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Mr. B. Shepherd "BLS" (England, UK)

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We Don't Do God
We Don't Do God
Price: £2.61

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Stop the world, I wanna get off'..., 29 Feb 2012
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This review is from: We Don't Do God (Kindle Edition)
"We don't do God" - the phrase made popular by Alister Campbell. I am a fan of Lord Carey and as such, when I heard that he had written this book I immediately sought it out to see what he had to say - I can't say I was disappointed.

A summary of the book is as follows, in order of chapter:

1) A summary of the issue at hand - why Lord Carey decided to write this book. Essentially it was the naive judgment handed down by Lord Justice Laws, in the case of Gary McFarlane.
2) What has Christianity done for us - a reminder that it helped to abolish slavery, made contributions to the labour party (via Christian Socialism), the bible & the common book of prayer helped shape the English language, the educational system, the health service and the 1990 Jubilee debt relief program.
3) Attitudes are changing too fast - true tolerance allows differing opinions. Tolerance should accept other opinions even if they don't agree or like them. If you're sure you're right then you should be patient with others and refrain from legislating the hell out of every issue.
4) The two weapons against modern religion: secularism & multiculturalism - we possess a Christian culture, legal and social system. However, it is clear that few understand the nature of these things anymore. This allows authors, like Dawkins, to construct strawmen religious systems, which they can easily destroy. If we better understood our own beliefs and culture then we'd have been better prepared to respond. So given the residual left over, the question is, what do we do with what's left? It is argued that multiculturalism is used as a tool to make society relative. Rather than unite society, it divides it because it doesn't take anyone seriously - apart from the atheist secularist who is deemed the default position.
5) People who identify themselves as Christian are excluded from society. Such people are excluded from all walks of public life; from politicians downwards. There are no exceptions for point of conscience. How can this be good for a democratic society? Given that Christians give the largest contribution to society and charities, how can this exclusion be a encouraged?
6) Examples of recent case laws are given. These show that society is confused about expressions of faith. The current feeling is that religion should only come out on Sundays, behind closed doors. However, you can't leave your skin colour at the door, and neither can you leave your religion - both are part of who you are. Furthermore, in many cases it is the employer who changes the rules with regards to things the employee has done for decades. A heavy handed approach is then adopted to force them to change their traditions as if the customs (e.g. wearing a cross) have somehow become bad overnight. This cannot be good for any of us, especially in terms of individual freedom of expression, and social tradition/continuity.
7) Excluding people and charities from the table. This can't be a good thing for society to close religious charities given the volume of their contribution. Christians are not after special privileges, as the common rhetoric claims, but instead are after a level playing field with others. However, despite all this, Christians should also acknowledge that this marginalization is far from the persecution experienced by Christians in some other parts of the world. Let's therefore dispense with the rhetoric and keep the argument on equality rather than privilege.
8) The haphazard reform of our constitution is not benefiting anyone. The common rhetoric is that we have Bishops in the House of Lords, and this is a privilege they don't deserve. However, the PM used to have a say in who gets appointed - hence their appointment had a democratic edge (how many knew this?). However, haphazard reforms have led to successive governments becoming growingly uneasy with the nations past. The new slogan, adopted by Labour, is that we'll simply re-invent ourselves (far easier than actually understanding ourselves it would appear). However, all this is happening in an awful, un-thoughtful way, which is leading to the misbalancing of constitutional rights/duties. This constant rhetoric is also causing the public to lose respect for its traditions and institutions, which ultimately leads to uncertainty and social disharmony. Instead we should be proud of things like the role that the CofE has had to play in public life; and how it has given us a grass root to cling onto, a feeling of comfort and of being at home.
9) So what now? People are no longer comfortable with being classed as religious. Instead they are at ease with `spirituality'. However, this has lead to the decline of community. It is argued that religion will ultimately be replaced by rationality, but the growing decline in educational levels etc. show that this argument is a red herring. How then can the Church re-engage with culture? We are called back to servanthood/discipleship - to re-engage with the community and be rational about out beliefs. Christians should accept the challenge as a new call to `take up our cross' in a post secular age. Christians should not seek to withdraw from society but instead attempt to re-engage with it. Religion cannot be relegated to a hobby, but instead must become an expression of faith. The heart of Christianity is not worship, but rather 'mission'. Christians need to re-see the good in the world and engage with society, via: health, education, special schools, charities, theology etc. We are reminded that our acts must be an expression of community and a willingness to help establish the kingdom of God.

Overall, a highly engaging book to read. What made it more interesting was the government's and BBC's recent confessions, published 26-28 February 2012. Given that Lord Carey wrote his book many months before, his book made some rather prophetic statements. The government's recent report does indeed state that Christianity has been marginalized and has not been given a level playing field with others. The BBC has likewise admitted that they do target Christians, because they have the broadest shoulders out of everyone. Apparently a polite letter of complaint from a Christian is better than a letter of complaint and a threat of violence from other groups. That may be the case, but both are still contributing to making a silent majority feel at unease with itself and thus must be held accountable for this.

The crux of the book is thus: Christians are marginalized in the UK, but they are not persecuted. Furthermore, by being silent and inactive with our beliefs we have indirectly contributed to this occurrence. I actually couldn't agree with this more. If Christians are unhappy with the way things are then they should be more vocal about their complaints. We are after all, also citizens of the state and not doormats. The call to re-engage with society is a likewise highly valuable calling.

In terms of the writing style, I found it fluid and easy enough to get on with. The book is written at a popular, rather than academic level. The overall size of the book is billed at 190 + pages in paperback (unknown re kindle), but in any case I read the entire book in less than 4 hours. Still, the book reads like a cold shower to the Christian conscience.

I thoroughly recommend it as a read.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2012 11:57 PM BST

Jacob & the Prodigal
Jacob & the Prodigal
by Kenneth E. Bailey
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Kenneth Bailey - of course it's good !, 22 Feb 2012
This review is from: Jacob & the Prodigal (Paperback)
When it comes to biblical exegeses Kenneth Bailey, is in my opinion, without equal. Jesus was after all a Jew. The writers of the New Testament were Jews. Failure to understand a Jewish mindset therefore leads to all sorts of weird readings of the New Testament. Knowing this Bailey immersed himself into the Middle East for many years in order to better understand the biblical narratives. The results are often intelligent, surprising and highly engaging.

In this book Bailey reviews the parable of the two sons. In doing so he cross references the parable to the Genesis story of Jacob in order to show you how Jesus took the story and re-jigged it for a new audience. The outline of the book is roughly as follows:

1) Why he thinks that these parables are Jesus', and how they were passed on; i.e. an overview of the verbal rabbinic traditions.
2) An overview of how other Jewish Scholars, most noticeably Philo and Josephus reshaped biblical narratives to tell different stories.
3) The parable of the lost sleep (Luke 15.3-7); and alternative ways of looking at this parable.
4) The parable of the lost coin (Luke 15.3-32); and alternative ways of looking at this parable.
5) The parable of the two sons (15.11-32); and how this relates to the Jacob story listed in Genesis.
6) An overview of how NT Wrights view of the story bears similarity with Bailey's understanding.
7) An overview of what all the above means - specifically in relation to Jesus' understand of what sin is, what the nature of God is, what is Jesus saying about himself, and what is Jesus saying about Salvation and Repentance.

A summary of the parable of the two lost sons is as follows:

The main thrust is that asking a father for your inheritance is equivalent to wishing him dead. Squandering your inheritance is deemed distasteful and worthy of being disowned for. The son having hit rock bottom wishes to come home and con his father to give him a job. The father (hereby symbolising God) see the son far off and goes out to him, thereby embarrassing and shaming himself in the eyes of the community. This melts the son's heart, which causes him to confess his selfishness to his father. The father throws a celebration for this act of reunion. The eldest son is jealous and throws a wobble. The father is entitled to disown his eldest for this act of outburst. Instead he again lowers himself to make amends with his eldest, thereby reconciling himself with another for the second time in the same story. The result of all of this is that the hero of the story is the father for his acts of self-sacrificing, instead of either of the two sons. This is in contrast to the very Western view of the Hero being the youngest son, often understood as referring to the Gentiles.

Overall, a thoroughly engaging book. If you have never read anything by Kenneth Bailey before I highly suggest that you do. His books `Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes' and `Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes' will change the way you read the New Testament - for the better. The cultural titbits he includes really does change the way you view the texts. These are, in my opinion, invaluable for any biblical reader, otherwise the reader simply reads the story out of context and the heart of the story is lost.

Because of the brilliance of this scholar I struggle to ever rate his work less than 5 stars. Thoroughly recommended!

Bonhoeffer: A Biography
Bonhoeffer: A Biography
Price: £7.41

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A one word description needed only:- Excellent., 19 Feb 2012
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Bonhoeffer - pastor, theologian, martyr - if I were to describe this book in two words it would be `mammoth' and `captivating'.

The book itself is one of the best researched books on Bonhoeffer I have ever come across. It includes numerous quote sections from his letters, books, sermons and personal testimonies. It includes writings from other parties, who wrote about Bonhoeffer and a story narrative that never fails to draw the reader on. Despite the size of the book I cannot recall ever feeling like my interest began to wane whilst reading it.

Bonhoeffer came from an aristocratic and noticeably scientific German family. At a young age he decided to defy tradition and become a theologian. His most noticeable writings are: Life Together, Cost of Discipleship and Ethics (all of which of fantastic). Together these books are his opus maximus (great life's work). Every theologian has heard of Bonhoeffer and studied his writings at some point or another. The depth of his writings are awe inspiring and thoroughly thought provoking.

What is probably less known about Bonhoeffer is his role in Nazi Germany, or the fact that because of this there is today a statue of him on the side of Westminster Abbey. At an early point in the history of Nazi Germany Bonhoeffer decided that the regime was evil. Originally he preached against it, but after Hitler experienced numerous military successes, he resigned himself to bringing down the beast from within. To this end he joined the Abwehr and began smuggling Jews out of Germany. Because of the interplay between the Gestapo and the Abwehr Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and detained for 18 months at Tegal Prison.

After the failed Valkyrie attempt, of which Bonhoeffer was later linked to, he was detained by the Gestapo for 4 months of torture and integration. He was eventually transferred to 3 different concentration camps and hung 3 weeks before Hitler took his own life in 1945. Throughout all of his he never failed to act out in accordance with his faith, and whilst in a difficult predicament, continued to effect and influence the lives of those he touched right up until the end of his life. The saddest part of his story is that it was not even the Germans who notified his family of his demise but rather the BBC radio some months after the end of the war.

The usual memos of my reviews are long and fully explanatory:- but in this instance what is there for me to say? The book was excellently written! The subject written about thoroughly affected me! Bonhoeffer's experiences played on my thoughts and despite the mammoth size of the book I kept reading this book until the early hours of numerous mornings. I have also come to the conclusion that I could not have done what Bonhoeffer did and for this reason he deserves Saint status. In total I cannot recommend this book enough!

I read numerous books written by Bonhoeffer whilst I studied my Masters in Theology - however, I'd like to personally thank Eric Metaxas for writing such a well written and thoroughly researched book about this individual. I fell like in a way you have allowed me to meet the individual on a personal level rather than on a purely theological level. Also, modern authors are frequently inclined to down play Bonhoeffer's religious side and talk about his faith as if it were an oddity to be shy of. Your book highlights how seriously Bonhoeffer took his faith and how everything he did was because of it. For this I would sincerely like to thank you.

In the end your book as become the best Biography I have ever read! Thank you for writing it.

A Year in the Wild: A Riotous Novel
A Year in the Wild: A Riotous Novel
Price: £6.64

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended., 5 Jan 2012
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I don't usually read fiction, nor do I post reviews for fiction books. However, for this book I'll make an exception.

The book format is basically structured in the format of emails. Two brothers who hate each other go to a game reserve to learn some new skills for a year and in the process hopefully bond. The emails in question are to their sister relaying their adventure stories, each from their own perspectives. The 2 brothers in question are Angus and Hugh. Angus is the sarcastic and unlikable one (but highly funny) and Hugh is the high achiever and people's people. The polarity between the two is simply hilarious. On a number of occasions I found myself laughing out loud. The book is really funny, probably because of the things Angus says rather than anything else.

In any case I was sceptical about how the book would progress given the email nature of it's structure. However, the author pulled this off really well and I found myself on numerous occasions reading for hours just to see what would happen to the brothers next. There are a number of surprise turns and one event that was really quiet sad. This in itself shows you that you could easily engage with the characters and did care about possible altercations which they might have.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book. A bargain of a price and therefore is highly recommended to all. James, if you're reading, write another book with the same characters - I'm sure to read it. Well done on this your first book. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science
Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science
Price: £6.99

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings., 5 Jan 2012
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This is my third John Lennox book, which I am reviewing on Amazon. Having read a few of his books before I find myself more familiar with his overall ideas. I'll summarise my comments on the same shortly. First it might be useful to give you a brief outline of what the book actually considers. Considering each chapter in turn:

1) Begins by considering the whole historical argument (Galileo affair) of whether the earth revolves around the sun or whether the sun revolves around the earth.
2) Carrying on from chapter 1 - John then assesses how the bible was used back then to confirm the so called `scientific view' that the sun travelled around the earth (it was more a philosophical argument than scientific - it wasn't religious). He then argues that this was making the bible say something it was not intended to say and warns people against making the mistake in future (evolution vs old earth arguments) because if it the arguments are proved wrong they'll make the bible look stupid.
3) Looks at the whole 6 day creation account and basically comes to the conclusion that the days, in actual reality, are indeterminate. He notes that on day 1 there was no sun - hence day itself was indistinguishable. He then considers the young vs old earth arguments and rejects both. He says that what Genesis intends to say is that there is a chronological order of events, i.e. that life/the universe is logical and moves towards a goal - i.e. a degree of telos.
4) Moving slightly away from the 6 day controversy, John considers the whole `special creation of humanity' issue. The upshot of this chapter is that whilst man maybe related to other creatures, but he is not other creatures and therefore remains separate from them. In short this chapter disputes the reductionist views to man as just another animal.
5) What's the point of genesis then? - So far we know that it shows us that the universe is logical, has order and that man is far more than just an animal - nothing special so far. So John says, the basic up shot of the Genesis story is that God exists (metaphysical starting point). As can be seen, each act of creation begins: `and God said' - therefore God must exist in order to say what he has said. So the upshot of Genesis is to proclaim that God exists, that he created the universe and has endowed it with the properties necessary for life to begin (i.e. the fine tuning argument).
6) Considers the argument that Genesis is just another prehistoric mythology trying to give an account of how life and the universe began (i.e. the primitive science argument Dawkins loves so much). However, John disputes this and says that actually mythologies usually have the universe starting from a God or being of some kind dying and the universe coming out of that event. Genesis holds no such similarity in that it proclaims that God created a natural-logical universe, which is completely separate from God and in turn is not God.
7) Considers the cosmic temple model in which Genesis is used as a form of science. Basically John rejects this - this chapter basically looked at or responded to other people's thoughts and comments on Genesis.
8) Really short chapter on Genesis and Science. Basically says that Genesis agrees that the universe was created by an act of God. It supports the ex-nihilo model of creation and says that this agrees with Big Bang Cosmology. One has to raise a question how long this will last if Roger Penrose's idea of the recycled universe begins to hold sway, which so far it hasn't.
9) Considers Genesis 1 vs Genesis 2. It basically argues that the two are not contrary but instead tell different stories with different focuses. As both are stories with points to convey they cannot be used as strict science, as the same would be illogical. The story of Genesis 1 is detailed above and the story is Genesis 2 is that man was an intended outcome of the whole creative process.
10) Is an assessment of Francis Collin's and C.S.Lewis' ideas regarding Theistic Evolution. It basically defines what this is and how it works, in principle. It argues that the current problems are not with evolution as a concept but rather with natural selection, which is used as an all encompassing paradigm. He does however say that God's special intervention may have been involved in the creation of life, and perhaps nudged humanity on its way (special creation of humanity). However, how he does this he doesn't know or say. Is this a God of the Gaps - he argues not and that we should beware of an Evolution in the Gaps counter issue.

So what to give the book? I wanted to give it 3 stars, but that seems a little low after writing this review and rethinking about what the book actually said. So, I'm going to give it 4 stars, but really I wanted to give it 3 and a half. Why? Well, the book read severely disjointedly. It's basically a bash against 6 day creationists and how their story is simply not science (I've got a Masters in Theology, this hardly comes as a surprise to me). It then looked at other peoples work and made random comments on the same. In this respect it felt like a massive pat on the back of other like minded authors, but saying: good job guys but don't forget X also. The logical progression of the book just didn't seem to be there. Apart from the first 2 chapters every other chapter was basically just an essay on a specific point in question.

Look, I might be being a little too severe on the book. Perhaps I know too much about the topic for this book to be useful. Perhaps the writing style of this specific book just didn't do it for me. Nevertheless, if you don't have a similar degree of knowledge on the topic to me and fancy a read on the whole creation issue and why 6 day creationism is simply false, and how Genesis can be read in other ways - then perhaps this book would be a good book for you. If you're over read on the topic then this book is highly unlikely to say anything that Alister McGrath and Francis Collins haven't already said in their respective books.

The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief
The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief
Price: £6.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Decent, 26 Dec 2011
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I first heard about Larry Taunton following the death of Christopher Hitchens. A Christian friend of Hitchens, whom Hitchens described in positive terms was surely worth finding out about. Upon further reading I discovered that the author was the founder of Fixed Point and so decided to look up whether he had written any books. Unsurprising he had.

The book itself is not quite what I was expecting. Whilst the author is a world leading Christian Apologist this book is notably not very apologetic in nature. Instead it focuses mainly on the daughter whom he adopted from Ukraine, and how difficult/trying the process was.

Nevertheless, whilst a book about adoption, it is also a book about Christianity, and most noticeably the `grace effect'. The central thesis here is that cultures influenced by Christianity outperform, in terms of compassion, secular/atheistic cultures. To show this to be true the author uses the Ukrainian system as his point of contrast. Being that that side of the world has tasted full on communism and state sponsored atheism, it is a worthwhile contrast.

The book itself is touching and the lengths that the Tauntons go to to adopt this little girl who has so many problems are simply speaking, nothing short of sainthood material. The circumstances she endured in Ukraine are enough to sadden even the hardest of hearts, and in this way I thoroughly enjoyed the book. You can't help but want to read on, just to find out if the girl's life has a happy ending.

Still, the book succeeds in showing that Christian cultures are more compassionate than atheistic cultures. In this respect readers of this book may also enjoy Peter Hitchens book, Rage against God - which in a similar fashion covers similar subject material. Interestingly, Hitchen's book also focuses on the Eastern block.

Also of noticeably interest are the references to the author's friendship and conversations with Christopher Hitchens. To see that Christopher actually had a nice side was likewise refreshing.

Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life
Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life
by Martin Meredith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but lacking in some respects., 14 Sep 2011
If you were to read the front cover of this book you'd form the opinion that this is a book about all the scientific discoveries that have occurred on evolution - with a specific focus being in relation to the discoveries made in Africa. Well, in one respect this book does just that. In another, it doesn't. Confusing I know...

To explain: this book reads and feels like a history book. It basically starts by explaining that Darwin proposed that the search for human evolution should start in Africa. His reasoning for this was that the main ape populations live there, and as man developed from a common ancestor with apes Africa seemed to be the logical place to start the search. Many scientists at the time disagreed with Darwin and instead argued that the search should start in Asia. Their reasoning was that the Asian orang-utan shared a greater similarity with humans.

The book then goes onto explain that one of the first significant fossils found was found in South Africa. This fossil was the famous Taung Child or Australopithecus Africanus. The book then traces the hunt for the illusive missing link between Australopithecus and Homo. This includes an almost chronological study of the impact and findings made by the Leakey family and Donald Johanson. The book then seems to conclude, in what feels like a rushed fashion, with a small touching on how Homo Spiens appear to have come about - the focus being from Homo Erectus and Neanderthals. The book finally ends in what feels like an abrupt fashion.

Now the scientific evaluation of the above material seems lacking. The book touches on the general discussions which occurred about the fossil's brain sizes, and which fossils showed an ability to walk up right. It touches on the theories proposed to explain why constant evolution has occurred - the main driving factor seeming to be constant geological change rather than strict natural selection. It also comments on whether the fossilized creatures would have made use of technology - i.e. what archaeological evidence has been found around the sites to support a theory that perhaps the creature may have had a possible culture (e.g. flint heads etc.).

Unfortunately the scope of this book appears to end there. It is at the end of the day an evaluation of the constant feuds that have gone on over the fossil record and the chronology of how those fossils were found and by whom. The book almost seems to treat the genetic side of the discussion as an annoyance and as such palaeontology seems to be the only topic discussed. In this manner the book came across, in my opinion, as slightly lacking a further dimension.

Nevertheless, Martin Meredith has an enjoyable and entertaining writing style. The book was overall a pleasure to read, and was thoroughly enjoyable. The book concludes that modern man and the first civilizations seem to have originated in Southern Africa. Being an author who favours and focuses on Southern Africa his preference to this region comes as no surprise. In any case, for another interested in reading about the fossil record, how it was found and what the implications of it are, this is the book for you. I learnt a great deal from the book, such as the impact the Leakey family has had on palaeontology and how much infighting occurs in this field of science. However, I suspect that the book will leave you with more questions than answers and as such it will probably prompt you to pick up further books on the topic. As I can only view this as being a good thing this book comes recommended.

Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology
Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology
by Alister E. McGrath
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyment engagement with evolution and natural theology., 9 Sep 2011
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The book itself is divided into 3 sections:

1) the meaning of natural theology and Darwinism;
2) the historical situation of natural theology and Darwin's ideas - including a review of William Paley's `Natural Theology';
3) a modern discussion of Darwinism and Natural Theology

A brief synopsis of each section is as follows:

1) Natural Theology deals not with deduction but rather with inference to the best possible explanation. Unlike approaches which attempt to prove that God exists from the data, Natural Theology attempts to re-interpret the data in the light of God thus giving it new meaning. A good example of this is John Newman's quote: I see design because I believe in God, not believe in God because I see design. McGrath also recounts how a lot of philosophy of science now accepts that not all science can unanimously be proved by testable hypothesises - e.g. string theory. As such, simply because Natural Theology cannot be tested and verified doesn't automatically void it.

Darwinism it is argued is an incorrect term because the ideas commonly associated with Darwin, i.e. Evolution by Natural Selection were not wholly Darwin's. There were in fact other detractors who contributed to the debate and gave the idea its intellectual foundations. In any case Natural Selection is no longer considered to be the only influence affecting evolution (e.g. Environmental Selection) and therefore the term Darwinism should be avoided. Furthermore, Darwinism, as a theory is occasionally prone to over extending itself into fields it perhaps shouldn't.

2) Natural Theology has been around since the earliest of days. As the Psalms say: "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork". The issue became one of early philosophy. Primarily Western Philosophy was influenced by Platonism, which declared that everything had been created by God, and what we see around us are reflections of the forms/ideas which he had when creating creation. An example of this is: God had an idea of the perfect form of a dog, all other varieties of dog are just variations of this standard template. However, since the earliest of days this has caused theologians problems in terms of the errors in creation - more commonly referred to as unintelligent design or problems of theodicy. Of course many cleaver arguments have been raised to these objections, but the issues which they raise must be seen in their historical context.

Next - enter the enlightenment and the introduction of the positivistic way of evidencing claims following Newton and the likes. Add to that a growing sense of scepticism in belief of God following the reformation - and you have the fertile grounds for the introduction of William Paley. Paley attempted to use the established philosophy of his day, i.e. that God created everything whole. He them attempted to use data to prove via the positivistic method that his belief in God was not just valid, but scientifically defensible. The result of this was his famous analogy of the watch which implies a watch maker, and the eye which implies a designer.

However, contrary to popular belief Paley's theology was originally attacked by English Theologians rather than scientists. An example of this are the arguments raised by John Henry Newman. Enter Darwin and his book, the origin of species. McGrath here argues that whilst Paley's book may have been flawed but it did give Darwin the foundation for his own ideas. He proves this by showing how Darwin appropriated much of Paley's verbal imagery - again the use of the eye as an example. In this way Paley's book was useful, even if wrong.

The final point made is a throw back to section 1 - which is that Darwin's ideas were not deductive but rather were inferences to the best possible explanation. Darwin was unable to prove evolution because he could not see it in action. However, the explanations which his book gave were such that they were the best explanations of the data available and hence become widely accepted over time.

3) Finally, how can we talk of evolution and God.

Firstly there is the issue of teleology. McGrath first looks at the term in its historical context. He then says that whilst evolution does not have a goal in one sense, in another sense it clearly does. The possibilities which life allow clearly allow for the immergence of advanced life and as such a wider teleology can be interfered. This is not teleology in terms of say the eye, but rather a teleology which is due to the fined tuning of the universe and the possibilities which it allows for. The key point being here is that chance and possibilities were what the creator had intended to endow the universe with.

This then naturally leads onto the second section. McGrath wishes to once again re-establish Augustine's ideas regarding creation, rather than 6 day creationism. McGrath has openly written against creationism before so the inclusion of this chapter comes as no surprise. Nevertheless, Augustine talked about seeds and trees. He equated the universe to being like an unknown seed which has the possibility of blooming into whatever tree the conditions are right for. He also wrote about primary and secondary causes. God as being the primary cause of existence, but everything that came after that would have been through natural secondary causes. Nothing emerged whole but rather gradually unfolded through secondary causes. In this way everything that is is a result of a cause. In this fashion natural selection can be seen as being a secondary cause and therefore evolution is compatible with Augustine's Theology of Creation.

Having established the above, the issue now becomes - what we've just done is give deism intellectual backing, but Christianity asserts that we believe in a God who interacts with creation. However then is this done? McGrath's answer is a Trinitarian view of God. Primarily the father is the sustainer of the universe and could get involved in creation at a quantum level. Secondarily we have the son who suffers within the creation. And thirdly we have the spirit who helps change people's lives (soteriology). McGrath here raises the issue of theodicy and the suffering in nature. He argues that God is not blind to the suffering evolution produces and in fact goes so far as to suffer himself within creation through his son. The theology he uses here is typically Martin Luther's Theology of the Cross and Bonheoffer's Cost of Discipleship. McGrath argues that the theodicy issues raised by evolution are hardly new ones. Rather they have been around since the earliest of times and so answers are available for those interested in looking for them. Nevertheless, he argues that eschatologically God will redeem all creatures when he renews creation. This will include animals and humans - not just humans alone. In this fashion it sounds very much like McGrath is arguing for a form of universal salvationism.

The final section is on the God-meme theory and whether religion is adaptive or an evolutionary accident. He easily dismantles Dawkin's and Dennett's meme theory and instead argues that it is possible to argue the issue either way. In any case the answer one gives doesn't necessarily dismiss religion blankly. He briefly considers the origin of the concept of God and how this might have come about. However, the arguments raised here are quick and simply incomplete. It seems like his major aim was rather to dismantle the `New Atheism's' memetic arguments, which he succeeded in doing. Therefore, for anyone interested in going into this topic further I would thoroughly recommend a book on the issues called `The Believing Primate' by Jeffrey Schloss and Michael Murray.

McGrath ends his book by stating that his book was meant to be a call to theologians to renew their interest in Natural Theology. His book, whilst incomplete in many ways, was meant to show that Natural Theology is an intellectually fulfilling and futile ground. The rest of the work is up to the rest of us thinking Christians.

So my comments:

The primary aim seems to have been to firstly give a historical overview of how natural theology has got to where it has. It then seems to attempt to show how natural theology could be re-used today as a theological concept. However, the attempt made by McGrath was far from complete. Whether this was a rush job to get to editing, a slap dash job overall, or simply because he wanted to leave it to others to complete I really don't know. Furthermore, McGrath seems to have brushed aside concepts like `Original Sin' without so much as a glancing reference. Considering the prominence of this concept, this did surprise me a bit.

Overall it was an enlightening book. It would not say that it was an existing read purely because for most of it he simply recounted the historical situation. Nevertheless, the history is important in order to understand how we have got to where we have. Having read nearly all of McGrath's other books (see my previous reviews) there was plenty in this book which was not new to me. For example - In Dawkins God, McGrath dismantled Dawkins memetics. In Mere Theology and in A Fine Tuned Universe, McGrath set out his theology relating to Augustine and fine-tuning. And having read numerous books on the history of the evolution-creation debate before, such as Michael Ruse's 'Evolution-Creation Debate' I was familiar with much of the history also. And finally having read McGrath's 'Natural Theology' before, I was hardly new to the concept of Natural Theology. However, what was enjoyable was to see how McGrath used all of this old material to interweave a new Theology of Nature. A good read for anyone interested in how God and Evolution can co-exist.

Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: from the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection Pt. 2
Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: from the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection Pt. 2
by Pope Benedict XVI
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.38

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly fantastic., 20 April 2011
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This is the Pope's second book on Jesus of Nazareth. It is perhaps a fitting book for Easter given that it focuses on the passion narratives.

A brief summary of each chapter is as follows:

1. Considers Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the `temple' incident. Most noticeably it considers how this narrative fits the Davidic prophetic narratives.
2. Jesus' eschatology - i.e. the destruction of the temple, and the new temple in his body.
3. The washing of the feet - i.e. how Jesus becomes the servant of everyone. This is considered in the light of the parable of the suffering servant.
4. Chapter 17 of John's Gospel, i.e. the prayer of forgiveness. This is the moment when Jesus finally says, `my time has come'. This chapter considers what this meant and what Jesus saw his mission as being.
5. Considers the last supper and the Eucharist rite which was given through it. It then considers how this rite has been passed on and has evolved throughout the church's history.
6. Considers the garden of Gethsemane narratives - i.e. that in the garden suffering, God becomes one with man's suffering. This chapter really focuses on the suffering of Jesus, knowing that he was approaching his final hours. In this way he comes to share in everyone's `fear' of dying.
7. The trial of Jesus - i.e. that the crime was not political and therefore Jesus was not just a failed political leader, but rather that the crime was religious, i.e. one of blasphemy. The blasphemy was that Jesus alluded to himself being God and his anti-temple talk.
8. Crucifixion and burial - i.e. the prayers which Jesus offers during his crucifixion. For example, `my God, my god, why have you forsaken me', is psalm 22, which is the prayer for Israel's forgiveness. Even in his final hours he still offers himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
9. Considers resurrection - i.e. if it's just bodily resuscitation then it's not that impressive. This chapter argues that the resurrection was an `evolutionary leap' in which something wholly new occurred.
10. The second coming - is this in the future, or does has it already happened, daily... this chapter is actually truly and wholly heart warmly inspiring. Its focus is on how Jesus indwells in the individual and lights their heart with his presence. In this way he becomes the bridge between God and man.

In the intro the Pope specifically says that his book is intended to offer a new historico-theological, rather than strictly historical, look at the passion narratives. The outcome is frankly amazing. I have read a lot of books on theology and actually this book ranks up there in the top brackets. Rarely do I sit back and think: this book makes me think completely different about Jesus, this book has really deepened my understanding - well, this book did it, and more than once. Usually I would offer a word of criticism on a book but in this books case it's positively difficult to do this - it really is that good a book.

I terms of the book itself; it's possibly one of the Pope's better written books. The language style is easy to read and the print is nicely spaced not being too small or close together. The cover is a nice white cover with the papal crescent imprinted on the front - obviously it has a dust jacket which goes over this also.

In total I couldn't recommend this book enough. It made me think in a new way and deepened my understanding of the last days of Jesus. I can only thank the Pope for actually taking the time to write this book because it truly was a great pleasure and experience to read. Overall, I couldn't recommend it enough.

At the time of writing, Easter fast approaches and I would highly recommend this book to deepen your understanding of Easter and what it's deeper meaning is.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings., 13 Mar 2011
I must confess to having mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand the evidence for evolution is fascinating and on another I find Dawkins style of writing incredibly frustrating - so on one front the book delighted me, and on another it made me very angry. Let me then begin this review by summarising what each chapter says:

1. Dawkins explains why he felt it necessary to write his book, i.e. the creationists who deny evolution. Dawkins uses an ad hominem argument, whereby he likens evolution deniers (history deniers, as he calls them) to holocaust deniers.
2. Considers why it took so long for evolution to be discovered. Rather simplistically Dawkins pins the blame on Platonism. Dawkins then attempts to show how one species can look like 2 different species, i.e. the differences in dogs for example.
3. Explains the differences between macro and micro evolution. Dawkins then explains what natural selection is and how it pushes forward evolutionary change. According to Dawkins natural selection is the only thing pushing forward evolutionary progression.
4. For evolution to occur on the level that it has today it would require a very long time in which to occur. This chapter considers how long we have to play with (i.e. the age of the earth), and how we know that the earth is as old as it is.
5. Considers how evolutionary change can be observed today in bacteria. Dawkins provides a brief synopsis of experiments which have been conducted to show that evolution is a fact.
6. Dawkins next turns to macro evolution, and most noticeably the most common creationist argument of all - I'll believe in evolution when I see a monkey give birth to a human, and where are all the crockoducks? Dawkins explains why evolution does not occur like this, i.e. because evolutionary change is gradual. Finally, Dawkins argues here against any form of design.
7. Having been presented with this evidence we now turn to the next creationist argument: evolution happened in the lower animals but not humans. Dawkins show how we know that humans have evolved, and how similar they are to their fellow primates, most noticeably in the shape of the skull.
8. Considers embryology and how humans evolve and change shape in the womb over the nine month pregnancy period. Dawkins then attempts to explain how the bodies `blue print' is regulated by DNA, if it can in fact be called a `blue print'.
9. Considers the environmental pressures which prompt evolutionary change. Dawkins promotes here the theory of continental drift and how we know it's true, i.e. the tectonic plates.
10. Considers the `cousinship of creatures', i.e. the similarities between the creature `blue-prints' and bone structures. This cousinship is how we know that all creatures have evolved from a common ancestor.
11. Considers `unintelligent design', and all the evolutionary mistakes which can be observed in humans and other creatures. For example: the back to front retina in the human eye.
12. Considers the arms race argument, i.e. that evolution has occurred due to all the different creatures upping the game by one. Dawkins then turns to the issue of theodicy, i.e. the problem of evil. According to Dawkins natural is cruel and horrible, but these are human constructs - i.e. nature doesn't care about such things, it only cares about surviving.
13. Considers the grandeur of the evolutionary view, i.e. from the most of humble origins (single celled organisms created by a cosmic soup) to the variety of life which we can see today. Dawkins acknowledges that we still don't know how life started due to the uniqueness of the event, but we have testable experiments which show how it might have happened.
14. Appendix 1: Gives a synopsis of the creationist/evolution belief data.

So what made me angry?

I really didn't like the ad hominem argument that evolution deniers are like holocaust deniers, I think that is greatly unfair. Evolution deniers deny evolution because of the way it affects their metaphysics. As Dawkins probably doesn't even know what metaphysics is I doubt he even appreciates how loathed some people might be to accept anything which drastically alters them. If he did I'm sure he'd be a little more tactful than he is.

Next, the simplistic arguments against Platonism are just that, simplistic. If you read Ruse's `Evolution-Creation Struggle', you'd get a much better understanding of why evolution took such a long time to be accepted, and why today it is feared due to how it can affect the individual's metaphysics.

Whilst I couldn't write anything about Dawkins' science, owing to the fact that he is more accomplished in the field than I, I did find myself annoyed at his frequent ability to go off on one. His ability to topic jump made the book incredibly frustrating to read at points. A little less `one time at band camp', and the structure of the book would have been a pleasure to read. Also, I did spot one reference to `memes', and let's face it memes are just as made up as the tooth fairy. Therefore they should not have featured in a book about evidence.

Finally, Dawkins simplistic view about theodicy also shows a lack of understanding about rational ideologies and how they affect the whole `is-ought' fallacy. If we didn't strive for ideals then society would never have progresses to where it is today. To simply dismiss this is unfair, and hardly befitting a serious thinker.

There are other grips that I have with the book - but this will do. Overall, the evidence for evolution is undeniable. Dawkins book will educate you in this respect, but the book is hardly perfect. It's a book written by a fundamentalist atheist intended to address fundamentalist religious folks. The conflict this produces, and is intended to produce is undeniable. Because of this I cannot give the book a perfect rating as it has too many imperfections for me to give it a glowing review. Overall I feel that 3 stars is generous. This is because what the book does show, it shows well. But what it does bad, it really does bad. At the end of the day judge for yourself.

PS. I'm not interested in getting horrible reviews and comments from Dawkins fanatics. This review is posted purely as a point of my opinion - and I kindly ask that you respect my honesty in posting my review, and be polite in anything that you might have to say in response.
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