Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Call for Papers: Hiddenness of Spiritual Realities

The Philosophy of Religion Group is issuing a call for papers for its session at the 2010 American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting on the topic of "The Hiddenness of Spiritual Realities." While the topic of "divine hiddenness" has received a modest amount of attention in recent years, the topic of this session is being cast a bit more broadly. Those proposing papers are welcome to address the topic of divine hiddenness, however the program committee is also interested in considering papers that address hiddenness in non-theistic traditions, as well as aspects of hiddenness that are not focused on the existence of God. Papers might thus address other topics where the hiddenness of a spiritual reality is initially surprising or unexpected given particular claims within a tradition. For example, for traditions with an emphasis on natural law, the hiddenness of divine moral mandates might merit attention. For traditions with a commitment to reincarnation, the seemingly minimal evidence for the existence of "past lives" might require explanation. Etc.

Those wishing to submit papers for consideration should send 350 word (or less) abstracts to the Program Chair, Michael Murray at Michael.murray@fandm.edu no later than SEPTEMBER 1, 2009.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Interview with J.P. Moreland: The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (part one)

We are glad to announce the release of J.P. Moreland's latest book, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism (SCM Press, 2009). J.P. is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. We previously interviewed him about his Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge, 2008). Below is part one of our interview with him about his latest book and the philosophical failure of naturalism.

In roughly 200 pages, you try to clarify, if not recapture, an emphasis on the recalcitrant imago Dei? Why this emphasis?

In its doctrine of the image of God, the Bible teaches that the human constitution has features in common with God; we are like God in important respects. Namely, we have a will, consciousness, reason, etc. If Christianity is true, one would predict that alternative worldviews whose basic entity or entities are not spiritual would find these features of the human person recalcitrant, that is, hard to explain or explain away. And that is exactly what one finds, especially in connection with philosophical naturalism. If, in the beginning was the Logos, then, I claim, it is easy to see how six features of human persons could obtain—consciousness, libertarian freedom, rationality, a unified/simple self, equal and intrinsic value, and moral action of a certain sort. But if, in the beginning were the particles, then one cannot adequately account for these features, and reductive or eliminative strategies must be employed. I argue that these strategies are a failure, and, therefore, these six features provide rebutting defeaters for naturalism and confirmation (to a degree I specify) for biblical theism.


What is the worldview of naturalism?

Naturalism has many incarnations, but if it is taken to be explanatorily superior to rival worldviews, then it may be fairly characterized according to a majority construal of it, which would be (1) a scientistic attitude, which says that all that is real is physical and that knowledge is only that which can be detected by the sciences; (2) an origins account constituted by an event-causal story explains how everything has come-to-be as a result of combinatorial processes and rearrangements of micro-physical entities to form various structurally different macro-objects, and centered on the atomic theory of matter and evolutionary biology; (3) a strictly physicalist ontology that quantifies over and only over those entities that conform to (1) and (2). I argue in the book that the naturalist ontology cannot account for real substances (besides atomic simples if such there be) or genuinely emergent, sui generis properties, especially those constitutive of the six features mentioned above.


It seems that most public policy and pop cultural discussions about what it means to be a human person are largely shaped by the offerings of the hard or soft sciences. How is your approach different and why does that matter?

The fundamental questions about the nature of human beings are these: Is consciousness real and is it non-physical? Do I have free will and, if so, what is it? How could human rationality be possible, and if it is, what does that tell us about the nature of the human person? Do I have a unified self that remains the same through change, or am I just an aggregate of parts? Do human persons have equal and high moral value, and if so, how could such a thing be the case? What is a moral action, and can human persons engage in such? None of these questions is capable of being formulated or answered by the hard and social sciences, because they are, one and all, descriptive and not prescriptive disciplines. They have nothing to say about what must be the case or what ought to be the case. The questions listed above are all philosophical and theological questions. That is how I treat them in The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, and the answers I provide require philosophical and theological evaluation.


Philosopher Howard Robinson (Budapest’s Central European University) says that the “great service” of your book is that you cumulatively demonstrate how naturalism fails to give us an accurate account of some of the most basic fundamentals of human existence. Can you further unpack the failure of naturalism?

I argue that the worldview of naturalism denies the objectivity of value, meaning in and to life, free will and responsibility, normative rationality, sameness of self through various changes, and the possibility of a ground for equal rights and moral action.

With an overreliance on the hard sciences, secularism reduces us to our brains, our wills to nerve reactions to inputs, our value to the dictates of the herd. In the process, we lose what is so special to us—our consciousness, freedom, rationality, self and value.


Naturalism has singularly failed to provide a plausible, deep analysis of human persons sufficient to account for who they are, how they can have value and purpose in life, and how they can flourish in a robust social and ethical way. As naturalist views of human persons proliferate, people turn to sex and entertainment, all centered on the satisfaction of immediate desire, as the rails upon which they run their lives. In turn, this generates passivity and all kinds of addictions.

The worldview is kept in business, intellectually, by its alleged—but non-existent—connection with physical science, and, spiritually, by anger towards God and hostility towards religion. The former is simply false—it is not science, but philosophical naturalism itself that underwrites its core intellectual commitments (and a troublesome argumentative circle is lurking in the neighborhood; to avoid this, one must provide independent epistemic and methodological arguments for adopting naturalism, but these are, in my view, extremely weak). The latter is becoming more apparent now that the resurgence of Christian philosophy has made it more difficult to justify intellectually the claim that belief in God is irrational.


Does one have to be a Christian in order to buy into your view of the human person?

One does not need to be a Christian theist to accept the analysis of human persons I defend in The Recalcitrant Imago Dei. But if that analysis is accepted, then one is obligated to offer an account concerning how human persons could be this way. In other words, one does not get a free pass in their ontology of the human person. One has to tell a broad worldview story, including a creation account, within which that ontology is intelligible and plausible.


Stay tuned for part two. More about J.P. Moreland's work can be found here.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Interview with Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel: The Love of Wisdom (part one)

We are pleased to announce the latest book by Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel, titled, The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy (Broadman & Holman, 2009). Steve and Jim are members of the EPS, contributors to Philosophia Christi, and professors of philosophy at Southeastern Bible College and Taylor University (Indiana), respectivelly. Look for future content from them to appear at the EPS blog. Below is part one of an interview with Steve and Jim about their latest offering.


What is unique about your intent, approach, and features in this Christian introduction to philosophy?


COWAN: We set out to produce a book that avoided two shortcomings we found in other Christian philosophy texts. On the one hand, we did not want to treat issues in a superficial and cursory way. We wanted to provide significant depth so that the reader could come away with a good grasp of the issues and the range of answers that have been given to major philosophical questions. On the other hand, we did not want our discussion to be limited to only a narrow range of topics. We wanted to introduce the reader to all the main areas of philosophy.


Secondly, we wanted the text to be as friendly as possible to the needs of teachers. This required that we include pedagogical aids like diagrams, illustrations, study questions, recommended reading lists, and the like. It also required that we leave a lot of philosophical discussions open-ended rather than stating and defending our own preferred answers to every question. So on issues where Christian philosophers are deeply divided, we resisted the temptation to come down firmly on one side. This way, no matter what view a teacher holds, he or she can comfortably use the text to inform students about the debate and generate classroom discussion.One unique feature of the book, as has been widely touted, is that it includes chapters on subjects that usually get shorted or ignored in other texts, namely political philosophy and aesthetics. Jim and I wanted our treatment of value theory go beyond the requisite chapter on ethics and include these other subjects as well. It is a much better book because of it.


Your text intends to take the acquisition of wisdom as a serious matter when “doing philosophy.” How is this intention realized throughout the book?


SPIEGEL: The two primary ways we do this are methodological and substantive. As a matter of method, we explain and apply the “Socratic method,” which emphasizes humility in inquiry, as well as defining terms and using well-constructed arguments. Substantively, at various places in the discussion we explain how a particular view or acquaintance with an issue will help readers to understand to make wise judgments regarding a wide range of practical issues in ethics, politics, and aesthetics. In addition to standard moral issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and animal rights, we address such issues as civil disobedience, religion in the public square, and how to assess artworks which are aesthetically admirable but morally problematic.


COWAN: Where possible, throughout the book, we try to bring out the practical implications of the views we discuss. Even in philosophical areas that are seen as more abstract we want the reader to see that whatever position he takes, it will have practical and ethical consequences. For example, it's hard to imagine a more abstract topic than the metaphysical debate between Platonism (the view that universals exist) and nominalism (which denies the existence of universals). We show that nominalism has adverse implications for the objectivity of moral values. If there are no universal essences, say, then there is no such thing as humanity. And this makes it hard to make sense of the concept of human rights. So even abstract philosophical topics can contribute to our ability to navigate wisely through life.


Who do you have in mind to most benefit from this book?


SPIEGEL: We wrote the book in such a way that Philosophy students at all stages would have much to gain by reading it. Beginners will appreciate the clear presentation of issues and definitions of terms, while intermediate and advanced students will appreciate the thorough review of arguments for and against the major positions on the issues. As Philosophy teachers ourselves, we appreciate texts that allow for flexibility in use. Professors will benefit from the thorough coverage of topics, which will enable them to tailor reading assignments according to the specific structure and aims of their courses.


Walk us through a brief overview of the three main parts of this book and their significance of content and organization.


SPIEGEL: The book is divided into three parts: knowledge, being and value. The first part contains chapters on logic, epistemology, and philosophy of science. The section on being features chapters on metaphysics, human nature, and philosophy of religion. And the last section includes chapters on ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics. Perhaps our Trinitarian Christian theology impacted our decision to go with all of these triads :), but the book really just seemed to make the most sense this way from an organizational standpoint. The early chapters on logic and epistemology provide readers with conceptual tools that are valuable for reading the other chapters. And understanding several issues in metaphysics, human nature, and philosophy of religion is critical for properly addressing a number of questions in value theory taken up in the last section of the book.

You can learn more about the work of Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel by visiting their websites: Cowan Chronicles and JimSpiegel.com

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Interview with Chad Meister: Introducing Philosophy of Religion (part one)

We are pleased to interview Chad Meister about his recently released Introducing Philosophy of Religion (Routledge, 2009). Chad is the Director of the philosophy program at Bethel College (Indiana) where he has been teaching philosophy for the past decade. Among other hats that he wears, Chad is one of the book review editors for Philosophia Christi.


What is the overall aim of this textbook?

The aim of this textbook is to help students and others reflect philosophically on important religious ideas, including religious diversity, concepts of God/Ultimate Reality, arguments for and against the existence of God, problems of evil, science and faith, religious experience, the self, death and the afterlife.

What is unique about your content, approach, intent, and scope for this introduction to philosophy of religion?

This book covers a broad array of topics—some of which are not typically covered in philosophy of religion texts but are nonetheless important in contemporary discussions—including non-Western conceptions of Ultimate Reality and conceptions of the self, reincarnation, and karma. Unlike other works I’ve done, I am not arguing in this book for any particular positions which I may personally hold. I attempt to be as fair and impartial as possible, and to provide arguments and evidences for each position.

Here is a quick overview of the chapter titles and main objectives:

Chapter 1: Religion and the Philosophy of Religion

  • Describe what is generally meant by the terms philosophy, religion, and philosophy of religion
  • Access an extensive philosophy of religion timeline
  • Explain religious realism and non-realism and note prominent adherents of each
Chapter 2: Religious Diversity and Pluralism
  • Describe several central elements of five major world religions
  • Explain six different philosophical approaches to religious diversity
  • Clarify five fundamental criteria for evaluating religious systems
  • Expound on some important reasons for manifesting religious tolerance with respect to the various traditions
Chapter 3: Conceptions of Ultimate Reality
  • Elucidate some major differences between Eastern and Western views of Ultimate Reality
  • Provide a concise summary of Hindu Absolutism and Buddhist Metaphysics
  • Present five attributes of the traditional concept of the God of theism and some challenges to them
Chapter 4: Cosmological Arguments for God's Existence
  • Explicate three cosmological arguments for God's existence and describe support for and objections to each of them
  • State scientific evidences for and against the claim that the universe began to exist
  • Concisely explain the cosmological argument for atheism
Chapter 5: Teleological Arguments for God's Existence
  • Explain three teleological arguments for God's existence and describe support for and objections to each of them
  • Expound on scientific findings which relate to alleged fine-tuning of the universe
  • Describe the intelligent design movement and arguments for and against irreducible complexity
Chapter 6: Ontological Arguments for God's Existence
  • Explain two ontological arguments for God's existence: one classic and one contemporary
  • Summarize several main objections and replies to each of these two arguments
Chapter 7: Problems of Evil
  • Classify various kinds of evil
  • Explicate the logical, evidential, and existential problems of evil and responses to them
  • Describe three major theodicies and some central objections to them
Chapter 8: Science, Faith and Reason
  • Explain three primary relationships between religion and science
  • Differentiate between rational validation and non-evidential views of religious justification
  • Understand the meaning of classical foundationalism, a reason for rejecting it, and the role of properly basic beliefs in a more recent version of foundationalism found in Reformed epistemology
Chapter 9: Religious Experience
  • Delineate three general features common to religious experience
  • Distinguish three general categories of religious experience
  • Provide reasons for and against the use of religious experience as justification for religious beliefs
  • Describe two scientific explanations for religious experience
Chapter 10: The Self, Death and the Afterlife
  • Explain four major conceptions of the self from the East and the West as well as arguments for and against them
  • Describe the doctrines of reincarnation and karma and their significance to two Eastern religious traditions
  • Expound on four arguments in favor of immortality and three arguments against it
There are a number of pedagogical features in the book and on a Routledge website dedicated to the book, including charts, diagrams, chapter outlines, objectives, timeline, glossary, PowerPoint slides, and other resources.

My hope is that students and others working through this text (along with an anthology which is relatively global in scope, such as my corresponding Philosophy of Religion Reader) will gain a broad and fairly comprehensive understanding of the field of philosophy of religion as practiced today, and that they will be enticed to further research and study on these topics.


How has your extensive experience as a professor and work as an editor of several philosophy of religion books shaped what is unique to this textbook?

Teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate levels over the past ten years has undoubtedly provided a plethora of dialectical encounters with students which proved fruitful in crafting this textbook as a dialogical work. I have also gained significant insight through various editing projects over the last few years. For example, in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion (which I co-edited with Paul Copan), The Philosophy of Religion Reader (read the interview here), and The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity (which I am just now finishing), I have been engaged with the works of philosophers of religion from across religious and philosophical spectrums. It has been a most enlightening experience working with atheists, pluralists, feminists, Continental philosophers, and Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic scholars. I have leaned much from them and am deeply indebted to them, and this dialogue has enriched my own thinking about a number of issues.

For more about Chad Meister, visit his website: http://www.chadmeister.com/

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Downward Causation

It is always heartening to see other thinkers whom I admire moving in similar directions. My own recent work in philosophy of mind involves a defense of downward (or top-down) mental-to physical causation (e.g., see "Is Downward Causation Possible?" in the most recent issue of Philosophia Christi Vol 11, No. 1 2009, pp. 93-110). I have just read and reviewed an excellent work in defense of the soul, libertarian free will and teleological (downward) causation, namely Naturalism by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro. This is highly recommended. I found it so engrossing, I was able to give it a first read on the plane while tired during apologetics events! Since then I have taken copious notes and learned a great deal.

Naturalism is a concise yet potent anti-materialist salvo, and is perhaps the ideal appetizer for my main entree J. P. Moreland's Consciousness and the Existence of God. (See his book interview here.) This is a very important work, also defending downward causation and showing how the varieties of naturalism are in real trouble. In the last chapter, Moreland notes the strange fact that while the case for dualism has now been developed with impressive sophistication, there is a failure of physicalists to "enjoin the dualist literature" (186) and a repertoire of "dismissive maneuvers" used to camouflage this exercise in intellectual irresponsibility. So my hope and plea is that we can change this situation and invite (or if necessary, shame) naturalists to engage the actual positions of the best contemporary defenders of dualism and theism.

Finally, on the apologetics front, a definite thumbs-up for Peter Williams' A Sceptic's Guide to Atheism, which contains a lot of helpful material for responding to the new atheists' attempts to dismiss religious belief and experience as an illusion (which helped me considerably in presentations I gave at UCLA and Fort Wayne). See his interview here.

Right now I am working on a defense of libertarian free will against the claims of some scientists and philosophers that neuroscience has undermined conscious free will. This has become a hot issue in the philosophy of law, as some claim that retributive justice is obsolete, leaving only utilitarian, "crowd control" arguments for punishment. The paper I am working on will be delivered at the IVR World Congress meeting on Philosophy of Law in Beijing, China, September 15-20th of this year in the workshop on the connection between Punishment, Retribution and Free Will.

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