Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Review: Why There Almost Certainly Is a God

To put it bluntly, Keith Ward’s book Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins shows how ignorant Richard Dawkins is, in the bestseller The God Delusion, when he moves away from his expertise in evolutionary science into the field of philosophy and theology.

The back cover of Professor Keith Ward’s book summarises his credentials:

[He] was formerly Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. He is a member of the Council of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy on the same day that Richard Dawkins was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

According to Wikipedia his areas of interest are ‘comparative theology and  the interplay between science and faith’ and has written in this area.  He is not a Christian fundamentalist and has even published a book, What the Bible Really Teaches: A Challenge for Fundamentalists,  in which, according to Wikipedia, he argued that

fundamentalists interpret the Bible in implausible ways and pick and choose which of its passages to emphasise in order to fit pre-existing beliefs. Ward argues that the Bible must be taken seriously, but not always literally and he does not agree with the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy,saying that it is not found in the Bible…

In the Preface of Why There Most Certainly Is a God Ward tells how his

… arrival in Oxford was heralded by a letter from Richard Dawkins to a public newspaper calling for [his] resignation, on the ground that there was no such subject as theology, and that [Ward] was a particularly stupid example of a theologian anyway.

Why did Dawkins write the letter? Because he had taken a joke by Ward seriously, thinking that it was offered as evidence for the Christmas story! Ward goes on to write:

From that moment, the gloves were off. Even though Dawkins lived and worked in a university with one of the largest and ablest theology faculties in Britain, he went on refusing to admit that there was any such subject as theology. Despite the fact that he and I had entirely friendly and rational personal contacts — as he did with Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, and the vicar of the University Church in Oxford, and the chaplain of his college — he went on proclaiming that all religious believers were stupid, deluded and dangerous.

Following this interesting background about Ward and his relationship to Dawkins, Ward launches into a specific critique of three chapters in The God Delusion — Chapters 2, 3 and 4. The critique of these chapters constitute three parts of Ward’s book and they provide a devastating response to Dawkins’ inadequate understanding of theology and philosophy.

In Part 1, Ward responds to Chapter Two of Dawkins’ book in which Dawkins discusses the so-called God Hypothesis which is defined by him as:

there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it, including us.

Ward accepts this hypothesis and then goes on to discuss two arguments that, in his view, makes the existence of God highly probable. These two arguments are 1) the irreducible existence of consciousness and 2) the irreducible nature of personal explanation. Ward explains how Dawkins’ commitment to a materialist perspective results in a reductionist philosophy that is unable to coherently synthesise the two types of explanation – the scientific and the personal. In other words, Dawkins refuses to acknowledge that some questions might need to be answered by using different types of explanations.

Ward then proceeds to tackle Chapter 4 of The  God Delusion. Ward superbly demonstrates the inadequacies of Dawkins’ ‘Boeing 747 Gambit’; discusses the nature of the new Intelligent Design arguments (that are quite different to the original arguments from design); and clarifies Dawkin’s superficial understanding of simplicity/complexity in reference to the nature of God. Ward also clearly explains the new questions and suggestions raised by recent studies in cosmology and the inadequacy of imaginative theories about multiple universes that are more unlikely to be true than the God hypothesis. In doing all this, Ward provides a wonderful argument around issues to do with the existence of consciousness and the intractable challenges it presents for a materialist view.

After providing substantive arguments for point of view, Ward spends some time in answering potential questions that may be raised in response to his arguments.

Ward provides and excellent discussion of Aquinas’s Five Ways or ‘proving’ the existence of God. Essentially, Dawkins understands both the purpose and content of these arguments.

In the penultimate chapter, Ward turns to an exploration of the personal explanation. This chapter includes personal and subjective evidences arising from a personal relationship with the divine. These are:

  1. visions and voices
  2. the sense of the infinite
  3. the path of self-transcendance
  4. the Christian experience of Christ and the Spirit

The material in this chapter is balanced but, because of its subjective nature, it is difficult to see how someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God would be persuaded. The prior arguments in the book, in my view, are very powerful and the personal experience arguments derive their persuasive power from the philosophy arguments in the previous chapters.

The final chapter brings the argument to a conclusion by discussing why there almost certainly is a God. There is an excellent discussion on the nature of certainty and probability which needs to be taken into account when deciding on the God hypothesis. He finishes with an account of what it would look like if a person believes in God for good reasons.

Why There Almost Certainly Is a God is a superb read. Ward writes with great clarity, logical thinking, and intellectual humility — all of which is a significant contrast to the dismissive and superficial style of Dawkins’ writing on this subject. What makes this book so significant is that Ward is an expert in philosophy — the territory into which Dawkins has deigned to enter without the necessary understanding and scholarship.

If you are looking for a book that deals with Dawkins’ approach to the God Hypothesis, then this one is highly recommended. For those who do not believe in God, Ward shows how belief is not a delusion or stupidity and is, in fact,  deeply intelligent and supported by very sophisticated philosophy. For those who do accept the God hypothesis, there will be a strengthening affirmation that there are significant philosophical and scientific grounds on which to base a faith in God.

— Steve Parker

Book Details

Ward, K. (2008). Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins: Lion. (Buy)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Recent DVD Release Ratings

A new feature for the Thinking Christian blog! Each month, I will provide a list of recently released DVDs with my star rating so you can get a bit of an idea of what you might like to watch at home. If I have previously reviewed the movie, I will provide a link to the review as well. So… for this month:

Hachiko: A Dog's Story

Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information ©

Hachiko: A Dog's Story

Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Jason Alexander, Robert Capron, Forest, Robbie Sublett,



Released: 2009

Go to IMDb page

Information ©


Kate Beckinsale, Tom Skerritt, Alex O'Loughlin, Joel S. Keller, Arthur Holden, Bashar Rahal,


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Movie Review: Kick-Ass


Released: 2010

Go to IMDb page

Information ©

In many ways, Kick-Ass is a difficult movie to review. On one level it is highly entertaining. On another level it is deeply unethical. For that reason, I will not be providing a star rating because it is too difficult.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a loner at school and loves his comic books. He begins to wonder why noone has ever thought to try to be a superhero even though they don’t have any special powers. So he sets out to do just that, dressing in a wetsuit and calling himself Kick-Ass. He has previously been involved in an accident following which his nerve endings have been damaged (so he doesn’t feel pain) and the metal replacements for his broken bones mean he is strong.

After surviving a couple of violent encounters, he makes the news and inspires a wave of other would-be “superheroes”. But things get complicated when a Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and his daughter, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) decide to take revenge on a local mobster whose son eventually becomes Kick-Ass’s arch-nemesis.

As a piece of entertainment, Kick-Ass is a thoroughly enjoyable movie for the modern age. Tons of action, slapstick comedy, one-liners. But it is extremely violent with lots of coarse language. And it is here that the questionable ethics of this movie raises its head.

 hitgirl_kickass The scene stealer, Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl, is an 11 year old girl who engages in extremely explicit violence and high level coarse language who, at times, is highly “sexualised”. Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times has described it this way:

A movie camera makes a record of whatever is placed in front of it, and in this case, it shows deadly carnage dished out by an 11-year-old girl, after which an adult man brutally hammers her to within an inch of her life. Blood everywhere. Now tell me all about the context.

… and that’s just scratching the service of the violence, most of it coldly delivered with no consideration of the reality of death.

Kick-Ass is based on a very violent comic book and much of the violence is, no doubt, meant to be comic book in style. The problem is that the violence is very realistic. And the movie makes no attempt to consider the morality or consequences of the violence. What parent would be happy for their 11 year olds to take Hit Girl as a role model? I don’t mind seeing violence on the screen when it is a relevant part of the story. But this sort of violence by an 11 year old made me squirm.

So… while I can appreciate the entertainment aspects of Kick-Ass, the fact that it is so dominated by blatant, excessive violence by teens and an 11 year old (plus the high level swearing coming from the same child) unfortunately puts this movie into the morally reprehensible category. The problem is, of course, is that this movie is going to be very popular and, when it is released on video, no doubt will be seen by teens and kids too enamoured by it to think about its moral implications.

Go see something else!

Positive Review
’It brings together several popular strains of contemporary moviemaking and combines them into one big, shameless, audacious, compulsively watchable, irresistibly likable piece of pure entertainment.’ – Mick La Salle/San Francisco Chronicle

Negative Review
’Kick-Ass - based on a graphic novel - thinks it's so brave and bold. But it's more like the title character, a dweeb who just thinks he's tough.’ – Joe Neumaier/New York Daily News

Content Advice
strong brutal violence throughout, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity and some drug use - some involving children


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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon (3D)

How to Train Your Dragon

Released: 2010

Go to IMDb page

Information ©

How to Train Your Dragon 3D is SO GOOD!

Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is a young, hapless Viking who wants to be like every other person in the village and learn to hunt and kill dragons — because that is the done thing. But he really doesn’t have the skill or the desire to achieve this goal. But his people see killing a dragon as a rite of passage to adulthood. He accidentally befriends a dragon (one of the most feared by the clan) and begins to learn that everything he has been taught about dragons could very well be wrong!

Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders (the directors) have brought us one of the most enjoyable, stunning animations I’ve ever seen. And in 3D it moves into the absolutely brilliant! The story is fresh and engaging. The animation is superb and detailed. There is great character development and plenty of action sequences. And the 3D is perhaps the best ever done for an animated film. Everything about this movie is spot on — I can’t praise it highly enough. It is a truly fantastic family movie (although perhaps not for really little kids — parents need to heed the PG rating). And the central message to not believe everything we read and are told is a timely one for our contemporary youth.

Get to the cinema and see this movie and make sure you see it in 3D if you can!


Positive Review
‘Rouses you in conventional ways, but it's also the rare animated film that uses 3-D for its breathtaking spatial and emotional possibilities.’ – Owen Gleiberman/Entertainment Weekly

Negative Review
‘Adequate but unremarkable animated tale.’ – Ella Taylor/Village Voice

Content Advice
sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language


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