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Zondervan Academic’s Africa Bible Commentary giveaway

29 September 2010 Leave a comment

Zondervan is giving away two of their Africa Bible Commentary Series commentaries: Galatians and 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.

To participate in the giveaway, go here!

Categories: Books, Commentary, Giveaway

Books I ordered have arrived!

27 September 2010 Leave a comment

But, I have to wait till tonight when I get home before I can see them. I ordered some books a while back and my wife called me a short while ago to inform me that my books have arrived.

It makes me feel like a little boy waiting for Christmas to come. I can’t wait, and Christmas comes at 17:30 today!

YeeHaa!
Categories: Books, Reading

Books I ordered to arrive soon

23 September 2010 Leave a comment

I am somewhat of a book “junky.” Whenever we walk past a book store, my wife tries to distract me from entering. I find it very difficult to simply cruise past a book store. Hence, I buy a fair amount of books s far as the budget allows.

However, I do have a problem! I am not a fast reader and tend to dwell on books, and so I have an unread pile of books that grows faster than I can read them. How I wish I could read as fast and as much as Dr. Al Mohler and Tim Challies.


Of course, after having seen Dr. Mohler’s study, any other study just seems to be so lame, especially mine!

Anyway, I have recently purchased some more books from Kalahari, and they should arrive by Monday. They are:

Founder of SATS debunks Brian McLaren heresy

Dr. Christopher Peppler

Dr. Christopher Peppler wrote a very thought provoking, yet straight analysis of Brian McLaren’s heretical book “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith.”

Dr. Peppler takes each of the ten questions that McLaren posed in his book and analyses them for truth and clarity. Peppler shows that while McLaren may have clarity in certain cases, that clarity has nothing to do with Scriptural truth, or at least does not contain the primary nature of the truth of the Scriptures and the gospel. In this blog post by Dr. Peppler, it is also shown how McLaren sets up straw men, just to knock down what does not exist!

In his conclusion, Dr. Peppler writes:

“It is good to ask questions and to seek deep and satisfying answers. It is reasonable to agonise over a Christianity that has so often presented itself as harsh, loveless, and power mad. It is evidence of a tender heart to wonder how a loving God could consign the bulk of humanity to eternal conscious torment. But, it is neither good or reasonable to attempt to recast the biblical narrative, redefine the nature of the Bible, and reformulate the principles of interpretation in order to create answers that the seeker finds acceptable. This is what I think Brian has attempted to do.”

To read Dr. Peppler’s accurate assessment of McLaren’s book read his blog post here.

Categories: Books, Heresy, Reviews, Theology

Book Review: The Making of an Atheist – Part 3

Making of an Atheist
Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this review.


4. The Obstinacy of Atheism

Dr. Spiegel starts this chapter using the movie The Sixth Sense as an analogy for the doctrine of original sin. It is the idea of being dead and not even knowing it. We all need a person like the boy, Cole Sear, to bring our deathly situation to our attention.

“Then, and only then, can we glimpse the truth about ourselves and–to break from the analogy of the film–experience spiritual resurrection.” p90

In this chapter Dr. Spiegel aims to show how “a person may become locked in the atheistic delusion” through his worldview and the influence of sin on the mind.

Some believe that scientific objectivity is completely possible. With the idealistic view of science that we are fed from our earliest years at school, it has become difficult to shake this idea. However, scientists are not immune to their own beliefs and values. Research done by physicist and historian Thomas Samuel Kuhn has shown that scientists are clearly not objective in their research. Scientists tend to hold tenaciously to t6he paradigms they are familiar with, even in spite of data that clearly contradicts their ideas. These paradigms are children of the mind, created by the thoughts of scientists. Paradigms are human creations, hence they are “always imperfect, subject to revision and replacement.” (p93)

Duck or rabbit?
What do you see?
A duck or a rabbit?

Spiegel also makes use of “chemist-turned-philosopher,” Michael Polanyi’s ideas. According to Polanyi, the practice of science is a personal rather than only a mechanical process. Polanyi states that scientists bring their own ideas, biases, desires and commitments into their work.

“The personal concerns of scientists sometimes override the pure implications of data, and theories are often selected or defended on this basis rather than just empirical evidence or logical reasoning.” p99.

Factors that influence scientific paradigms include psychological and sociological factors that are driven by a huge influence from business, government and public opinion. Although scientists claim to be objective, they do still filter scientific data through their own presuppositions. These presuppositions, or paradigms, condition us into seeing events and processes in certain ways.

Dr. Spiegel highlights some insights by Kuhn that can help us in understanding atheists:
1. The atheistic paradigm has its own standard of truth;
2. Theists and atheists, in a sense, live in different worlds;
3. Many determining factors–leading to atheism–are non-rational in nature.

Human reason, upon which atheists claim to base all their beliefs, can provide great gifts but also horrible disasters. Simply take a look at Ivan the Terrible and Hitler. “What landed [them] in the annals of the wicked was not lack of reason but the clever pursuit of the wrong ends.” (p104)

“So, as important as reasoning ability is, what is most decisive in human affairs is truth. This is especially the case when it comes to the reality of God, the most fundamental of all truths.” p105

God’s existence has been made clear by what is created. Apart from the physical evidence around us, theologians, like Calvin, have said that within humans there is an awareness if divinity, implanted there by God. This sense is called the sensus divinitatis.
According to Calvin, this sense
1. is universal;
2. is inborn or innate;
3. has a cognitive component.

Human cognitive functions do  not always function correctly, hence we suffer from cognitive malfunction, or cognitive disease. This is known as the noetic effects of sin.The effects of sin on our minds corrupt our thinking about issues such as ethics, human nature, purpose, origins and more. Of course this cognitive disease leads to unbelief which is enforced by immoral behaviour.

The descent into atheism is not actually caused by a perceived lack of evidence for the existence of God, but rather by a “complex of moral-psychological factors.” It is a willful rejection of God. The hardening of an atheists heart is caused by a blindness caused by his own paradigms by which he lives and somehow they have a damaged sense of the divine.

5. The Blessings of Theism

And so we come to the last chapter of Dr. Jim Spiegel’s book.

One of the great blessings of Christianity is the cognitive health that comes from Christian virtue. Virtue is crucial for Christians and the preservation of their faith. Virtue assists cognition in:
1. avoiding the negative effects of sin. Living virtuously prevents the deadening of the sensus divinitatis.

“The less on’es cognitive system is damaged, the better it can fulfill its function to produce true beliefs. Therefore, the more virtuously one lives, the more truth one is able to access, including truths about God and how to obey Him.” p117

2. preventing motives for willful disbelief. A person that is immoral and vicuous has motive for rejecting vital truths that condemn him. Hence, less sin, less ulterior motives!
3. that obedience to God improves cognition. What we spend time with, such as what we read and use as entertainment affect the way we think about the world.

Apart from cognitive wholeness, faith also brings emotional wholeness. These emotional benefits stem from the fact that we can go to God with our complaints when things are going bad. When natural disasters occur, who do atheists complain to. They have no one. Christians have God to go to with these complaints. these type of complaints are absurd to atheists.

As Christians we also have someone to thank for our talents, good health, intelligence and natural blessings. When an atheist comes across natural beauty, intelligence or any such attribute, who does he thank? Who does he praise? There is no one, but fatalistic evolution.

Christians have experienced redemption and as a result act on that. Missionaries take that message together with addressing personal and social needs, because of this redemption. They freely give because they have received freely. They pay it forward.

Dr. Spiegel strated off this chapter referring to that well read article at the Times Online by the atheists, Matthew Parris, called “As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God.” In this article Parris reflects that Africa does not need another economic program and aid efforts, but rather needs Christianity. He noticed that Christianity changes people’s hearts, and that is what Africa needs. Christianity actually brings about change.

Finally, my conlusion

The aim of this book is not how to answer the 10 toughest questions from atheists. Rather, it is a book into the psyche of the atheist. It is a book to help us understand how someone could possibly be an atheist.

It is not an academic book that bores the reader with psycho-analysis after psycho-analysis. It rather brings home the point of the book with shorter pieces of research so as not to bore the reader. It also takes certain passages of Scripture to show that Scripture knew the reason of the atheists’ existence all along.

If you are a snobbish academic expecting reams and reams of quotes and references from other academic works, then you will be wasting your time. However, if you are interested in this subject because you personally know an atheist, or want to be introduced to this subject, then this book is for you.

Would I recommend The Making of an Atheist to anyone? Yes! I would give this book at least a 4/5 star rating.

Buy The Making of an Atheist at:
South Africa – Kalahari
U.S.A. – Amazon

Read the following:
Interview with Dr. Jim Spiegel
Review of The Making of an Atheist Part 1
Review of The Making of an Atheist Part 2

Book Review: The Making of an Atheist – Part 2

Making of an Atheist
Read Part 1 of this review.


2. The Irrationality of Atheism

In this chapter Dr. Spiegel deals a fair amount with one of atheisms “leading champions of atheism” and his “conversion” to theism. Antony Flew.

“In this chapter we will look at the principal categories of evidence that persuaded Flew to become a theist, and we will see why any fair-minded person should be similarly convinced of the reality of God.” p42

There were three evidences that moved Professor Flew from atheism to theism, and they were: “the laws of nature, the existence of the cosmos, and the presence of life.” (p42) Nature’s laws are very constant. The question is why? Scientists could formulize laws from the data they study, yet they cannot answer the question, “why?” Even though some scientists still deny God and believe that the laws of nature are as they are by necessity, “this only raises the ‘why’ question at a different level.” (p43) What makes these laws necessary?

Flew’s second point, that the universe exists at all is underscored by what is known as the Big Bang theory of the start of the universe. All that this theory really does is to confirm that there was indeed a beginning to space and time. Most atheists do not answer the “why” question to why the universe started existing. They do not want to go further back than the Big Bang.

“It is one thing for a scientist, as a scientist, to refuse to theorize on the cause of the universe, since this is really a question of metaphysics. But a philosopher properly can and, in fact, must pursue this question. To refuse to do so is negligence.” p45

One of those that refused to ask questions pertaining to what transpired before the Big Bang. As  Christians we have to pursue the “why” question wherever they lead. The universe demands an explanation as to its cause. Whatever begins must have a cause. Apart from the existence of the universe, it is also very well fine tuned for our existence on this planet! There is a very narrow range of cosmic constants in which life such as ours is possible, and the nfact is that our universe, and our planet, is such a universe and planet.

The odds against a universe such as ours spontaneously coming into existence are so enormous, that some scientists appeal to concepts such as multiple universes. Spiegel explains:

“The problem with this theory is that it i mere speculation. There is no independent scientific evidence to support it. It amounts to an ad hoc hypothesis aimed entirely at avoiding the implications of cosmic fine-tuning.” p47

Flew’s third point is that it is impossible that life could emerge spontaneously from non-living matter. The fact is, as Dr. Spiegel writes, that there is only a chance of 1 in 1040,000 for this to happen. Statisticians usually consider any chance less than 1 in 1050 to be impossible! Hence, it simply did not happen that way!

Dr. Spiegel points out that each of these categories of evidence for God, as shown by Professor Flew, is immune to evolutionary objections.

“Natural selection presupposes the existence of living organisms, so Darwinism is of no help in responding to any of these evidences for theism.” p48-49

Some atheists refer to what is called “chemical evolution,” for the emergence of life. Yet it is only a euphemism for spntaneous generation. Richard Dawkions knows that this is a grasp at straws, and so seriously considers Francis Crick’s “directed panspermia” theory, the aliens started life on earth. Yet, even the “directed panspermia” theory must tell us where the aliens come from!

Dr. Spiegel, next, performs a Biblical diagnosis on atheists as to why they really do not believe in the existence of God. The fact that many atheists are “intellectuallu sharp suggests that something other than rational exploration is going on here.” (p51) Here Dr. Spiegel directs us to Ps 14:1, “the fool says in his heart, there is no God.” The word “fool” denotes someone who is morally deficient. The Bible does not deny the intelligence of atheists. What passages such as Ps 14:1 point to is a certain moral corruption that influences the thinking of atheists. Hence, they do not lack intelligence but self-control and the right moral values.

According to Rom 1:18-29, the problem of atheism is not lack of evidence for God’s existence, since God has made His existence plain to see in creation. Rejecting God and unbelief is therefore inexcusable. It is the wickedness in the unbeliever that suppress the truth.

“Consequently, the unbeliever’s capacity for rational thought is compromised, and this leads to even more wicked conduct.” p53

Sin corrupts the mind, which leads to more sin, which in turn further corrupts the mind. The mind steeped in unbelief is blinded towards God, ethics and some aspects of nature. Belief influences behaviour and behaviour influences belief. This points back to the effects of sin on the mind and how those effects on the mind lead to more sin. Rejection of God deadens the mind theologically and morally.

After explaining Alvin Plantinga’s ingenious argument that shows why belief in naturalism can never be reasonable, Dr. Spiegel writes:

“What these examples show is that the practicality of a belief does not imply its truth. Nor does the practicality of an entire coginitive system guarantee that it is aimed at forming true beliefs. This means that if naturalism is true, then we have no reason to be confident that any of our beliefs are actually true, and this includes our belief in the truth of naturalism. In other words, if naturalism is true, then we have no reason to believe it is true. If ever there was a self-defeating wordview, this is it.” p59 [emphasis the author’s]

3. The Causes of Atheism

In this chapter Dr. Spiegel works towards proving that atheism is greatly influenced by absent or wicked fathers and immoral behaviour.

Attempting to prove that being fatherless is a great driving force towards atheism, Dr. Spiegel makes great use of psychologist Paul C. Vitz’ research into atheism and the effects of absent fathers on the tendency of becoming atheists.In Vitz’ studies he found a strong link between atheism and the fatherless. Vitz has confirmed his thesis when he discovered that many atheists from the modern period lost their fathers to death, such as David Hume, Arthur Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell and Sartre. Atheists who had weak or abusive fathers were people such as Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Feud, H.G. Wells, Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Samuel Butler.

On the other hand, Vitz studied the lives of theists of the same era as the atheists mentioned above and found that the following theists had good relationships with their fathers: Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, William Wilberforce, G.K. Chesterton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Reid.

Vitz does make the point that fatherlessness does not guarantee atheism.

“Given the strong majority of religious believers, it appears that most children of defective fathers manage to resist bthe temptation of atheism. Still, others, such as C. S. Lewis and Antony Flew, give up their atheism even after many years of unbelief. So the psychological dynamics of atheism are very complex, but the impact of the father relationship does appear to be profound.” p68

Even though many atheists were fatherless or had bad relationships with their fathers, an explanation as to why people are atheists does not excuse them from their unbelief. The reason why father figures are so important in children’s lives is that father figures mirror God in children’s lives.

“Whether we call it psychological projection, transfer, or displacement, the lack of a good father is a handicap when it comes to faith.” p70

Spiegel also makes use of historian Paul Johnson’s book Intellectuals, to show what despicable lives many of the most well-known intellectuals lived. Spiegel writes of this book that it is an

“exposè that recounts behavior so sleazy and repugnant that one almost feels corrupted by reading it.” p70

These brilliant people were novelists, poets, playwrights and philosophers who tried to create the values that society was supposed to hold on to. Yet they were the ones who were “sleazy and repugnant.” These were people like Jean Jacques Rousseau, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Karl Marx, Henrik Ibsen, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Johnson’s book highlights just how modern intellectuals fail to live up to being moral visionaries and that their moral perversity should give us pause concerning the legitimacy of their moral ideas.

“This is because one’s personal conduct impacts one’s scholarly projects… the works of these intellectuals were often calculated to justify or minimize the shame of their own debauchery.” p72 [emphasis the author’s]

In short, these intellectuals conform truths to their desires. As a result their ideals were based on their will to be immoral rather than an honest quest searching for the truth. Such ideological motivation to skew the truth can be seen in the “research” of Margaret Mead and Alfred Kinsey, both of whom provided data in their own research to maximize variation and not normalcy. Their research was skewed by their own immorality. Chronic sexual misbehaviour is a devastating form of rebellion against God.

Apart from being “fatherless,” immoral lifestyles also drive people to atheism which essentially drive them to personal rebellion against God, not because they have proof, but as Thomas Nagel says, he hopes there is no God. It is not reason that is behind atheism, but willful rebellion.

Read part 3 of this review tomorrow.

Read the following:
Interview with Dr. Jim Spiegel
Review of The Making of an Atheist Part 1
Review of The Making of an Atheist Part 3

Interview with Dr. Jim Spiegel author of The Making of an Atheist

Making of an AtheistFor those who have been following this blog, you would have been reading about The Making of an Atheist blog book tour.

It is my privilege today to interview Dr. Jim Spiegel on his book The Making of an Atheist.

1. Just thinking…: Hi Jim, welcome to Just thinking…!
Dr. Jim Spiegel: Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers.

2. JT: Tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, your family and how you came to Taylor University.
DJS: I grew up in Michigan and Mississippi.  I did my undergraduate work in Biology at Belhaven College in Jackson, then went on to do graduate work in philosophy at University of Southern Mississippi and then back up north to Michigan State University for my doctorate.  I arrived at Taylor in 1993 and have been teaching there ever since.

3. JT: You are Professor of Philosophy at Taylor University. What inspired you to go the philosophy route?
DJS: My intention as an undergraduate was to go into medicine, but I never felt entirely at peace with that plan.  Since Belhaven is a liberal arts college, I had to take a variety of courses.  And when I took my first philosophy course—difficult as it was—I was hooked.  Probing the foundations of knowledge and developing a worldview was fascinating to me.  My philosophy professor, Wynn Kenyon (who still teaches there), did a great job of showing us how good philosophy builds faith and motivates a virtuous life.  And this is precisely what I try to do for my students at Taylor.

4. JT: Many Christians will say that as Christians we should not bother with philosophies that capture our minds, pointing to Colossians 2:8. To them philosophy per se is just wrong. How would you handle that criticism?
DJS: That passage actually is an implicit endorsement of philosophy, since the only way one can tell whether a philosophical theory is built on human tradition rather than on Christ is by being philosophically alert, trained in worldview analysis.  But, of course, it doesn’t endorse just any way of doing philosophy but doing Christian philosophy, where all of one’s philosophical analysis and theorizing is done from a biblical perspective.

5. JT: Did you find it a natural thing to move from philosophy to apologetics? Aren’t these two disciplines perhaps closely related, like a brother and sister in a family?
DJS: I’m inclined to see the field of apologetics as a multidisciplinary field with a specific aim of showing the reasonableness of the faith.  But among the disciplines involved, philosophy has primacy, since it is the critical philosophical method that one brings to all of the relevant apologetic issues, from the existence of God to the problem of evil to the nature of science.

6. JT: The Making of an Atheist is your tenth book, is that true? Are there any of your books that you would recommend to the ordinary Christian above The Making of an Atheist? Why, or why not?
DJS: It’s actually my seventh book as either a main author or editor.  I have contributed to several other volumes, though.  As for other books of mine that I’d recommend to all of your readers, Gum, Geckos, and God would be one that should appeal to everyone.  It is basically an introduction to Christian apologetics in the form of conversations with my kids.  It’s entertaining as well as informative.  My book How to be Good in a World Gone Bad is a discussion of Christian virtues, so anyone interested in spiritual formation would find that useful.  And The Love of Wisdom, which I co-authored with Steve Cowan, is a Christian introductory philosophy text.  Naturally, your more philosophically inclined readers would be interested in that.

7. JT: I really enjoyed reading your book. I found it easy and quick to read. Did you write that way intentionally? Is that your normal writing style? (I haven’t read your other books yet!)
DJS: That’s my writing style for books that I gear toward a general audience.  Gum, Geckos, and God is written in a similar voice.

8. JT: You mention evolution several times in your book as it is impossible not to do so when dealing with atheism. Do you think it is important to believe how God made the earth, whether in 6 days, over a long period of time, or perhaps even through evolution?
DJS: I do think the question of origins is a very important one with implications in several areas of life.  So I think all Christians have an intellectual duty to study the issue as fully as they are able.  Whatever position they hold, it should be well-informed and humbly held.  There is just so much we don’t know when it comes to the issue.  Having said that, as a proponent of intelligent design, I do think the evidence for cosmic fine-tuning and design at the organismic level is very strong.  As for the age of the earth, I don’t have a firm commitment there, but I am intrigued by Gerald Schroeder’s theory that the old earth and young earth views can actually be reconciled (see his book Genesis and the Big Bang).

9. JT: In your book you mention that there are several factors that lead people to atheism, such as distant or absent fathers, immoral lifestyles, willful rebellion and more. In your research, have you found any one thing that has more influence than any others in pushing someone toward atheism?
DJS: It appears the overriding factor is the corrupting effect of sin on the mind. As Alvin Plantinga has explained so well, our cognitive faculties were designed to form true beliefs, but like anything else, cognitive operations can be warped or disabled through misuse or exposure to debilitating factors.  Among the most damaging influences on the mind is moral vice, whether that takes the form of immoral behaviors, such as violence, theft, and sexual promiscuity, or more “hidden” sins like pride, envy, resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness.  The more we indulge in such things, the more warped our cognitive capacity will be, particularly as regards forming beliefs about ethics and religion.  In some cases the cognitive warping is so extreme that a person denies even the most fundamental reality and source of all value, God himself.  So the atheistic perspective is a consequence of sin, which, of course, is just what we learn from Scripture in such passages as Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:18-20, and Ephesians 4:17-19.

10. JT: My blog, being close to the end of the blog book tour for The Making of an Atheist, I can ask you, what has your experience of the tour been?
DJS: It has been a very positive experience.  I’ve been pleased with the quality and diversity of questions, comments, and applications of my thesis.  I’ve also been impressed with the devotion of the bloggers such as yourself to careful discussion of apologetic issues for the building up of the Christian internet community.

11. JT: Thank you Dr. Spiegel, for giving me this opportunity to review your book and to interview you! It has been a privilege for me to do so! May your further endeavours bring great fruit and growth in the body of Christ.
DJS: The privilege is all mine.  Thanks so much!

After landing at this blog, the blog book tour will move on to other blogs. Only three more blogs to go to the end of this book tour.

My review of The Making of an Atheist will be published in three parts, one later today (1 April), one tomorrow and the last on 3 April.