Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Interview with Owen Anderson (Part One)

We interviewed Owen Anderson about his two recent books: Reason and Worldviews (University Press of America, 2008) and The Clarity of God's Existence (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008). Owen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Arizona State University West.

How did you get into philosophy?

I personally came to be interested in philosophy when I realized that the way I came to hold my worldview was analogous to how others (friends of mine in school) came to hold alternative worldviews. I had no proof, justification, or warrant that they could not also appeal to in order to arrive at a contrary conclusion. My parents/grandparents told me this is true, my religious book tells me this is true, my inner feelings/experiences tell me this is true, the best people I know of tell me this is true, it makes sense to me, etc. I call this “fideism” because we are asked to believe something on which hinges our entire existence but only offered proof that either begs the question or can be used to support alternative beliefs.

This problem built up and I came to a point where I did not want to believe in this way. In the midst of this I discovered the Great Books series in my school’s library. I began reading Aquinas and Freud (I don’t remember why I picked these). At the same time, my dad took me to a debate between William Lane Craig and an atheist, and shortly after that I took my first philosophy class. These events combined so that I became convinced that the kind of fideism I defined above was completely incompatible with the Christian religion, and yet also that the Christian philosophers I studied were often relying on just that kind of fideism. They would give evidences for Christianity, or argue that Christianity is plausible, but these same methods could be used to support alternative conclusions and they generally begged the question. I wanted more.

The consequence was that I pursued studies in philosophy in order to examine questions about how we know, what is real, and what is good. I did not want to beg the question by saying “the Christian view of these is correct and I’m going to prove it.” Instead, I asked myself “are there clear answers to these basic questions, and if so are humans responsible for knowing these answers?” The implication of my studies was that if there are clear answers, and humans have not known them, then humans are guilty for this ignorance. This raises questions about the need for redemption and how that is achieved.

I noticed on your blog that Craig Hazen reviewed the movie Religulous, and said that he came away from it thinking about how important it is for Christians to get away from the idea of faith as fideism. I am encouraged by this. I am hoping that the change will be not simply to saying “we have some arguments in our favor,” but to studying what is necessary to make the claim “there is no excuse for not knowing what is eternal (the eternal power and divine nature).”


What is it like to be a Christian scholar at ASU?

ASU has been a very encouraging place to work in the areas of Philosophy of Religion and Religious Studies. As a secular institution, it provides a context in which critical analysis of basic beliefs can occur. I’m especially interested in working on the intersection between disciplines such as Philosophy, Religious Studies, and History, and ASU is moving in the direction of being a leader in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work. I’m especially excited about this kind of research because in the past I have encountered boundaries where research gets shut down—claims such as “analytic philosophers don’t study that,” or “when we study religion we don’t do philosophical analysis of beliefs.” What I want to study is what can be known from general revelation, what humans are responsible for knowing from general revelation, and ASU has provided a context in which to do that.

How would you characterize your projects in The Clarity of God’s Existence and your Reason and Worldviews?

Reason and Worldviews
is a second edition of my first book Benjamin B. Warfield and Right Reason. This is an interdisciplinary book that draws from history, philosophy, and religious studies. The Clarity of God’s Existence also draws from these disciplines although its main goal is philosophical analysis of challenges to the ethics of belief in God. These books are aimed at a college audience or interested general reader.

Why did you write these books? How did they come about?

These books developed out of my studies at secular university. I am interested in how challenges to belief in God have mounted since the Enlightenment. In Reason and Worldviews I study how Common Sense Philosophy was used at Princeton, and its heritage in thinkers like Cornelius Van Til and Alvin Plantinga. In The Clarity of God’s Existence I study why it is necessary for Christianity to show that it is clear that God exists, and how challenges from David Hume and Immanuel Kant continue to be unanswered. A recent edited volume that claimed to respond to Hume began by stating that there cannot be a conclusive argument showing God’s existence, there is only plausibility. In other words, “it is not clear that God exists so that there is an excuse for unbelief, but here are some arguments that have persuaded us.” Rather than being a response to Hume, I think this has conceded to Hume his skeptical claims about the power of reason. I hope that my books will bring to the forefront the need to show the clarity of God’s existence if the claim that unbelief is inexcusable is to be taken seriously.

Please briefly summarize your discussion in Reason and Worldviews

Reason and Worldviews developed out of the questions: how has Christian apologetics developed in American history? What have been the best examples of arguments for belief? Why have these failed to show that there is no excuse for unbelief? What hindrances remain in showing this? As I studied the tradition of Common Sense Philosophy and how it uniquely developed at Princeton, the puzzle began to be solved. If the best relied on appeals to common sense, is it any wonder that this has been set aside for naturalism? I also went on to study Van Til and Plantinga to discern their contribution and whether they helped overcome the problems facing appeals to common sense. I hope this book will contribute by bringing into focus the development of thought about knowing God and what more needs to be done.

Please briefly summarize your discussion in The Clarity of God’s Existence.

In The Clarity of God’s Existence I study why it is important for Christianity to show that there is no excuse for unbelief. I examine how there has been a failure to understand this need, and how challenges have built up from thinkers like David Hume and Immanuel Kant. It has come to a point that many in society believe that there is no excuse for belief rather than for unbelief. I study how this shift occurred, and how contemporary Christian philosophy does not generally understand this challenge. I then give some suggestions on how this can be addressed, although in this book I do not offer a full account of how to show the clarity of God’s existence. Instead, the bulk of the text is spent on tracing the history of challenges since the Enlightenment and showing why clarity is necessary.

Stay tuned for part two ...

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

EPS Philosophers Respond to New Scientist Article On "Creationism" and Materialism

Amanda Gefter, an editor with the Opinion section of the New Scientist, wrote a piece titled, "Creationists Declare War over the Brain" (posted October 22, 2008).

Gefter's piece describes what she quotes as a "'non-material neuroscience' movement" that is "attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism ... in hope that it will make room in science both for supernatural forces and for a soul."

Among the scholars that she mentions as examples of this "non-material neuroscience movement," Gefter quotes from EPS philosophers and Philosophia Christi contributors J.P. Moreland, Angus Menuge and William Dembski (only Menuge is referenced in the article as being a philosopher).

Moreland, the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University's Talbot School of Theology, recently published his Consciousness & the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument (Routledge), which Gefter describes as having "fanned the flames" with its publication in June of this year.

Of Moreland's book, she says that "Non-materialist neuroscience provided him with this helpful explanation: since God 'is' consciousness." But Moreland's book offers a philosophical explanation for non-materialism; it is not dependent on the findings of neuroscience. (She goes on to quote Moreland, which at first glance appears to be from his Routledge book. Yet upon further inspection, it appears that she selectively quotes from a blog post by Moreland).

Nonetheless, in response to Gefter's piece, Moreland e-mailed us with the following reply:
The simple truth is that in both science and philosophy, strict physicalist analysis of consciousness and the self have been breaking down since the mid-1980s. The problems with physicalism have nothing directly to do with theism; they follow from rigorous treatments of consciousness and the self as we know them to be. The real problem comes in trying to explain its origin and for this problem, naturalism in general and Darwinism in particular, are useless. In my view, the only two serious contenders are theism and panpsychism which, contrary to the musings of some, has throughout the history of philosophy been correctly taken as a rival to and not a specification of naturalism.

(Moreland is set to publish in 2009 a similar book about the philosophical problems of naturalism titled, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism )

Angus Menuge
, Concordia University's (Wisconsin) Professor of Philosophy and Computer Science and Chair of Philosophy, is cited by Gefter for receiving funds from the Discovery Institute for his Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science book and for testifying "in favour of teaching ID in state-funded high-schools."

But as Menuge notes in an e-mail to us, "I did not testify 'in favour of teaching ID in state-funded high-schools,' as the media would have discovered if they had actually reported the testimony given in Kansas instead of recycling a standardized science/religion story-line; we simply maintained that students should learn about the evidence for and against the neo-Darwinian view and insisted that Intelligent Design was not yet sufficiently developed as a theory to be taught in classrooms."

Moreover, Menuge notes, "Amanda Gefter also has her chronology wrong: though I did receive support from the Discovery Institute to research Agents Under Fire, this was not part of a program to develop 'non-materialist neuroscience' (an area in which I have since become very interested) but my attempt to show in detail that scientific materialism is untenable because materialism undermines the rationality of science."

Gefter agrees that "scientists have yet to crack the great mystery of how consciousness could emerge from firing neurons." But she then suggests that the argument against materialism is (quoting naturalist philosopher Patricia Churchland) "an argument from ignorance." Churchland says, "The fact [that] something isn't currently explained doesn't mean it will never be explained or that we need to completely change not only our neuroscience but our physics."

Menuge admits "it is possible that a materialistic explanation of consciousness might be found, but that does not make the claim that consciousness is non-physical an argument from ignorance." Menuge further counsels,

At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called "promissory materialism," a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy—the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic—that most resembles a virus?
In one respect, perhaps it is gratifying that the New Scientist raises awareness (if only out of fear) about important challenges to the materialist establishment. On the other hand, "What irony," wrote William Dembski in an e-mail.
Witch hunts, subversion of science, not following evidence to its logical conclusion -- all the things the author worries will happen to science if a non-materialist neuroscience succeeds -- are the things she herself embraces in reflexively assuming that the only valid neuroscience must be materialist.

Updated 10/24, 6:15 Am (PST)

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Winter 2008 Philosophia Christi

We are nearly at press with the next issue of Philosophia Christi.

In our 10:2 (Winter 2008) issue, there are several important contributions to enjoy. Highlights below.

If you haven't renewed or if you have never subscribed, please do so by October 31st in order to guarantee that you'll receive the Winter 2008 issue. NOTE our "first-time subscriber discount."

Highlights in the Winter 2008 issue

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Kripke's Latest Article

In the September 2008 issue of Theoria, the Distinguish Professor Saul A. Kripke published his latest article, "Frege's Theory of Sense and Reference: Some Exegetical Notes."

Abstract: Frege's theory of indirect contexts and the shift of sense and reference in these contexts has puzzled many. What can the hierarchy of indirect senses, doubly indirect senses, and so on, be? Donald Davidson gave a well-known 'unlearnability' argument against Frege's theory. The present paper argues that the key to Frege's theory lies in the fact that whenever a reference is specified (even though many senses determine a single reference), it is specified in a particular way, so that giving a reference implies giving a sense; and that one must be 'acquainted' with the sense. It is argued that an indirect sense must be 'immediately revelatory' of its reference. General principles for Frege's doctrine of sense and reference are sated, for both direct and indirect quotation, to be understood iteratively. I also discuss Frege's doctrine of tensed and first person statements in the light of my analysis. The views of various other authors are examined. The conclusion is to ascribe to Frege an implicit doctrine of acquaintance similar to that of Russell.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Richard Dawkins' search for a grander truth

In a recent interview in the UK based Third Way magazine, Richard Dawkins affirmed:

'I'm damn sure there's more to the universe than we understand... there may be some things that we never understand. But I think I draw the line at saying because we don't understand it, therefore some kind of theistic interpretation is therefore more plausible. I suspect that the truth, when and if we discover it, will be far grander and more mysterious than anything that theists have ever imagined.' (Third Way, 'Said the atheist to the (ex) Bishop', September 2008, p. 10.)

A few brief observations:

1) Dawkins almost sounds here like a proponent of the theological 'way of negation' which holds (rightly or wrongly) that we can only say what God is not, and not what God is.

2) While everyone seems agreed that there is indeed a bad, 'God of the gaps' form of theistic argument (at least when it is an 'argument from ignorance'), arguments in natural theology needn't be, and generally aren't, formulated along such fallacious lines.

3) The main question this quote raises in my mind is whether Dawkins hasn't come accross St. Anselm's definition of God as 'the greatest conceivable being' or 'that than which a greater cannot be thought'. Of course, since Dawkins critiques the ontological argument in The God Delusion he must have come accross Anselm's definition. How, then, can he think that any as-yet-to-be-discovered truth could possibly be greater than the greatest possible being? I can only surmise that Dawkins' (literally) doesn't understand what he is talking about on this issue.

4) Is Dawkins contradicting the values-subjectivism he elsewhere explicitly embraces by talking about the possibility of discovering 'grander' truths? If not, then how can a merely subjective 'grander' truth be any greater than God, especially when God is defined as the objectively 'maximally great being'? Dawkins is either contradicting himself or undercutting himself here.

5) Perhaps if Dawkins came to understand the meaning of the phrase 'greatest possible being' he wouldn't think of theistic belief as a 'medieval' place-holder for something grander. And if he thought more deeply about God so-defined than he does in The God Delusion (where he basically passes the ball to Hume and Kant) then he might look more kindly upon St. Anselm' ontological meditations upon that theme...

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A Review of Religulous: Ridiculous?

Dr. Craig J. Hazen, director of the graduate program in Christian apologetics at Biola University, recently reviewed Bill Maher's Religulous.

Hazen's review can be read here:

Religulous is not the brightest film, and it certainly lacks the courage to engage with thoughtful Christians, but as Hazen notes, "If there is one important lesson for Christians of all sorts to learn from this movie it is this: we have got to start talking differently about 'faith.'"

Unfortunately, we have let the secular world and antagonists like Bill Maher define the term for us. What they mean by "faith" is blind leaping. That is what they think our commitment to Christ and the Christian view of the world is all about. They think we have simply disengaged our minds and leapt blindly into the religious abyss.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

EPS Midwest Regional Call for Papers

Spring Meeting in conjunction with the 54th Spring Meeting of the Midwest Region of the Evangelical Theological Society

Ashland Theological Seminary, Ashland, Ohio

20-21 March 2009 (Friday 8 AM-Saturday 1 PM)

Send philosophy paper proposals/abstracts, with name and contact information by 15 December 2008 to:


Timothy Paul Erdel

Bethel College

1001 W. McKinley Ave.

Mishawaka, Indiana 46545

Phone: (574) 257-2570

E-mail: erdelt@bethelcollege.edu

Fax: (574) 807-7426


Some priority to EPS members. Conference presenters must be registered for meeting.

Conference registration (starting in January) through the Evangelical Theological Society. Contact Robert Kurka (Lincoln Christian College and Seminary), Midwest Region ETS Secretary-Treasurer at rkurka@lccs.edu

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Calvin College Seminar Opportunities

2009 Summer Seminar Opportunities

"Flame of Love: Social Science and Theology on the Great Commandment"

July 13-24, 2009, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI

Participants: Stephen Post, SUNY Stony Brook; Margaret Poloma and Matthew Lee, University of Akron

How do God?s love and human caring interact? What happens when they do? Stephen Post, who directs the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, joins University of Akron sociologists Margaret Poloma and Matthew Lee to lead a review of their research on "Godly Love", the human attempt to live out the divine vision
of radical love.


"Deliver Us from Evil: Genocide and the Christian World"

June 22-July 10, 2009, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI

James Waller, University of Vermont

What roles do Christian churches play in cultures where killing an entire group of people is seriously considered, or even tried? James Waller, social psychologist and author of Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (Oxford, 2nd ed., 2007), will lead an examination of churches' roles in times of genocide and the consequences for contemporary Christian thought and practice.


"Philosophical Reflections on Liturgy"

June 22 ? July 10, 2009, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University; and Terence Cuneo, University of
Vermont

This research and writing seminar aims to turn the conversation in philosophy of religion toward
liturgy, the ritual enactment of Christian faith, hope and mission. It also seeks to add philosophical depth to the current scholarship on worship and liturgy. Cuneo is a participant in and student of the Orthodox tradition and Wolterstorff is perhaps the most-published of any current philosopher on liturgy

Application deadline is January 16, 2009

For more information and application requirements, visit
www.calvin.edu/scs

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Owen Anderson's New Book Gets Press at ASU

Owen Anderson, an assistant professor of philosophy of religion in Arizona State University's (ASU) New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, received notable press from ASU about his new book, The Clarity of God's Existence: The Ethics of Belief after the Enlightenment (Wipf & Stock, 2008).

Currently, ASU is considered the largest state university in the country. According to the detailed and positive press release by the university, Anderson says,

"The audience for this is anyone who is interested in questions about religious belief in the modern world," says the author, who has received a grant from the Harvard Pluralism Project to study the religious diversity of the greater Phoenix area. "Are authors like Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens correct in challenging the validity of one's belief in God? Do they successfully show that there is an excuse for unbelief, or even that there is no excuse for belief? My book looks at the many ways the need for clarity has been avoided, and how excuses have built up. I then suggest ways this might be addressed. For this reason, it should be of interest to both the believer and the non-believer."

Anderson, a contributor to Philosophia Christi, has also reviewed books on religion and public policy, philosophy of religion and philosophy of science.

UPDATE (10/15): See this other article from ASU's student paper about Owen Anderson's book.

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