Enoch Primordial by Brian Godawa: a Review

Brian Godawa is an accomplished screenwriter and author. In addition to books on film and worldview, and the role of mythology, he has written several series of novels in the fantasy genre. One such series is The Chronicles of the Nephilim. Enoch Primordial is the second of this series.

Like the rest of the series, Enoch Primordial combines the biblical narratives of Genesis with apocryphal and pseudoepigrahic literature (non-canonical ancient Near Eastern documents) along with his fertile imagination to craft a compelling story that fills the gaps in the biblical narrative in a creative way. Godawa makes no claims that these events actually occurred. Rather, the story is a vehicle for communicating his worldview.

Some of my favorite parts include the pathos of Adam and Eve living hundreds of years with a memory of the close fellowship they once had with God. (That’s a long time to live with regret.) There is also the incorporation of the words of contemporary political figures in the mouths of villains. This may make some uncomfortable, as though Godawa was demonizing his political opponents. However, on the Christian worldview, our enemies are not human. If the ideas of our opponents are evil, it is right to attribute a spiritual source.

Enoch Primordial is an entertaining, enlightening read.

Podcasts You Should Know About Part 2

This week I want to call your attention to not just a podcast, but another ministry that has more than one fine podcast. Reasonable Faith, the ministry of Dr. William Lane Craig, is a highly useful resource, including two podcasts: Reasonable Faith, and Defenders. Reasonable Faith is a weekly podcast hosted by Craig and Kevin Harris where they discuss recent events and debates related to Christianity and apologetics. Defenders is a weekly class taught by Craig that is accessible, yet thorough in its systematic treatment of Christian doctrine. Defenders is available as a podcast, but also can be accessed as a live stream on Sundays at 12:45 Eastern time. In addition to the podcasts, the Reasonable Faith website has a wealth of information related to apologetics, as well as philosophy. There is a whole library of videos of Craig’s teaching and debates.

Podcasts You Should Know About Part 1

Over the next several posts, I will highlight some really useful resources for Christians. Obviously, being the geek that I am, the emphasis will be on apologetics resources, but many of the websites and podcasts I will profile have a broad range of information for any Christian interested in growing in the area of the life of the mind.

 

Unlike other “Top…” lists, I will start with what I think is the number one ministry in this field, and the rest will be in no particular order. Far an away my favorite (and arguably the best) is Stand to Reason. Greg Koukl has been like a long-distance (and occasionally up close) mentor to me since around 2000. He has had a radio presence for over 20 years, and the show has been available online since before there were podcasts. It is still available as a live stream on Tuesday evenings from 4-6:00 pm PDT (7-9 EDT) or the show can be downloaded as two one-hour podcasts on Wednesday and Friday. There is also a shorter podcast released twice a week called #STR Ask.

Additionally, he offers a wide range of resources from books (two of which he has written or co-written) as well as short booklets, called Ambassadors’ Guides, which are available in paper or electronic editions. STR also offers instructional DVDs like Tactics. These resources and podcasts can also be accessed through their mobile apps.

Finally, Greg and his team are available to speak to your church or ministry. More content can be found on their blog, as well as the bimonthly newsletters, such as Solid Ground.

 

STR is a valuable resource to help Christians think more carefully about and communicate their faith.

 

Meaningful World By Benjamin Walker and Jonathan Witt: A Review

With a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics, Benjamin Wiker lends his expertise along with the literary insights of Jonathan Witt, Senior Fellow for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, to the question of just what kind of world we live in. Wiker and Witt do not simply disagree with the reigning paradigm of metaphysical naturalism found in science. They see it as harmful. They have written this book as an antidote to the “poison” that is “the assumption that science has proven that the universe is without purpose, without meaning—proven it so clearly that one need not even produce an argument.” (Wiker and Witt, Location 61.)

The question of meaning has implications for how all of reality is seen. For Christians concerned with preaching the gospel, juxtaposing a divine creator with a meaningless universe is incoherent. This is one of the reasons why the apologetic project is needed in order to make Christianity a live option in the marketplace of ideas. In this particular case, the meaningfulness of the universe needs to be recognized. The poison must be counteracted. Recognizing the fact that human beings are an integral part of the universe, and that we have lived, acted, and created as though the world has meaning, Wiker adds his analysis of the works of Shakespeare which are best understood if meaning were central to human understanding of the world, as well as a comparative analogy to the creativity found in nature.

“The book’s central claim is clearly stated: the universe is meaning-full.” (63) The authors make it plain that they reject the nihilistic paradigm that is claimed to be “proven” by science. They build their case beginning with a historical overview of how the idea of a random, meaningless world goes back to the ancient Greeks and found resurgence in Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud and Marx. The assumption of meaninglessness began to lose momentum as discoveries of order and specified complexity began to emerge such that even a hardened skeptic like Antony Flew was moved to theism. From this background, Wiker and Witt note that just as parts of the cosmos made sense in light of the whole, and perhaps only so, the same is clearly so in literature. Shakespeare’s works are examined to illustrate the point, showing that contrary to Dawkins’ illustration of “Methinks it like a Weasel,” the parts fit the whole, but also that the whole makes no sense if the works and their author are nothing more than matter in motion, or animals driven by the urge to procreate. The genius exhibited by Shakespeare is then used to illustrate the genius Euclid points to in mathematics. The authors show how on a materialist worldview, the existence of mathematics makes no sense, much less its applicability to the material universe. From mathematics, the order and intelligibility of the cosmos, chemistry (especially the periodic table) and biology is examined. Through each discipline, the antidote of structuralism is counteracting the poison of reductionism. Structuralism approaches these questions from the top-down, parts-to-whole view. Such a view is not even considered a live option if one starts from meaninglessness. In fact, it is the only way scientists can discern “the meaning of the data they gather.” Wiker and Witt present case after interrelated case for the meaningful whole of the created order into which each of its parts –matter, energy, chemistry, life in general, and humanity in particular– fits. While so many books of this type focus on particular arguments for God’s existence from specific areas such as cosmogony, fine-tuning, or information theory, Meaningful World looks at the big picture. If the other works study the trees, Wiker and Witt look at the whole forest. They show not only that these things fit, but also that they are made to be discovered as such. They do so with a clear, accessible style and a refreshing dose of humor. While their arguments are logically cogent, their discussion of Shakespeare’s literary acumen appeals to aesthetics. Moreover, while they mention some of the astronomically high levels of improbability of the world being the way it is by chance, they do not hang their whole case there. Another way the thesis of the book can be stated is, “Intelligent design? More like creative genius.”

The literary element they introduce by way of analogy and as a particular example is a rarity in books on this subject. Their use of Shakespeare to illustrate their point is not only a novel way to argue in this arena, but they inspire a new appreciation for the literature itself. Their presentation reaches the reader at the cognitive as well as the intuitive level. Moreover, they present a strong case in favor of their thesis, rather than simply relying on defeaters for its negation. They do more than show that reductionism is false. They present a powerful case for a meaningful world. More than merely meaningful, the authors offer a case for elements of genius in the created order that is analogous to the creative genius of Shakespeare. Wiker and Witt argue that the knowledge offered by the study of mathematics, cosmology, chemistry and biology have the depth, clarity, harmony and elegance one would expect to find in the works of geniuses. This is not design by a minimally intelligent mind, but a designing Genius.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the philosophy of science, or the history of the controversy over the Intelligent Design hypothesis. The book is accessible to the layperson without dumbing down the content. While the scholarship of the authors is evident in the content, the engaging style of the prose has none of the dryness that can come from the subject matter. The integrated approach will inform a more fully orbed apologetic than those books that focus on a narrower topic such as the origin of information or the complexity of the living cell. As important as these details are, this book will help you see the forest and the trees.

I Read How To Be an Atheist, and Now I Believe In Moral Subjectivism

 

 

Mitch Stokes is a Senior Fellow of Philosophy at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho.  He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame under the direction of Alvin Plantinga and Peter van Inwagen.  At Yale, he earned an M.A. in religion under the direction of Nicholas Wolterstorff.[1] In fact, being trained by Plantinga, van Inwagen and Wolterstorff made J.P. Moreland positively gush at Stokes’ credentials. That is high praise indeed. Stokes is the author of A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, and the current book under review, How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough.

Many militant atheists pride themselves on their reliance on reason and science to tell them the truth about the world. They are especially confident of their views of science and what it can tell us about morality. Stokes argues that if they were to put their skepticism where their mouths are, they would be a little more hesitant to assert that science has proven that naturalism is true (and therefore theism false) and that morality is real.

How to Be an Atheist is a short book of just over 200 pages, broken into three parts. In part one Stokes shows the problem of relying on reason and science as articulated by one of the “heroes” of the Enlightenment, David Hume. In part two, science is examined to see the limits of what it can tell us, especially with respect to what is unobservable. This section includes a helpful explanation of how theories, which are neither easily dismissed claims nor iron-clad laws, are inferences that try to make sense of what has been observed. (Stokes also holds advanced degrees in engineering, so there is no anti-science bias here.) Also noted is the fact that many of the areas of physics most often cited as evidence for naturalism are instrumental rather than realistic, which is to say, the theories involving quantum mechanics and such are models used to make sense of what can be observed, but do not even claim to accurately describe what cannot be observed. In the third section, Stokes argues that if naturalism is true, then morality, actual good, bad, right and wrong, does not exist. They are merely expressions of human likes and dislikes.

It is this third section that prompted the title of this review. Stokes argues that all values are personal. The thing that makes something good (in a moral sense) is a value holder. Likewise, a duty or obligation is only held between persons. Many atheists would affirm this. However, this is not to say that morality is ultimately grounded in human persons. After all, if all morality is mere human preference, which human? Why this one and not that one? Why yours and not mine? It is not hard to see why this can lead right back to a kind of moral anarchy. As Stokes notes, Christianity has held to what is called “Divine Command” theory of ethics which is the idea that which is good, and that which we are obliged to do and prohibited from doing, is good, obligatory, or prohibited because God has commanded it. He further notes that the common “Euthyphro objection” is resolved when we understand that God commands what he does because his nature is good.

All this is not to say that morality is relative. Moral standards are person centered (or on Stokes’ view, Person centered.) Whatever the standard, whether a behavior measures up is an objective reality. However, it is not the behaviors themselves that are intrinsically good or bad, but these values are derived from the Value Holder, God himself.

 

Stokes’ book is highly accessible, well reasoned, and fun to read. Stokes has a flare for mixing humor into a technical subject. He is generous in his treatment of those with whom he disagrees, and sets quite the example in this. I highly recommend this book.

 

 

[1] CV taken from http://www.mitchstokes.com/about.html

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi. A Review

Author

Nabeel Qureshi is a former Muslim, now a Christian, and author of three books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, and No God But One: Allah or Jesus and the work under review. He holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, an MA in Religion from Duke University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament Studies at Oxford University. Qureshi is also an itinerant speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. His desire in writing this book is encourage people to think carefully about Islam, responding without naiveté or undue fear.

Synopsis

Answering Jihad is organized into three categories, in which Qureshi answers the 18 most common questions he is asked regarding Islam and Christianity. Part 1 gives an introduction and historic overview of the concept of jihad. Part 2 addresses the practice of jihad today, and Part 3 deals with the differences between Islam and Christianity with respect to violence. The end of the book contains some appendices that explain more about Islam in general, as well as the particular sect to which Qureshi’s family belongs.

Analysis

In Part 1, Qureshi offers a compelling argument for the idea that those who practice violent forms of Islam are far more consistent with the teachings of the authoritative, foundational documents and the actions of the founder of Islam. He shows from historical context, as well as the documents themselves, that jihad is properly understood as violent warfare.

In Part 2, Qureshi explores the resurgence of jihad in modern times. His explanation of how moderate Muslims receive their traditions, which is far different from the Protestant tradition of Sola Scriptura. For Muslims, their Imams carry far more authority than an equivalent leader in Christianity. Therefore, if the Imams are teaching Islam as peaceful, then Islam is peaceful. This is especially helpful in light of claims made by some that all peaceful Muslims are merely employing Taqiya, or deception. However, with the advent of the Internet, Muslims have unprecedented access to their foundational documents, the Quran and the Hadiths, which teach a more aggressive Islam. Qureshi notes that exposure to these documents leads to a crisis of faith for these Muslims. They must choose apostasy, violence, or to live in cognitive dissonance.

In Part 3, Qureshi responds to questions and challenges about the seeming similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity. Here he does a good job of differentiating jihad from Old Testament warfare. I thought, however, he could have done a little more research into Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek.” Qureshi claims this is an injunction against even self-defense. However, as J. Warner Wallace points out, “When Jesus told His followers to “turn the other cheek,” He was referring to personal retaliation rather than to responses related to criminal offenses or actions related to military force.” Wallace’s comment was in response to the idea that “turn the other cheek” was a command to be pacifist, but I think it can be applied to self-defense, though not retaliation. One other issue I would take would be with Qureshi’s response to the Crusades and the reports of the taking of Jerusalem. As Rodney Stark points out, “the commonly applied ‘rule of war’ concerning siege warfare was that if a city did not surrender before forcing attackers to take the city by storm (which inevitably caused a very high rate of casualties in the besieging force), the inhabitants could expect to be massacred as an example to others in the future.” (God’s Battalions, 168.) This is not to argue that Christians are to behave this way, but to expect Christians sent to war in medieval times and expecting them to conduct themselves by modern standards is unrealistic. That simply was how wars were fought. It was not a uniquely “Christian” practice.

Qureshi concludes by reminding us that we need to realistic in our view of Islam, while charitable toward Muslims. If we wait until our Muslim neighbors reach that “three-pronged fork in the road” to reach out to them, it may be too late. This point cannot be overemphasized. As Christians, we need to see Muslims as people for whom Christ died.

Recommendation

Despite my nit picking, I highly recommend this book. It is accessible for anyone from late middle school and meaty enough for a graduate student. It is a must read for anyone hoping to have a meaningful interaction with their Muslim neighbors.

 

Philosophy In Seven Sentences By Douglas Groothuis: A Review

The author

Douglas Groothuis is professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. He earned his PhD at the University of Oregon and he specializes in Philosophy of Religion, the History of Philosophy and other areas. Dr. Groothuis is the author or editor of 13 books including

Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism, and In Defense of Natural Theology: A Post-Humean Assessment in addition to the title under review here. Groothuis is passionate about careful thinking as an element of worship.

 

Thesis

In Philosophy In Seven Sentences, Groothuis seeks to make philosophy a little less intimidating and esoteric to the uninitiated, while demonstrating the need to think well in order to live a good life. He does this by introducing the work of seven philosophers with quotes that embody their work. Each chapter fleshes out the ideas behind the sentences, as well as some background information on the philosophers to whom they are attributed.

 

Synopsis

In chapter 1, Protagoras’ claim “Man is the measure of all things: of the things which are, that they are, and of things which are not that are not” is examined. Groothuis notes how this idea has some merit, but pressed to its logical conclusion, it leads to the inability to know anything.

In chapter 2, we hear from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Groothuis notes that this is a hyperbolic statement, urging the hearers to seek truth by which to live, which requires comparing one’s life to that truth.

In chapter 3, Aristotle tells us, “All men by nature desire to know.” In service of this belief, Aristotle formulated the laws of logic, especially the Law of Noncontradiction. Groothuis points out that knowledge is impossible if we cannot escape contradiction.

In chapter 4, Augustine’s quote, “You have made us for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you” is examined. Augustine came to this realization, which he wrote in Confessions, as he reflected on his life and the process through which he became a Christian. He argues that humans feel a real guilt, stemming from an awareness of objective morality, and since the only remedy for this guilt is in God’s provision, rest can only be found in him.

In chapter 5, Groothuis analyzed Descartes’ quote “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes was searching for something he could know with certainty, and he found one such item in the realization that thinking requires a thinker. Descartes also devised an argument for God from the fact that the idea of God is innate and therefore implanted by God. Groothuis also notes Descartes’ contribution to the mind-body problem.

In chapter 6, Pascal’s quote “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing” is unpacked. Like many references to “the heart” in older (and even ancient) literature, this one is often misunderstood. Rather than pitting emotion against intellect, Pascal was pointing to basic beliefs, and first principles on which all other beliefs depend.

In chapter 7, Kierkegaard warns us, “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.” Groothuis points out that for Kierkegaard, an adequate self-awareness leads to despair, and one must come to terms with that despair such that they throw themselves on God’s mercy.

 

Analysis

 

Philosophy In Seven Sentences serves as an excellent primer on philosophical thought. In fact, it ought to be required reading before any undergraduate takes and introduction to Philosophy course. Far too many take these courses and hear and read the opinions of philosophers when the students lack the tools of philosophy. This books shows how even the most brilliant philosophers’ opinions require careful consideration. This book is accessible to anyone with at least a high school education. Reading it made me wish I had the time and resources to pursue a degree in Philosophy.