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Noteworthy

An Introduction to Design Arguments

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The history of design arguments stretches back to before Aquinas, who claimed that things which lack intelligence nevertheless act for an end to achieve the best result. Although science has advanced to discredit this claim, it remains true that many biological systems display remarkable adaptations of means to ends. Versions of design arguments have persisted over the centuries and have culminated in theories that propose an intelligent designer of the universe. This volume is the only comprehensive survey of 2,000 years of debate, drawing on both historical and modern literature to identify, clarify, and assess critically the many forms of design argument for the existence of God. It provides a neutral, informative account of the topic from antiquity to Darwin, and includes concise primers on probability and cosmology. It will be of great value to upper-level undergraduates and graduates in philosophy of religion, theology, and philosophy of science.

The Severity of God

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This book explores the role of divine severity in the character and wisdom of God, and the flux and difficulties of human life in relation to divine salvation. Much has been written on problems of evil, but the matter of divine severity has received relatively little attention. Paul K. Moser discusses the function of philosophy, evidence and miracles in approaching God. He argues that if God’s aim is to extend without coercion His lasting life to humans, then commitment to that goal could manifest itself in making human life severe, for the sake of encouraging humans to enter into that cooperative good life. In this scenario, divine agapē is conferred as free gift, but the human reception of it includes stress and struggle in the face of conflicting powers and priorities. Moser’s work will be of great interest to students of the philosophy of religion, and theology. ~  Publisher’s Description

Debating Christian Theism

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Comprising groundbreaking dialogues by many of the most prominent scholars in Christian apologetics and the philosophy of religion, this volume offers a definitive treatment of central questions of Christian faith. The essays are ecumenical and broadly Christian, in the spirit of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and feature lucid and up-to-date material designed to engage readers in contemporary theistic and Christian issues. Beginning with dialogues about God’s existence and the coherence of theism and then moving beyond generic theism to address significant debates over such specifically Christian doctrines as the Trinity and the resurrection of Jesus, Debating Christian Theism provides an ideal starting point for anyone seeking to understand the current debates in Christian theology. ~ Publisher’s Description

The Epistemology of Disagreement: New Essays

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The Epistemology of Disagreement brings together essays from a dozen philosophers on the epistemic significance of disagreement; all but one of the essays are new. Questions discussed include: When (if ever) does the disagreement of others require a rational agent to revise her beliefs? Do ‘conciliatory’ accounts, on which agents are required to revise significantly, suffer from fatal problems of self-defeat, given the disagreement about disagreement? What is the significance of disagreement about philosophical topics in particular? How does the epistemology of disagreement relate to broader epistemic theorizing? Does the increased significance of multiple disagreeing agents depend on their being independent of one another?

Mind and Cosmos

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The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such. Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic. In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility. ~ Publisher’s Description

Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians

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Have Christians grown accustomed to those who defame the Church? Whether it’s a best-selling author who claims “religion poisons everything” or an atheist comedian whose punch lines aren’t hassled by the burden of proof, foes of the faith continue to declare Christianity morally deficient without much resistance. In Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians, Mark Coppenger mixes compelling references — from classic philosophers to modern entertainers — to reasonably push back against both harsh critics and less intense cultural relativists, contending that Christianity is morally superior to its competitors as well as true. Coppenger doesn’t avoid uncomfortable realities like the misbehavior of many Christians and false teachers, but he sets the book’s course in defense of his faith with evidence that a Christian approach to life makes people and societies flourish, while those who turn their backs on genuine Christianity are more liable to behave wickedly. ~ Book Description

Marginalia

How to Criticize Religion

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Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great is an expression of the profoundest moral outrage at the transgressions of religious people. As such, Hitchens follows in a long and honorable tradition. Indeed, in his life and teaching, Jesus also was a consummate critic of corrupted religion. In particular, it was the religious authorities of his time and place — the pharisees — that he most roundly denounced. His criticisms were many, but included charges of hypocrisy, pride, legalism, and unkindness. Like Hitchens, a consistent theme in Jesus’ criticism is how inhumane their religious strictures had become. For example, in one of a number of confrontations over Sabbath observance, Jesus reminds the pharisees that the Sabbath was instituted for the sake of humankind, not vice-versa. Furthermore, the letters of early church leaders follow Jesus’ precedent in confronting the failings of his earliest followers. And they all stood in a long line of prophetic voices that, according to the biblical record, were called by God to correct the recurring degeneration of Hebrew, and then Christian, religion. Finally, today you can browse the bookshelves of any Christian bookstore to find volume after volume lamenting this or that shortcoming of the Church. Clearly religion can be corrupt, even poisonous, and it is hardly exempt from criticism. But though Hitchens is in good company in his indictment of religious transgressions, god is not Great is something of a missed opportunity. Because his rhetoric evinces such a profound contempt for people of faith, Hitchens fails to speak persuasively to the very people he thinks need saving. If intended merely as a call to arms for his compatriots, god is not Great is a tour de force. But if he hopes to deconvert the converted, to liberate those captive to religion, another course is needed. If that is the aim, here’s how to criticize religion.

Rhetoric or Reason

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Christopher Hitchens is recognized by just about everyone as a master rhetorician. His wit and command of the English language are things to behold. The American Heritage Dictionary offers a number of definitions of the term rhetoric, including: 1) The art or study of using language effectively and persuasively, 2) Language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous. No doubt Hitchens’ rhetoric has been persuasive in many quarters, but the more I read, the more clear it becomes that the second definition is also apt, that what we have here is as much style as substance. At Afterall.net we host The Illogic Primer, a catalog of common logical fallacies and rhetorical chicanery. We can all be forgiven a slip or two into illogic, but Hitchens’ god is not Great is an unending cascade of this kind of rhetorical mischief. Is it merely empty rhetoric, or is there reason beyond the rhetoric? I’ll leave that judgment till I turn the last page. In the meantime, allow me to enumerate some concerns about Hitchens’ style of argumentation and why I think it impedes getting to the truth of the matter.

Missing the Point

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In the third chapter of The God Delusion, Dawkins takes aim at many of the arguments that have been offered through the ages for an affirmative response to the “God Hypothesis”. At times, especially in response to the argument from religious experience, his critique is cutting and enlightening. However, in many cases he misses the point, basing his refutations on incorrect understandings of what each argument is supposed to establish. Additionally, he doesn’t bother to engage the work done in Philosophy of Religion in the last fifty years or so which has, incidentally, been characterized by a resurgence of serious consideration of theism. Instead he mostly deals with the arguments only in their nascent form. Since Dawkins is taking on intrinsically philosophical arguments here, it is a serious oversight to have overlooked all but his neighbor, Richard Swinburne. Although, considering his brutal treatment of Swinburne, perhaps other proponents of philosophical theism are glad to have been ignored. Here’s a closer look…

What Is a “Scientific Fact”? Won’t Plain Ol’ Facts Do?

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In the second chapter of The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that the “God Hypothesis” is a scientific question, susceptible to the weight of scientific evidence, both for and against. He strongly rejects the approach of those like Eugenie Scott and Stephen Jay Gould who would relegate the question of God to its own category, immune from the methods of scientific inquiry. Science and religion just aren’t talking about the same thing, they say. But in Dawkins’ view, “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.” (p. 73) Dawkins argues that, “the moment religion steps on science’s turf and starts to meddle in the real world” (p. 84, emphasis mine), any supposed demarcation between questions of science and questions of theology is erased. I agree, provided that we deal with Dawkins’ strong, implicit scientism. The Judeo-Christian religions are historical religions whose scriptures make countless claims about history in particular, but also to some extent about biology, cosmology, psychology, anthropology, and even God’s supposed interventions in the natural world. As such, this “God Hypothesis” is indeed open to critical inquiry, including scientific inquiry, and many Christian thinkers through the centuries have welcomed it and pursued it. The problem is Dawkins’ view that the answer to the God Hypothesis will be a “strictly scientific answer. The methods we should use to settle the matter […] would be purely and entirely scientific methods.” (pp. 82-83, emphasis mine) Here Dawkins is voicing a problematic epistemology that has been called “strong scientism”.

The Persecuted Atheist?

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I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve finally gotten a chance to begin reading Dawkins’ celebrated best-seller, The God Delusion. It’s been a very engaging read so far and I’m hoping to post a number of reflections here as I stumble across provocative passages. In the first chapter, Dawkins aims to embolden beleaguered atheists who have been cowed into silence by societal and familial pressures. I second his call to transparency, to being our authentic selves in the public square. However, along the way, he paints a picture of the plight of atheists in the Western world, and in America in particular, that to me seems off. He suggests that, “the status of atheists in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago.” And, it is only “slightly exaggerating” to say that “making fun of religion is as risky as burning a flag in an American Legion Hall”. Dawkins makes some good observations about the very real prejudices that atheists do face, but this second claim is absurd. I know Dawkins is a Brit, looking in from afar, but has he ever: 1) Watched The Simpsons, The Family Guy, or The Daily Show; 2) Read The Onion, a college newspaper, or a big city’s “independent” paper; 3) Hung out in the Humanities department of any major American university; 4) Opened a Bible in West Hollywood or Manhattan?1 Ironically, many Christians also complain that it is they who are persecuted and prevailed upon to keep their beliefs in the closet. And the truth is, they’re both right.

How People Poison Everything

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Right out of the gate, Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great is at once colorful and poignant, a great pleasure to read. It’s also clear that it benefits from the accounts and extravagant details of Hitchens’ many assignments as a journalist in exotic ports of call. Before I read any further, I’m recording how I now see the problem Hitchens addresses: the pervasive ugliness and evil in the name of God and religion. As I read, I want to consider how well my current take on this undeniable reality can bear the weight of Hitchens’ experiences, insights, and arguments. The title (God is not Great) and subtitle (How Religion Poisons Everything) of Hitchens’ volume are immediately provocative. If, in the end, I’m going to be persuaded that religion ruins everything it touches, is it then rational to conclude that God is not Great? Or, just that religious people suck? Is there a non-sequitur here? And, is all religion malignant? Or, might there be some rare strains of benign or even benignant religion? As it stands, if I had tackled the subject in book form, I’d have titled it: Humanity is not Great. How People Poison Everything. Considering the evident fact that human evil, both the trivial and the atrocious, is found in all places and at all times, I’m inclined to think that the blame should be pinned first and foremost on me, myself, and I… and on you as well. The problem with people manifests itself in every human context, whether religious or irreligious. I believe that any judgment on the impact of religion, for well-being and ill, hinges crucially on one’s appraisal of the human condition more generally. So, let’s begin there…

News

The Decade of Atheism?

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Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt concluded 2009 by broadcasting a debate about God between polemicists Michael Shermer and Gregory Koukl, thereby bidding adieu to what he called “The Decade of the New Atheists”. It was indeed a remarkable cultural phenomenon how four atheologians in particular rose to prominence by selling scads of books: Sam Harris with The End of Faith  (2004), Christopher Hitchens with god is not Great (2007), Daniel Dennet with Breaking the Spell (2006), and, of course, Richard Dawkins with The God Delusion (2006). But just as noteworthy, perhaps, is the cavalcade of able critics who rose to these challenges to Christian theism. As with the cottage industry of criticism that accompanied Dan Brown’s and then Ron Howard’s The Davinci Code, these broadsides served as provocation for countless apologists. Of course, none of them were remotely as successful as their atheistic rivals in terms of sales. One wonders whether they will slip into oblivion just as Hume survives in philosophy readers, while most of his contemporaneous critics do not. Whatever happens, the swift and mostly scholarly response to this one decade’s worth of the perennial barrage on Christian theism leaves it an open question whether, in the final analysis, it was the atheists or their counterparts who owned the aughts. Consider the following list an opportunity to judge this contest of ideas for yourself.

Intelligent Discussion of Intelligent Design

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With yet another volume bearing his name, Debating Design (422 p.), one has to wonder if William Dembski ever sleeps. His recent publications also include Uncommon Descent (366 p.), Signs of Intelligence (224 p.), and The Design Revolution (330 p.). But, especially in light of Antony Flew’s recent comments about the force of arguments from Design, his latest project may win an audience his previous works missed. Bearing the weighty imprint of Cambridge University Press and co-edited with Michael Ruse, Debating Design hosts a discussion between leading advocates and critics of Intelligent Design. William, nice work. And get some sleep.

The Hiddenness of God

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With the publication of J.L. Schellenberg’s Divine Hiddeness and Human Reason, in recent years philosophers of religion have focused their attention on the problem of the “hiddenness of God”, the evident fact that, if God exists, he is not as overtly obvious as he could be. The psalmists and prophets often lamented this apparent absence of God. And Bertrand Russell, imagining a possible meeting with God in the afterlife, famously said he would explain his atheism by the lack of sufficient evidence. A good place to start exploring the problem is in a recent collection of essays: Divine Hiddenness: New Essays. On a more pedestrian level, Phillip Yancey has wrestled with this question at length in his typically poignant and honest style. See his Disappointment with God and Reaching for the Invisible God.