Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Reasonable God: Interview with Gregory Ganssle

Yale University Philosopher, Greg Ganssle, recently came out with his book, A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism (Baylor, 2009). We interviewed him about his book and the contribution of the book's thesis for theism-atheism discussions.

How did this book come about for you? 

When the new atheist books came out, I knew that many Christians would respond. Some of the early responses, on the web and those Harris discusses in his Letter to a Christian Nation, seemed to be as shrill as the strongest rhetoric in the New Atheists’ work themselves. I recognized that this is not the sort of response we need. I had both a philosophical concern and a pastoral concern. Philosophically, we want to take arguments seriously, reconstruct them in their strongest and most clear form, and then provide a response. Pastorally, we (Christian philosophers) must show how to engage with people and ideas we think are mistaken. It is, in some sense, part of our role to help shape the way believers engage in public discourse. Both of these concerns led me to take on the project.

What’s so “new” about the “New Atheists”?

Obviously atheism is not new. What is new about these writers is a combination of the following: first, their arguments are not merely against the truth of theism. They are also about the undesirability of being a theist. Second, they write with a strong rhetorical and polemical style. Third, they are not entering the academic discussion of the issues. This combination is new. Now it is not perfectly new. We can think of Bertrand Russell as an example of an academic philosopher who discusses religion in this non-academic and polemical way. But for the most part there is a new strategy or approach here.

Your book has been understandably praised as having a “nonconfrontational style” (Peter van Inwagen) and even a “sensible, evenhanded assessment of the strengths and weaknesses” (Dean Zimmerman). Did you intend such a tone, style, and approach? If so, why?

This tone was very important to me. First of all, as a Christian I know that my higher priority is to be charitable. In an intellectual dispute this requires that we take a careful, reasoned approach, and that we look for places where those we are engaging are getting issues right. We need to treat those we are challenging as our friends. I think there is no other way for a faithful follower of Christ to proceed. Second, as I mentioned before, there is a pastoral responsibility to show both how to engage these kinds of ideas and to show that we do not have to panic at challenges to our faith. Third, it is simply what it means to be a human being.

Was this a hard book to write, given the fact that most of the noticeable New Atheists do not tend to be philosophers (with the exception of Dan Dennett, of course)?

To be honest, the most difficult part was working through the texts and locating and articulating the arguments. Partly because this part of the process is exegetical, it is not as much fun as the actual writing. Of course, this part of the project will be part of many writing projects. It was here, though, that I almost quit. I almost quit because I wondered if another response was even needed. Many books were being published on the topic.

The writing itself went rather smoothly. I wrote the last chapter first (and it was published in Philosophia Christi as “Dawkins’ Best Argument: the Case against God in The God Delusion,” Vol 10. No. 1 (2008): 39-56.) I spent the summer of 2008 doing most of the rest of the writing. As far as tone is concerned, it was not a struggle. There is an advantage to working in a secular environment in that you are around very smart atheists all the time. This helps you internalize the sort of posture and virtues required of a believer in the world.

How does science (as a source of knowledge about reality) and its authority inform and form New Atheist claims about God’s non-existence? 

The new atheists tend to think that religious belief is incompatible with science. Dawkins is an exception in that he thinks that the God hypothesis is itself a scientific claim. What he means, I argue, is that it is a claim that has truth value and that if it is true, there ought to be the kind of evidence that is available to scientific methodologies. Since his arguments are largely philosophical, he does not think that scientific methodologies are the only ones that are appropriate for discerning the truth of the matter.

If the new atheists thought theology was a legitimate source of knowledge, they would not be atheists.

How and why does evidence, including its value, purpose, and significance, have an important role in atheist objections against theism?

Each of the new atheists might be different in this respect. The kinds of evidence they point to varies. For example, Dennett is much less concerned with the truth of atheism than with the idea that religion must be studied scientifically. By this he means that we must seek a Darwinian- type of explanation of religious belief and practice. He engages arguments for and against religious belief mostly in his early book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Dawkins does not, for example, press the problem of evil because he thinks that the claim that God is good is not essential to theism. Harris does press it. Hitchens and Dawkins argue that Darwinism provides strong evidence that God does not exist.

You show that New Atheists interact with the cosmological, ontological, and moral arguments for God’s existence. What are the strengths and weaknesses of their interaction?

One thing we can learn is how difficult our job of communication is. Many of the objections they raise to these arguments are based on misunderstandings of the arguments. These misunderstandings involve both what we may call the classical versions (in Aquinas, Paley, etc) and contemporary versions. I think those atheists who concentrate in philosophy of religion, such as William Rowe, Richard Gale and Graham Oppy, are much more nuanced because they work in these arguments. Paul Draper is another example of a charitable and careful critic of theism, though he has tended to call himself an agnostic and not an atheist.

On the moral argument, they engage two points very well. These are that we need to believe in God in order to act morally and that we need to believe in God in order to know what is right and wrong. They correctly challenge both of these notions. What they do not engage, is the very question at the center of most moral arguments. This is the issue that the reality of objective moral obligations is better explained by theism than by atheistic theories of morality.

Why do New Atheists consider the Design Argument for God’s existence to be the most important?

This was a puzzle to me. Dawkins mentions that it is the only one still in use. I think they recognize that the hunch is strong that features in the world require an explanation.

What are the strengths and weaknesses for how the New Atheists treat the Design Argument for God’s existences?

I tend to think they do a good job with the big picture of Paley’s argument. Darwinism does raise a significant challenge to this one. They are less successful with the fine-tuning argument. They are quick to embrace the many worlds conjecture, though they do not consider the challenges that raises. It is as if the mere possibility that the conjecture is true undermines the whole argument.

What are Darwinian stories of religion? How do they function?


I found this part interesting. Both Dawkins and Dennett articulate some suggestions about how this kind of explanation might work. Here, they are pretty careful to explain where they are being merely suggestive. They do not claim more for their suggestions than they ought. The other interesting part is that they do not draw any conclusions from their suggestions. They do not say, “Therefore, it is probable that God does not exist.” In fact, Dennett explicitly says the Darwinian analysis of religious belief and practice is perfectly compatible with theism.

I had to ask myself about the upshot of the Darwinian stories as articulated by these writers. I concluded that there is some reason to think, though I cannot be sure about this, that both Dawkins and Dennett might mean these stories to function as a sort of Nietzschean  genealogy. In other words, these stories function to dislodge the readers’ commitment to theism, not through an argument that theism is false. Rather, the commitment is dislodged due to the presence of a plausible alternative story.

Dawkins’ “fittingness argument” is, arguably, the strongest argument among the New Atheists. What is it? How can theists respond?

Dawkins argues that the world we encounter fits better with the atheistic world-view than it does with the theistic world-view. Here Dawkins does some good work. He does not exaggerate the strength of the argument and, as I argue in the book, it does have some force. Dawkins reflects on the claim that biological life emerged and developed over a long time through Darwinism. If atheism is true, then if there is biological life, it must develop over a long time through some kind of process that is naturalistic. This is exactly what we find. If theism is true, it might be that biological life emerges and develops in the same way, but there are many other possibilities. God could bring it all into existence in one moment, or seven literal days. The fact that what we find is exactly what is required within the atheist world-view raises the probability of atheism.

I argue that Dawkins is exactly right about how these probabilities work. The fact that what we find is exactly what is required within atheism does confirm atheism.

There are two ways for theists to respond. Here I am going off what I do in the book. Theists can challenge the claim (what Dawkins calls “the fact”) that biological life actually emerged and developed through Darwinian means (including, of course, a naturalistic story about the origin of life). This approach is the one taken by those working in Intelligent Design theory. I do not raise any of this in the book because it is entirely implausible to the new atheists. To them, ID is just like young-earth creationism. It seems hopeless. It would not be wise to build a response to an argument that requires premises that seem hopeless to the very people you want to persuade. My approach might be controversial among Christians but I think there is an important principle about persuasion and the mission of the apologist.

The other way to respond, is to begin closer to the things the new atheists already believe. This is the approach I take. I can grant that Dawkins’ argument raises the probability of atheism. It does so by concentrating on one feature in the world. That is the development of biological life. There are other features, however, that are also not too controversial that point in the other direction. The four features I discuss are the fact that the universe is stable and ordered by natural laws, the fact that there are conscious beings, the fact that there is significant free agency (libertarian freedom) in the world, and the fact that there are objective moral obligations. To be sure the last two are controversial, although each of the new atheists presupposes objective moral obligations when they press moral objections to the way religious people have acted through history. The option to deny objective moral obligations is not open to them. Libertarian freedom is more controversial, though many think it is a reality.

The structure of my response is important. I do not take these four features and argue to the existence of God on their basis. All I do is show that Dawkins’ claim that the world points more clearly in the atheistic direction is false. I do think there are good arguments for God’s existence based on these features, but I do not need to develop them, since my goal is to respond to his argument.

Where do you see the discussion going between theism (especially Christian theism) and the New Atheism?

This is a good question. What I hope is that Christians begin to learn to respond more often with charity to challenges to our belief in God. I do get disturbed when some of us take pot-shots. I also hope that the public discussion of religious issues will include some of our more thoughtful representatives. I believe that this trend can come about as we continue to do good work.

How would you like to see your book used?

I'd love to see this book used as a text in philosophy of religion and apologetics courses because of the tone I tried to set. I think it could be a model. I know at least two courses that are using it.

You can learn more about Greg Ganssle by going here. Greg is also a staff member with the Rivendell Institute.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Making of An Atheist: Interview with Jim Spiegel

Taylor University Philosopher, Jim Spiegel, just released his book, The Making of An Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief (Moody Publishers, 2010). Below is our interview with Spiegel about his book and the implications of his thesis for the debate between atheism and theism.

How did this book come about for you?

Like any philosopher of religion, I’ve followed the new atheist movement with interest.  But after reading numerous responses from Christian apologists, I noticed a conspicuous lack of attention to the moral-psychological roots of atheism.  Given that the biblical writers emphasize this dimension of unbelief, I thought someone needed to address it.

How does this book uniquely contribute to critiques of atheism and the “new atheism”?

Most Christian apologists’ responses to the new atheists challenge their arguments and reveal the many fallacies in their objections to religious faith.  This is helpful, of course, and I applaud the work of Ravi Zacharias, Alister McGrath, Dinesh D’Souza, Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, and others for their superb contributions to the debate.  What they so well demonstrate is that atheism is not the consequence of any lack of evidence for God.  So the question naturally arises, What is the cause of atheism?  That is the question I address in my book.

The “noetic effects of sin” (as it’s sometimes called) plays an important conceptual and explanatory role in your book. In general, can you briefly explain your view on this matter?

I take my cue from Scripture, specifically such passages as Romans 1:18-32, where the Apostle Paul asserts that no one has any excuse not to believe in God. Rather, he says, some “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom. 1:18).  In my book I develop a model for how this happens, tracing the suppression of truth to a willful rejection of God, prompted by immorality and self-deception.  Thus, I argue, sinful behaviors cloud and distort cognition.  The notion that volitional factors impact belief-formation has been forcefully argued by thinkers as various as John Calvin, Soren Kierkegaard, William James, Michael Polanyi, Thomas Kuhn, and Alvin Plantinga.  In terms of a specifically Christian application of this dynamic, I’ve been especially inspired by Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.

Given the realism of human finitude and fallenness, how should we view the effectuality, if not fruitfulness, of the role that arguments can have for God’s existence or of the role for arguments against objections to God’s existence?

I believe in the usefulness of apologetics to encourage those who struggle with doubts and to persuade those who have sincere objections to aspects of the faith.  Even in the case of some former atheists, such as Antony Flew, the role of evidence seems to have been critical in his change of perspective.  But I don’t think such persuasion happens in a moral-spiritual vacuum.  The Spirit is always at work on people’s hearts, and in many instances He uses arguments and evidences as He prompts belief and acceptance of spiritual truth.

Why might there be a tendency among some Christian philosophical critiques of atheism (or any other worldview for that matter) to under-represent or downright avoid how the sinful tendencies of the human heart figure into the formation of a worldview?

One reason for avoidance of this issue might be a concern for decorum.  I suppose it could appear unseemly or offensive even to suggest, much less to present as a thesis of a book, that a person’s lack of belief in God is, at bottom, a form of rebellion.  And I must admit that at times I felt uncomfortable writing the book for this reason.  However, the fact that it is a clear biblical truth compelled me to write it anyway.  But I was careful to be as generous and winsome as I could manage, given the subject matter.

Given your view of how atheists are formed with regard to their worldview, how does the “problem of evil” figure into an atheist’s desires and motivations to know what is true?

In the book I discuss the principal objections of the new atheists, and the problem of evil is perhaps the most significant of these.  But, as some philosophers have rightly argued, the very notion of “evil” presupposes a standard for goodness which atheism cannot provide.  Any notion of evil or, for that matter, how things ought to be, whether morally or in terms of natural events, must rely on some standard or ideal that transcends the physical world.  Only some form of supernaturalism, such as theism, can supply this.  So to the extent that atheists acknowledge the reality of evil, they depart from their own commitment to naturalism.

Besides a theology of the heart and its sinful tendencies, another non-philosophical source of your critique of atheism is drawn from an examination of the psychology of atheism. How does the evidence for the “faith of the fatherless” figure into a theology of the heart and reasons that might be offered for atheism?

In his provocative little book, The Faith of the Fatherless, psychologist Paul Vitz surveys the major, and many of the minor, atheist scholars of the modern period.  He finds that the one thing these thinkers—e.g., Hobbes, Voltaire, Hume, Nietzsche, Russell, Freud, Sartre, etc.—have in common is a severely broken relationship with their father.  In accounting for atheism, Vitz turns the tables on Freudians who aim to explain away theistic belief as a cosmic projection of one’s father image.  In fact, the opposite seems to be the case:  atheists’ broken father relationships prompt their refusal to recognize the reality of God.

How does one become “entrenched” in an atheist’s mindset?

In my book I expound on two aspects of this process, which explains something of the obstinacy of atheists.  There is a phenomenon that I call “paradigm-induced blindness,” where a person’s false worldview prevents them from seeing truths which would otherwise be obvious.  Additionally, a person’s sinful indulgences have a way of deadening their natural awareness of God or, as John Calvin calls it, the sensus divinitatis.  And the more this innate sense of the divine is squelched, the more resistant a person will be to evidence for God.

You say that right living contributes to the perseverance of faith. How is that perseverance related to Christian virtue and the “cognitive health” that it brings?

Just as sinful thoughts and behavior corrupt us cognitively and warp our perspective on the world, obedience and virtue benefit us cognitively in a number of ways.  Not only do we avoid the intellectual warping and deadening of the sensus divinitatis that sin causes, but Scripture also makes clear that God grants special insight and wisdom to those who obey him (cf. Ps. 19:7, Ps. 25:9; Pr. 1:4, Pr. 11:2).  So you might say that the life of Christian virtue enhances our ability to think and reason, especially about moral and spiritual matters.

Given your approach to atheism in this book, how would you like to see this area further explored and developed by Christian philosophers?

I would like to see Christian philosophers do more to explore the relationship between personal ethics and the psychology of belief-formation. And, generally, I'd like to see more work done on various aspects of the negative side of the moral life—the phenomena of sin and vice. This have been underexplored by Christian philosophers.

More about Jim Spiegel can be learned at www.jimspiegel.com. The website for The Making of an Atheist, also has discussion questions and other important info.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Byrne on Theistic Philosophers

In his recent Boston Review article, Alex Byrne seriously misrepresents the lay of the land in current Anglo-American philosophy, especially when we take the long view of the last several decades. As Quentin Smith has documented, (Philo 4/2 [2001]: 3-4), there has transpired since the late 1960s a veritable revolution in Anglo-American analytic philosophy with respect to the philosophy of religion in general and natural theology in particular. It is atheism that is in retreat and theism that is on the rise. Tangible measures of the sea change that has occurred is evident in the number of new philosophy journals devoted exclusively to the philosophy of religion, in the burgeoning market in philosophy of religion textbooks, in the demand among university students for courses in philosophy of religion, and in the percentage of graduate students in philosophy who are Christian theists. The difference between the discipline as it appeared back in the 1930s or 40s and today is like the difference between night and day. Byrne’s tendentious spin on Dean Zimmerman’s words obscures the point that outspoken, highly respected Christian philosophers are numerous today, even though many of their colleagues (like Byrne?) are dismissive of their religious beliefs.

Equally misrepresentative is Byrne’s characterization of contemporary Christian philosophers as content with “pulling up the drawbridge and manning the barricades, rather than crusading against the infidel.” Never mind the ugly militaristic imagery. Insofar as they have engaged in defensive operations, Christian philosophers have done so in order to show that the shopworn anti-theistic arguments like the meaninglessness of religious language, the vaunted presumption of atheism, the incoherence of theism, and the problem of evil are, to borrow Byrne’s phrase, “underwhelming” and do not stand up to scrutiny. Moreover, Christian philosophers certainly have gone on the offensive as well, as all of the traditional theistic arguments—cosmological, teleological, axiological, ontological—find numerous articulate defenders today (I list some in my piece in Christianity Today, July 2008, pp. 22-27).

Byrne similarly misrepresents Plantinga’s work on religious epistemology, epitomized in Warranted Christian Belief. On one level, Plantinga’s work is defensive in showing that Christian belief can be wholly rational, justified, and warranted even in the absence of arguments and that atheistic objections to the contrary all fail. On another level, however, the work is a frontal assault on atheistic naturalism, as Plantinga argues that there is no acceptable account of warrant (and, hence, of knowledge) that does not appeal to the notion of the proper functioning of our cognitive faculties, a notion best cashed out in terms of their functioning as they were designed to, and, moreover, that naturalism is rationally unaffirmable, since on naturalism our cognitive faculties are selected not for their being truth-conducive but survival-conducive, so that we can have no confidence in the truth of their deliverances—including, ironically, the truth of naturalism.

The question raised in the final paragraph of Byrne’s article is squarely addressed by Plantinga’s religious epistemology. Plantinga agrees that, for the most part, Christian theists “do not believe that God exists on the basis of any argument.” Plantinga thinks that there are, in fact, good arguments for God’s existence and has defended over two dozen of them; but he thinks they’re not necessary in order for religious belief to be justified or warranted. In that sense Plantinga concurs with Byrne that “The funny thing about arguments for the existence of God is that, if they succeed, they were never needed in the first place.” That is to say, if theistic arguments are sound, then God exists and has likely furnished us with cognitive mechanisms that yield warranted theistic belief independent of argument. But when Byrne opines, “How they know that God exists, if they do, is itself unknown,” then he has simply failed to be attentive to Plantinga’s epistemological model, for that model does explain how it is that Christian belief is warranted apart from argument. To assert otherwise is just to ignore all that Plantinga has written on the subject.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

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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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Richard Dawkins' search for a grander truth

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

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

A few brief observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Plantinga and Tooley's Knowledge of God Debate

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

The NDPR had a review by William Rowe.

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

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

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reply to Schneider's Review of My Christianity Today Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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