- Metaphysics (15) : What is Real
- Epistemology (81) : What and How We Know
- Faith & Reason (127) : Faith and/or Reason
- Truth? (44) : True vs. "true"
- Ethics (57) : Good & Evil, Right & Wrong
- Arts & Letters (62) : Art, Beauty, Interpretation
- Being Human (54) : The Human Condition
- Society & Culture (37) : Living Together
- Origins & Science (83)
- Worldviews (23) : Paradigms & Metanarrative
- God? (41) : God's Existence and Nature
- Jesus (62) : On the Person and Teachings
- Religion (41) : Religion Under the Lens
- Christianity (29) : Beliefs, Practices, History
Guy P. Harrison (Prometheus: Jun 5, 2008), 354 pages.
Many books that challenge religious belief from a skeptical point of view take a combative tone that is almost guaranteed to alienate believers, or they present complex philosophical or scientific arguments that fail to reach the average reader. Guy P. Harrison argues that this is an ineffective way of trying to encourage people to develop critical thinking about religion. In this unique approach, Harrison concisely presents fifty commonly heard reasons that people often give for believing in a god. Then he raises legitimate questions regarding these reasons, showing in each case that there is much room for doubt. From religion as the foundation of morality to the authority of sacred books, the compelling religious testimony of influential people, near-death experiences, theories from intelligent design, and much more, Harrison respectfully describes each rationale for belief and then politely shows the deficiencies that any good skeptic would point out. He also offers something in return — a hopeful and optimistic view of science, the universe, and humanity without the divisiveness, prejudice, and hatred caused by conflicting religious doctrines. Drawing on his experiences as a nonbeliever and his extensive travels around the world, Harrison makes poignant arguments that are sure to inspire thought-provoking discussions. Whether you're a believer, a complete skeptic, or somewhere in between, you'll find his review of traditional and more recent arguments for the existence of gods refreshing, approachable, and enlightening. ~ Product Description
Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: Oct 26, 2009), 360 pages.
Fifty Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists presents a collection of original essays drawn from an international group of prominent voices in the fields of academia, science, literature, media and politics who offer carefully considered statements of why they are atheists. Features a truly international cast of contributors, ranging from public intellectuals such as Peter Singer, Susan Blackmore, and A.C. Grayling, novelists, such as Joe Haldeman, and heavyweight philosophers of religion, including Graham Oppy and Michael Tooley. Contributions range from rigorous philosophical arguments to highly personal, even whimsical, accounts of how each of these notable thinkers have come to reject religion in their lives. Likely to have broad appeal given the current public fascination with religious issues and the reception of such books as The God Delusion and The End of Faith. ~ Product Description
Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: May 10, 2011), 240 pages.
The concept of the soul is accepted in many religious traditions and widely used in fictional worlds, and yet the idea that we are anything more than physio-chemical organisms seems out of step with contemporary secular thinking. Scratch the surface of western philosophy, however, and you find a history filled with arguments in favor of the idea that we are embodied souls. This book provides a clear and concise history of the soul, from Plato to cutting-edge contemporary work in philosophy of mind. Taking in the arguments of influential thinkers, such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, and Hume, Goetz and Taliaferro tackle keys issues, such as the problem of mind-body interaction, the causal closure of the physical world, and the philosophical implications of the brain sciences for the soul's existence. A Brief History of the Soul brings together historical and contemporary scholarship to examine one of the essential questions of our existence.
John Rawls with Thomas Nagel, Joshua Cohen, and Robert Merrihew Adams (Harvard: Mar 31, 2009), 288 pages.
John Rawls never published anything about his own religious beliefs, but after his death two texts were discovered which shed extraordinary light on the subject. A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith is Rawls’s undergraduate senior thesis, submitted in December 1942, just before he entered the army. At that time Rawls was deeply religious; the thesis is a significant work of theological ethics, of interest both in itself and because of its relation to his mature writings. “On My Religion,” a short statement drafted in 1997, describes the history of his religious beliefs and attitudes toward religion, including his abandonment of orthodoxy during World War II. The present volume includes these two texts, together with an Introduction by Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel, which discusses their relation to Rawls’s published work, and an essay by Robert Merrihew Adams, which places the thesis in its theological context. The texts display the profound engagement with religion that forms the background of Rawls’s later views on the importance of separating religion and politics. Moreover, the moral and social convictions that the thesis expresses in religious form are related in illuminating ways to the central ideas of Rawls’s later writings. His notions of sin, faith, and community are simultaneously moral and theological, and prefigure the moral outlook found in Theory of Justice. ~ Product Description
Thomas Sowell (Basic Books : June 4, 2007), 352 pages.
This latest work by Sowell examines two competing visions which shape our debates about the nature of reason, justice, equality, and power. These visions are the "constrained" vision, which sees human nature as unchanging and selfish, and the "unconstrained" vision, in which human nature is malleable and perfectible. The book builds a convincing case that ethical and policy disputes are ultimately based on the differences in these visions. It covers a wide variety of political, philosophical, and economic thought. Although occasionally abstract, this volume is an important contribution to our understanding of current social issues. Recommended for large public and all college and university libraries. ~ Library Journal
Frederick Copleston versus Bertrand Russell, BBC Radio (1948). Reprinted in Al Seckel, ed. Bertrand Russell On God and Religion (Prometheus: 1986), pp. 123ff.
A Definition of Religion said...
Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger (Oxford University Press: 2008), p. 7.
In spite of the difficulties in defining and applying the term "religion," we need a tentative, working definition. For our purposes, religion is constituted by a set of beliefs, actions, and experiences, both personal and corporate, organized around the concept of an Ultimate Reality which inspires worship or total devotion.
Peter Murray and Linda Murray, eds. (Oxford University Press: Nov 4, 2004), 658 pages.
The Dictionary of Christian Art, now rebranded in the best-selling Oxford Paperback Reference series, is a unique and fascinating exploration of the art and architecture that has been influenced and inspired by biblical stories and Christian history and beliefs. The Dictionary combines general essays on the periods and styles important in the history of Christian art with lots of shorter entries that describe specific works, artists, themes, and visual images, and which give the reader practical guidance on where in Europe to locate the works described. Among the many features of this dictionary are: detailed essays on periods and styles in art and architecture, including Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque; general background to the Old and New Testaments, and to Christian tradition and beliefs; forms of art influenced by Christianity, such as illuminated manuscripts, stained glass; artists and architects and their works, for example Fra Angelico, Donatello, Pugin, and many others; and places and buildings, including Assisi, Roma, St Paul's, the Sistine Chapel. There are also descriptions and explanations of features of Christian churches, significant saints, popes, saints, and rulers, and a glossary of Architectural Terms and detailed bibliography.
Alister E. McGrath (Westminster John Knox Press: March 2008), 288 pages.
Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them — above all, the question of the existence of God. So how can Christian theology relate to these new developments? In this landmark work, based on his 2009 Gifford lectures, Alister McGrath examines the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God. The celebrated Gifford Lectures have long been recognized as making landmark contributions to the discussion of natural theology. A Fine-Tuned Universe will contribute significantly to that discussion by developing a rich Trinitarian approach to natural theology that allows deep engagement with the intellectual and moral complexities of the natural world. It will be essential reading to those looking for a rigorous engagement between science and the Christian faith. ~ Product Description
David G. Myers (Wiley-Blackwell: September 2008), 160 pages.
A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists helps readers — both secular and religious — appreciate their common ground. For those whose thinking has moved from the religious thesis to the skeptical antithesis (or vice versa), Myers offers pointers to a science-respecting Christian synthesis. He shows how skeptics and people of faith can share a commitment to reason, evidence, and critical thinking, while also embracing a faith that supports human flourishing — by making sense of the universe, giving meaning to life, connecting us in supportive communities, mandating altruism, and offering hope in the face of adversity and death. ~ Product Description • "Social psychologist Myers adds to the numerous apologetic texts that have emerged since the neoatheist movement began. But this quick jaunt into potentially dangerous waters is head and shoulders above the rest. The author admits that many people throughout history who have claimed to believe in God have caused much evil in the world. He is respectful of his atheist interlocutors, like Richard Dawkins, preferring to discuss how "Surely, in some ways I'm wrong, you're wrong, we're all wrong." Believers and skeptics could learn much from each other, and the author's willingness to build a bridge between two sometimes hostile territories is what makes his work so welcome. Myers's psychological training enables him to grasp the human person in a unique way, and he is able to introduce an intellectual element into the God debate. While never attempting to prove that God exists, Myers works to show that religious people can be faithful and psychologically health." ~ Publishers Weekly
Jef Raskin, one of the originators of the Macintosh, writes an interesting lament at what often passes for the history of its development. "Holes in the Histories" is instructive for its catalogue of how the telling of history can be corrupted by the use of secondary sources, by oversimplification, by misrepresentation, by an affection for celebrity, by relying on appearances, and by a general lack of interest in the truth of the matter. Every day, each of us hears countless reports, studies, and comments about the way of things and Raskin's article is a welcome reminder to be wary of taking such claims at face value. It is also a call to avoid such carelessness about truth in our own words. We are especially vulnerable to being taken in by fictions when we are inclined to agree with their source for other reasons. David C. Wise's Creation/Evolution page (link expired) is a sobering account of ways in which the "Creation Science" movement has been incorrigibly guilty of many of the sins of scholarship that Raskin describes. For example, see his article "Moon Dust" (link expired).
John Kells Ingram (Adamant Media Corporation: September 2000), 163 pages.
John Locke in Letters Concerning Toleration, Latin orig. 1689 (J. Brook: 1796), pp. 29-66.
John Locke here sets a clear purpose: "to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other". Specifically, the concern of the state is the commonwealth, especially the protection of property, and the just use of force to that end. The concern of the church, on the other hand, is the care of souls, to which force is ill-suited. What is essential is toleration: the state's toleration of the church, and each sect's toleration of another. Indeed, Locke argues that the mark of any truly Christian church will be toleration; this, because of Christ's "Gospel of peace" and of the impossibility of forced belief. "Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true, ... such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation." Whenever a church or minister reaches for powers of the state, the power to dispossess others of freedom or property, their true ambition is betrayed, "what they desire is temporal dominion". State authority is also circumscribed, "The care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force: but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind..." It is refreshing to see in Locke that the obvious incongruity of Christian coercion is not a recent realization. For example, Locke notes Jesus' prediction that Christians will suffer persecution, but far be it that Christians become persecutors, to "force others by fire and sword, to embrace her faith and doctrine". One could object to Locke's claim that "the only business of the church is the salvation of souls", if that in effect precludes the church working towards a just and civil society in the here and now. Nonetheless, Locke's argument, rooted in Christian ideals and natural law, is rightly credited for the delineation of church and state authority that later emerged in America. ~ Nate
James W. Sire (InterVarsity: Aug 2006), 111 pages.
A Little Primer of Humble Apologetics is just that: a beginner's instruction book on the subject of Christian apologetics; a subject many of us find frightening. As the author, James Sire, points out, we Christians are all called to some extent to be arguers or contenders for our faith, to be prepared at all times to be able to give a reason for the hope that we have found in Jesus Christ. (I Peter 3: 15-16) This primer tells how to defend the faith intelligently, with integrity and humility. Sire contends, in six short but tightly-packed chapters, that Christians can and should learn apologetic arguments through reading the Gospels and through the example and instruction of the early apostles Peter, Stephen, and Paul. Chapter one looks at what nine key Scripture passages say about presenting the gospel, and arrives at a guiding definition for those who hope to defend their faith. ~ Christian Book Previews
James Madison in Gospel Advocate and Impartial Investigator, Vol. 7 (An Association of Gentlemen: 1829), pp. 61-4.
In 1784, a bill was before the House of Delegates of Virginia for a publick Act, "establishing a provision for the teachers of the Christian religion," which had for its object the compelling of every person to contribute to some religious teacher. The bill was postponed to the next session of the legislature and ordered to be printed, and the people were requested to signify their opinion respecting its adoption. Among the numerous remonstrances against the passage of this bill, the following one drawn by Mr. Madison, stands pre-eminent. It is certainly one of the ablest productions of that great statesman, and deserves to be widely circulated. To use the language of the authour of the work from which it is extracted — Benedict's "General History of the Baptist denomination in America," — its "style is elegant and perspicuous and for strength of reasoning and purity of principle, it has seldom been equalled, certainly never surpassed, by anything on the subject in the English language." It is hardly necessary to say that the bill never passed the House. ~ Hartford Times
John C. Wright, in a comment at SF Signal (Nov 23, 2005).
My conversion was in two parts: a natural part and a supernatural part. Here is the natural part: first, over a period of two years my hatred toward Christianity eroded due to my philosophical inquiries. Rest assured, I take the logical process of philosophy very seriously, and I am impatient with anyone who is not a rigorous and trained thinker. Reason is the tool men use to determine if their statements about reality are valid: there is no other. Those who do not or cannot reason are little better than slaves, because their lives are controlled by the ideas of other men, ideas they have not examined. To my surprise and alarm, I found that, step by step, logic drove me to conclusions no modern philosophy shared, but only this ancient and (as I saw it then) corrupt and superstitious foolery called the Church. Each time I followed the argument fearlessly where it lead, it kept leading me, one remorseless rational step at a time, to a position the Church had been maintaining for more than a thousand years. That haunted me.
John Milton, from the "Areopagitica", in The Best of the World's Classics (Funk and Wagnalls Co.: 1909), pp. 135-41.
Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors: a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point, the highest that human capacity can soar to. Therefore the studies of Learning in her deepest sciences have been so ancient and so eminent among us, that writers of good antiquity and ablest judgment have been persuaded that even the school of Pythagoras and the Persian wisdom took beginning from the old philosophy of this island. And that wise and civil Roman, Julius Agricola, who governed once here for Csesar, preferred the natural wits of Britain before the labored studies of the French. Nor is it for nothing that the grave and frugal Transylvanian sends out yearly from as far as the mountainous borders of Russia, and beyond the Hercynian wilderness, not their youth, but their staid men, to learn our language and our theologic arts.
The Secular Web is currently hosting the Carrier-Roth Debate in which Jennifer Roth argues that an ethical case can be made against abortion without reference to God or any other supernatural entity. It is telling that neither disputant attempts to justify the intrinsic worth they assume for human persons. If each party just grants that humans are inherently more valuable than rocks and trees, the crucial issue has been missed: the question of what it is that makes anything valuable. William Lane Craig presses this very issue in a new article in Paper Trails, "The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality." There is also philosophical confusion in the debate about what constitutes personal identity and other problems, but there are also many highlights in this exchange. Whether or not Roth is successful, it is refreshing to hear concerns about abortion outside of the religious community. Apart from condemnations of clinic violence, ethical considerations are conspicuously absent from virtually every pro-choice website, from Planned Parenthood to Protect Choice. Teenwire is about as close as you get with its swift dismissal: "Abortion is a touchy subject with a lot of people. Remember that this is your body and your decision... You have a right to end an unwanted pregnancy if you feel that it is the wisest decision for you." Considering this, The Secular Web's substantive discussion is especially commendable.
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