Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Historical Apologetics Project---help needed

Timothy McGrew, an epistemologist deeply interested in apologetics, has taken it upon himself to develop a colossal (not 30MB, 30 *GB*) digital library of historical apologetics. To get a sampling of his work, (just the tip of a Titanic sinking ice-berg) check out the link below:

http://www.lydiamcgrew.com/Historicalapologeticsreadinglist.htm

What Tim and I are hoping is that there are faculty and grad students who have good ideas about how these historical resources might best be used. One idea is that they could be indexed by problem/objection for/to the Christian faith so that working apologists could quickly find the relevant passages. Might this, for example, be a worthy project for students enrolled in the MA program in apologetics at Biola University or similar programs elsewhere?

It would be particularly valuable if these resources would help students select new directions in doctoral research. It seems to me that advisors in philosophy would be more inclined to take dissertations bearing on apologetics seriously if they realized both the caliber of some of the great historical apologists and their unjustified neglect.

If anyone has constructive proposals as to how this resource can best be used or developed, please contact me and I will convey any response to Tim McGrew. Tim is willing to send his entire digital collection (via portable hard drive) to anyone who is interested in indexing even a single volume or assisting in other ways to develop the resource.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

EPS Sponsored Apologetics Training in New England

Nearly 800 people came out for the "Earnestly Contending" apologetics conference held at New Life Worship Center -- this was a record amount of people to attend such a conference in this region.







Attendees received first-hand training from William Lane Craig, Paul Copan, Gary Habermas, Craig Evans, Daniel B. Wallace, Greg Koukl, Michael Rea, Michael Murray, and several other featured speakers, including Brett Kunkle who spoke to over 100 youth.




And perhaps even more encouraging is that over 100 area pastors came to a luncheon and seminar in order to better grasp the pastoral significance of apologetics training and ministry in the local church.



There was more than just interest in apologetics and Christian worldview training -- there was downright hunger for Christian knowledge and understanding.

Some have blogged about the conference, including comments at Stirred Neurons, Confident Christianity, and even over at John Loftus' Debunking Christianity blog.

Audio of the conference presentations will be available in early 2009. You can currently purchase all of the audio from last year by going here.

Because of the generous support of our donors, the EPS continues to make an impact regionally and nationally. Please consider making a tax-deductible, end-of-year donation to the EPS.

Subscribe to our free e-newsletter and stay tuned for further info about next year's conference in New Orleans!

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Friday)

Here is a summary outline of who presented on Friday morning and afternoon of the annual EPS conference. The links are to posts that feature abstracts about the papers. Please feel free to comment at each post:


Jim A. Stewart (University of Wales, Lampeter)
The Absurdity of Life without Hell: How Popular Objections to Eternal Punishment Lead to Absurdities
(ABSTRACT UNAVAILABLE)

Justin Grace (Terrant County College)
The Text & God: Is "God" a Proper Name or Is "God" Analogous with "Water"

Joel Schwartz (Baylor University)
Show Me the Meaning! A Wittgensteinian Apologetic
(ABSTRACT UNAVAILABLE)

Kevin Diller (University of St. Andrews)
Non-Evidentialist Positive Apologetics


C. Charles Wang (Retired)
The Use of Presuppositional Circular Reasoning by Atheists and Theists


Book Symposium on C.S. Lewis as Philosopher


Khaldoun Sweis (Olive-Harvey College)
Evolutionary Naturalism Reconsidered


Stephen C. Dilley (St. Edward’s University)
Scientific Naturalism: A House Divided?


Timothy Yoder (Philadelphia Biblical University)
C. S. Lewis and Aristotle on the Ethical Value of Friendship
[ABSTRACT UNAVAILABLE]

Angus Menuge (Concordia University, Wisconsin)
Is Downward Causation Possible?


David Vander Laan (Westmont College)
Bodies as Ecosystems


R. Scott Smith (Biola University)
Naturalism, Our Knowledge of Reality, and Some Implications for Christian Physicalists


Timothy Paul Erdel (Bethel College, Indiana)
Death and Philosophical Judgment


Dennis Plaisted (University of Tennessee, Chattanooga)
God and the Appropriation of Evil


Matt Getz (Biola University)
God’s Bootstraps: Euthyphro Generalized


Mary Jo Sharp (Biola University)
First-Century Monotheistic Judaism, the Earliest Christians, and the Recycled Pagan Myth Theory


Barry L. Carey (Biola University)
Servant Syndrome and the Soul


Richard Davis (Tyndale University)
God and Modal Concretism

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Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Davis)

Richard Davis

God and Modal Concretism

(a version of this paper was published in Philosophia Christi 10:1, Summer 2008)

Abstract: In this paper, I examine Graham Oppy's claim that all modal theistic arguments "must be question-begging," since they presuppose a particular account of the nature of possible worlds "which can only be supported by the further claim that God actually exists." I argue that Oppy is mistaken here. For even if theism implies the falsity of (say) David Lewis' concretist account of worlds, a proof for God that starts from this assumption isn't thereby ensnared in a vicious circularity. I go on to present some materials for a modal theistic proof immune to all of Oppy's criticisms.

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2008 EPS Papers (Plaisted)

Dennis Plaisted

God and the Appropriation of Evil

Abstract: A fascinating issue in applied ethics is the question of when it is permissible to appropriate the products of someone’s evil action. Should medical researchers, for example, be permitted to cite medical data obtained from the grossly unethical experiments conducted by the Nazis during World War II? Though the use to which the product will be put is typically beneficent or morally neutral, use of such products can still generate significant moral controversy. An amazing fact about the God of the Bible is that he is an appropriator of evil. God uses the suffering of his children to develop their characters (Heb. 12:5-11; 1 Pet. 4:1-3); he used the evil done to Joseph to place him in a position to help in a time of famine (Gen. 50:20). And, most significantly, God took the evil done to Christ at the crucifixion and appropriated it to accomplish the redemption of humanity (Isa. 53; Acts 3:13-19). In this paper, I first offer a more detailed characterization of appropriation problems and the sorts of rationales that are offered to oppose appropriation. I then argue that God’s appropriation of evil is always righteous because he always appropriates evil in order to defeat evil.

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2008 EPS Papers (Menuge)

Angus Menuge

Is Downward Causation Possible?

Abstract: Materialists have advanced several arguments to show that "downward causation" (mental to physical causation) is impossible. It is claimed that downward causation: (1) violates the causal closure of the physical; (2) is incompatible with natural law; (3) cannot be reconciled with the empirical evidence from neuroscience. This paper responds to these objections by arguing that: (1) there is no good reason to believe that the physical is causally closed; (2) properly understood, natural laws are compatible with downward causation; (3) recent findings in neuroscience reported by Schwartz, Beauregard and others provide strong empirical support for downward causation.

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2008 EPS Papers (Sharp)

Mary Jo Sharp

First-Century Monotheistic Judaism, the Earliest Christians, and the Recycled Pagan Myth Theory

Abstract: This paper is a response to the re-emergent claim that Christianity developed put of a first-century Judaism that was doctrinally influenced by Hellenistic pagan religions. I will demonstrate that the evidence available maintains a first-century Jewish faith exclusively monotheistic in doctrine; leading to ritualistic and, to some degree, cultural separatism due to a fear of defilement. Because of this very exclusivity, the first Christians – being first-century Jews – would not have inserted or adapted pagan religious ideas into their belief for the same fear of defiling the one true God. Instead, the earliest evidence presents Jewish-Christians equating Jesus with the monotheistic Godhead and honoring Jesus with the divine worship of which only the Jewish God is worthy. The evidence for this case can be found in 1) an examination of the doctrine and praxis of ancient Judaism as understood in its first century environment, 2) in the early evidence from Paul’s writings in which he equates Jesus with God and rebukes the practices of the pagan religions, and 3) in the lack of evidence to support claims of early influence by pagan religions, because Christianity developed from a monotheistic Jewish faith that fails to – and refused to – align with normal mythological religious patterns.

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2008 EPS Papers (Barry Carey)

Barry L. Carey

Savant Syndrome and the Soul

Abstract: Savant Syndrome is a remarkable condition in which individuals with severe mental disabilities exhibit "islands of genius." The movie Rain Man, which focuses on an autistic savant, has brought about increased awareness of this rare syndrome in which the afflicted show extraordinary skill in music performance, art, calendar calculating, mathematics, or mechanical or spatial skills. Modern neuroscience continues to be unable to explain how such remarkable abilities manifest themselves in the midst of such debilitating handicaps. Substance dualism provides a template through which one might gain insight into the phenomena associated with Savant Syndrome. These are less satisfactorily explained from a monistic physicalist account of human beings. For the substance dualist, an investigation into these phenomena may shed light into the nature of the soul. For those not convinced of the existence of a non-material soul, the increased explanatory power of the substance dualist position in regard to the phenomena of Savant Syndrome may provide greater reason to consider the substance dualist position superior to the monist position. If by positing the existence of the soul, one may gain insight into the complexities of Savant Syndrome, perhaps there is reason to believe there is a little "savant" inside us all.

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2008 EPS Papers (Erdel)

Timothy Erdel

Death and Philosophical Judgment

Abstract: What are the philosophical meanings and implications of human death? How should the inevitable fact of human death inform the philosophical judgments we make? What can we learn from death, and how should that influence our worldview or our metaphilosophical choices? What are some of the specific philosophical problems that might be illumined by reflection on death? Does the brute fact of death in any way support or even privilege a Christian philosophy of life as over against other approaches or outlooks? Might death serve as a call to critical realism in philosophy? This paper will trace the meaning of death for philosophy by drawing on a fairly diverse array of sources, including Genesis, Ecclesiastes, Socrates, the Stoics, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Hegel, Miguel de Unamuno, Peter Kreeft, and Paul K. Moser.

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2008 EPS Papers (Dilley)

Stephen C. Dilley

Scientific Naturalism: A House Divided?

Abstract: For centuries, philosophical naturalists have claimed that science provides strong epistemic support for their worldview. Many of these naturalists also espouse methodological naturalism, the view that science cannot consider ‘God hypotheses’ but must explain phenomena only by natural causes. For these thinkers philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism go hand-in-hand.

This essay argues that philosophical naturalists ought to reject methodological naturalism in science. When linked to methodological naturalism, philosophical naturalism actually moves toward a kind of epistemic fundamentalism. Joined with methodological naturalism, philosophical naturalism can never be scientifically disconfirmed but will always be confirmed. ‘God hypotheses,’ on the other hand, can never be scientifically confirmed, yet many philosophical naturalists believe that they can be scientifically disconfirmed. Moreover, when philosophical naturalism is united with methodological naturalism, this dynamic holds regardless of the empirical evidence. For example, the confirmation of philosophical naturalism is guaranteed because methodological naturalism mandates that the only theories considered are naturalistic ones; hence, the theory with the greatest epistemic virtues must be naturalistic—no matter what the empirical evidence is. Thus, the union of philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism produces a kind of dogmatism in which the ground rules are biased toward philosophical naturalism and empirical evidence is marginalized. The philosophical naturalist has created terms of engagement in which theistic-friendly hypotheses cannot succeed, but are likely to fail. Naturalistic hypotheses, however, cannot fail but must succeed. Heads I win, tails you lose.

This essay recommends that philosophical naturalists avoid dogmatism by adopting a two-tier conception of science: in private they should retain methodological naturalism but in public they should adopt a pluralistic conception of science free from methodological naturalism. This allows philosophical naturalists to pursue a robust (private) naturalistic research program while also having a public science that genuinely considers God hypotheses in the hope of disconfirming them.
From a Christian perspective, the strategy of this essay is to draw philosophical naturalists into a serious scientific dispute with God hypotheses, instead of being dismissive of these hypotheses under the pretense of methodological naturalism. When philosophical naturalists engage God hypotheses, I predict that the scientific case for philosophical naturalism will be attenuated and the overall scientific credibility of theism will be enhanced.

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2008 EPS Papers (Smith)

R. Scott Smith

Naturalism, Our Knowledge of Reality, and Some Implications for Christian Physicalists

Abstract: One of ontological naturalism's greatest perceived strengths is our ability on that basis to know reality. Several naturalists (e.g., Tye, Dretske, and Papineau) argue that we reality directly. Yet, they realize that they must given an account of intentionality, which for many has been considered the hallmark of the mental. They even grant much of what dualists say must be true of intentionality. But, they argue that intentional states are reducible to brain states, yet brain states may be conceptualized as intentional. Alternatively, Daniel Dennett thinks intentionality is just attributions we make of certain physical systems from the intentional stance.

Here, we may learn an important lesson for naturalism: without any intrinsically intentional states, nothing will be given to us; all experience, and all knowledge, will be our taking things to be certain ways, without any way to get started or know how reality truly is.

There are implications for Christian physicalists, too. If they leave no place for intrinsic intentionality, the lessons will be the same. Suppose though that someone allows for emergent, irreducibly intentional states that simply are of their objects. But, I shall argue that this move will be sufficient for us to know reality.

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2008 EPS Papers (Sweis)

Khaldoun Sweis

Evolutionary Naturalism Reconsidered

Abstract: Darwinian evolutionary naturalism (DEN) is the strongest force for the legitimate expression of research in the sciences or the humanities today. I attempt to address some issues that DEN still need take under consideration. This paper is divided into three parts. Part 1 is a struggle to find a coherent definition of DEN as it is currently understood. The common thread I find running through all definitions is the following: DEN is a belief or research paradigm that excludes any teleological, theological or supernatural explanations for the elucidation of phenomena in the universe. In Part 2, I address the supposed unscientific presuppositions of DEN. This leads us to the question of scientific methodology. Famous philosopher of science Karl Popper wrote, “the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” If we cannot or are not allowed to consider the falsifiability, or refutability of DEN, then it is according to Popper, a non-scientific theory. Is this critique true? Is DEN a non-scientific theory? Finally in Part 3, I frame and articulate to the DEN’s community a strong argument against DEN ala Alvin Plantinga and Richard Taylor. This argument states that if our cognitive faculties have arisen by purely natural, unguided forces, then, although they can be trusted to arrive at pragmatic conclusions, they cannot be trusted to arrive at truthful conclusions.

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2008 EPS Papers (Getz)

Matt Getz

God's Bootstraps: Euthyphro Generalized

Abstract: Is the good good because it is loved by the gods, or do they love it because it is good? (Euthyphro, 10a). Ostensibly, Christian theologians have found this dilemma unsavory, for accepting the first lemma makes goodness seemingly arbitrary, while the second makes goodness separate from god, and seemingly a se. In this vein, William Craig has recently attacked metaphysical (platonic) realism with regard to properties, arguing that such a position contradicts a historical understanding of God's aseity. A common response by realists to this argument is that God simply created those properties. Craig has responded with his Bootstrapping Objection: How could God have created at least some properties (e.g. being powerful) without already possessing those properties? This paper seeks to demonstrate the analogies between the famous Euthyphro dilemma and Craig's Bootstrapping objection, along with the analogous responses to them both.

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2008 EPS Papers (Vander Laan)

David Vander Laan

Bodies, Ecosystems, and Functional Unity

Abstract: The ecosystem concept as it has been used in ecology is broad enough that organisms qualify as small ecosystems. So if human bodies are taken to be organisms, human bodies are ecosystems. This way of thinking about bodies is especially useful given a variety of well-known puzzles about the constitution and persistence of material objects. A number of these provide reason to doubt that any single material object is a human body, in which case it is helpful to think of bodies as relatively stable systems of objects.
The puzzles about material composites also suggest an argument that human persons are not material objects at all. Ecological immaterialism is the view that not only bodies themselves but also bodies and souls together form ecosystems, i.e., dynamic systems with a high degree of functional unity. Ecological immaterialism contrasts with a Platonic view of the body in that it is fully consonant with a Christian understanding of its value and its significance for us. The view thus avoids disadvantages often attributed to immaterialism and secures advantages often claimed for versions of physicalism.

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2008 EPS Book Symposium (Habermas, Walls, Baggett, Geivett)

Gary R. Habermas, Jerry L. Walls, Dave Baggett, and R. Douglas Geivett

Book Symposium: C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty

Abstract: C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty is a new book that makes a significant contribution to C. S. Lewis studies and will be of interest to philosophers, aficionados and any who have an interst in the writings of C.S. Lewis. This book is a collection of essays presented at the 2005 C. S. Lewis Oxbridge Conference held jointly at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Fifteen essays explore three major philosophical themes from the writings of Lewis--Truth, Goodness and Beauty. It provides a comprehensive overview of Lewis's philosophical thinking on arguments for Christianity, the character of God, theodicy, moral goodness, heaven and hell, a theory of literature and the place of the imagination.

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2008 EPS Papers (Wang)

C. Charles Wang

The Use of Presuppositional Circular Reasoning by Atheists and Theists

Abstract: Circular reasoning, or question begging, is among the most common logical fallacies. This paper compares two usages of presuppositional circular reasoning: one by Darwinian naturalists and the other by Christian theists. The former deny the usage and the latter embrace it. More attentions are paid to scientists’ use of tautological arguments, which are difficult to detect.

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2008 EPS Papers (Grace)

Justin Grace

The Text & God: Is 'God' a Proper Name or Is 'God' Analogous with 'Water'

Abstract: In the first part of this paper I argue that ‘God’ is not a proper name, rather ‘God’ is a general term. I argue that context determines whether ‘God’ functions semantically as a mass term (similar to that of ‘water’) or a count noun. However, ‘God’ can also function as a count noun, i.e. the second occurrence of ‘God’ in the following: “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” In the second part of this paper I explain what ‘God’ refers to if ‘God’ is a general term. The semantic content of general terms are the species or the substance that a natural kind k designates. If mass terms designate a substance, e.g. the semantic content of ‘water’ is H2O (and ‘God’ also functions as a mass term such as water), then ‘God’ refers to the divine substance, namely The Triune God.

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2008 EPS Papers (Diller)

Kevin Diller

Non-Evidentialist Positive Apologetics

Abstract: Within Evangelical theology there appears to be a considerable range of opinion about the place and propriety of positive apologetics. Some maintain that a basis in reason is required for Christian belief to be warranted. Others claim that rational arguments could never contribute to warrant for Christian belief. Alvin Plantinga, in response to a suggestion from Stephen Wykstra, seems to adopt a middle position. Whilst the arguments in favour of Christian belief (at least those that have been developed thus far) are of themselves insufficient for warranted belief, they may nevertheless make a contribution to warrant. In this paper, I take up Plantinga’s suggestion that belief might arise from multiple sources of warrant. I suggest, with illustration, that there are roughly two ways this might go. Either warrant for the belief actually derives from an inference made on the basis of beliefs that issue from multiple independent faculties; or, inference assists either external rationality in its formation of phenomenal experience, or internal rationality in its forming of appropriate belief in response to that phenomenology. The second of these takes an affirming view of the importance of positive apologetics without conceding an independent warrant contributing role. In other words, inferences made from rational arguments serve as catalysts to or extensions of the deliverances of faith. On this non-evidentialist view, God creates and sustains his own possibility of being known, making use of arguments from reason as the harmonic cognitive reverberations of faith, creating a crescendo of warrant sufficient for knowledge.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Thursday)

Here is a summary outline of who presented on Thursday morning and afternoon of the annual EPS conference. The links are to posts that feature abstracts about the papers. Please feel free to comment at each post:

David A. Reed (Bethel College, Indiana)
Voices Crying in the Wilderness: The Calls to Faith in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche

David F. Horkott (Palm Beach Atlantic University)
What Nietzsche Can Teach Us about Sin and Holiness

R.J. Snell (Eastern University)
Sanctifying Us Everywhere: Charles Taylor and the Apologetics of a Secular Age

Travis Coblentz (Baylor University)
Lex Luther vs. Superman: Using Bonhoeffer to Make Nietzsche’s Ethic Christian

Gary Habermas (Liberty University)
Near-Death Experiences Revisited: Recent Empirical Data That Challenge Naturalistic
Assumptions


James Spiegel (Taylor University)
Free Will and Soul Making: Comparing Two Responses to the Problem of Evil

William Lane Craig (Talbot School of Theology)
Graham Oppy on Infinity in the Kalam Cosmological Argument

PLENARY PAPER

Paul Moser (Loyola University)
Kerygmatic Philosophy

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2008 EPS Plenary Paper (Moser)

Paul K. Moser

Kerygmatic Philosophy

Abstract: The disturbing God acknowledged by Jewish and Christian theism is not static but dynamic, interactive, and elusive. In particular, this God reveals himself to some people at times and hides himself from some people at times, for the sake of gaining fellowship with people. As a result, this God is cognitively elusive, since the claim that this God exists is not obviously true or even beyond evidentially grounded doubt for all capable mature inquirers. Let’s think of the God in question as “the living God” in virtue of this God’s being personally interactive with some agents and cognitively nimble and dynamic rather than functionally or cognitively static. This God, more specifically, is elusive for good reasons, that is, for reasonable divine purposes that fit with God’s unique character of being worthy of worship and thus being morally perfect. Accordingly, we should expect any evidence of God’s existence for humans to be purposively available to humans, that is, available to humans in a way that conforms to God’s perfectly good purposes for humans. This paper explores the striking consequences of this position for natural theology in particular and for theistic philosophy in general. It outlines an epistemology of God’s existence that is pneumatic, owing to a personal divine Spirit (who cannot be reduced to Calvin’s sensus divinitatis), and that is thus foreign to secular epistemology and to much philosophy of religion. It is also an incarnational epistemology, given its cognitive role for God’s Spirit dwelling in humans, in such a way that they become a temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). We may think of incarnational epistemology as requiring that human inquirers themselves become evidence of God’s reality in virtue of becoming God’s temple. In this approach, characteristic evidence of God’s reality is increasingly available to me as I myself am increasingly willing to become such evidence.

The epistemology offered is grace-based, in that firsthand knowledge of God’s reality is a direct gift of God’s grace. The cognitive grace in question supplies a cognitive gift that replaces any demand for intellectual earning, controlling, or dominating with a freely given presence of God’s inviting and transforming Spirit who seeks fellowship with humans. This cognitive, irreducibly personal gift must be appropriated by humans in Gethsemane struggles, given the human condition of sin, but it is not shrouded in philosophical sophistication of the sort accompanying contemporary natural theology. This gift is directly challenging toward natural human ways that resist God, including toward human cognitive idolatry, but it does not get bogged down in its own intellectual complications. It revolves around God’s gracious call to humans for the sake of divine-human fellowship, and this call is to be received, and obeyed, in an I-Thou acquaintance between a human and God. Natural theology, as the paper contends, omits such distinctive interactive foundational evidence to its own detriment.

Stay tuned for further discussion about this paper in a forthcoming issue of Philosophia Christi!

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2008 EPS Papers (Coblentz)

Travis Coblentz

Lex Luther vs. Superman: Using Bonhoeffer to Make Nietzsche's Ethic Christian

Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to examine the following comment by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Nietzsche's Superman is not really, as he supposed, the opposite of the Christian; without knowing it, Nietzsche has here introduced many traits of the Christian made free, as Paul and Luther describe him." In particular, I shall attempt, using Bonhoeffer's view of Christian ethics, to show the similarity between the ethical life of the Ubermensche and the Christian. Bonhoeffer and Nietzsche share a negative view of deontological ethics - Bonhoeffer uses the language of law or duty, while Nietzsche opposes all generalization or abstraction of morality. I shall give a brief description and justification of Bonhoeffer's ethic, and then argue that, in light of this, Nietzsche's Ubermensche is, with a few qualitications, an appropriate description of the ethical life of the Christian.

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2008 EPS Papers (Craig)

William Lane Craig

Graham Oppy on Infinity in the Kalam Cosmological Argument

* The final version of this paper appears in the Winter 2008 (10:2) issue of Philosophia Christi

Abstract: Graham Oppy's Arguing about Gods (2006) and his Philosophical Perspectives on Infinity (2005) are the most potent critique to date of the kalam-style arguments against the infinity of the past and for the beginning of the universe. In this paper, I seek to answer Oppy's criticisms of the arguments based on the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite and of the impossibility of the formation of an actual infinite by successive addition

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2008 EPS Papers (Snell)

R. J. Snell

Sanctifying Us Everywhere: Charles Taylor and the Apologetics of a Secular Age

Abstract: In Sources of the Self and now in A Secular Age, Charles Taylor examines the genealogy and meaning of secularization. In A Secular Age, Taylor distinguishes three varieties, of which his primary concern is to understand and explicate the third: (1) political secularization, (2) the falling off of religious practice, and (3) the change of conditions of belief whereby religion is just one more option among many. Still, Taylor believes and articulates a defense of belief rooted in the need for identity and meaning.

In this paper, I should like to (a) summarize the salient points of Taylor's argument in both Sources of the Self and A Secular Age before (b) claiming that his work justifies a reconsideration of the apologetics of disengaged rationality. Rather than treating theistic belief as a warranted or unwarranted in terms of abstract argument, the apologetics of a secular age could and should privilege history, aesthetic value, identity formation, moral phenomenology, and and moral space. To do so, however, would require evangelical apologists to embrace the genealogical method while relying less on the conditions of belief proper to disengaged understandings of human identity and rationality.

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2008 EPS Papers (Spiegel)

James Spiegel

Free Will and Soul Making: Comparing Two Responses to the Problem of Evil

Abstract: Two popular responses to the problem of evil are the free will defense (cf. Alvin Plantinga and Bruce Reichenbach) and the soul-making theodicy (cf. John Hick and Marilyn McCord Adams). Both are essentially “higher good” approaches to the problem, as each argues that God is justified in permitting evil because of something else that is valuable. In the former case it is human freedom, and in the latter it is character development. In this paper I consider which, if either, of these approaches is superior. My aim is not to show that either actually succeeds in defeating the evidential objection from evil but only to compare (and contrast) them. In examining the two approaches, I discuss their respective ends in view, why each is valuable, and the preconditions for their attainment.

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2008 EPS Papers (Reed)

David A. Reed

Voices Crying in the Wilderness: The Calls to Faith in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche

Abstract: The philosophies of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were watershed moments in the history of Western thought that share intriguing characteristics. Both saw the intellectual and moral landscape of European society to be a wilderness of despair and suffering. Because Kierkegaard saw Christiandom as a non-Christian culture afflicted by finitude, he prophetically called his contemporaries to a genuine faith in God. Nietzsche understood the wilderness to be caused by the intellectual and moral crisis resulting from the 'death of God' and the rise of nihilism. Nietzsche's solution to the crisis was to call his and future generations to an uncompromising faith in human nature.

This paper will analyze and critically evaluate the elements of the conflicting and competing faiths to which Kierkegaard and Nietzsche called their readers, which were based on radically differing theistic and anthropological judgments. Based on the Kierkegaard's three-fold conception of aesthetic, ethical, and religious faith, I will argue that his call to radical faith (which is based on his existential philosophy of human nature) triumphs over Nietzsche's. My critique of Nietsche will be based largely on inherently weak and immature faith in human nature.

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2008 EPS Papers (Horkott)

David F. Horkott

What Nietzsche Can Teach Us about Sin and Holiness

Abstract: It seems like Nietzsche was obsessed with criticizing Christianity. Well, to be fair, we could add the composer Wagner to the list of his obsessions. Perhaps Nietzsche was at his obsessive best on those occasions when he criticized Wagner for pandering a Christian opera such as Parsifal. Be that as it may, this paper will focus on Nietzsche’s criticism of Christian morality with a view toward what Christians may gratefully receive from his sustained and relentless attack on it.

Where did that the concept of guilt originate and what accounts for its intensification and internalization in modern culture? The second essay of On the Genealogy of Morality provides Nietzsche’s answers. In fact, Nietzsche first gives a provisional answer to these questions but concludes his essay with a provocative, surprising conclusion. Nietzsche begins his investigation of guilt consciousness with an analysis of the sovereign individual. The sovereign individual represents a very high type of human being because such a person possesses his/her own conscience. The activity that showcases the high level of conscience possessed by the sovereign individual is promise-making. In promise-making one establishes one’s own conscience toward what the promise encompasses. The capacities required for promise-making were achieved by pain and violence and by what Nietzsche termed the “bad conscience.” The bad conscience was the forerunner of the sovereign individual’s higher conscience. The bad conscience is essentially the redirection of the activity of blaming from others to oneself. Self-blaming was intensified by the notions of a holy God and a sinful nature. One would anticipate that the erosion of God-consciousness in our culture would simultaneously bring about a lesser sense of sin and guilt in members of the modern state. But Nietzsche claims that this is not the case.

This paper will show that Nietzsche’s final hypothesis toward the origin and development of the bad conscience offers Christians valuable insights for new directions in moral thinking. A revised story of the Fall of Man will be presented to illustrate the fecundity of Nietzsche’s psychological insights.

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2008 EPS Papers (Habermas)

Gary Habermas

Near-Death Experiences Revisited: Recent Empirical Data that Challenge Naturalistic Assumptions

Abstract: After a brief summary of the current state of recent studies, this paper addresses the latest extended debate over whether veridical data exist that establish that NDEs are not hallucinations or other natural phenomena. Further attention is given regarding whether NDE reports confront naturalism with another research challenge that cannot fit easily into their perspective.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Wednesday)

Here is a summary outline of who presented on Wednesday morning and afternoon of the annual EPS conference. The links are to posts that feature abstracts about the papers. Please feel free to comment.

Adam Barkman (Yonsei University, South Korea)
C. S. Lewis’s Pseudo-Manichean Dualist Phase

C. Donald Smedley (Rivendell Institute)
Hare on Divine Command Theory and Natural Law

Mark Liederbach (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
Natural Law, Common Ground, and the Problem of Postmodern Epistemology

Robert Larmer (University of New Brunswick)
C. S. Lewis’s Critique of Hume’s Of Miracles

Gregory Ganssle (Yale University)
God of the Gaps Arguments

Paul Copan (Palm Beach Atlantic University)
With Gentleness and Respect — and a Few Other Things: Suggestions and Strategies for
Christian Apologists


Steve Cowan (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
The Metaphysics of Subordination: A Response to Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

Justin Barnard (Union University)
Compatibalism, Wantons, and the Natural Consequences Model of Hell

Walter Schultz (Northwestern College)
Dispositions, Capacities, and Powers: A New Analysis

Shawn Graves (Cedarville University)
Is Genuine Religious Inquiry Incompatible with Christian Commitment?

Michael S. Jones (Liberty University)
Is Cognitive Humility a Sound Foundation for Religious Tolerance?

Stephen G. Shaw (California State University, Long Beach)
Religion as Narrative, Faith as Recontextualization: Lyotard and Rorty Meet Kierkegaard

Garrett Pendergraft (University of California, Riverside)
Divine Deliberation (or Lack Thereof)

Jeremy Carey (University of California, Berkeley)
Agent Causation, Reasons, and Empirical Data

Mark Coppenger (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
The Aesthetic Argument and Darwinism

Michael W. Austin (Eastern Kentucky University)
The Nature and Practice of Compassion

J.B. Stump (Bethel College, Indiana)
Natural Theology Stripped of Modernism

EPS Reception with Scott Smith

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Annual EPS Reception

Nearly one hundred people came out on Wednesday evening of the EPS conference for about two hours of fellowship and refreshments.

Scott Smith (Biola) gave a word of encouragement centered around the importance of doing our philosophical work in the presence of God, earnestly seeking Christ, the fount of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding. He also gave a some helpful and specific examples from his own journey and how he has been spiritually stretched and strengthened by being more prayerful and mindful of the Holy Spirit in his work.

Scott's encouragement reminds us that the manner (especially the attitude of our heart) in which we do our philosophical work is important and relevant to us, God, and those that receive what we have to say.

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2008 EPS Papers (Jones)


Michael S. Jones


Is Cognitive Humility a Sound Foundation for Religious Tolerance?

Abstract: In his 2005 article “On Religious Diversity and Tolerance” (Daedalus, Winter 2005, 136-9) Philip L. Quinn argues that the higher epistemic status of certain moral principles favoring religious tolerance vis-à-vis the truth of any religious tradition (tolerant or otherwise) provides a universal basis for interreligious tolerance. At the 2007 EPS national conference in San Diego, William Lane Craig presented a paper titled “Is Uncertainty a Sound Foundation for Religious Tolerance.” In this paper Craig takes issue with Quinn’s position, arguing that Quinn’s religious skepticism is not warranted and that doubt is not a sound foundation for tolerance. In my paper I respond to Craig by arguing that cognitive humility is warranted, that it does not entail doubt, and that it can provide a sound foundation for religious tolerance. I will then argue that this foundation has one significant advantage over the foundation proposed by Craig: its universal applicability to all religious traditions.

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2008 EPS Papers (Stump)

J. B. Stump

Natural Theology Stripped of Modernism

Abstract: This paper examines the difference in natural theology (and more specifically, the methodology in natural theology) from the Middle Ages in which Anselm’s dictum credo ut intelligam held sway, with that of the modern period after Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. There are lessons to be learned from both. Ultimately I claim that the non-modern (I’ll not say “post-modern”) approach is the Church’s more appropriate witness to the Truth in the arena of nature. Various objections to this position are considered.

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2008 EPS Papers (Carey)


Jeremy Carey


Agent Causation, Reasons, and Empirical Data

Abstract: In this paper, I attempt to defend agent-causation from some empirical objections that have recently been brought against it. It has been recently argued by Derk Pereboom (Living Without Free Will), for example, that an agent-causal view cannot fit in, so to speak, with our best scientific theories for two reasons: First, it would seem to commit us either to the ability of agents to somehow supersede the microlevel laws governing their bodies or else to the fundamental incompleteness of those laws. Secondly, if agents are not constrained by those laws, in a deterministic or probabilistic way, then we should expect actions to be more random and unpredictable than they in fact are. I argue that both of these objections can be met by setting forth an agent-causal view that is realist about causation and integrated with respect to reasons.

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2008 EPS Papers (Graves)


Shawn Graves

Is Genuine Religious Inquiry Incompatible with Christian Commitment?

Abstract: In this paper, I present and explain two competing arguments: one for the conclusion that all Christians ought to be willing to revise all of their beliefs about Jesus, and the other for the conclusion that it is not the case that all Christians ought to be willing to revise all of their beliefs about Jesus. Each argument on its own seems rather plausible. This causes trouble. I argue that the way out of the trouble is to identify an important ambiguity in the arguments. Unfortunately, this way out of the trouble brings new trouble for Christians. I consider one way out of this new trouble and argue that it is not defensible. Christians have some work to do.

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2008 EPS Papers (Schultz)

Walter Schultz

Dispositions, Capacities, and Powers: A New Analysis

Abstract: In scientific and ordinary discourse, it is not unusual for any of us to attribute dispositional properties to objections. Examples includes the solubility of salt and the compassion of a person. Furthermore, the issue of ungrounded dispositional properties has attracted an increasing amount of attention in recent years not only from the standpoint of theoretical physics, but more so from contemporary analytic metaphysics and philosophy of science. However, it is well known that the various attempts made in the 20th century to account for dispositional properties by means of analyses of counterfactual conditionals (the simple conditional analysis, the familiar Stalnaker-Lewis possible worlds analysis, and Lewis' reformed conditinal analysis) have been found inadequate prompting more revisionsand counter-proposals. In this paper, I offer a justification based on four widely-accepted conditions that any account must meet to be considered adequate.

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2008 EPS Papers (Austin)

Michael W. Austin

The Nature and Practice of Compassion

Abstract: Compassion is in. It’s the hot virtue to have, the iPhone of the moral virtues. Compassion is widely praised, but not so widely practiced. What is this virtue, and what is its importance for Christian moral and spiritual formation? In this chapter, I will explore the relationship of compassion to a Christian conception of human flourishing. By drawing from a variety of classic and contemporary sources, I will clarify the intellectual, emotional, and active aspects of compassion. There are numerous barriers to compassion, such as insensitivity, self-absorption, and self-deception. Fortunately, there are several practical activities that we can engage in to develop this virtue, including becoming a part of a community of compassion, practicing compassion in small ways in our everyday lives, and using the imagination in order to foster the development of this important moral virtue.

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2008 EPS Papers (Pendergraft)

Garrett Pendergraft

Divine Deliberation (or Lack Thereof)

Abstract: When considering truths which do not seem knowable by God, we are urged to go one of two ways: limit the concept of omniscience and so preserve one of God's traditional attributes; or maintain a robust concept of omniscience, deny that anyone fulfills the criteria, and maintain that God is nevertheless praiseworthy in virtue of possessing knowledge in some maximal sense. I will examine one particular restriction that has been posed by those who favor the former approach. More specifically, I will argue that those who restrict the concept of omniscience out of a concern for maintaining God's deliberative powers do so unnecessarily. In so arguing, I will show that there are two plausible ways to conceive of divine deliberation (or lack thereof), neither of which requires a limitation on the concept of omniscience or on the application of that concept to God.

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2008 EPS Papers (Coppenger)

Mark Coppenger

The Aesthetic Argument and Darwinism

Abstract: Darwinism fails to handle the comprehensive splendor of nature, whether in the desert, jungle, mountain range, prairie, ocean, or starry heavens above. All the natural world is attuned to man's aesthetic sensibilities, and his attunement cannot be accounted for by natural selection or by habituation to one's environment. This fit cannot be the result of evolutionary development, since aesthetic distress is not a killer. It is not as though those who found glaciers and waterfalls ugly died of disgust or lack of consort. On the contrary, one might argue demographically that slum dwelling, with attendant eyesores, is congenial for procreation. And one might argue that the artistic temperament is even less advantageous in the search for mates than is the athletic, military, or commercial temperament. Yet, a species-wide preference for and fascination with cypress swamps, pine forests, sea-casts, brooks, and canyons persists. This means havor for Darwinism.

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2008 EPS Papers (Shaw)

Stephen G. Shaw

Religion as Narrative, Faith as Recontextualization: Lyotard and Rorty Meet Kierkegaard

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to explore postmodern/pragmatic thought about faith in the light of existentialism. Specifically, I will explore Kierkegaard's thought in relation to 1) Jean-Francois Lyotard and the problems of 'authentic' community and metanarratives, and 2) Richard Rorty's notion of recontextualization and its application to religious belief.

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2008 EPS Papers (Barnard)


Justin Barnard

Compatibilism, Wantons, and the Natural Consequence Model of Hell

Abstract: In a recent essay, Michael Murray describes what he calls a “natural consequence” model of hell. Together with the “penalty” model, which Murray also discusses, the natural consequence model has a number of virtues as a response to typical objections against the traditional Christian doctrine of hell. However, the natural consequence model suffers from a small defect that leaves it open to an important objection. Specifically, as described by Murray, the denizens of hell in the natural consequence model are arguably there against their wills. In addition to this being apparently at odds with what ought to be the desires of a just and loving God, it is also paradoxical given that one of the purported virtues of the natural consequence model of hell is that its occupants are there as a natural consequence of their choice(s) rather than as a result of having been forcibly consigned there for eternity. In this essay, I articulate this problem in light of Frankfurt’s account of compatibilist free will ultimately showing that the objection(s) to the natural consequence model can be avoided if we imagine that hell is populated by what Frankfurt calls “wantons” rather than people. I conclude by suggesting that this is what C.S. Lewis – another natural consequence theorist – had in mind when describing the denizens of hell. Thus, this essay serves to bolster the case of the natural consequence model (or hybrid models in which the natural consequence model figures prominently) as a response to the problem of hell.

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2008 EPS Papers (Larmer)

Robert Larmer

C.S. Lewis's Critique of Hume's 'Of Miracles'

Abstract: In this paper, I argue that C.S. Lewis is both a perceptive reader and trenchant critic of Hume's 'Of Miracles'."

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2008 EPS Papers (Cowan)

Steve Cowan

The Metaphysics of Subordination: A Response to Rebecca Merrill Groothuis

Abstract: In a recent article, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis argues that the complementarian distinction that woman is equal in value with man yet subordinate role is logically incoherent. While acknowledging that a merely functional subordination would allow for personal equality, she argues that woman’s subordination is not merely functional but is grounded in her essential being as female, and thus necessarily entails her inferiority in value to man. In this paper, I argue, first, that Groothuis fails to show that woman’s subordination is essential rather than merely functional, and second, that even if it were essential if would not entail woman’s inferiority in value.

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2008 EPS Papers (Liederbach)

Mark Liederbach

Natural Law, Common Ground, and the Problem of Postmodern Epistemology

Abstract: In his Philosophia Christi article (6:1, 2004), "Returning to Moral 'First Things': The Natural Law Tradition and Its Contemporary Application," J. Daryl Charles made the following provocative statement:

Natural serves as a bridge between Christian and non-Christian morality. In civil society, religious and nonreligious people conform to the same ethical standard in order to be governable. A revival in natural-law thinking, therefore must be a highest priority for the Christian Community as we content in, rather than abdicate, the public square.
Why do I describe this statement as provocative? Two reasons: First, while Roman Catholics have traditionally embraced natural law theology, Protestants have been far more suspicious about certain elements of it with some even outright denying its viability for ethics (i.e., Karl Barth). Second, great skepticism exists among an increasingly Postmodern society that questions not only the existence of natural law, but even the most fundamental structures of reasoning by which, if it were real, it could be accessed.

Therefore, if Charles is correct in his claim that a revival in natural-law thinking "must take place" to build a bridge, then at least two things have to be addressed if there is to be a hope of actually building that bridge. First, Catholic and Protestant Christians must identify points of common ground to serve as a basic foundation upon which they can agree and constructively move forward. Second, Christians in general must demonstrate why and how natural law theory is vitally necessary for personal and public life in an increasingly Postmodern era. My intention in this paper is to offer some thoughts on each.

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2008 EPS Papers (Copan)

Paul Copan

"With Gentleness and Respect" - and a Few Other Things: Suggestions and Strategies for Christian Apologetics

Abstract: Apologetics is the art and science of defending the Christian faith. Thus, this paper will discuss both (a) much-needed attitudes that apologists should cultivate and (b) helpful approaches and strategies for Christian apologetics. Some of these points will (should!) be self-evident to the apologist - a gracious, loving demeanor; a listening ear; a spirit can discern between smokescreens and true "seeker" questions. In terms of strategies, the paper offers advice regarding potentially contentious issues such as inerrancy, creation vs. evolution, the burden of proof, and the role of natural theology (thin vs. thick theism), and so forth.

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2008 EPS Papers (Smedley)

C. Donald Smedley

Hare on Divine Command Theory and Natural Law

Abstract: In his book, God's Call: Moral Realism, God's Commands, and Human Autonomy, John Hare argues that natural law fails to adequately and accurately capture the moral furniture of the world as a metaethical theory, rather opting for a version of divine command theory commensurate with Duns Scotus. In this paper, I wish to argue that Hare's defense of divine command theory is problematical on two levels. First, as a theistic metaethical theory, Hare fails to give a satisfactory theological justification for his position. Second, his construal of divine command theory as the ground for moral obligation does not adequately account for some of our strongest moral intuitions and judgments. Both of these deficiencies, I argue, are better accounted for by a natural law theory.

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2008 EPS Papers (Ganssle)

Gregory Ganssle

God of the Gaps Arguments

Abstract: It is often the case that arguments for the existence of God are branded with the label, "God of the Gaps Arguments." In this essay, I explore what this charge amounts to and whether it must apply to any argument for a supernatural being. My aim is to offer some ways to develop some plausible principles to sort out when theistic arguments ought to be abandoned because of this charge and when they ought not be abandoned.

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2008 EPS Papers (Barkman)

Adam Barkman

The Philosophy of C. S. Lewis’s Pseudo-Manichean Dualist Phase

Abstract: In recent years, people have finally begun to appreciate C. S. Lewis the philosopher. However, Lewis’s entire journey to Christianity was deeply philosophical, having moved through seven or eight unique philosophical phases before his eventual Christian conversion. In this paper, Adam Barkman focuses on the least known of these phases – Lewis’s pseudo-Manichean phase, which took place between the years 1917-1919.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Interact with EPS Conference Papers

During the EPS conference (11/19-21), we will be uploading paper titles and abstracts (and papers where possible) in order to encourage online interest and discussion.

Information about this year's conference can be found here, including our complete program guide.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kierkegaard Journal

We recently updated our Kierkegaard links in our list of web resources.

Of particular note is the recently started Acta Kierkegaardiana journal.

We have hundreds of links to valuable and free resources in philosophy, whether general resources, bibliographies, and guides, links to preprint papers, e-books, or topic-specific links to major persons in philosophy.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Interview with Owen Anderson (Part Two)

Here is the second part of our interview with Owen Anderson about his two recent books, The Clarity of God's Existence and Reason and Worldviews (University Press of America, 2008)

Both of your books elucidate the concept of “clarity” and the “ethics of belief.” Can you please unpack what you mean by these concepts, how and why they are related, and what is their significance not just for your books but to understanding God’s existence and the purpose of knowledge and arguments for God’s existence.

In general, the ethics of belief asks if I, as a human, am responsible to believe anything? The idea of clarity arises from considering this question from the opposite side: if I am responsible to believe something then it must be clear. Or it could be said that there must be clarity at the basic level if anything is clear at any other level. For instance, there is a clear distinction between a and non-a, and between being and non-being, and between eternal and non-eternal. What I am asking is whether it is clear what is eternal? Is it possible that all is eternal (without beginning)? Or is it clear that only God is eternal? If it is not clear what is eternal then humans cannot be held responsible for knowing what is eternal. Yet Christianity says that humans are held responsible for ignorance about God—specifically his eternal power and divine nature. The implication is that Christianity must show that it is clear that God exists so that there is no excuse for unbelief. This requires showing that any attempt to maintain belief that something besides God is eternal leads to a blurring of clear distinctions.

The traditional arguments for God’s existence, relying on Platonism and Aristotelianism, have set out to prove that there is a highest being, a first cause, or a designer/moral governor. It was thought that this was enough since the Bible supplies the rest. The problem is that the Bible begins by assuming that God the Creator exists (In the beginning God created . . . ). The Bible is redemptive revelation about the need for atonement because humans have not known God as they should have. That is where my research picks up: what should humans have known about God such that the failure to do so is culpable and results in eternal damnation or redemption through the atoning death of the Son of God? Such significant consequences require that there be no possible excuse for this culpable ignorance.

Can it be shown that it is clear that God exists in this way? It is standard to argue that this kind of clarity is an immediate intuition or religious experience. And so Paul in Romans 1:20 is interpreted as speaking of a “deep down” knowledge everyone has even if they deny it. I do not believe this is what Paul is speaking about. This is not what is meant by clarity precisely because it provides an excuse and does not account for alternative beliefs about what is eternal. One requirement for saying someone knows “God exists” is that they believe “God exists” is true. Obviously, many deny that they believe this. They deny that they belief this and exchange belief in God for an alternative claim about what is eternal. To say that it is clear that God exists is to say that these alternatives are inexcusable. This requires the work of inferences not simply an appeal to what is immediately apprehended. Both sides in a debate can claim that they immediately perceive their conclusion to be true based on some experience, intuition, or common sense claim. To show inexcusability one must go further than merely asserting an immediate experience and show that the alternative involves a contradiction about what is eternal. I believe this is how Paul proceeds in Romans 1, that humans exchanged belief in God for belief in something else, and these alternative beliefs are inexcusable because they claim that something is eternal which is not (for instance, some aspect of the material world).

What is so important about the inexcusability of unbelief is that it is presupposed by Christianity’s claims about the need for redemption through the death of the Son of God. If there is not a clear general revelation to all humans then ignorance cannot be culpable. To say this is satisfied by asserting that everyone has an intuition about God or the moral law is insufficient because i) it is not clear that this true, ii) it begs the question since any religion can make this same assertion about their own beliefs, iii) knowledge requires not just an intuition but being able respond to defeaters—defeaters which have continued to build over the ages.

My book is not about giving an argument to show that God exists, it is one step prior to that. It is about why it is necessary to show the clarity of God’s existence or abandon claims about the need for redemption from unbelief. I believe this is one of the most significant issues of the day and my hope is that this book will encourage others to further study what it means to say that it is clear that God exists.

For the last thirty-years or so, how would you characterize the “success” of philosophy of religion work concerning arguments for the existence of God?

I’m not sure how “success” is monitored. For instance, a well known atheist recently came to believe in something besides the material world. He characterized this as similar to Aristotle’s view of the unmoved mover. Many Christians heralded this as proof that there are successful arguments. But is Aristotelian dualism really closer to theism than is materialism? Doesn’t Christianity maintain that they are both equally inexcusable? Aristotle believed that the material universe has existed from eternity, and that the unmoved mover is not aware of humanity but is forever in perfect self-contemplation. Is this anything like the God of theism? I don’t see how this is a success for theistic arguments, although I do think it highlights my conclusions about why theistic proofs are failing. The historical proofs do not distinguish between the unmoved mover of Aristotle and God the Creator. Indeed, Aquinas said we cannot know from general revelation if the material world was created—translation: we cannot know from general revelation if God the Creator exists.

I would say that success should be measured in terms of what has been shown to be clear to reason. Because the theistic arguments are not aiming at this, but are satisfied with arguing for the plausibility of an unmoved mover, a first cause, a designer, a moral governor, or similar conclusions which fall short of God the Creator, they are not even aiming at showing what is clear about God. And yet we are told not that it is clear that there is a first cause, but that God’s eternal power and divine nature are clear so that there is not excuse for believing the alternative. Showing that would be success indeed!

In light of the thesis in your two books, how might arguments for the existence of God be strengthened?

My concern about proofs for the existence of God is threefold. First, they are viewed as nice but not necessary; second, plausibility is thought to be sufficient; third, they do not identify the real challenge. By way of contrast, I believe that it is necessary for the central claims of Christianity that there be no excuse for unbelief. This means that all alternative views of the metaphysical absolute—what is eternal, claims about the material world existing from eternity, about God and the world being co-eternal, about the world as an illusion in the mind of eternal consciousness, must be addressed. Currently, the theistic proofs limit themselves by overextending from premise to conclusion (premises that don’t actually arrive at the theistic concept of God) or by simply showing that the material world had a beginning and then not addressing the many other worldviews that agree with this but are not theistic.

The focus on plausibility is indicative of the focus on trying to convince others. We want others to believe and so we work on persuading them. This turns philosophy into a branch of marketing. What I find plausible says a great deal about me but nothing about what is true. In other words, what persuades tells us more about the person being persuaded then it does the quality of the claim. By way of contrast, what if the focus was shifted to knowing rather than convincing? Rather than starting by saying “God exists and I’m going to prove it,” what if we start by asking “what can be known, is anything clear at the basic level?”

Since convincing the other is the goal, and this can be achieved apart from rational argumentation and knowledge, the challenge to reason is not seen and is allowed to pass. It is even conceded that there is no certainty but only plausibility. But this challenge has massive implications for humanity: if reason cannot be used to show what is clear about the metaphysical absolute, then any other claim which presupposes knowledge about the metaphysical absolute is also lost. If we cannot know what is real, then we cannot know what is good; if we cannot know what is good then we cannot claim that humans should obey or should be redeemed—needless to say this has significant implications on our lives.

Instead, what if the focus is on what is clear such that there is no excuse for not knowing it? Whether or not a person is convinced is another matter that involves issues about the extent to which they are seeking to know. If nothing is clear at the most basic level, then nothing is clear at any other level that assumes the basic level. Humans cannot be responsible for what is not clear. Therefore, if Christians maintain that humans are responsible then they must show that there is something clear at the basic level, at the level of the metaphysical absolute, or God. This would bring into focus why the challenge to reason is so important: if humans cannot know from reason that God exists, then less basic issues are not clear either and so there can be no responsibility for unbelief—the entire Christian message of the need for redemption through the death of the Son of God hinges on this.

What do you envision to be the future prospects for philosophy of religion work in the North America academy. Please offer your sense of where the field is going, might go, or could go in light of your knowledge and experience.

I have recently read that there is a renaissance in Christian philosophy, and that what is going on can be numbered among the Great Awakenings that frequently occur in American history. I suspect these claims are true. There is new interest in the Philosophy of Religion. However, I’m not sure that these claims are made with the whole picture in mind. I have heard these claims cited with excitement because they are thought to indicate a revival in thoughtful Christianity. Certain schools are mentioned where this is occurring, such as Talbot, Notre Dame, and Yale. I think there certainly is a growth in numbers and an interest in young Christians to move through those schools to their PH.D and to teach.

However, I also see a different picture. I teach at a school where there is also an increase of interest in the Philosophy of Religion and in Religious Studies. And yet this is not limited to young Christians. Instead, this is an interest from students who are asking questions about the world. Events are happening that necessarily raise questions about the role of religion and the ability to work through religious strife. These students see that the answers that have been given, answers that rely on fideism or appeals to tradition or one’s own culture, are insufficient. There is a desire for more—both personally and in order to solve problems facing the world. I think this can be understood as a desire for what is foundational—in contrast to the shifting sands of relativism that noticeably produce global disunity, there is a desire to find that which is not going to change and which can serve as a lasting foundation on which to build for the future. This is the “whole picture” I mentioned a moment ago—we are at a point in world history where conflicts are global and require attention. Differences have been allowed to persist because secondary disagreements have been the focus while basic differences are not noticed or even known.

This could foretell negative implications. In the past, when there have been “Great Awakenings” or revivals, that have failed to adequately solve basic problems facing humanity, they have left “burned over districts” in their path that in turn lead to greater turning away. When hope for certainty is stirred up but certainty is not provided this dashes hope and results in a counter-reaction. Therefore, the popularity of Christian philosophy now could turn into an anger and turning away from it later if it fails to provide a lasting foundation on which to build and on which to solve the problems facing the world.

Nevertheless, I do think there is hope. The challenges that have been raised both culturally and globally are challenges that must be dealt with in the field of philosophy. They are challenges about how we can know (fideism and assertion are not enough—that one is warranted does not settle anything since this is taken away through defeaters and it is our responsibility as rational beings to seek out possible defeaters in leading the examined life); they are challenges about what is real (maintaining that everyone believes in God deep down is asserting what must be proven since any worldview can say this same thing about their metaphysical absolute); and they are challenges about what is good (an emphasis on being saved to go to heaven where the good is achieved does not address alternative views of soteriology and does not explain how the good is accessible in this life). These are philosophical problems that engage the world we live in today. Different views of the good life that rest on different views of the metaphysical absolute are behind global conflicts. I am hopeful that these questions can be answered. I am hopeful because I believe that these questions must be answered if life is to have meaning, and that as my students wrestle with them and find that there are answers this makes a difference in their lives.

I believe there are philosophers out there who are doing this kind of work. A recent book that has had impact on me is Surrendra Gangadean’s Philosophical Foundation: A Critical Analysis of Basic Beliefs. I have known Surrendra for a number of years and I have seen how he has worked on these problems in the field of philosophy.

So I have hope, but am also wary about repeating patterns that have been seen in American history. We must do more than offer an otherworldly vision of the good that is achieved through what is essentially fideism. We must show that these core questions can be answered, that there are clear answers, and that humans are responsible to live the examined life and know the answers to these kinds of questions.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Truth and Usefulness

When Alvin Plantinga and others developed what may be called the Argument from Reason Against Evolutionary Naturalism, my expectation was that proponents of evolutionary psychology would work flat out to explain why Quine and Dennett were right in claiming that natural selection is a good explanation of the reliability of human reasoning.

Oddly, this is not the case. In How the Mind Works (p. 305), Steven Pinker insists that "our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth." In other words, our cognitive capacities, including reason, are there because they are useful in the Darwinian sense of promoting the flourishing of our "selfish" genes.

The obvious problem with this is that what natural selection tests directly is our behavior, and false beliefs are just as good as true ones provided that they produce adaptive behavior, e.g. so long as it makes me run away from lions, the false belief that I am confronted with a shrubbery will be selected for. And there are surely many more false beliefs than relevant true ones about lions to choose from, so it seems it is always more likely for me to be motivated by false beliefs connected to adaptive behavior than by true and relevant beliefs that would actually provide an intelligible reason for that behavior.

Lewis Wolpert does the same thing. In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, he writes that (p. 140) "our brains contain a belief generating machine, an engine that can produce beliefs with little relation to what is actually true."

Later in the same book, and with no discernible sense of irony, or epistemic danger, he says (p. 216), "Science provides by far the most reliable method for determining whether one's beliefs are valid." Well, but the "scientific method" consists of beliefs generated by this unreliable engine. And what is worse, supposing that direct relevance to survival somehow could increase the probability that our beliefs are true, this certainly would not grant reliability to abstract beliefs in science and philosophy having nothing to do with survival.

Again, one thinks the evolutionary psychologist would worry--be afraid of the epistemic lions, as it were. But these lions are only mentioned in passing--as if they were shrubberies. Writes Pinker again (304):

"Our ancestors encountered certain problems for hundreds of thousands or millions of years--recognizing objects, making tools, learning the local language, finding a mate, predicting an animal's movement, finding their way--and encountered certain other problems never--putting a man on the moon...proving Fermat's last theorem."

Here we have a theory like the one D. A. Carson has called "hard postmodernism," that takes itself all of the way to epistemic self-destruction. The theory implies that theories such as itself have no reliable basis. How then can the evolutionary psychologist recommend evolutionary psychology (or the broader evolutionary naturalism on which it depends ) with any credibility? Isn't this just like the hard postmodernist's self-refuting claim that there are NO metanarratives (it is true of all narratives that they are not metanarratives)?

Even more odd is the fact that when considering supernatural religious beliefs, evolutionary psychologists often claim, in effect, that since these beliefs are useful (for social cohesion, health or whatever) they aren't true! Of course this is a fallacy, but one would think they would be concerned with the implications for their own worldview. Just as it is a fallacy to argue useful, therefore true, it is equally a mistake to argue useful, therefore false, which would mean giving up arithmetic, logic and the scientific method. It is a bizarre spectacle to see thinkers attempting to apply universal acid selectively. When they claim that scientific claims have special reliability because of the way they are tested, they forget that they are presupposing the very use of logic (the experimental method) whose reliability is in question.

Aside from the lack of hard evidence for its claims, it seems to me that evolutionary psychology is showing itself to be fraught with problems of internal incoherence, and can only be upheld by a scrupulous doublethink which masks as shrubberies the epistemic lions it has unleashed, though they seem quite ready and willing to devour it.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Welcome Angus Menuge!

We are grateful to host Dr. Angus J. L. Menuge as our new contributor to the EPS blog. Look for his first post in the next few days! (He recently made news in a New Scientist article that attempted to report on the resurgence of "Cartesian dualism" among neuroscientists and philosophers of mind).

Angus J. L. Menuge is Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin. Born in England, he became an American citizen in 2005. Menuge has written articles on the vocation of scientist, Intelligent Design, philosophy of mind and apologetics. He is the author of Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) and editor of Reading God’s World: The Vocation of Scientist (Concordia Publishing House, 2004). He shares a website with Gene Edward Veith devoted to the Reformation doctrines of Vocation and the Two Kingdoms, www.cranach.org.

Angus, a member of the EPS, is also a frequent contributor to Philosophia Christi.

His most recent article appeared in our 10:1 issue, "Intelligent Design, Darwinism, and Psychological Unity."

Menuge's other Philosophia Christi articles include his "Beyond Skinnerian Creatures: A Defense of the Lewis and Plantinga Critiques of Evolutionary Naturalism" in our 5:1 issue and his "Whereof One Can Speak, Thereof One Must Not Be Silent: A Review Essay on Tractatus Logico-Theologicus" in the 6:1 issue.

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