Category Archives: philosophy

Innocent Smith’s Modern Proposal

If you haven’t read G. K. Chesterton’s brilliant Manalive you need to stop everything, go out and buy it (if you live in Toronto, Crux Books has it in stock!). You’ll be in for a hilarious, but incredibly insightful read. If you know anything about this book, it is likely the story of the character–in a flashback scene–when he was in university. This character, Innocent Smith, was a philosophy student who sat through a class taught by a professor who declared that there was no meaning in the world (or something to that effect). The not-so-innocent Smith meets this professor in his room one night and produces a pistol with the aim of pushing the limits of this professors philosophy. You must read the scene for yourself to soak in all its brilliance.

As it turns out, screenwriter and theologian Briand Godawa has redone this Chestertonian scene for a modern audience. While it may not have the wit of the great writer, it paints the meaning of a meaningless worldview in crystal clarity. Check out “Cruel Logic” here {HT: Steve Bedard}:



Filed under apologetics, books, brian godawa, chesterton, philosophy, video

Camus’ “La Chute”: Profoundly Christian

La Chute is not a caricature, but a probing of man’s nature as known to Camus through his own experience: Clamence is certainly not Camus, but is the arrangement of mirrors through which Camus inspects that experience and causes it to be reflected. Nor can the specifically Christian, or pre-Christian elements in La Chute–so clearly signalled both in the title and in the name of the narrator-protagonist–be glossed over. Under its surface of irony, and occasional blasphemy, La Chute is profoundly Christian in its confessional form, in its imagery and above all in its pervasive message that it is only through the full recognition of our sinful nature that we can hope for grace. Grace does not, it is true, arrive and the novel ends on what is apparently a pessimistic note. Yet the name of the narrator*–that of the fore-runner–hints, however teasingly, at the possibility of a sequel.

Conor Cruise O’Brien, Camus Fontana Modern Masters (London: Fontana/Collins, 1970), 81.

The narrator’s name is Jean-Baptiste Clamence.

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Art, Civil Society, and Public Justice: A Double Book Launch

Join authors Jonathan Chaplin and Lambert Zuidervaart in celebrating the launch of their new books in social and political philosophy. Jonathan and Lambert will introduce their books, respond to your questions, and talk about one another’s work. Come greet the authors, enjoy refreshments and conversation, and purchase your signed copies of Herman Dooyeweerd and Art in Public.

Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society. University of Notre Dame Press, 2011. ISBN 9780268023058

The twentieth-century Dutch philosopherHerman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) left behind an impressive canon of scholarly works. Jonathan Chaplin shows that Dooyeweerd helps us understand how state and civil society should be related to achieve justice and the public good.

Dr. Jonathan Chaplin is the first director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge. He was Associat Professor of Political Theory at the Institute for Christian Studies, where he held the Dooyeweerd Chair of Social and Political Philosophy


Art in Public: Politics, Economics, and a Democatic Culture. Cambridge University Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780521112741 (hardback), 9780521130172 (paperback.


Lambert Zuidervaart makes a vigourous case for government arts funding, based on crucial contributions the arts make to civil society. He proposes an entirely new conception of the public role of art, one with wide-ranging implications for education, politics, and cultural policy.

Dr. Lambert Zuidervaart is Professor of Philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies and founding director of ICS’s Centre for Philosophy, Religion, and Social Ethics. He is an Associate Member of the Graduate Faculty in Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

2 pm, Wednesday, March 23, 2011 At Leonard hall, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto 5 Hoskin Avenue, Toronto (Enter from Tower Road)


Sponsored by Centre for Philosophy, Religion and Social Ethis at the Institute for Christian



Hosted by Crux Books







More Info: 416-979-2331 (ICS) or 416-599-2749 (Crux)



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Aristides on God

Aristides was an early Christian apologist, sometimes known as Aristides the Philosopher. He wrote The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher probably around AD 125, the English of which is translated from Syriac by D. M. Kay of the University of Edinburgh’s semitics department. The Apology had only been known to us in quotations by other fathers. For instance, Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that the text was presented to the emperor Hadrian at Athens. In the late nineteenth-century, however, an Armenian fragment was found and in 1889 the full-text was discovered in the library of St. Catherine’s in Sinai. The purpose of the document is to argue against Barbarian, Pagan and Jewish views of God–although Aristides writes using Greek categories of thought and is of course influenced by certain parts of the Old Testament.

Here is a sample from Aristides’ discussion of God that I thought was good:

I say, then, that God is not born, not made, an ever-abiding nature without beginning and without end, immortal, perfect, and incomprehensible. Now when I say that he is “perfect,” this means that there is not in him any defect, and he is not in need of anything but all things are in need of him. And when I say that he is “without beginning,” this means that everything which has beginning has also an end, and that which has an end may be brought to an end. He has no name, for everything which has a name is kindred to things created. Form he has non, nor yet any union of members; for whatsoever possesses these is kindred to things fashioned. He is neither male nor female. The heavens do not limit him, but the heavens and all things, visible and invisible, receive their bounds from him. Adversary he has none, for there exists not any stronger than he. Wrath and indignation he possesses not, for there is nothing which is able to stand against him. Ignorance and forgetfulness are not in his nature, for is altogether wisdom and understanding; and in his stands fast all that exists. He requires not sacrifice and libation, nor even one of things visible; he requires not aught from any, but all living creatures stand in need of him.

The full-text can be found in volume ten of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, 259-279.

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Carson’s Common Sense

Historian David Bebbington has said, “A specific inheritance from the Enlightenment was commonsense philosopohy” (Bebbington, “The Dominance of Evangelicalism,” 123). Commonsense realism, as it is often referred to, owes its popularity to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid who taught ethics at Glasgow University from 1764-1796. Incidentally, this is the same university that Irish Baptist Alexander Carson attended as an undergraduate. Indeed, Carson calls Reid “the first name in moral science” (p. 402).

Common sense philosophy was the principle opponent of the skepticism of David Hume, but as Bebbington observes, it was also used to defend against German  rationalism and the philosophy of Mill. As an apologist Carson wrote much against higher criticism, or Neologism, that came out of Germany and used the categories of common sense in his defense.

Here is a quote from Carson that situates him well within this tradition:

Philosophers have laboured much to rest all their knowledge on the foundations, not only of self-evident, but of necessary truth. They have esteemed it an affront to their art, not to be able to deduce all their doctrines from the intuitive light of their own reasoning faculty. Evidence has been supposed to consist in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas; and, consequently, to believe anything which is not the result of the operation of reason, is to believe without authority.

For this purpose, some of our greatest philosophers have renounced the empire of common sense, and commenced their career with universal scepticism (sic). Even their own existence, and the existence of the world, cannot be taken for granted. These truths must be proved by reason, or they must want a foundation. But they have laboured in vain. After all the exertions of the greatest human faculties, it cannot be proved even that there is a world, unless implicit credence is given to the testimony of the senses. Not only do men in general, but even philosophers themselves, continue to believe in their own existence, and in the existence of the world, not from the arguments alleged by Des Cartes (sic), Malebranche, Arnauld, and Locke, but from the testimony of consciousness and the senses.

The theologian who loves to strut in the philosopher’s steps, and to ape his sentiments and language, has, also, talked much of subjecting the contents of the Word of God to the control and determinations of reason. What cannot be comprehended or accounted for by the reasoning faculty, it is supposed irrational to believe. With this standard in his hands, he goes through the Scriptures, pruning, and retrenching, and refining, and supplying, that the dictates of the Spirit may be modelled (sic), so as to pass the review of human reason.

Alexander Carson, “Faith the Foundation of the Greater Part of Human Knowledge,” in Works (London/Edinburgh: Hamilton, Adams/Wm. White, 1847) 1:401-402.

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Filed under alexander carson, bebbington, enlightenment, evangelicalism, philosophy, quotes

Bebbington on the Enlightenment

The following is a point-form summary from my reading of David Bebbington’s chapter “The Legacy of the Enlightenment” from his book The Dominance of Evangelicalism: The Age of Spurgeon and Moody The History of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 117-147. Here he discusses the relationship evangelicals had with the philosophical period of the so-called “age of reason.” I’m putting these summary-statements on the blog mostly for personal use, but if someone finds them helpful, well…I’m glad. Unless you’re a nerd like me, though, you’ll be bored with this:

– Bebbington begins by noting that the ideas of evangelicals in the late nineteenth-century were molded by the earlier phase of Western thought called the Enlightenment

– It is worth nothing at this early point that Bebbington does not get into the debate over how to define the Englightenment (think for instance of the recent revision by Gertrude Himmelfarb)

– The Enlightenment “method” was a “single-minded” quest for knowledge about how the world operated

– Seeking an end to metaphysical debates, empirical techniques were developed: “There was a premium on science, on exploration, on wisdom from new sources” (117; see also 122)

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Say Hello To My Little Friend

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10 in 2010?

One of my favourite bands used to be Bad Religion, the godfathers of California punk. The early stuff was raw and in your face and as they’ve aged their melodic side has come to the fore. If you know them at all, you’re likely familiar with their radio hit 21st Century Digital Boy, a song whose music and lyrics I love.

What’s most interesting about Bad Religion is that their singer, Greg Graffin, has a PhD in evolutionary biology from from Cornell, thus the intelligence of the song-writing is quite high. Graffin is also an atheist and this comes out strongly in a lot of what he writes about. One song in particular has been in my mind as the calendar switched to 2010 – it’s a song about suffering and the over-population of the world: Ten in 2010. It’s short, so I’ll reproduce the lyrics for you:

parched, cracked mouths, empty swollen guts
sun-baked pavement encroaches on us
haves and have-nots together at last
brutally engaged in mortal combat
10 in 2010

what kind of God orchestrates such a thing?
10 in 2010
ten billion people all suffering
10 in 2010
truth is not an issue just hungry mouths to feed
10 in 2010
forget what you want, scrounge the things you need

happy and content it can’t happen to you
10 in 2010
fifteen years we’ll think of a solution
10 in 2010
it won’t just appear in one day
10 in 2010
for ten in twenty-ten we’re well on our way

like piercing ear darts, I heard the news today
10 in 2010
10 billion people…coming your way

Now, there is much that could be said about this song in terms of its overall philosophy. I think in particular of the line early on: “What kind of God orchastrates such a thing?” The song is essentially about the goodness of God and human suffering; a subject often called “theodicy” in the philosophy of religion. My point here is not to get into the issue of how God can be good in light of human suffering (one thinks only of the recent earthquake in Haiti). Philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and John Frame have offered up sound answers to this age-old problem.

Rather, I want to highlight the basic error of the song in that the world’s population is not ten billion and it is now the year of our Lord two thousand and ten. Trusty old Wikipedia estimates the population of the world currently at 6,799,700,000. I wonder if Graffin’s changed the lyrics or if they’ve scrapped the song altogether?


Filed under atheism, bad religion, greg graffin, music, philosophy, suffering

Hitchens/Wilson on Imus

Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson discuss their new movie, Collision, on the Don Imus show {HT: Blog and Mablog}:

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Interview: Piper and Wilson Discuss Atheism

John Piper discusses the upcoming film Collision with Douglas Wilson. The film is a documentary directed by Darren Doane that follows Wilson and atheist Christopher Hitchens as they did a series of debates on the west coast last year. Check it out here.

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Bahnsen’s Lost Book on DeMar’s Radio Show

Greg Bahnsen, Christian apologist extraordinaire, wrote a manuscript for a book on apologetics that had been lost after his untimely death. This manuscript has since been found and published. Here is a video of Gary DeMar on his radio show with Joe McDurmon discussing the process of getting the book into our greedy little hands.

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Oliphint on Van Til

This is for Shed:

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Doing Philosophy

Is doing the history of philosophy the same as doing philosophy? My buddy Nate shares some thoughts here.

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Anthony Kenny on Medieval Philosophy

I’ve been reading Sir Anthony Kenny’s little biography on Thomas Aquinas to great profit. Kenny filled a lot of rolls at Oxford University, being a fellow at Balliol College and St. John’s College. He was also Chancellor of the university itself until his retirement in 2001. A specialist in medieval philosophy, Kenny’s work has spanned the whole of western philosophy, especially in his two general introductions to the subject.

On a whim, I thought I’d Google him to see if anything was online. It turns out there is a whole series on medieval philosophy at YouTube where Kenny goes through the entirety of the period, explaining philosophical trends and people. If you’re interested in this type of thing, check it out. After you watch the first video (below), options will appear that will allow you to continue on in the series.

Also available from the same person who posted these interviews are those with Father Coplestone, John Searle, Jacques Derrida and others. This is fantastic stuff!


Filed under anthony kenny, aquinas, books, interviews, medieval, philosophy, video

A. N. Wilson Reconverts

A. N. Wilson, a very well known atheist, has announced that he is returning to the Christian faith of his childhood. A major antagonist to Christianity, news of his “reconversion” is surprising indeed. The New Statesman has a piece by Wilson outlining the reasons for his change called “Why I Believe Again” which is a really cool read. The New Statesman also has a Q & A with him where he goes into more detail.

Wilson has written a number of books on Christianity that have been controversial, in particular his works on Jesus and Paul. N. T. Wright has taken Wilson to task in a number of works.

First it was Anthony Flew who abandoned atheism and now Wilson. Pretty cool to see these prominent thinkers realise that their atheism can’t account for the real world that they live in.

[HT: Between Two Worlds]

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Recommendations for Readings in Philosophy

I’ve been afforded the opportunity to team-teach a course on the history of western philosophy next year with Michael Haykin. I’m very, very excited about it. Out of a twelve-week course, I’ll be giving six three hour lectures. My topics will be Aristotle; Anselm/Aquinas; Descartes/Locke; Hume/Kant; Marx; Foucault.

Our textbooks will likely be:
W. Andrew Hoffecker, Revolutions in Worldview (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007).
Anthony Kenney (ed), The Oxford History of Western Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

I was wondering what resources you would recommend for studying either the full swath of western philosophy or individual figures – mostly the ones I’ve listed above. I want to amass a good bibliography. I already have a decent collection, but the more the merrier! This includes good primary and secondary sources; critical editions; out-of-print titles; websites; audio; etc.

You’ll note here at RearViewMirror that I’ll be posting resources both for this course and for my master’s work. It’s a good place to keep everything under one hat and at hand for quick reference.


Filed under books, me, michael haykin, philosophy, tbs

Antony Flew and Atheism

Antony Flew was a very influential atheist philosopher who dominated the scene in the twentieth century. In 2004 he publically announced that he was no longer an atheist. His story is recounted in his very well written book There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changes His Mind that I just finished reading last week – I highly recommend it. The appendices, especially the one by Tom Wright on Jesus and the resurrection are excellent.
The New York Times has an article on Flew that they ran in 2007. It’s worth checking out. I really hope that he moves from being merely a deist (a belief in an impersonal Creator) to converting fully to Christ. It looks like he is on the way!


Filed under antony flew, apologetics, atheism, books, n t wright, philosophy, reviews

John Frame Interview on the Problem of Evil

John Frame is one of my favourite theologians/apologists/philosophers. If you get the chance, listen to his lectures on apologetics and philosophy at the Reformed Theological Seminary’s iTunes site – they are really good.
Andy Naselli – guest blogging at Between Two Worlds – has posted an interview with Frame who discusses the so-called “problem of evil.” This is the basic and famous question often posed to Christians: if God is all good and all powerful, why does evil exist?

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ER and Postmodernism

What would you do if you were this hospital chaplain? This scene strikes at the heart of the stupidity of postmodern relativism. I’m borderline shocked that it was on ER.

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Helms Deep

I was quite excited to see that Paul Helm has a blog where he posts various unpublished writings. I find Paul Helm to be one of the most enjoyable theologians of our day. He is a great writer, draws from various disciplines and traditions, and writes in a clear, concise and logically airtight manner. Check it out at Helms Deep.


Filed under apologetics, blogging, paul helm, philosophy