Our textbooks like to illustrate evolution with examples of optimal design — nearly perfect mimicry of a dead leaf by a butterfly or of a poisonous species by a palatable relative. But ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator. Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution — paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.
If such a God did exist, he could not be a beneficent God, such as the Christians posit. What effrontery is it that talks about the mercy and goodness of a nature in which all animals devour animals, in which every mouth is a slaughter-house and every stomach a tomb!
A Treatise of Human Nature, original 1739 (Longmans, Green: 1909), pp. 303, 398.
If we see a house ... we conclude, with the greatest certainty, that it had an architect or builder; because this is precisely that species of effect, which we have experienced to proceed from that species of cause. But surely
you will not affirm, that the universe bears such a resemblance to a house, that we can with the same certainty infer a similar cause, or that the analogy is here entire and perfect. The dissimilitude is so striking, that the utmost you can here pretend to is a guess, a conjecture, a presumption concerning a similar cause; and how that pretension will be received in the world, I leave you to consider.
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
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.
Atheist Delusions (Yale University Press: 2009), pp. 33-34.
Hence modernity’s first great attempt to define itself: an 'age of reason' emerging from and overthrowing an 'age of faith'. Behind this definition lay a simple but thoroughly enchanting tale. Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma. All was darkness. ¶ Then, in the wake of the ‘wars of religion’ that had torn Christendom apart, came the full flowing of the Enlightenment and with it the reign of reason and progress. The secular nation-state arose, reduced religion to an establishment of the state and thereby rescued Western humanity from the blood-steeped intolerance of religion. ¶ This is, as I say, a simple and enchanting tale, easily followed and utterly captivating in its explanatory tidiness; its sole defect is that it happens to be false in every identifiable detail. This tale of the birth of the modern world has largely disappeared from respectable academic literature and survives now principally at the level of folklore, 'intellectual journalism,' and vulgar legend.
"The Contemporary Argument for Design: An Overview" in Passionate Conviction, eds. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig (B&H Publishing: Oct 1, 2007), 72.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we look out at an utterly different world from that envisioned by the science of the late nineteenth century. It is a world charged with design, a cosmos that points beyond itself to a transcendent and intelligent cause. But the word is not out! On the contrary, the materialistic definition of science inherited from the nineteenth century still prevents us from considering this new evidence. The problem is so acute that some scientists are willing to posit an infinite panoply of unobservable universes, just to explain away the fine tuning in our universe... ¶ The materialistic definition of science is no mere philosophical trifle. It dictates what may be discussed, funded and published, at least within official circles. This cultural and institutional power makes materialistic science look like an unyielding structure, extending invincibly into the clouds like Jack's Beanstalk. But if the evidence is as I have described it, then that monolith must surely have its weak spots. So it must and does, just where it doesn't fit the natural world.
Ernest Sosa (Oxford University Press: February 2009), 240 pages.
Reflective Knowledge argues for a reflective virtue epistemology based on a kind of virtuous circularity that may be found explicitly or just below the surface in the epistemological writings of Descartes, Moore, and now Davidson, who on Sosa's reading also relies crucially on an assumption of virtuous circularity. Along the way various lines of objection are explored. In Part One Sosa considers historical alternatives to the view developed in Part II. He begins with G.E. Moore's legendary proof, and the epistemology that lies behind it. That leads to classical foundationalism, a more general position encompassing the indirect realism advocated by Moore. Next he turns to the quietist naturalism found in David Hume, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and P.F. Strawson. After that comes Thomas Reid's commonsense alternative. A quite different option is the subtle and complex epistemology developed by Wilfrid Sellars over the course of a long career. Finally, Part I concludes with a study of Donald Davidson's distinctive form of epistemology naturalized (as Sosa argues). The second part of the book presents an alternative beyond the historical positions of Part I, one that defends a virtue epistemology combined with epistemic circularity. This alternative retains elements of the earlier approaches, while discarding what was found wanting in them.
John Greco (Cambridge University Press: April 2010), 216 pages.
When we affirm (or deny) that someone knows something, we are making a value judgment of sorts — we are claiming that there is something superior (or inferior) about that person's opinion, or their evidence, or perhaps about them. A central task of the theory of knowledge is to investigate the sort of evaluation at issue. This is the first book to make 'epistemic normativity,' or the normative dimension of knowledge and knowledge ascriptions, its central focus. John Greco argues that knowledge is a kind of achievement, as opposed to mere lucky success. This locates knowledge within a broader, familiar normative domain. By reflecting on our thinking and practices in this domain, it is argued, we gain insight into what knowledge is and what kind of value it has for us.
The Levant has been something of a mass producer of consequential events nobody saw coming. Who predicted the rise of Christianity as a dominant religion in the Mediterranean basin, and later in the Western world? The Roman chroniclers of that period did not even take note of the new religion — historians of Christianity are baffled by the absence of contemporary mentions. Apparently, few of the big guns took the ideas of a seemingly heretical Jew seriously enough to think that he would leave traces for posterity. We only have a single contemporary reference to Jesus of Nazareth — in The Jewish Wars of Josephus — which itself may have been added later by a devout copyist. How about the competing religion that emerged seven centuries later; who forecast that a collection of horsemen would spread their empire and Islamic law from the Indian subcontinent to Spain in just a few years? Even more than the rise of Christianity, it was the spread of Islam (the third edition, so to speak) that carried full unpredictability; many historians looking at the record have been taken aback by the swiftness of the change. Gorges Duby, for one, expressed his amazement about how quickly close to ten centuries of Levantine Hellenism were blotted out "with a strike of a sword." A later holder of the same history chair at the Collège de France, Paul Veyne, aptly talked about religions spreading "like bestsellers" — a comparison that indicates unpredictability. These kinds of discontinuities in the chronology of events did not make the historian's profession too easy: the studios examination of the past in the greatest of detail does not teach you much about the mind of History; it only gives you the illusion of understanding it.
R. Scott Smith (Ashgate Publishing, Limited: March 2003), 230 pages.
We live in a time of moral confusion: many believe there are no overarching moral norms and that we have lost an accepted body of moral knowledge. Alasdair MacIntyre addresses this problem in his restatement of Aristotelian and Thomistic virtue ethics; Stanley Hauerwas does so through his highly influential work in Christian ethics. Both recast virtue ethics in light of their interpretations of the later Wittgenstein's views of language. This book systematically assesses the underlying presuppositions of MacIntyre and Hauerwas, finding that their attempts to secure moral knowledge and restate virtue ethics, both philosophical and theological, fail. Scott Smith proposes alternative indications as to how we can secure moral knowledge, and how we should proceed in virtue ethics. ~ Product Description
William A. Dembski (InterVarsity: Jan 1, 2004), 334 pages.
Dembski, a philosopher/mathematician who has been an important theorist for the intelligent design movement, handles a wide range of questions and objections that should give both fans and detractors of ID plenty to chew on. The book's timing is appropriate; it is only in the past few years that ID, initially dismissed by some scientists as "creationism in a cheap tuxedo," has also begun to attract a more sophisticated brand of criticism. These critiques come not only from evolutionary biologists and philosophers of biology, but also from Christian theologians who have made peace with Darwinian evolution. While most of the core arguments of this book will be familiar to readers of the ID literature, they are presented here in (if one may say so) more highly evolved form: explanations are clearer, objections are borne more patiently, distinctions and concessions are artfully made. ~ Publishers Weekly
Michael Behe (Free Press: Mar 20, 1998), 352 pages.
Charles Darwin's theory of life's evolution through natural selection and random mutation fails to account for the origin of astonishingly complex biomolecular systems, argues Behe, associate professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University. In this spirited, witty critique of neo-Darwinian thinking, he focuses on five phenomena: blood clotting; cilia, oar-like bundles of fibers; the human immune system; transport of materials within the cell; and the synthesis of nucleotides, building blocks of DNA. In each case, he finds systems that are irreducibly complex?no gradual, step-by-step, Darwinian route led to their creation. As an alternative explanation, Behe infers that complex biochemical systems (i.e., life) were designed by an intelligent agent, whether God, extraterrestrials or a universal force. He notes that Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA's double-helix structure, proposed that life began when aliens from another planet sent a rocket ship containing spores to seed Earth. Perhaps Behe's plea for incorporating a "theory of intelligent design" into mainstream biology will spark interest. ~ Publishers Weekly
Christine McKinnon (Broadview Press: August 1999), 261 pages.
This book argues that the question posed by virtue theories, namely, "what kind of person should I be?" provides a more promising approach to moral questions than do either deontological or consequentialist moral theories where the concern is with what actions are morally required or permissible. It does so both by arguing that there are firmer theoretical foundations for virtue theories, and by persuasively suggesting the superiority of virtue theories over deontological and consquentialist theories on the question of explaining morally bad behavior. Virtue theories can give a richer account by appealing to the kinds of dispositions that make certain bad choices appear attractive. This richer account also exposes a further advantage of virtue theories: they provide the best kinds of motivations for agents to become better persons. ~ Product Description
It is true that the Scholastics invented what professed to be logical arguments proving the existence of God, and that these arguments, or others of a similar tenor, have been accepted by many eminent philosophers, but the logic to which these traditional arguments appealed is of an antiquated Aristotelian sort which is now rejected by practically all logicians except such as are Catholics. There is one of these arguments which is not purely logical. I mean the argument from design. This argument, however, was destroyed by Darwin.
Do you think that, if you were granted omnipotence and omniscience and millions of years in which to perfect your world, you could produce nothing better than the Ku Klux Klan, the Fascist, and Mr. Winston Churchill? Really I am not much impressed with the people who say: “Look at me: I am such a splendid product that there must have been design in the universe.” I am not very impressed by the splendor of those people. Therefore I think that this argument of design is really a very poor argument indeed. Moreover, if you accept the ordinary laws of science, you have to suppose that human life and life in general on this planet will die out in due course: it is merely a flash in the pan; it is a stage in the decay of the solar system; at a certain stage of decay you get the sort of conditions of temperature and so forth which are suitable to protoplasm, and there is life for a short time in the life of the whole solar system. You see in the moon the sort of thing to which the earth is tending — something dead, cold, and lifeless.
I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written these books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s pantheism because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, not two separate things.
Every one who has studied history is familiar with the myths which crowd its pages. I do not mean by this the frankly mythical tales which tell of gods and goddesses, of the divine founders of nations, tribes, and families, or those in which the Middle Ages delighted and which were replete with angels and devils, with witches and sorcerers, with magic and miracles. The myths to which I refer are those which masquerade as history, which are moden as well as ancient, which make no pretence to the supernatural, but which, being either pure invention or a huge growth from some little seed of fact, possess all the characteristics of their great namesakes which have rejoiced the world for centuries, awakened almost every emotion of which the human heart is capable, and from which the historian and the man of science have been able to learn innumerable lessons as to the toughs and beliefs, the hopes and fears, of primitive man. These historical myths grow up silently. Some of them reign for centuries. Modern research has exposed many of ancient lineage and long acceptance, has torn away the mask and revealed them in their true character. Yet the historical myth rarely dies. No exposure seems able to kill it. Expelled from every book of authority, from every dictionary and encyclopedia, it will still live on among the great mass of humanity. The reason for this tenacity of life is not far to seek. The myth, or the tradition, as it is sometimes called, has necessarily a touch of the imagination, and imagination is almost always more fascinating than truth. The historical myth, indeed, would not exist at all if it did not profess to tell something which people for one reason or another, like to believe, and which appeals strongly to some emotion or passion, and so to human nature.
In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there: I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever; nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, — that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? why is it not as admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e. g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it.
All circumstances taken together, the French revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world. The most wonderful things are brought about in many instances by means the most absurd and ridiculous; in the most ridiculous modes; and apparently, by the most contemptible instruments. Every thing seems out of nature in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies. In viewing this monstrous tragi-comic scene, the most opposite passions necessarily succeed, and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and horror. ¶ It cannot however be denied, that to some this strange scene appeared in quite another point of view. Into them it inspired no other sentiments than those of exultation and rapture. They saw nothing in what has been done in France, but a firm and temperate exertion of freedom; so consistent, on the whole, with morals and with piety, as to make it deserving not only of the secular applause of dashing Machiavelian politicians, but to render it a fit theme for all the devout effusions of sacred eloquence.
You need only look around you, replied Philo, to satisfy yourself with regard to this question. A tree bestows order and organisation on that tree which springs from it, without knowing the order; an animal in the same manner on its offspring; a bird on its nest; and instances of this kind are even more frequent in the world than those of order, which arise from reason and contrivance. To say, that all this order in animals and vegetables proceeds ultimately from design, is begging the question; nor can that great point be ascertained otherwise than by proving, a priori, both that order is, from its nature, inseparably attached to thought; and that it can never of itself, or from original unknown principles, belong to matter.
Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!
In a word, Cleanthes, a man who follows your hypothesis is able perhaps to assert, or conjecture, that the universe, sometime, arose from something like design: but beyond that position he cannot ascertain one single circumstance; and is left afterwards to fix every point of his theology by the utmost license of fancy and hypothesis. This world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity, who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance: it is the work only of some dependent, inferior deity; and is the object of derision to his superiors: it is the production of old age and dotage in some superannuated deity; and ever since his death, has run on at adventures, from the first impulse and active force which it received from him. You justly give signs of horror, Demea, at these strange suppositions; but these, and a thousand more of the same kind, are Cleanthes’s suppositions, not mine. From the moment the attributes of the Deity are supposed finite, all these have place. And I cannot, for my part, think that so wild and unsettled a system of theology is, in any respect, preferable to none at all.