Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Hazards of Self-Promotion

Since listening to JP's reception talk at the annual EPS meeting in New Orleans, periodically I have been confronted with thoughts regarding one of his points -- the third I believe. It had to do with proper motives for our work or should I be more forthright and say our calling (my word, not his). What has challenged me is how easy it is to be subtly captivated by misguided motives even when doing what is good --- particular for those of us in the academy. The particular motive of which I speak is self-promotion. It is when our ministries are shaped by the desire to be recognized by others who we think to be ahead of us urges us to get their attention and let them know how much we know. It is like the person who goes to the party and while talking to one person is constantly casting his eye about the crowd to see if there is someone more important to talk to. Or, manipulating a situation so you can place yourself in optimum relationship to some important person.

One way this attitude reveals itself is being obsessed with knowing the right people and making sure they know who you are, and networking only for advancement and recognition. Another is that the classroom becomes a place where the professor tries to impress the student with what and who he knows instead of a passion to teach Truth for their education and edification -- to see the teaching as his ministry to the Church, the Body of Christ.

Such dangers present themselves to all of us and it requires daily vigilance to deny their grip on our lives and hence our ministries. It is so easy to allow the air of professionalism to smother a passion for the Truth in the Spirit of Christ --- a passion for Truth which is a passion for Christ who is the Truth. Of course, we want to do our very best in the work and networking is not wrong, but it should not be motivated merely for recognition or praise, but as a testimony of faithfulness to the risen Christ who has called us as his witnesses.

In addition, the unhealthy attitude of self - promotion encourages a very narrow view of Christian ministry where my discipline is all that concerns me -- we do not see our work as simply a part of the whole. Instead, one labors as if all that matters is what he is doing. For example, thinking that apologetics operates as a stand alone work. In this case, it makes apologetics (using apologetics as an example) more of a badge I wear instead of a life I live. The end is that the individual work tends to be fragmented and selfish while the work of Christ as a whole suffers. This also often makes us very territorial in the academy. We end up talking only to ourselves.

I suppose some of my thoughts come because of my age. I remember being taught by men and women some 45 years ago when I became a Christian. I am still challenged by their dedication, sacrifice, and deep concern for me -- the new Christian to be shaped into the image of Christ. They taught me by word, attitude and lifestyle. They had a passion for Truth (which is a passion for Christ) that was so focused that it consumed their very being--- a focus I think worth imitating. Recognition as a chief motivation for being in the work was unknown to them. Ideas were important, even necessary, but not as something used as rungs on a ladder to recognition, but as guidance in life for godly living. As I begin the new year, my prayer is that I will be vigilant in auditing my motives that it might be that the love of Christ alone moves me forward in the work.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christian Worldview Integration: Interview with J.P. Moreland (part two)

We continue our interview with J.P. Moreland about the InterVarsity Press Christian Worldview Integration series, which he and Frank Beckwith are co-editing. In part one of our interview, Moreland talked about the meaning and significance of conceptual integration and its relevancy to Christian philosophy work.


Over the last twenty years, there has been important progress made toward Christian work that integrates psychology and spiritual formation. As a trained philosopher with tremendous appreciation for Christian spiritual formation work, what might further integration work look like between Christian philosophy and spiritual formation?

There are two areas where Christian philosophy can help.  First, Christian philosophers can work out theories of knowledge within which spiritual formative claims can be taken as sources of knowledge of reality, specifically, of how humans flourish.  Second, they can work out views of human persons according to which spiritual formation is seen as laying hold of the real nature of human persons and their functioning, e.g., by rooting virtue ethics in the nature of human personhood rather than seeing it as “grounded” in tradition.

If Christians neglect to engage in integration work, what are the costs or consequences?

We will become increasingly marginalized in the culture, Christian ideas will not be taken as cognitively respectable claims about the real world, and people will place Christian ideas in what Francis Schaeffer used to call “the upper story,” a non-factual realm  forever isolated from rational scrutiny.

How and why is integration work interrelated with Christian apologetics work?

Integration goes beyond apologetics in that integration should lead to the exploration and discovery of truths in one’s field that would not be readily available to secular thinkers without the aid of scripture.  But integration also involves apologetics in which defeaters of Christianity are removed and positive evidence is provided for a Christian truth-claim relevant to one’s fields, and integration also involved polemics—the practice of criticizing alternative worldviews that shape one’s field of study.

Over the years, you’ve not only been a scholar, public speaker, pastor/church planter and author, but you’ve had several opportunities to be an advisor or consultant for various organizations and institutions. Let me ask you to put on your advisory hat and have you speak to various groups of people about their integration efforts.

What are the top three issues or concerns that Christian faculty should confront when attempting to integrate their Christian beliefs with their discipline? 

First, is there is non-empirical knowledge, extra-scientific knowledge of reality evident in my field.  Second, are there immaterial aspects of reality in my field of study, e.g., aesthetic beauty, normative ethical claims, linguistic meanings, mathematical objects, free action, and so forth.  Third, how would I as a Christian practice my discipline in a way different from a non-Christian and how would I justify a Christian approach?  The Christian Worldview Integration series takes these issues up in various fields and seeks to lead by example.

What are the top three words of encouragement that you would give to undergraduate and graduate students, who not only seek to experience how Christianity bears upon the formation of their worldview, but who want their work in knowledge to bear upon their lives and their relationships?

First, remember that this sort of integrative work is already being done, for example, in the field of philosophy, with the result that great gains for the Kingdom have been made in philosophy.  So this can be done with great impact.  Second, realize that this sort of work is part of your calling in life.  What if Jesus asked you, “Why don’t you honor me in your discipline?”, would you have an answer for Him?  Third, integration should be viewed as an adventure and not just as a duty.  It’s really exciting work.  And don’t forget, the Christian Worldview Integration series is an attempt to provide resources for getting involved in this area of discipleship.

What are the top three pieces of advice that you would give to funders (whether individual donors or corporate donors) of a Christian university about the significance of Christian worldview integration work?

First, funds need to be given in areas of missions and development that are underfunded, and this area of discipleship fits that description.  Second, we need to focus funding on leadership development for cultural engagement and this area of discipleship fits that description.  Finally, we need to fund areas of activity that seek to penetrate the culture in the world of ideas and this area of discipleship fits that description.

In the years to come, what would you like to see happen in the area of integration and this series among self-identified Christian universities, colleges, and seminaries?

I would like to see centers of integration developed and funded at these schools, and I would also like to see the Christian Worldview Integration series adopted as key texts in classes around the country; I would also like to see the series expanded from the nine volumes currently being produced to at least fifteen volumes.


You can learn more about the IVP Christian Worldview Integration series by going here. J.P. Moreland is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University and Frank Beckwith is the Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Christian Worldview Integration: Interview with J.P. Moreland (part one)

InterVarsity Press recently launched a Christian Worldview Integration (CWI) series of books edited by J.P. Moreland and Frank Beckwith. Education for Human Flourishing (Spears and Loomis) and Psychology and the Spirit (Coe and Hall) have already been released, and Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (Beckwith) will soon be released. Below is part one of two of our interview with Moreland about the series and how to think about conceptual Christian worldview integration.

Currently, what topics are covered and which authors cover the topics in the CWI series?

Paul Nelson, Scot Minnich, Christianity and Biology.
Paul Spears, Steve Loomis, Christianity and Education.
John Woodbridge, Christianity and History.
David Jeffrey, Christianity and Literature.
Francis Beckwith, Christianity and Political Thought.
Garry DeWeese, Christianity and Philosophy.
John Coe, Todd Hall, Christianity and Psychology.
Scott Rae, Kenman Wong, Christianity, Business and Economics

Timothy Muehlhoff, Todd Lewis, Christianity and Communications.

The authors for this series were hand-picked by Frank Beckwith and me precisely because they were in a position (with respect to academic training and biblical fidelity) to do a first-rate job of presenting a fresh perspective on integration and their respective disciplines.  Each author is well-regarded and well-trained in his field and is deeply committed to Christianity in general, and the Bible in particular, as a source of knowledge of reality.

How did the CWI series come about?

I have been burdened for a long time about the lack of books on the integration of Christianity and various fields that take the Bible as a source of knowledge relevant to each field.  Too often, books on integration add a Christian veneer to the information in a discipline with the result that the scriptures do no serious cognitive work in that field.   This series will not be like that.  Each book takes scripture seriously as a source of knowledge relevant to its discipline.

The “integration of faith and learning” has become a slogan, if not a fad of sorts, for many Christian intellectuals and educators. But I get the sense that “integration” as a vision and an endeavor is far more than a slogan or fad for you and this series.

The series focuses on “conceptual integration”, the attempt to blend into an intellectually satisfying worldview the knowledge claims of historic Christianity and the Bible on the one hand, and the knowledge claims of one’s field on the other hand.  I prefer the label “the integration of biblical and disciplinary knowledge-claims, not “the integration of faith and learning,” because the latter implies that the Bible is accepted by a blind act of faith and the information from one’s discipline is actual learning, i.e., real knowledge.  The series seeks to show that the Bible does not contradict what can be shown about the nature of things from extra-biblical sources, and that the Bible provided the Christian with a rich source of knowledge that can do intellectual work in one’s field.

In its best and most sincere effort, how do Christian worldview integration endeavors with academic disciplines tend to go? How does the approach of the series differ from what is typically published in this area?  

Many such efforts take an academic discipline and leave it just as it would be understood by a secular perspective and add a Christian viewpoint that is complementary to it.  While our series agrees that this is one way to do integration, our books are more willing—no, eager!—to allow for direct interaction between the Bible and a field of study, an interaction that can be mutually reinforcing or place the Bible and a claim in a field in tension.  In such cases, we urge the Christian community, following Alvin Plantinga’s advice, to show more self-confidence that is has truth and knowledge in the Bible and does not need to protect scripture from an academic field by making its claim merely complementary to that field.

Is “integration,” ultimately, a philosophical issue with bearing upon other disciplines? How should theology contribute to the conceptual work of philosophy in the area of “Christian integration”?

Part of the very nature of philosophy is to be a second-order discipline that studies the epistemology, metaphysics, concepts, and so forth of other disciplines.  Since integration is such a second-order enterprise, then philosophy is the discipline that will ultimately be involved.  This can be seen in the fact that there are numerous books on the philosophy of x (law, psychology, biology, history) which are in the field of philosophy and written by philosophers.  It is important to see that my claims here have nothing to do with turf issues; they are simply observations about the nature of philosophy vis a vis other fields of study.  The field of theology is best employed by asking theologians to provide holistic, coherent expressions of the biblical and theological data to be factored into integration.

Christian work at the intersection of the sciences is an important area of integration, especially given the authority that scientific knowledge has within Western cultures. Are the positions of "theistic evolution" and "Christian physicalism" the result of proper integration or a failure to understand genuine integration between Christian truth and other disciplines? 


In my opinion and to over simplify a bit, theistic evolution and Christian physicalism adopt the wrong approach to integration, namely, the "complementarian approach" according to which science tells us what is real, how things happened, and so forth, and theology tells us why thing happened and why it matters.  This usually amounts to giving science cognitive authority over theology such that the scientist makes his/her pronouncements and theology must adjust accordingly.  A better approach is called the "direct-interaction view" that allows both fields an equal,  interacting place at the table.  On this view, theology may, in principle, set limits on the metaphysics, etiology, and epistemology of science, requiring Christian scientists to show that the real scientific data do not require a revision of the church’s teaching for centuries.  On this view, it is usually philosophical or methodological naturalism, not the data, that require such (an uneeded) revision.

How should Christians approach, use and present the teaching of scripture when engaging in genuine integration between what the Bible claims and what is claimed by extra-biblical sources of knowledge?

They should look for areas where biblical teaching sheds light on and/or has explanatory power with respect to an extrabiblical proposition that seems reasonable to believe.  They should also seek to remove tensions between the Bible and reasonable beliefs from extra-biblical sources, and look for areas where the latter confirm the former.  In all of this, they should have Christian self-confidence that, properly interpreted, the Bible’s teachings are not just true, but can be known to be true.  Thus, they provide a source of knowledge for doing intellectual work in one’s discipline.

Does the holistic character of discipleship and spiritual formation demand integration? If so, how and why?

We live out what we actually believe in proportion to the strength of belief, and our actions shape our beliefs.  So it is important for Christian character and action that we actually believe the things we claim to believe.  Since it is likely the case that one can change or develop one’s beliefs only indirectly, it becomes important to integrate one’s Christian beliefs/knowledge-claims with reasonable beliefs outside scripture.  This leads to personal unity and integrity where one does not split off his/her Christianity from the rest of his/her beliefs, and one is the same in public as in private.

You can learn more about the IVP Christian Worldview Integration series by going hereJ.P. Moreland is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University and Frank Beckwith is the Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 30, 2009

How can Christian Intellectual Leadership Serve Non-Western Cultures?

Many have asked for audio or a transcript of J.P Moreland's EPS reception talk that he gave to a little over one-hundred people at the annual meeting.

While audio or a transcript are unavailable, here are the main points from J.P.'s talk:

  1. The church is exploding all over the world outside Western culture, and the disciples in these countries hold to an overtly supernatural worldview.
  2. The emerging young intellectual leadership in these countries look to the ETS/EPS/SCP for guidance and help.  They read our writings and follow us.  They are confused and hurt when we advance ideas that undermine the commonsense, supernatural worldview of the Bible that they embrace.  Thus, we have a responsibility to do our work in light of how it impacts our brothers and sisters in these countries.
  3. Here are four suggestions for how to better fulfill that responsibility:
  • Work together with others to write books, produce edited works, and so forth.  The synergy of such efforts increases our impact and it models the importance of the body of Christ and cooperation among its members.
  • Produce works that range from popular to technical, but be sure we do not look down upon those who work at the popular end of the spectrum.  The key is to find one's role and play it well.
  • Beware of living for a career and for the respect of the "right" people in the profession instead of living for the Kingdom and seeing one's work as a calling from God rather than a place to re-assure oneself that he/she is respected.
  • Require a burden of proof before one adopts a view, e.g., Christian physicalism, that if read by a brothers and sisters outside Western culture, would hurt their supernatural faith, especially if the view is not one held by a significant number of people in church history and if it is "politically correct" to adopt it under pressure from the academic community.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 5, 2009

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

We continue our interview with J.P. Moreland about his book, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei. In this part, J.P. shares how our view of human persons forms culture, how philosophy of religion work is helping to challenge naturalism in various areas, and how J.P. teaches philosophy.


You seem to wear multiple hats in this book as a philosopher, theologian and cultural observer. For you, how are these areas interrelated when offering an analysis of “human persons and the failure of naturalism”?

The philosopher, especially the Christian philosopher, should take a realist understanding of the imago Dei seriously. That understanding presents the philosopher with a prima facie justified case that the six features of human persons mentioned above are real and irreducible. The theologian should take the philosophical arguments seriously as an example of how to clarify the key issues and options and make crucial distinctions relevant to their resolution. The cultural observer should be careful to observe the connection between broad cultural drifts in the arena of ideas and the way human persons are depicted by the advocates of those various drifts.

In your book, you use an important Pitrim Sorokin distinction between a “sensate culture” vs. an “ideational culture.” Can you expand upon what that distinction means and why it is significant?

A sensate culture is one that believes only in the physical world that can be seen and touched. An ideational culture accepts the physical world but also believes in an unseen realm that can be known in other ways. Sensate cultures don’t last very long because they do not have the intellectual resources to sustain a vibrant cultural form of human flourishing. Sensate cultures degenerate into greed, dishonesty and conflicts over power.

For example, it is not wide of the mark to locate the fundamental intellectual cause of our current economic crisis in the ubiquitous presence of a sensate culture in the contemporary West. By contrast, an ideational culture, especially a Judeo-Christian one, allows questions like these to be asked and provides a robust answer to them: Is there meaning to life and, if so, what it is? What is right and wrong? Is God real and is there life after death? What ought the state, public education, and other key institutions do and what role ought they play in a culture conducive to human flourishing? What role ought wealth play in such a culture? None of these questions can even be asked, much less answered, from within a scientific, sensate perspective.

How can a robust view of the image of God positively shape public policy discussions?

In a reductionist culture, human persons will be identified with things such as being an animal, sexual orientation, ethnicity, which are not the most important thing about us—that we are made in zthe image of God, or so I argue in my book. In a reductionist culture, free will and rationality disappear, and are replaced with biological and sociological determinism. Along the way, personal responsibility vanishes and social engineering at the hands of cultural elites achieves hegemony. My book stands against these trends.

It seems that the homogeneous character of naturalism is actually starting to crack and break for some in Western academic circles. If that is the case, what is going on?

For twenty years or so there has been an explosion of Christian philosophy in the academy, and the overwhelming majority of Christian philosophers are theistic realists in the sense that they take their Christian theism to have ontological and epistemological implications that do intellectual work in their field. In the next decade, the prominence of Christians in philosophy will expand even more, and a backlash is sure to precipitate. Scholars in other fields, especially theology and religious studies, would do well to take note of what is happening in philosophy and seek to learn from this phenomenon. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei would be a good place to go to see an example of theistic realism at work.

There is a constant theme in a lot of your writing: Christianity is a knowledge tradition. What is the significance of this claim for how Christianity is perceived in the culture?

If Christianity were regarded as an alleged source of knowledge of reality, then its ideas would be taken seriously, put to the test, and evaluated rationally just like other alleged sources of knowledge. Knowledge, not faith, is what gives people the right to act responsibly in culture. Religious knowledge gives theological claims authority. In The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, I seek to re-establish theological claims about human persons as a reliable source of knowledge about their actual nature.

What type of philosophy courses at a university or a seminary would most benefit from this book?

Courses in philosophy of mind, comparative religion, theological anthropology, ethics (especially metaethics or end-of-life ethics), worldview comparison, and the sociology of culture would benefit from the course. Psychologists would also find much of interest here.

How do you like to teach the areas of philosophy that your book covers?

I usually begin my course by presenting the class with facts and considerations that demonstrate the broad, cultural importance of issues at the core of philosophical and theological anthropology. Then, I seek to use texts that defend various positions on those core issues and work through them carefully with the students. My book would be a good one to use in a course in philosophy of mind/action or theological anthropology. It would also be good for a course in comparative religion, since it presents and defends a Judeo-Christian understanding of the self, and treatments of the self are central issues for any religious system.

More about J.P. Moreland can be found here.

Labels: , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

EPS Philosophers Respond to New Scientist Article On "Creationism" and Materialism

Amanda Gefter, an editor with the Opinion section of the New Scientist, wrote a piece titled, "Creationists Declare War over the Brain" (posted October 22, 2008).

Gefter's piece describes what she quotes as a "'non-material neuroscience' movement" that is "attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism ... in hope that it will make room in science both for supernatural forces and for a soul."

Among the scholars that she mentions as examples of this "non-material neuroscience movement," Gefter quotes from EPS philosophers and Philosophia Christi contributors J.P. Moreland, Angus Menuge and William Dembski (only Menuge is referenced in the article as being a philosopher).

Moreland, the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University's Talbot School of Theology, recently published his Consciousness & the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument (Routledge), which Gefter describes as having "fanned the flames" with its publication in June of this year.

Of Moreland's book, she says that "Non-materialist neuroscience provided him with this helpful explanation: since God 'is' consciousness." But Moreland's book offers a philosophical explanation for non-materialism; it is not dependent on the findings of neuroscience. (She goes on to quote Moreland, which at first glance appears to be from his Routledge book. Yet upon further inspection, it appears that she selectively quotes from a blog post by Moreland).

Nonetheless, in response to Gefter's piece, Moreland e-mailed us with the following reply:
The simple truth is that in both science and philosophy, strict physicalist analysis of consciousness and the self have been breaking down since the mid-1980s. The problems with physicalism have nothing directly to do with theism; they follow from rigorous treatments of consciousness and the self as we know them to be. The real problem comes in trying to explain its origin and for this problem, naturalism in general and Darwinism in particular, are useless. In my view, the only two serious contenders are theism and panpsychism which, contrary to the musings of some, has throughout the history of philosophy been correctly taken as a rival to and not a specification of naturalism.

(Moreland is set to publish in 2009 a similar book about the philosophical problems of naturalism titled, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism )

Angus Menuge
, Concordia University's (Wisconsin) Professor of Philosophy and Computer Science and Chair of Philosophy, is cited by Gefter for receiving funds from the Discovery Institute for his Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science book and for testifying "in favour of teaching ID in state-funded high-schools."

But as Menuge notes in an e-mail to us, "I did not testify 'in favour of teaching ID in state-funded high-schools,' as the media would have discovered if they had actually reported the testimony given in Kansas instead of recycling a standardized science/religion story-line; we simply maintained that students should learn about the evidence for and against the neo-Darwinian view and insisted that Intelligent Design was not yet sufficiently developed as a theory to be taught in classrooms."

Moreover, Menuge notes, "Amanda Gefter also has her chronology wrong: though I did receive support from the Discovery Institute to research Agents Under Fire, this was not part of a program to develop 'non-materialist neuroscience' (an area in which I have since become very interested) but my attempt to show in detail that scientific materialism is untenable because materialism undermines the rationality of science."

Gefter agrees that "scientists have yet to crack the great mystery of how consciousness could emerge from firing neurons." But she then suggests that the argument against materialism is (quoting naturalist philosopher Patricia Churchland) "an argument from ignorance." Churchland says, "The fact [that] something isn't currently explained doesn't mean it will never be explained or that we need to completely change not only our neuroscience but our physics."

Menuge admits "it is possible that a materialistic explanation of consciousness might be found, but that does not make the claim that consciousness is non-physical an argument from ignorance." Menuge further counsels,

At any given time, scientists should infer the best current explanation of the available evidence, and right now, the best evidence from both neuroscience and rigorous philosophical analysis is that consciousness is not reducible to the physical. Churchland’s refusal to draw this inference is based not on evidence, but on what Karl Popper called "promissory materialism," a reliance on the mere speculative possibility of a materialistic explanation. Since this attitude can be maintained indefinitely, it means that even if a non-materialist account is correct (and supported by overwhelming evidence), that inconvenient truth can always be ignored. Surely the project of science should be one of following the evidence wherever it leads, not of protecting a preconceived materialist philosophy. Isn’t it that philosophy—the one that constantly changes its shape to avoid engagement with troublesome evidence, either ignoring the data or simply declaring it materialistic—that most resembles a virus?
In one respect, perhaps it is gratifying that the New Scientist raises awareness (if only out of fear) about important challenges to the materialist establishment. On the other hand, "What irony," wrote William Dembski in an e-mail.
Witch hunts, subversion of science, not following evidence to its logical conclusion -- all the things the author worries will happen to science if a non-materialist neuroscience succeeds -- are the things she herself embraces in reflexively assuming that the only valid neuroscience must be materialist.

Updated 10/24, 6:15 Am (PST)

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, May 19, 2008

Interview with J.P. Moreland: Consciousness & the Existence of God

We did an interview with J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University, about his just released Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge, 2008). Moreland has written similar items on this subject-matter in Philosophia Christi 7:2 (Winter 2005) and 1:1 (Summer 1999).

What do you attempt to do in Consciousness and the Existence of God?

The book's central claim is that the existence of finite, irreducible consciousness (or its regular, lawlike correlation with physical states) provides strong evidence for the existence of God. I call this the Argument from Consciousness (AC). I defend AC and rebut its extant rivals.

Chapters three through five rebut naturalist rivals to AC: John Searle and contingent correlation, Timothy O'Connor and emergent necessitation, Colin McGinn and mysterian "naturalism." Chapters six and seven rebut two additional rivals: David Skrbina and panpsychism, Philip Clayton and pluralistic emergentist monism. Given AC and the failure of its rivals, non-theists should prefer strict physicalism to emergent property dualism. In chapter eight, I argue that, contrary to what many claim, science provides virtually no evidence at all for strict physicalism. Since most physicalists claim that science is the main justification for the view, it is important to ask why strict physicalism is so popular. In chapter nine, I argue that the fear of God - "the cosmic authority problem" - is the main reason for physicalism's popularity. I conclude that it is the relationship between dualism (substance or property) and theism, especially as formulated in AC, that accounts for physicalism's hegemony.

How would you characterize this monograph's contribution? Is this philosophy of mind or philosophy of religion work or both?

To date, there has been no book length treatment of this topic. Swinburne, Oppy, and others have short treatments of this argument. Further, the vast majority of treatments of irreducible property dualism and its implications take place within a prior commitment to naturalism. My book combines philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion into a book-length treatment of the problem from a theistic perspective. In that regard, it is uniqe in the literature.

What sort of discussion would you like to see sparked as a result of your book?

I want to challenge naturalists to opt for strict physicalism as a result of taking the naturalist turn because I believe that it is the most reasonable alternative for them by far and it is obviously false. I also want to challenge the naturalist employment of emergent properties as a way of harmonizing the irreducible features of various entities with a naturalist worldview. Emergent properties are the things that need to be solved, and calling them "emergent" names but does not solve anything, or so I argue.

J.P. Moreland is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. He is currently working on other projects at the intersection of philosophy of religion and philosophy of mind, along with developing further work and leadership with his award-winning Kingdom Triangle (Zondervan, 2007). For more of J.P. Moreland, visit www.kingdomtriangle.com

Labels: , , , ,