God's Existence and Nature
"The Self-Emptying of Love" in The Incarnation: A Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God, Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O'Collins, eds. (Oxford: 2004), p. 249.
The first and most powerful source of the appeal of a kenotic theory is the great religious power and meaning that is intrinsic to the idea of a God who sacrifices and suffers with and on behalf of his creatures. If I am caught up in terrible suffering it is one thing to be assured of the love and kindness of another person. It is quite another thing for that other person to give the assurance by entering into my situation and suffering with me or even for me. A God who empties himself out of love for human beings, who recklessly as it were gives up divine privileges to endure all the hard realities of human life, is a God whose love is credible and inspires love in return.
Emmanuel, or The Incarnation of the Son of God (Oxford: 1879), pp. 236-8.
If the Incarnation of the Eternal Son, as it is set forth in the Scriptures, be a truth of God — if the Divine Person Who had glory with the Father, having taken upon Him the nature of His creature, really condescended to go through the humiliation and pain and distress which is written of Him, it stands to reason that the loving humility and abnegation of self displayed in such endurance, must be the chief feature in the character of the God-man, which we must in our degree possess, if, in the words of the Holy Ghost, Christ is to be " formed in us."
William Lane Craig and Chad Meister, eds. (Intervarsity: Nov. 30, 2009), 272 pages.
The days have passed when the goodness of God — indeed, the reality of God itself — could reasonably be called a consensus opinion. God's reputation has come under considerable review in recent days, with some going so far as to say that it's not we who've made a mess of things. Instead whatever it is we call God is to blame. But is such an opinion really a fair assessment? In this magisterial collection, the contemporary complaints against belief in God are addressed with intellectual passion and rigor by some of the most astute theological and philosophical minds of the day: J. P. Moreland, Paul Moser, John Polkinghorne, Michael Behe, Michael J. Murray, Alister McGrath, Paul Copan, Jerry Walls, Charles Taliaferro, Scot McKnight, Gary Habermas, Mark Mittelberg, Chad Meister, and William Lane Craig. Includes an interview by Gary Habermas with noted convert to theism Antony Flew, and a direct critical response to Richard Dawkins's God Delusion by Alvin Plantinga, God Is Great, God Is Good offers convincing and compelling reassurance that though the world has changed, God has not.
Charles Taliaferro and Chad Meister, eds. (Cambridge University Press: November 2009), 288 pages.
This Companion offers an up-to-date overview of the beliefs, doctrines, and practices of the key philosophical concepts at the heart of Christian theology. The sixteen chapters, commissioned specially for this volume, are written by an internationally recognized team of scholars and examine topics such as the Trinity, God's necessary existence, simplicity, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, goodness, eternity and providence, the incarnation, resurrection, atonement, sin and salvation, the problem of evil, church rites, revelation and miracles, prayer, and the afterlife. Written in non-technical, accessible language, they not only offer a synthesis of scholarship on these topics but also suggest questions and topics for further investigation. ~ Product Description
William A. Dembski (B&H Academic: Nov. 1, 2009), 254 pages.
Theodicy attempts to resolve how a good God and evil world can coexist. The neo-atheist view in this debate has dominated recent bestseller lists through books like The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins), God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens), and The End of Faith (Samuel Harris). And their popularity illuminates a changing mental environment wherein people are asking harder questions about divine goodness. Surprisingly, these books please intelligent design champion William Dembski, because “They would be unnecessary if Christianity were not again a live issue.” Entering the conversation, Dembski’s provocative The End of Christianity embraces the challenge to formulate a theodicy that is both faithful to Christian orthodoxy and credible to the new mental environment. He writes to make peace with three claims: (1) God by wisdom created the world out of nothing. (2) God exercises particular providence in the world. (3) All evil in the world ultimately traces back to human sin. In the process, Dembski brings the reader to a fresh understanding of what “the end (result) of Christianity” really means: the radical realignment of our thinking so that we see God’s goodness in creation despite the distorting effects of sin in our hearts and evil in the world.
Julian Baggini (Sterling Publishing: Oct 2009), 192 pages.
Is a life without religion one without values or purpose? Julian Baggini emphatically says no. He sets out to dispel the myths surrounding atheism and to show how it can be both a meaningful and moral choice. He directly confronts the failure of officially atheist states in the twentieth century, and presents an intellectual case for atheism that rests as much on reasoned and positive arguments for its truth as on negative arguments against religion. Julian Baggini is editor of Philosopher’s Magazine and the author of several books on philosophy. He has also written for a variety of newspapers and journals, including the Guardian, the Independent, and New Humanist. ~ Synopsis
Karen Armstrong (Knopf: Sep 2009), 432 pages.
A fascinating journey through Western civilization's ongoing attempts to understand and explain the concept of God. Celebrated religion scholar Armstrong (The Bible: A Biography, 2007, etc.) creates more than a history of religion; she effectively demonstrates how the West (broadly speaking) has grappled with the existence of deity and captured the concept in words, art and ideas. Beginning in the majestic caves of Lascaux, Armstrong explores how religion became a meaningful part of prehistoric societies, and the ways in which these societies passed down their practices and ideas in the earliest forms of art. The author then moves on to early monotheism and its rivals, offering a brilliant examination of ancient Greek views on religion and reason, which laid the groundwork for so much of Western thought. Looking at the early Christians and Diaspora-era Jews in tandem, Armstrong delves into Talmudic study and midrash, as well as Christian adaptations of theological concepts. Throughout the book, the author argues against religion as an abstraction, noting that it most truly exists in practice. "Faith . . . was a matter of practical insight and active commitment," she writes. "It had little to do with abstract belief or theological conjecture." Nevertheless, scholars have always attempted to define and "prove" God, and Armstrong admirably outlines the best of them through the centuries, including Origen, Anselm, Pascal and Tillich. Armstrong claims that the "warfare" between science and religion is a myth perpetuated by those with axes to grind. Likewise, the modern atheist movement, "death of God" theology and even fundamentalism arise from extremists who see religion as correct doctrine,not correct praxis. Though mostly focused on the West, Armstrong maintains a global perspective, masterfully weaving in her solid understanding of the world's panoply of faiths. Accessible, intriguing study of how we see God. ~ Kirkus Reviews
Nathan Jacobson & Dace Starkweather
In more recent philosophical expressions of the Problem of Evil, the argument is carefully articulated to ensure that the evil under consideration is unquestionably gratuitous. That is, while there is suffering for which the theist can posit some possibly redemptive or soul-making purpose, there is also suffering for which it is nigh impossible to imagine any greater good being served. Specifically, attention has turned to natural evil, and to the suffering of animals in particular. For example, William Rowe's widely discussed argument imagines a fawn, alone in the woods, engulfed by a raging forest fire, suffering for days before dying. How could a good and powerful God, if he existed, allow this kind of suffering, which is immeasurable every day? On the other hand, when I watch tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra attempting to cross the Mara River as they finish their annual migration across the Serengeti, many of them violently ripped to pieces in the attempt by basks of writhing crocodiles, it is not obvious to me that this militates against the existence of God.1 I am awed and quickened by the spectacle. Though I naturally root for the antelope, I see tragic beauty in this contest for survival, red in tooth and claw. I'm not altogether sure that a world of harmless bunnies, tribbles and parakeets... a world without riptides, sandstorms, cliffs and fires, would better bespeak a great and beneficent creator. Indeed, I wonder whether a world whose magnificence is due in part to its being as wild and untamed as ours is not itself a justification for the peril and pain entailed therein. But, when I say that I am not sure, that is the truth. I am by no means unsympathetic to the suffering of animals. My heart is rent when I watch PETA's documentaries exposing our oftentimes callous and cruel treatment of animals bred for human consumption. It is egregious to kick a dog, to string up a cat. Furthermore, we have the biblical vision of heaven which portrays a time and place when the lion lies down with the lamb, implying perhaps that the current, ravenous state of nature is not the way it's supposed to be. Considering the abundance of animal suffering, it has always struck me as a bit unfortunate that the examples offered by Rowe, Tooley, and others in thesearguments are usually abstract, when they needn't be.2 So, as I continue to reflect on what we should infer from a natural world that is as violent as it is breathtakingly beautiful, I offer the following contribution. It is a riveting account from the journal of a close friend, Dace Starkweather, who experienced the very real, fiery devastation of Pike National Forest3, and bore witness to the woodland creatures and free range cattle that suffered there. I don't think anyone has ever questioned whether Rowe's example is paralleled in the real world, but this vivid, real-life account makes the question of apparently pointless natural evil all the more poignant.
Unknown on Pessimism and Despair said...
"A Dramatic Inferno" in Nation (July 6, 1912). Cited in Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life.
If there were in the world a sincere and total pessimism, it would of necessity be silent. The despair which finds a voice is a social mood, it is the cry of misery which brother utters to brother when both are stumbling though a valley of shadows which is peopled with — comrades. In its anguish it bears witness to something that is good in life, for it presupposes sympathy. ... The real gloom, the sincere despair, is dumb and blind; it writes no books, and feels no impulse to burden an intolerable universe with a monument more lasting than brass.
C.S. Lewis, Excerpts from "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe", Book One in Mere Christianity (original 1944).
In this oft discussed passage from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis spurns the supposed implications of a century's worth of cultural anthropology, arguing that virtually all people possess an innate moral compass that is at bottom similar or the same, in spite of surface differences. He begins by noting that human quarreling presupposes such a shared set of moral norms, that without a common set of "Rules of Human Nature", quarreling would be, in effect, impossible. An interesting thought. Lewis goes on to argue that this set of moral obligations we find in ourselves suggests a moral lawgiver. En route, he comments on the proper limits of science, on what we can infer on the basis of our own self-knowledge, and on the hypocrisy of those who claim no such common moral knowledge exists. Lewis' essay is hardly the most rigorous moral argument for theism on offer, but it does display his knack for drawing on the everyday to illustrate his premises and his argument for a common ethic is especially worth considering in view of the conventional wisdom about the radical diversity of moral norms. The moral differences between persons and cultures is profound. Can Lewis' argument for universal "Rules of Human Nature" be sustained? I'm particularly keen to reflect on the extent to which apparent moral differences should actually be attributed to different beliefs about reality. On this, see his thought provoking comments on the old practice of burning witches at the stake. Also note his observation that the materialistic and religious views of reality are not a bifurcation emerging out of the Enlightenment, but rather a fundamental divergence that turns up "wherever there having been thinking men".
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
Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds. (B&H Publishing: Aug 2009), 304 pages.
Contending with Christianity’s Critics is book two in a series on modern Christian apologetics that began with the popular Passionate Conviction. This second installment, featuring writings from eighteen respected apologists such as Gary Habermas and Ben Witherington, addresses challenges from noted New Atheists like Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and other contemporary critics of Christianity concerning belief in God, the historical Jesus, and Christianity’s doctrinal coherence. Contending with Christianity's Critics and Passionate Conviction are the result of national apologetics conferences sponsored by the Evangelical Philosophical Society.
Michael Ruse on the New Atheists said...
"Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster" on Belief.net's blog, "Science and the Sacred" (Aug. 14, 2009).
Let me say that I believe the new atheists do the side of science a grave disservice. I will defend to the death the right of them to say what they do — as one who is English-born one of the things I admire most about the USA is the First Amendment. But I think first that these people do a disservice to scholarship. Their treatment of the religious viewpoint is pathetic to the point of non-being. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy of religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing. As I have said elsewhere, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for the ontological argument. If we criticized gene theory with as little knowledge as Dawkins has of religion and philosophy, he would be rightly indignant. (He was just this when, thirty years ago, Mary Midgeley went after the selfish gene concept without the slightest knowledge of genetics.) Conversely, I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.
Eric A. Siebert (Augsburg Fortress: August 2009), 360 pages.
How should we understand biblical texts where God is depicted as acting irrationally, violently, or destructively? If we distance ourselves from disturbing portrayals of God, how should we understand the authority of Scripture? How does the often wrathful God portrayed in the Old Testament relate to the God of love proclaimed in the New Testament? Is that contrast even accurate? Disturbing Divine Behavior addresses these perennially vexing questions for the student of the Bible. Eric A. Seibert calls for an engaged and discerning reading of the Old Testament that distinguishes the particular literary and theological goals achieved through narrative characterizations of God from the rich understanding of the divine to which the Old Testament as a whole points. Providing illuminating reflections on theological reading as well, this book will be a welcome resource for any readers who puzzle over disturbing representations of God in the Bible. ~ Synopsis
Gregory W. Dawes (Taylor & Francis, Inc.: Jun 2009), 212 pages.
In this timely study, Dawes defends the methodological naturalism of the sciences. Though religions offer what appear to be explanations of various facts about the world, the scientist, as scientist, will not take such proposed explanations seriously. Even if no natural explanation were available, she will assume that one exists. Is this merely a sign of atheistic prejudice, as some critics suggest? Or are there good reasons to exclude from science explanations that invoke a supernatural agent? On the one hand, Dawes concedes the bare possibility that talk of divine action could constitute a potential explanation of some state of affairs, while noting that the conditions under which this would be true are unlikely ever to be fulfilled. On the other hand, he argues that a proposed explanation of this kind would rate poorly, when measured against our usual standards of explanatory virtue.
Terry Eagleton (Yale University Press: Apr 21, 2009), 200 pages.
Terry Eagleton's witty and polemical Reason, Faith, and Revolution is bound to cause a stir among scientists, theologians, people of faith and people of no faith, as well as general readers eager to understand the God Debate. On the one hand, Eagleton demolishes what he calls the “superstitious” view of God held by most atheists and agnostics and offers in its place a revolutionary account of the Christian Gospel. On the other hand, he launches a stinging assault on the betrayal of this revolution by institutional Christianity. There is little joy here, then, either for the anti-God brigade — Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens in particular — nor for many conventional believers. Instead, Eagleton offers his own vibrant account of religion and politics in a book that ranges from the Holy Spirit to the recent history of the Middle East, from Thomas Aquinas to the Twin Towers. ~ Product Description
Keith Ward (Lion UK: April 2009), 160 pages.
With charming wit and a devastatingly sharp intellect, the Christian philosopher Keith Ward systematically eviscerates Richard Dawkins' anti-religious arguments from The God Delusion. By the end, he reveals most of them to be either logically short-sighted or intellectually dishonest. Like Ward, I believe that the debate between theism & atheism is far from over, and that there are compelling arguments to be made on both sides. In this short, readable book, Ward doesn't really try to finish off the dispute with any unassailable conclusion (despite the book's title, which is a direct rebuttal of one of Dawkins' chapter headings). Rather, he does an excellent job of raising the discourse out of the dumbed down muddle it's fallen into lately, where the ill-informed & the close-minded on both sides hog the spotlight & posture arrogantly at each other. Recommended for those who prefer a well-reasoned debate based on facts & logic to impassioned polemics & simplistic conclusions. ~ Brett Roe at Amazon.com
Jordan Howard Sobel (Cambridge University Press: Apr 9, 2009), 676 pages.
Filled with new, interesting, and insightful observations and analyses ... a book everyone interested in philosophy of religion will want - and need — to read." ~ Graham Oppy, Monash University • "I'm often asked to recommend books on philosophy of religion from a skeptical point of view, and Mackie's The Miracle of Theism has been the only thing I could wholeheartedly endorse. Sobel's book would give me a second option. It's the best thing of its kind since Mackie's book, and in many respects, it's better than The Miracle of Theism." ~ Robert C. Koons, University of Texas, Austin • "This book is a rich resource for those interested in the traditional arguments for and against belief in God's existence ... the book is valuable not so much for the author's own conclusions in each chapter, as it is for the rich resource it constitutes ... the author has done a great service by assembling different versions of arguments for and against God's existence, by discussing the arguments intelligently and critically ... I suspect that many philosophers of religion, both theists and sceptics, will be responding to the particular arguments of this book for some time to come." ~ Ars Disputandi
Thomas P. Flint and Michael Rea (Oxford University Press: Apr 25, 2009), 544 pages.
Philosophical theology is aimed primarily at theoretical understanding of the nature and attributes of God and of God's relationship to the world and its inhabitants. During the twentieth century, much of the philosophical community (both in the Anglo-American analytic tradition and in Continental circles) had grave doubts about our ability to attain any such understanding. In recent years the analytic tradition in particular has moved beyond the biases that placed obstacles in the way of the pursuing questions located on the interface of philosophy and religion. The result has been a rebirth of serious, widely-discussed work in philosophical theology.
James W. Sire and Carl Peraino (IVP Books: Apr 2009), 203 pages.
If you're looking for clear-cut answers to difficult questions about God — or for your guy to score a quick knock-out of a toughened sparring partner — then this book is not for you. But if you're open to an authentic, no-holds barred, respectful dialogue about one of life's most important issues, then take up and read. There are no straw men here. Sparked by a chance meeting between two book-club acquaintances and their discussion of Kurt Vonnegut's obituary, this dialogue between long-time Christian Jim Sire and forthright atheist Carl Peraino developed through extended email exchanges exploring minds and brains, science and morality, faith and reason, God and violence, doubt and rhetoric. You'll find much to ponder, weigh and explore in this lively, down-to-earth book. A study guide is included if you wish to delve deeper into any of the issues raised. ~ Product Description