christian book review

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Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants” – Deconversion, Hope, and Strife

fog-follet

Ken Follett’s “The Century Trilogy” is a sweeping series . I just finished the first book, Fall of Giants, and realized there were several themes found therein that begged comment here. Here, I will analyze the book from a worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

I will not go over the plot of the book. A brief summary may be found here.

Deconversion

Billy Williams is a Welsh boy who goes to work in a coal mine. The first day on the job he is left alone in the pitch black–his lamp went out. Rather than wandering lost in the tunnels he keeps working until someone comes to get him. To keep himself from being too frightened, he sings Christian hymns and draws comfort from them. At the end, when the light is restored, he sees a fleeting vision of Christ just at the corner of the light and says “Thank you.”

If that sounds like the start of a storyline that will be an example of a life of faith to you, you would be disappointed. After an explosion in the coal mine, he is distressed by the problem of evil–why does God let bad things happen? As he grows older, Billy is exposed to textural criticism. He is disturbed that we don’t have copies of the original texts from which we get the words of the Bible. His father, who often preaches at their worship services, has insufficient answers. Later in life, Billy’s sister gets pregnant and is judged sharply by his father and their town because she is not married. He is strongly put off by the apparent hypocrisy of the people. He never returns to church.

I admit that “deconversion” may be a bit of a misnomer because it is never specifically said that Billy doesn’t believe in God anymore, but the implications are there. He has a deep distrust of and distaste for Christianity, it seems, after this.

The story illustrates the need for a firm foundation. Textual criticism is not something Christians should fear, as it allows us to recover the text of the Bible more accurately. The problem of evil is not unsolvable. And, unfortunately, Christian hypocrisy is actually something to be expected. Indeed, the Christian worldview would expect hypocrisy at times because we are still sinners in this world and will continue to commit wrongs, despite being people of faith. None of this was hinted at in the novel, but I suspect that this is due in part to the fact that Follett is himself an avowed secular humanist. There seems to be an agenda here (and see below).

Unfortunately, Billy’s story is similar to one we can see repeating in churches and families all over. We have not studied our faith. We have not worked out the hard problems related to Christianity, so when we are confronted by them, we are often found with pat answers rather than the truth. We need to actively seek out answers and be aware of our own limitations. Unable to answer every question, we should commit ourselves to a life of faith seeking understanding.

Hope

There is hope found in the darkness throughout the coming World War and the plights of the individual people. Hope is found largely in the actions of other people–the small kindnesses that are done even in the face of evil. As the world seems to be crashing down all around, it is relationships which keep people going. Some of these are vaguely religious in nature, though the persisting theme seems to be that people need to do for themselves whatever they’d like to accomplish.

Religious Leaders?

One persistent theme throughout the book is that those involved in the church are mean, nasty, and most likely sexual deviants. Any time a priest-whether Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodoxy or Anglican–is mentioned or encountered, it is almost always in context of some offhand remark about how they sexually harassed a child or how someone who is now an adult remembers when they were asked to have sex with the priest, etc. It’s actually quite tiresome. While on the one hand it is important to note that there are those within Christianity who have abused power throughout time, on the other hand, to suggest that everyone in some sort of position in power was a power-hungry sexual predator is uneven, to put it mildly.

Those who are not in established religion–like Billy’s dad–are portrayed as aloof, distant, and largely uncaring. Billy’s dad does get a chance to redeem himself as he accepts Ethel back into the family, but only after he had to consider the possibility of having his whole family fall apart.

Conclusion

Follett has woven an intriguing story with a very strong premise. It is unfortunate that throughout there also seem to be straight polemics against Christianity. A better balance was needed to make it seem realistic and not so much a diatribe against Christianity. Some good takeaways can be had from reading the book, but the worldview it presents is largely bleak and hopeless.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Check out my other posts on popular books, including several other science fiction works. (Scroll down for more.)

Source

Ken Follet, Fall of Giants (Signet, 2012).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Andy Weir’s “The Martian”- A Christian Look at the Book: Humanity, Community, and Hope

the-martianThere is a lot of buzz surrounding Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian. It’s being made into a movie staring Matt Damon. Here, we will look at the book from a worldview perspective. There will be major SPOILERS in what follows.

The Value of a Human

One of the objections raised in the novel to moving missions around to try to save Mark is the sheer cost of the expedition. Why spend millions or even billions of dollars trying to save just one person, particularly when there are so many others who could be saved?

Towards the end, Mark himself is reflecting on this and he writes “The cost of my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother? …[T]hey did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true… Yes, there are [expletive]s who just don’t care, but they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side.”

The appeal to basic goodness of humanity is not without a number of assumptions. For example, how is it that the basic goodness of humanity is established? It isn’t just assumed–the evidence cited is that the overwhelming majority of people have basic instinct built into them to help others. But I wonder whether that evidence is drawn more from the extraordinary circumstances Mark found himself in than from the reality of human nature. It is a fact that women are taught in this country (the United States) to shout “fire” rather than “rape” if they are under assault, because people will answer more readily to cries to help fight a fire than they will try to intervene in an assault. The circumstances often determine how willing we are to go the extra mile to help others.

Thus, the conclusion seems a bit naive. Yes, the world pulled together in this work of fiction to help a man stranded on Mars–and I suspect that all kinds of red tape would, in fact, be cut if this ever happened–but that cannot be applied universally to every situation. The fact that there is so much human suffering happening right now–visible human suffering that can be seen in places that are, for example, attacked by IS, or wracked by storms, and the like–without humanity pulling together to stop it suggests that this notion of universal good will towards all is not as powerful as was suggested.

On the other hand, from a Christian perspective, each and every human life is precious, not because we have some inherent need to help others (though that could arguably be there), but because we share human nature, a nature given to us by God to be the image of God in this universe. Humans are valuable simply because they are humans, and we have an obligation to help those in need.

Humans and Others

It is not explored very deeply, but there is a sense throughout the book that humans are made to be with others. Mark feels a profound sense of loneliness when he realizes he is stuck on Mars, but he ultimately gets to work on trying to survive as quickly as possible. This work helps to distract him from his sense of loss, but at times throughout the book it crops up again. The sense of loneliness is at times crushing for him, but he is always able to get himself moving again, perhaps because he continually has hope that the loneliness will be squashed by being rescued or at least getting contact with Earth.

Humans are made to be people in community. I think this again reflects the Christian concept of the image of God. As God is Triune and in community (speaking here rather metaphorically, of course), we are made to be in community as well. Moreover, God created man but then realized “it is not good for man to be alone” and created a woman. These profound words are often explored from various angles, but I wonder whether they don’t also speak to us from a sense of loneliness. We are not meant to be alone but rather to exist in community. Our existential longing and loneliness ultimately points beyond ourselves to a higher reality–in which we may experience communion with God.

Conclusion

The Martian is an entertaining read. It doesn’t raise as many worldview questions as some other science fiction works do, but it does ask us to consider the value of humanity and shared experience. I’d recommend reading it, but be aware of a large amount of swearing.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Popular Books– Read through my other posts on popular books–science fiction, fantasy, and more! (Scroll down for more.)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

The Wheel of Time: “Knife of Dreams” and “The Gathering Storm” – A Christian Perspective

knife-of-dreamsRobert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, “The Wheel of Time,” has much to reflect upon from a Christian perspective. Here, I’ll be examining books eleven and twelve, “Knife of Dreams” and “The Gathering Storm.” These fantasy books are masterworks and deserve to be read by any interested in the genre. There are SPOILERS from both books here. Please do not share spoilers from later books for the sake of readers.

Acting Becomes Reality

In Knife of Dreams, Faile and her companions are being held captive by the Shaido Aiel. In the process, they are forced into servitude and beaten at the whims of their overlords. Faile soon realized the best strategy would be to fain timidity, but also realized the dangers of this:

[Faile] hoped that Sevanna [one of the Aiel] thought her tamed… She hoped that she was not being tamed. Pretend something too long, and it could become truth… She had to escape before [her husband] got himself killed in the attempt [to rescue her]. Before she stopped pretending. (167, cited below)

There is a similar notion built into much discussion about Christianity. Pascal, for example, after outlining his famous wager (which I defend here), noted that one may align oneself towards belief. That is, when someone begins to act as though one believes a certain way, it can turn into a reality that one believes a certain way. From a worldview perspective, then, we should always be wary of how we live our lives and what we surround ourselves with. After all, it may be that our pretending becomes reality.

Preparing for War

The upcoming “Last Battle” is the primary theme of the entire series. In Knife of Dreams and The Gathering Storm, we get our first real experiences of that upcoming war. The series has built up towards this climax, and one can feel the coming “storm” in the books to come. For our world, we know that war is a constant reality. With the reality of terrorist organizations, civil unrest, deep-seated cultural hatred, and the like, war is a constant companion. The same is true in the Wheel of Time. There is an eschatological awareness in the series of this “Last Battle,” just as Christians have an awareness of the Second Coming. In one scene, a military man, one of the great captains, Bashere, reflected on the reality of war:

“Let’s hope it really is the Last Battle. If we live through that, I don’t think we’ll ever want to see another. We will, though. There’s always another battle. I suppose that will be the case until the whole world turns Tinker.” (459)

The awareness of the coming eschaton for the Wheel of Time comes with it a bitter awareness that people of all backgrounds continue to war with each other. Perhaps, it is said, the way of the Tinker–people who have sworn off violence–is best.

In The Gathering Storm, we find a dramatic reversal of the biblical theme of coming peace (found in passages like Isaiah 2:4) which speaks of a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares. Instead, the people of the Wheel of Time must prepare for a day of chaos and war:

“take your best scythes and turn them into polearms…” [advises one farmer to another]
“What do I know about making a sword? Or about using a sword, for that matter?” [the other replied]
“You can learn… Everyone will be needed.” [The first responded] (8, cited below)

The Last Battle is a day in which the nations will unite, but they will unite for war. Again, this is in contrast to the biblical theme of the abolition of war in the eschatological hope. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming books.

Fighting the Darkness from Within

One of the most dramatic scenes in the entire series is found in The Gathering Storm as Verin, an Aes Sedai (female magic user in this series) who has seemed so loyal, reveals she is a darkfriend of the Black Ajah. However, it turns out that she is not wholly evil but rather did so, and did many evil things, in order to try to fight the Shadow from within its own ranks:

“You see, one rarely has a chance as this, to study a beast from inside… They [darkfriends] have many agents among us… Well, I thought it time that we had at least one of us among them. This is worth one woman’s life.” (836, 839)

Verin had sworn herself to evil, but did so in order to bring about great good. Her life was forfeit in order to expose wickedness within the ranks of the Aes Sedai. Her sacrifice forestalled a major weapon of the Dark One.

Thankfully, there is no need for we as Christians to go around swearing ourselves to evil. However, there is great need and sacrifice in going to communities in which Christians are persecuted and seeking to help in whatever ways we can.

Conclusion

The Wheel of Time continues to impress, both from the magisterial scope of its fiction and from the many issues of worldview it brings up. There are, of course, many, many more topics we could discuss related to the books and you may feel free to bring these up in the comments. There are many themes which resonate with the Christian worldview, but Jordan clearly borrowed from Eastern Mysticism as well as other religious traditions. This is a fantastic series to read and discuss at a worldview level.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

Robert Jordan, Knife of Dreams (New York: Tor, 2005).

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Crossroads of Twilight (New York: Tor, 2009).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “7 Truths that Changed the World” by Kenneth Samples

Kenneth Samples’ latest book, 7 Truths That Changed the World (hereafter 7TC) provides an easy-to-read, fairly comprehensive apologetic for the Christian faith in a unique format.

Samples presents 7TC as a kind of investigation into the “dangerous ideas” that are central to Christianity. These dangerous ideas are:

  1. Not all men stay dead. In this section, Samples defends the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Christians who are actively involved in reading apologetics will find that the argument is the fairly well-known “minimal facts” style, but Samples does manage to give some uniqueness to the argument in the next chapter, wherein he examines various objections to the argument for the resurrection. Particularly unique was the fact that Samples takes the time to offer critiques of some of the more outlandish objections, like the twin brother theory (38).
  2. God walked the earth- Here, Samples puts the “dangerous idea” squarely in the context of religious pluralism. Not all religions can be true (48ff) and if Jesus was God on earth, then Christianity is true. Interestingly, rather than simply presenting arguments for Jesus’ Godhood, Samples offers a few theories of the incarnation and only then moves towards Biblical evidence for Jesus’ deity (50-53; 53ff). Again, Samples engages with some little-known but often abused objections, including the notion that Jesus was a guru (69-70) or even an alien (70-71).
  3. A fine-tuned cosmos with a beginning- Samples then engages in an argument from cosmic fine-tuning. Again, Samples puts the argument into a context rather than simply throwing it out to be fielded. Throughout the book, Samples grounds the arguments he makes within the broad theological history that surrounds the ideas. For this argument, he points out the historical doctrine of creation out of nothing through the Bible and church history (78-80). He also points out the “weighty theological implications” of the fine-tuning argument (82-83). He then argues that Christian theology helped ground the emergence of science (91ff).
  4. Clear pointers to God- Explanatory power is one way to evaluate worldviews, and Samples weighs atheistic naturalism against Christian theism. Samples offers a method by which people can evaluate worldviews. Essentially, this is a summary of his excellent work, A World of Difference, which I comment on in my post “Can We Evaluate Worldviews? How to navigate the sea of ideas.” Throughout this section, Samples offers a number of arguments in favor of the notion that God exists and can best explain the universe we observe.
  5. Not by Works- One of the core tenets of Protestantism, and indeed of  evangelicalism (and in many ways, more modern Roman Catholicism) is salvation by grace. The fact that Christianity offers salvation as a gift provides another way to analyze it in light of other worldviews (134ff). All humans feel an urge to try to work for salvation, but this is mistaken. Ultimately, we cannot do it by ourselves (136ff). Sin is a predicament in which we find ourselves, it is a condition (137-138). Thus, Christianity offers a “way out” by salvation through grace in Christ.
  6. Humanity’s Value and Dignity- Humans have value. Most humans realize that it is wrong to cause harm or suffering and that certain virtues are good. However, without theism, there is no basis for human values (167ff). Some atheists have realized this and rejected meaning (163-166), but their worldviews dim in comparison to the light Christianity brings.
  7. The Good in Suffering- The problem of evil is the most oft-trumpeted argument for atheism, and Samples responds to it mostly by utilizing the “greater good” theodicy (theodicy means, basically, a defense from the problem of evil). First, he points out that it is not logically incoherent to suppose God is all powerful and all good while still believing evil exists (196-200). Then, he argues that God can have good purposes for evil and suffering (205ff). While we may not come up with a specific reason for every single evil that occurs, God’s sovereignty ensures that good will triumph and that all things work for His purposes (209ff).  I don’t tend to favor the “greater good” theodicy because I’m not sure I can swallow the notion that every evil has a greater good–but I think that when applied to evil generally it may be more powerful. Samples does a good job introducing the reader to the basics on the problem of evil and a theodicy here.

While much of the material in 7TC goes over things the avid reader of apologetics will have encountered, the novelty of some of the arguments as well as the answers to some infrequently-considered objections makes the book worthwhile even to “veterans.” It is also very helpful to have some of the background in historical theology that Samples gives to contextualize many of his points. These kinds of extra details with the overall argument give readers a level of background knowledge that not all introductory apologetics books can provide.

Moreover, the format makes it work well as the kind of book to hand to a skeptic or a believer with doubts. It presents the core doctrines of the Christian faith in their broad contexts and defends them admirably. While hardened skeptics may laugh a book like this off, for those with open minds the arguments will be compelling enough to start conversations. Due to the effort to make the book readable for a general audience, it is clear that Samples can’t touch on every objection, but it will get readers thinking.

Overall, 7 Truths That Changed the World is a superb effort by a fantastic scholar. It presents a reasoned defense of the whole of Christianity in a short, digestible form that makes it perfect for an introduction to apologetics or as a book to give friends to start conversations. Not only that, but Samples provides enough unique insight to make it worth a read by even “veterans” of apologetics literature. It comes recommended highly.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not asked to endorse it, nor was I in any way influenced in my opinion by the publisher. My thanks to the publisher for the book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Think Christianly” by Jonathan Morrow

Jonathan Morrow’s new book, Think Christianly seeks to provide Christians with ways to think about and interact with the culture surrounding them, while critically exploring their own perspectives.

Central to the work is the notion that “Due to the unprecedented influence and availability of constant media… the thoughts, attitudes, perceptions, convictions, values, and lifestyles of those inside the church are rapidly growing indistinguishable from… those outside the church” (19). The key is to see how to help Christians “think Christianly” about every aspect of life. The Christian life is not “Sunday only” or “in church only” but rather it is an every day, every second, every interaction life. Morrow, throughout the book, seeks to touch upon nearly every area of Christian interactions with culture, providing brief introductions along with recommendations for a way forward in each area.

Part one of Think Christianly focuses on our own culture and the need to equip the next generation to interact with the issues brought up around them. Morrow provides a survey of ways people try to avoid interacting with Christianity (54ff) and suggests a threefold way to engage with our youths so they do not fall victim to the challenges to our faith. This threefold engagement is composed of 1) mentors, “people to learn from and imitate in the faith” (57); 2) peers, “people to run the race with and to spur us on” (57); and 3) a robust Christian worldview, a challenge to youths to explore what they believe and why it matters (58). Conjoined, these help provide a valuable base for youths to explore their faith among their peers and mentors who can guide them towards resources and answer questions.

Part two provides ways to integrate the Christian worldview into every aspect of one’s life. Chapter four discusses three worldviews- naturalism, postmodernism, and Christian theism. These are the worldviews pervasive currently in  western cultures, and Morrow provides several ways to interact with the competing views and analyze them. Chapter five provides ways to “cultivate a thoughtful faith” and chapter six provides some ways to be confident about engagement (along with a helpful discussion of forgiveness and breaking away from anger on pages 98-99). Part Two continues with a couple chapters about living like Jesus, which are extremely insightful–we need to be sure we think of Jesus as who He was and is: the Lord of all professions, master of all crafts. Finally, part two wraps up with what may be the most important chapter of the book: “Can We Do That in Church?” Morrow argues that we must see “The local church” as “God’s vehicle to reach the world with the good news… it is also the primary place where Christians are to be equipped for the ministry” (130). By utilizing some small portion in time in church to equip believers to engage, Christian leaders can radically change the perception of Christianity as a “Sunday only” venture. If believers do not get equipped, where will they be equipped? The truth is they’ll “google it” and find people without good credentials or intentions and learn from them instead (not saying there’s nothing good online–plenty of scholars and wonderful teachers are out there, but sifting through the muck can be difficult). This chapter, I think, is the most important in the whole book and provides a number of insights that church leaders must take to heart.

Part three provides a number of areas in which Christians need to engage and ways to engage with them. For example, taking the Bible seriously is a top priority and Christians need to know how to interact with the text. Of particular importance are the chapters on sex–which talks about porn addiction and same-sex attraction; and Christianity in the public square.

Morrow has peppered the book with brief interviews of leading Christian thinkers on a number of topics. While short, these interviews provide a number of great insights and will lead readers to explore many issues  in greater detail. They range from “Leveraging the Internet to Make God Known” (with Randall Niles) to “Jesus Among World Religions” (with Craig Hazen), and beyond. Another helpful aspect are the lists of resources for further study, included at the end of each chapter. These include a list of books, DVDs, and websites for interested readers to explore.

There are few books that span as broadly as Think Christianly while also giving solid background discussions of each topic touched. Morrow continually provides valuable insights at a basic level which Christians can apply right now to start to “Think Christianly” about every aspect of life. If our churches and the members therein embrace many of the suggestions found in Morrow’s important book, we will be able to grow and positively impact the world in a major way. The book comes very highly recommended–it is the kind of book anyone involved in the church must have on their shelf and seek to apply to their lives.

I received a review copy of the book from Zondervan publishers. My thanks to Zondervan for the opportunity to review the book. I was not asked to write anything positive or negative about the book.

Think Christianly is available on Amazon (follow link) or at many local bookstores.

Book Review: “Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe If It’s Not True” by Stephen McAndrew

Is there absolute truth? Such is the topic of Stephen McAndrew’s new book, Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe If It’s Not True (hereafter DMYB).

McAndrew begins the work by noting that his book is an examination of a position and an affirmation of absolute truth. This is done because it is important to “examine even the most comfortable beliefs and leave standing only those that survive the disciplined assault of reason” (9).

He begins this testing by exploring some philosophical background, from Plato to positivism to relativism. These summaries are succinct, but provide a great background for those who haven’t read much on the topic. He turns next to a discussion of the effects of an abandonment of absolute truth. Relativism divorces one from any capacity to judge right and wrong. McAndrew notes, “These actions [such as the holocaust, racism, etc.] may brutally offend our sense of right and wrong, but the moral relativist cannot apply his or her values to others” (27).

What is interesting, however, is that McAndrew doesn’t stop at discussing relativism alone, but rather a conjunction of two beliefs: relativism and universal human rights. Many people, McAndrew notes, hold to relativism but also want to affirm universal human rights. In DMYB, he uses the discussion of the Nuremberg Tribunals–at which Nazis were tried for war crimes–as a case study for these conflicting views. He notes that “The defendants at Nuremberg argued that international law could only punish states and not individuals…. The Nuremberg court held that individuals could be punished for crimes against humanity under international law” (34).

Relativists, however, cannot consistently agree with the Nuremberg court, because “If there are no absolute truths, there can be no universal human rights” (35). These rights, if relative, are “contingent upon our cultural and historical position…” (ibid).

But relativism has a worse problem–it is contradictory. If all truth is contingent, then the statement “All truth is relative” is also relative, and therefore cannot be true for all people in all places (43ff). McAndrew next turns to the source for the “human rights urge”–the notion that all humans have certain universal rights. This source, argues McAndrew, is God (62ff). He makes a final case study when he turns to art–if there is no absolute truth, then there is no enduring beauty or truth in art (77ff).

The strengths of McAndrew’s book are readily apparent. He does a great job explaining difficult philosophical topics with terms and examples that anyone can understand. Not only that, but his discussion of Wittgenstein and the book 1984 give concrete, workable topics for those interested in the topic to use as talking points. My only criticism is that I believe I found a minor error. On page 85 McAndrew refers to the law of the excluded middle as the law that “propostion A and its direct contradiction–proposition B–cannot both be true at the same time.” This is in fact the law of noncontradiction. The law of the excluded middle is “For any proposition, it is either the case that the proposition is true or its negation is true.” This is a minor quibble, and one can derive the law of noncontradiction from the law of the excluded middle, but I thought I should note it.

Overall, the book may not convince everyone that there is absolute truth, but it will certainly force them to think about the positions they hold and wonder whether they can consistently cling to a relative absolutism. Those who already own a few books on the topic may wonder whether it is worth adding to their collection. Simply put, yes it is, if only to have at hand some great specific examples and talking points to discuss with relativists. It’s also a quick read that can be handed out to friends to  open up the path for future discussion. I highly recommend DMYB.

Source

Stephen McAndrew, Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe If It’s Not True (Sisters, OR: Deep River, 2012).

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the author. My thanks to Stephen for the opportunity to review his book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “The Cell’s Design” by Fazale Rana

Arguments for intelligent design often hinge upon what mechanistic, naturalistic means “cannot explain.” The arguments go something like “See feature x, how can naturalistic mechanisms explain x? They cannot. Therefore, ID is true.” There is something to be said for this type of argument. If one simply cannot explain a specific thing by means of the mechanisms suggested, one must look for different means. That said, if the case for intelligent design rested only upon negative arguments, it would not be as robust as if it also had positive evidence.

Fazale Rana’s book, The Cell’s Design, seeks to present just such positive evidence. The sheer volume of fine-tuning required to make a cell work baffles the imagination and, Rana argues, serves as positive evidence for design.

Rana’s argument is an argument from analogy. He draws heavily from William Paley’s “watchmaker” example (If one came across a watch in the sand, they’d know it was designed… Paley argued that one could similarly conclude that life was designed). Rana doesn’t ignore the arguments raised against such analogical reasoning, but confronts them head on. After identifying several criteria which allow proper analogical reasoning (30ff), Rana makes his case for the Creator.

The first line of evidence comes from the machines in the cell. Again, Rana’s approach is analogical, rather than negative. The machine-like nature of the flagellum, along with other motor-like cellular functions presents an argument: “Organisms display design. Therefore, organisms are the product of a creator” (86).

The case doesn’t rest merely upon molecular machines. Rather, that is but one of the many lines of evidence. Rana draws out the implications of several “chicken-and-egg” paradoxes. These include the “mutual interdependence of DNA and proteins” (99), the origin of proteins themselves (100ff), and more (105ff). These systems present a kind of “irreducible complexity in which the system depends on the system to exist” (108).

Other elements of design are present in the cell as well. Aquaporins intricate and detailed workings illustrate the design that is present in the system (111ff). Other detailed, intricate designs (such as collagen, mRNA, and the breakdown of proteins) hint at the need for a designer. But the reasoning is not only supported by the details, it is also bolstered by the structural composition of the cell (126ff). The analogy of cells to machines is strengthened further by the quality control systems within the cell (198ff). Again, the reasoning is analogical–these things are designed, therefore they need a designer.

“Information can’t be separated from the activity of an intelligent agent” (142). The numerous examples of information in the cell lead to the inference of an agent. But it is not only the information’s presence that hints at a designer. Here Rana’s case really builds on and develops the work of other ID theorists. The information alone could be enough to infer an agent, but one must also account for the fact that cellular information follows rules like syntax, semantics, and pragmatics (144ff). It is not merely information, it is the use of that information and the rules governing that use that strengthen the case for an agent behind the information.

One of the most amazing parts of The Cell’s Design is the chapter called “A Style All His Own.” Darwinian evolution, if rewound, would come out different ways every time. Different mutations would occur, which would lead to different organisms. What is not expected, on Darwinism, is a convergence pattern in evolution. When the same templates keep showing up through independent routes of development, it provides strong evidence for a designer. Yet this “molecular convergence” is exactly what scientists have discovered again and again. On pages 207-214 Rana writes, with citations from scientific journals, of no less than 100 examples of molecular convergence. As a reader, one can’t help but be stunned as they go through these pages. Over and over, there is evidence that the same designs show up in different places, independently, throughout nature. As Rana writes, “if life emanates from a Creator, it’s reasonable to expect he would use the same designs repeatedly…” (215). And this repetition of design is found in life’s most basic components: DNA (216ff).

Rana does not ignore detractors arguments against his position. One counter-argument to Rana’s conclusions is the presence of poorly-designed mechanisms in nature. Yet Rana effectively nullifies these examples, citing how many of them have turned out to be optimally tuned for life, and how others may be expected to be equally tuned (258ff).

The Cell’s Design is an extremely difficult read, but it does not leave readers who are not scientists to flounder. Rana’s second and third chapters provide some basic biological understanding which readers must have to understand the argument throughout the rest of the book. There is also a 12-page glossary at the back of the book which will let those unfamiliar with the terminology follow along. That said, this is not an easy book. The argument is heavily scientific and involves an exploration, in extreme detail, of the mechanisms and machines at work in the cell. The book presents a fantastic case for ID, but not at the expense of the details.

Finally, it is important to underscore the reasoning behind Rana’s conclusions. His argument is abductive. He explicitly outlines it:

1) X is observed

2) If Y were true, then X would be expected.

3) There is good reason to believe that Y is true.

In the case of the cell:

1) Design is observed in biochemical systems.

2) If life stemmed from the direct work of a Creator, the elegant design of biochemical systems would be expected.

3) There is good reason to believe that life is the product of a Creator (276, these arguments are an exact quote).

After reading through The Cell’s Design, this reader cannot help but agree with this argument. Over and over again, Rana has drawn out the exquisite design in the cell. The positive evidence is there, life is designed.

The Cell’s Design presents a phenomenal case for a designer of life. Those interested in exploring intelligent design should add this book to their list. It is not an easy read, by any means, but it provides some explicit, positive evidence for the conclusion that a Creator exists. Those wishing to deny this fact will find much with which they must contend in Rana’s work. I recommend it without reservation.

Source:

Fazale Rana, The Cell’s Design (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008).

Disclaimer:  I was provided with a review copy of this book by Reasons to Believe. You can learn more about this science-faith think tank at reasons.org.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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