Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Complimentary Subscription to Philosophia Christi ...

We are pleased to announce a unique, year-end donor opportunity ...

Before midnight December 31st, go to our website and donate $100 or more on a yearly basis for the next 3 years and we will thank you with a 3 year subscription to Philosophia Christi!

To proceed, please do the following:
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If you already have a subscription to Philosophia Christi, then 3 additional years will be added to your account. If you would like to give the 3 year subscription to someone else, we would be delighted to help facilitate that giving. For either of these possibilities, please contact us with your request after your donor transaction is completed.

The EPS is sustained by your generous giving. We welcome your ongoing support in order to help grow our reach to academic and church communities in North America, Europe and Asia.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Recent and Forthcoming Philosophy of Religion Books

Philosophy of religion and philosophical theology books continue to blossom, and 2010 does not appear to be an exception. See some of these forthcoming titles, including highlights from 2009:


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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pope Benedict on God and Beauty

Recently Pope Benedict met with hundreds of contemporary artists (poets, painters, architects, film directors, etc.) in an effort to “renew the Church’s friendship with the world of art.” The meeting took place, appropriately enough, in the Sistine Chapel, which features one of the finest artistic achievements in human history.

In his remarks, the Pope made both positive and negative observations regarding the moral-spiritual potency of art. He noted, on the one hand, that “Beauty...can become a path toward the transcendent, toward the ultimate Mystery, toward God.” On the other hand, he declared, “Too often ... the beauty thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful…it imprisons man within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy." These are philosophically pregnant comments. First, note the Pope’s apparent conviction that beauty is a real quality in things. Beauty is not, as the popular slogan goes, merely in the eye of the beholder. Rather, it is an objective fact about the world (though, of course, people's opinions about beauty vary widely). As such, beauty demands an explanation. And this, it seems, cannot be provided merely in terms of natural facts about the world, whether one aims to do so in terms of human psychology or the properties of the objects themselves. This is why beauty does point toward something transcendent, mysterious, even the Divine.

Second, the Pope does not limit considerations of real beauty to nature. While the physical world is replete with beautiful objects, scenes, sounds, and even flavors, from peacocks to Pleiades to whippoorwill songs to the taste of cinnamon, human productions, such as Michaelangelo’s paintings, Bach’s concertos, and Shakespeare’s sonnets, likewise reflect the Creator who endows people with artistic talent. Indeed, our creativity is one of the more stunning aspects of the imago Dei in us. The human artistic impulse and the capacity for aesthetic appreciation are both pointers to God, particularly in light of the fact that these abilities cannot be explained in Darwinian terms (despite recent efforts on the part of some scholars to do so—e.g., Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct and Ellen Dissanayake’s Homo Aestheticus).

Third, in noting that beauty can be deceitful and even undermine human hope and joy, the Pope affirms that artworks embody worldviews and communicate values and ideals—for better or worse. While I would quibble with his use of the term “beauty” here instead of the more general term “artworks” (I suspect the latter is his actual intention), he is right to note the persuasive power of aesthetically pleasing objects, even when their messages are downright diabolical. As Christians living in a culture which is increasingly opposed to our worldview, but no less committed to artistic endeavor, we must be both worldview savvy and aesthetically alert. More than this, people of faith must be willing to infuse their artwork with spiritual themes and values. The Pope’s exhortation on this point should be embraced by Christian artists everywhere--whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant.

For some helpful resources on Christian aesthetics see Nicholas Wolterstorff's Art in Action, Frank Burch Brown's Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste, and chapter nine of Cowan and Spiegel's The Love of Wisdom.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EPS National Meeting 2009: Timothy O'Connor

Our national meeting of the EPS in New Orleans produced a number of excellent papers, a great challenge to the EPS from J.P. Moreland at the reception, and a fruitful time of discussion during our plenary address provided by Tim O'Connor of Indiana University. I highly recommend reading his book from which the foundation of his presentation was derived (Theism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency (Blackwell Publishers).

In essence, Tim's discussion was geared toward providing an account of ultimate explanation for contingency, where ultimate explanation is to be understood as involving no brute givens. Thus, limited explanations have their probative force derived from something else that not only requires no further explanation, but can have no further explanation. The purported upshot of finding an ultimate explanation is that it avoids an infinite regress of explanations concerning contingent phenomena. Second, ultimate explanation does not provide the necessary elbow room for "scientific" enterprises that postulate theoretical or actual multiverses which are themselves derivative of some universe generator. Indeed, the characteristics generally assigned to such a universe generator propose that it is either eternal or derivative of a beginningless structure, but it has the powers contained within itself to produce contingent phenomena. If we accept that the universe generator is a physical entity that produces universes in a contingent manner, then the physical laws governing it are still left unexplained--thus it cannot be an ultimate explanation of contingency.

Though the conversation was more rich and detailed, this sketch provides some insights into Tim's work in his book and in our discussion. I will end my entry on his work here in virtue of the fact that his revised work from the EPS conference is already under contract for publication, and we want to honor that commitment. We also invite you to keep an eye out for Tim's work on this topic. Our deepest appreciation must go out to Tim for the time he shared with us in the Big Easy.

In other news, the program committee for next year's event has already uploaded a Call for Papers for the 2010 national meeting in Atlanta, GA at the EPS website. Our plenary speaker for that event will be Alvin Plantinga, who has recently retired from his teaching post at the University of Notre Dame. Given that Dr. Plantinga is one of the most formidable Christian scholars of the past century, we have high expectations that the event will be a great success. We hope to see you in Atlanta next November.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

CALL FOR PAPERS: 2010 EPS National Meeting

The 2010 National Meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society will be held in Atlanta, GA from November 17-19

Our plenary speaker this year will be Alvin Plantinga from the University of Notre Dame.  Thus, we will give preference to papers whose themes revolve around his work, broadly construed (metaphysics, epistemology, themes in the philosophy of religion).  Other topics not related to the work of Plantinga are welcomed. 

Your paper proposal must include the following:

1. Personal information:
  • Your name
  • The institution with which you are affiliated
  • Contact information (email address and phone number)
2. Time constraints / preferences:
  • Days and times you CANNOT read the paper
  • Days and times you would PREFER to read the paper

* While we will do our best to accommodate your preferences, inflexibility with regard to possible reading times may make the paper more difficult to accept.

3. The title of your proposed paper

4. A 100-200 word abstract / precis of the paper you would like to read

NOTE: You do not need to send the entire paper.  An abstract is sufficient.

Paper proposals must be received by February 26, 2010.  Proposals received after that date will not be considered.

Proposals should be sent by email attachment to:  jevans@sebts.edu

Make sure your proposal is suitable for blind review.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thomas Nagel On Intelligent Design Again

Having previously reviewed Thomas Nagel's sympathetic treatment of Michael J. Behe's argument for Intelligent Design Theory in The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007), it's interesting to note Nagel's continuing interest in ID. In the recent edition of the Times Literary Supplement he names Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design as one of his books of the year. The TLS website posted a preview of Nagel’s endorsement:
Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.
As I argue in my paper 'Atheists Against Darwinism' (hosted on the EPS website), Nagel's reason for being instructed but unconvinced concerning ID is actually self-contradictory!

Signature in the Cell was previously named one of the top ten best-selling science books of the year by Amazon.com.

Also in the TLS

I'd encourage Matthew Cobb, reviewing two recent books with a Darwinian perspective, also in the TLS - cf. 'Evolution, RNA and the power of natural selection' (December 2nd 2009) - to read Nagel on ID. Doing so might at least temper his re-cycling of stereotypes:
'although the United States is the source of some of the most rabid and well-organized forms of anti-evolutionism, it is by no means alone. In the UK, creationists and their sneaky cousins, the “intelligent design” crew, are growing in influence; Intelligent Design was given public backing in the Spectator earlier this year by Melanie Phillips, who absurdly claimed that it “comes out of science” not religion.'
You can read Phillip's article in full here, and while her description of ID isn't entirely accurate, I welcome her recognition, in agreement with Nagel, of the scientific status of ID.

Craig Debates ID

Whilst on the subject of ID, it's worth noting that William Lane Craig recently participated in his first ever public debate on the topic (cf. the official debate website here). Craig's noted debating partner was theistic evolutionist Francisco J. Ayala. The topic of debate was: Is Intelligent Design Viable?

You can watch Craig's opening speech on video; listen to the full Ayala/Craig debate and Q&A time on MP3 Audio here.

Craig stated that he is agnostic about the truth of a design inference from biology, but that he thinks such an inference is at least a viable hypothesis that should be given a place at the table, and that the attacks being made on the theory aren't sound.

Craig offers his view of how the debate went here and discusses evolution in a new podcast on Evolutionism and Skepticism. See also William Lane Craig, 'Skepticism about the Neo-Darwinian Paradigm'; 'Skepticism about the Neo-Darwinian Paradigm Re-Visited'.

Interestingly, the debate and Q&A time was moderated by Bradley Monton, an atheist philosopher of science and the author of Seeking God in Science: Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. In essence, Craig was arguing the same general thesis as Monton (although he is more positive than Monton about biology-based ID arguments), whilst being a theist rather than an atheist.

Monton has blogged on the debate here.

It's well worth reading Monton's book, and listening to his lecture defending ID: Bradley Monton, 'An Atheist Philosopher Defends Intelligent Design - Lecture'.

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