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philosophy

This tag is associated with 132 posts

Book Review: “Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology” by J.P. Moreland

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology provides an introduction to and critique of the philosophical position of scientism.

Moreland defines scientism as “the view that the hard sciences–like chemistry, biology, phsyics, astronomy–provide the only genuine knowledge of reality” (Kindle location 263-271, hereafter citations are also Kindle locations). He provides several examples of how he’s encountered this belief in various realms.

The strength of the book is found in Moreland’s arguments that scientism is self-refuting, the possibility of nonscientific knowledge, several principles theism explains that scientism cannot, and the attempt to integrate science and Christian thought. For example, when arguing about scientism being self-refuting, Moreland notes that the claim of scientism itself is a philosophical claim that cannot be tested through the hard sciences. But he goes further, noting that many are aware of this significant difficulty in the theory and instead argue that it can be a kind of first principle. But again, such an attempt to insulate the claim from scientific inquiry itself is a philosophical endeavor, essentially establishing the first principles of knowledge on a basis that those principles themselves reject.

Moreland also offers a condensed form of Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism: basically, if we agree that evolution is true and that naturalism is true–all that exists is the material world–then, minimally, we have at least some small reason to believe our cognitive facilities may be untrustworthy.

Where Moreland struggles is when he tries to outline the vast influence he believes scientism has in our culture. Essentially anything Moreland perceives as a societal ill can be tied back to scientism, in his view. Universities having any sort of secular slant? Scientism is to blame. People believing evolution is true? Scientism is to blame. Specific instances of perceived moral decay? Scientism caused it.

The problem with this is it begins to read more like a screed against positions in disfavor with Moreland than a tightly argued philosophical attack on scientism. A specific example can be found in chapter 3, entitled “How scientism changed the universities.” After an introductory quote from Dallas Willard, who taught at USC from 1965-2013 and is thus taken, apparently, to be broad evidence for the totality of experience at all universities, Moreland argues following another scholar (see below) that American universities followed a specific, three-stage path from 1880-1930 that went from a “Religious Stage” through a “Scientific Stage” before ending up at a “Humanities and Extracurricular Stage” (Kindle location 561-570). Tellingly, Reuben is the only citation of any study in the entire chapter–a work from 1996 about which Moreland states “I have relied on Reuben’s insightful analysis for much of what follows in this chapter” (Kindle location 639).

But following this brief look at what is surely a substantial claim (did all universities in America follow this pattern? based on what evidence? what other studies back up this data?), Moreland goes on to state that the central problem is found in the fact/value distinction and, allegedly, that science became the only knowledge that universities–all of them, apparently–valued (577). This, in turn, de-centered Christian monotheism “from the cognitive domain” and led to the impossibility of having unified curriculums or even “justifying why one discipline should have anything at all to do with another…” (588). One may well wonder how such a claim can be justified when there are such clearly inter-related disciplines as critical theory or intersectionality on the rise which explicitly demand convergence of numerous disciplines, but one also wonders what the evidence is for these claims to begin with. More importantly for the thesis at hand, the question is whether scientism is specifically and verifiably to blame for such a shift in university cultures. Moreland states that it is rather explicitly, but does little to actually support that claim. The same goes for many other things he views as societal ills–scientism is clearly at fault for them all. How? It’s unclear.

Another problem is that Moreland, as he has elsewhere, is quick to assert that his own vision of reality just is the only possible biblical view of reality and so those who disagree with it just are influenced by scientism and secularism and ought to be condemned. In a revealing passage, Moreland writes:

Thus, the ‘dialogue’ between science and theology or biblical exegesis is really a monologue, with theologians asking scientists what the latest discoveries allow them to teach:
Homosexuality is caused by our DNA? No problem. The Bible doesn’t teach the immorality of homosexuality anyway. We have misread it for two thousand years.
Neuroscience shows there is no soul? No problem. Dualism and the soul are Greek ideas not found in the Bible, which is more Hebraic and holistic.
A completely naturalistic story of evolution is adequate to explain the origin and development of all life? No problem. After all, the Bible isn’t a science text.
Studies in the human genome suggested human life did not begin with Adam and Eve? No problem. We can reread the historical narrative in a new way.
And on and on it goes. (Kindle location 1025ff)

Moreland, of course, sees scientism to blame for all of this. Christians and even theologians, he asserts, are so steeped in scientism that they cannot see past it and instead conform all of their theological beliefs to the latest fashionable science. But Moreland doesn’t establish his claim in reality. This lengthy passage shows his feelings about all of these developments, but it fails to account for the fact that without scientific discoveries that may challenge interpretations of Scripture, these discussions wouldn’t be possible in the first place. That is, he complains about he lack of “dialogue” between science and theology, but is apparently upset when that dialogue leads some to differing conclusions from himself, which conclusions, of course, can only be due to the theologians total capitulation to scientism.

Never mind that science and theology have informed each other for much of history. Note that one of Moreland’s complaints is not “Exploration of space and mathematical models have shown that the Earth revolves around the sun? No problem. The Bible doesn’t actually teach that the Sun revolves around the Earth.” Never mind that Moreland would almost certainly hold that latter position, and that such a revision of reading the Bible did in fact take place. Never mind that some theologians actually did turn to seeing divine accommodation in Scripture when it came to scientific truths instead of demanding that a re-reading of the Bible make it so that the sun did not literally rise. No, this is an issue that Moreland himself agrees with, so it can’t be due to scientism, right?

These examples show a weakness in the book that is unfortunate, because on some other counts it is quite strong. Moreland is keen to cast aspersions on rival theological positions and to blame scientism for more than he can establish in reality that it may make readers of the book less interested in those parts of the book he does establish fairly well. For example, his critique of the possibility of rational thought given a purely scientistic worldview is spot-on, and his analysis of how scientism is self-defeating ought to seal the deal for most readers.

Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology is a brief but solid critique of scientism contained within a broader attack on secularism in general. What’s unfortunate is that Moreland seems to see the latter as not just entirely encompassed (or at least caused by) the former, but also that he does so without reason for making such an equivocation. The book thus ends up as an uneven look at an important topic.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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.

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Book Review: “A History of Western Philosophy From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism” by C. Stephen Evans

A History of Western Philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism by C. Stephen Evans is a valuable entry in the list of single-volume histories of philosophy. Evans approaches the topic from a Christian perspective, though he does integrate critiques into the exposition of philosophies as he goes. Instead, he offers a perspective in the end of philosophers with which he has significant disagreements.

It would be impossible to summarize the whole work here. Instead, I’ll offer a few highlights. In addition to the introduction and concluding summary, there are 22 chapters focusing on either individual philosophers (eg. Aquinas, David Hume) or movements (eg. Enlightenment Deism, Early Christian Thought). Evans writes in a truly winsome and interesting manner, and his explanation of each philosophy is written in a way that, initially at least, draws the reader into thinking it may be “the” philosophy. When Evans believes there is important criticism to offer, he generally does so at the end of each chapter. When other philosophers have offered significant critiques, Evans incorporates those into the chapter. One example of the latter is the Ontological Argument of Anselm, which receives attention in several different chapters (for example in the chapters on Kant, Early Medieval Philosophy, The High Middle Ages (I) and (II)) with major philosophers either arguing against it or making improvements.

I particularly enjoyed those philosophies which at points seemed unanswerable. For example, George Berkeley’s immaterialism caught my interest when I first got into philosophy, and the puzzle of his thought remains one that intrigues me. As Evans aptly sums it up: “Few people find Berkeley’s arguments convincing. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to see just what is wrong with the arguments” (333). Indeed! Yet, as Evans notes, Berkeley’s arguments just ring of wrongness somehow. Denying the existence of the material world just seems… off to us. It’s one of those pesky philosophical problems that makes the field so intriguing and frustrating all at once.

The chapter on Hume was of interest as well, though I personally hoped he would bring up George Campbell, a contemporary of Hume whose A Dissertation on Miracles offers a decisive rebuttal to Hume’s arguments on miracles. Nevertheless, this and many other chapters are full of insights and interest. The footnotes offer much by way of further reading, as well.

A few criticism might be leveled at this stage. First, there is a notable lack of women in Evans’s survey. Though he does allude to this and does include one woman philosopher as a title philosopher for a chapter, a ratio of >20:1 is not great. A diversity of voices in this regard might have heightened the usefulness of the book. Another critique to offer would be the rather uncritical acceptance of “Western” as denoting something understood by all. In the introduction, there is a brief look at this topic, but little commentary at all is offered on how one distinguishes “Western” from any other kind of philosophy. As with any broad concept like this, it seems almost too broad to be useful. After all, if people like Augustine from Africa and Clement from Alexandria are “Western,” what does the term mean, exactly? Indeed, included in this definition of “Western” are philosophers from New Zealand and Australia. The term just doesn’t seem helpful to begin with.

The strengths of this volume should now be apparent. It presents a broad look at many of the most famous philosophers (and philosophies) that people run into in the United States. Evans offers critical feedback where appropriate, and he presents each philosophy in an effective, interesting manner.

C. Stephen Evans has done a service making this historical look at philosophy. It is surprisingly readable, while also presenting the views of many philosophers in a fair way.  I recommend A History of Western Philosophy as an introduction to the topic alongside other, firsthand works.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality” by André Dumas

André Dumas’ Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality is a deep look at the theology and philosophy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, offering the thesis that Bonhoeffer’s primary aim was to show that God is reality and really interacts with the world. Though this may seem a rather mundane claim, Dumas’s point is that “reality” is rather strictly defined for Bonhoeffer, and, as he argues, this leads to some intriguing insights into Christian theology and philosophy.

One side note before reviewing the work: this book was originally published in French in 1968 and in English in 1971. Dumas is, in part, responding to the “death of God” movement that turned Bonhoeffer into a kind of secular saint Nevertheless, this work is highly relevant to today’s theological and philosophical inquiry as well, particularly due to the keen interest in Bonhoeffer’s life and work.

Central to Bonhoeffer’s thought, argues Dumas, is the struggle between objective revelation and existential interpretation. Alongside this is the question of reality, which, for Bonhoeffer, was this-worldly. Christianity is not to be reduced to a religion, in this case meant to denote a faith that points to the other-world or beyond this world to a different and disconnected reality. Instead, it is about this world, the very one we are in. Dumas notes that “Bonhoeffer was… drawn to the Old Testament, because the living God within it becomes known only in the here-and-now of human life. The absence in the Bible of any speculation about the beyond, about the abode of the dead, about inner feelings, or about the world of the soul, strongly differentiates the faith and anthropology of Israel from the various religions that surround it. For Israel [and Bonhoeffer], God can only be encountered in the reality of this world. To withdraw from it is to find oneself beyond his reach” (144). Alongside this is the need to avoid either total subjectivism about the word of God while also not falling into the danger of objectification.

In order to combat these difficulties, Dumas argues that Bonhoeffer sees Christ as the structure of the world, God entering reality to structure it around himself. Thus, for Bonhoeffer, Christ is “the one who structures the world by representing its true reality before God until the end” (32). This is important, because this means that Bonhoeffer is not encouraging a Christianity that sees the ultimate goal as “salvation” from the world. “When biblical words like ‘redemption’ and ‘salvation’… are used today, they imply that God saves us by extricating us from reality, blissfully removing us from any contact with it. This is both gnostic and anti-biblical” (ibid). Christ is the true center of all things, and the structure which upholds the true reality, one with Christ at the center.

These central aspects of Bonhoeffer’s thought are then the main force of Dumas’s arguments when it comes to “religionless Christianity” and the questions of realism and idealism. Regarding the latter, Nietzsche remains a major force in philosophy as one who also argued for a kind of realism. But Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, though having similar influences, came to utterly different conclusions and interpretations of that “realism.” Nietzsche “cannot get beyond the terrible ambiguity of loneliness in the world, against which Bonhoeffer rightly affirms the reality of co-humanity, willed by God in his structuring of the world, and embodied by Christ in his life and death for others” (161). Thus, “Bonhoeffer… agrees with Nietzsche on the primacy of reality… But Bonhoeffer disagrees with Nietzsche about the nature of that reality” (ibid). And Bonhoeffer’s vision of reality is concrete as well, but one which avoids the stunning loneliness and hopelessness of Nietzsche.

The non-religious church is a major question in Bonhoeffer’s later thought, but one which must be viewed holistically with the rest of Bonhoeffer’s ideas, as Dumas argues. Thus, the non-religious church is not an atheistic one or a “secular Christian” one. Instead, it is one which “will then rediscover a langauge in speaking of God [that] will not release one from the earth… The resurrection will not re-establish the distance between God and man that was overcome by the cross… Instead, [the community of the church] will be nourished by its participation here on earth in the task of restructuring everyday life, just as Jesus Christ did earlier on its behalf” (209). This cannot be interpreted as a call to go against faith in Christ but rather as a radical call to make Christ the center once again. This is the linchpin of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics as well, for it calls to make Christ the center, a re-structuring and ordering of the world which will change everything, and an order which Bonhoeffer died following.

Dumas is an able interpreter of Bonhoeffer, and one who avoids entirely the danger of separating Bonhoeffer’s work into distinct eras or prioritizing some works over others. Dumas argues instead that Bonhoeffer’s thought is unified, though of course it does develop over time. Therefore, Dumas finds Sanctorum Communio just as important as Letters and Papers from Prison for understanding Bonhoeffer’s thought. His book demonstrates the ability of Bonhoeffer not simply as theologian or martyr but also as philosopher, drawing from Hegel and others to create a systematic view of the world with Christ as the center, as the structure of reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality is a fascinating work that ought to be read by any looking to understand the works of Bonhoeffer.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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: “Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview” 2nd Edition by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig

A work of the size and scope as J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s massive Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview is daunting, so readers will want to know if it is work going through. The short answer to that question is that yes, it is, so long as one reads the work–like any other–with a critical eye.

The book is broken up into six parts: Introduction, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Science, Ethics, and the Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology. Each section is full of definitions and lengthy philosophical outlines arguing for the positions Craig and Moreland hold. They attempt to stick to a largely “mere” Christianity, though at times they stray from a vision that is as broad as possible. For example, regarding the debate over the soul, Moreland and Craig fall staunchly into the dualist camp, to the extent that a physicalist theory of mind from a Christian perspective isn’t even considered. Regarding the science-faith question, the authors argue lengthily against any perspective which would hold to methodological naturalism and seem to align most closely with ID theory. For a theory of time, the authors push for an A-theory of time, which later impacts their doctrine of God by making God temporal post-creation and undermines the notion of divine simplicity.

Yet even those who take issue with the positions the authors hold will continue to benefit from interacting with their views. For example, interacting with their arguments about God and time would be a great exercise whether one believes God is temporal or atemporal.

I did, however, find the choices of subjects related to philosophical theology to be particularly interesting. The first two sections make arguments related to the Trinity and the Incarnation, which are both definitional to the notion of a “Christian.” The third, however, is about the Atonement, and quickly (613) states that “an essential, and indeed central, element of any biblically adequate atonement theory is penal substitution” and then go on to say “More than that, penal substitution, if true, could not be a merely subsidiary facet of an adequate atonement theory, for it is foundational to many other aspects of the atonement, such as redemption from sin, satisfaction of divine justice, and the moral influence of Christ’s example” (613-614). I was quite surprised by this–especially the latter statement–because there are entire theories of atonement based around these aspects. Thus, for example, the Example Theory of the atonement is entirely based upon the notion that Christ is an example and would therefore give us all kinds of moral influence. Interestingly, the fourth doctrine addressed is that of Christian particularism–the notion that salvation is in Christ alone. I tend to agree that no orthodox Christian would deny this, but it is interesting to see that Craig and Moreland seem to equate belief in, say, universalism with a denial of particularism, though to my knowledge most of the 19th century Christian universalists affirmed particularlism but held to universal salvation through Christ. Craig and Moreland go on to state that views like annihilationism “are rather difficult to square with the biblical data” (632) even though, in my experience, annihilationists almost always go straight to the biblical text to support their views (see, eg. numerous passages that equate hell with death or destruction). Again, it seems odd in a book that tends to go towards “mere” Christianity to pick views that are at issue and then exclude all others.

Many readers will want to go straight to the book for arguments about the existence of God, and Moreland and Craig do not disappoint. In the two chapters on the topic, the authors summarize huge swathes of philosophical arguments for the existence of God, along with answering many objections. Like the rest of the book, this is done in summaries of longer arguments, but readers will still get much of use out of this section.

Though I’ve skimmed through many portions of the book, I’d like to focus a little bit on Christology and the discussion of what Craig elsewhere calls Neo-Apollinarianism.  I was curious to see if the 2nd edition of the book would modify this position in critical ways to avoid the pitfalls of his previous position, but it seems it does not. The argument is made that “Apollinarianism achieved a genuine incarnation that… is no more implausible than the soul’s union with the body” (597). The problem was that it failed to unify body with mind in Christ. Thus, the authors propose making the divine Logos the mind of Christ, among other things (603ff). This seems to me–and many others–to punt the problem by still making it such that the Incarnated Christ does not have the totality of human nature, for the mind is from the divine nature. Simply calling it the “Logos” does not smooth over the problem of making the human nature effectively mindless without the divine. Because this Christology does not give Christ a human mind, as Gregory of Nazianzus said, “That which was not assumed was not saved” (glossing a bit). This seems an incomplete Christ.

Moreover, the discussion on the Lutheran view of Christology (a view that I as a Lutheran ascribe to) rather strangely condemns Lutherans for confusing the natures of Christ by teaching the communication of the attributes. Such a blithe dismissal seems wrongheaded, unless Moreland and Craig wish to further deny that the Incarnate Christ was incapable of divine activity. Alas, such misunderstanding of Lutheran positions are not uncommon.

With Philosophical Foundations for a Christian WorldviewMoreland and Craig have provided a truly impressive contribution to Christian philosophy of religion that will serve as a starting point for many an engagement with a huge number of topics. At some points, the authors take contentious positions, and it is unfortunate that they endorse a non-standard Christology. Thus, readers should read the work with a critical eye, treating it as a practice of interaction on a high level with a number of philosophical ideas related to Christianity.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

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.

“Man of Steel” – A Christian look at themes in the film

man-of-steelEvery movie has a worldview. “Man of Steel,” the latest iteration of Superman, is no different. In fact, many explicit questions of worldview come up. Here, we’ll take a look at some major themes found in the movie. There will, of course, be SPOILERS below.

Morality

The question of morality looms large throughout the film. What does it mean to seek to do good in our world? At one point, Faora Ul, a commander in General Zod’s army, discusses how the fact that they have moved beyond morality has become an “evolutionary advantage” and that “evolution” always wins. I was struck by this brief aside for a few reasons. First, would moving apart from morality really be an advantage? Surely, it may lead to no self-sacrifice, but that self-sacrifice itself is something which preserves a race. In fact, the whole thrust of the film centered around the notion of self-sacrifice by Superman giving up those things which he liked or wanted in order to save others. The fact that Superman overcomes the moral nihilist is significant.

Second, does evolution always win? This is a question to consider for a different time and place, but surely I think one must wonder whether it is the case that having an advantage would guarantee victory in the race to survive. Any kind of random fluke could happen to eliminate a better-suited creature. Again, these are questions for another time, but in context of the movie, the whole notion was again overthrown, because Superman, with a stringent morality, overcame.

But at what cost? The climactic scene in which Superman confronts General Zod ends with Superman snapping Zod’s neck to prevent him from killing even more people. Superman’s self-made (but unmentioned in the movie) ethos of avoiding killing is thus itself overthrown. What does this say about objective morality? Is such a killing ever justified? Or, might it mean that Superman abandoned morality in order to confront the moral nihilist? Perhaps, instead, there are shades of virtue ethics found throughout, which confront Superman with a choice and allow him to carve out his own moral sphere?

These are questions suitable for reflection, and I think the movie does a great job asking the questions without spoon-feeding any answers.

Shades of a Savior?

Superman is, of course, readily seen as a savior-stand in. Superman is 33 years old, which is also the generally accepted age of Jesus at death. One scene depicts Superman in a church, and his face is set against a backdrop of a stained-glass depiction of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The scenery is surely intentional–Superman is seeking to give himself up for the sake of humanity, just as Jesus did. But the way in which they go about this self-giving are radically different. Superman’s ultimate sacrifice is compromising his moral code in order to save people, while Jesus’ was the ultimate sacrifice–taking on death and becoming sin for our sake.

The question which all of this begs, then, is whether Superman might be envisioned as an interesting Jesus-parallel, a kind of allegory to be utilized to discuss the real Savior, or whether Superman is instead a kind of rival savior figure intentionally subverting the narrative of an incarnate deity. Support for the latter might be drawn from the notion that Superman would be “viewed as a god” simply because he came from a different world and the atmosphere/sun of Earth strengthened him to superhuman (groaner, I know) levels. Is this a subversive way to describe Christ? Well, really only if one wants to accept that Jesus of Nazareth was some sort of alien and that a radical deception has gone on for two millenia. Of course, some people would like to suggest just that, but how grounded in truth might it be?

Conclusion

It seems to me that the film, then, is a useful way to juxtapose saviors. What does it mean to be a savior? How does one bring that about? There are parallels between Jesus and the story of Superman, but the most important things are perhaps the contradictions in their stories and lives. Many interesting questions about morality are raised in the film as well, and it would be hard to argue that the story of the movie is not compelling. “Man of Steel,” it seems, is another way to integrate the Christian worldview into every aspect of life. What are your thoughts on the movie? What other themes might be discussed (like this post on Platonic thought)? Let me know in the comments below.

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.

Book Review: “Hollywood Worldviews” by Brian Godawa– Speaking of worldviews in the movies, why not check out my review of this book which seeks to provide a method for analyzing film from a worldview perspective? Let me know what you think.

Engaging Culture: A brief guide for movies– I outline my approach to evaluating movies from a worldview perspective.

I have a number of ways in which I have critically engaged with culture in movies, books, and other arts in my posts on current events (scroll down for more posts).

Virtue Ethics and the Man of Steel– Check out this interesting post on the Platonic thought found throughout the movie.

SDG.

——

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: “Aborting Aristotle” by Dave Sterrett

aborting-aristotle-seterrettAborting Aristotle by Dave Sterrett explores some of the metaphysical background needed to discuss the morality of abortion. It is a brief book best seen as a primer on issues related to abortion in philosophy.

The book proceeds in a logical fashion from showing that inconsistency doesn’t undermine the good things that people like Aristotle or Thomas Jefferson said, then arguing that metaphysics is necessary, and moving on through examination of some of the primary grounds for believing abortion is permissible: uncertainty and materialism. Then, arguments are put forward showing that natural law can be a basis for rule of law, that distinctions related to substance are important to the debate, that all humans are persons, and that we are persons not based on what we do but rather on who we are. The book ends wit ha chapter showing some ares of agreement or disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice advocates.

Weighing in at 120 pages, the book is quite brief on these various topics. Again, it functions as a primer, not an exhaustive overview of any of these issues. That limits its usefulness in some ways, as there are other books which provide groundwork on philosophy before diving into the abortion debate with greater depth. Where Sterrett’s work excels is in its focus on the concept of “substance” and its importance for understanding personhood. He demonstrates that much of the debate boils down to one’s philosophical background, and advocates one which sees humans as substances.

Aborting Aristotle is a great read for someone looking to ground themselves in the abortion debate. It is the kind of book that one should read before delving into some of the meatier works on ethics and bioethics related to abortion.

The Good

+Provides much-needed background knowledge of the abortion debate
+Builds a framework for discussing various arguments about abortion

The Bad

-Extremely brief
-Relies a bit too much on quotes

“But it’s Legal” – Does the legality of an act make it moral?

One argument that is often used to defend certain acts which are argued to be immoral is the notion that these acts are “legal.” For example, one might say they are personally opposed to abortion, but it is legal and so they do not seek to end abortions. A more specific example has been the defense of Planned Parenthood in regards to donating fetal tissue. It is argued that the donation is legal, and so no wrongdoing has occurred. Evidence from the recent videos released seems to suggest that those fetal tissues might be sold, rather than donated, but that is not the issue at hand. The question to address here is: “Does the legality of an act make it moral?”

Thus, in the case of Planned Parenthood’s donations/sales, if legal, does it follow that it is moral?

To be blunt, the legality of an act is not enough to make it moral. One clear example of this would be antebellum slavery, which was legal for quite some time in the United States. Would those who want to assert that legality is enough to make an act morally permissible agree that slavery, at that time, was moral? If so, that is a tough pill to swallow. But we can go beyond that example and see how Nazi Germany was treated. After World War II, several of the perpetrators of the Holocaust and other atrocities committed by the Nazis were put on trial. The first of these became known as the Nuremberg Trials. The argument they made, however, was that they were obeying the law of their land. The argument was thus made that there was no law to which they could be held accountable.

The argument was rejected, and the legacy of these trials led to the creation of various international law organizations and more specific definitions of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the question that must be pressed is whether these trials were just. The laws that they were condemned by were largely created after or during the trials themselves. What were the Nazis guilty of? The answer has already been provided, in part, as crimes against humanity. By willingly participating in and carrying out genocide and other atrocities, despite having orders to do so and acting within the laws of their land, the Nazis had still violated a higher law, which held them to a moral standard. There remains much debate over the legal basis for the convictions and executions of those who carried out the atrocities, but it seems that if one ultimately wants to argue that the law is all it requires to make something moral, they must side with the Nazis and agree that they should not have been held accountable for their acts.

We can therefore see that the mere appeal to a law to argue something is moral is not enough. Anyone who disagrees must assert that slavery, as it was being conducted in the United States, was at least morally ambiguous if not a moral good, because it was legal. Similarly, they must assert that the genocide the Nazis carried out was itself at least morally ambiguous if not a moral good, because it was legal and they did it under orders. The absurdity of these two conclusions should lead any reasonable person to agree that the legality of an act is not enough to establish its morality.

Thus, the simple legality of an act does not make it moral. An appeal to an acts legality does not mean it should be dismissed from moral scrutiny. Planned Parenthood should justly remain under intense scrutiny.

“Never use an argument that you don’t find convincing”?

Rock_Strata

Not an argument, but a pretty picture nonetheless.

I was contemplating a post I was working on not too long ago and realized I didn’t find one of the arguments I put forward very convincing.

I think that there may be situations in which it is permissible and perhaps even wise to use arguments that you don’t personally find convincing. I want to start this with the caveat that as Christians in no way should you use arguments in this fashion without honestly prefacing them by saying something like “I don’t find this convincing necessarily” or “This is not my view, but some think…” We must be honest in our argumentation, but that doesn’t mean we have to be limited in it.

The Impossibility of Knowing Everything

One reason to use arguments that you don’t personally find convincing is because it is impossible for us to know everything. For example, for a long time I thought Pascal’s Wager was an okay, but not ultimately convincing argument. However, I then read a book on the argument, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God by Jeff Jordan (review linked), which convinced me that the argument is actually fairly powerful. Indeed, after reading the book I even started to use the argument myself.

Thus, what this means is that there was an argument I did not find convincing at one point, but which I later found to be quite convincing indeed. I didn’t have a complete picture of the Wager type argument, and I still don’t. It’s possible that one day I might discover a strong counter-argument which undermines my confidence in the argument.

Effectively any argument that we consider is in a situation like this. We cannot possibly have read every single angle on most (any?) arguments, and so it is possible that any number of arguments we find convincing are really not; or vice versa.

Thus, it might not be a bad idea in some situations to offer something like this: “I haven’t studied X argument much, but as of now I don’t find it very convincing. However, I do think the position it ultimately argues for is true. Perhaps you’d find X argument convincing, and we can talk about it. [Offer X argument.]”

Opening Up New Avenues for Discussion

The closing example above offers another insight into why mentioning or “using” arguments that we don’t personally find convincing could be effective- they might open up avenues for more discussion. For example, when one is doing apologetics, I could see a conversation happening in which an opening could be found by saying something like “I agree! I don’t find X to be a convincing reason to believe in God. Here’s why. Can we talk about Y, though, which I do find convincing?”

Moreover, we are called to pursue the truth and hold fast to what is good. In discussing an argument we might not find convincing, there might be new points raised which cause us to reevaluate the rejected argument in a different light.

The Pragmatic Use of Arguments 

Finally, another reason it might be even wise to utilize arguments that we don’t personally find convincing would be pragmatic. For the sake of the following example, just assume that the positions presented are thought be the apologist to be acceptable biblically, though they favor one over the other. Suppose one is talking to an atheist whose only objection left to Christianity is the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment. In that case, the apologist might mention the alternative Christian doctrine of annihilationism/conditionalism, pointing out that although they don’t personally hold the view, it is a view that is established within the Christian tradition and offers an alternative to the eternal conscious punishment view.

In this case, the atheist’s final objection is at least possibly answered–they are confronted with the reality that their final objection is possibly mistaken. And, the apologist with whom they are having this discussion was honest enough to point out they don’t hold to the view, merely that it is a view which answers their objection.

This pragmatic use of argument must be done carefully, and again very openly and honestly. I have found that if one does use this method in a conversation, it generally goes to more fruitful discussions and drawing out more areas of agreement.

Conclusion

Thus, I am of the opinion that it is at least permissible to use arguments that you do not personally find convincing, with the caveat that you do so honestly.

What do you think? Should you only use arguments you personally find convincing? Is it permissible to use arguments you don’t find convincing? Are there circumstances in which this is different?

By the way, I did take that argument out of the post I was working on.

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.

Whose body parts are they?

The recent revealing of a video that purports to show a Planned Parenthood employee talking about selling the body parts of aborted fetuses has caused a stir around the web. There have been, predictably, many different reactions to this video. Some have been skeptical, noting that Planned Parenthood itself claims to only receive reimbursement for the transportation of this “tissue.” Others have jumped to accuse Planned Parenthood of human trafficking. Tired labels rejected by those being labeled have been tossed back and forth, like “anti-abortion activists”; “murderers”; and the like.

I’m not going to dive into the controversy over whether careful editing made the video say more than it actually does, or whether Planned Parenthood needs to be shut down. It seems like investigations are already underway to look into this issue more deeply.

What I instead want to offer is a brief discussion of the question that is behind all of this controversy: “Whose body parts are they?”

To whom do these hearts, livers, lungs, and the like belong? Which body are they a part of? How you answer these questions is extremely important. If these are part of the mother, then the controversy may still stand–selling one’s own body parts would be questionable ethically. But if they’re not, then what?

The position that maintains these are just parts of the mother cannot be maintained. Does a mother, upon pregnancy, begin to grow an extra heart, extra limbs, an extra brain? How many brains do human beings have?

To maintain that this “tissue” is merely part of the mother that is being donated or sold for research (or whatever purposes) is absurd on its face. One would have to actually believe–not just argue for the sake of maintaining their position–that during pregnancy, a mother grows new parts of her body such as a brain, legs, and the like, which are all characterized by different DNA (unless cloned) and around 50% of the time has a different gender. That is, not to put too fine a point on it, one would have to actually claim that women grow penises.

So I ask you, dear readers. Whose body parts are they?

The outrage for selling these body parts may be on point. But how much greater should the outrage be at the fact that the body parts in question are those not of the mother, but of a distinct living organism with separate DNA?

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Be sure to check out my other posts in which I argue for the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

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.

Book Review: “Mere Existentialism: A Primer” by Max Malikow

100_1270-2Max Malikow’s Mere Existentialism: A Primer is an excellent introduction to existential thought.

This brief work offers brief (less than 10 pages a piece) introductions to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Karl Jaspers, Heidegger, Viktor Frankl, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Irvin Yalom. These are exactly what they should be for being a primer on existential thought and encourage further reading.

At the end of the book is a brief single-question summary of the thought of each of these major existential thinkers. These are thought-provoking and fairly accurate (at least for those with whom I was already familiar).

The benefit of a book like this is that it allows readers to dive in and learn about major aspects of existential thought without a major time commitment. It is best seen as a way to introduce these thinkers rather than as a comprehensive look at existentialism.

There are a few typos in the work, with perhaps the most noticeable being that Simone de Beauvoir is referred to as “Simon” in the table of contents and the chapter title (though it is correct elsewhere).

Mere Existentialism would best be used as a way to briefly look at existential thought, whether for one’s own edification or in a classroom. It is a good read for an afternoon, provided the reader wants to sit back and think of their own place in the universe for a while afterwards.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book from Theocentric Publishing. I was not obligated to provide any kind of feedback whatsoever.

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!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Max Malikow, Mere Existentialism: A Primer (Chipley, FL: Theocentric Publishing Group, 2014).

The Image in this post was a picture I took in the Rocky Mountains and shall not be used without expressed consent. 

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.

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