Sunday, July 22, 2012

Movie Review: Brave

Head off to the movies with your kids as soon as you can to see the delightful, fresh animation Brave. It's the first Pixar movie with a heroine at its center.

Brave tells the story of a little Scottish girl, Princess Merida, who defies the fate imposed on her by tradition and uses her archery skills to break an ancient curse. Beautifully voiced by the likes of Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson, spectacular Scottish scenery, action, adventure, romance, humor and a wholesome message about daughter-mother relationships, make this superb viewing for the whole family. If you can, see it in 3D which is stunningly rendered.


Positive review
'Brave has a manic, almost daffy energy and sense of humor.' - Rene Rodriguez/Miami Herald

Negative review
'This isn't the NASCAR-fellating cash grab that is the Cars franchise, but it's still Pixar on preachy autopilot.' - Keith Ulich/Time Out New York

Content advice
some scary action and ride humor

  • AUS: PG
  • USA: PG
You will probably like this movie if you liked Coraline, Anastasia, Tangled, Mulan

Book Review: "New Proofs for the Existence of God"

Robert J Spitzer's book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy has pulled me back from the brink of atheism. For some time I have been seriously evaluating my belief in God given some very compelling arguments offered by many of the better contemporary writings on atheism available now. There is so much irrationality promoted by many theists and their arguments do not often stand up to serious scrutiny. Many of those arguments are circular in nature, presupposing what they are trying to prove, or engage in inconsistencies and logical flaws that frequently ring the death knell on theism. But the bell has been rung too soon. Spitzer's book offers a deeply rational, coherent set of arguments that demonstrate that belief in God (defined correctly) is a logical necessity given what we now know about physics, cosmology, and philosophy. One thing atheists cannot do is to claim that all forms of theism are irrational and/or naive. It turns out, instead, that using rigorous reasoning, atheism is demonstrably illogical and incoherent. How does Spitzer demonstrate this?

His argument is divided into three parts:

Part 1 examines contemporary Big Bang cosmology and identifies elements in the theory that indicates some form of creation and supernatural design. At the end of this section, Spitzer concludes:

When the logical and metaphysical necessity of an efficient cause, the demonstrable absence of a material one, and the proof that there was an absolute beginning to any universe or multiverse are all conjoined with the fact that our universe exists and its conditions are fine-tuned immeasurably beyond the capacity of any mindless process, the scientific evidence points inexorably toward transcendent intelligent agency as the most plausible, if not the only reasonable explanation. (p. 104)

An atheist reading this conclusion will probably jump to the conclusion that the argument preceding it is a rehash of Intelligent Design (ID). This would be a mistake. Spitzer's arguments turn on the values of universal constants. The difference between Spitzer's argument and those of ID proponents is that

The latter presume an anthropic universe and seek an explanation for how highly complex integrated biochemical and biological systems could arise from far less complex ones. Pure chance (random occurrence) does not seem to be reasonable, because a random emergence of a highly complex system from a far less complex one is highly improbable.

The argument for supernatural design in [Spitzer's approach] does not address these biochemical and biological "leaps" in complexification. It focuses solely on the incredibly high improbability of an anthropic condition of the universe itself. It therefore does not focus on the process of evolution so much as on the initial underlying conditions (in the universe) that make such anthropic processes possible. It focuses almost exclusively on physics (particularly the physics of the early universe) and leaves the explanation of highly improbable leaps in biochemical and biological complexification to other domains of inquiry. (pp. 51-52)

In addition to a positive argument, Spitzer also responds to the range of proposed theories (eg the idea of a multiverse) that attempt to avoid the conclusion of some sort of supernatural entity. He shows that these are logically incoherent and inconsistent.

In Part 2 of the book, Spitzer turns to philosophical arguments. He discusses the nature of philosophical proof and argumentation before laying out a five-step metaphysical argument for the existence of God. The steps are:

    • Step 1: proof of the existence of at least one unconditioned reality
    • Step 2: proof that unconditioned reality itself is the simplest possible reality (the word simple here has a philosophical definition)
    • Step 3: proof of the absolute uniqueness of unconditioned reality itself
    • Step 4: proof that unconditioned reality itself is unrestricted
    • An interim conclusion
    • Step 5: proof that the one unconditioned reality is the continuous creator of all else that is

At the end of this argument, the conclusion is deductively stated to be

that "the unique, absolutely simple, unrestricted, unconditioned Reality itself which is the continuous Creator of all else that is" must exist. This Reality generally corresponds to what is generally thought to be "God". God, as defined, must exist. (p. 143)

The remainder of the second part of the book explores some other approaches to proving the existence of God including proof of a creator of past time and an ontological explanation of real time. One very interesting chapter is the author's discussion of various methodological considerations related to argumentation around God's existence and the impossibility of disproving God's existence. He also demonstrates what he describes as 'the tenuous rationality of atheism' and explores, briefly, the problem of evil and suffering.

One of the criticisms of traditional philosophical proofs of God's existence is that they never support a particular version of the nature of the god being proved. It could be any god - unless one turns to specific religious texts. In Part 3, Spitzer moves to discuss the nature of the 'unrestricted simplicity and unrestricted intelligibility' of the unconditioned Reality proved in the first two parts of the book. I don't have the space or the competence to outline Spitzer's argument here, but he draws on the fact that

... human consciousness seems to possess five aspirations or desires that can be satisfied by ... ultimate Home, ultimate Truth, ultimate Love, ultimate Goodness, and ultimate Beauty....

If God is present to human consciousness as its fulfillment in truth, love, goodness, beauty, and being (home), then human reason can go beyond confirming the existence of God as a unique, unconditioned, absolutely simple, unrestricted Creator, to unveiling the nature of this God as perfectly truth-filled, loving, good, and beautiful. Following these discussions, he explores the implications of these arguments on the nature of human freedom. (p. 240)

In my opinion, Spitzer's book is brilliant albeit complex and dense to read. It is a purely philosophical argument grounded in contemporary physics and does not suffer the circularity of many apologetic arguments put forward by theists. I also like the fact that Spitzer lays out an agenda for demonstrating the inadequacy of his arguments if atheist philosophers choose to take up the gauntlet. I'm yet to find a sustained objective critique of Spitzer's book - and would be grateful for anyone directing me to one.

New Proofs for the Existence of God needs to be read by those who have a moderate familiarity with philosophy - so it is unlikely to be of use to the "average" Christian (no disrespect intended). But for anyone willing to tackle a meaty discourse that will stretch their mind it will be deeply reassuring (if you are a theist) and deeply challenging (if you are an atheist). Whatever your starting point there is gold to be mined and lots of thinking to do. Highly recommended!

Book details: Ronert J Spitzer (2010). New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philisophy. William B Eerdmans Publishing Company.