Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Book Review: Does God Have a Future?

One of the most intense debates going on within evangelical Christianity at the moment is over so-called open theism. One of the most contentious assertions of this approach is that, for God, the future is partly settled and partly open. The debate has, at times, been vitriolic. For over a year, the two authors of this book, Does God Have a Future? A Debate on Divine Providence, exchanged emails with each other discussing the issue in a respectful, caring, but assertive tone. They have put their correspondence into this book as an introduction to the issues associated with open theism and also as a model for how theological dialogue should take place. Christopher Hall is a proponent of the classical view of God and is an editor-at-large for Christianity Today. John Sanders is one of the prominent advocates of the open view and has authored an excellent book on the subject entitled The God Who Risks and co-authored another one called The Openness of God. Their discussion covers a wide range of topics in a somewhat uneven way - to be expected given the nature of their dialogue. Both authors begin with a summary of how they arrived at their respective positions then explore the practical problems for classical theism, the problem of suffering and evil, the nature of God and God's attributes, the historical development of ideas about God, the relationship between omniscience and free will, and the task of doing theology. There hasn't been anything else published on this topic quite like this. The fact that the exchanges were email-based over such a long time gives the book an informal flavour. And yet, the authors are rigorous in critiquing the other's view whilst treating each other with deep respect. Although there is much left unsaid in the book, if you are looking for an introduction to the open theism issue and want to genuinely understand what attracts proponents of the view, then this book makes an excellent start. You will also read of some of the concerns held by those who wish to retain a more traditional, classical view. Highly recommended! Related Links The following are a few of the many web resources available on open theism. Please note that they are not listed in any particular order - I have provided them in the order I have come across them in my searching. I have also attempted to provide an equal number of each but I think there are a couple more on the contra side than the pro. This doesn't mean I favour the contra view - it just happened to turn out that way. A good thinker won't base their conclusions on quantity after all!

In tackling this issue, I believe one should read the best of both sides on the issue. That means actually getting hold of the best books on the topic which provide a more sustained treatment of the various points of views. In my opinion, the best books are: In favour of open theism

Against open theism

One other helpful book

Movie Review: Saved!

Saved! is a brilliantly scathing, wickedly funny satire on Fundamentalist evangelical Christian culture. Mary (Jena Malone) and her best friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) are good, Christian girls at the top of the social hierarchy at American Eagle Christian High School. But it all begins to unravel when Mary's boyfriend, Danny reveals he might be gay. Mary is devastated and eventually comes to believe she has received a message from Jesus to do whatever she needs to to keep Danny on the straight and narrow heterosexual path. She does and, as a result, becomes pregnant. She is ostracized and demonized by her friends who turn against her. She turns to two unlikely peers for help who, despite not being Christian, turn out to be the most "Christian" of the lot. This movie is not anti-Christian, but more anti-Fundamentalist as it pokes fun at some of the naive nonsense so prevalent in much evangelical Christian subculture. Some will, no doubt, find the movie offensive. It is offensive in the sense that it provokes some highly necessary thinking about so much that is taken for granted and, from outside the subculture itself, seems so bizarre and "screwed up". It ruthlessly targets hypocrisy, exaggerated hype, and a whole range of other baggage that imprisons so many in an oppressive religious hothouse environment. The acting is spot on and I loved the two "non-Christian" characters - a Jewish girl (Heather Matarazzo) who has been sent to the school because noone else will have her and a disabled boy (Macaulay Caulkin) who confesses that he is not really a Christian at all - and he is the brother of the perfect Christian, Hilary Faye! They provide a wonderful counter-point to the rest of the in-crowd. Mary turns to these two fringe dwellers as her perfect Christian life falls apart and she is forced to question all that she holds dear. The plot is pretty straight forward and, in some senses, a bit predictable, but that is not the point. It is all the wonderful critique that pokes fun at so many sacred cows. And the ending is an inspiration for us to genuinely commit ourselves to real Christianity. In this sense, Saved! is ultimately an uplifting experience with a good heart. This is a must see movie for Christians with courage and confidence enough to listen to a painful perspective on how others see certain corners of our religion. It is just what satire should be. As Susannah Gora has said, 'what finally makes Saved! so rewarding, and so wonderful, is that its snarky humor blossoms into a touching tribute to faith in its many beautiful, complicated, and ultimately blessed forms.' My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Boasts both wicked satire and a big heart, and as a result, is nothing short of brilliant.' - Susannah Gora/Premiere Negative Review Warning: This review contains high level coarse language 'An overwhelming portion of Saved! is wall-to-wall Jesus-Jesus-Jesus talk, closer to dead air than social spoof. At times, the screenplay (including Mary's voluminous narration) has the monotonous cadence of a recruitment sermon.' - Michael Atkinson/Village Voice Content Warning Strong thematic issues involving teens - sexual content, pregnancy, smoking and language

Friday, January 27, 2006

The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria (Spiked)

There seems to be an increasing amount of ant-religious sentiment, particularly anti-Christian, in the West today. Fred Furedi, in his article The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria explores the possible reasons behind this using, as examples, some of the hostile and dismissive reactions to movies like Chronicles of Narnia or The Passion of the Christ. It's a fascinating read. Check it out here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Movie Review: Get Rich or Die Tryin'

Rap music is a fascinating phenomenon, particularly when you understand the motivation of many rap artists who have used the music to liberate themselves from their low socioeconomic conditions and the very subversive sentiments derived from the performer's lives. 8 Mile is an excellent example of a loosely autobiographical account of Eminem's own journey on the back of rap music that provides real insight into the "meaning" of rap. The same cannot be said for Get Rich or Die Tryin'. It purports to be based on Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's life story from being a drug dealer to a change of life with rap music being the motivator, along with some pretty dark events that involved his being shot nine times (in the one incident) and coming very close to dying. But there is almost no redeeming aspects of the movie. Apparently the movie significantly distorts the truth about 50 Cents' life story and tends to glamorise and sanitise the activities he engaged in as a drug dealer. The film opens with a street shooting and Marcus (Curtis Jackson), a gang leader, lies bleeding on the ground as his life flashes before him - providing the narrative plot of the movie. We discover that Marcus has no father, his mother sells drugs to support the family, mother is murdered, Marcus takes over the drug distribution, is sent off to prison, discovers his "true self", leaves prison and tries to start a new life by becoming a rapper, but gets drawn back into the drug scene "by necessity". All nice, predictable stuff! The acting is woeful. At no time do we actually feel as though the characters are authentic and the dialogue is completely unbelievable at times. The editing is very poor and events seem disconnected and considerable work needs to be done to maintain a sense of continuity of the plot. On top of all that, 50 Cent's music is absolutely atrocious. I appreciate some of Eminem's material - so I am not against rap music per se - there's some good stuff out there. But if the film's music is any indication of 50 Cent's rap abilities then I will never place my ears near a track of his again and he should abandon his musical career before he completely ruins the reputation of rap music. The lyrics are simplistic, the rhythms of the lyrics seem to be out of sync with the music, and the music supporting the lyrics is lifeless and boring. The characters are riddled with cliche and stereotyping. I nearly laughed out loud (in what was supposed to be a very serious scene) when a drug king (Bill Duke) sounds exactly like Marlon Brando in the Godfather films! It was such an obvious rip-off I couldn't believe it! Stay rich by not spending your money on this one -- you will feel like you are dying as you attempt to sit through it. My Rating: *1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review 'A film with a rich and convincing texture, a drama with power and anger.' - Roger Ebert/Chicago-Sun Times Negative Review 'A disaster on all levels.' - Bill White/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Content Warning Strong violence, pervasive language, drug content, sexuality and nudity

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Book Review: The Thinker's Guide to God

What a wonderful book and a delightful read! The Thinker's Guide to God is a highly accessible introduction to a whole range of issues about God. In 14 chapters, Vardy and Arliss discuss various understandings of God; religious language; the challenge of anti-realism to belief in God; arguments for and against the existence of God; the attributes of God (what God is like); life after death; miracles and prayer; Jesus, the Trinity, and Christian theology; the relationship between faith and reason; attacks on God by Darwin, Marx, and Freud; the relationship between God and science; and the impact of quantum reality and multi-dimensions on our understanding of God. And all this in just over 250 pages! John Walters, in Dialogue magazine, has stated that, '[a]s a philosopher of religion Peter Vardy is unsurpassed.' He is right. There might not be many pages in the book, but there is incredible substance. Vardy's writing is clear, to the point, fair, and intelligent. If you have ever had doubts about God and feel that modern day ideas and science have undermined belief in God, then you must read this book. Vardy shows that a thinking person can believe in God with integrity and intelligence. The book is beautifully presented beginning with an attractive cover with the stunning Michelangelo painting, The Creation. The glossy pages include photographs, informative sidebars, and questions for consideration that supplement the text in very useful ways. If you have questions about God then don't miss this brilliant little book! Related Links There are an overwhelming number of internet resources related to God and the philosophy of religion. Here are just a few:

Friday, January 20, 2006

Book Review: Unlocking the Bible Omnibus

You might think that a massive tome of 1,343 pages would be a heavy, dry read. But David Pawson's Unlocking the Bible Omnibus is anything but that! Pawson's aim is to inspire his readers to come to understand the Bible as a whole rather than to use proof-texts here and there and potentially misunderstand what the Bible is really saying. The Omnibus is actually a collection of all of Pawson's books in the Unlocking the Bible series all in one book. It begins with a story of how the author came to write this material. It has travelled from verbal sermons and presentations to army personnel all the way to the current written form. And one of the distinguishing marks of the writing is its conversational style. When I first saw the book in the store, I sat down on a lounge to have a browse and found myself reading more and more to the point I just had to buy it! It's conversational approach makes it very easy to understand. Even though it is informal in tone, it is obvious that Pawson's survey of Scripture is informed by a massive amount of scholarly reading including a diverse array of Bible commentaries. It is the culmination of the author's preaching, teaching, and study of the Bible since 1957! So Unlocking the Bible has substance as well. Pawson takes a fairminded approach to presenting the meaning of Scripture. He is honest about different points of views and is clear when he favours one above another. It is obvious that the author wants his readers to think about Scripture. There is a fascinating explanation in his introduction on why there is a paucity of text references in his book. He explains that
... their absence is intentional. God gave us his Word in books, but not in chapters and verses. That was the work of two bishops, French and Irish, centuries later. It became easier to find a 'text' and to ignore context. How many Christians who quote John 3:16 can recite verses 15 and 17? Many no longer 'search the scriptures'; they simply look them up (given the numbers). So I have followed the apostles' habit of naming the authors only -- 'as Isaiah or David or Samuel said'. For example, the Bible says that God whistles. Where on earth does it say that? In the book of Isaiah. Whereabouts? Go and find out for yourself. Then you'll also find out when he did and why he did. And you'll have the satisfaction of having discovered all that by yourself.
What a great approach. There is a wealth of fantastic background information, outlines, paraphrases, theological discussions, points of view, explanations and more. You will find things you disagree with -- that is the nature of a book that makes you think. But you will find so much that is rewarding as you dip into the book or read it from cover to cover. It truly does go a long way to Unlocking the Bible. Related Links

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Movie Review: The Family Stone

The Family Stone follows a well-worn tradition of family comedy which offers moments of laughter but, ultimately, becomes so cliched it disappoints. The Stone family are gathering for their annual Christmas celebrations. Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) is bringing his girlfriend, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) along to meet the family for the first time. But Meredith is an extremely uptight person and just knows the family is not going to like her. And, of course, they don't and make it clear that they don't want their son marrying her. Things get so bad that Meredith moves out to the local inn and contacts her sister, Julie (Claire Danes), to come and visit for moral support. Her sister is a stunning blonde who seems to fit right in and only makes matters worse. On top of all that, Everett shows signs of attraction to Julie! The central narrative focuses around the tension between the family and Meredith. Rachel McAdams, playing a mean and outspoken Amy Stone, easily turns the family against Meredith, before she even arrives, with her gossip - and does a good job of the part. The rest of the family operate with innuendo, sarcasm, and other forms of backstabbing. The one person who sees behind the Type-A personality of Meredith is the easygoing Ben Stone (Luke Wilson) - who has a reputation for being stoned - and who gently pursues Meredith throughout the movie. There are lots of subplots going on and a whole range of quirky characters make the film a smorgasbord of emotional tension with comic relief. The most disappointing aspect of the movie is the ending which is so cliched that it ruins what pleasure we may have gained from the movie up until then. The Family Stone gives some laughs but ultimately plummets like a stone. My Rating: *** (out of 5) Positive Review 'The Family Stone may not be super-serious or even, well, sly, but none of that matters: this is a warm and engaging film that is sure to become a perennial Christmas favorite.' - Rachel Clarke/Premiere Negative Review 'Bezucha made something perverse, a feel-bad holiday film about a repellent family, with a milquetoast dad and a smug, devious harpy of a mom.' - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle Content Advice Some sexual content including dialogue, and drug references

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Book Review: How We Believe

Michael Shermer is the director of The Skeptic Society and in How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God he explores 'how and why humans put their faith in a higher power, create rules of morality, turn to apocalyptic myths, and negotiate compromises between science and religion.' There is some fascinating material in Shermer's book. In particular, he reports on the research he has carried out on why people believe in God. The reasons and variations amongst different groups are intriguing. It would appear that those of us who believe ascribe to ourselves more rational reasons for that belief than we ascribe to others who believe. We tend to suggest emotional or psychological reasons to others! How We Believe is divided into two parts. Part I is a discussion of 'God and Belief' and Part II explores the relationship between 'Religion and Science'. Shermer begins the first part with a discussion of the significance of the differences in the answers we give to the question Do You Believe in God? He goes on to criticise the conclusion of Nietzsche and Time magazine that God is dead, arguing that, according to the evidence, the belief in God is very much alive and perhaps greater now than ever. Shermer describes his idea of a 'Belief Engine' in humans which leads them to naturally look for, and find, patterns in everything. This Belief Engine leads humans to explain apparent regularities in nature by attributing meaning to those regularities. After surveying various theories of how people come to believe in God, Shermer concludes, on the basis of his research, that the reasons people believe can be summarised as two sides of a coin. 'For believers, the heavens declare God's glory; for other believers He provides strength in their time of need.' Following this conclusion, Shermer then surveys a number of logical proofs for God and critiques them, demonstrating their flaws. I'm not sure why Shermer included this chapter in his book -- it is well known that logical proofs for God's existence don't ultimately prove that God exists. They rather support am already existing belief in God showing that this belief is compatible with reason. In the second part of the book, Shermer turns to his attempt to explain how religious beliefs come about. He begins with a discussion of the relationship between faith, reason and religion and science. He argues that science and religion answer two different sets of questions and should essentially keep to their own questions. Shermer spends quite a bit of space describing what he understands to be an evolutionary process of the development of religion. Then he delves into disparate chapters on the 1890 Ghost Dance and the constant recurrence of the Messiah Myth across cultures and groups; the tendency for humans to attach eschatalogical significance to the millenium; and Stephen Jay Gould, contingency and necessity. Shermer is most interesting when he discusses his own research and his notion of a Belief Engine is worth contemplating. But when he turns to the evolutionary development of religion, a good deal of the process is merely conjecture, although he attempts to bolster his description with ideas from neuroscience, psychiatry, epidemiology, contemporary evolutionary theory. Significantly, the one possibility that Shermer ignores is that God actually exists. This is to be expected given that Shermer is an agnostic - although it seems, from what he writes, he would be better described as an agnostic atheist. As others have pointed out, despite Shermer's attempt to be non-confrontational (he is not against religion - he just wants to understand it along with those who are religious), the language he uses throughout the book (e.g. consistently calling the belief in God a myth) will not endear himself to all Christians. He also seems to assume that anyone who believes in God must be a fundamentalist who reads the biblical narratives about creation in a literalistic fashion. He does not seem to appreciate the wide diversity of belief within the monotheistic religions. And despite the intention to deal with religious belief generally, the book most definitely focuses around the concept of God as held by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. There is some very interesting material in sections of How We Believe but it probably won't convince anyone who believes in God to alter their opinion. Someone has suggested that this book is the equivalent of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict (an evangelical apologetic for Christianity) for the skeptic. That is probably a good way to view the book. Related Links There is an incredible amount of literature on the relationship between science and religion. Here are just a few. As always, the listing of a source does not imply agreement with all the ideas. Read and think for yourself!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Movie Review: Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1914, during World War I, soldiers across the battlefield sponataneously laid down their arms and fraternised with the enemy. Christian Carion's moving film, Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) fictionalises this historical event. German, French, and Scottish troops are engaged in intense battle when Christmas Eve arrives and the warring armies decide to lay down their arms, bury their dead, and meet in No Man's Land to celebrate Mass with the priest accompanying the Scottish army. Joyeux Noel is deeply moving at times and, when it is, poignantly illustrates the absolute stupidity of war. There are moments of beautiful humour and profound sadness as the soldiers celebrate together and then have to return to killing each other. And none of the "sides" in the war are portrayed negatively or stereotyped as is done in so many war movies. The movie suffers from a couple of significant problems that undermine its overall power and enjoyment. It is way too long and the material that brackets the central narrative about the laying down of arms undermines the power of what happened on that Christmas Eve. Carion seems to lose focus on the main point of the movie and fills it with a number of subplots that could have been reduced in screen time or left out altogether. What happened on the battlefield is powerful in its own right and the director seems to have lost confidence in the narrative's own power. At times, the direction seems overdone and tends to make the story more unbelievable. However, Joyeux Noel is definitely worth a look for those moments where human emotions run deep and the futility and wastefulness of war are clearly seen. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review '... its effect is moving and inspiring.' - Avril Carruthers/In Film Australia Negative Review 'Heavy-handed, self-important and way, way too whimsical, Merry Christmas never hits home emotionally.' - David Edwards/London Daily Mirror Related Links

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Movie Review: Mrs Henderson Presents

Mrs Henderson Presents is a pleasant, very "British" movie based on the true story of Laura Henderson (Judi Dench) who buys an old London theatre when her husband dies and she needs something to do with her time. She renovates it and calls it The Windmill. The theatre becomes an overnight success because of various innovations including continuously running shows at all hours of the day. Unfortunately, though, other theatres copy The Windmill and its popularity begins to wane. What to do? Mrs Henderson decides to introduce all-nude revues after reassuring the local authorities that none of the nude members will move -- making them a work of art and thus acceptable. The revues, of course, become popular and provide a distraction for the soldiers and civilians as World War II rages on around them. The plot is very straight forward - the first half of the movie concerned with the acquisition and establishment of the new theatre and the second half dealing with the challenging of social mores by the provocative Mrs Henderson. Judi is her usual excellent self and, without her performance, the movie would drag. Bob Hoskins plays her theatre manager (Vivian van Damm) and the tension between he (who wants full artistic control) and Mrs Henderson (who wants to meddle) provides a constant sub-plot throughout the movie. The chemistry between the two is perhaps the best part of the movie and provides some very amusing exchanges. As usual with these British period pieces, the costumes and sets are lavish and the cinematography is pleasing. There is a stellar cast in supporting roles and the narrative moves along at a leisurely pace. It's a feel good movie that is lifted slightly above average by Dench and Hoskins. Mrs Henderson Presents a nicely crafted, pleasant couple of hours of entertainment. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review 'Marvelously enjoyable.' - Peter Rainer/Christian Science Monitor Negative Review 'It says something that during a scene in which nude chorines are turned into a fleshy backdrop, you spend as much time looking at your watch as what's on screen.' - Mike Clark/USA Today Content Warning Nudity and brief language Related Links

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Avoiding an evil god

I'm angry. (A good critical thinker acknowledges their emotions!!) I was recently sent a PowerPoint presentation which argues that there is no such thing as chance or coincidence. The author provides some emotive slides of the Twin Towers attack and its aftermath. He or she has a series of statements on the slides. Here is an outline of the statements: 1. The author has 'heard a story of a man on business whom I will never know, but I know God wanted me to hear his story.' This is a completely unverifiable story as the person is not known. We're not off to a very good start. On the assumption that God organises every event that happens, the author assumes that God has sent this story to him/her and, therefore, must be true. 2. The man in the story was allegedly the 'head of security at a company that had invited the remaining members of a[nother] company who had been decimated by the attack on the Twin Towers to share their office space. Once again, no names of people or companies. We are to just accept that this is all true. What we have is a group of survivors of a company who escaped the destruction of the Twin Towers -- the rest of the company were killed in the attack. 3. The head of the security company is alleged to have, 'with his voice full of awe, ... told the stories of why these people were alive and their counterparts dead.' Note the question that is being asked: Why did some of the people in this company live and the rest of the company die in the Twin Tower attacks?' What follows is the answer given. 4. The reason that the few did not die was because of 'just little things.' They were: a) The head of the company had a son who started kindergarten that day - so he arrived at work late. b) One person was alive because it was his turn to bring donuts to the office and was absent when the attacks occurred. c) Another one put on a new pair of shoes that morning. On his way to work he developed a blister on his foot. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid. Consequently, he is alive. 5. The author then shares with us that 'when I am stuck in traffic, miss an elevator, turn back to answer a ringing telephone... [sic] all the little things that annoy me... [sic] I think to myself, this is exactly where God wants me to be at this very moment.' The implication is clear: Everything that happens to us -- no matter how minor -- occurs because God is arranging for us to be in a certain place at a certain time. If we take this conclusion back to the Twin Tower attacks, then we are meant to conclude that the three people mentioned were saved from death in the attacks because God had arranged things so they wouldn't be there at the time. If this is true, then one of two things follows: 1) God only arranges things for some people and leaves the rest of the population to chance OR 2) God arranges everything for everybody. The author doesn't accept the first of these, because the author asserts on one of the slides that '... [[i]sic[/i]] there is no such thing as "coincidence."' That leaves option 2, that God arranges everything for everybody. The overall conclusion, then, is that God arranged things so that some would be saved from the Twin Towers disaster and others would die. If this is true, then God must also have arranged for the terrorists to drive their planes into the Twin Towers. He must have arranged all the details of the terrorists' lives, and all events around them, to bring about those attacks. God must also have arranged everything so that all the people who died in the attacks were at work on time, in the places in the buildings where they would be sure to die, plus all the events and people that interacted with them up until that point to make sure that those people were in the right place to die when God wanted them to. God must have manipulated the events that led to the man buying new shoes - when to get up that morning - the speed at which he walked to work - the location of a drugstore on the route to work (something God would have had to arrange many years before). God would have to have arranged for a kindergarten to be built at a certain location - the birth of the boy to occur at the right time so he would grow up and start kindergarten on that very day - and for the father to leave the school at a certain time - and so on. The most offensive thing about all this is the implication that God wanted all those people to die. And also offensive is that this all takes place so that the author of this trite little piece can think nice thoughts about all the little annoyances he or she experiences from day to day! Here's the argument: God arranges every event. God arranged for most people to be killed in the Twin Towers attack but for a few he arranged for little annoyances to enter their day so they would be preserved. So, if I am annoyed by something, be grateful, because that's just God arranging things so I will be where God wants me to be. And this is supposed to be good news? For who? The only people I can think of for whom this would be good news are those who didn't experience any loss of a loved one in the Twin Towers attacks; those who weren't there and haven't suffered. And those who aren't dead from the attacks. How peaceful it must be to know that God arranges those little annoyances for us and arranged for terrorists to kill hundreds of people just to show us how wonderful God is when he spares a few people by arranging sore feet, kindergarten starts, and a donut run while leaving the rest to die. How reassuring for those who have lost loved ones in those attacks! The second part of the presentation is entitled 'A Tiny Voice Inside'. The voice of God speaking to us is, according to the author, evidenced by: 1. Suddenly feeling as though you want to do something nice for someone you care for. 2. Receiving a phone call or letter from someone you happened to think about and for whom you haven't thought for a long time. 3. Receiving something nice you didn't ask for, 'like money in the mail, a debt that has been mysteriously cleared, or a coupon to a department store when you had just seen something you wanted, but couldn't afford'. 4. Looking back on a situation that turned out better than you could have imagined at the time. How lovely! But why didn't the author mention some of those things from the first part of the presentation? If the argument by this author is valid, he or she should also have mentioned that the voice of God is speaking when: 1. Our loved ones die in terrorist attacks because it wasn't their turn to get donuts. Or, 2. Our friends or family die from cancer despite the fact that we have been praying constantly for their healing. 3. I can't get a job and have been unemployed for years and can't feed my family. 4. My son or daughter becomes addicted to drugs. 5. My loved one contracts AIDS from a blood transfusion and is going to die. 6. Thousands of people die in a tsunami. 7. Thousands of people die from famine, pestilence, earthquakes. 8. Hundreds get killed by death penalties because they are wrongfully convicted. 9. Thousands are killed and tortured by dictators. 10. Children are sexually abused by pedophiles or family members. 11. Women are physically and emotionally abused by their husbands. How reassuring to know that God has organised all this because where we are is exactly where God wants us to be! Is it any wonder that the Christian God appears evil to so many people when Christians distribute this sort of codswallap around the world? Theodicy - the problem of evil and the nature of God - is one of the most urgent issues to deal with if we are going to convince people that Christianity has good news to offer. But the sort of thing contained in the PowerPoint presentation that was sent to me does absolutely nothing to resolve that problem. It only makes it worse - particularly if you have a thinking person on the receiving end. The presentation finishes with this statement: 'Keep smiling.......... It's one of the best advertisements for God..... It makes people wonder what you've got.........' If the presentation preceding this statement is what 'you've got' then it might be better not to smile until you've got better news! The challenge for us is, I believe, to be able to assert God's sovereignty, omnipotence, and omniscience in a way which is true to Scripture but avoids the sorts of conclusions that the author of the presentation does. Otherwise, why would anyone want to believe in the Christian god?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Book Review: 'The Third Victim'

One of the most frightening developments in Western culture, in the US particularly, is school shootings. This issue forms the premise of Lisa Gardner's crime novel, The Third Victim. Bakersville is a small town and a devastating crime has ripped the peaceful fabric of this community. Two children and one of the teachers of the local school have been shot dead and a young boy has confessed to the crime. But some of the evidence raises a question about whether or not the boy is actually guilty. Officer Rainie Conner has lived in the town most of her life and, for the first time, she is called on to lead the investigation of a homicide. As she carries out her investigations, she is troubled by memories of her own past. With the help of FBI profiler, Pierce Quincy, Rainie moves closer and closer to a terrifying truth that threatens her very life. The Third Victim is a great read and moves along at a good pace. The main protaganist, Rainie Conner, is a complicated character and, as the plot unfolds, Gardiner explores some of the issues around school shootings. The characters are down-to-earth and well-developed, the plot has some surprises, and the climactic ending is tense. In addition, Gardiner explicitly states in a note at the front of the book that she wrote the novel in order to try to 'understand why these mass murders had occurred and what could be done to prevent them.' A good read. Related Links

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Does irreducible complexity imply intelligent design?

Skeptical Inquiry magazine has posted an interesting article entitled Does Irreducible Complexity Imply Intelligent Design? The idea of irreducible complexity has become the cornerstone piece of evidence for the Intelligent Design movement. Mark Perakh, the author of this article, argues that the argument that irreducible complexity leads to the conclusion of intelligent design has no logical foundation. Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Movie Review: Chicken Little 3D

Disney's first fully computer-generated animation, Chicken Little, is a good, fun, family movie. Disney has developed new digital 3D technology and, where I frequent the movies, was offered as an alternative to the normal theatrical version showing at the same time. I chose the 3D version to check out the new technology! Let me start with the 3D technology. It is excellent! In the past, I have had to wear giant glasses (e.g. at the IMAX) or little cardboard ones with two colours - one for each lense. This time, I was handed "normal"-sized Chicken Little glasses that were very comfortable to wear and fit well over my regular optometrist glasses. The digital technology provided a very clear 3D experience and was thoroughly enjoyable, making the few dollars extra I had to pay for me and my kids worthwhile. My final rating takes into account the 3D experience, so keep that in mind when you decide whether to see the movie yourself. Chicken Little begins 12 months after the shameful embarrassment of Chicken Little warning the townspeople that the sky was falling and being wrong. He has lived under the shadow of this reputation for too long. He longs to prove to everyone, including his Dad, that he is really ok. Then, the opportunity arrives when a piece of an alien space craft falls from the sky and he needs to warn everyone that their town is under threat. The script of Chicken Little is predictable, cliched, and soppy. However, if you sit back, put your feet up, and just enjoy a rare opportunity to watch something innocent and fun, then it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It references other movies and music and, in particular, cleverly parodies The War of the Worlds. Overall, a pleasant couple of hours. And, contra Pete Vander Haar's kids (see below), my kids enjoyed it. My Rating: **** (out of 5) - 3D version My Rating: *** (out of 5) - without 3D Positive Review 'The visuals are irrepressibly witty and so is the script, which morphs from the classic fable into a spoof on "War of the Worlds." I prefer this version to Spielberg's.' - Peter Rainer/Christian Science Monitor Negative Review 'Seriously, it's a bad sign for your "kids movie" when the kids in question are asking their parents, "When is something going to happen?"' - Pete Vonder Haar/Film Threat Related Links

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Why ID is not science

I thought I would briefly summarise the essential argument for Intelligent Design not being science which was handed down, in the judgment of Judge Jones, of Tammy Kitzmiller et al vs Dover Area School District et al. According to Judge Jones, Intelligent Design (ID) 'is not science' for three reasons:
  1. 'ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation;
  2. 'the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's and
  3. 'ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

In addition to the above:

  1. 'ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community;
  2. 'it has not generated peer-reviewed publications;
  3. 'nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

It is important to note that the judge did not rule on whether the arguments of ID are true or not. The only question the court considered is whether or not ID was science.

Getting a Rational Grip on Religion (Scientific American)

Is religion a fit subject for scientific scrutiny? Daniel Dennet, in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon answers "yes". George Johnson reviews Dennett's book in this article. According to Johnson,

Dennett hopes that this book will be read not just by atheists and agnostics but by the religiously faithful--and that they will come to see the wisdom of analyzing their deepest beliefs scientifically, weeding out the harmful from the good. The spell he hopes to break, he suggests, is not religious belief itself but the conviction that its details are off-limits to scientific inquiry, taboo.

Read the whole review here and note the important word 'speculates' in paragraph 7!