Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

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

We continue our interview with Chad Meister about his Introducing Philosophy of Religion. In this part, Chad shares with us about he teaches philosophy and how philosophy of religion has influenced other areas of philosophy.

What are some lessons that you’ve learned over the years about how to teach philosophy of religion?

My overall pedagogical methods in the classroom have changed significantly over the last ten years or so, and this is especially true in upper level undergraduate philosophy courses such as philosophy of religion. Here are what I consider to be some significant lessons for teaching philosophy of religion (or any undergraduate philosophy course). Some of these lessons I gleaned from pedagogy researcher Ken Bain:
  • Students are not typically familiar with many, if not most, of the central topics and ideas discussed in the field, nor are they familiar with how the topics are typically approached. So rather than focusing on one or two main issues, or reading one or two primary sources, I find it helpful to first introduce them to a number of relevant topics and then to hone in on several key ones. For their assigned papers, then, I give them the opportunity to choose one or two issues with which to spend a good deal of time over the course of the semester.
  • I usually begin class with an excellent question (a question that is meaningful to the student)—that is, with a BIG question. So I generally create at least one major question for each class period and write it on the board or in PowerPoint. For example, I might ask, “What is John Hick’s pluralistic hypothesis, and what are some reasons you have for agreeing or disagreeing with it?” The lecture/discussion will generally, then, focus on this question.
  • As Ken Bain notes, a recent Harvard study of the most successful students included two key elements in the classroom: tough classes and the opportunity to try, fail, get feedback, etc. separate from a grade. I believe creating assignments, such as short papers on a central theme, that allow students to work on a topic, turn in the assignment, receive comments, and re-work the assignment are effective means. These early papers receive no grade, but the final product (a longer paper including research and reflection from the earlier shorter ones) does.
  • Students need to have some control over their own education. For papers, I offer students multiple topics from which to choose, or I allow them to pick a subject related to their major or area of interest.
  • As many of the great ancient Greek philosophers understood, one of the most helpful ways of acquiring knowledge and being transformed by it is seeing it modeled by a respected mentor. So, for example, I invite students over to my home regularly to discuss issues in that environment and work to develop respect by the “younger” students for the more advanced ones. I even encourage their involvement in an official mentoring program at the college where students and faculty mentor others, and I mentor a number of the philosophy majors myself. There should be regular collaborative efforts between students, so I have them work together in small groups on projects both in and outside of class. When appropriate, I have the “advanced” students help/mentor the “newer” ones. Especially for the philosophy majors, I try to create an environment where we are growing together and encouraging one another as a community of learners.
  • Students must believe that their own work will really matter (though it may be quite basic at this stage), so I have individual meetings with them to discuss their paper topics. I encourage them to focus on a theme that is significant—both to them and to the field at large—and explain why what they are doing is philosophically significant. Furthermore, I offer them the opportunity as a class to craft a journal—one structured very much like a professional philosophy journal, but with other features that make it more fun and exciting for undergraduates (for example, including timelines, glossaries, even a comics section!). This has been a very productive, collaborative kind of project which, in one case, we published. I also encourage students to work toward writing publishable papers (and to try to publish them if they are of that quality) and to attend conferences where students and others are presenting papers. It is oftentimes in these kinds of contexts where the significance of their own work can be more fully appreciated.

How has philosophy of religion work influenced other fields in philosophy?

There is a long story to be told here, but I’ll try to keep this brief. There is a fascinating symbiotic relationship among those doing work in the various fields of philosophy you mention and work being done in philosophy of religion. Consider first a brief account (one probably quite familiar to many readers) of the resurgence of philosophy of religion over the past century with respect to work done in epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of language.

Philosophy, especially within the analytic tradition, emphasizes precision of terms and clarity of concepts. Religion, however, is often imprecise and veiled in mystery. This imprecision was challenged in the mid-twentieth century with the rise of logical positivism. Logical positivists used a principle of verifiability to reject as meaningless all non-empirical claims; only the tautologies of mathematics and logic, along with statements containing empirical observations or inferences, were considered meaningful. Many religious statements, however, such as claims about the transcendent, are neither tautological nor empirically verifiable. So certain fundamental religious claims and beliefs (such as “Yahweh is good” or “Atman is Brahman”) were taken by the positivists to be cognitively meaningless utterances. Positivism became a dominant philosophical approach and for a time, for this and related reasons, philosophy of religion as a discipline became suspect.

The philosophical tide began to turn, however, in the latter half of the twentieth century with respect to religious language. Many argued that the positivists’ empiricist criteria of meaning were unsatisfactory and problematic. Due to the philosophical insights on the nature and meaning of language provided by the later Ludwig Wittgenstein, the rise of a pragmatic version of naturalism offered by Willard Quine, and other factors, logical positivism quickly waned. For these reasons, along with the exemplary work of such analytic philosophers of religion as Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, John Hick, and others, by the 1970s discussions about religious (and metaphysical and ethical) concepts were revived and soon became accepted arenas of viable philosophical and religious discourse.

Since that time, philosophy of religion has become a burgeoning field. For example, two leading philosophy journals today—Philosophia Christi and Faith and Philosophy—are primarily focused on issues in philosophy of religion. In addition, two of the largest (if not the largest) subgroups within the American Philosophical Association are the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the Society of Christian Philosophers. Furthermore, one could cite countless examples of recent work that integrates other fields of philosophy with philosophy of religion, or philosophy of religion work which has influenced other fields. Consider just a few fine examples (with apologies for the many other fine examples which are not included):

The list goes on and on. Those doing work in philosophy of religion have indeed made great strides in influencing other fields in philosophy over the past fifty years, and there is no indication of its waning any time soon.

More about Chad Meister can be found at his website.

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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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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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