Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Monday, July 28, 2008

Plantinga and Tooley's Knowledge of God Debate

As part of their "Great Debates in Philosophy" series, Blackwell recently released Knowledge of God, a debate between Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley.

The NDPR had a review by William Rowe.

This is a very fine book, presenting arguments for and against theism and naturalism by two very distinguished philosophers. I strongly recommend it for graduate level courses in philosophy of religion.

The Prosblogion has been leading a fabulous discussion on the various parts of the book.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Interview with Mike Austin: Conceptions of Parenthood

We interviewed Mike Austin, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University, about his recent book, Conceptions of Parenthood. The book is part of Ashgate's "Studies in Applied Ethics" series.

What do you try to accomplish in Conceptions of Parenthood?

In the book, I argue for a pluralistic understanding of the basis of parental rights and obligations. A conception of parenthood, as I define it, is an account of the grounds for the special rights and obligations of parents. The book is unique insofar as it is the only existing work that comprehensively analyzes the different views put forth by philosophers, defends a pluralistic understanding of the foundations of parenthood, and incorporates this pluralism into a stewardship conception, or meta-conception, of parenthood. I then consider implications of the stewardship view for political, social, and personal issues related to family ethics, such as the religious upbringing of children and proposals for requiring parenting licenses.

What got you interested in this important subject?

I was looking to write on something in applied ethics, and was considering topics related to bioethics when I was pointed to some of the philosophical literature on parenthood. I wanted to work on something that was both philosophically substantive but highly relevant to daily life, and the parent-child relationship fit the bill. Plus, as a parent with 3 daughters, it was of course highly relevant to my own life!

Who are some important thinkers in this discussion?

Brenda Almond's recent book, The Fragmenting Family (Oxford University Press), is a very important work which includes a defense of a more traditional view of marriage and family. David Archard has written two important books--Children, Family, and State (Ashgate) and Children: Rights and Childhood (Routledge)--as well as several journal articles. Mary Shanley's Making Babies, Making Families (Beacon Press) also addresses many important issues.


Briefly outline what you take to be the the main claims and objections to the different conceptions of parenting?

In the book, I reject "proprietarian views" which seek to ground parental rights in ways similar to property rights, insofar as the child is the product of the parent's labor or self. My primary objection is that it is immoral to conceive of humans as property. I also reject "biological conceptions" because there are counterexamples to both the necessity and the sufficiency of a genetic or gestational tie to the child for the acquisition of parental rights and obligations. This does not mean that biological ties are unimportant, but rather that they are unable to generate parenthood on their own. When they appear to do so, I argue that it is the causal element that is morally relevant. I reject "best interests" accounts because they fail to adequately take into account the relevant interests of parents and the state. I defend consent and custodial relationship conceptions of parenthood, with certain qualifications. One of the most significant aspects of the book is my argument in favor of a causal conception of parenthood, which includes the claim that if you cause a child to come to exist in the relevant manner, you incur special obligations to the child. This is controversial in contemporary moral philosophy because most ethicists want to defend the view that giving consent to taking on special obligations is a requirement for incurring such obligations. This is a view I believe to be false, and in the process of defending the causal conception I explain why. I ultimately defend a stewardship conception of parenthood. That is, once one becomes a parent through consent, causation, or a custodial relationship, one should act as a steward who holds the child and the child's life in trust for the child in the present, for the adult the child will become, and on behalf of the community as well.

You reject an "absolutist" and "quasi-absolutist" view of parental rights. Please state what these views are and briefly state your reason for this rejection.

Absolutists hold that parents have absolute control over their children's lives, even to the point of killing them. Hobbes, Jean Bodin, and Robert Filmer are representative of such a view. The "quasi-absolutist," as I define them, stops short of claiming that parents have the power of life or death over children, but believes that parents should always have the final say in other matters pertaining to their children. They should be able to determine the religion of their children, their form of education and moral outlook, as well as what medical care they may receive. The view I defend is that there are particular cases in which parents should not have final say, and the state should be able to intervene (e.g. serious medical issues). I also think that parents do not have the right to determine the religion of their children, though they do have the right to seek to influence their children in favor of their religion in a wide variety of ways.

What are the relevant factors pertaining to the legal and moral obligations of parents?

The foundation of the rights and obligations of parents as I describe it in the book are certain fundamental interests of parents and children, including physical and psychological well-being, intimate relationships, and the freedom to pursue that which brings meaning and satisfaction to life. I think that the state should have clear guidelines as to when intervention is justified, limited to the undermining of fundamental interests of children by parents, though the practical outworkings of this are difficult to implement in a just manner.

How do you think philosophical discussions about ethics, parenthood, and the family should proceed?

I think that we need to examine and criticize the assumptions made about human nature and social life in the more radical proposals, such as "children's liberationism," which states that children should have the same legal rights as adults. My view is that discussions of family ethics must be subsumed under a more general understanding of the relationship between human nature, ethics, and human fulfillment. While I am critical of views in family ethics that focus solely on the interests of children, it seems to me that many who advocate large changes in our understanding of the family or who want to abolish it fail to sufficiently consider the interests and welfare of children as well as the society they will create and inhabit in the future. Personal freedom and autonomy are important, but they are not the sole value to be accounted for in this area of inquiry. Finally, in a different but related project that I'm working on dealing with family ethics that is more explicitly Christian, I try to employ some insights related to the Trinity to family life, and consider what implications this aspect of God's nature might have related to family life for those with Christian commitments.

Mike Austin is an associate professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY. His other books include Running and Philosophy (Blackwell, 2007), Football and Philosophy (University Press of Kentucky, 2008), and Wise Stewards: Foundations of Christian Parenting (Kregel, forthcoming). He has a blog, Morality and the Good Life, which deals with issues in personal, social, and political ethics at http://arunningabout.blogspot.com

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Reply to Schneider's Review of My Christianity Today Article

I must confess that I had to catch my breath for a moment after finishing Mr. Schneider's review of my Christianity Today cover article. Never could I have anticipated that my advocacy of natural theology should bring me into alignment with Nazism and the horrors of the Holocaust. Astonishing!

Although there is much to appreciate in Mr. Schneider's comments, philosophers will quickly realize that when he begins to engage the theistic arguments themselves, he is out of his depth.

For example, he seriously misconstrues the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe. "Fine-tuning" does not mean "designed" (lest the inference to design become patently question-begging) but rather indicates that the fundamental constants and physical quantities appearing in nature's laws are such that tiny deviations from their actual values would have far-reaching consequences that would render the universe life-prohibiting. The argument does not aspire to show that the universe was designed with the production of human beings as its goal, but rather that intelligent design is the best explanation for the extraordinarily precarious existence of life, whatever the telos of the universe might be. Thus, the superiority of the design hypothesis to the rival hypotheses of physical necessity and chance in no way presupposes that the purpose of the universe was human life to begin with.

Or again, in his treatment of the moral argument Mr. Schneider doesn't seem to appreciate that his appeal to "compelling evidence in human psychology and animal behavior that moral instincts [sic; arise from?] biological mechanisms that evolved to facilitate group cooperation and kin loyalty" is, if anything, supportive of the first premiss of the argument, that If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. Moreover, if, as he seems to think, moral values and duties are the contingent spin-offs of the evolutionary process, then his moral disapprobation of the events of the Holocaust is either inconsistent or purely subjective. Objectively speaking, the Nazis committed no moral atrocities whatsoever, a conclusion that I doubt Mr. Schneider is ready to embrace and that is in any case highly implausible.

Finally, as to cosmological arguments, Mr. Schneider complains of the gap between the conclusion of those arguments and the Heavenly Father of Christian theology. Never mind that these arguments, being the property, as I noted, of all the great monotheistic religious traditions, were never intended to demonstrate the existence of the God of Christian theology. These arguments, if successful, give us a beginningless, uncaused, timeless, spaceless, changeless, immaterial, metaphysically necessary, enormously powerful, Personal Creator of the universe -- more than enough to keep the atheist awake at night! Whether this Creator is also the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth will be a question of Christian evidences, not natural theology.

So the more interesting feature of Mr. Schneider's review will be, not his critiques of the arguments proper, but his reflections on their cultural impact and importance.

It's gratifying that Mr. Schneider acknowledges the reality of the renaissance in Christian philosophy and natural theology that has transpired and is ongoing in our day. He does exaggerate the extent to which the vanguards of this revolution are confined to Christian colleges and seminaries. A search of the institutions at which the natural theologians whom I listed in my article teach will show the diversity of their institutional affiliations. (I was disappointed that Mr. Schneider did not mention Philosophia Christi in his review; this shows that we in the EPS still have some ways to go in making our impact felt.) Nevertheless, in view of the "intellectual vibrancy" of atheism at the university today, he finds my tone of celebration "premature."

I accept his admonishment; there is no room for triumphalism here. Nevertheless, those of us in the academy know how seriously Mr. Schneider errs when he takes the admitted dominance of atheism at the university as evidence that "today's atheism is positively fueled by intellectual inquiry." This naive assessment fails to appreciate that academics are narrowly focused in their respective areas of specialization and remain largely ignorant on subjects -- especially subjects in which they have little interest -- outside their chosen fields. When it comes to topics outside their areas of expertise, the opinions of great scientists, philosophers, and other academics carry no more weight than the pronouncements of a layman -- indeed, on these subjects they are laymen. Mr. Schneider was more accurate when he said that atheism is all but assumed. In scores of debates with non-theistic professors over the years, I have been astonished at the incredible ignorance of admittedly brilliant scholars when it comes to matters of theology and philosophy of religion. Thus, I have frankly long since ceased to be impressed when a prominent scientist, for example, a Stephen Weinberg, inveighs against religion.

Thus Mr. Schneider misunderstands me when he says that my "bygone atheism" is a straw man. What I characterized as "bygone" was not atheism, but the past generation dominated by the sort of scientism and verificationism that still lingers in the so-called New Atheism. The fact that such popularistic drivel continues to pour forth from the presses and to fill our bookstores at the mall does nothing to refute my claim that the New Atheism is in general predicated upon epistemological assumptions that are no longer viable.

Of course, there are today brilliant philosophers writing in defense of atheism. But the New Atheists are not they. The New Atheism is not representative of the best non-theistic work being done today. I tried to be frank about what we're up against by acknowledging in my piece that "there are now signs that the sleeping giant of atheism has been roused from his dogmatic slumbers and is fighting back. J. Howard Sobel and Graham Oppy have written large, scholarly books critical of the arguments of natural theology, and Cambridge University Press released their Companion to Atheism last year." I hope to have accurately informed readers concerning the lay of the land today.

Finally, with respect to the cultural importance of natural theology, Mr. Schneider correctly observes that my advocacy of theistic arguments pits me not only against post-moderns but also against Barth's neo-orthodoxy with its "Nein" to natural theology. No Barthian, I was trained under Pannenberg, who has been sharply critical of Barth's attempt to sequester faith from the attacks of secular reason. "For much too long a time faith has been misunderstood to be subjectivity's fortress into which Christianity could retreat from the attacks of scientific knowledge. Such a retreat into pious subjectivity can only lead to destroying any consciousness of the truth of the Christian faith."* One has only to look at the secularism of contemporary German society and the weakness of the German state churches to see that Pannenberg's words have proved to be prophetic. If we in the United States are to avoid Europe's slide into secularism, then we must respond to Barth's "Nein" to natural theology with a firm and insistent "Doch!"

This is not to endorse some sort of theological rationalism, to affirm that "we need . . . science in order to learn faith" -- that would be to embrace the scientism that shapes the New Atheism. Rather as proponents of so-called Reformed Epistemology have shown, one may present arguments in support of faith without making those arguments the foundation of faith. Barth remains correct, I think, in seeing that knowledge of God is not dependent upon evidential foundations; but, as Thomas Aquinas saw, it does not follow from that insight that reason cannot discover much of what faith delivers.

I'm puzzled by Mr. Schneider's closing question, "Why is the truth so difficult for other people to recognize, even when we proclaim it to them?" Nothing he has said leads up to this question, nor do I understand why it is "terrifying." I should have expected him to ask at this point, "If we base faith upon scientific reason, what do we do if scientific reason leads us to moral nihilism, rendering us incapable of condemning the atrocities of Nazism?" The scientism undergirding the New Atheism does lead to such a nihilistic terminus, and the prospect is terrifying. But the natural theologian need not and should not embrace scientism.

As for Mr. Schneider's own question, the answer, at one level, surely is that the arguments of natural theology, though cogent, are not rationally coercive, especially given people's predispositions formed by their diverse circumstances. At another level, the answer must be, as Paul emphasizes in his treatise on natural revelation, that fallen human beings, eager to avoid God at all costs, "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18).


* Wolfart Pannenberg, "The Revelation of God in Jesus of Nazareth," in New Frontiers in Theology, vol. 3: Theology as History, ed. J. M. Robinson and J. B. Cobb, Jr. (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), p. 131.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Science, Philosophy and Belief

Calvin College just recently completed a four-week faculty development seminar for Chinese professors and postgraduate students, which featured lectures by Alvin Plantinga (Notre Dame, Philosophy), Owen Gingerich (Harvard, Astronomy), Richard Swinburne (Oxford, Philosophy), and John Polkinghorne (Cambridge, Physics).

Mp3 downloads of each talk are available here.

The seminar was directed by Del Ratzsch of Calvin College and Michael Murray of Franklin & Marshall College.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Antony Flew's trenchant response to Richard Dawkins & 'The God Delusion'

In 'Flew Speaks Out: Professor Flew Reviews The God Delusion' Professor Antony Flew responds in trenchant terms to what he calls 'that monster footnote [concerning Flew on page 82] to what I am inclined to describe as that monster book' The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006).

According to this new article by the 85 year old ex-atheist, published July 19th 2008 by UCCF's excellent apologetics website www.bethinking.org, Richard Dawkins is 'a secularist bigot'.

The fault of Dawkins as an academic, says Flew: 'was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form.'

Flew's 2004 announcement that at the age of 81, after a noted professional lifetime of atheism, he had come to believe in the existence of God, really set the cat among the pigeons. Ad hominem accusations of hedging his bets with respect to an afterlife that Flew (under the influence of Gilbert Ryle) still doesn't believe even theoretically possible were bandied about by ill-informed detractors such as British humanist's Roy Hattersley and Richard Dawkins. Indeed, at a recent conference on the resurrection in London, Flew stated (before a mainly Christian audience) from a platform shared with Professor Gary R. Habermas and Bishop N.T. Wright, that he didn't believe in any kind of life after death, including resurrection. Hardly the words of a man who is either hedging his bets or easily swayed by Christian friends! As Flew writes in There Is a God (Harper One, 2007): 'I do not think of myself as surviving death. For the record, then, I want to lay to rest all those rumors that have me placing Pascalian bets.' (p. 2.)

Indeed, Richard Dawkins slings several criticisms in Flew's direction within a large footnotes on page 82 of The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006), none of which deal with the substance of Flew's Deism, or the philosophical arguments that persuade him thereof. Instead, Dawkins says that in his 'old age' Flew, whom he depreciates as not being a 'great philosopher' like Bertrand Russell, has adopted belief in 'some sort of deity'. Dawkins also attacks Flew for what he calls 'his ignominious decision to accept, in 2006, the "Philip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth', for which he notes 'The awarding university is BIOLA, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. One can't help wondering whether Flew realizes that he is being used.'

Having responded in several venues to the erroneous suggestions that his change of mind is a 'Pascalian Wager' in the face of death, and that his book There Is a God was basically written by rather than with help from Roy Abraham Varghese, Flew now responds directly to Dawkins. (By the way, I personally read the hand-typed article sent by Flew to a mutual contact at UCCF for publication, so I hope we can leave conspiracy theories where they belong.) Flew is clearly deeply upset with Dawkins, on both an academic and a personal level, and he doesn't mince words, accusing him of an 'insincerity of academic purpose.' Dawkins 'is not interested in the truth as such,' laments Flew, 'but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means.'

On receiving the Philip E. Johnson award, Flew notes that: 'Dawkins obviously assumes (but refrains from actually saying) that [being a specifically Christian institution] is incompatible with producing first class academic work in every department...' Moreover, as to the suggestion that he was 'used' by Biola, Flew clearly doesn't think the accusation worth dignifying: 'If the way I was welcomed by the students and members of faculty whom I met in my short stay at Biola amounted to being used then I can only express my regret that at the age of 85 I cannot reasonably hope for another visit to this institution.'


Recommended Reading

Antony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is a God (Harper One, 2007)

Antony Flew, 'Flew Speaks Out: Professor Flew Reviews The God Delusion'

Gary R. Habermas & Antony Flew, 'My Prilgrimage from Atheism to Theism'

Gary R. Habermas, 'Antony Flew's Deism Revisited'

Roy Abraham Varghese, 'Letter to the Editor, Magazine, New York Times'

Benjamin Wiker, 'Exclusive Flew Interview'

Peter S. Williams, 'A Change of Mind for Antony Flew'

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Response to "Gabriel's Vision" & Its Implications for the Resurrection of Jesus

EPS leaders, Craig J. Hazen and Gary R. Habermas, have both responded to recent reports (e.g., at the NYT) about the "Gabriel Vision" tablet and whether it falsifies Christianity's historic claim concerning Jesus' unique resurrection from the dead.

Hazen is the founder and director of the graduate program in Christian apologetics at Biola University. His response is here.

Habermas is the Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. His response is here.

Both scholars agree that the news is not disturbing to the Christian claim concerning the resurrection of Jesus.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Welcome Peter Williams

We welcome Peter S. Williams as our newest web contributor to the EPS website. Among many things, Peter is a Philosophia Christi contributor, a philosophy lecturer and a researcher particularly in the areas of intelligent design and natural theology work.

You can see more of Peter here at his author profile.

Also, we have posted three of his essays:

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

God is Not Dead Yet

Christianity Today has published an essay by William Lane Craig, titled, "God is Not Dead Yet."

The essay is the cover article of the July issue.

Also this month, Crossway Books has released the third edition of Craig's Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (www.reasonablefaithtools.com).

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