A short interesting story about dimensions. The main character is a square living in Flatland, a land of only two dimensions. He receives a vision of...moreA short interesting story about dimensions. The main character is a square living in Flatland, a land of only two dimensions. He receives a vision of our three-dimensional world and when he seeks to tell of it to his peers in Flatland he is imprisoned. He also receives a vision of Lineland (everyone lives on one line) and Pointland (the whole universe is one entity at one point). The first portion of the book is slow as he describes the society of flatland, apparently poking fun at the English culture during which he wrote, though some of those jests are lost to the contemporary reader. The value of this book is that it anticipated the scientific discoveries of the 20th century in physics, making it a prophecy of sorts.(less)
Soren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher in the 1800s whose writings are very helpful and challenging still today. His writings would influence late...moreSoren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher in the 1800s whose writings are very helpful and challenging still today. His writings would influence later existentialists, both atheist and Christian. His critique of stale, lifeless religion is still appropriate. Also helpful today are his comments on science and religion, objectivity and subjectivity.
This collection of his writings comes with a nice introduction to his life and thought. The collection is a good beginning place to engage Kierkegaard, with chapters on "the present age", "the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious", "the subjective thinker", "sin and dread", and "Christ the offense." Kierkegaard is thick and his writings demand rereading and slow reading; I am sure I will return to this book often in an attempt to better understand his thought.
My one problem with this book is that there are no references. It is a collection of excerpts from his writings, but there is no way to tell which individual writings each excerpt comes from. Other than that, this book is great.(less)
Pascal's classic thoughts on numerous topics related to Christianity. This book is at times difficult to read, since he died before he finished it thu...morePascal's classic thoughts on numerous topics related to Christianity. This book is at times difficult to read, since he died before he finished it thus leaving many sections only outlined in note form. But slogging through those portions is worthwhile when you get to the good, thought-provoking parts. In some ways Pascal reminds me of Kierkegaard since both were reasonable men who realized that it takes more than just reason alone to come to faith in Christ. Pascal's apologetic reflects this. He is most famous for his Wager, which is often castigated, probably because it is misunderstood. Pascal's Wager does not state, as some seem to think, that you should just believe in God because he might exist, even though such belief is unreasonable. Rather, Pascal's argument was that it is just as reasonable to believe as not to believe; reason cannot prove faith yet faith is not unreasonable. Since reason alone places us in the middle, it is better to take the step in faith and trust in God.
John Haught argues that both scientists and theologians have a reading problem. Too many scientists take a materialistic approach (the physical univer...moreJohn Haught argues that both scientists and theologians have a reading problem. Too many scientists take a materialistic approach (the physical universe is all that is) and thus do not go deep enough in understanding the world. Likewise, too many theologians take a creationist approach and do not realize the depth to which Darwinian evolution takes us. Haught argues that only science and theology working together give us a full view of the cosmos.
Haught's book is not for everyone. He presupposes the explanatory power of evolutionary biology. For some Christians, this will immediately negate anything else he may say. But I think this book has value for those Christians who are studying the sciences, or for skeptics who are convinced of Darwinism, for a main thesis of the book is that Darwinian evolution does not negate religion, it actually enriches faith.
Haught convincingly shows that both creationists and materialists fail in looking at the world through a too-literal lens. Materialists take the findings of evolutionary biology and make the metaphysical argument that the physical universe is all there is. But this is not a scientific argument, as much as they may say it is. Biblical creationists are stuck in a certain reading of Genesis that does not fit the scientific evidence, but they stick with it because they agree with the materialists that evolution irreversibly means the physical universe is all there is. Haught argues that the validity of evolutionary biology takes us deep into the universe, but not all the way to the bottom.
Going deeper means we do not stop too soon and argue that something that appears to be designed has no natural explanation, for science continues to seek natural explanations. Going deeper also means we do not say evolutionary science explains everything (as Dennett, Dawkins and others do), for this is a philosophical statement. Yes, Darwin's theory has changed how we understand the world but Haught argues this can enrich theology, not invalidate it. To go deeper into the world of meaning and purpose is to go beyond science alone. For Haught, theology continues to play an important, essential role in the world.
Whether you agree with Haught's view of Darwinism or not (and I believe he has other books more about that theory itself), this book is a helpful contribution to the argument against those who assert Darwinism eliminates God. I highly recommend it for people pondering issues of science and religion, especially people educated in the sciences.
The place where I think Haught falls short is the lack of a solid place for Christ in his theology. Perhaps that is because this was not a theology book per se, but a book defending a place for theology as a whole in general in a post-Darwin world. Yet when he does get to speaking of theology, and saying some thought-provoking things about God as Omega, drawing us into the future as new beings, there should be a greater emphasis on Christ's role in this.
This story of plague and how people deal with it, set in the African town of Oran, is well-told and thought-provoking. Camus gives us memorable charac...moreThis story of plague and how people deal with it, set in the African town of Oran, is well-told and thought-provoking. Camus gives us memorable characters and weaves in a good bit of philosophy. We have the Christian priest who at first sees the plague as a judgment from God before undergoing a change in views, while wrestling with the question of providence and whether a Christian can see a doctor. The main character is Dr. Rieux, a staunch atheist who in fighting the plague, even though his work appears to do nothing to stop it, is seen as honorable. In this Camus is teaching his existential philosophy that though life is meaningless to rebel and live some sort of meaningful life. Overall, this was a good read and I recommend it for any who wrestle with meaning, morality and other such questions.(less)
Plantinga sets out in this book to answer the de jure objections to Christian faith which are arguments that, apart from whether Christianity is true...morePlantinga sets out in this book to answer the de jure objections to Christian faith which are arguments that, apart from whether Christianity is true or not (de facto objections), argue that Christian belief is unjustifiable, irrational or not intellectually respectable. After discussing whether we can speak of God anyway (Part 1), the second part of the book seeks to discover just what the de jure objection is. Plantinga is an excellent philosopher and this book is filled with philosophical jargon and extended arguments. Thus, it is no easy read. Plantinga discusses justification and rationality before concluding that the only promising candidate for a decent objection is the Freud/Marx complaint (mostly Freud) that Christian knowledge lacks warrant because it is merely a sort of wish fulfillment.
Over the course of two previous books (which I have not read and are not necessary to read to get this book), Plantinga defined warrant: "a belief has warrant if and only if it is produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly in a congenial epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at the production of true belief" (498). What Plantina points out in regard to the Freud is that the objection that Christianity is merely wish-fulfillment assumes that Christianity is false. Thus, the objection that Christianity is irrational is not independent of whether Christianity is true. So really, if Christian belief is false than perhaps Freud is right. But if Christianity is true, then Freud is wrong and believing Christianity certainly does have warrant.
What this all really demonstrates is that the refrain: "I have no idea whether Christian belief is true, but I do know that it is irrational" cannot be defended. If it is true, believing it is rational; if it is not true, believing it is not rational.
In part three of the book Plantinga presents a model for warranted belief in God based on John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas, which he (obviously) calls the Aquinas/Calvin model. He argues that the sensus divinitatis (sense of God) operates in humans to automatically produce belief in God. Thus, belief in God is a basic belief (akin to memory or perception). It is not a belief held on the basis of other beliefs (I do not need evidence to prove it). Throughout the rest of part three he shows how the great truths of the Christian faith, beyond simple belief in God, can be warranted.
Finally, in part four Platinga considers four possible defeaters for Christian belief. Defeaters are beliefs that, once held, make other beliefs no longer possible. Upon examination Platinga concludes that none of these (projection, sorts of biblical scholarship, religious pluralism and evil) constitute a defeater for Christian faith.
He closes the book by again stating that Christian belief is warranted. Is it true? Plantinga says: "And here we pass beyond the competence of philosophy, whose main competence, in this area, is to clear away certain objections, impedances, and obstacles to Christian belief. Speaking for myself and of course not in the name of philosophy, I can only say it does, indeed, seem to me to be true, and to be the maximally important truth" (499).
Overall, this is a heavy and difficult read. Plantinga presents a strong argument from a Reformed Apologetic position, although I think his argument is applicable to all sorts of Christian belief. Or at least, I am not picky enough to try to see why a Catholic or Methodist could not be grateful for this work. Plantinga probably will not, and does not really intend to, convince anyone of the truth of Christian belief. But his work serves to show that Christian belief is warranted as opposed to many charges. Plantinga's work has had great influence in philosophy departments and among academics. I recommend this book for Christian leaders as the arguments can answer Christians' questions and provide fodder for discussion with skeptics. Again I note though, this book is very difficult. I am sure I missed much, despite my best efforts! But I believe the effort in grasping Plantinga, and I may return to this book often, is worth it! (less)
Amazing! CS Lewis argues concisely for objective truth in the world. Lewis' point is that when we remove belief in objective truth we end up with noth...moreAmazing! CS Lewis argues concisely for objective truth in the world. Lewis' point is that when we remove belief in objective truth we end up with nothing. At less than 100 pages this book can be read in one afternoon sitting!
My favorite quote: "This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source o all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained...The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree...the human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, inded, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in" (43-4).(less)
This is a very readable and informative book for those interested in certainty and uncertainty. Peat shows how changes in science (quantum physics, re...moreThis is a very readable and informative book for those interested in certainty and uncertainty. Peat shows how changes in science (quantum physics, relativity, uncertainty principle, chaos theory) in the 20th century have affected all aspects of our world. In 1900 we thought we had it all figured out, but now in the early 2000s we realize we must live with uncertainty. The final chapter is especially interesting, basically asking where we go from here. He argues that it is not our natural or animal instincts which are destructive, instead it is our higher functions such as reason and imagination. His argument is, and I am over-simplifying, ancient, more primitive cultures were less violent while our reason and science has enabled world wars and holocausts. As a summing up chapter it is interesting, but also wanting. He asks some good questions but comes up short in answers. Overall though, a great read!(less)
In this volume Copleston introduces us to modern philosophy, which is the subject of the next three volumes. After this introduction he focuses on Des...moreIn this volume Copleston introduces us to modern philosophy, which is the subject of the next three volumes. After this introduction he focuses on Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz with brief chapters on Malebranche and Pascal. Another solid volume in this series, recommended for those who want an overview of philosophy.(less)
This was a fun book to read. As the title says, it tells the story of a brief argument between two of the 20th century's most influential philosophers...moreThis was a fun book to read. As the title says, it tells the story of a brief argument between two of the 20th century's most influential philosophers: Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein. In telling the story of that argument, it becomes a biography, telling their individual stories: growing up in Vienna, living through the second world war, developing their ideas and so on. The bulk of the book is more biography, though near the end there are a few chapters on their philosophies. They disagreed deeply, which contributed to their argument when they finally met for the first time, despite being from the same city, at Cambridge in 1946.
Though a fun read, this book perhaps could have been laid out a bit better. The structure seemed almost haphazard as the story jumped around quite a lot and the narrative was not very tight. On both the philosophy and the biography side it seemed to cast a wide net but not go very deep. Of course, perhaps this is the point. It is a popular level book, not meant to be any more than an introduction to their ideas and lives. In this regard, the book succeeds.(less)
If you are interested in learning a bit of philosophy, but not in wading through myriads of pages of practically incomprehensible ideas, this book may...moreIf you are interested in learning a bit of philosophy, but not in wading through myriads of pages of practically incomprehensible ideas, this book may help. Durant's book is an enjoyable and educational read. He does not limit himself to the ideas of these philosophers, but places them into their historical context and thus introduces you to them as fascinating people. It is an introduction to philosophy and makes difficult ideas digestible to any interested reader. Also as an introduction, many important philosophers are skipped over or barely mentioned. Overall it is a fun read, and at almost 100 years old seems to have stood the test of time.(less)
Goodreads forces me to choose either read, currently reading or too read...there is no option for "tried to read and gave up." After reading City of G...moreGoodreads forces me to choose either read, currently reading or too read...there is no option for "tried to read and gave up." After reading City of God and (rereading) The Confessions by Augustine, I desired to dive into one of the other best-of-the-best theologians in church history. As a few others reviewers have noted, Aquinas is just plain hard to read, because of his immersion in Aristotle and Scholastic style (make a point, list reasons for and against, make a conclusion, then some addendums). That said, there were definitely points that were interesting and even inspiring (well duh some will say...should we not imagine that one of the greatest theologians ever wrote some "interesting" things?).
Aquinas is great; while reading this I picked up a book at the library that was a summary of his theology. It just needs to be read in small doses. I do wonder if this was the wrong selection to dive into Aquinas. As selected writings, we get excerpts from various points in his career. But I think this may have added to the tedium. Perhaps it would be better just to dive into the Summa Theologica? Of course, as I write that I cringe...maybe in 10 or 15 years I'll try that!
At any rate, this will be a good reference book to have and maybe I will pick it up and try to read a selection here and there.(less)
This is a series of essays, sermons and lectures on various topics. The first one, from which the book gets its title, begins with the assertion that...moreThis is a series of essays, sermons and lectures on various topics. The first one, from which the book gets its title, begins with the assertion that our desires are far too weak for we fool around with all kinds of unsatisfying things while God offers us so much more. From this Lewis talks about heaven, the presence of God, glory itself, that is the only thing that will ultimately satisfy our deepest desires. I love how Lewis ends this, by turning the focus from who we will become to who our neighbor will become. Knowing that the people around us are created in God's image, then all our actions are either helping them to one of two ends: glory or corruption.
The second essay is titled, "Learning in War Time" which is one of the finest arguments for Christians pursuing university (or beyond that, all sorts of) learning. Lewis reminds us that all we do, no matter what we do, must be done to the glory of God. Each person has a different vocation, and some are called to the intellectual life. This is a chapter that should be read by all Christians in college, for it provides an answer to the question of why Christians do anything other than just evangelize all the time.
I found the third essay somewhat disappointing, although when viewed in light of Lewis' style of argument perhaps I should not have. This essay is an explanation of why he is not a pacifist. It is a well reasoned argument. The problem is, he only goes to scripture at the very end and when he does he his analysis is weak. He does not mention the self-sacrificial death of Jesus which his our ultimate example as Christians (Phil. 2:5-11; Mark 8:34-38). When he does mention scripture, it does not necessarily support the Christian taking up the sword (Romans 13:4; 1 Pet. 2:14). Yet we must remember, and Lewis himself reminds us, he was not a Bible scholar. When Lewis asserts that all churches have blessed the necessity of war, he misses the fact that the church as a whole was nonviolent and did not use war until after Constantine. But at the risk of turning this review into my own essay on nonviolence, Lewis does do well in this of reminding us that Christians are not to be passive pacifists who claim to reach the same ends war desires but by different means. In our world pacifism looks like just another secular ideology. If Christians end up deciding that war is not allowed, to follow Jesus is still an active nonviolence that engages in spiritual war. Perhaps writing just after WWII, Lewis is coming at the issue from a different angle. This essay then is good, but leaves the question of what a Christian is to do with war ultimately unanswered.
"Transposition" is a great essay on the relation of supernatural, or higher things, to natural, or lower things. Here Lewis speaks of what it means for the spiritual higher things to be reduced in order to be expressed in lower natural ways. In "Is Theology Poetry?" Lewis talks on how theology relates to poetry, and thus to mythology, pagan religions and so on. "The Inner Ring" is about our human desire to be accepted as part of the in crowd. Lewis argues that, ironically, the harder you want to be in some inner circle, the less pleasure you will have when you attain it but if you simply work hard and use your gifts as best you can you will end up surrounded by people you like and find true friendship (Lewis says it much better than this, sorry).
In "Membership" Lewis contrast church membership, a coming together of different sorts of people, to secular collectivism which strives to reduce everyone to being exactly the same and equal. True unity is a unity of unlikes. The book closes with two brief essays. "On Forgiveness" reminds us that forgiveness pertains to those acts which are not excusable and that forgiveness is not making excuses. Finally, "A Slip of the Tongue" makes us think about whether we manipulate God, trying to order life so we can live how we want and then later get forgiveness.
Overall, a great series of essays. Some of the arguments are found in other writings of Lewis, but the value here is that each essay is brief and thus can be read slowly, by itself, without losing any over-arching theme of one whole book.(less)
Westphal's central thesis in this book is that Christians should take the atheism of Freud, Marx and Nietzsche "should be taken seriously as a stimulu...moreWestphal's central thesis in this book is that Christians should take the atheism of Freud, Marx and Nietzsche "should be taken seriously as a stimulus to self-examination rather than refuted as error" (x). Reading through the sharp critics of religion from these men we find they are often echoing the words of scripture, specifically the prophets and Jesus.
These three are not evidential atheists, skeptical of religion due to lack of evidence. Rather, they are suspicious of religious claims. They see believers as deceiving themselves, hiding their motives. Their attack is more on the believer than on the propositions believed. But Westphal cautions that believers must avoid the temptation to simply attempt to refute them, since their critique is "all too true too much of them time" (16).
The first to be studied is Freud which means a look at dreams and wish fulfillment. Freud's critique is that religion is a wish fulfillment, more about what humans desire (or, delude themselves into thinking they desire) than about God. Westphal spends a lot of time diving deeper into Freud's critique. What Freud helps us to do is to expose the false piety that tries to compromise with God. Freud can remind us that God cannot be "snookered" into accepting bribes. When we attempt such "One-Way Covenants" we only deceive ourselves. Westphal concludes the section on Freud: "While Freud hopes that the hermeneutics of suspicion will lead to the collapse of religion, prophetic consciousness hopes that it will lead to the collapse of irreligion posing as religion, creating a space wherein true faith might flourish" (119).
Moving on, we have Karl Marx. He agrees that man makes religion but he emphasizes that religion does not just mirror culture, it legitimizes it. Mark points to the role of religion in justifying slavery, segregation and apartheid. Religion is opium for the people, a painkiller that allows them to accept their low position in this life as they look ahead to a better next life. But it is also opium for the upper classes who need a painkiller to assuage their guilt and to allow themselves to enjoy their wealth and status. In other words, religion persuades the rich that they deserve to be on top and the poor that they deserve to be on the bottom. Put briefly, religion embraces and endorses evil.
Marx reminds us that we cannot just ask whether our beliefs are true, but how they function in the real world: we need the theology of "Jesus loves me" but we need, right along with it, the theology of "Jesus loves all the little children of the world". Westphal takes a look at Liberation Theology and in doing so makes some very challenging statements: "the biblical critique of contemporary Western societies, including American society, sounds very much like the Marxist critique" (203). Marx points us to the critique of religion by the prophet Amos, causing Westphal to muse that perhaps Marx was plagiarizing. In ending with Amos the question we are left with is does our faith help the poor, weak and oppressed or take the side of the powerful and oppressor.
Finally, Westphal discusses Nietzsche Nietzsche sees religion as weakness seeking revenge. Everyone wants revenge, but the weak are unable to get it. In this they become even more vengeful, perhaps disguising their desire for revenge by speaking of justice. To see this, look no further than the doctrine of hell. According to Nietzsche, Christians may say it is about justice, but it is really about a revenge Christians desire against their enemies but are too weak to pursue on earth.
Westphal argues that Nietzsche reminds us of the danger of creating a morality that belittles the others and puts us in a place of superiority, which is basically how the Pharisees are portrayed in the Bible. In attacking such a false morality, Nietzsche takes us to Jesus' confrontation with the Pharisees. The challenge is that when we ask, "who are the Pharisees today?", the only honest answer is, "good church people." Nietzsche criticizes religious people for calling themselves good which should remind us that in Jesus' confrontation with the Pharisees it was the "evil sinners" who are the heroes. In other words, Jesus agrees with Nietzsche's critique of the hypocrisy of religion. But Jesus goes a step further, as alienated sinners find grace.(less)