryan bloodline. In this sense, his efforts to eliminate the "inferior" bloodline of groups such as the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and minorities were fully consistent with Darwinian principles.

Evolution may well serve as a partial explanation for how many came to discover certain moral traits. But evolution alone has no ability to explain whether objective moral duties exist in the first place. Further, the evolutionary explanation also opens the door for many of the awful things we've seen as recently as the mid 20th century. It's grounding in the Materialistic worldview also brings into the question whether there is any such thing as free will in the first place. And if there isn't, then moral obligations can't be said to exist in any case.

The problem is that we all know we have moral obligations. There are things we should do and others that we should not do. Because we know that these moral obligations exist, we must conclude that we have the ability (the libertarian free will) to choose whether to do them or not. And when we reach that conclusion, we must simultaneously conclude that morality is more than simply an artifact of man's evolutionary heritage.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: Naturalism

I just finished reading an excellent book entitled Naturalism by Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz. The book's purpose is to explain what Naturalism is and then to assess whether it holds up under scrutiny.

The worldview of Naturalism is defined by the authors as:

"...the philosophy that everything that exists is a part of nature and that there is no reality beyond or outside of nature." (p. 6)

The book defines two senses of Naturalism (strict and broad), but makes the point that both flavors of this worldview are united in their opposition to Theism and the belief that there is anything beyond the physical universe. As the authors note, an area where this is causing much debate is the Philosophy of Mind. It is this arena where they spend the majority of the book, seeking to evaluate Naturalism to determine if it can adequately account for things like consciousness, intentionality, rational inference, the 1st person perspective, etc.

In the book, the authors review common arguments from philosophers and scientists who hold to either strict or broad Naturalism. They note that strict Naturalists tend to deny the existence of fundamental things like consciousness or 1st person experience, while the broad Naturalists acknowledge these things but try to explain them as phenomena arising from things occurring within the physical world.

The book, though only 122 pages long, provides some powerful responses to Naturalism, showing how it fails to adequately account for the things that all people experience every moment of our waking lives. Just the fact that we are conscious and self-aware is something that continues to cause great difficulty for the Naturalistic worldview. This is a fact that even Naturalists acknowledge.

The authors, who are themselves confessed Christians, conclude that Naturalism is a failed worldview. Instead, they offer arguments for the existence of an immaterial mind (which is synonymous in their usage with the soul) and show how the Theistic position (known as Dualism) is better able to account for the presence of minds.

While this is a very short book and does contain some technical language, it is also a very rewarding book in the sense that it covers a great deal of ground and addresses all of the major points that have been used to argue in support of Naturalism. It belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the Philosophy of Mind, and especially a Christian response to the Naturalistic perspective.

While this book will take some commitment to understand terminology (which is defined and explained through excellent examples) and process the logical arguments (again explained through numerous examples), it is ultimately a very rewarding process and a worthy contribution to the ongoing discussion about the viability of Naturalism.