Monday, October 31, 2011

"Does God Believe in Atheists" - Book Review

Pastor Ed Blackwood recently gave me a book to read called "Does God Believe in Atheists" and asked if I would review it for him. I gladly complied in spite of the size and length of the book (720 pages long).  

According to wikipedia, John Blanchard is a Canadian director. This is not the John Blanchard who wrote this book. Blanchard is a British writer and apologist. He also preaches. His focus is "popular apologetics." He has written thirty books, two of which have been well received, including "Does God Believe in Atheists." (Hereafter, "Atheists.") It has "voted 'Best Christian Book' in the 2001 UK Christian Book Awards." It seems to be very popular, at least in the UK.

Blanchard has three theses in his volume, first to trace the history of atheism in western philosophy. (Blanchard does dive a little into eastern religion but not much. This is a volume of western philosophy.) Second, he provides an account of negative apologetics. Third, he moves into positive apologetics.

I appreciated Blanchard's bullet point summary of his definition of God. This is a slippery definition, and I think Blanchard does a pretty good job, kind of.

His first thesis is interesting. We often hear about books tracing the history of God or people's belief in God but not of atheism.

Also, Blanchard's reading style is easy, fun and fairly clear.

Lastly, kudos to him for writing so many pages. It's a big book.

Minor Issues
That's all that the nice things I have to say about "Atheists." Two things need to be noted. When I began reading this I was expecting a very good book since it has received such high acclaim. Second, somewhere in the introduction Blanchard mentions this is a higher level book, for those on the collegiate level. Hence, I was expecting a good book.  My expectations were not fulfilled.I was a bit shocked by some of Blanchard's citations and lacking sources. This is the opinion of someone who just has a B.A. in philosophy and these criticism don't alter Blanchard's argument but our perspective of his argument.

I was surprised that when Blanchard quoted one of Plato's dialogues, he didn't even cite a translation but a British newspaper. Throughout the book, I noticed, Blanchard quoted from this same paper, the Daily Telegraph. Maybe it's just a British thing, but I didn't know it was okay to rely on a newspaper for your citations in an academic book.

Also, Blanchard's sources were poor. He quotes from R.C. Sproul, Gerstner, Geisler and others of the same sort. Thumbs up. Great guys to quote. No problem. I got uncomfortable when Blanchard failed to cite authority's on Aristotle, Plato, Heraclitus, Kierkegaard, Comte or Sastre. It's not that these writers are bad writers or thinkers. It's that you should be quoting much more widely then them and cite authority's of the writers your'e dealing with. For instance, if Blanchard discussed and cited what writers were saying about Plato and Atheism then it would have made for a better read. Instead, Blanchard gave just a light showing of what Plato thought and how it relates to atheism.

So far, my criticism's of Blanchard's book are a bit petty. I mean so what if his citations and sources are poor. What about his argument?

Before  I get into my criticism of Blanchard's argument, I want to note that their is a bit of wisdom we ought to think about. Luke 16:10 says "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much." The general idea is if you can't do well with the little stuff, how can we trust you with the big stuff?

Blanchard is not careful with these small things, so why should we trust his argument?

On to the Argument 
As I said before, their are three theses in "Atheists." I will deal with these three arguments in two parts. First, his history of atheism.

Why, as a theist, read a history of atheism? Hopefully it is to acquire a better understanding the intellectual history of that belief. In the case that I would want to have a better understanding of this narrative, wouldn't I want to read an account that is friendly to atheism? Certainly Blanchard doesn't fail to give an account, but I don't see the point of it.

My intention would be to read about the history of atheism and acquire an understanding of it. Why would I want to read a history that is going to paint atheism in a poor light? That's not going to help my understanding of atheism. Certainly, it'll influence my thoughts on not wanting to be an atheist. But I don't see the reason to read the book to learn about Blanchard's first thesis.

Blanchard's two latter theses have to do with positive and negative apologetics. Cool. I didn't notice anything unique about Blanchard's various arguments. I think if you opened up a basic intro to apologetics, you would find pretty much the same thing.

So instead of going through 700 pages to listen to these arguments, why don't you read something a bit smaller?

In conclusion, Blanchard's book had some great potential. It could have been very interesting, but because of a lack of research and not being unique in it's content, I would not suggest this book to anyone.

If you want to find out about the history of atheism  why don't you read an atheists perspective on it? If you want to learn about apologetics, why don't you read a smaller book? 

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Weather is Getting Warmer

In my last post, I mentioned that I got a sunburn. The sun in Australia is much more intense then in Indiana. To me, it's even more intense then in Florida, where I have received some extremely painful burns. 

I was told the sun is more intense because the ozone is not has thick down here. I thought it may be because of the differing distance from the sun, but it turns out that Melbourne is almost the exact same latitude as Indianapolis, except one is north of the equator and one is south of the equator. 

Whatever the reason, I'll be buying a larger hat in the next week or so and wearing sun screen a lot more. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

School Load and other Comments

School has been hectic this past week. The honeymoon stage of my placement has ended though it is still a very enjoyable experience. It's definitely a lot less stressful then I thought it would be. Right now I have three preps, with one prep having two classes. (This means I am teaching four groups of students and have to prepare for three different subjects.) This may sound like a lot to American educators, but it's not actually a full load.

Teacher Class Load
Teachers at Maranatha usually take a few more classes then what I have, but they do less grading and don't have as many loopholes to work through. I haven't heard any teachers complain about lots of grading to do or bureaucratic problems. Also, their are fewer students which makes the load a lot more manageable. Generally with a smaller class you can go through material quicker, grade faster and have less discipline issues.
note: I don't feel comfortable saying Australia has a better education system then the States because:
1. They are VERY different systems. 
2. They have different cultures.  
3. I am at a private school and so most of my students come from two-parent homes and better living conditions, generally speaking. This changes the atmosphere of the school. 

Main Struggles
My two biggest struggles so far have been understanding accents and learning how to properly discipline students. For my first two weeks I had to ask people to repeat themselves a lot. I'm understanding better, but occasionally I'll struggle to understand a phrase. Discipline has been an issue. I am a bit surprised since I did not have much of problem in the States. The main reason for this are the student's attitudes.

I am used to students not doing something and having to tell them about four times while threatening consequences before they comply. The students here are compliant yet they still try to get away with stuff. They're a bit more sly. Their rebellion tends to be quieter. For example, the biggest issue I've had to deal with is students talking out of line and not listening while others are talking. That's not to big of a deal, but I haven't learned the right way to get the students to consistently be quiet and listen to each other in class.

I don't want to come down too hard so I've avoided dishing out detentions, calling home and raising my voice. On the other hand, glaring, snapping my fingers, waiting and looking at them isn't working consistently. As I continue to adjust, I think I'll discover various ways to communicate what I need the students to do and not do in a better way.

Schedule for the Weekend
Melbourne has a public holiday on Tuesday for the Melbourne Cup (A major horse race) so we have a four day weekend coming up. I'm planning on going on the camping trip with the Frankston RP church. It should be a good time as long as I avoid getting a sunburn. The sun is much stronger here. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Peaking and Thinking around Melbourne

Since the Aussies don't have school on the weekends, just like Americans, I was able to go out today and visit downtown Melbourne a little bit. A fellow teacher, Mr. Peter Anderson, took me to the bay and local aquarium. We had a good time. I was able to see some of the city and get a better feel for it. The weather was rainy (It was a "four seasons in a day" weather.) so I didn't take many pictures except for a couple fish and fat sharks. (Yes the sharks were fat.)

For lunch we had some fish and chips. I think fish and chips in Ireland and also England are better, but I haven't been told where I can get the best fish and chips in Melbourne. So, I'll refrain from making a final judgment on the quality of Aussie Fish and Chips.

It was an enjoyable time. On the way back a tantalizing question popped up in my head. "What is a road?"At first I thought it could be a piece of land that has been flattened with asphalt, but there are roads that don't have asphalt. Also, it can't be a piece of land which many people travel on since trails are similar, and you have to provide some sort of number which is a bit absurd. So now I am stuck with this major philosophical quandary. The dictionary helped a little saying "a way leading from one place to another" but that would then have to include airspace and waterways which I'm not sure if they should be included in the definition.

If arguments about what is a road aren't very interesting, it may be interesting to know how people turn left in Melbourne. (The equivalent of a right turn in the U.S.) Instead of getting in the left lane and simply turning like most cities, some streets in Melbourne have the car turning left get in the middle lane, stop in the middle of the intersection, wait until the light turns red and before the other cars begin coming, turn and go. It's a bit strange but according to Peter Melbourne is the only city in the world that does this. I'm not sure if it's a very practical way of turning, but perhaps it has something to do with being on the left side.

I have driven in Australia for the first time. There was no other cars around, and I did a good job. Peter Repse, who I live with, said that he had a good time laughing while I drove. I found it very strange and almost scary, like a nightmare. After I finished, the whole right side of my body felt overstimulated because you drive on the right side. It was an experience. I didn't crash so I think I'm ready to take on the highways. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I saw a Kangaroo, and a lot of Kangaroos

This evening I went on a nice cool run with Pete who I live with along with his family. On the run I saw  my first kangaroo and then a bunch more. Kangaroos are protected animals in Australia so there are a lot of them. We saw them in a national park that's near the house. Kangaroos don't live on the streets of Melbourne. In the national park there are a lot of them. Kangaroos are quite odd animals. They have big hips, big feet and really big thighs. It's really neat to see them jump around because they're very fluid and smooth. Also their ears can turn completely around. They are very strange animals. Pete told me he has hit a couple with his car. I hope we don't hit one while we drive to school.

On a more educational note, I thought that it would be good tell how Maranatha's daily school schedule works. It was extremely confusing for me at first. Once I realized that it's similar to a college schedule I began to understand it a little better. The teacher and students don't meet at regular times or places. They meet for a total of five periods a week, but it's mostly at different times and places. For instance, today I met with my year 10 history class for periods 6 and 7. I'll next meet with them for period 1 on Thursday. We won't meet on Wednesday. Sometimes I'll meet with them in a different classroom. It's a bit of a struggle to plan since it's hard to wrap your head around that type of schedule. Overall though I think I'm starting to figure it out though. It gets more complicated when you look at the whole term, but that will be for another post.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Footy, Sports and School

Today I had my first opportunity to play the sport of footy, otherwise known as Australian Rules Football. I also scored my first goal. It was exciting, but I didn't know what to do half the time except kick or hit the ball toward the opponent's goal. Footie is kind of like soccer, rugby and a bit of lacrosse mixed in together. It's hard to catch on unless you play. I certainly didn't appreciate it until I played. In looking at sports in general though, it is interesting how sports in Australia are played in schools.

In Australia most public and private schools are not big on sports. Unlike the United States you don't have major rivals or huge powerhouses. Rather, if you want to be really good at a sport, you have to join a club or a special school. It's an interesting adjustment for myself, but I kind of like it in a way since the students are more focused on school and not sports. Yet, you don't have the comradery that comes along with having a team.

With that said, I'm glad I scored a goal today but not happy with how sore I'll be in the morning. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First Impressions

Today is my third day in Australia. It has been a very interesting learning experience. I am still working on adapting to a different culture and school environment. The students began their last term yesterday, and I begin teaching tomorrow. So far, I am teaching two different classes on the Vietnam. My teacher wants me to take on one more prep. We'll be deciding what I add by Friday.

I have found the Aussies to be a very humorous group of people. They are very dry and a bit harsh in their jokes. It's rather funny. Last night at the dinner table with my host family I laughed quite a bit. It's very true that you can judge how much an Aussie likes you by how much they make fun of you. They are also a very chill group of people. They're not work alcoholics like Americans. They do their work, but it doesn't seem to consume all their lives.

Very surprisingly, Australia is a very diverse country. I went to the mall, or shopping center, and I heard about three languages. Because the Australian government recently changed their immigration policies, there are many more immigrants from places like Asia, Chile, Africa and the Middle East. Yet I haven't noticed an animosity or outrage against immigrants like the U.S. is struggling with on the Hispanic immigration issue though some illegal immigration occurs, especially out of Indonesia. Lots more to tell, but I'm stil dealing with jet lag so I've been going to be early. Tonight is no exception.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

To Australia!

For over a month now I have been teaching at a wonderful school, Westlane Middle School. I taught 6th grade Humanities and learned so much. Later this afternoon, I'll be getting on a plane for Melbourne, Australia. I'll be teaching at Maranatha Christian School. I'll arrive on Monday and school starts on Tuesday.