Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

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.

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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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Friday, June 5, 2009

Downward Causation

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

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

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

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

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Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Barry Carey)

Barry L. Carey

Savant Syndrome and the Soul

Abstract: Savant Syndrome is a remarkable condition in which individuals with severe mental disabilities exhibit "islands of genius." The movie Rain Man, which focuses on an autistic savant, has brought about increased awareness of this rare syndrome in which the afflicted show extraordinary skill in music performance, art, calendar calculating, mathematics, or mechanical or spatial skills. Modern neuroscience continues to be unable to explain how such remarkable abilities manifest themselves in the midst of such debilitating handicaps. Substance dualism provides a template through which one might gain insight into the phenomena associated with Savant Syndrome. These are less satisfactorily explained from a monistic physicalist account of human beings. For the substance dualist, an investigation into these phenomena may shed light into the nature of the soul. For those not convinced of the existence of a non-material soul, the increased explanatory power of the substance dualist position in regard to the phenomena of Savant Syndrome may provide greater reason to consider the substance dualist position superior to the monist position. If by positing the existence of the soul, one may gain insight into the complexities of Savant Syndrome, perhaps there is reason to believe there is a little "savant" inside us all.

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2008 EPS Papers (Smith)

R. Scott Smith

Naturalism, Our Knowledge of Reality, and Some Implications for Christian Physicalists

Abstract: One of ontological naturalism's greatest perceived strengths is our ability on that basis to know reality. Several naturalists (e.g., Tye, Dretske, and Papineau) argue that we reality directly. Yet, they realize that they must given an account of intentionality, which for many has been considered the hallmark of the mental. They even grant much of what dualists say must be true of intentionality. But, they argue that intentional states are reducible to brain states, yet brain states may be conceptualized as intentional. Alternatively, Daniel Dennett thinks intentionality is just attributions we make of certain physical systems from the intentional stance.

Here, we may learn an important lesson for naturalism: without any intrinsically intentional states, nothing will be given to us; all experience, and all knowledge, will be our taking things to be certain ways, without any way to get started or know how reality truly is.

There are implications for Christian physicalists, too. If they leave no place for intrinsic intentionality, the lessons will be the same. Suppose though that someone allows for emergent, irreducibly intentional states that simply are of their objects. But, I shall argue that this move will be sufficient for us to know reality.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Truth and Usefulness

When Alvin Plantinga and others developed what may be called the Argument from Reason Against Evolutionary Naturalism, my expectation was that proponents of evolutionary psychology would work flat out to explain why Quine and Dennett were right in claiming that natural selection is a good explanation of the reliability of human reasoning.

Oddly, this is not the case. In How the Mind Works (p. 305), Steven Pinker insists that "our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth." In other words, our cognitive capacities, including reason, are there because they are useful in the Darwinian sense of promoting the flourishing of our "selfish" genes.

The obvious problem with this is that what natural selection tests directly is our behavior, and false beliefs are just as good as true ones provided that they produce adaptive behavior, e.g. so long as it makes me run away from lions, the false belief that I am confronted with a shrubbery will be selected for. And there are surely many more false beliefs than relevant true ones about lions to choose from, so it seems it is always more likely for me to be motivated by false beliefs connected to adaptive behavior than by true and relevant beliefs that would actually provide an intelligible reason for that behavior.

Lewis Wolpert does the same thing. In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, he writes that (p. 140) "our brains contain a belief generating machine, an engine that can produce beliefs with little relation to what is actually true."

Later in the same book, and with no discernible sense of irony, or epistemic danger, he says (p. 216), "Science provides by far the most reliable method for determining whether one's beliefs are valid." Well, but the "scientific method" consists of beliefs generated by this unreliable engine. And what is worse, supposing that direct relevance to survival somehow could increase the probability that our beliefs are true, this certainly would not grant reliability to abstract beliefs in science and philosophy having nothing to do with survival.

Again, one thinks the evolutionary psychologist would worry--be afraid of the epistemic lions, as it were. But these lions are only mentioned in passing--as if they were shrubberies. Writes Pinker again (304):

"Our ancestors encountered certain problems for hundreds of thousands or millions of years--recognizing objects, making tools, learning the local language, finding a mate, predicting an animal's movement, finding their way--and encountered certain other problems never--putting a man on the moon...proving Fermat's last theorem."

Here we have a theory like the one D. A. Carson has called "hard postmodernism," that takes itself all of the way to epistemic self-destruction. The theory implies that theories such as itself have no reliable basis. How then can the evolutionary psychologist recommend evolutionary psychology (or the broader evolutionary naturalism on which it depends ) with any credibility? Isn't this just like the hard postmodernist's self-refuting claim that there are NO metanarratives (it is true of all narratives that they are not metanarratives)?

Even more odd is the fact that when considering supernatural religious beliefs, evolutionary psychologists often claim, in effect, that since these beliefs are useful (for social cohesion, health or whatever) they aren't true! Of course this is a fallacy, but one would think they would be concerned with the implications for their own worldview. Just as it is a fallacy to argue useful, therefore true, it is equally a mistake to argue useful, therefore false, which would mean giving up arithmetic, logic and the scientific method. It is a bizarre spectacle to see thinkers attempting to apply universal acid selectively. When they claim that scientific claims have special reliability because of the way they are tested, they forget that they are presupposing the very use of logic (the experimental method) whose reliability is in question.

Aside from the lack of hard evidence for its claims, it seems to me that evolutionary psychology is showing itself to be fraught with problems of internal incoherence, and can only be upheld by a scrupulous doublethink which masks as shrubberies the epistemic lions it has unleashed, though they seem quite ready and willing to devour it.

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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

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Metaphysics articles, Pruss on choice and substances & important reviews

Articles

Huw Price, "Metaphysics after Carnap: the ghost who walks?" To appear in David Chalmers, Ryan Wassermann and David Manley, eds., Metametaphysics (OUP, 2009).

William Lycan, "Phenomenal Intentionalities."

W. Russ Payne, "What is a Law of Nature."

Toby Handfield, "The metaphysics of dispositions and causes."

Gyula Klima, "The Medieval Problem of Universals." (SEP)

Anil Gupta, "Definitions." (SEP)

Carl Hoefer, "Causal Determinism."

Peter Menzies, "Counterfactual Theories of Causation."

Blog posts

Alex Pruss, "Prediction of Choices."

_______, "Why do we need substances if presentism holds?"

_______, "Love of substances"

Reviews

Eric T. Olson, What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology, Oxford University Press, 2007, 250pp. Reviewed by Michael O'Rourke, University of Idaho.

Lucy O'Brien, Self-Knowing Agents, Oxford University Press, 2007, 231pp. Reviewed by Robert J. Howell, Southern Methodist University.

Steven Horst, Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science, Oxford University Press, 2007, 223pp. Reviewed by D. Gene Witmer, University of Florida.

Georg Gasser (ed.), How Successful Is Naturalism?, Ontos, 2007, 300pp. Reviewed by Joseph Rouse, Wesleyan University.

Trenton Merricks, Truth and Ontology, Oxford University Press, 2007, 202pp. Reviewed by Ben Caplan, Ohio State University.

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