Paradigms & Metanarrative
David Berlinski (Crown Forum : April 1, 2008), 256 pages.
Militant atheism is on the rise. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have dominated bestseller lists with books denigrating religious belief as dangerous foolishness. And these authors are merely the leading edge of a far larger movement–one that now includes much of the scientific community. “The attack on traditional religious thought,” writes David Berlinski in The Devil’s Delusion, “marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion.” A secular Jew, Berlinski nonetheless delivers a biting defense of religious thought. An acclaimed author who has spent his career writing about mathematics and the sciences, he turns the scientific community’s cherished skepticism back on itself, daring to ask and answer some rather embarrassing questions. ~ Product Description
Gary Marcus (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Mar 2008), 224 pages.
Why are we subject to irrational beliefs, inaccurate memories, even war? We can thank evolution, Marcus says, which can only tinker with structures that already exist, rather than create new ones: "Natural selection... tends to favor genes that have immediate advantages" rather than long-term value. Marcus, director of NYU's Infant Language Learning Center, refers to this as "kluge," a term engineers use to refer to a clumsily designed solution to a problem. Thus, memory developed in our prehominid ancestry to respond with immediacy, rather than accuracy; one result is erroneous eyewitness testimony in courtrooms. In describing the results of studies of human perception, cognition and beliefs, Marcus encapsulates how the mind is "contaminated by emotions, moods, desires, goals, and simple self-interest...." The mind's fragility, he says, is demonstrated by mental illness, which seems to have no adaptive purpose. In a concluding chapter, Marcus offers a baker's dozen of suggestions for getting around the brain's flaws and achieving "true wisdom." While some are self-evident, others could be helpful, such as "Whenever possible, consider alternate hypotheses" and "Don't just set goals. Make contingency plans." Using evolutionary psychology, Marcus educates the reader about mental flaws in a succinct, often enjoyable way. ~ Publishers Weekly
Robert Burton (St. Martin's Press: Feb 5, 2008), 272 pages.
You recognize when you know something for certain, right? You "know" the sky is blue, or that the traffic light had turned green, or where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 — you know these things, well, because you just do. In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton challenges the notions of how we think about what we know. He shows that the feeling of certainty we have when we "know" something comes from sources beyond our control and knowledge. In fact, certainty is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact. Because this "feeling of knowing" seems like confirmation of knowledge, we tend to think of it as a product of reason. But an increasing body of evidence suggests that feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain, and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning. The feeling of knowing happens to us; we cannot make it happen. Bringing together cutting edge neuroscience, experimental data, and fascinating anecdotes, Robert Burton explores the inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know. Provocative and groundbreaking, On Being Certain, will challenge what you know (or think you know) about the mind, knowledge, and reason. ~ Product Description
Charles Taylor (Belknap Press: Sep 20, 2007), 896 pages.
In his characteristically erudite yet engaging fashion, Taylor, winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize, takes up where he left off in his magnificent Sources of the Self (1989) as he brilliantly traces the emergence of secularity and the processes of secularization in the modern age. Challenging the idea that the secular takes hold in a world where religion is experienced as a loss or where religions are subtracted from the culture, Taylor discovers the secular emerging in the midst of the religious. The Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on breaking down the invidious political structures of the Catholic Church, provides the starting point down the road to the secular age. Taylor sweeps grandly and magisterially through the 18th and 19th centuries as he recreates the history of secularism and its parallel challenges to religion. He concludes that a focus on the religious has never been lost in Western culture, but that it is one among many stories striving for acceptance. Taylor's examination of the rise of unbelief in the 19th century is alone worth the price of the book and offers an essential reminder that the Victorian age, more than the Enlightenment, dominates our present view of the meanings of secularity. Taylor's inspired combination of philosophy and history sparkles in this must-read virtuoso performance.
Kenneth Richard Samples (Baker Books: Sep 1, 2007), 320 pages.
Recent Barna research indicates that less than one in ten evangelical Christians hold a biblical worldview. A World of Difference seeks to change this disturbing fact by educating readers on how the Christian perspective is uniquely reasonable, verifiable, and liveable. Author Kenneth Richard Samples faced a profound test of his own belief system during a personal life-and-death crisis. In A World of Difference, he uses nine distinct tests to compare the Christian worldview with current religious and philosophical competitors, including Islam, postmodernism, naturalism, and pantheistic monism. Samples tackles tough issues through this in-depth study of Christianity's history, creed, and philosophical basis. An excellent resource for readers who want their view of life and the world to make sense. ~ Product Description
J.P. Moreland (Zondervan: May 5, 2007), 240 pages.
Here is penetrating analysis and critique of Western society’s dominant worldviews, naturalism and postmodernism, which have also influenced the church. Moreland issues a bold call to reclaim powerful kingdom living and influence through recovery of the Christian mind, renovation of Christian spirituality, and restoration of the Holy Spirit’s power. "Preachers need to understand the culture, but even more they need to have tools for leading their people out of the cultural confusion that characterizes our age. J. P. Moreland has provided a powerful guide for pastors….This is an important book for church leaders." ~ Preaching magazine
Daniel C. Dennett (Penguin : February 6, 2007), 464 pages.
In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more ("Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future"). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion. ~ Publishers Weekly
Gary L. Drescher (MIT Press: May 2006), 363 pages.
In Good and Real, Gary Drescher examines a series of provocative paradoxes about consciousness, choice, ethics, quantum mechanics, and other topics, in an effort to reconcile a purely mechanical view of the universe with key aspects of our subjective impressions of our own existence. Many scientists suspect that the universe can ultimately be described by a simple (perhaps even deterministic) formalism; all that is real unfolds mechanically according to that formalism. But how, then, is it possible for us to be conscious, or to make genuine choices? And how can there be an ethical dimension to such choices? Drescher sketches computational models of consciousness, choice, and subjunctive reasoning—what would happen if this or that were to occur?—to show how such phenomena are compatible with a mechanical, even deterministic universe. Analyses of Newcomb's Problem (a paradox about choice) and the Prisoner's Dilemma (a paradox about self-interest vs. altruism, arguably reducible to Newcomb's Problem) help bring the problems and proposed solutions into focus. Regarding quantum mechanics, Drescher builds on Everett's relative-state formulation—but presenting a simplified formalism, accessible to laypersons—to argue that, contrary to some popular impressions, quantum mechanics is compatible with an objective, deterministic physical reality, and that there is no special connection between quantum phenomena and consciousness. In each of several disparate but intertwined topics ranging from physics to ethics, Drescher argues that a missing technical linchpin can make the quest for objectivity seem impossible, until the elusive technical fix is at hand. ~ Product Description
Kai Nielsen (Prometheus Books: September 2005), 245 pages.
The indeterminacy of the modern concept of God has made the distinction between belief and unbelief increasingly problematic. Both the complexity of the religious response and the variety of skeptical philosophies preclude simplistic definitions of what constitutes belief in God. Making the discussion even more difficult are assertions by fundamentalists who dismiss the philosophical perplexities of religious claims as unreal pseudo-problems. Atheism & Philosophy is a detailed study of these and other issues vital to our understanding of atheism, agnosticism, and religious belief. Philosopher Kai Nielsen develops a coherent and integrated approach to the discussion of what it means to be an atheist. In chapters such as "How is Atheism to be Characterized?", "Does God Exist?: Reflections on Disbelief," "Agnosticism," "Religion and Commitment," and "The Primacy of Philosophical Theology," Nielsen defends atheism in a way that answers to contemporary concerns. ~ Product Description
Erik J. Wielenberg (Cambridge University Press: February 2005), 202 pages.
Suppose there is no God. This supposition implies that human life is meaningless, that there are no moral obligations and hence people can do whatever they want, and that the notions of virtue and vice, right and wrong, and good and evil have no place in the universe. Erik J. Wielenberg believes this view to be utterly erroneous and, in this thought-provoking book, he explains the reasons why. He argues that, even if God does not exist, human life can still have meaning, humans do have moral obligations, and human virtue is still possible. Wielenberg offers readers a cogent explanation of the ethical implications of naturalism — a view that denies the existence of the supernatural in human life. In his view virtue exists in a godless universe but it is significantly different from virtue in a Christian universe, and he develops naturalistic accounts of humility, charity, and hope. The overarching theme of Virtue and Value in a Godless Universe is what ethics might look like without God. Erik Wielenberg takes readers on an extraordinary tour of some of the central landmarks of this under-explored territory. ~ Product Description