Search Results for: Michael Rea

Interview with Michael Austin on Humility and Human Flourishing

Oxford University Press is set to release Humility and Human Flourishing from Michael Austinthe newly elected President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. In the below interview, Michael talks about his latest book and the importance of further philosophical and theological work to be done on humility as a virtue integral for human flourishing.

What is Humility?

In short, humility is “proper self-assessment” and “a self-lowering other-centeredness”. I analyze it in much more detail, of course. To do so, I employ Robert Adams’ notion of the modularity of virtue. So in terms of what will be true of the humble person, I discuss several cognitive, emotive, and active modules of humility, as follows:

(C1) The humble person possesses self-knowledge with respect to his virtues, vices, and limitations, both personal and qua human person.
(C2) The humble person knows that God deserves the credit for her salvation, talents, abilities, accomplishments, and virtues.
(C3) The humble person believes that he ought to have a prima facie preference for the satisfaction of the interests of others over the satisfaction of his own interests.
(C4) The humble person will not conceive of human beings in a hierarchical manner in light of their equal inherent dignity and worth as image-bearers of God.
(C5) The humble person is properly concerned with how others perceive her.
(E1) The humble person has a prima facie preference for the satisfaction of the interests of others over his own.
(E2) The humble person is motivated to act by her love for God and for the sake of his kingdom.
(A1) The humble person will be disposed to obey God.
(A2) The humble person will be disposed to engage in self-sacrificial actions for the good of others.

There is a lot here, but this is the account of the humble person that I offer as a Christological account of this moral virtue in such a person. The account is grounded in philosophical reflection and analysis, classic and contemporary theology and biblical studies, and some recent empirical work on this virtue. Reading the above, one might wonder about how I individuate humility from other virtues. For that, you’ll have to read the book!

With that account in mind, how is a philosophical-theological account of Humility integral to an account of Human Flourishing?

There are many ways, but one that stands out is that humility is a virtue that is central in and essential for rightly relating us to God, others, and to the good, the true, and the beautiful in creation and God’s kingdom. On a Christian account of human flourishing, humility is rational, benefits its possessor, and is conducive to individual and social flourishing. Given the historical skepticism of thinkers such as Hume and Nietzsche, and contemporary thinkers like Tara Smith, it is important to defend humility’s status as a moral virtue as part of a larger case for the rationality and goodness of the Christian moral life, insofar as humility is an essential aspect of such a life.

How did this project come about for you?

I was reading Erik Wielenberg’s Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe, where he discusses a naturalistic account of the virtue of humility but also some of what C.S. Lewis thought about it. I thought Lewis was partially right, but realized that in both popular and scholarly literature, there are many inaccurate or truncated views about the nature of humility. So that got me into the topic and just 8 short years later my work resulted in this book!

That’s interesting. What did you discover about this topic that most intrigued you?

I constructed my initial account of the virtue, as I noted above, employing philosophy, theology, and biblical studies. I was fascinated to find that the operational definition of this trait that is used by many psychologists corresponds to my account. This helped my work substantially. For example, some of the ways in which I respond to Hume’s criticisms of humility’s status as a virtue make use of this excellent work in psychology on the virtue of humility.

What have you found to be so distinct about a Christian account of humility?

For me what is most distinct from a Christian perspective is that humility is primarily an interpersonal virtue. The current naturalistic versions of humility on offer construe it as a self-regarding virtue, and several Christian accounts follow suit. While humility does have self-regarding elements, including a knowledge of our limits and other kinds of self-knowledge, that is not the heart of the virtue. The picture we get from examining the Scriptures is that it is primarily other-regarding; it is about putting the interests of others ahead of one’s own, as the gospels and Philippians 2:1-11 make clear that Jesus himself habitually did. So my initial concerns about construing humility as merely self-knowledge, a knowledge of one’s limits, turned out to be confirmed by not only an in-depth scriptural analysis of humility, but of what many have thought about this trait over the centuries. This means that humility is a robustly action-guiding virtue, and is relevant to a variety of issues in applied ethics as well as spiritual formation. I discuss how this is so in the book.

Your project is engaged in ‘analytic moral theology.’ What do you find distinct about that approach and why does it matter?

It is distinct insofar as it involves approaching theological topics where moral concerns are central, with the ambitions of an analytic philosopher: prizing particular intellectual virtues, using the analytic style of discourse, seeking clarity, and using the other tools of analytic philosophy. This is not the only method that we should use, but it is one that brings some underutilized tools to bear on Christian moral theology. I discuss this in more detail in the book, and consider several objections to it. One desired result of this kind of work is that it helps us acquire moral knowledge that we can then apply as we see fit. In this sense, it is quite practical. In short, to seek to grow in and exemplify humility, it helps to know what it actually is!

The book ends with a reflection on John 13. How is Jesus brilliant on ‘humility and human flourishing.’

First and foremost, Jesus is brilliant on these topics because both his teaching and his life exemplify humility and human flourishing. In the foot-washing we see his brilliance and humility on display. He offers us a way out of our own crippling egoistic pride, not only by lighting the way, so to speak, but by enabling us to be transformed by his grace into the freedom that humility can deliver.

Given the contours of your book, what do you recommend for further philosophical-theological work to be done by Christians in this area?

I think more work should be done on other virtues and a general Christian account of flourishing, by Christians. Then, we need to translate this scholarly work into more popular forms so that the picture of the good person and the good life that we see in Christ is made concrete, specific, and attainable by those who humbly depend on him for doing seeking to experience and embody God’s goodness. As Dallas Willard argued, we need a curriculum for Christlikeness. My view is that the evangelical segment of the Christian church in the United States is in desperate need of a moral reformation, with the pursuit of knowing and loving God at the center of our lives, in tandem with a true transformation of character. Otherwise, the movement will die out, and rightly so. It is up to Christian scholars to work in moral theology, offering insights related to both theory and practice. I’d like to see what happened with philosophy of religion and apologetics resources in the past 30 years also happen in the moral realm. We need popular-level resources for how to grow that are grounded in excellent scholarship, but also aimed at becoming, as C.S. Lewis said, “little Christs.”

You can learn more about Michael Austin’s work by visiting his personal website. Additionally, the Winter 2018 issue of Philosophia Christi will feature a symposium discussion on Erik Wielenberg’s “Godless Normative Realism” as an alternative to theistic accounts of moral realism, with responses from William Lane Craig, Tyler D. McNabb, Mark C. Murphy, Adam L. Johnson, and with a final reply by Wielenberg. Subscribe today!

Freedom from Reality: The Diabolical Character of Modern Liberty

In 2017, the University of Notre Dame Press released Freedom from Reality: The Diabolical Character of Modern Liberty by D. C. Schindler, in the Catholic Ideas for a Secular World series. Schindler is associate professor of metaphysics and anthropology at the John Paul II Institute. He is the author of a number of books, including The Catholicity of Reason.

From the publisher’s description of Freedom from Reality:

It is commonly observed that behind many of the political and cultural issues that we face today lies an impoverished conception of freedom, which, according to D. C. Schindler, we have inherited from the classical liberal tradition without a sufficient awareness of its implications. Freedom from Reality presents a critique of the deceptive and ultimately self-subverting character of the modern notion of freedom, retrieving an alternative view through a new interpretation of the ancient tradition. While many have critiqued the inadequacy of identifying freedom with arbitrary choice, this book seeks to penetrate to the metaphysical roots of the modern conception by going back, through an etymological study, to the original sense of freedom.

Schindler begins by uncovering a contradiction in John Locke’s seminal account of human freedom. Rather than dismissing it as a mere “academic” problem, Schindler takes this contradiction as a key to understanding the strange paradoxes that abound in the contemporary values and institutions founded on the modern notion of liberty: the very mechanisms that intend to protect modern freedom render it empty and ineffectual. In this respect, modern liberty is “diabolical”—a word that means, at its roots, that which “drives apart” and so subverts. This is contrasted with the “symbolical” (a “joining-together”), which, he suggests, most basically characterizes the premodern sense of reality. This book will appeal to students and scholars of political philosophy (especially political theorists), philosophers in the continental or historical traditions, and cultural critics with a philosophical bent.

A discussion about Freedom From Reality with author D. C. Schindler (John Paul II Institute), Peter Simpson (CUNY), Michael Moreland (Villanova Law), and Adam Seagrave (U. Missouri). Introduced by Patrick Deneen, Acting Director of the ND Center for Ethics and Culture.

Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: An Interview with Brian J. Wright

In December 2017, Fortress Press will publish Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices, by Brian J. Wright. Wright is adjunct professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University and has published a number of academic studies in the Journal of Theological Studies, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Trinity Journal, and Tyndale Bulletin.

We recently interviewed Wright about his soon-to-be-released book, the implications of his argument, and the significance of his scholarship for the practice of communal reading today.

Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus not only has value for those doing an historical reconstruction of early Christian reading practices, but also worthwhile for Christian philosophers and theologians working on issues of scripture’s authority and canon formation, engaging issues of hermeneutics, and the role of communal reading practices in shaping communal identity over time.

What is the main argument of Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus?

The main argument of my book is that communal reading events were widespread during the time of Jesus (i.e., the first century AD). Practically speaking, this brings the academic conversation back at least one century, overturning the predominant idea that the communal reading of written texts, and even the use/demand for written texts, were a second century or later phenomenon (or trend). In other words, the simplistic notion that only a small segment of society in certain urban areas could have been involved in such communal reading events during the first century has been overturned.

What are the relevant Jewish/Hebraic ‘background culture’ factors that shape first-century Christian communal reading?

It seems to me that the early Christian movement largely inherited the book culture, reading communities, and literary practices of Judaism, even if early Christian communities modified or transformed them in diverse ways. Thus, one factor I note in my work is that Christian communal reading events were not a new sacred phenomenon. A main (yet additional) factor suggesting this was the role of synagogues in early Christian origins. We also see the NT authors, such as Paul, using the terminology of “tradition(s),” which has a long history in Judaism. To give just one more specific example here, there is a first-century Jewish text that has a scene where a mother addresses her sons after their father dies, and she focuses exclusively on what their father read, taught, and sang at home: the Jewish Scriptures. I believe we also see this type of focus and even Christian obligation to train our families, which includes reading the Scriptures communally.

What do you care most about in this important discussion?

I know this might sound trite, but I care most about discovering the truth. Why was there such an emphasis in the New Testament on the communal reading of written texts (e.g., Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 Tim 4:13; Rev. 1:3)? Was communal reading a conserving force within literary traditions in the first century AD? To what extent did it control the textual transmission of the Christian tradition and influence its stability? By knowing the correct answers to these types of questions, as a historian I can better reconstruct the history and culture of Jesus’s time, and as an interpreter I can more accurately understand God’s Word.

How do you develop your book’s argument?

In one sense, developing my argument was the hardest part of the book because I was mostly navigating in uncharted territory within New Testament studies, and identifying these events is more complex than merely looking for some key terms or in one corpus of literature. But in another sense, developing the argument was the easiest part of this work. Every time a location was identified, like Jesus reading communally in a synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–30), it automatically advanced my main argument to some extent. As the evidence quickly multiplied, I then placed it within the political, social, and economic context of the day. I believe this enhanced the strength of my argument that communal reading events were widespread because such factors did not necessarily hinder them in the Roman Empire.

However widespread, was the Christian practice distinct in forming “communal identity” among early Jesus followers? If so, how?

I note several factors in my work that enhance the notion that the earliest Christian communities were distinct in forming communal identity. The picture more often than not is of a didactic community that used texts in forming communal identity, while emphasizing such things as the office of teacher, gift of teaching, commands to teach, traditions passed on, and communal reading. In fact, I note several outsiders who attended and tried to imitate Christian communal reading events in certain ways. I also show the distinctiveness of Christian reading culture by noting such things as the inclusion of new writings. But let me conclude by giving just one verse as a distinct example. Paul states, “I put you all under oath before the Lord to have this letter read aloud to all the brothers” (1 Thess. 5:27).

Why do you find your argument to be compelling?

I think the argument is compelling because it is data rich. In fact, at each stage of research, I had to keep  narrowing my parameters. I started the project looking for all types of evidence from the first three centuries. Before long, I realized I would not even be able to cover one type of evidence (literary) in one of the centuries (the first century). Even after adding a highly selective appendix with 60 additional authors and 142 texts, I was unable to include all the literary evidence I found, not to mention other types of evidence, such as epigraphic and archeological.

What do you anticipate as some criticisms of your argument that you find most interesting or

Craig Keener noted this regarding my book, “Although subsequent scholarship regularly debates some conclusions of any ground breaking work, it remains indebted to the foundations that such a work lays.” I  reference his comment because I’m not naïve to think that my book will settle all matters. In fact, I expect to receive my share of criticism, which is par for the course. So if I were to venture a guess on a couple of them, I would suspect at least seeing these two broad criticisms: (1) my survey-of-the-entire-NT approach, and (2) my seemingly arbitrary selection of authors and texts, especially those at the beginning and end of the first century.

What is your response to those criticisms?

I would say without hesitation that those criticisms are correct. I did do a survey of the entire NT instead of  narrowing my focus onto one author, book, or verse. I did have to establish parameters and make certain selections of the evidence that might initially seem arbitrary and will not please every academic reviewer. Nevertheless, I would respond to the first one by saying that I cast a wider net than many modern scholars do because I’m asking and answering only the first of a series of important historical questions regarding communal reading: how widespread were they? As for the second one, I would say that other selections could always have been made. What I don’t think can be denied, however, is that I have provided more evidence for first-century communal reading events in my book then anyone has thus far. Therefore, I don’t think those types of critiques will jeopardize my main argument that communal reading events were widespread and an available conserving force within literary traditions in the first century AD.

How does Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus intersect with your other current or forthcoming projects?

Given the wide-ranging implications of this study, such as the affects it will have on hermeneutics and possibly even future translations, I think this work will continue intersecting with all of my current and forthcoming projects. I am actually finishing a devotional book, which Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus has influenced in some powerful ways, such as how spiritual formation occurred during the communal reading of Scripture.

How did early Christians approach communal reading with an expectation that the practice would be spiritually formative?

The Book of Revelation probably contains one of the most explicit statements regarding your question: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it” (1:3). This statement alone demonstrates that the author foresees his work being read aloud communally and the expectation that the practice would be spiritually formative. In fact, it comes right after the opening verse, which states that this revelation is for all Christ’s “slaves” (= Christians). Elsewhere, believers seemed to accept the NT writings, like the word of Paul, as the word of God and that this word was presently active in their lives. Thus, Christians understood what it meant to live in the sphere of a sacred text that was read communally and they approached it as such.

What do you notice about communal reading as “a conserving force within literary traditions in the first century AD”?

For many scholars, I think the “pot of gold” in this study will be the quality controls that are linked to communal reading events. There are simply too many examples to list here, but I will try to summarize just a few of them to illustrate my point. Some first-century authors mention their community getting angry and throwing away manuscripts they received to read if they contained mistakes. Other first-century authors write at length about textual differences, such as changes to earlier manuscripts and spelling differences between them, in order to highlight a quality control they think should be in place when audiences hear poets read their works. Still other first-century authors mention posting their communal readings publicly so others can read them, discuss the peer pressure involved during readings, and write about making corrections to manuscripts during readings.

Can communal reading still be a ‘conserving force’ today? If so, in what sense and under what kinds of conditions?

I think it can and should. Let me first give just two specific examples that happened after the first century. The so-called Muratorian Fragment from the second century notes that even though the Shepherd of Hermas should be read personally, “it cannot be read publicly to the people in church.” Fast forward about a century and there is a situation recorded in a letter from Augustine to Jerome. According to Augustine, there was one word in Jerome’s Latin translation (the Vulgate) of Jonah 4:6 that differed from what they had been hearing read communally for generations, and it caused an uproar in his congregation. I share these two examples to say this, communal reading can and should still act as a conserving force today because other so-called testaments of Jesus Christ (like the Book of Mormon) and new translations of the Scriptures (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses New World Translation) continue to be produced but should not be embraced or read communally in Christian churches.

How might your book help illuminate discussions about “hermeneutics” and the “authority of  scripture”?

It is quite ironic (or well-timed) that you ask me this question. A few days ago, I just received a courtesy copy of Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard’s Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, which is in its third edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017). As I flipped through the Table of Contents, I was reminded of how much my book applies to many aspects of hermeneutics and the authority of Scripture. For instance, and using their work as just one representative example of the various categories, I could see my work illuminating nine out of their 12 chapters. If I were to pick just one section to illustrate my point and answer your question, though, the one that keeps popping into my mind right now is their discussion on presuppositions and preunderstandings. I think my book will help interpreters identify and evaluate some of their preconceptions regarding the social and cultural matrix of Jesus’s day, especially as they relate to literacy and literate behavior.

How has your research for this book shaped your own reading practices of scripture?

It has affected my own reading practices in numerous ways, but I’ll just note three examples here. First, I believe my research shows that the earliest Christian communities prioritized the communal reading of Scripture. Thus, I try to model and emphasize this social dimension in my pastorate, as well as in the classrooms I teach. Second, I think my research also demonstrates that early Christianity was bookish. This has influenced my reading practices as I study and discuss literature in Christian gatherings. Third, I believe my research indicates that Christians have always been concerned about having a reliable copy of the Scriptures, and would object to alterations. This is something that also shapes my reading practices in that I am conscientious about having a reliable copy of the Scriptures, and even willing to question any significant variations.

I wonder if what you are also saying is that the social-cultural practice of communal reading, at least in the first century, is suggestive for how authority ‘works’ in community, at least tacitly. That is, not all texts merit a communal reading. But perhaps the tacit desiderata is this: those texts that have authority – at least authority to form identity – should be read communally; for that is how a particular authority is designed to be realized and recognized? The Scriptures, of course, are such a text.

I think you are absolutely right, and that you could even state that a little stronger. Only some literary traditions were shared, read aloud, and/or recited during certain communal gatherings. Again, let me give a few specific examples. Bishop Serapion writes to the Church in Rhossus about the Gospel of Peter, advising them not to read it communally. Pliny’s reading group often promoted or rejected certain texts, authors, and participants for their events. Tertullian specifically mentions the communal reading of the books of God during Christian gatherings: “We meet to read the books of God.” Justin Martyr refers to the communal reading of the apostolic memoirs and the writings of the prophets on the Lord’s Day. Meaning, various traditions eagerly awaited acceptance or rejection from various communal reading events. Will the literary community read it communally? Will they endorse it? Will they actively make copies and circulate it? Will the god(s) accept this text? Will people preserve it for future generations—via manuscripts, monuments, frescos, notebooks, etc.? In fact, some textual critics, such as Emanuel Tov, demonstrate that certain sacred texts were selected by scribes to receive extraordinary care.

What can communities of Christian scholars – especially philosophers and theologians! – gain by the insights of early Christian reading practices of Scripture?

D. A. Carson said of my book, “One wonders why these things have not been brought to light before.” I think he is exactly right to note this because, although the evidence has been around a long time, our knowledge (or incorporation) of it has not. Thus, beyond what I mentioned earlier regarding its contributions to hermeneutics and the authority of scripture conversations, and the freshness of the evidence as Carson noted, let me mention one more major takeaway communities of Christian scholars can glean from early Christian reading practices. The regular practice of reading texts communally points us in the direction of a more stable textual tradition.

In closing, any particular recommendations to aid a person’s further study of your subject-matter?

Absolutely. To keep the list manageable, though, I’ll just note three standard works and two articles in relation to ancient book culture, as well as a few names of key scholars that people should know about.  

  1. Harry Y. Gamble’s Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1995). 
  2. William Johnson’s Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire: A Study on Elite Communities (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). 
  3. William A. Johnson and Holt N. Parker’s edited volume, Ancient Literacies: The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). 
  4. “Ancient Literacy in New Testament Research: Incorporating a Few More Lines of Enquiry,” TrinJ 36.2 (2015): 161–89. 
  5. “Ancient Rome’s Daily News Publication with Some Likely Implications for Early Christian Studies,” TynBull 67.1 (2016): 145–60.

In fact, chapter 14 of Ancient Literacies has a topically indexed bibliography covering 20 years (1989–2009) of this multifaceted subject-matter, focusing on the cultural and social significance of literacy and literate behavior.

And at the risk of not mentioning so many other key scholars (!), here are just half-a-dozen scholars I think people would do well to read extensively: Roger Bagnall, Scott D. Charlesworth, Charles E. Hill, Larry Hurtado, Michael J. Kruger, and Alan Millard.

Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus

In December 2017, Fortress Press will publish, Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices, by Brian J. Wright. Wright is adjunct professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University and has published a number of academic studies in the Journal of Theological Studies, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Trinity Journal, and Tyndale Bulletin.

From the publisher’s description:

Much of the contemporary discussion of the Jesus tradition has focused on aspects of oral performance, story telling, and social memory, on the premise that the practice of communal reading of written texts was a phenomenon documented no earlier than the second century C.E. Brian J. Wright overturns that premise by examining evidence that demonstrates communal reading events in the first century. Wright disproves the simplistic notion that only a small segment of society in certain urban areas could have been involved in such communal reading events during the first century; rather, communal reading permeated a complex, multifaceted cultural field in which early Christians, Philo, and many others participated. His study thus pushes the academic conversation back by at least a century and raises important new questions regarding the formation of the Jesus tradition, the contours of book culture in early Christianity, and factors shaping the transmission of the text of the New Testament. These fresh insights have the potential to inform historical reconstructions of the nature of the earliest churches as well as the story of canon formation and textual transmission.

For advanced recommendations of the book, see Larry Hurtado’s Forward, and then Michael Bird’s review in the Euangelion blog on Patheos.

Alvin Plantinga Announced as Templeton Prize Laureate

The Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) is thrilled to celebrate and honor Alvin Plantinga as the 2017 Templeton Prize Laureate.

A longtime friend, mentor, and instructor to hundreds of EPS members and a contributor to the Society’s journal, Philosophia Christi, Alvin Plantinga has significantly strengthened the plausibility of theism and religious epistemology within academic philosophy.

Since the 1960s, “Alvin Plantinga recognized that not only did religious belief not conflict with serious philosophical work,” said Heather Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, “but that it could make crucial contributions to addressing perennial problems in philosophy.”

The Templeton Prize, currently valued at about $1.4 million, “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works,” according to the Prize’s website.

“More than one generation of evangelical philosophers is in Alvin Plantinga’s debt,” observes EPS President Angus Menuge. “He showed that Christian thinkers with a serious commitment to biblical theology can do rigorous, analytic philosophy at the highest level. He showed them how to present a coherent Christian worldview as a compelling alternative in a marketplace of ideas dominated by secularism.”

Long held captive by secularizing and naturalizing assumptions about knowledge, fields like philosophy of religion now experience a post-secular turn. “Plantinga started the thaw that de-secularized the academic discipline of philosophy,” says Menuge, “and he encouraged theists everywhere to think through the implications of their faith.”

“I am honored to receive the Templeton Prize,” Plantinga said. “The field of philosophy has transformed over the course of my career. If my work played a role in this transformation, I would be very pleased. I hope the news of the Prize will encourage young philosophers, especially those who bring Christian and theistic perspectives to bear on their work, towards greater creativity, integrity, and boldness.”

With more than a dozen books authored or edited and some 150 articles published, Plantinga’s work is not only prodigious but evidence of his thoroughness and concentration. His vision-casting “Advice to Christian Scholars” has been anthologized, cited and quoted many times over by those within and beyond the philosophical guild.

Some of Alvin Plantinga’s contributions with the EPS include the following:

Exemplifying the approach of his own life and work, Plantinga says that “Christian commitments ought to be integrated into one’s whole body of belief; they are central to one’s whole intellectual structure, in fact, it is the basis of it. In that regard, to be integral, is to have belief in God not separate from one’s other beliefs but integrated into them, perhaps the basis of them.”

Founded in 1974, the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) is an organization of professional scholars devoted to pursuing philosophical excellence in both the church and the academy. Interested laypersons can join as full, associate, or student members. The EPS holds a national meeting each year in conjunction with the conference held by the Evangelical Theological Society and the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature, along with regional meetings with the American Philosophical Association. The EPS journal, Philosophia Christi, is a scholarly publication (Summer and Winter) advancing discussion about a variety of topics that are of interest to the philosopher and to the philosopher of religion. Moreover, recent EPS web projects include: “Christ-shaped Philosophy” project, “Christian Philosophers in the ‘Secular Academy'” project, the “Academic Disciplines, Faithfulness, and the Christian Scholar” project, and “Philosophical Discussion on Marriage and Family Topics” project.

Reason and Faith: Themes from Richard Swinburne

In March 2016, Oxford University Press will publish an edited Michael Bergmann and Jeffrey Brower volume, Reason and Faith: Themes from Richard Swinburne. Bergmann and Brower are Professors of Philosophy at Purdue University.

From the publisher’s description:

The past fifty years have been an enormously fruitful period in the field of philosophy of religion, and few have done more to advance its development during this time than Richard Swinburne. His pioneering work in philosophy of religion is distinguished, not only for the way in which it systematically develops a comprehensive set of positions within this field, but also for the way in which it builds on and contributes to contemporary work in other fields, such as metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of science.

This volume presents a collection of ten new essays in philosophy of religion that develop and critically engage themes from Swinburne’s work. Written by some of the leading figures in the field, these essays focus on issues in both natural theology (dealing with what can be known about God and his relation to the world independently of any particular religious tradition or revelation) and philosophical theology (reflecting critically on the doctrines associated with particular religious traditions). The first six essays address topics familiar from natural theology (faith, theistic arguments, and divine power). The last four essays address topics bearing on philosophical theology (atonement, liturgy, immortality, and the nature of body and soul).

The Ethics of Childrearing and A Theory of Justice

The ethics of parental childrearing is complicated in a liberal pluralistic society, and this is made more complicated when religion is considered.

As part of a larger project, this paper examines the ethics of Christian childrearing and argues that Christian parents may seek to transmit their beliefs to their children and examine some boundaries.

First, the paper examines John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice and modifies his veil of ignorance scenario. The paper then engages Rawls’ developmental moral psychology and how it relates to the ethics of religious upbringing. After exploring Rawls’s account of self-respect and how it relates to love, the paper concludes by examining the importance of parental love and how this is tied to intimacy and privacy.

The full-text of this paper is available for FREE by clicking here. This paper is part of an emerging web project about “Philosophical Discussions on Marriage and Family Topics.”

On Evolution, Theology and Thomism: An Interview with Michael Chaberek

The history of theology and Darwinian evolutionary theory continues to attract significant attention by historians, philosophers and theologians. Michael Chaberek’s latest book, Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis, takes up this history in a fresh and detailed way. In addition, Chaberek’s new EPS web contribution, “Thomas Aquinas and Theistic Evolution,” hones in on the arguments for and against use of Aquinas in the evolution debate. In an EPS interview with Chaberek, he unpacks both contributions and their implications. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Given debates among ‘creationists,’ ‘theistic evolutionists’ and ‘intelligent design’ advocates, what can each potentially learn from your book?

In my book Catholicism and Evolution I offer a different typology: Young Earth Creationists, Progressive Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists and Atheistic Evolutionists. These four groups include all positions in the current debate regarding the origin of species. As you see, there aren’t intelligent design advocates, because one can find them among all “theistic groups” (although theoretically even atheists can adopt the basic claims of intelligent design theory).

What is the relationship between intelligent design theory and a theological framework?

My division is made with reference to a theological standpoint whereas intelligent design is a scientific theory and, as such, is essentially independent from any particular theological views. The book Catholicism and Evolution is mostly historical, covering only the post-Darwinian debates about evolution.

How does your book develop?

The introductory part deals with the controversy within natural science. Its climax is marked by the emergence of the intelligent design theory. The core of the book presents theological debates regarding evolution in the Catholic Church. Two great stages are clearly distinguishable – first is an explicit rejection of the evolutionary story whether in its atheistic or theistic form. The second stage is a moderate acceptance of the theistic form of evolution in the Church. However, even this acceptance is not quite explicit; it leaves many questions opened and is not accompanied by a rejection of either of the competing ideas (i.e. Young Earth Creationism and Progressive Creationism).

How does your perspective differ from other books on the history of this debate?

Unlike the majority of the books on the topic, my goal was not to diminish the initial rejection of the Darwinian theory by the Church and then highlight its acceptance in contemporary theology, but to present the “true” history including both the initial resistance to theistic evolution and the current confusion in the Church on this issue.

How do present debates about science and theology, especially the topic of origins, reflect past developments?

When we look to the past we see a battlefield packed with dead ideas and arguments, and smoke after fiery debates. When we look into the present we do not see a definite answer to the question of the origin of species and the human body in particular. These facts make believers ask a few questions: Can Catholic doctrine evolve to the degree of a complete abandonment of a given truth of faith? Is Revelation so vague and vulnerable to scientific scrutiny that at the end of the day we cannot say anything positive about origins based on Revelation alone? Does the Bible provide us only with moral teachings on how to get to heaven, or does it also shape our worldview, that is, our understanding of the beginnings and the destination of physical reality? As a detailed historical description of ongoing theological debates, my book provides a factographical knowledge which is an indispensable though insufficient tool to resolve these greater questions.

How does your EPS web paper extend your book’s discussion?

Catholicism and Evolution recounts the evolutionary debate of the past 150 years. To provide the full Catholic answer to Darwin’s theory we need to refer to the broader Catholic tradition, specifically the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Darwin tried to justify his grand metaphysical claims about universal common ancestry, transformation of species and the animal origin of the human body by employing some biological facts (like bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics) and laws (like natural selection).

How might Thomists respond?

Today, many Thomists accept those facts and laws, and they think that they indeed justify Darwinian metaphysics, i.e., those grand claims about the universal common ancestry or the transformation of species. Besides, many Thomists accept the theologically unfounded premise that the natural history of the universe cannot contain the so-called “physical leaps”. In other words, they assume that God did not act supernaturally in the natural history of the universe. In order to defend those Darwinian grand claims and the natural explanation of the whole history of the universe, they try to employ Aquinas’ ideas.

Why might some Thomists thinks that defense is needed or compelling?

Some Thomists are honestly bothered by the fact that if Aquinas’ teachings were incompatible with biological macroevolution then either Thomas or evolution must be wrong. Because they believe in evolution and also do not want to challenge the theory reigning in science, they choose to reinterpret Aquinas’ doctrine and show how it is “compatible” or “leaves room” for Darwinian metaphysics.

In my paper, I show that Aquinas’ metaphysics is incompatible with and in fact, contradicts Darwinian metaphysics. And this is true regardless of whether or not one agrees with Aquinas and even regardless of whether or not Aquinas was right.

So, is there a need for a ‘renewal’ of the Catholic theology of creation to address contemporary scientific advances and challenges? If so, what might the contours of that look like?

There is a twofold reason why such a “renewal” is necessary. First, modern science really enriched our understanding of the origins of the visible universe. For instance, throughout the centuries there were two interpretative traditions of the Genesis account. One was attributed to St. Ambrose. According to him different species of living beings were created independently over a time, which Genesis calls “six days”. Another tradition was attributed to St. Augustine. According to him, species were also created distinct from each other but their creation happened in one moment at the beginning of time. Some of them were created in a developed and other in a hidden form or seminal reasons (Lat. rationes seminales).

How does Aquinas factor into this historical theology?

When Thomas Aquinas summarizes the Christian interpretative traditions, he says that he would defend both, and that they agree in their essential points (i.e., supernatural creation of species as distinct since their inception). Modern knowledge in paleontology, however, shows that plants and animals appeared on Earth successively over a long time. This strongly favors the Ambrosian tradition over the Augustinian one. Apparently, contemporary knowledge enables us to settle the question of which of the two traditional interpretations of Genesis is closer to the truth.

What is the other reason for a renewal?

The second reason why the renewal is necessary stems from the fact that the traditional doctrine of creation has been nearly completely abandoned in contemporary Christianity. Even in the seminaries and theological departments, the classic theological treatise “On Creation” (De Deo Creante or De Creatione) has been replaced with the teaching about different science-faith models and vague speculations about “God working entirely through secondary causes”. In Biblical scholarship the historical and literal meaning of Genesis (1-3) was abandoned, giving place to all kinds of reductive interpretations. But new science shows how little the Darwinian mechanism can actually accomplish.

Paleontology reveals striking discontinuity in the fossil record. Thus at the beginning of the 21st century, biological facts stripped of theoretical interpretation encourage us to return to the classic Christian doctrine on creation. There is no contradiction between natural facts and the belief in creation – the contradiction is between the doctrine of creation and evolutionary theory, that is, an abstract construct built upon (or even regardless of) the facts. The renewed teaching on creation needs to take into account both the best scientific discoveries and traditional theological interpretations. 

Fr. Michael Chaberek O.P. is a fundamental theologian, and author of Catholicism and Evolution (Angelico Press, 2015).

On Evolution, Theology and Thomism: An Interview with Michael Chaberek

The history of theology and Darwinian evolutionary theory continues to attract significant attention by historians, philosophers and theologians.

Michael Chaberek’s latest book, Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis, takes up this history in a fresh and detailed way. In addition, Chaberek’s new EPS web contribution, “Thomas Aquinas and Theistic Evolution,” hones in on the arguments for and against use of Aquinas in the evolution debate.

In an EPS interview with Chaberek, Chaberek unpacks both contributions and their implications.

Read the full-text or an excerpt of the interview.