Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Design of Evolution (First Things)

An interesting article, from a Catholic perspective, which critiques an opinion piece in the New York Times by a Catholic cardinal who was countering the idea that neo-Darwinism precludes the idea of a Creator. In the process of critique, there is some interesting discussion about the relationship between science and revelation. Read The Design of Evolution here.

Key concepts: evolution, randomness, neo-Darwinism, chance, science

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Movie Review: Wolf Creek

Hollywood seems, at times, to believe that the more money you spend on a film the better it is. Wolf Creek, the latest Australian offering, was made for a mere $1 million -- next to nothing in movie budget terms. And yet, for a million dollars, Wolf Creek offers one of the tensest suspense movies I've seen for a long time. Wolf Creek claims to be based on a true story but, in fact, is not. Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) are visiting Australia from the UK and are preparing for an adventure with local Aussie, Ben (Nathan Phillips) in the remote areas of Western Australia. They set out in an old car that has just been repaired by a friend and the first half of the film sees them on the road, developing their friendships. Eventually, they set out on a three hour foot journey to a meteor crater. When they return to their car, late at night, it won't start. They are in the middle of nowhere with no transport. As they resign themselves to sitting it out until morning, a friendly local, Mick (John Jarratt in a role you have never seen him in before) happens to come by and offers them shelter for the night while he fixes their car. After a long journey to a mining ghost town where Mick lives, they settle down for the night leaving Mick to fix the car and wake them when it is ready. Then things start to go terribly wrong. Liz wakes up and finds herself bound and gagged in a shed. From that moment, we see the true character of Mick through her eyes as she tries to escape from the terror that has come into their lives. Wolf Creek is a genuinely tense, horrific thriller, made more so because it is based on a combination of factual incidents. The acting is naturalistic and never overstated. Much of the movie is shot with a handheld camera intensifying the reality of the situation. The cinematography is excellent with the beautiful, wide open spaces of remote Australia contrasting with the claustrophic intensity of the evil horror experienced by the three travellers as Mick tortures his victims. The violence is very gruesome and, unlike so much Hollywood violence, seems very real. The violence will be the one thing that will put some viewers off seeing this film. It is graphic and realistic but not the splatter violence of some teen horror flick. And the violence is not dwelt on too long -- that would be impossible to watch. At times, though, it is so horrific that it is almost unbearable to watch. Questions do need to be asked about this movie: Is the explicit violence absolutely necessary to tell this story? And why has the filmmaker chosen to focus almost exclusively on the violence perpetrated on the women with very little focus on Ben, the male traveller in the story? Some may complain that the first half of the movie is too slow in building up to the horror of the second half. I don't think so. As the plot moves slowly to what we know is coming the tension becomes almost unbearable - we know something is going to happen but we are not entirely sure what or how. And the ending of the film is devastating and chilling because it does not end in the nice tidy way that Hollywood satisfies us with. In my view, this movie, along with Look Both Ways, Little Fish, and The Proposition is another indication that the Aussie movie industry is experiencing a revival. But be warned: it won't be for everyone! It is a genuinely SCARY movie. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Delivering everything it promises, horror/thriller Wolf Creek boasts excellent naturalistic performances, a strong story and a good script, taut direction and excellent cinematography.' - Andrew L Urban/Urban Cinephile Negative Review 'For all its vaunted freshness, Wolf Creek is ultimately just another exercise in woman-in-peril sadism that's good for a few screams but has little to say.' - Matthew Leyland/BBC Content Warning Very explicit, high level violence and human humiliation Related Links

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Book Review: Messy Spirituality

What do you think of when you hear the word spiritual? Do you know any spiritual people? What do you imagine they might be like? Always thinking about God? Studying their Bibles regularly? Attending church every week? Praying freqently? Wise? Living according to good health principles? Have an aura of goodness about them? Have you ever tried to live up to these notions of spirituality with any success? If you are like me, you might have tried for a while, but in the end, living up to all the expectations surrounding this type of spirituality is hard to sustain. All of these things are good. But are they what true spirituality is really about? Or have you come to the conclusion that spirituality is only for the elite? That you just don't seem to be cut out for it? Mike Yaconelli suggest that we might have spirituality all wrong. In his wonderful book, Messy Spirituality: Christianity for the rest of us, he provides a superbly grace-oriented understanding of real spirituality that makes sense in the messy everyday of our lives. For Yaconelli, 'our messy, ordinary lives are the very place we are most likely to find God and deepen our knowledge of him.' (Back Cover) Messy Spirituality is a brief book (only 163 pages) but every sentence is dripping with a freshness that will renew your heart and convince you that God does not demand we ignore or transcend the messiness of real life. No, God loves us and meets us exactly where we are. God loves messy people with messy lives in messy circumstances. If you want a spirituality that is real then you owe it to yourself to read this book. Quote 'What landed Jesus on the cross was the preposterous idea that common, ordinary, broken, screwed-up people could be godly! What drove Jesus' enemies crazy was his criticism of the 'perfect' religious people and his acceptance of the imperfect non-religious people. The shocking implications of Jesus' ministry is that anyone can be spiritual. 'Scandalous? Maybe. 'Maybe Truth is scandalous. Maybe the scandal is that all of us are in some condition of not-togetherness, even those of us trying to be godly. Maybe we are all a mess -- not only sinful messy, but inconsistent messy, up-and-down messy, now-I-believe-now-I-don't messy, I-get-it-now-I-don't-get-it messy, I-understand-uh-now-I-don't-understand messy. I admit, messy spirituality sounds ... well ... un-spiritual. 'Surely there are guidelines to follow, principles to live by, maps to show us where to go to discover a spirituality that is clean and tidy? 'I'm afraid not. 'Spirituality is not a formula, it is not a test, it is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency, it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection, it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality, not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the One who is present in the tangled-ness of our lives. Spiritualityis not about being fixed, it is about God being present in the mess of our unfixedness.' (pp 5-6) Related Links
  • As I was browsing the internet to look for related links, I came across this one at Christianity Today reporting on the death of Mike Yaconelli, the author. This book was first published in 2001 and Mike died in 2003. You can read this article about Mike and see for yourself what sort of a man Mike was. I was very sad to read this after reading his book.

God save the heretic - Sunday Times - Times Online

British new Labour is attempting to pass a bill called the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Richard Hart, in this Times Online article entitled God save the heretic, explores some potential consequences of this Bill if it is passed. You may not agree with the specific things he says about specific religions, but it is worth considering his essential point that

... with our dominant ideology of “secular materialism” (for which read “shopping”), our fringe religious ideologies either vapid or dangerously fundamentalist, both hostile to outside criticism and incapable of self-criticism, and now new Labour’s outrageous attempts to frighten us from even discussing such essential matters openly, our chances of shaping some better religion for our modern selves, and consequently learning to love each other a little more than we have hitherto managed, seem remoter than ever.

Read the article here.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

World Wide Encyclopedia of Christianity

Here is a remarkable resource - The World Wide Encyclopedia of Christianity. The encyclopedia has links to the contents of:

  • Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Easton's Bible Dictionary
  • Smith's Bible Dictionary
  • Torrey's Topical Textbook
  • Elwell's Dictionary of Christian Theology
  • Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia

The provider is hoping to add more links to other resources in the future. Check it out here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Astrology is scientific theory, courtroom told - New Scientist

Check out this report in New Scientist magazine where Michael Behe, one of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) and who is testifying at the Dover trial, agreed that, according to his definition of science (which would allow ID to be classified a science) would allow astrology to be considered a science.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Book Review: The Mosaic of Christian Belief

There is no doubt whatsoever that the history of Christianity has been full of in-fighting over doctrine. In just about every area of theology you can think of there have been disagreements over what the Bible teaches and what Christians should believe. Roger Olson tackles this diversity head-on with his book, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity. His aim is to affirm a both/and rather than an either/or approach to Christian belief. The author has selected 15 key theological themes and surveyed the diversity of belief for each one. In doing so, his aim is to identify a 'consensus of teaching that is both unitive and able to incorporate a faithful diversity when not forced into the molds of either-or alternatives.' (Dust jacket) It is a fascinating read and an excellent introduction to Christian belief in all its variety. There will, of course, be disagreement on whether or not Olson has achieved his task. But even if not, there is enormous value in being reminded that Christianity has always had, within its borders, an enormous richness of thought. The best Christianity is one where Christians are united in their diversity and where genuine dialogue takes place between those who disagree with each other. It is essential for every Christian to realise that one's own form of Christianity is not the final word. If Olson's book helps Christians to appreciate the vast 'contours of Christian faith' then it will be worth reading. Quote '... early Christian thinkers and church fathers wrestled with questions about humanity's nature and condition in their own pluralistic Greek and Roman culture. Many different views of humanity swirled around them, and they had to develop a rough consensus of Christian belief over against some of those views, especially when they infiltrated the churches. Are human beings pawns of the gods or godlets themselves? The Gnostics posed the most serious challenge to apostolic Christianity by promoting belief in humanity's (or some humans') inner divinity. In the face of such ancient and modern challenges Christians have developed out of the materials of divine revelation a rough consensus about human nature and existence. That consensus has seldom, if ever, taken on the status of dogma -- essential belief -- in the same way as the Christian consensus about Jesus Christ and the Trinity. Few creeds or formal confessional statements of Christian churches include detailed expressions of what must be believed about the subject. And yet, a careful reading of the church fathers, medieval Christian thinkers, Protestant Reformers and modern Christians reveals an amazing common ground of belief that distinguishes Christianity from all secular and pagan philosophies.' (p. 200) Subject: Doctrinal Theology

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Movie Review: The Proposition

The white settlement of Australia was violent, bloody, racist, and ruthless. John Hillcoat's new Australian movie, The Proposition, opens with formal black and white photographs showing settlers in civilised poses with everything calm and peaceful. Suddenly, we are hit in the guts with a searingly violent gunfight between outlaws and police after a family have been slaughtered and raped. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and 14-year-old Mikey Burns (Richard Wilson) are arrested and held responsible for the crime. They are both going to hang. But Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) has a proposition for Charlie. If he goes out and kills his older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), the leader of the gang, then Mikey will be pardoned and rescued from the Christmas Day hanging. It's a risky proposition, but Captain Stanley has a lot to prove to himself, his wife, and the men under his command. Stanley is a conflicted man who hates the violence that seems such a necessary part of his job to civilise this sunburnt country and he tries to protect his wife from unnecessary trauma by restricting her to their house some distance from the town. Set in the outback of the 1880s, the cinematography stunningly represents the harsh, relentless land as Stanley determines to make the country civilised. We follow Charlie as he goes in search of his brother, desperately trying to come to terms with what he has to do. On the way, he runs into a bounty hunter (John Hurt) who is also tracking down Arthur and we witness a powerful scene between the two. Guy Pearce and Danny Huston are brilliant in their roles; the music is haunting and matches the harsh beauty of the land; and the script by Nick Cave is just right. The violence of the film is confronting but we need to be confronted with the reality of this period of Australian history. The film pulls no punches and refuses to descend into political correctness. The characters are neither all good nor all bad -- they are real and we see everyone, white and black, doing what they need to do to survive. It's a powerful film -- but not for the squeamish. This is a savage yet beautiful film. It is one of the best films so far this year with its themes of loyalty, betrayal, redemption, love, and the violence that revenge so often brings. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Other Reviews 'This scintillating Western written by musician Nick Cave is exactly what the local film industry needs: a superbly poetic and original film that ranks as one of the year's best.' - Avril Carruthers/inFilm Australia 'It's a strange, unsettling film, ultimately quite moving, it's impossible not to respond to it strongly.' - Margaret Pomeranz/At the Movies Content Warning High level violence

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Logical Fallacies

Brief explanations of common logical fallacies of thinking. It is worth knowing about these and keeping an eye open for them in your reading, speaking, or listening!

Motivation Speculation (Bad Moves)

Here's an excellent little piece by Julian Baggini exposing the bad thinking move of motivation speculation, ie, trying to speculate on people's inner motivations.

Key Concepts

insecurity, feelings, Johnson, psychologising, hate

Monday, October 10, 2005

Book Review: The Future of Christianity

Alister McGrath has turned his attention to The Future of Christianity in this book. Christianity is going through massive changes and its survival is an important issue for all Christians.
'This witty yet highly informed book deals with issues such as the crisis in confidence within western Christianity, the impact of postmodernity on Christianity, and the shift in numerical strength from the west to Africa and Asia. It questions whether traditional Protestant denominations are likely to survive in their present form, and charts the rise of various forms of post-denominational Christianity. It explores the impact of a consumer culture on western Christianity, and the changes this has brought about in approaches to evangelism and church growth. Finally, the work documents the gulf that has opened up between academic theology and the life of the church, and offers a penetration Gramscian analysis of how this situation has arisen, and what can be done to remedy it.' (Back Cover)
Despite its deep and important themes, it is easy to read. If you are interested in Christianity and how it might fare in the future, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Quotes '... To learn from the past, it is essential to confront that past.' (p. 3) 'Old habits of thinking die hard. One of the working assumptions underlying most discussion of the future of Christianity in the 21st century is that it represents a western faith, and that its future is predicated upon trends in western society. By 1990 it was perfectly obvious that this was no longer true. Over the century, the centre of gravity of Christianity had moved south, and now lies in the developing world. To its critics in the Third World, western Christianity continues to behave as if the Christian world orbits around it. The reality, however, is rather different.' (p. 40) 'On the basis of present trends, the future development of [mainline Protestant denominations in the West] can only be described in terms of -- at best -- stagnation, and more likely serious erosion of memberships, influence and power.' (p. 99) Related Links

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Movie Review: Queen of Sheba's Pearls, The

The Queen of Shebas Pearls is set in 1950s post-war England. Three generations of the Pretty family are grieving over the loss of Emily Bradley(Helena Bergström) - wife, mother, daughter, and sister - in a plane crash. All are intensely grieving in their own way but the grieving has been going on for years without resolution. Jack Bradley (Rollo Weeks), the son of Emily, is celebrating his 16th birthday when the Swedish Nancy Ackerman (Helena Bergström) arrives at the house ostensibly looking for a cleaning job. She looks exactly like Emily and the household is completely unsettled by her presence. As the family struggles to come to terms with who she is and a dark secret they are forced to come to grips with their grief, guilt, resentment, and loss. The Queen of Sheba's Pearls is a moving, complex drama that ranges across a wide range of human experience. It is dark, subtle, gentle, and at times funny. The cinematography is wonderful (mostly in sepia tones) and the acting superb and will leave you moved and reflective as you leave the cinema. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review '... in its anecdotal way, the film somehow hangs together, shaping itself into a benign and sunny take on a plot device we've often seen before in films - about a fraying household rejuvenated by the presence of a seductive stranger.' - Sandra Hall/Sydney Morning Herald Negative Review 'The trouble is that, although it's beautifully made, little about the film really rings true.' - David Stratton/At the Movies

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Read this fascinating article on The Vagaries of Religious Experience carefully because it is not saying what you may think at first. Daniel Gilbert explores the nature of religious experience and shows how a good deal of what we might interpret as God's action may not be so. Gilbert is not arguing that his evidence shows there is no God. But what he is suggesting is that what we know about the human mind gets rid of the worst caricatures of God.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side' (Times Online)

This news item reports on a study published in the Journal of Religion and Society which demonstrates a correlation between a number of social indicators (eg, murder rates, levels of abortion, STD infections) and the level of religious belief in that society. It compares the highly religious society of the Unites States with more secular ones such as Britain, France, Japan, and Scandinavia. The US has higher rates of all of these indicators and the report concludes that:

The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.

Read the whole article here.

Keywords: religion, society, abortion

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Movie Review: Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo

There is absolutely nothing of any value in the movie Deuce Bigolow: European Gigolo. So why am I reviewing it? Because I had occasion to see it along with two other movies recently and, because so many people seem to praise the Deuce Bigalow movies, I thought I would force myself to sit through it. Rob Schneider is one of the writers responsible for this mindless trash and plays the leading role as Deuce Bigalow. Deuce is in trouble in his homeland and is tricked into traveling to Amsterdam to become a 'man whore' by T J Hicks (Eddie Griffin), who is a 'man-whore' pimp. Other man-whores are being murdered and Deuce goes undercover to help TJ find out who the perpetrator is. The storyline (and the DVD cover left) should be enough to put you off seeing this movie. It is filled with offensive "comedy" including making fun of a Chernobyl victim who is deformed because she was born with a penis for her nose. You can imagine the crass jokes that surround this character in the movie. The movie is nothing more than a string of immature toilet humour and explicit sexual references that are completely innane and mostly offensive. I heard language in this movie that I haven't heard in a movie for years! And the majority of the audience watching the film were teenagers who were all laughing at what I wouldn't consider even funny. The sad thing is that many of these teenagers probably wouldn't go and see a genuinely good comedy with substance. What I can't understand is why some people in our community try to ban important movies (like the recent Mysterious Skin) because they deal with significant social issues in a relatively explicit way, but you don't see them doing anything about the truly "pornographic" garbage like Deuce Bigalow. Give this movie the widest berth you can possibly give it. There is absolutely no reason to waste your time and money on such composted drivel. My Rating: 0 (out of 5) Positive Review 'As before, there are moments, when Schneider is turned loose to do his anything-goes, creepy-funny shtick, that are crudely inspired.' - Scott Foundas/LA Weekly Negative Review 'Not that there are any actual jokes to be had. The film simply jumps to the punch lines, a non-stop barrage of crude dialogue and vulgar sight gags that passes as humor among adolescent boys. Who exactly is the audience for this R-rated film? The terminally immature?' - Sean Axmaker/Seattle Post-Intelligencer More Christian Reviewer Quotes Film Forum, 08/18/05: 'You could go see Rob Schneider's new comedy Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Or you could just read the jokes on the walls of public restrooms. According to critics, the two experiences are quite similar.' David DiCerto (Catholic News Service): a "brainless and disastrously distasteful sequel. … The much raunchier follow-up wallows in juvenile sexual and scatological sight gags that succeed in lowering the already gutter-level bar set by the original. It seems that even rock bottom sometimes has a trap door." Adam R. Holz (Plugged In): "As the film started, I braced myself for a barrage of offensive material—and it rained down just as I expected. But after about the fifth genital-related joke, it ceased to be offensive as much as it was just mind-numbing. Is that all you've got? I wondered. For me, the overall effect of so much sexualized humor was not outrage (though that would be warranted) as much as sheer boredom. When every line of dialogue is working so hard to shock you, it has exactly the opposite effect."

Funny choices (

An interesting article on why film studios are rejecting the making of movies with substance and choosing to make movies that are inconsequential and damaging to relationships to the Muslim world.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena

Our eyes are very prone to deceive us as this fascinating site of 58 optical illusions and visual phenomena illustrates!

Book Review: A Scientific Theology (Vol 2): Reality

Volume 2 of Alister McGrath's trilogy A Scientific Theology: Reality lives up to the brilliance of his first volume which I reviewed here. In this second volume, McGrath mounts an argument in favour of critical realism as 'the most satisfying and resilient account of the outcome of the human engagement with the natural world, despite the rhetoric of scorn directed against it by postmodern thinkers and others.' (p. 197) After presenting a case for 'asserting that there exists a real world, independent of the human mind, which that mind is capable of grasping and representing' (p. 195), McGrath surveys three broad options for understanding the relationship of the 'knower' in understanding that reality -- naive realism, critical realism, and postmodern anti-realism. The author provides telling critiques of both naive realism and postmodern anti-realism and demonstrates how the most appropriate approach to inquiry is critical realism. McGrath's argument is appropriately nuanced, recognising that there are a variety of critial realisms. He describes and critiques each of these major forms before developing his own definition which takes into account a host of philosophical issues. Drawing on Roy Bhaskar's writing on critical realism, McGrath articulates the idea of a stratified reality which enables a critical realist approach to deal with all forms of human inquiry. At its heart, the critical realist approach recognises that methods of inquiry must be suited to the nature of the reality being inquired into. It is able to deal with all stratas of reality including social, philosophical, and theological inquiry. McGrath cites N T Wright's account of the general position of critical realism:

... a way of describing the process of 'knowing' that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence 'realism'), while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence 'critical'). This path leads to critical reflection on the products of our enquiry into 'reality', so that our assertions about 'reality' acknowledge their own provisionality. Knowledge, in other words, although in principle concerning realities independent of the knower, is never itself independent of the knower. (p. 196)

This is not a book for everyone. It is very meaty, although McGrath writes with incredible clarity. I particularly enjoyed his critique of the intellectually impoverished views of Don Cupitt, an atheist Anglican priest(!) who argues that God is merely a construction of human wishful thinking which has certain positive social and psychological benefits. McGrath shows how Cupitt's views actually depend on the realist position he rejects! McGrath's trilogy is packed with an incredible amount of 'background' information on all sorts of issues. Some people have criticised him for this and his tendency to repetition and redundancy. In fact, I think this is good because it gives those of us who are not experts in the area a significant understanding of issues related to the topic -- which is, I think, the purpose of McGrath writing all this material. In fact, in the introduction (I think) of the second volume, he directs the reader to Chapter 10 of his book stating that this chapter contains the essence of this volume regarding critical realism. A careful reader would notice this and take the advice! McGrath is a Christian who has a scientific and theological background. He is an immensely important thinker and, as I have said before, anyone who is concerned about the interface between faith and science must read this trilogy. I am yet to read the third volume and will let you know what I think when the time comes. Related Links

Movie Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I have never read Roald Dahl's book but, according to those who have, Tim Burton's new movie rendition, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is faithful to it. Johnny Depp, as Willie Wonka, is excellent -- completely eccentric and crazy as he dishes out the just desserts to the obnoxious children he has invited to see his chocolate factory. Willie Wonka has decided to open up his factory to five children. Five golden tickets are hidden inside five chocolate bars, that have been distributed throughout the nation, and whoever finds them wins a trip to the factory for a day. Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) comes from a very poor eccentric family who live in a ramshackle house on the edge of town. Charlie loves chocolate but can't usually afford it. He is lucky enough to find a golden ticket and joins four other children on the tour. They are told that one of them will win a special prize at the end of the tour. Throughout the tour, Willie Wonka disposes of the four revolting, over-indulged, gluttonous children until Charlie is left to win the prize. The factory is brilliantly rendered, and Johnny Depp is the standout star in this movie and is perfectly zany in the role. The kids are all suitably obnoxious except for Charlie who is a sickingly nice role model for all children everywhere. It's a fun movie with an overt moral message -- although I'm not sure I could live for long with a child as perfect as Charlie! My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Positive Review 'Those Oompa-Loompas are the beat, and soul, of Burton's finest movie since "Ed Wood": a madhouse kiddie musical with a sweet-and-sour heart.' - Owen Gleiberman/Entertainment Weekly Negative Review 'The satirical edge has been dulled in a film that is dominated, and ultimately swamped, by its star's mannered, pixilated performance.' - Ann Hornaday/Washington Post Content Warning quirky situations, action and mild language