Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Interview with Chad Meister: Philosophy of Religion Reader

We interviewed Chad Meister, Vice President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, about his recently released Philosophy of Religion Reader (Routledge, 2007).

Chad, you are a seasoned observer and contributor to philosophy of religion work. Give us a sense for how this field in philosophy has blossomed over the last 50 years or so.


The field of philosophy of religion has exploded in recent years. In some ways this is a surprising phenomenon, for in the mid-twentieth century, with the rise of logical positivism, discussions of religious matters were basically relegated to Bible and religion departments. With the demise of positivism, and the work of such first-rate philosophers as Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, philosophy of religion was resurrected. There is now widespread interest in the philosophical reflection on religious issues, and this is evident in the growing number of articles, monographs, companions, journals, and anthologies dedicated to the field. It is perhaps right now one of the "hottest" areas of philosophy.

As you know there are different philosophy of religion anthologies available today. What makes your selections unique? What sort of contribution are you trying to achieve with this anthology?

In the past, most philosophy of religion anthologies focused exclusively on Western theistic issues such as arguments for and against God's existence, religious language, morality, the nature of God, and so forth. While much work in the field is still Western and theistic in nature (and these are indeed yet productive and fertile times for engaging in such issues), religious parochialism is unwarranted, and the discussion is now beginning to swing in broader directions. There are rich traditions of philosophical thought in non-Western and non-theistic religions, and as the world community has globalized in myriad ways in recent decades, such interaction, engagement, and expansion should be reflected in philosophical and religious publications as well. So besides traditional Western issues (including such recent ones as intelligent design and open theism), I have also included in my reader non-theistic perspectives of ultimate reality and their responses to evil, religious experience, and death and the afterlife. I have also included some of the recent trends which are often ignored in anthologies such as feminism in philosophy of religion and religion and the environment. In addition, I wanted this work to be a useful reader and guide for students, so I included a significant number of pedagogical tools (as I note below). I don't think any reader/anthology on the market has as many student aids.

I'm finishing up a textbook that is designed to be used along with this reader, and it is scheduled to be published yet this year. Many of the central issues included in the reader (both Eastern and Western) are also addressed in this textbook. Another good introductory textbook that would work well in tandem with this reader is Reason and Religious Belief by Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger (Oxford University Press, 2003, 2008).

What was it like to produce this anthology? Can you briefly walk us through why you wanted to do this anthology? Were there guidelines/principles that you followed to help decide what to include vs. what to exclude from this volume?

I was invited by the publisher to craft the reader and the corresponding textbook. I strongly suggested that they be more global than most of the readers and texts in print since this more accurately reflects current trends and research interests in the field. The publisher agreed and allowed me to move in this direction. In terms of the entries, I wanted to include classic and contemporary pieces - both Eastern and Western - that have (or I believe will) stand the test of time as major works in philosophy of religion.

Producing this volume was a lot more work than I anticipated. Not only did I read through all 63 essays several times before submitting them to the publisher (all 700 pages of them), I also wrote section introductions, introductions and reflection questions for each essay, and annotated further readings for every essay. I also wrote a glossary of technical terms and compiled an extensive, three-column index. Just thinking about that project makes me tired!

Anthologies are a wonderful occasion to consider where a discussion has gone and where it might go. Are there areas of philosophy of religion that remain underdeveloped for one reason or another? Where might some fruitful research yet occur in light of the trajectory of the field?

As I mentioned above, most of the philosophy of religion readers and anthologies published in the past few decades have focused almost exclusively on a handful of issues. These are no doubt fundamental and timeless topics. However, the field is now much broader than this, and there is much work to be done in engaging with Eastern thought, continental and feminist studies, religious diversity and comparative religion. Furthermore, studies in philosophical theology (which is often taken to be an area within philosophy of religion) is beginning to blossom, and I believe the next several years will reflect much new and exciting work in these areas.

Can you identify any emerging philosophy of religion leaders who are doing some important work today?

There are a number of scholars who are emerging leaders in the different areas of philosophy of religion. I'll mention just a few who come to mind: Michael Rea (philosophical theology), Robin Collins (fine-tuning argument for God), Paul Griffiths (religious diversity), Sarah Coakley and Pamela Sue Anderson (feminist philosophy of religion), Paul Copan (ethics and the moral argument for God), Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Draper (problem of evil), Paul Moser (divine hiddenness), Jerome Gellman (religious experience and mysticism), and Charles Taliaferro (coherence of theism, among others).

You do work in philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics. These two areas are interrelated. What might professional philosophers of religion learn from apologetics ministries? Conversely, what might apologetics ministries learn from professionals in philosophy of religion?

Apologetics ministries are typically focused on questions and concerns which are immediately relevant to the culture. For example, many such ministries have been responding recently to the works of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett, as these new atheists are having a significant influence on the culture. Tackling some of the philosophical and moral challenges raised by the new atheists would certainly be a worthy endeavor for professional philosophers of religion. Thankfully, some have. Bill Craig and I, for example, have brought together about a dozen philosophers (as well as a few theologians and biblical scholars) to take on these new atheist challenges in a forthcoming book we are co-editing.

Apologetics ministries are also addressing some important questions that have not been on the forefront of philosophy of religion studies in recent years. For example, religious rites comes to mind. With the liturgical renewal currently occurring in many contexts, such as in the emergent church movement, it would behoove philosophers of religion to reflect on such questions as What is a religious rite? Why have religious rites been neglected in recent philosophy of religion? How important are such rites in the practice of religion? Charles Taliaferro has begun to tackle these questions, but much more philosophical work needs to be done here.

Apologetics ministries can learn much from philosophers as well. For example, the rigorous philosophical work that's been done on a few key apologetics issues has been quite impressive in recent years. As a case in point, consider the remarkable works of Alvin Plantinga and Eleonore Stump on the problem of evil. Many apologists do not realize that now even most atheist philosophers agree that the logical problem of evil has been forcefully rebutted - so much so that leading atheist philosophers no longer focus on it but have moved on to the evidential problem instead. Reading journals like Philosophia Christi would also benefit apologists as many apologetics-related issues are regularly addressed in the journal by leading philosophers of religion.

Chad Meister is the Director of the Philosophy Program and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bethel College. More information about Chad's speaking and writing can be found at www.bethelcollege.edu

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Metaphysics articles, Pruss on choice and substances & important reviews

Articles

Huw Price, "Metaphysics after Carnap: the ghost who walks?" To appear in David Chalmers, Ryan Wassermann and David Manley, eds., Metametaphysics (OUP, 2009).

William Lycan, "Phenomenal Intentionalities."

W. Russ Payne, "What is a Law of Nature."

Toby Handfield, "The metaphysics of dispositions and causes."

Gyula Klima, "The Medieval Problem of Universals." (SEP)

Anil Gupta, "Definitions." (SEP)

Carl Hoefer, "Causal Determinism."

Peter Menzies, "Counterfactual Theories of Causation."

Blog posts

Alex Pruss, "Prediction of Choices."

_______, "Why do we need substances if presentism holds?"

_______, "Love of substances"

Reviews

Eric T. Olson, What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology, Oxford University Press, 2007, 250pp. Reviewed by Michael O'Rourke, University of Idaho.

Lucy O'Brien, Self-Knowing Agents, Oxford University Press, 2007, 231pp. Reviewed by Robert J. Howell, Southern Methodist University.

Steven Horst, Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science, Oxford University Press, 2007, 223pp. Reviewed by D. Gene Witmer, University of Florida.

Georg Gasser (ed.), How Successful Is Naturalism?, Ontos, 2007, 300pp. Reviewed by Joseph Rouse, Wesleyan University.

Trenton Merricks, Truth and Ontology, Oxford University Press, 2007, 202pp. Reviewed by Ben Caplan, Ohio State University.

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D.Z. Phillips book and Philosophia Christi symposium

In a few weeks, Ashgate will release Whose God? Which Tradition? The Nature of Belief in God, edited by the late D. Z. Phillips. See the full book description here.

The Winter 2007 issue of Philosophia Christi featured a symposium, titled, "D. Z. Phillips on God, Evil, and Contemporary Philosophy of Religion," It enjoyed contributions by Charles Taliaferro, Brendan Sweetman, David Basinger, and R. Douglas Geivett, along with a final response by D. Z. Phillips.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Interview with Paul Copan: Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?

We interviewed Paul Copan, President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, about his forthcoming article in our Summer 2008 issue of Philosophia Christi (10:1). Paul is also the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics Palm Beach Atlantic University (West Palm Beach, FL)

His Philosophia Christi article is titled, "Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics."

Who are the "new atheists" and what makes them new?

The new atheists include Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens - the "Four Horsemen," they've been called. Perhaps because of the fading Judeo-Christian cultural consensus or worldview in our culture, they have been emboldened to take on a new stridency and, in some cases, even anger and hostility. God is "not great" (Hitchens) and a "monster" (Dawkins). (Dan Dennett strikes me as more even-handed. I've met him and have enjoyed cordial conversation with him, and we've contributed to a forthcoming book with Fortress Press, which I mention later.)

One feature many critics acknowledge about the new atheists is that their case against God tends to be fairly flimsy and not very tightly argued at all. In his book I Don't Believe in Atheists (New York: Free Press, 2008), Chris Hedges writes of Harris's book The End of Faith: "His facile attack on a form of religious belief we all hate, his childish simplicity and ignorance of world affairs, as well as his demonization of Muslims, made the book tedious, at its best, and often idiotic and racist" (2). Though Hedges shares the new atheists' disgust - as do I! - with "the chauvinism, intolerance, anti-intellectualism and self-righteousness of religious fundamentalists" (3), he believes that their confidence in reason and science is profoundly misplaced and their optimism about human nature and utopian visions is equally misguided.

Hedges says that we should carefully distinguish between religious values or certain religious figures and religious institutions: "Religion, real religion, involved fighting for justice, standing up for the voiceless and the weak, reaching out in acts of kindness and compassion to the stranger and the outcast, living a life of simplicity, cultivating empathy and defying the powerful" (5-6). I think that if Christians took "real religion" (or, as James 1 says, "true religion") seriously, many of the points made by the new atheists would be greatly weakened.

Why should thoughtful religious persons pay attention to what the new atheists are claiming?

These new atheists are getting quite a bit of attention with their claims that God and science conflict or that Christianity (or "religion") is bad for people. They are rhetorically effective and happen to be churning out best-sellers, influencing the minds of many. Yes, the new atheists have plenty of critics. For instance, atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse writes that Dawkins's argumentation in the God Delusion "makes me embarrassed to be an atheist." Many critics of the new atheists see them as strident. But this hasn't prevented a lot of people from taking the new atheists very seriously.

How should theists listen to these claims?

I think that theist and atheist alike should listen fairly and even-handedly to them. The reader should sort out legitimate arguments from the anger, the rhetoric, the anecdotal and ad hominem argumentation, the exaggerated claims (such as the God-science conflict), the red herrings and caricatures (e.g., all Christians are young-earth creationists), and so forth.

Christians of course, need to be well-grounded in their faith, being able to graciously respond to some very legitimate questions the new atheists raise. (Indeed, many Christians themselves have grappled with questions that about the Old Testament's harshness and, in places, inferior moral standards that are permitted because of human hard-heartedness). Christians must also be clear-minded and discriminating about what in Scripture is normative and what is not, about what is enduring and what is temporary, of what springs from human sin and what is rooted in the character of God.

Christians also should carefully guard what is articulated in the Declaration of Independence - that all humans "have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." We are experiencing a crisis in the West as to what our moral foundations are. If God does not exist who has made human beings and thus nature's mindless, valueless processes have produced us as merely advanced animals, then such a crisis of moral foundations will only deepen.

What appears to be the main claim(s) of the new atheists when it concerns Old Testament ethics?

The main claims of the new atheists are these: (1) They see the "Old Testament God" as mean-spirited, cruel, capricious (e.g., God's command to Abraham to kill his son, God's permitting slavery or commanding the killing of the Canaanites). (2) They consider moral standards and practices in the Old Testament to be repugnant and strange (e.g., Lot's daughters having sex with their drunken father out of a desire to have children). (3) These new atheists make the faulty inference that to be thoroughly biblical means embracing the death penalty for adulterers or idolaters and, further that the Mosaic Law is the presumed enduring moral and legal standard for all nations. (4) The new atheists point out that we can know moral standards without needing to appeal to Scripture.

Why would the new atheists be interested in "Old Testament ethics" and the "Old Testament God"?

If the character of "the God of the Bible" can be rightly questioned, then one has all the more reason for rooting the standard of objective goodness in something natural rather than supernatural. Attacking Old Testament ethics appears to be the best way of making quick work of dismissing God altogether.

What sort of reasons and evidences are presented by the new atheists when they offer support for their main claim(s)?

The new atheists appeal to science, history, and reason/philosophy to make their case for a decent world without God. They seem unaware of how the Christian faith helped give birth to modern science and early on shaped the philosophical assumptions that scientists - theistic or atheistic - utilize today. The new atheists downplay the remarkable cultural/moral influence the Christian faith has played in the West, and they overplay horrors committed in the name of Christ while underplaying the destructive role of atheistic ideologies in the twentieth century. Finally, the new atheists are remarkably out of touch with, say, sophisticated theistic arguments for God's existence. Their arguments against God tend to be very superficial (bordering on village atheist argumentation that is often ad hominem or hasty generalization) and often naively tout science as the arbiter of truth, following in the barren footsteps of their positivistic forebears.

Your Philosophia Christi article claims to offer a "nuanced response to the new atheists." Please briefly explain your response and why you take it to be significant to this discussion.

The new atheists are skillful rhetoricians. They commonly use one-liners, distorted descriptions, and emotional zingers to make their points. They generally do not give an accurate, well-rounded picture of Old Testament ethical questions, but they score a lot of rhetorical points with many readers. I'm trying to respond to this strategy with more nuanced description and reasoning to put such criticisms in proper perspective. While I am not here responding in kind rhetorically, I want to give adequate, well-researched material that others can utilize in response to the new atheists' witty, but weak, argumentation on Old Testament ethics. I hope to write a fuller treatment on Old Testament ethics that is more popularly accessible.

In the "Final Thoughts" section of your article, you offer three final claims against the new atheists. Please summarize them and say how they compliment your "nuanced response."

First, the new atheists reject the very theistic foundations that have made modern science possible, that have shaped the direction of the West's moral progress, and that stand as the basis of human rights and dignity. Theism affirms humans have value because they have been made in the image of God. A supremely valuable being - not valueless, mindless processes - has endowed us earthly creatures with dignity and value. To get rid of God is to get rid of the kinds of values that these new atheists would like to affirm.

Second, the new atheists assume that theocracy or a nation ruled directly by God is the ideal when in actual fact a theocracy is simply one of several developments in Israel's history. Indeed, the Old Testament itself looks beyond ethnic Israel as the true people of God to an interethnic, international body of believers who are the true Israel in Christ.

Third, as I noted earlier, the new atheists assume that the Old Testament proclaims and enduring moral standard for all nations for all time. However, we can rightly agree with Daniel Dennett, who thanks "heaven" that the numbers of those who believe this are dwindling!

So we can side with the new atheists on these last two points but without jettisoning God's moral authority over humankind.

Can you recommend any other Christian responses or resources about the new atheists?

One can gain a lot from looking at Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion?; John Haught, God and the New Atheism; John Lennox, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?; David Marshall, The Truth Behind the New Atheism; Francis Collins, The Language of God (to some degree); Dinesh D'Souza has debated new atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett (available at Youtube). See also Alister McGrath's interaction with Daniel Dennett in The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue, ed. Robert Stewart (Fortress Press, forthcoming) - a book to which I have contributed on the topic of "Naturalism, Theism, and the Foundations of Morality"; and, as previously mentioned, Chris Hedges, I Don't Believe in Atheists (though responding to the new atheists from a distinct vantage point).

If Christians are to effectively respond to new atheist challenges, can you offer recommendations and encouragement in this area?

I have tried to take seriously these sorts of challenges. My popular-level books True for You, But Not for Me, That's Just Your Interpretation, How Do You Know You're Not Wrong? and When God Goes to Starbucks have attempted to address many Old Testament ethical topics (and lots more!) in user-friendly, accessible ways. I'm working on another book that tackles Old Testament ethical issues specifically, again at a popular level.

In general, I would say that Christians need to be well-informed about their faith and its robust intellectual strength as well as common challenges to their faith. This will require turning off the TV and doing research and deeper thinking. We must also help equip the next generation of Christians to be more thoughtful about their faith rather than presuming upon the fading Judeo-Christian heritage that many Christians in our culture seem to cling to. Although the church throughout the world is growing dramatically, the church in North America is facing great challenges from within and without.

Along these lines, Christians need to see that much of the criticism directed toward the church stems from deeper problems such as hypocrisy, judgmentalism, anti-intellectualism, and a host of other concerns. I would recommend David Kinnaman's helpful corrective, the book unChristian (Baker) - an excellent wake-up call to the church.

More of Paul Copan can be found at his website: www.paulcopan.com. He blogs at Parchment & Pen and recently posted "The Moral Indignation of Richard Dawkins."

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Philosophy of Religion Resources

Linda Zagzebski, "Foreknowledge and Free will" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Alex Pruss, "A Molinist Theodicy for Infant Death."

Mike Almeida, "The Problem with Cumulative Cases for Theism"

Papers from Baylor's 2008 Philosophy of Religion Conference.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Natural law, divine command, empathy and globalization

Mark Murphy, "The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics"

Alex Pruss, "A fourth step in divine command dialectics"

Michael Slote, The Ethics of Care and Empathy (Routledge, 2007). Reviewed by Lawrence Blum, University of Massachusetts, Boston

William M. Sullivan and Will Kymlicka (eds.), The Globalization of Ethics: Religious and Secular Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Reviewed by Stephen C. Angle, Wesleyan University

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