Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Recent and Forthcoming Philosophy of Religion Books

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


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Friday, September 18, 2009

William P. Alston, 1921-2009

The EPS honors the life and work of Christian philosopher Dr. William P. Alston, who died on September 13, 2009.

Below is an obituary received from Valerie Alston, Dr. Alston's beloved wife. And a personal tribute from Paul Copan, President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. We welcome further personal and professional appreciations about Dr. Alston's life and work. Please submit your comments to this blog post (see below).


William Payne Alston

William Payne Alston, 87, died September 13, 2009, at the Nottingham Residential Health Care Facility in Jamesville, New York. He was born November 29, 1921 in Shreveport, Louisiana.

In 1942, Bill received a Bachelor of Music degree from Centenary College. During WWII, he served in an Army Band stationed in California. While in the service, he became interested in philosophy, and after his discharge from the Army, he entered the Graduate Program in Philosophy at the University of Chicago. His Ph.D. work led to a position at the University of Michigan, where he taught philosophy for twenty-two years and established himself as an important American philosopher. He then moved to Rutgers University and, later to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1980 he joined the faculty at Syracuse University where he completed his fifty-year career teaching and writing about philosophy. He was best known for his work in the philosophy of language, epistemology, and the philosophy of religion. He published several books and over 150 articles. His many Ph.D. students play a major role in philosophy today. He was founding editor of the journals Faith and Philosophy and Journal of Philosophical Research.

Bill received the highest honors of his profession. He has been President of the Central Division American Philosophical Association, the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and the Society of Christian Philosophers. His international travel included trips to the Vatican as part of an eight-year project on "God's Actions in the World in the Light of Modern Science," sponsored by the Vatican Observatory. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and he received Syracuse University's Chancellor's Award for Exceptional Academic Achievement.

He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Valerie Alston; a daughter, Ellen (John) Donnelly of Wayne, NJ and grandchildren, Patrick & Anna Donnelly; step-children, Marsha (Gary) Dysert of Charlotte, NC, James (Nancy) Barnes of Toledo, OH, Kathleen (Blair) Person of Troy, MI; four step-grandchildren and three great step-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at St. Paul's Cathedral on November 2, 2009 at 11:00 a.m. Fairchild & Meech are in charge of arrangements.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, 310 Montgomery Street, Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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A personal tribute to William P. Alston, from Paul Copan, President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society


On September 13, 2009, Christian philosopher William P. Alston died at the age of 87. Alston wrote prolifically on a wide range of topics in the philosophy of religion—from the problem of evil to divine action to the Spirit’s indwelling to divine foreknowledge and human freedom. Alston’s groundbreaking work is particularly noteworthy in the areas of defending meaningful religious language and articulating an epistemology of religious experience. Other significant contributions include his rigorous defense of truth in realistic terms (“alethic realism”) and of metaphysical realism.

I first heard of Bill Alston when I was a philosophy student at Trinity Seminary in Deerfield, Illinois in the mid-1980s. (I was a student of Drs. Stuart Hackett and William Lane Craig back then.) During this time, I began subscribing to the Society of Christian Philosophers’ journal, Faith and Philosophy. I was aware that Alston and Al Plantinga had helped launch the SCP—a momentous achievement whose time had finally come and for which Christian philosophers everywhere will be ever grateful.

During my studies at Trinity, I had my first exposure to Alston’s writings. The very first Alston piece I read was his essay “Divine-Human Dialogue and the Nature of God” (Faith and Philosophy, January 1986). I not only appreciated the topic he tackled; I marveled that a sophisticated philosopher would give a questionnaire to adults at his church, asking them, “Do you ever feel that God speaks to you? (Not necessarily in audible words. The question could be phrased: do you ever feel that God is communicating a message to you?)” Alston tallied the results: Yes-17; No-2. Thus began my great appreciation and respect for Alston’s insight and exceptional scholarship as well as his personal devotion as a Christian.

After my studies at Trinity, I had the opportunity to meet Alston in 1988 at a Society of Christian Philosophers conference at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. He was one in an impressive line-up of presenters, which included Richard Swinburne, George Mavrodes, Stephen Evans, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Eleonore Stump, and Marilyn Adams along with biblical scholars Anthony Thiselton and the late James Barr. A few of these presented papers made their way into the Faith and Philosophy October 1989 issue.

Years later, I wrote a book review of Thomas Morris’s God and the Philosophers (Oxford University Press 1994) for The Review of Metaphysics (June 1997). Alston’s autobiographical chapter gave me further insight into his experience with God personally—even speaking in tongues—through the influence of charismatic Christians. Alston discussed his attraction to the Christian community through the love he had experienced within it: “my way back [to Christ] was not by abstract philosophical reasoning, but by experience—experience of the love of God and the presence of the Spirit, as found within the community of the faithful” (p. 28). Alston has served as a model of rigorous philosophical thought as well as a deep experience of God by His Spirit. His experience reminds us that the gospel is powerful in a holistic sense: it not only has explanatory philosophical power, but it has the power to transform lives and meet the deepest of human needs.

Back in 2002/2003, I had the privilege of working with Alston on a book project. With Paul Moser, I coedited The Rationality of Theism (Routledge), and Bill led off with the superb essay, “Religious Language and Verificationism.” He concluded his piece by calling the Verificationist Criterion to be “but a paper tiger, in philosophy of religion as elsewhere.” He added, “It poses no threat to the apparently obvious truth that talk of God contains many statements about God that have objective truth-values—whether we can determine what they are or not.”

I am honored to have learned from and worked with this notable philosopher and, even more significantly, a brother in Christ and a partner in the gospel.

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.


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Other remembrances about Alston can be found here:

For further info, see Daniel Howard-Snyder's helpful bibliography of Alston's scholarly work (since 2006) and Daniel's 2005 biographical entry in the Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers.

We welcome personal and professional appreciations in honor of Dr. William P. Alston. Please submit your comments to this post!

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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, July 3, 2009

Interview with Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel: Love of Wisdom (part two)

We continue our interview with Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel concerning their latest book, The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy (Broadman & Holman, 2009). In part one, Steve and Jim talked about the uniqueness of their textbook and its approach, including a brief overview of the book's scope. Below is the second and final part of our interview.


As professors, how has your extensive teaching experience shaped what you say and the manner in which you communicate your ideas in this book?

SPIEGEL: More than twenty years of college teaching in philosophy has confirmed to me the need for a text that is clearly written and engages students’ interest without sacrificing accuracy in discussing views and arguments. Also, students are bugged by imbalance and bias as much as we professors are. So the ideal of fairness and humility in presentation of views was also paramount for us as we wrote the book.

COWAN: I think students like to see the big picture first before they get to the nitty-gritty details of an issue. They need to know how the topic at hand fits in with other questions and concerns, and they need to see the relevance of the issue for real life. When one gets to the details, there need to be clear and concise explanations of the philosophical problems and their answers, and it doesn't hurt if there is some way to make the discussion interesting and fun. Also, I try to approach topics systematically so that we deal with questions in an order that makes sense, so that what is said later builds on what's gone before.

Regarding the need to make things interesting, I have found in my teaching and writing that using lots of illustrations, examples, case studies, and thought experiments are indispensible pedagogical tools. So, as in my teaching, I included in the book lots of illustrations from film, novels, comic books, and so on in order to help explain tough issues in a fun and relevant way. For example, in discussing the Gettier problem in chapter two, I chose to present the problem not by using Gettier's own rather plain counterexamples but by telling a story about an imposter Spider-Man showing up at a public event where Peter Parker, the real Spider-Man's alter ego, was present. Likewise, in the section on free will, I explained Frankfurt-type counterexamples by telling a story about Dr. Doom planting a computer chip in the brain of Reed Richards, leader of the Fantastic Four. The students love it!

At the beginning of each chapter you intentionally introduce your discussion with a literary, film or pop cultural illustration or allusion. What are you trying to communicate or show by introducing a chapter’s topic in this way?

SPIEGEL: In addition to making the text more readable and interesting, these illustrations underscore the fact that Philosophy is not a remote, esoteric discipline but rather a field of study that can be, and should be, applied to literally all aspects of human experience and interest. This includes film, music, sports, literature, television, and everything else in our lives. Also, as Christians, we are called to apply our worldview to all that we do, and providing these links to everyday experience, including arts and entertainment, should remind readers of this fact.

COWAN: As I see it, these illustrations communicate two things. First, they tell readers who have never engaged in any formal study of philosophy that they are already familiar with many philosophical issues whether they know it or not. In the films, TV shows, and books they have read, philosophical concepts and problems are already a part of the experience. In this way, we take the edge off the strangeness and apparent irrelevancy with which philosophy is often perceived by newcomers. Second, and this is closely related to the first point, we hope to show the reader that philosophical ideas can and do influence people even if they have never studied them academically. I tell my students often that even though philosophical ideas often originate in the ivory tower, they never stay there. They always find their way down to the street where people live. And they typically make this transition by means of art—film, literature, etc.

Based on your assessment of the progress of Christian philosophers engaged in philosophical work, what areas of philosophical study remain under-developed or weak? Please list these areas and briefly explain why you think they are under-developed or weak and how might they become more developed and strong.

COWAN: Since the resurgence of Christian philosophy in the last few decades, Christians have done extensive and profitable work in the philosophy of religion and epistemology. Some areas in metaphysics have also received significant attention such as the mind/body problem and free will and determinism. But I think we have only recently begun to have an impact on key issues in general metaphysics or ontology. And, as far as I can tell, we have seen very little work on political philosophy and aesthetics. We seem rightly to be working our way outward from issues of central apologetic concern to Christianity (God's existence, divine attributes, problem of evil, religious epistemology) to broader areas relevant to the larger Christian worldview.

SPIEGEL: I agree with Steve here and would add that Christian philosophical aesthetics is especially in need of some strong work. It is telling that our book is the first Christian introductory philosophy text to feature a chapter on aesthetics.

How do you like to teach a philosophy or apologetics class? How do you use a textbook or other readings in the class?

COWAN: In my philosophy classes I take what I call a mixed Socratic approach. I usually begin a topic with a lecture that explains, say, a particular philosophical problem and then sketches some of the major strategies for solving that problem. Then I ask the students questions that lead them to evaluate the problem themselves and draw out the strengths and weaknesses of the various proposed solutions. I also ask questions designed to help them draw implications and practical consequences from given ideas and views. I like my textbooks to facilitate this method by providing summaries of philosophical issues and discussions of the various positions that can be taken on them. In my apologetics classes, I take a similar approach, though I usually seek to lead the students more directly to particular answers given that apologetics (at least as I conceive it) is designed to train students to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints. So here I prefer apologetics textbooks that state and defend traditional views which I supplement with additional lecture material and evaluative questions.

SPIEGEL: My teaching style is much like that described by Steve. As for my use of textbooks, I prefer to use an anthology of readings and supplement this with a secondary text which provides commentary, thoughtful discussion of key arguments and, if available, a Christian orientation. Our text provides all of these features I desire in a secondary text, thus making it ideally suited for a course in which it is coupled with an anthology of some kind. But, of course, The Love of Wisdom can be profitably studied on its own, in or out of the classroom.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Interview with Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel: The Love of Wisdom (part one)

We are pleased to announce the latest book by Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel, titled, The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy (Broadman & Holman, 2009). Steve and Jim are members of the EPS, contributors to Philosophia Christi, and professors of philosophy at Southeastern Bible College and Taylor University (Indiana), respectivelly. Look for future content from them to appear at the EPS blog. Below is part one of an interview with Steve and Jim about their latest offering.


What is unique about your intent, approach, and features in this Christian introduction to philosophy?


COWAN: We set out to produce a book that avoided two shortcomings we found in other Christian philosophy texts. On the one hand, we did not want to treat issues in a superficial and cursory way. We wanted to provide significant depth so that the reader could come away with a good grasp of the issues and the range of answers that have been given to major philosophical questions. On the other hand, we did not want our discussion to be limited to only a narrow range of topics. We wanted to introduce the reader to all the main areas of philosophy.


Secondly, we wanted the text to be as friendly as possible to the needs of teachers. This required that we include pedagogical aids like diagrams, illustrations, study questions, recommended reading lists, and the like. It also required that we leave a lot of philosophical discussions open-ended rather than stating and defending our own preferred answers to every question. So on issues where Christian philosophers are deeply divided, we resisted the temptation to come down firmly on one side. This way, no matter what view a teacher holds, he or she can comfortably use the text to inform students about the debate and generate classroom discussion.One unique feature of the book, as has been widely touted, is that it includes chapters on subjects that usually get shorted or ignored in other texts, namely political philosophy and aesthetics. Jim and I wanted our treatment of value theory go beyond the requisite chapter on ethics and include these other subjects as well. It is a much better book because of it.


Your text intends to take the acquisition of wisdom as a serious matter when “doing philosophy.” How is this intention realized throughout the book?


SPIEGEL: The two primary ways we do this are methodological and substantive. As a matter of method, we explain and apply the “Socratic method,” which emphasizes humility in inquiry, as well as defining terms and using well-constructed arguments. Substantively, at various places in the discussion we explain how a particular view or acquaintance with an issue will help readers to understand to make wise judgments regarding a wide range of practical issues in ethics, politics, and aesthetics. In addition to standard moral issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and animal rights, we address such issues as civil disobedience, religion in the public square, and how to assess artworks which are aesthetically admirable but morally problematic.


COWAN: Where possible, throughout the book, we try to bring out the practical implications of the views we discuss. Even in philosophical areas that are seen as more abstract we want the reader to see that whatever position he takes, it will have practical and ethical consequences. For example, it's hard to imagine a more abstract topic than the metaphysical debate between Platonism (the view that universals exist) and nominalism (which denies the existence of universals). We show that nominalism has adverse implications for the objectivity of moral values. If there are no universal essences, say, then there is no such thing as humanity. And this makes it hard to make sense of the concept of human rights. So even abstract philosophical topics can contribute to our ability to navigate wisely through life.


Who do you have in mind to most benefit from this book?


SPIEGEL: We wrote the book in such a way that Philosophy students at all stages would have much to gain by reading it. Beginners will appreciate the clear presentation of issues and definitions of terms, while intermediate and advanced students will appreciate the thorough review of arguments for and against the major positions on the issues. As Philosophy teachers ourselves, we appreciate texts that allow for flexibility in use. Professors will benefit from the thorough coverage of topics, which will enable them to tailor reading assignments according to the specific structure and aims of their courses.


Walk us through a brief overview of the three main parts of this book and their significance of content and organization.


SPIEGEL: The book is divided into three parts: knowledge, being and value. The first part contains chapters on logic, epistemology, and philosophy of science. The section on being features chapters on metaphysics, human nature, and philosophy of religion. And the last section includes chapters on ethics, political philosophy and aesthetics. Perhaps our Trinitarian Christian theology impacted our decision to go with all of these triads :), but the book really just seemed to make the most sense this way from an organizational standpoint. The early chapters on logic and epistemology provide readers with conceptual tools that are valuable for reading the other chapters. And understanding several issues in metaphysics, human nature, and philosophy of religion is critical for properly addressing a number of questions in value theory taken up in the last section of the book.

You can learn more about the work of Steve Cowan and Jim Spiegel by visiting their websites: Cowan Chronicles and JimSpiegel.com

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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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Monday, January 5, 2009

Byrne on Theistic Philosophers

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

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

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

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

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Interview with Paul K. Moser: Kerygmatic Philosophy

In November, Paul K. Moser presented a plenary paper at the annual EPS meeting, titled, "Kerygmatic Philosophy." We interviewed Moser about his paper in light of one of his most recent books from Cambridge University Press: The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology.

What is “Kerygmatic Philosophy”?

Kerygmatic philosophy is philosophy anchored in and motivated by the Good News of God’s personal redemptive intervention in human lives, particularly through God’s authoritative call to humans as represented paradigmatically in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The key term “kerygma,” as used here, means “proclaimed Good News.” Christian philosophy, according to the metaphilosophical position developed in The Elusive God (Cambridge University Press, 2008), is inherently kerygmatic in virtue of stemming from God’s Good News call as personified (in human form) in Jesus.

What does kerygmatic philosophy uniquely offer compared to other Christian approaches to philosophy?

It preserves a unique role for God’s personal redemptive call to humans, and it encompasses an epistemology that is pneumatic and incarnational. The accompanying epistemology is pneumatic owing to a distinctive cognitive role for personal divine Spirit (who cannot be reduced to Calvin’s sensus divinitatis), and this epistemology is therefore foreign to secular epistemology and even to much philosophy of religion that claims to be Christian. It is also an incarnational epistemology, given its distinctive cognitive role for God’s Spirit dwelling in humans, in such a way that they become a temple of God’s Spirit (see 1 Cor. 6:19). We may think of incarnational epistemology as requiring that human inquirers themselves become salient evidence of God’s reality in virtue of becoming God’s temple. According to this approach, characteristic evidence of God’s reality is increasingly available to me as I myself am increasingly willing to become such evidence, that is, living and personified evidence of God’s reality. Philosophy in general and epistemology in particular thus take on an irredeemably existential significance and thereby exclude any merely spectator, armchair, or ivory tower approach.

The epistemology offered in kerygmatic philosophy is grace-based, in that firsthand knowledge of God’s reality is a direct gift of God’s grace. The cognitive grace in question supplies a cognitive gift that replaces any demand for intellectual earning, controlling, or dominating with a freely given presence of God’s inviting and transforming Spirit who seeks morally transformative fellowship with humans. This cognitive, irreducibly personal gift must be appropriated by humans in Gethsemane struggles (of submitting one’s will to God’s non-coercive will), given the human condition of sin, but it is not shrouded in philosophical sophistication of the sort accompanying contemporary natural theology. This gift is directly challenging toward natural human ways that resist God, including toward human cognitive idolatry (that exalts cognitive standards inimical to God’s character), but it does not get bogged down in its own intellectual complications. The EPS paper on kerygmatic philosophy shows how natural theology fails in areas where incarnational epistemology makes a needed contribution.

How does the thesis of this paper reflect your recent CUP book, The Elusive God.

The EPS paper develops the volitional epistemology of The Elusive God in a way that bears directly on natural theology. The motivation is to challenge some harmful effects of natural theology, including its neglect of (a) divine elusiveness, (b) the cognitively crucial role of God’s call to humans, and (c) the cognitive importance of human repentance before God. More specifically, natural theology obscures the desperate human needs for (i) the cognitive grace of God’s call to humans and (ii) human turning, in repentance, to receive and obey that life-giving transformative call to fellowship. This obscuring arises from the focus of natural theology on merely de dicto arguments rather than on an experienced divine call de re to humans. In effect, the history of natural theology has been the history of trying to secure knowledge of God’s reality without acknowledging evidence of God’s authoritative personal call to humans.

If Christian philosophers are to take seriously kerygmatic philosophy as both an approach to and the content of philosophical work, what would kerygmatic philosophy work look like?

I offer The Elusive God as an attempt to instantiate kerygmatic philosophy with special attention to epistemological issues, including issues of skepticism. Its metaphilosophy makes a case for the central role of God’s personal redemptive call in Christian philosophy. Given its argument for kerygmatic philosophy, people are well-advised to look carefully for a divine call in their lives. In particular, they should be attentive to experiences that convey a divine call to fellowship with God. Philosophy can and should help with this life-giving project. It can make such contributions as (a) an elucidating phenomenology of a divine call to humans, (b) a clarification of the human conditions for noticing and receiving a divine call, and (c) an account of how evidence of a divine call can be conclusive and thus resistant to skeptical challenges. It is, however, very rare to find such contributions in the philosophy of religion. In neglecting the potential divine call to humans, philosophy of religion has neglected the vital cognitive role of the Good News that God has reached out to confront humans directly in their distressed and dying condition, for the sake of divine–human fellowship. Kerygmatic philosophy can revitalize and redirect philosophy in ways that make it vital and urgent for human life and relationships. This kind of provision is long overdue in philosophy, which has become a fractured discipline without a unifying guide. See chapter 4 of The Elusive God for some details of kerygmatic philosophy and its contrasts with some other philosophical approaches.

Who are some thinkers that have influenced your reflection and development of kerygmatic philosophy and its significance?

My perspective on philosophy and epistemology is based on various New Testament writers, particularly Paul and John. I read the Gospel of John as an inherently epistemological gospel, offering the basics of an epistemology of human knowledge of God. I read some sections of Paul’s letters as similarly epistemological, for instance, 1 Cor. 1-2, Rom. 5, 8. It’s noteworthy that the New Testament writers show no need of arguments of natural theology. They do, however, make important cognitive use of the human experience of God’s call, and they acknowledge the importance of the human will in apprehending evidence of divine reality (see, e.g., Jn. 7:17; 1 Jn. 4:8). For some Pauline remarks on God’s call, see, for instance, 1 Cor. 1:9; cf. 1 Cor. 1:2, 26, 7:17–24, Rom. 1:6–7, Eph. 1:18-19. For 20th-century efforts to preserve the central role of God’s call in philosophy and theology, see Emil Brunner, The Divine Imperative, and the works of two evangelical Quaker Christians, Rufus Jones and Thomas R. Kelly (especially the latter’s Testament of Devotion).

If you were to communicate and relate pastorally to Christians that are laboring in philosophical work, how would you encourage them about their life and vocation, their priorities and aspirations, their relationship to both the church, to the academy and to their communities?

I would note that God tries to meet us in our daily lives even when we are unaware of God’s presence. Usually we are looking for the wrong kind of thing. God does not favor the circus settings of the contemporary revivalists or the rarified arguments of academic philosophers. Matt. 25:31-46 tells us where we should expect to find God’s presence. The cognitive problem is squarely with us humans, not with God or with the evidence characteristic of God. We tend to want the wrong kind of evidence, the kind we can use take self-credit or otherwise to puff up ourselves. God offers the kind of evidence that promotes unselfish love and fellowship. So, we need eyes to see the crucial evidence, and we need to ask God for the needed clear vision. Perhaps prayer, then, is central to epistemology done right. Philosophers do well to redirect their attention, and their lives, to that neglected but vital area. The need for transformation is not easy, but it is, in the end, the only road to life without end.

Paul K. Moser is a professor of philosophy and the chairperson of the department of philosophy at Loyola University (Chicago). He is also working on an ongoing philosophical and theological project that discusses the nature and significance of idolatry and its various forms. More info can be found at his faculty website.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Wang)

C. Charles Wang

The Use of Presuppositional Circular Reasoning by Atheists and Theists

Abstract: Circular reasoning, or question begging, is among the most common logical fallacies. This paper compares two usages of presuppositional circular reasoning: one by Darwinian naturalists and the other by Christian theists. The former deny the usage and the latter embrace it. More attentions are paid to scientists’ use of tautological arguments, which are difficult to detect.

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2008 EPS Papers (Grace)

Justin Grace

The Text & God: Is 'God' a Proper Name or Is 'God' Analogous with 'Water'

Abstract: In the first part of this paper I argue that ‘God’ is not a proper name, rather ‘God’ is a general term. I argue that context determines whether ‘God’ functions semantically as a mass term (similar to that of ‘water’) or a count noun. However, ‘God’ can also function as a count noun, i.e. the second occurrence of ‘God’ in the following: “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” In the second part of this paper I explain what ‘God’ refers to if ‘God’ is a general term. The semantic content of general terms are the species or the substance that a natural kind k designates. If mass terms designate a substance, e.g. the semantic content of ‘water’ is H2O (and ‘God’ also functions as a mass term such as water), then ‘God’ refers to the divine substance, namely The Triune God.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

2008 EPS Plenary Paper (Moser)

Paul K. Moser

Kerygmatic Philosophy

Abstract: The disturbing God acknowledged by Jewish and Christian theism is not static but dynamic, interactive, and elusive. In particular, this God reveals himself to some people at times and hides himself from some people at times, for the sake of gaining fellowship with people. As a result, this God is cognitively elusive, since the claim that this God exists is not obviously true or even beyond evidentially grounded doubt for all capable mature inquirers. Let’s think of the God in question as “the living God” in virtue of this God’s being personally interactive with some agents and cognitively nimble and dynamic rather than functionally or cognitively static. This God, more specifically, is elusive for good reasons, that is, for reasonable divine purposes that fit with God’s unique character of being worthy of worship and thus being morally perfect. Accordingly, we should expect any evidence of God’s existence for humans to be purposively available to humans, that is, available to humans in a way that conforms to God’s perfectly good purposes for humans. This paper explores the striking consequences of this position for natural theology in particular and for theistic philosophy in general. It outlines an epistemology of God’s existence that is pneumatic, owing to a personal divine Spirit (who cannot be reduced to Calvin’s sensus divinitatis), and that is thus foreign to secular epistemology and to much philosophy of religion. It is also an incarnational epistemology, given its cognitive role for God’s Spirit dwelling in humans, in such a way that they become a temple of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). We may think of incarnational epistemology as requiring that human inquirers themselves become evidence of God’s reality in virtue of becoming God’s temple. In this approach, characteristic evidence of God’s reality is increasingly available to me as I myself am increasingly willing to become such evidence.

The epistemology offered is grace-based, in that firsthand knowledge of God’s reality is a direct gift of God’s grace. The cognitive grace in question supplies a cognitive gift that replaces any demand for intellectual earning, controlling, or dominating with a freely given presence of God’s inviting and transforming Spirit who seeks fellowship with humans. This cognitive, irreducibly personal gift must be appropriated by humans in Gethsemane struggles, given the human condition of sin, but it is not shrouded in philosophical sophistication of the sort accompanying contemporary natural theology. This gift is directly challenging toward natural human ways that resist God, including toward human cognitive idolatry, but it does not get bogged down in its own intellectual complications. It revolves around God’s gracious call to humans for the sake of divine-human fellowship, and this call is to be received, and obeyed, in an I-Thou acquaintance between a human and God. Natural theology, as the paper contends, omits such distinctive interactive foundational evidence to its own detriment.

Stay tuned for further discussion about this paper in a forthcoming issue of Philosophia Christi!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Austin)

Michael W. Austin

The Nature and Practice of Compassion

Abstract: Compassion is in. It’s the hot virtue to have, the iPhone of the moral virtues. Compassion is widely praised, but not so widely practiced. What is this virtue, and what is its importance for Christian moral and spiritual formation? In this chapter, I will explore the relationship of compassion to a Christian conception of human flourishing. By drawing from a variety of classic and contemporary sources, I will clarify the intellectual, emotional, and active aspects of compassion. There are numerous barriers to compassion, such as insensitivity, self-absorption, and self-deception. Fortunately, there are several practical activities that we can engage in to develop this virtue, including becoming a part of a community of compassion, practicing compassion in small ways in our everyday lives, and using the imagination in order to foster the development of this important moral virtue.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Interview with Owen Anderson (Part Two)

Here is the second part of our interview with Owen Anderson about his two recent books, The Clarity of God's Existence and Reason and Worldviews (University Press of America, 2008)

Both of your books elucidate the concept of “clarity” and the “ethics of belief.” Can you please unpack what you mean by these concepts, how and why they are related, and what is their significance not just for your books but to understanding God’s existence and the purpose of knowledge and arguments for God’s existence.

In general, the ethics of belief asks if I, as a human, am responsible to believe anything? The idea of clarity arises from considering this question from the opposite side: if I am responsible to believe something then it must be clear. Or it could be said that there must be clarity at the basic level if anything is clear at any other level. For instance, there is a clear distinction between a and non-a, and between being and non-being, and between eternal and non-eternal. What I am asking is whether it is clear what is eternal? Is it possible that all is eternal (without beginning)? Or is it clear that only God is eternal? If it is not clear what is eternal then humans cannot be held responsible for knowing what is eternal. Yet Christianity says that humans are held responsible for ignorance about God—specifically his eternal power and divine nature. The implication is that Christianity must show that it is clear that God exists so that there is no excuse for unbelief. This requires showing that any attempt to maintain belief that something besides God is eternal leads to a blurring of clear distinctions.

The traditional arguments for God’s existence, relying on Platonism and Aristotelianism, have set out to prove that there is a highest being, a first cause, or a designer/moral governor. It was thought that this was enough since the Bible supplies the rest. The problem is that the Bible begins by assuming that God the Creator exists (In the beginning God created . . . ). The Bible is redemptive revelation about the need for atonement because humans have not known God as they should have. That is where my research picks up: what should humans have known about God such that the failure to do so is culpable and results in eternal damnation or redemption through the atoning death of the Son of God? Such significant consequences require that there be no possible excuse for this culpable ignorance.

Can it be shown that it is clear that God exists in this way? It is standard to argue that this kind of clarity is an immediate intuition or religious experience. And so Paul in Romans 1:20 is interpreted as speaking of a “deep down” knowledge everyone has even if they deny it. I do not believe this is what Paul is speaking about. This is not what is meant by clarity precisely because it provides an excuse and does not account for alternative beliefs about what is eternal. One requirement for saying someone knows “God exists” is that they believe “God exists” is true. Obviously, many deny that they believe this. They deny that they belief this and exchange belief in God for an alternative claim about what is eternal. To say that it is clear that God exists is to say that these alternatives are inexcusable. This requires the work of inferences not simply an appeal to what is immediately apprehended. Both sides in a debate can claim that they immediately perceive their conclusion to be true based on some experience, intuition, or common sense claim. To show inexcusability one must go further than merely asserting an immediate experience and show that the alternative involves a contradiction about what is eternal. I believe this is how Paul proceeds in Romans 1, that humans exchanged belief in God for belief in something else, and these alternative beliefs are inexcusable because they claim that something is eternal which is not (for instance, some aspect of the material world).

What is so important about the inexcusability of unbelief is that it is presupposed by Christianity’s claims about the need for redemption through the death of the Son of God. If there is not a clear general revelation to all humans then ignorance cannot be culpable. To say this is satisfied by asserting that everyone has an intuition about God or the moral law is insufficient because i) it is not clear that this true, ii) it begs the question since any religion can make this same assertion about their own beliefs, iii) knowledge requires not just an intuition but being able respond to defeaters—defeaters which have continued to build over the ages.

My book is not about giving an argument to show that God exists, it is one step prior to that. It is about why it is necessary to show the clarity of God’s existence or abandon claims about the need for redemption from unbelief. I believe this is one of the most significant issues of the day and my hope is that this book will encourage others to further study what it means to say that it is clear that God exists.

For the last thirty-years or so, how would you characterize the “success” of philosophy of religion work concerning arguments for the existence of God?

I’m not sure how “success” is monitored. For instance, a well known atheist recently came to believe in something besides the material world. He characterized this as similar to Aristotle’s view of the unmoved mover. Many Christians heralded this as proof that there are successful arguments. But is Aristotelian dualism really closer to theism than is materialism? Doesn’t Christianity maintain that they are both equally inexcusable? Aristotle believed that the material universe has existed from eternity, and that the unmoved mover is not aware of humanity but is forever in perfect self-contemplation. Is this anything like the God of theism? I don’t see how this is a success for theistic arguments, although I do think it highlights my conclusions about why theistic proofs are failing. The historical proofs do not distinguish between the unmoved mover of Aristotle and God the Creator. Indeed, Aquinas said we cannot know from general revelation if the material world was created—translation: we cannot know from general revelation if God the Creator exists.

I would say that success should be measured in terms of what has been shown to be clear to reason. Because the theistic arguments are not aiming at this, but are satisfied with arguing for the plausibility of an unmoved mover, a first cause, a designer, a moral governor, or similar conclusions which fall short of God the Creator, they are not even aiming at showing what is clear about God. And yet we are told not that it is clear that there is a first cause, but that God’s eternal power and divine nature are clear so that there is not excuse for believing the alternative. Showing that would be success indeed!

In light of the thesis in your two books, how might arguments for the existence of God be strengthened?

My concern about proofs for the existence of God is threefold. First, they are viewed as nice but not necessary; second, plausibility is thought to be sufficient; third, they do not identify the real challenge. By way of contrast, I believe that it is necessary for the central claims of Christianity that there be no excuse for unbelief. This means that all alternative views of the metaphysical absolute—what is eternal, claims about the material world existing from eternity, about God and the world being co-eternal, about the world as an illusion in the mind of eternal consciousness, must be addressed. Currently, the theistic proofs limit themselves by overextending from premise to conclusion (premises that don’t actually arrive at the theistic concept of God) or by simply showing that the material world had a beginning and then not addressing the many other worldviews that agree with this but are not theistic.

The focus on plausibility is indicative of the focus on trying to convince others. We want others to believe and so we work on persuading them. This turns philosophy into a branch of marketing. What I find plausible says a great deal about me but nothing about what is true. In other words, what persuades tells us more about the person being persuaded then it does the quality of the claim. By way of contrast, what if the focus was shifted to knowing rather than convincing? Rather than starting by saying “God exists and I’m going to prove it,” what if we start by asking “what can be known, is anything clear at the basic level?”

Since convincing the other is the goal, and this can be achieved apart from rational argumentation and knowledge, the challenge to reason is not seen and is allowed to pass. It is even conceded that there is no certainty but only plausibility. But this challenge has massive implications for humanity: if reason cannot be used to show what is clear about the metaphysical absolute, then any other claim which presupposes knowledge about the metaphysical absolute is also lost. If we cannot know what is real, then we cannot know what is good; if we cannot know what is good then we cannot claim that humans should obey or should be redeemed—needless to say this has significant implications on our lives.

Instead, what if the focus is on what is clear such that there is no excuse for not knowing it? Whether or not a person is convinced is another matter that involves issues about the extent to which they are seeking to know. If nothing is clear at the most basic level, then nothing is clear at any other level that assumes the basic level. Humans cannot be responsible for what is not clear. Therefore, if Christians maintain that humans are responsible then they must show that there is something clear at the basic level, at the level of the metaphysical absolute, or God. This would bring into focus why the challenge to reason is so important: if humans cannot know from reason that God exists, then less basic issues are not clear either and so there can be no responsibility for unbelief—the entire Christian message of the need for redemption through the death of the Son of God hinges on this.

What do you envision to be the future prospects for philosophy of religion work in the North America academy. Please offer your sense of where the field is going, might go, or could go in light of your knowledge and experience.

I have recently read that there is a renaissance in Christian philosophy, and that what is going on can be numbered among the Great Awakenings that frequently occur in American history. I suspect these claims are true. There is new interest in the Philosophy of Religion. However, I’m not sure that these claims are made with the whole picture in mind. I have heard these claims cited with excitement because they are thought to indicate a revival in thoughtful Christianity. Certain schools are mentioned where this is occurring, such as Talbot, Notre Dame, and Yale. I think there certainly is a growth in numbers and an interest in young Christians to move through those schools to their PH.D and to teach.

However, I also see a different picture. I teach at a school where there is also an increase of interest in the Philosophy of Religion and in Religious Studies. And yet this is not limited to young Christians. Instead, this is an interest from students who are asking questions about the world. Events are happening that necessarily raise questions about the role of religion and the ability to work through religious strife. These students see that the answers that have been given, answers that rely on fideism or appeals to tradition or one’s own culture, are insufficient. There is a desire for more—both personally and in order to solve problems facing the world. I think this can be understood as a desire for what is foundational—in contrast to the shifting sands of relativism that noticeably produce global disunity, there is a desire to find that which is not going to change and which can serve as a lasting foundation on which to build for the future. This is the “whole picture” I mentioned a moment ago—we are at a point in world history where conflicts are global and require attention. Differences have been allowed to persist because secondary disagreements have been the focus while basic differences are not noticed or even known.

This could foretell negative implications. In the past, when there have been “Great Awakenings” or revivals, that have failed to adequately solve basic problems facing humanity, they have left “burned over districts” in their path that in turn lead to greater turning away. When hope for certainty is stirred up but certainty is not provided this dashes hope and results in a counter-reaction. Therefore, the popularity of Christian philosophy now could turn into an anger and turning away from it later if it fails to provide a lasting foundation on which to build and on which to solve the problems facing the world.

Nevertheless, I do think there is hope. The challenges that have been raised both culturally and globally are challenges that must be dealt with in the field of philosophy. They are challenges about how we can know (fideism and assertion are not enough—that one is warranted does not settle anything since this is taken away through defeaters and it is our responsibility as rational beings to seek out possible defeaters in leading the examined life); they are challenges about what is real (maintaining that everyone believes in God deep down is asserting what must be proven since any worldview can say this same thing about their metaphysical absolute); and they are challenges about what is good (an emphasis on being saved to go to heaven where the good is achieved does not address alternative views of soteriology and does not explain how the good is accessible in this life). These are philosophical problems that engage the world we live in today. Different views of the good life that rest on different views of the metaphysical absolute are behind global conflicts. I am hopeful that these questions can be answered. I am hopeful because I believe that these questions must be answered if life is to have meaning, and that as my students wrestle with them and find that there are answers this makes a difference in their lives.

I believe there are philosophers out there who are doing this kind of work. A recent book that has had impact on me is Surrendra Gangadean’s Philosophical Foundation: A Critical Analysis of Basic Beliefs. I have known Surrendra for a number of years and I have seen how he has worked on these problems in the field of philosophy.

So I have hope, but am also wary about repeating patterns that have been seen in American history. We must do more than offer an otherworldly vision of the good that is achieved through what is essentially fideism. We must show that these core questions can be answered, that there are clear answers, and that humans are responsible to live the examined life and know the answers to these kinds of questions.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Interview with Owen Anderson (Part One)

We interviewed Owen Anderson about his two recent books: Reason and Worldviews (University Press of America, 2008) and The Clarity of God's Existence (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008). Owen is Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Religion at Arizona State University West.

How did you get into philosophy?

I personally came to be interested in philosophy when I realized that the way I came to hold my worldview was analogous to how others (friends of mine in school) came to hold alternative worldviews. I had no proof, justification, or warrant that they could not also appeal to in order to arrive at a contrary conclusion. My parents/grandparents told me this is true, my religious book tells me this is true, my inner feelings/experiences tell me this is true, the best people I know of tell me this is true, it makes sense to me, etc. I call this “fideism” because we are asked to believe something on which hinges our entire existence but only offered proof that either begs the question or can be used to support alternative beliefs.

This problem built up and I came to a point where I did not want to believe in this way. In the midst of this I discovered the Great Books series in my school’s library. I began reading Aquinas and Freud (I don’t remember why I picked these). At the same time, my dad took me to a debate between William Lane Craig and an atheist, and shortly after that I took my first philosophy class. These events combined so that I became convinced that the kind of fideism I defined above was completely incompatible with the Christian religion, and yet also that the Christian philosophers I studied were often relying on just that kind of fideism. They would give evidences for Christianity, or argue that Christianity is plausible, but these same methods could be used to support alternative conclusions and they generally begged the question. I wanted more.

The consequence was that I pursued studies in philosophy in order to examine questions about how we know, what is real, and what is good. I did not want to beg the question by saying “the Christian view of these is correct and I’m going to prove it.” Instead, I asked myself “are there clear answers to these basic questions, and if so are humans responsible for knowing these answers?” The implication of my studies was that if there are clear answers, and humans have not known them, then humans are guilty for this ignorance. This raises questions about the need for redemption and how that is achieved.

I noticed on your blog that Craig Hazen reviewed the movie Religulous, and said that he came away from it thinking about how important it is for Christians to get away from the idea of faith as fideism. I am encouraged by this. I am hoping that the change will be not simply to saying “we have some arguments in our favor,” but to studying what is necessary to make the claim “there is no excuse for not knowing what is eternal (the eternal power and divine nature).”


What is it like to be a Christian scholar at ASU?

ASU has been a very encouraging place to work in the areas of Philosophy of Religion and Religious Studies. As a secular institution, it provides a context in which critical analysis of basic beliefs can occur. I’m especially interested in working on the intersection between disciplines such as Philosophy, Religious Studies, and History, and ASU is moving in the direction of being a leader in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work. I’m especially excited about this kind of research because in the past I have encountered boundaries where research gets shut down—claims such as “analytic philosophers don’t study that,” or “when we study religion we don’t do philosophical analysis of beliefs.” What I want to study is what can be known from general revelation, what humans are responsible for knowing from general revelation, and ASU has provided a context in which to do that.

How would you characterize your projects in The Clarity of God’s Existence and your Reason and Worldviews?

Reason and Worldviews
is a second edition of my first book Benjamin B. Warfield and Right Reason. This is an interdisciplinary book that draws from history, philosophy, and religious studies. The Clarity of God’s Existence also draws from these disciplines although its main goal is philosophical analysis of challenges to the ethics of belief in God. These books are aimed at a college audience or interested general reader.

Why did you write these books? How did they come about?

These books developed out of my studies at secular university. I am interested in how challenges to belief in God have mounted since the Enlightenment. In Reason and Worldviews I study how Common Sense Philosophy was used at Princeton, and its heritage in thinkers like Cornelius Van Til and Alvin Plantinga. In The Clarity of God’s Existence I study why it is necessary for Christianity to show that it is clear that God exists, and how challenges from David Hume and Immanuel Kant continue to be unanswered. A recent edited volume that claimed to respond to Hume began by stating that there cannot be a conclusive argument showing God’s existence, there is only plausibility. In other words, “it is not clear that God exists so that there is an excuse for unbelief, but here are some arguments that have persuaded us.” Rather than being a response to Hume, I think this has conceded to Hume his skeptical claims about the power of reason. I hope that my books will bring to the forefront the need to show the clarity of God’s existence if the claim that unbelief is inexcusable is to be taken seriously.

Please briefly summarize your discussion in Reason and Worldviews

Reason and Worldviews developed out of the questions: how has Christian apologetics developed in American history? What have been the best examples of arguments for belief? Why have these failed to show that there is no excuse for unbelief? What hindrances remain in showing this? As I studied the tradition of Common Sense Philosophy and how it uniquely developed at Princeton, the puzzle began to be solved. If the best relied on appeals to common sense, is it any wonder that this has been set aside for naturalism? I also went on to study Van Til and Plantinga to discern their contribution and whether they helped overcome the problems facing appeals to common sense. I hope this book will contribute by bringing into focus the development of thought about knowing God and what more needs to be done.

Please briefly summarize your discussion in The Clarity of God’s Existence.

In The Clarity of God’s Existence I study why it is important for Christianity to show that there is no excuse for unbelief. I examine how there has been a failure to understand this need, and how challenges have built up from thinkers like David Hume and Immanuel Kant. It has come to a point that many in society believe that there is no excuse for belief rather than for unbelief. I study how this shift occurred, and how contemporary Christian philosophy does not generally understand this challenge. I then give some suggestions on how this can be addressed, although in this book I do not offer a full account of how to show the clarity of God’s existence. Instead, the bulk of the text is spent on tracing the history of challenges since the Enlightenment and showing why clarity is necessary.

Stay tuned for part two ...

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Richard Dawkins' search for a grander truth

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

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

A few brief observations:

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Owen Anderson's New Book Gets Press at ASU

Owen Anderson, an assistant professor of philosophy of religion in Arizona State University's (ASU) New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, received notable press from ASU about his new book, The Clarity of God's Existence: The Ethics of Belief after the Enlightenment (Wipf & Stock, 2008).

Currently, ASU is considered the largest state university in the country. According to the detailed and positive press release by the university, Anderson says,

"The audience for this is anyone who is interested in questions about religious belief in the modern world," says the author, who has received a grant from the Harvard Pluralism Project to study the religious diversity of the greater Phoenix area. "Are authors like Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens correct in challenging the validity of one's belief in God? Do they successfully show that there is an excuse for unbelief, or even that there is no excuse for belief? My book looks at the many ways the need for clarity has been avoided, and how excuses have built up. I then suggest ways this might be addressed. For this reason, it should be of interest to both the believer and the non-believer."

Anderson, a contributor to Philosophia Christi, has also reviewed books on religion and public policy, philosophy of religion and philosophy of science.

UPDATE (10/15): See this other article from ASU's student paper about Owen Anderson's book.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Plantinga and Groothuis on Evolution, Naturalism and Atheism

Alvin Plantinga argues in the latest issue of Books & Culture that "naturalism and evolution are in conflict with each other."

Also in that same issue, Doug Groothuis reviews various books concerning atheism, the state of the debate between atheists and theists, and he alludes to the Philosophia Christi interview of former atheist Antony Flew.

Previously in Books & Culture, Plantinga published "The Dawkins Confusion" and Groothuis published "Defenders of the Faith" and "Jesus the Philosopher."

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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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