Search Results for: "Charles taliaferro"

Christian Physicalism?: Philosophical Theological Criticisms

In 2017, Lexington Books will publish Christian Physicalism?: Philosophical Theological Criticisms, edited by R. Keith Loftin and Joshua R. Farris. R. Keith Loftin is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at the College at Southwestern and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, TX). Joshua R. Farris is Assistant Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University, Smith College of Liberal Arts and the Academy.

Enjoy a 30% discount when ordering copies via the website of Lexington Books, using LEX30AUTH18 for the discount code [expires 11/30/18].

From the publisher’s description of Christian Physicalism, which includes several Philosophia Christi contributors as well [e.g., including Angus Menuge, J.P. Moreland, Scott Smith, Charles Taliaferro, Stephen Evans, Jonathan Loose, Brandon Rickabaugh, John Cooper]:

On the heels of the advance since the twentieth-century of wholly physicalist accounts of human persons, the influence of materialist ontology is increasingly evident in Christian theologizing. To date, the contemporary literature has tended to focus on anthropological issues (e.g., whether the traditional soul / body distinction is viable), with occasional articles treating physicalist accounts of such doctrines as the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus cropping up, as well. Interestingly, the literature to date, both for and against this influence, is dominated by philosophers. The present volume is a collection of philosophers and theologians who advance several novel criticisms of this growing trend toward physicalism in Christian theology. The present collection definitively shows that Christian physicalism has some significant philosophical and theological problems. No doubt all philosophical anthropologies have their challenges, but the present volume shows that Christian physicalism is most likely not an adequate accounting for essential theological topics within Christian theism. Christians, then, should consider alternative anthropologies.

Philosophia Christi Vol. 19, No. 1 (Summer 2017)

The Summer 2017 issue of Philosophia Christi features wide-ranging discussions in epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, ethics, philosophical theology, and apologetics including contributions from J.P. Moreland, Paul Copan, Charles Taliaferro, Walter Schultz, Michael McFall, Bradley Seeman, and many others!

Topics include:

  • whether naturalistic theories of emergence are compatible with science 
  • whether “New Wave” Kantian philosophy of religion is compatible with Kant’s Deism 
  • an assessment of the latest philosophical defenses of the sanctity of the unborn 
  • whether benevolence is insufficient for Christian love 
  • how should the conditions and tasks of apologetics be reassessed in light of various epistemological challenges. 

Among the articles, philosophical notes, or book reviews, this Summer 2017 issue also features extended interactions with the works of Charles Taylor, Brian Leftow, Stuart Kauffman, James Mumford, and Myron B. Penner.

Become a first-time member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society [includes annual subscription to Philosophia Christi] or a journal-only subscriber!

The Research Companion to Theological Anthropology

In recent scholarship there is an emerging interest in the integration of philosophy and theology.

Philosophers and theologians address the relationship between body and soul and its implications for theological anthropology. In so doing, philosopher-theologians interact with cognitive science, biological evolution, psychology, and sociology. Reflecting these exciting new developments,

Edited by EPS members, Joshua Farris and Charles Taliaferro, the Research Companion to Theological Anthropology is a resource for philosophers and theologians, students and scholars, interested in the constructive, critical exploration of a theology of human persons.

Throughout this collection of newly authored contributions, key themes are addressed: human agency and grace, the soul, sin and salvation, Christology, glory, feminism, the theology of human nature, and other major themes in theological anthropology in historic as well as contemporary contexts.

From the dozens of contributions in this single volume resource, we highlight some of the contributions, along with further resources for study.

A Tale of Two Naturalisms: Churchland, McGinn and Plantinga’s “Advice for Christian Philosophers”

Many naturalists embrace some version of scientism, holding that modern science is the only or the chief authority regarding our knowledge of objective reality.  And this includes our self-knowledge.  At one extreme are eliminative materialists like Patricia Churchland who dismiss the idea of souls as lazy, defensive, armchair metaphysics.   In her latest work, Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain, Churchland’s main message is that philosophers should get out more, and explore the wonders of empirical neuroscience.  Then they will come to agree with her: “I think about my brain…as me.” (11)  Churchland is quite certain: materialistic science has got us taped.

Yet some naturalists are not so sure.   A leading doubter is Colin McGinn, whose book The Mysterious Flame lays out a position known as “mysterianism.”   McGinn thinks consciousness must have arisen via evolution, and yet also maintains that none of the naturalistic accounts of consciousness (especially Churchland’s) is either plausible or illuminating.   Given that impasse, McGinn’s move is to “doubt the instrument”: our lack of understanding is due to our cognitive limitations.  On McGinn’s view, natural selection did not gift us with the kind of minds capable of understanding the relationship between consciousness and the non-conscious world.

Are we really confined to these two alternatives?    One hopes not, and not just because of the remarkably unproductive exchange resulting from McGinn’s recent review of Churchland’s book in The New York Review of Books.   

For one thing, both alternatives appear self-defeating.  Churchland prizes empirical science as paradigmatically rational, but ignores (or rejects) the need for a first-philosophy, which provides the ontological presuppositions of scientific practice.  These presuppositions include that scientists experience the world and can reason to conclusions about it.  But this requires conscious subjects that think about the world and remain numerically the same through a process of reasoning, none of which is possible if we are just brains: neuroscience reveals brain states without subjectivity or intentionality and in constant flux.  If we are no more than such brains, then there is no scientific rationality and no reason to be a materialist.  McGinn thinks that we cannot think reliably beyond the limits set by the historical, contingent interactions of our species with nature.  But if that were true, as Thomas Nagel realizes in his Mind and Cosmos, we could not have discovered the non-contingent norms of rationality to which science itself appeals.  McGinn’s claim to know that consciousness emerged from an evolutionary process depends on our access to rational norms which (if he is right) are above our epistemic pay grade.

More positively, Christian philosophers should be guided by Alvin Plantinga’s celebrated “Advice to Christian Philosophers.”   We do not have to start from an assumption of scientism, but should re-envision the whole field of philosophical anthropology with the assumption that God is the premier person and that we are made in His image.   Consciousness does not have to emerge from the physical world, because it has always been exemplified by God.  And human beings are integrated wholes: mind and body are designed to work together.   But is this just pious hand-waving?   No, there are many promising attempts to work out this idea in detail.  A select list should include:  Richard Swinburne’s Mind, Brain,and Free Will, J. P. Moreland’s Consciousness and the Existence of God, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei and The Soul, Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro’s A Brief History of the Soul, and eds. Mark Baker and Stewart Goetz’s The Soul Hypothesis.   Collectively, these books show that the soul is not excluded by, but supportive of, scientific rationality, and solves numerous philosophical problems that beset naturalistic accounts, including those of Churchland and McGinn.

Is Ramified Natural Theology at odds with Christ-Shaped Philosophy?

The Winter 2013 (vol. 15. no. 2) issue of Philosophia Christi showcases a lively discussion on the character and stature of “Ramified Natural Theology” with a lead article by Richard Swinburne. Purchase this special issue today!

To explore some foretastes of the “Ramified Natural Theology” discussion in Philosophia Christi, please also consider these online contributions:

While ramified natural theology is an exciting and newly popular area of scholarly inquiry, it is also one which can very quickly get one into theological trouble. In this article I explore the necessary theological presuppositions for various views of ramified natural theology, offering two models for the possible theological place of the endeavor. Distinctions in the theological role of ramified natural theology allow one to find an appropriate place for it in apologetic discourse, either as in reach to believers or outreach to unbelievers. 

In this paper I argue that the ‘argument from miracle’ can best be understood as a powerful instance of what is coming to be known as ramified natural theology. Traditionally, it has been assumed that natural theology must eschew consideration of special revelation from God and consider only data that is available to unaided reason. This, however, is to ignore the fact that a purported revelation may include content that is empirically verifiable and thus within the purview of natural theology. Miracles are publicly observable events that cry out for an explanation. One need not come to such events already accepting the interpretation placed on them by religious believers – the Bible can be read as historical evidence rather than authoritative Scripture – but neither is one prohibited from considering whether that interpretation does indeed provide the best understanding of the events. This opens up the possibility that someone who initially does not accept theism might at once accept both the claim of God’s existence and the claim of God’s self-disclosure. 

Interested readers may also want to consider the following exchange between Angus Menuge and Paul Moser on “Ramified” and “Christ-shaped philosophy”:

Paul Moser has illuminated the spiritual terrain of Christian philosophy by revealing a stark contrast between the poles of spectator natural theology and Gethsemane epistemology. In this paper, I will first suggest that Moser’s work is most helpfully viewed not as a statement about the sociological habits of Christian philosophers, but as a prophetic call to self-examination and repentance by each and every Christian philosopher. That said, I argue that between spectator natural theology and Gethsemane epistemology there does seem room for an intermediary position: a chastened natural theology which provides a lived dialectic, a “ramified personalized natural theology.” I suggest this not as a critique but as a constructive proposal for rapprochement that attempts to find a worthy place for both natural theology and an evangelistic call to a personal encounter with the living Lord. 

Acknowledging the deficiency of traditional natural theology, Angus Menuge seeks an alternative in “ramified personalized natural theology.” I share his sense of the deficiency of traditional natural theology, but I raise some doubts about his proposed alternative, and suggest a more direct approach to the evidence for God. 

As part of the ongoing “Christ-Shaped Philosophy” discussion with Paul Moser, this note briefly responds to two main challenges that Paul Moser makes to my suggestion that Ramified Personalized Natural Theology may constitute a third way between standard natural theology and Gethsemane epistemology. First, Moser charges that ramified natural theology is likely incoherent because ramified theology will appeal to supernatural premises. My response appeals to a forthcoming essay by Hugh Gauch (Philosophia Christi 15:2), which provides a framework in which evidence counts across competing worldviews. Second, Moser claims that the “divine personalized experience” provided by the Holy Spirit makes natural theology redundant. I appropriate Charles Taliaferro’s idea of a “golden cord,” and suggest that the evidential threads of this cord, whether natural or supernatural, provide a means by which Christ may draw us to himself. 

This article is a rejoinder to Angus Menuge’s latest proposal of “a third way between standard natural theology and Gethsemane epistemology” for the Christ-Shaped Philosophy project. I contend that we do not have a stable third way, because any alternative to Gethsemane epistemology, like the arguments of traditional natural theology, neglects the distinctiveness of the evidence for the self-authenticating Christian God and does not offer a resilient defense of belief in this God. Advocates of the traditional arguments of natural theology fail to represent the ontological and evidential uniqueness of this God. 

 Explore the dozens of other contributions to the EPS Christ-Shaped Philosophy project.

Introduction to a Special Issue of Philosophia Christi on Ramified Natural Theology

Extended Discussions of Ramified Natural Theology

In light of the Philosophia Christi (Winter 2013) themed discussion on “Ramified,” we welcome ongoing web contributions directly related to the Philosophia Christi articles or as fresh additions to that discussion. For example, consider these worthwhile papers:
For more interactive discussions on “Ramified Natural Theology” and “Christ-Shaped Philosophy,” see the various papers at this associated web project.

A Renaissance of “Traditional Natural Theology”

What may be called “traditional natural theology” is widely understood as the project of establishing the existence of God and at least some of His attributes through the testimony of the senses and reason, without relying on the authority of divine revelation. Some believe traditional natural theology was dealt a mortal blow by David Hume, Immanuel Kant and other Enlightenment thinkers. To the contrary, it has undergone a startling renaissance, as evidenced by many fine volumes in recent years.

(One could easily cite a large number of  more specialized works devoted to updated versions of the ontological, cosmological, teleological and moral arguments as well as the arguments from reason, consciousness and abstract objects).

Beyond Natural Theology’s “Generic Theism”

However, even if successful, the arguments of traditional natural theology can hope at best to establish a “bare” or “generic” theism: they cannot tell us which of the competing theistic religions is most likely true. The received wisdom is that further illumination about the identity of God is only available through special revelation. This assumption is challenged by an approach that Richard Swinburne has dubbed “ramified natural theology” [Richard Swinburne, “Natural Theology, Its ‘Dwindling Probabilities’ and ‘Lack of Rapport,’” Faith and Philosophy 21(4): 533-546 (2004)]. The idea is to present public evidence which discriminates between competing theistic religions because they do not all explain that evidence, or explain it equally well. While Swinburne is the most famous contemporary proponent of this approach, it has many precedents, for example in the arguments of various church fathers and of Blaise Pascal that Christianity is the true theistic religion because of its uniquely strong support by well-attested miracles and fulfilled prophecy. And Alister McGrath’s recent work may also qualify, as he develops an approach to natural theology which is both Christocentric and anchored in specifically Trinitarian theology [Alister McGrath, The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008). What is controversial in McGrath’s approach is his contention that nature must be interpreted in an appropriate way to disclose its secrets: will this depend on presuppositions that are not neutral between competing worldviews?]

The Promise of “Ramified Natural Theology”

The promise of ramified natural theology is considerable.   On the one hand, as developed by Swinburne, ramified natural theology is an extension of traditional natural theology [Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) and Was Jesus God? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)].  Thus Swinburne’s case for the truth of Christianity assumes the general background evidence for God’s existence (which he himself has developed in a powerful cumulative case argument), and supplements it with the evidence for the prior likelihood of the incarnation and the posterior unlikelihood of our having the evidence we do for the life, death and resurrection of Christ unless these events were the result of God’s plan of salvation [see Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, second edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)].  On the other hand, it is by no means obvious that a ramified approach must build on evidence from traditional natural theology.  At least in some cases, a ramified argument may be made independently of a prior case for theism.  For example, as Hugh Gauch has pointed out, in the case for the resurrection developed by Timothy and Lydia McGrew, only Bayes factors are used, dispensing with prior probabilities.  More generally, using a likelihood approach, it is possible to assess the relative merits of a range of competing worldviews without presupposing any of them [see Hugh G. Gauch, Jr. “Natural Theology’s Case for Jesus’s Resurrection:  Methodological and Statistical Considerations,” Philosophia Christi 13 (2011):  339–55; Timothy McGrew and Lydia McGrew, “The Argument from Miracles:  A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth,” in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, ed. William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (West Sussex:  Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 593–662].

To the extent that practitioners of ramified natural theology are sanguine about traditional natural theology, they can exploit the latter’s strengths by developing arguments that extend or supplement its results.  At the same time, to the extent that a ramified natural theological argument is developed independently of traditional natural theology, reservations about the latter do not justify a failure to seriously consider the former [In a recent symposium on Paul K. Moser’s religious epistemology, Moser expressed his skepticism toward the value of traditional natural theological arguments, while Kathryn Waidler, Charles Taliaferro and Harold Netland defended it, but ramified natural theology did not surface. See Philosophia Christi 14 (2) (2012), 263-311].   Ramified natural theology’s flexible relationship with traditional natural theology gives Christian apologists valuable latitude when seeking to address the diverse epistemic states of unbelievers.  For hard-nosed materialists, traditional natural theology may help provide a theistic foundation so that a case for the resurrection (or miracles in general) has more appeal.  But for many others, for whom theistic religions are among the live hypotheses, a ramified approach may be sufficient by itself to select the best worldview option.  There are many new questions and exciting opportunities in this growing area, and we are confident that the nine following essays will help to develop a sense of the potential for ramified natural theology to transform Christian philosophy and apologetics.

The Winter 2013 “Ramified Natural Theology” Issue of Philosophia Christi

The lead article by Richard Swinburne and the subsequent discussion in the next two articles concern Jesus’s resurrection.  Swinburne’s initial essay summarizes several of his book length studies and serves as a paradigm case of ramified natural theology.  Using a Bayesian formulation, Swinburne shows that there is one and only one individual—Jesus of Nazareth—who plausibly satisfies both the prior and the posterior requirements to be God incarnate, and that since the evidence for this is so strong, God would have to be a grand deceiver (or one who permits some lesser agent, such as the devil, to perpetrate grand deception) if some other past or future figure were the messiah, but this is incompatible with God’s perfect moral character.

This last claim of Swinburne’s is the target of the next paper, by Robert Cavin and Carlos Colombetti.  The authors claim that Swinburne’s argument does not satisfy the demand for total evidence, because it overlooks the evidence for intentional human deception by false prophets (and self-deception) on a massive scale.  Given their disagreements about which revelation is authentic, it is arguable that either Christians or non-Christians must have been deceived in some sense. Cavin and Colombetti conclude, contra Swinburne, that it is not improbable that the evidence for the Incarnation and Resurrection is mistaken or misleading.

In his response, Swinburne provides a close study of different kinds of deception, and argues that Cavin and Colombetti conflate God’s unjustifiable permission of deliberate deception with His allowing people to hold false beliefs or to be deceived in justifiable ways.  He claims that the examples provided by Cavin and Colombetti fall into the latter category, and that this is compatible with God’s moral perfection. This exchange is likely only the beginning of an important dialogue on the evidential impact of “negative theology” on the project of ramified natural theology.

While this project is vitally important to Christian philosophers and apologists, is it something theologians proper should take seriously?  Rodney Holder provides several reasons for an affirmative answer.  The first is premised on the fact of religious pluralism: the many competing religions all provide internal criteria for the correctness of their beliefs, but these do not give the outsider an independent means of deciding which revelation is most likely true.  Drawing on the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg, Brian Hebblethwaite and others, Holder argues that theologians need ramified natural theology to overcome this impasse.  They also need it to avoid circular presuppositionalism and to show that Christians have a faith founded on historical fact.  As Holder concludes, “the traditional division between natural theology and revealed theology breaks down as soon as we ask why we should believe in a putative revelation and how we can commend our own perceived revelation to others.”

Some may suspect that ramified natural theology employs an ad hoc procedure of argumentation, gerrymandered by religious apologists to show their faith in the best light.  To the contrary, Hugh Gauch argues that like natural science, ramified natural theology functions with the most basic presuppositions of empirical method required to gain factual information about the world.  Since these presuppositions are held in common between parties in disagreement, and since only public evidence and standard logic is permitted, ramified arguments are capable of objectively discriminating between worldviews.  Sound methodology is vital because, Gauch argues, “Any success and significance that ramified natural theology may have originates in, and depends on, its methodology being clear, impartial, settled, and effective.”  Gauch shows in particular that this approach is ideal for investigating the facticity of miracle claims.  Reinforcing Holder’s assessment, Gauch suggests that natural and revealed theology are not competitors but partners in a fruitful synergy.

One of the extraordinary differences between contemporary natural theology and the natural theology of previous centuries is the former’s integration of the rigorous formalisms of deductive logic and probability theory.  Timothy McGrew and John DePoe seek to show how these technical breakthroughs provide sometimes surprising insights into what does and does not count as a strong argument of natural theology.   On the cautionary side, they show that common intuitions about the probability of deductive arguments are often wrong.  Yet they also show that an important implication of Bayes’ theorem for ramified natural theology is that the combination of many individually weak pieces of evidence can yield a cumulative case argument of great certainty.  They further point out that there are many possible goals of natural theological arguments, and that the value of the argument will often depend on the epistemic state of its audience.

The remaining articles illustrate the wide range of potential application for a ramified approach to natural theology.

Lydia McGrew uses a Bayesian approach to show that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Her argument nicely illustrates the fact that even if each piece of evidence raises the probability of a hypothesis by a modest amount, their combination can yield a powerful cumulative case argument.  She further argues that if we consider the remarkable fact that this Messiah is prophesied both to die and also to have a glorious future, the resurrection is much more probable.  This essay thus provides some further support for Swinburne’s conclusion that Jesus was God incarnate and was raised from the dead.

The moral argument for God is a staple of natural theology and many have undertaken to establish the existence of a good God from the apparent facts of moral obligation.  In their paper, David Baggett and Ronnie Campbell seek to extend this argument by showing how Christianity provides superior resources to account for what it means to be a good God, particularly if it has been shown that such a being must be essentially loving.  This is because the Trinity does real explanatory work in showing us what it means for God to be loving in His own nature.  The authors point out that not only does this approach favor Christianity over non-Christian theistic religions, it also provides a reason to prefer some denominations over others on account of their portrait of God’s character.  They dub this intra-Christian inquiry “doubly ramified natural theology.”   This matters not only to the Christian seeking the true church, but also has an impact on non-Christians, as they may reject the faith because some denominations offer a distorted picture of what God is like.

In a similar vein, Travis Dumsday argues that once we consider evidence such as visions and miracles which may favor Christianity over its rivals, it is an unavoidable possibility that some of this evidence will favor some denominations over others.  Dumsday argues that ramified natural theology is, in any case, already at work in interdenominational debate, since philosophical and historical arguments are used to defend or critique confessional positions e.g. on baptism, predestination and whether scripture can coherently be claimed as the sole source and norm of Christian doctrine.  Dumsday points out that these arguments are typically not decisive as, for example, evidence may be rejected as the result of demonic delusion, yet there are limits to how far a Christian can reasonably (and charitably) pursue this dismissive strategy.  In all this, he urges a posture of “cautious, critical open-mindedness.”

How a “Ramified Mode of Investigation” Benefits Various Philosophical Projects

We hope that this special issue of Philosophia Christi helps to clarify the nature and purpose of ramified natural theology.  We believe that ramified natural theology should be of interest to both Christian and non-Christian philosophers and theologians, and those in religious studies and biblical studies.  It is our hope that, soon, ramified natural theology will have a prominent place in any survey of philosophy of religion.  To that end, we edited this volume in order to stimulate further work, whether this involves a defense, critique or proposed improvements of extant arguments, or the creative application of a ramified approach to a neglected source of evidence.  For example, the following is an incomplete list of cases which would benefit from a distinctively ramified mode of investigation (in some cases, excellent, initial forays have been made into these areas):

  1. The problem of evil.
  2. Contemporary miracle claims.
  3. Aesthetics and the imagination as a guide to plausibility and truth.
  4. The psychology and neuroscience of religious experience.
  5. Near-death experiences.
  6. Metaethics and moral ontology.
  7. Revisiting the ontological, cosmological, moral and design arguments from a Christocentric perspective.
  8. The existence of the soul and the mind-body problem.
  9. The nature of information and language.
  10. The ontology of knowledge.
  11. The argument from reason.
  12. The nature of truth.
  13. The status of abstract objects.
  14. Existential angst.

The promise of the ramified approach suggests that the neglect of natural theology (and apologetics more generally) in many seminaries is founded on an unduly limited perception of the scope of natural theological arguments. So long as “natural theology” is taken to be synonymous with “bare natural theology,” natural theology has limited interest to the theologian because it does not tell us who God is or help us to decide which revelation is correct.  Yet this is precisely the target of ramified natural theology, and increased recognition of this fact should spur seminaries into a reconsideration of the role of natural theology in their curricula.

In closing, the beauty of a ramified approach to natural theology is that it calls Christians to take seriously scripture’s claim that Christ is present throughout reality, holding all things together (Colossians 1: 15-20).  If we really believe this, then we should expect that a Christocentric (rather than a merely theocentric) mode of inquiry will ultimately be the most rewarding.

Note: Thanks to Hugh Gauch, Justin McGeary and Daniel Murphy for their comments on two earlier drafts of this introduction. 

Fall 2013 EPS President’s Update

Greetings in the name of our risen Lord!   I would like to take this opportunity to let you know of some very exciting developments in the EPS.

Last year, the EPS began a fundraising campaign aimed at (among other things) increased international collaboration between societies of Christian philosophers.  Although these efforts are only in their infancy, I am happy to report that they have already borne fruit, and we will be helping four Christian philosophers from Europe to attend our annual meeting in Baltimore.   One of these is the chair of the Philosophy of Religion group of Tyndale Fellowship, Dr. Harry Bunting.  Dr. Bunting and Dr. Daniel Hill, secretary of the group and a lecturer at Liverpool University, have extensive contacts in European philosophy and provided a list of promising young Christian philosophers, from which two outstanding candidates, Joseph Diekemper and Jamie Collin, were selected.  It was my privilege to meet Harry, Daniel, Joseph and Jamie during this year’s Tyndale Fellowship meeting at Wolfson College, Cambridge, July 4th to 6th. How encouraging it was to talk to so many brilliant and promising young scholars, some of them students of such greats as Brian Leftow, E. J. Lowe and Richard Swinburne!  It is our mutual hope that this marks the beginning of an ongoing partnership between Tyndale Fellowship and the EPS.
Another European connection we hope to cultivate is with the European Leadership Forum.   Several members of the EPS have participated in the ELF, which has tracks in philosophy, apologetics and science.  An important contributor to the ELF is Dr. Ralph Vaags at the University of Agder, Norway, and we are pleased to announce that we will assist his attendance of the Baltimore conference.  These are early days, and I hope to strengthen the connection with ELF during a personal visit next year.
Of course, we would love to do even more, and it is our hope that next year will see even more international collaboration.   As our culture shows increasing signs of a post-Christian orientation focused on secularism and alternative religions, it is vital that evangelical Christian philosophers take a leadership role in supporting each other’s work for Christ throughout the globe.  In some contexts, the illusion has developed that to be a Christian philosopher is either a curiosity or a danger. Concerted, collaborative efforts and mutual encouragement are therefore vital to show that, on the contrary, Christian philosophy is a growing area of vibrant, rigorous, well-informed inquiry that coherently addresses fundamental questions about what is real, how we know, and how we are called to live.
Some evidence of this is found in the consistently high quality of articles found in journals of Christian philosophy, including Faith and Philosophy and our own Philosophia Christi.  Regarding the latter, I was very pleased with the most recent special issue on neuroscience and the soul, guest edited by Chad Meister and Charles Taliaferro, which featured excellent articles by household names in the international, Christian philosophy community, and some very stimulating essays pushing us to reconsider standard assumptions and pursue promising new models of the mind-brain connection.  Charles and I also believe you will like the forthcoming Winter 2013 special issue on ramified natural theology, which we hope will spur keen minds into whole new avenues of research.   In tandem with Paul Moser’s emphasis on existential encounter with the claims of Christ, ramified natural theology focuses our argumentation on the case for Christian truth.

The EPS website has also been flourishing.   Paul Moser’s arresting charge to reform the guild of Christian philosophers has provoked a fascinating series of interchanges on the proper focus of Christian philosophy, the Christ-shaped philosophy project.   J. P. Moreland describes the late, great Dallas Willard as one of Christian philosophy’s five-star generals, and though saddened by the loss I am certain Dallas would approve of the constructive tributes and essays that followed.   New books also abound and the website is a great place to find out about new and forthcoming works.   In addition to our annual meeting, the EPS has several regional meetings, and philosophy students are especially encouraged to take advantage of these to present papers and network with other philosophers.

Let me close by encouraging all of you to pray for the work of the EPS.  We would love to see as many of you as possible at our annual national meeting in Baltimore, November 19-21.   It is a great delight to have another “five star general” (or field marshal!) Richard Swinburne, as our plenary speaker, and I know from the program committee that the quality of submitted papers has never been so high or so numerous.   I very much look forward to seeing many of you at our annual EPS reception during the conference, and if any of you have ideas about what EPS can do better, do not hesitate to relay them to me.
Blessings on all of your work for Christ’s kingdom, and hope to see you in November!
Angus Menuge, Ph.D.

EPS President

When Does the Exercise of an Interest Constitute a Human Right?

Legitimizing Human Rights: Secular and Religious Perspectives, edited by Angus J.L. Menuge (Ashgate, 2013).

Human rights have never been so popular. On the one hand, they are used as ideological weapons to critique political and cultural adversaries. Liberals attack the existing marriage laws for limiting the rights of homosexuals. Conservatives charge that religious freedom has been eroded by the imposition of secularist ideology in the public square. Western democracies denounce other societies for their treatment of dissidents and religious minorities; these democracies are in turn criticized for exploiting the developing world. The United States is singled out for
its use of torture and capital punishment and for its failure to provide universal health care.

On the other hand, appeal to human rights is used to advance the causes of social justice and equality. In advanced liberal democracies, this includes more and more of what citizens expect from life. Healthcare, education and sexual orientation are now increasingly viewed as fundamental to human flourishing. Yet consensus on a basic list of human rights has proven elusive. Not a few of the countries signatory to major human rights agreements exempt themselves from laws that contradict the dominant beliefs and customs of their people. And even if abuses like slavery and religious discrimination are declared illegal, the prohibition may not be enforced because the practices are culturally entrenched and ignored by law enforcement. In the West, the demand to recognize almost every strong preference as legally protected has led to contradictory rights claims. The right to life appears to be the most fundamental right of all, since, without it, no other right can be exercised. Yet elective abortion, euthanasia and even infanticide are also claimed as human rights. And while believers appeal to freedom of conscience to justify a religious voice in the public square, secularists charge that this violates their right to be free from such intrusion

When does the exercise of an interest constitute a human right? The contributors to Menuge’s edited collection offer a range of secular and religious responses to this fundamental question of the legitimacy of human rights claims. The first section evaluates the plausibility of natural and transcendent foundations for human rights. A further section explores the nature of religious freedom and the vexed question of its proper limits as it arises in the US, European, and global contexts. The final section explores the pragmatic justification of human rights: how do we motivate the recognition and enforcement of human rights in the real world?

This topical book should be of interest to a range of academics from disciplines spanning law, philosophy, religion and politics. To learn more about this book, see the outline of contributions below and download the free Introduction by Menuge. A precis about the overall argument of the book is also available here.

Benefits of the book

  • It features an international and interdisciplinary team of scholars addressing this topic from both a theist and non-theist perspective.
  • It is attentive and responsive to both trends and habits of thought on this topic without itself being trendy.
  • It addresses underlying “meta-” issues in the literature where much of the “human rights” and “dignity” literature fails to journey.
  • It provides both a handsome introduction to the “state of the discussion” and a guide into further questions, problems and concerns in the literature.
  • It is a resource to be studied and consulted in both religious and non-religious educational and policy-making contexts.

Menuge on the Background of the book

Due to my participation in John Warwick Montgomery’s international academy of apologetics, evangelism and human rights, I came to see the fascinating connections between legal philosophy and Christian apologetics.  Then Montgomery and some other friends interested in the philosophy of law invited me to attend the IVR World Congress of Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy.  At the Beijing meeting (2009), we discussed the strange state of play in both the popular and academic discussion of human rights.

At the popular level, human rights are all the rage.  Indeed almost any social good is declared to be a human right, and rights-talk is routinely used as a machine de guerre to discredit opposing views as unenlightened and oppressive.  Yet the association of rights with whatever is strongly desired has led to contradictory rights claims.  For example, there is a right to life, but also a right to terminate unwanted life.  And while many complain that the right to religious expression is being curtailed by an intrusive, secular state, others claim the right to live without exposure to that expression.  These contradictions seem unresolvable because participants in the discussion are unable to offer a clear criterion of what does and does not constitute a human right.  Claims are made with great passion, but little thought is given to how we decide whether these claims are justified.

At the academic level too, there is a torrent of work on human rights, but most of it is devoted to exposing abuses, political advocacy for change, and discussion of the best legal framework for advancing human rights protections.  While all of this is important, it avoids the fundamental question of what makes it the case that there are any human rights which can be protected or abused.   For example, discussion of the legal basis for human rights does not resolve the question of justification, because legal frameworks can be used to institutionalize human rights abuses.  Thus, one of the key motivations for the subsequent development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was the sobering conclusion of the Nuremburg trials after WWII.   At these trials, as Montgomery notes:

The most telling defense offered by the accused was that they had simply followed orders or made decisions within the framework of their own legal system, in complete consistency with it, and that they therefore could not be condemned because they deviated from the alien value system of their conquerors (John Warwick Montgomery, The Law Above the Law (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Lutheran Fellowship, 1975), 24).

It was this argument that compelled Robert Jackson, the Chief Counsel for the United States, to appeal to a higher law – a law above the law – inherent to civilization, that transcends the particular laws of various states. Montgomery concludes:

Thus have the horrors of…history forced us to recognize the puerile inadequacy of tying ultimate legal standards to the mores of a particular society (Ibid, 26).

Simply avoided in most discussions of human rights are three types of foundational, philosophical question:

  1. Ontological questions:  What is a human right?  Why should we think there are any human rights? Why suppose human beings have special rights not possessed by other creatures?
  2. Epistemological questions:  How can we know when something is or is not a human right?  Which worldview best explains human rights?
  3. Pragmatic questions:  How do we promote cultural acceptance of human rights? How do we reform societies or cultures with institutionalized human rights abuses?  How do we enforce human rights legal protections?

Realization of the importance of these questions and the need for them to be addressed afresh in a direct fashion led me to organize the workshop on the legitimizing of human rights for the 2011 meeting of the IVR  World Congress in Frankfurt, Germany.  It was soon suggested that the papers presented could be developed into the chapters of a book, and Ashgate was interested in the idea.

Still, it became obvious that additional voices needed to be included.  In particular, the relationship between religion and human rights is highly controversial.  Some affirm and some deny that theism is required as a justification for human rights.  Some affirm and some deny the idea that robust forms of religious expression should be protected as fundamental human rights.  So a number of additional chapters were solicited to air both sides of these issues.


(with some abstracts by the contributors)

Angus J.L. Menuge: Introduction. For a shorter version, read Menuge’s precis on the book.

Part I: The Foundation of Human Rights

  • Paul Copan: “Grounding human rights: naturalism’s failure and Biblical theism’s success.”

Abstract: The effort to locate metaphysical capital to undergird human rights claims in naturalism and its secularist worldview offshoots can only result in failure. By contrast, biblical theism offers robust ontological and epistemological foundations for human rights–particularly with its emphasis on the image of God. Naturalism’s materialistic, valueless, and deterministic context cannot adequately ground intrinsic human dignity and worth—unlike biblical theism’s context of a supremely good, personal Agent, who endows humans with value, free will, and rationality. Naturalistic objections that appeal to the Euthyphro argument or to Kant’s challenge to divine commands (e.g., Abraham and Isaac) are mistaken. And biblical theism’s philosophical success is matched by its historical influence to bring to the West many democratic values including human rights, abolition of slavery, and the bioethics movement, as atheist scholars themselves acknowledge.

  • Paul Cliteur: “Theism and human rights.”

Abstract: A human right is a just entitlement one has simply in virtue of being human: human rights are universal, inherent and inalienable. Rooted in our nature as human beings, they can neither be granted nor revoked by the state or any other temporal authority. Many of today’s ardent defenders of human rights are secularists whose underlying worldview is naturalism. But can naturalism provide an adequate foundation for human rights? For naturalism, a human being is one occurrence among many, distinguished only by its natural history. That history consists of contingent events which have shaped every human faculty, including the moral sense. As Charles Darwin emphasized in The Descent of Man, this has radical implications for our understanding of morality. It implies that if our natural history had been relevantly different, our moral sense would not be the same. Evolutionary Ethics (EE) offers two answers to this question: Weak EE and Strong EE. Weak EE is a thesis of moral psychology: it gives an account of the origin of moral sentiments and beliefs. It has no ontological implications for morality (it is compatible with both the existence and the non-existence of objective moral values), and it does not imply that our moral perceptions are reliable. Strong EE claims that our psychological states reliably track moral reality and that they do so because what counts as a moral value itself depends on biological history, so it does have ontological implications. The basic dilemma for EE is this. If EE is correct then either: (1) human rights do not exist or (2) they are unknowable. In fact, I argue that either moral skepticism or moral anti-realism is the most plausible conclusion to draw from a Darwinian account of human nature. Quite obviously though, those supporting human rights protections believe that human rights are both real and knowable, and so they are best advised to look elsewhere for a noncontingent foundation for human rights, with biblical theism a leading candidate (as Paul Copan shows in his chapter).

  • Friedrich Toepel: “Human rights as legal rights.”

Abstract: This article pleads for an understanding of human rights as primarily legal rights. For him, it is possible to see these rights as eternal and inalienable from a certain moral perspective once they have been recognized by a system of international law. History teaches us, however, that human rights have come to be recognized which were not always recognized as such (for example the women’s right to vote). Legal positivism makes the clearest understanding of human rights possible. Other views which treat human rights as moral rights are dangerous insofar as they foster unrealistic expectations. Rights are nowadays predominantly understood as Hohfeldian claim-rights, and it is not realistic to expect the enforcement of a claim based merely on a moral right which is not supported by institutions of international law. Moral rights are not necessary concepts of moral discourse. It should be sufficient to determine whether it is morally right or wrong for someone to have something instead of determining whether someone has a moral right to it. Legal positivism combined with constructivism can also allow for a legal perspective which introduces human rights retroactively. Moreover, if legal positivism treats the legal system as an autopoietic system, it can escape the Hobbesian legitimation regress argument.

Part II: Religious Liberty and the Secular State

  • John H. Calvert: “Human rights in a secular state will depend on its legal; definition of religion.”

Abstract: John H. Calvert, Esq., a Constitutional Lawyer, argues that human rights should be maximized in a truly secular state – one which may not by its constitution endorse a particular religious view or abridge one’s right to implement a religious viewpoint. However, to be “truly secular,” the state must define religion to include non-theistic and pantheistic belief systems. If religion is defined narrowly as just theistic, a so-called secular state will become one that aids non-theistic belief systems while discriminating against the theistic – it will become a functional atheocracy. Accordingly, citizens of states required to be secular, should seek to promote and establish laws and regulations that define religion inclusively so as to require the state to be truly neutral as to competing theistic and non-theistic world views.

  • Vito Breda: “Balancing secularism with religious freedom: in Lautsi v Italy, the European Court of Human Rights evolved.”

Abstract: Until recently, the principles of secularism, religious pluralism and state neutrality have been perceived in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as partially overlapping concepts. However, in Lautsi and others v. Italy, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR has—in a landmark decision—qualified the interplay between these ideas. This chapter will argue that Lautsi v. Italy signals a turning point in the previous ECtHR jurisprudence, which often associated secularism with the protection of pluralism and democracy. There are two main consequences of the decision. Firstly, the ECtHR recognized that a state’s neutrality cannot be deductively constructed as a logical manifestation of secularism. In this context secularism means “a secular view of a lay public sphere as the only solution to ensuring genuine equality between members of majority and minority churches, agnostics, atheists or non-theists and eliminating religious and anti-religious tensions” (McGoldrick). For instance, in Sahin v. Turkey, the Grand Chamber explicitly embraced the narrative of the Turkish Constitutional Court that allied secularism with a defense of pluralism. Secondly, in Lautsi v. Italy, the ECtHR recognized the epistemic implications of pluralism. Pluralism as a legal concept demands the recognition of diversity and the acceptance of a dialogue that transforms a multitude of legal orders (and a plurality of perceptions of the good life represented by such a multitude), in procedures aimed at accommodating concurring individual rights. Concurring rights are granted to all (for example the right given to parents to choose the type of education for their children) but they might generate competing claims over public resources. The multiplicity of calls for recognition of individual rights makes it inappropriate and impractical for a state to favor one group over the other, leading instead to an open-ended dialogue in which institutions are, by default, receptive of all demands. McGoldrick calls this pluralist approach to faith based demands: “positively secular.” In this chapter, I argue that the recognition of pluralism and the democratic practices that qualify that pluralism should be a point of departure for the jurisprudence of the ECtHR in areas such as the display of religious symbols in classrooms. This approach serves as an alternative to the practice of balancing rights, which greatly restricts the breadth of religious freedom and de jure imposes a monist conception of rational thinking.

  • John Warwick Montgomery: “Restrictions on religious freedom: when and how justified?”

Part III: Enforcing and Motivating Human Rights

  • Hendrik Kaptein: “No human rights without retribution: plights and promises of redress as if nothing happened.”

Abstract: Human rights violations abound, notwithstanding well-nigh universal lip-service to their primary importance. Criminal and other legal practices fall far short of realizing full redress for such violations. Real redress or in fact retribution in its original sense implies restoring victims of human rights violations (and of any wrongful harm) to equivalents of their original rightful positions, “as if nothing wrong happened”. This essential aspect of respect for human rights ought to be part of the reform agenda for national and international legal practice.

  • Dallas Miller: “The motivation to protect and advance human rights: a faith-based approach.”

Abstract: The aim of my contribution was to analyze the impact of the Christian teaching, and more specifically Catholic doctrine, upon the contemporary human rights discourse. I have differentiated three main perspectives within which religious community may have an impact upon the social surroundings: general, specific and implementation function. Within a general function religious (ethical) community is perceived as a fundamental basis of morality. Within a specific function many religious communities provide their members guidance as well as detailed criteria concerning the required personal conduct within the public sphere. Within an implementation function religious community is entrusted with the burden of controlling the level of norms-observance among its members.


Menuge has brought together a first-rate, international set of contributors to advance our reflection on the foundation, nature, and importance of human rights. This book should be studied by all those interested in human rights and who take seriously the need to inquire into the basis and justification of those rights.
Charles Taliaferro, St. Olaf College, USA

Amongst the plethora of books on human rights, this book is remarkable. Firstly, it confronts two opposite and socially important perspectives of human rights: secular and religious. Secondly, it presents dialogues from both sides and the contributors present differing viewpoints on many issues. This is what makes the book especially exciting and I recommend it with a deep conviction.
Lech Morawski, Nicolas Copernicus University, Poland

Since the publication of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, human rights have been an important element in bridging cultures. But what is the foundation of human rights? Can human rights be founded within secular culture or do we need religion for that? This is a central preoccupation in this interesting and important volume.
Afshin Ellian, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Taken together, the essays collected in Legitimizing Human Rights serve to remind atheists that if they insist on removing all traces of the law’s debt to the Biblical religions, they will have also undercut the most philosophically compelling grounds for upholding the idea of human rights.
Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, UK

One of the marks of an outstanding anthology is that its contributors confront the reader in such a way that he finds himself in an ebb and flow of dialogue, dissent, and agreement while paging through it. That’s how I found myself while reading this important collection. In an age in which religious belief is not taken seriously in the rarefied corridors of the academy, this book is a welcome contribution to the literature on human rights, theology, and religious liberty.
Francis J. Beckwith, Baylor University, USA

Special Philosophia Christi Issue on Neuroscience and the Soul

The Evangelical Philosophical Society is pleased to announce the release of the Summer 2013 (vol. 15, no. 1) issue of Philosophia Christi, featuring notable philosophers like Oxford University’s Daniel Robinson and Durham University’s E. J. Lowe.

Guest editors Chad Meister and Charles Taliaferro write in their introduction to this issue that

This special summer issue of Philosophia Christi is devoted to neuroscience and the soul. It includes ten articles that bear on current thinking about science and the mind from a diverse group of philosophers. With the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation (JTF), Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought has helped to support this publishing opportunity. JTF is highly committed to fostering fruitful exchanges on science and religion. Our hope is that you find these articles engaging and perhaps challenging to your own perspective on the role of science in understanding the mind and the world of which it is a part.
Main article contributors include:
  • Daniel Robinson, “Neuroscience and the Soul.”
  • William Hasker, “What is Naturalism? And Should We be Naturalists?”
  • E. J. Lowe, “Naturalism, Theism, and Objects of Reason.”
  • Stewart Goetz, “The Argument from Reason.”
  • J. Daryl Charles, “Blame it on My Criminal Brain: Materialism, Metaphysics, and the Human Moral Instinct.”
  • Angus J. L. Menuge, “Neuroscience, Rationality and Free Will: A Critique of John Searle’s Libertarian Naturalism.”
  • Eric LaRock, “From Biological Naturalism to Emergent Subject Dualism.”
  • John M. DePoe, “RoboMary, Blue Banana Tricks, and the Metaphysics of Consciousness: A Critique of Daniel Dennett’s Apology for Physicalism.”
  • J. P. Moreland, “Mental vs. Top-Down Causation: Sic et Non.”
  • Anthony J. Rudd, “Bodily Subjectivity and the Mind-Body Problem.”

The Summer 2013 issue is available for purchase, whether as a single issue or as part of a subscription to the journal, by clicking here.