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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