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Peter Clarke (Lausanne, Switzerland)

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When I Pray, What Does God Do?
When I Pray, What Does God Do?
by David Wilkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prayer and the scientific worldview, 14 July 2015
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The particular interest of this book stems from the fact that the author combines several different roles that you don’t often find in a single person. He’s an academic theologian, a physicist (and astrophysicist), a pastor, and a “charismatic” evangelical believer who really believes in prayer and miracles and prays for people to be healed. This enables him to bring a particularly rich set of perspectives to the question of what God does when we pray. The book is very wide-ranging, but a major emphasis is on the difficult questions raised by the scientific worldview for belief in God answering prayers. If God’s own perfect laws determine the course of nature, how can it make sense to think of God interacting with the world in any other way than by those laws? How then can we expect God to change things in response to our requests? Part of Wilkinson’s answer is to emphasize in Chapter 5 that modern physics (with quantum theory and chaos) is less rigidly deterministic than the Newtonian worldview. He is cautious, however, and stops short of claiming that God acts via the gaps left by quantum theory and chaos. The book also deals with the implications for prayer of various innovative theologies, such as Clark Pinnock’s open theism. Needless to say, the book does not solve all the problems, but it does provide a very useful contribution. The author bends over backwards to make the book as intelligible as possible to a broad readership, and the style is relaxed and laced with humour. I’m glad I bought this book.

Incidentally, I am a different Peter Clarke from my namesake who wrote a commentary on 29 June 2015.

Free Will (MIT Press Essential Knowledge)
Free Will (MIT Press Essential Knowledge)
by Mark Balaguer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.65

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Free will explained simply and clearly, 11 Jun. 2015
The remarkable thing about this short book (about 30’000 words) is the author’s tremendous effort to make his arguments intelligible and readable even for those who are not used to grappling with philosophy. He does this well.

Mark Balaguer is a philosophy professor, whose previous writings on free will show him to be sympathetic to libertarianism. In the present book he accepts the truth of compatibilism (which he calls “Hume-style free will”), but maintains that free will as defined by compatibilists is so obviously true that it is not very interesting. He therefore focuses on libertarian free will, which he calls “not-predetermined free will” (or NPD free will). For Balaguer, the existence of NPD free will hinges on the occurrence of undetermined “torn decisions”, an idea that comes from Robert Kane, although Balaguer’s present book does not give references. His main claim is that attempts so far to refute NPD free will do not succeed.

At various points throughout the book, Balaguer makes the point that his arguments apply even if one holds an interactive dualist position, which he calls the “spiritual, religious view of humans”. His arguments may be valid, but his terminology is not, because many religious people (including most Christian philosophers, scientists and theologians) reject interactive dualism.

I recommend this as a short, clear, easy-to-read introduction to the philosophy of free will.

Free Will: An Introduction (Palgrave Philosophy Today)
Free Will: An Introduction (Palgrave Philosophy Today)
by Helen Beebee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Sophisticated introduction to the philosophy of free will, 21 May 2015
This is an excellent introduction to the contemporary philosophical debate about free will, but at quite a high level. It starts off gently, but much of the book is rather demanding. This is obviously intended, because the book is part of a series by Palgrave that is destined for "philosophers, established and aspiring".
Helen Beebee is a highly respected professor of philosophy who has published papers on free will, causation and related topics. Her text is readable, clear, up-to-date, interesting and even-handed, although she does not conceal her own preference for compatibilism. She concentrates on the modern debate and deals with the major positions with great clarity. However, two-stage models of free will are not dealt with, Cartesian dualism gets only a brief mention, and there are only two pages on the implications of neuroscience for the free will debate. The book includes an index and a bibliography. I strongly recommend it for those who are ready to grapple with detailed arguments.

by Meghan Griffith
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent up-to-date introduction to the free will debate, 23 Mar. 2015
I can only agree with the other reviewers that this is an excellent introduction to the philosophical debate about free will. Meghan Griffith is a professor of philosophy who specializes in free will (and action theory), and her experience of teaching this difficult subject comes over in the book. Her text is readable, clear, up-to-date, interesting and not at all biased towards any particular position. She concentrates on the modern debate and provides an even-handed account of all the major positions with great clarity. The free will debate has become very complicated in recent years, but the author manages to get across to the reader what the essential issues are. The book includes an index, a glossary of terms, and suggestions for further reading. I strongly recommend it.

Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will
Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will
by Alfred R. Mele
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable account by a leading free will expert, 20 Mar. 2015
This little book is a gem. Alfred Mele is a philosopher specializing in free will, who is well informed about the neurophysiological and psychological literature. In his academic writings over the last few years he has convincingly rebutted claims that neurophysiology (Libet etc.) or psychology (Wegner etc.) refute free will or the reality of conscious agency.

In the present short book he makes his expertize available to the general reader. He doesn't deal with all aspects of the free will debate, but focuses on the challenges that come from neurophysiology and psychology. He is suitably cautious, not claiming to prove that we have free will, but refuting convincingly the science-based arguments of those who claim that we don't.

Unlike Mele's academic writings, the present book is very readable and is in fact one of the most accessible books on free will available. I strongly recommend it.

The Nonsense of Free Will: Facing Up to a False Belief
The Nonsense of Free Will: Facing Up to a False Belief
by Richard Oerton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Distains philosophy, says little about science, 6 Feb. 2015
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The author, Richard Oerton, is a retired English lawyer who was involved in law reform, and he seems particularly concerned to debunk the notion of free will because of its implications for the treatment of criminals. This theme runs through the whole book, but is the particular focus of Chapters 20-23, which deal with crime and punishment in the UK, and plead for the abolition of what he calls "punishment" (meaning retribution).

By "free will", the author means libertarian free will, especially the wilder versions of it that he attributes to ordinary people (i.e. non-philosophers). His key and oft-repeated message is that "a person acts as he does because he is the person he is, and he has not made himself the person he is, then the view that he deserves to be punished for what he does is not sustainable" (p95).

One of the book's main claims is that free will is indefinable, and that this is because the very notion of free will is incoherent. He refers to philosophers who write books on free will without defining what it is, and thinks this confirms his view that it is indefinable. I actually share his frustration about these philosophers (there are several), but I find it odd that he ignores all the other ones who do give precise definitions of what they mean by free will. Naturally Oerton himself does not define free will (presumably because he claims it is undefinable).

His frustration with philosophers goes beyond their failure to define free will, and he in fact displays a rather negative attitude to them as a group (but Ted Honderich appears to be an exception). The book starts with a quote from Oscar Wilde in which the Dragonfly, on hearing that the Rocket is proud of being so clever that he doesn't understand his own words, advises him to lecture on philosophy. He later refers to his own determination not to "read another philosophical treatment of free will and determinism". The 54 footnotes mention only four books on the philosophy of free will. But that's O.K., because he tells us in the first chapter that the question of free will "isn't really a philosophical problem at all" (p4).

Despite his claim that free will is undefinable, Oerton does mention some defining characteristics. For example, he argues that the term free will implies total liberty without any limitations at all (chapter 14); he gives arguments for this, but I cannot understand them. He also claims that free will implies doing things without having any motivation (p97); I find this very odd, but his point seems to be that free acts are by definition uncaused and that motivation would be a cause.

I cannot recommend this book. This is not because I disagree with it. In fact I agree that the kind of extreme libertarian free will that the book debunks makes little sense, and I agree that legal systems should emphasize deterrence and rehabilitation rather than retribution. But I did not enjoy reading it and learned very little from it. This is mainly because of the following faults:
1. The book's central claim is unclear. In much of the book, the author rejects free will because of determinism, but in some places he says that the notion of free will is incoherent independently of whether determinism is true. But if the notion of free will is incoherent, determinism cannot contradict it.
2. The book is very repetitive.
3. The author takes little account of modern philosophical writings on free will (apart from a chapter by Robert Kane and a semi-popular book by Ted Honderich).
4. Much of the book is founded on the assumption of determinism, including presumably brain determinism, but there is little attempt to get to grips with the current debate on whether brain function is in fact deterministic. There is little on the relevant science (quantum physics is mentioned, but the relevance of quantum phenomena to neuronal function is not analysed).
5. When the author speaks of determinism, he usually (but not in Chapter 2) seems to mean determinism by a combination of genes and environment (i.e. bioenvironmental determinism). But he seems not to realize that bioenvironmental determinism is known to be incomplete, because many events in cells (e.g. thermal noise) are controlled neither by genes nor by the environment. He also seems to be unaware that the determinism discussed in the classical debate on determinism and free will is not bioenvironmental determinism but physical determinism.
6. There is no index.

To end on a positive note, the author's writing style is engaging, and the book is accessible to the general reader.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2016 12:37 PM GMT

Prostate Cancer: Understand, Prevent and Overcome Prostate Cancer: Understand, Prevent and Overcome Prostrate Cancer
Prostate Cancer: Understand, Prevent and Overcome Prostate Cancer: Understand, Prevent and Overcome Prostrate Cancer
by Jane Plant CBE
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rich source of advice about prostate cancer, 3 Jan. 2014
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The author of this book is a distinguished geochemist, whose research has elucidated how regional variations in soil composition can contribute to local health problems. Her own breast cancer induced her to think carefully about the dietary influences on cancer. This was not at all her field of expertise, but having worked in China she was well placed to draw clues from the fact that the incidence of hormone-dependent cancers (breast cancer and prostate cancer) is much lower in people on a Chinese diet than on a Western diet. The book's focus is the author's recommendations for preventing prostate cancer or contributing to its cure by changes in diet and lifestyle, but it also contains an introduction to the biology of cancer, and some information about medical terminology and treatment options.

Her recommendations on diet and lifestyle are based on published data (up to 2007). The ones concerning diet are in eight different classes:

1. Avoid dairy (milk, cheese, butter). This is the most famous and controversial of the author's recommendations. Since she first proposed it in 2000, there have been numerous studies on whether dairy intake promotes prostate cancer, and they have been rather contradictory. Some have supported her view, but most have indicated that the association between dairy intake and prostate cancer is weak or nonexistent. Jane Plant's view is that hormones and growth factors in cow's milk get into our bloodstream without being digested, but this view seems to be rejected by most or all specialists

2. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit. This is a standard view. She emphasizes the anti-cancer effects of greens, but also tomatoes, red peppers and flaxseed.

3. Proteins. Include only moderate amounts of protein, and minimize especially animal proteins. This too is fairly standard.

4. Oils and fats. Avoid saturated fats, but eat polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. This again is fairly standard.

5. Flavouring and additives. Some may be carcinogenic but others have anti-cancer effects.

6. Cereals, snacks and treats. She recommends whole-grain cereals and dairy-free chocolate.

7. Sweeteners. She recommends avoiding refined sugar and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.

8. Drink. She recommends freshly prepared vegetable and fruit juices from organic produce. Before drinking tap water she filters it and then boils it.

Having been diagnosed with a metastatic and aggressive prostate cancer a few months ago, I read this book in the hope of getting advice for my personal situation. It is indeed packed with advice, but probably of unequal validity. A further problem is that since the book's publication in 2007 a vast amount of further information, often contradictory, has been published. A recent study from Harvard said that eating eggs (rich in choline) promotes cancer, but others have found little influence of eggs. One found that 5 grams per day of fish oil (which Jane Plant recommends for its omega-3 fatty acids) is protective against prostate cancer, but another found that the fish oil does exactly the opposite, promoting cancer.

So my question is, how radical should I be in following the author's advice? There is such an abundance of it that it would be difficult to follow it all. I suspect that the filtering and boiling of tap water may be moderately useful in the East End of London and very useful in many parts of the third world, but useless in Lausanne, Switzerland (where I live). Is it really necessary to avoid all dairy products, when most studies over the last six years are ambivalent about their link to prostate cancer? Is it really necessary to eat organic and only organic vegetables? Is microwaved food really carcinogenic? I shall follow much of the author's advice, but not all of it. I am glad I bought the book, but wish the author would produce a new version summarizing the findings since 2007.

Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience
Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience
Price: £14.06

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep, balanced, up-to-date, 6 Nov. 2013
Jeeves has written several excellent books on how neuroscience and psychology relate to religion (especially Christianity). This one is unusual, in that it takes the form of a series of imaginary email exchanges between a first year psychology student, with Christian convictions, and Jeeves. Thus, the questions to be dealt with in the book are asked by the student (about free will, the soul, neurotheology, evolutionary psychology, near-death experiences, reductionism, evolutionary theory etc.), and Jeeves' answers follow.

The format is thus a bit "popular", but the author's vast and up-to-date erudition in psychology, neuroscience and Christian theology shine through and make it an outstanding book. It is very readable. Its overall message is that psychology and neuroscience are not rivals to Christian theology but complementary ways of approaching truth. That may sound an easy solution, but it isn't. Jeeves faces up to the difficulties with great honesty. The book is sober, balanced, accurate and well argued.

Frankly, the book's most serious rivals are other books by (or co-authored by) Jeeves himself. I think this one is the best available for its target audience: university students with questions about the relationship between psychology/neuroscience and Christian belief. But a previous book, Neuroscience, Psychology and Religion, co-authored by Jeeves and Warren S. Brown (2009), is also excellent and has the advantage of being more concise.

The Great Infidel: A Life of David Hume
The Great Infidel: A Life of David Hume
by Roderick Graham
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good portrait of Hume as a man, but weak on the philosophy, 28 July 2013
This 400 page book gives a readable overview of David Hume's multi-faceted life. That seems to be the main aim of the book, and I think it attains this goal. It shows what a great man Hume was, combining imagination and intellectual rigour with kindness and moral rectitude. It also discusses his writings on political history and of course philosophy.

But, as other reviewers have pointed out, the book's author Roderick Graham seems not to be very strong on philosophy or its history. To understand the importance of Hume's ideas, the reader needs to understand the revolution in philosophy that was occurring in the 18th C, and she needs to be able to trace the subsequent influences of Hume's thought. The author gives us little help here. RG provides only a simplistic caricature, according to which everyone before about 1700 (except Pierre Bayle, a favorite of RG) approached questions about both God and much else with "Faith" (which seems here to mean blind faith), whereas after 1700, lo and behold, a new approach called Reason takes over. In comes Hume, a master of reason, and the old school (the "bigots") with their faith-based approach can't cope. Yet Graham frequently quotes Hume's famous saying that "reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions" while explaining only approximately what this meant, and he stresses that Hume emphasized the primary importance of sensation over reason. So Hume's idea of the nature of reason was complicated, and the reader would like more help. Not much is provided. The multiple meanings of the word "faith" are explained not at all.

Also, some of RG's claims about Hume's influence appear to me to be grossly exaggerated. He states, for example, that Hume "utterly discredited" natural theology. Now, Hume did indeed give some interesting arguments against the natural theology approach, but the fact is that natural theology blossomed in the years AFTER Hume's writings against it. William Paley, who so impressed Charles Darwin, published "Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity" in 1802. The eclipse of natural theology in the first three quarters of the twentieth century was due partly to the success of Darwinism and partly to Swiss theologian Karl Barth who was not in the least influenced by Hume. Oddly enough, natural theology has been undergoing something of a revival in the last few decades, and Humean arguments are relevant to the current debate.

Even in areas where the book is strong, such as the day-to-day life of Hume, I was struck by the author's failure to address questions that arise naturally. For example, chapter 11 describes Hume's tremendously high standing in Parisian intellectual society in the early 1760s, but this raises the question of why Hume's philosophy never caught on in the French-speaking world. I would have liked to understand more about this, and perhaps a little less about some of the minor personal episodes that are explained in great detail.

For these reasons, I think this book provides a poor account of Hume's philosophical ideas, but a good introduction to the man as an admirable human being.

The New Flatlanders: A Seeker's Guide to the Theory of Everything
The New Flatlanders: A Seeker's Guide to the Theory of Everything
Price: £6.64

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent discussion of how science relates to faith, 25 Jan. 2013
This very readable book deals with a wide range of subjects at the science-faith intersection, including cosmology, chaos theory, evolution, consciousness, the question of different religions that disagree with each other, and the problem of evil. The author, who has been both a science teacher and a college chaplain is very competent in both science and faith, and writes clearly and well. The style of the book makes it particularly appropriate for questioning teenagers, but as an aging adult scientist I enjoyed it too.

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