Search Results for: Michael Rea

An Assessment of R. Scott Smith’s Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality

From the 2012 EPS annual meeting, in a panel discussion devoted to R. Scott Smith’s book, Naturalism and our Knowledge of Reality, Angus Menuge argues that naturalism presents itself as a world view founded on scientific knowledge, which seeks to reduce or eliminate various recalcitrant phenomena such as consciousness and moral values.

Most critiques of naturalism focus on its inability to do justice to these phenomena. By contrast, in Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality (Ashgate, 2012), R. Scott Smith argues that naturalism fails to account for our ability to know reality, thereby undercutting its alleged scientific foundation.

Michael Rea and Robert Koons have argued that, on naturalism, there are no well-defined objects of knowledge. Smith complements this critique by showing that, even if such objects exist, subjects will be unable to know them as they are.

Smith’s threefold argument can be understood as the intellectual revenge of Berkeley, Kant and Husserl on naturalism. At the end of the paper, Menuge suggests a couple of ways proponents of naturalized epistemology would likely respond.

To read the full-text of this article, please click here (updated with correction on 12/7).

God is Great, God is Good: Interview with Chad Meister

Bethel College Philosopher Chad Meister and Biola University Philosopher William Lane Craig recently published a co-edited a response to the New Atheism. Below is our interview with Meister about their new contribution: God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible (IVP, 2009).

How did this book come about? 

Bill Craig and I thought it was time for leading scholars in their fields to offer responses to the central challenges of the New Atheists (primarily Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett) and to provide some of the latest research on matters related to theism and Christian faith.

How does this book uniquely demonstrate how belief in God is both reasonable and responsible?  

One of the objections to religious faith raised by the New Atheists and other critics of religion is that one must be both unreasonable and irresponsible to hold religious beliefs.  This is often a criticism rooted in a reaction to fideism—a reliance on nonrational or irrational faith.  In this book we attempt to demonstrate that faith need not be blind, unreasonable or irresponsible.  Belief in God and Christ can be grounded on reason and solid evidence.  Indeed, not only can one be warranted in holding Christian faith, but it may be much more intellectually honest and epistemically responsible —when taking into consideration the latest work in science, history, and philosophy—to be a believer than not.

Why is there sometimes a tendency in philosophy of religion literature to emphasize the “believing in God is reasonable” aspect and not so much the “believing in God is responsible” aspect?  

Historically in debates about God’s existence and religious belief, the issues centered around evidences and arguments for and against them (e.g., design arguments, cosmological arguments, historical evidences for the resurrection of Jesus, etc.).  In recent times, the New Atheists in particular have emphasized the point that religious adherents are not only basing their faith on specious evidence, but that doing so is irresponsible for an educated person in the twenty-first century.  So religious people are not only unjustified in their religious beliefs, they are also morally culpable for their religious tomfooleries.  For these critics of faith, religious beliefs are not only false, they are downright dangerous and therefore must be denounced and ultimately annihilated from the planet.  In this book, we present sixteen essays (fourteen chapters, a postscript, and an appendix) which attempt to demonstrate that believing in God is both reasonable and responsible.

Let’s talk about the contributors. You’ve got a broad range of talent from philosophers to evangelism and apologetics experts. How does this range of contributors strengthen the book’s overall presentation?

The stakeholders in these issues are extensive and include students, scholars, pastors, teachers, and scientists, among others.  In our book we have included a broad range of contributors, from theologians and Bible scholars to philosophers and experts in science.  While a single-authored work may have had a smoother flow, we chose this format in order to provide the best responses and insights available to criticisms of theism and Christian faith today.

In part one, how do the contributions by William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, and Paul Moser offer explanations for knowing that God exists, especially in light of the claims of atheism?  

First, there are a number of robust arguments and evidences for God’s existence, and William Lane Craig argues that Dawkins’s criticisms of the cosmological, moral, teleological, and ontological arguments are not deadly to them, nor are they even injurious.  To the contrary, in their contemporary forms these arguments (most especially the teleological argument) provide forceful reasons for believing in God.  J. P. Moreland argues that, on the Christian worldview, God possesses five aspects (consciousness, libertarian free will, rationality, a unified self, and intrinsic value), none of which fits naturally in a scientific naturalist ontology.  Paul Moser then argues that a morally robust understanding of theism is more impervious to criticism than many believe. 

In part two, how do the contributions by John Polkinghorne, Michael Behe, and Michael Murray respond to criticisms of God’s creative design of the universe?  

John Polkinghorne argues that theism offers a “vertical” story of the universe—one in which the laws of nature point beyond them to a deeper level of intelligibility.  Michael Behe presents the case that three pillars of Darwinian evolution—random mutation, natural selection, and common descent—are insufficient to explain the overwhelming appearance of design in life, notably in the elegant molecular machinery of the cell.  Michael Murray then offers a compelling argument such that even if human beings have a natural disposition toward belief in God, this in no way makes that belief disreputable.    

In part three, how do the contributions by you, Alister McGrath, Paul Copan, and Jerry Walls provide challenges to arguments against God’s goodness?  

I first note that the logical problem of evil has been decisively rebutted in recent years—a point often overlooked by critics of belief in an omnibenevolent God—and then focus my energies on atheistic accounts of morality.  I argue that two main attempts are found wanting.  Alister McGrath contends that New Atheist endeavors to demonstrate that religion is intrinsically evil are unsuccessful; in fact, such a belief is merely an article of faith held by its adherents, supported by a very selective use of evidence and a manipulation of history.  In the next essay Paul Copan tackles the thorny issue of whether God and Old Testament laws are evil, and he makes the case that atheistic moral outrage to God’s character and laws lacks the metaphysical resources for making such charges; the God of the Old Testament is clearly not the moral monster some atheists maintain.  In the final essay of this part, Jerry Walls focuses on the issue of a good God creating hell.  He argues that it is precisely because God is a God of love that some may end up in hell.

Lastly, in part four, how do the contributions by Charles Taliaferro, Scot McKnight, Gary Habermas and Mark Mittelberg contribute to the treatment of Christianity’s unique theological claims?  

Charles Taliaferro makes the claim that given certain frameworks, including one’s view of nature, history, and values, divine revelation doesn’t stand a chance.  He challenges these frameworks and offers some positive reasons for recognizing divine revelation.  Scot McKnight then examines the questions of why many of Jesus’s contemporaries didn’t recognize him as the Messiah, what their expectations were, and how they did in fact see him.  Focusing on ten observations they made, he concludes that their expectations of the Messiah were transformed by the Messiah who came.  In the next essay, Gary Habermas argues that two epistles widely recognized as being written by Paul, I Corinthians and Galatians, demonstrate that the resurrection proclamation was quite early and linked to eyewitnesses of the event.  Lastly, Mark Mittelberg closes the book’s chapters by focusing on the question of why faith in Jesus matters.  He points out that Jesus came so we could have life and have it to the full and concludes with these eternally significant words: “The God who is great and the God who is good is ready and waiting for you to come home to him.”

God is Great, God is Good brings together contributors in philosophy, theology, biblical studies, apologetics and evangelism, and the sciences. What are some other topics or areas of study where you’d like to see such collaboration?

I am currently working on several projects in which I’m attempting to bring together philosophers, sociologists, and scholars in religious studies from across the spectrum of world religions in order to address and dialogue about many of the major issues confronting us today.  These include topics such as global ethics, theodicy, violence, secularization, diversity and public education, and the environment.  As globalization increases and religious pluralism becomes more a part of Western culture, I believe such dialectic will become increasingly significant and profitable.  I’m also working on a collaborative project with Oxford University Press in which theistic and atheistic philosophers and other scholars engage in dialogue about central matters of theism and Christian faith, such as the coherence of theism, the doctrine of the Trinity, the Atonement, and the Incarnation.  An amiable exchange of ideas can be quite rewarding, and my hope is that these various venues of discourse will elevate the dialogue among those who disagree about fundamental matters of faith.

How would you like to see this book used among its readers? Give us a vision for its use.

Our hope is that the book will be read by both adherents and critics of faith.  It is written in an irenic tone—this is no polemical screed—and is the kind of work a Christian, say, could give to an atheist friend or skeptic without concern about its being unnecessarily offensive or blatantly aggressive.  It’s also a work that can be a real faith-booster for believers as it is filled to the brim with cutting-edge theistic arguments, evidences, and rebuttals to critics of God and Christianity.

Chad Meister is a Professor of Philosophy at Bethel College, Indiana. He is also one of our book review editors for Philosophia Christi. You can learn more about Chad by going to his website:

Analytic Theology: Interview with Editors Crisp and Rea (part two)

We are happy to feature the second part of our interview with Oliver Crisp and Michael Rea concerning their important book, Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology (Oxford, 2009). In the first part of our interview, Crisp and Rea discussed the features and work of analytic theology and how the two parts of their book contribute to this maturing sub-field of philosophy of religion.

The chapters of part three examine the “data” for theology: scripture, reason, and experience. How do these chapters by Thomas McCall, Thomas Crisp, Michael Sudduth, and Michael Murray contribute to the discussion?

Rea: One of the main worries about analytic theology is that it is somehow wedded to a strong form of rationalism—an overly optimistic view about the power of pure reason to provide grounds (indeed, as some have it, absolute certainty) for our religious beliefs.  The essays by Crisp, Sudduth, and Murray all, in various ways, contribute to addressing this worry.  Sudduth, for example, argues that experience plays a vital role in natural theology, and Crisp argues that “authoritative testimony” plays a vital role in warranting our belief in the inspiration of scripture. Murray argues for a conception of theology as a discipline that works in cooperation with the empirical sciences to produce an overall unified explanatory theory.  Together, all of these essays challenge the view that (analytic) theology is committed to a conception of theology as a purely rationalistic enterprise.

McCall’s essay, on the other hand, addresses a different concern.  Some worry that, by assuming (as analytic theologians do) that we can theorize about God and come to clear understanding of various truths about God, we somehow put God ‘at our disposal’—as if, by making these truths generally accessible to us, it would no longer be exclusively up to God to whom he revealed himself or when; rather, it would be partly up to us.  According to McCall, this is a concern shared by Karl Barth; and, as McCall presents it, Barth’s doctrine of scripture provides a way of understanding the divine inspiration of scripture that allows truths about God to be fully accessible to human beings while at the same time avoiding the objectionable consequences that are supposed to follow from that claim. 

What further work needs to be done in analytic theology concerning theology’s “data”?

Crisp: Well, for a start, there is more work to be done on the relationship between biblical studies and theology. Much of the work that has been done on this has not really led to much engagement. A good example is the book Hermes and Athena, edited by Tom Flint and Eleonore Stump, which I think is a really important work, though it is often said to have ‘failed’ to generate constructive discussion between analytics and biblical studies scholars (a claim that is moot). But there are also examples that should be given more attention than they have, such as C. Stephen EvansThe Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith.

It would also be interesting to see more work being done by analytics on the role of tradition in Christian theology. Again, there is a small literature on this, but there seems to be scope for more that engages with the recent theological interest in resourcement and ‘retrieval’.

A lot of recent theology is in part an attempt to return to a more ‘mysterious’, apophatic approach to theology, especially in some Radical Orthodoxy work. It would be interesting to see analytics engage with this, not least because many analytics presume a certain kind of univocal approach to religious language: that, say, human love and divine love are just different quantities of the same thing.

In the fourth and final part of the book, the chapters offer “correctives” to analytic theology? What concerns are Eleonore Stump, Merold Westphal and Sarah Coakley attempting to address in light of major objections against analytic theology?

Crisp: Each of these contributions ended up being rather less anti-analytic theology than we had first thought they might be. Stump’s piece is very interesting, I think, because it really seeks to deal seriously with narrative – a matter that has been important in recent post-liberal theology and in the work of Christian ethicists like Stanley Hauerwas. Her essay does show that analytics can make an important contribution to issues at the interstices between literature, narrative, theology and philosophy. Merold’s chapter is perhaps the most critical in some ways. But it was very important to us to have a thinker whose work is clearly within the ‘continental’ stream contributing to a volume such as AT. I admire Merold’s work and think this is a helpful, constructive piece of work. Sarah Coakley’s essay is a fine essay enjoining analytics to think much more seriously about apophatic (i.e. negative) theology, using William Alston’s Taylor Lectures as a foil to Teresa of Avila’s work.

How would you make a positive case to theology faculty or a dean of theology faculty (especially systematic theologians) for the relevance and usefulness of analytic theology to their work?

Rea: I would invite them to spend a year in the Center for Philosophy of Religion, or to attend an interdisciplinary workshop with a mix of talented and open-minded philosophers and theologians.  Right now philosophers and theologians are separated from one another as much by myths, misconceptions, and outright ignorance of what goes on in the other discipline as by substantive methodological differences.  For those who do have substantive methodological objections against analytic theology, the answer is to do more work on the sorts of issues raised by our volume.  For those who are more in the grips of myths, misconceptions, and ignorance, the remedy is for the person to come and see what’s really going on in the (analytic) philosophy room.  On the few occasions when I’ve organized workshops for smallish groups of talented, open-minded philosophers and theologians interested in common themes, the results have been amazing:  folks from both disciplines have come away very pleasantly surprised by how much they’ve learned from those in the other discipline and by how much their intellectual interests overlap.

Crisp: There are terrific resources in the analytic tradition for pursuing theology in a way that is sympathetic to the sorts of concerns held by many historic theologians in the (western) tradition. For instance, it seems to me that many medieval and post-Reformation theologians are engaged in a sort of analytic theology. If one compares, say, St Augustine, or St Anselm of Canterbury, or St Thomas Aquinas or Jonathan Edwards or Francis Turretin with some of the work in the AT volume, I think there are obvious parallels. One might even say there is little that separates them in terms of the sort of philosophical sensibilities displayed. So, for those interested in doing theology in a way that is seriously engaged with the tradition, seeking to take forward the sort of theological discussions that have been the substance of the vast majority of the Christian tradition, analytic theology is worth seriously considering. And, as I have already mentioned, there are theologians doing this, like Bruce Marshall in his book Trinity and Truth, or William Abraham’s Canonical Theism project in the USA, Alan Torrance and Sarah Coakley in the UK, the Utrecht School in the Netherlands, or thinkers like Ingolf Dalferth in the German-speaking countries. Even systematic theologians like Wolfhart Pannenberg or Robert Jenson, whilst not analytic theologians, show an awareness and appreciation of some analytic work. There are fruitful avenues of research to be had here, for theology qua theology.

How would you like to see this book used in a classroom setting?

Crisp: It would be useful as a supplement to courses on philosophical theology and on courses that deal with theological method, common in seminary settings in particular. It would be good to see it used as a discussion point in seminars, getting young theologians to think through how they approach substantive matters in theology. These are essays that should be discussed, not just read.

What are the possibilities for work to be done with analytic philosophy of religion and Christian spirituality, and especially, with spiritual theology?

Crisp: This is something that I think is a very exciting prospect. Sarah Coakley’s essay in AT is, in some ways, aiming in this direction. And there are other places where philosophical theology is beginning to meet with spiritual formation or the more ‘applied’ aspect of theology, such as Marilyn Adams’ recent treatment of Eucharistic theology in her book Christ and Horrors. And analytics could learn quite a lot from reading George Hunsinger’s recent book on the sacraments and ordination, Let us Keep the Feast. There is an existing literature in philosophy of religion on mysticism and petitionary prayer. It would be interesting to see this extended to include other areas like ecclesiology or sacramental theology. And, of course, I think this is where analytic theology could really make a difference, a contribution to the tradition.

Personally, is there something unique and fruitful to engaging in analytic theology as a Christian (a follower of Jesus Christ)?

Crisp: I wouldn’t want to claim that analytic theologians were necessarily any more virtuous in this respect than theologians of another stripe: an analytic approach to theology will not guarantee an orthodox, disciplined Christian life any more than another approach to theology can. But, for what it is worth, I think of analytic theology as a faith seeking understanding enterprise that is (or ought to be) aimed at truth. That is surely a mainstay in much (western) Christian theology. Such theology has historically been done in the service of the Church. And, to my mind, theology that is not in the service of the Church is in some important respect defective. Analytic theologians should be concerned with the question of truth. But they should also be serving the Church in the theology they produce. I’m not saying one couldn’t do analytic theology without this component. But I am saying that such analytic theology would be defective in an important respect, just as any theology that is not done in the service of the Church, to the glory of God, is defective.

Rea: I think that if one isn’t a religious believer, it makes little sense to view the Bible or religious experience or the traditions of the Church (or the Rabbis, or whatever) as sources of data for building complex and systematic theories about God.  It makes a lot more sense to view the Bible as literature, the traditions of the Church (or of the Rabbis, or whatever) as just reflections on the relevant literature, and religious experience as…well…something other than experience of God.  So for those who are not religious believers, analytic theology should seem a rather hollow and pointless enterprise.  So yes, I think it should be a lot more satisfying if one is a believer (and hence if one is a Christian).

What is distinctive about a Christian analytic theology?

Crisp: I have already said something about what analytic theology is, and I suppose that gives some indication of what makes an analytic approach to theology distinct from much contemporary theology which draws upon more ‘continental’ modes of philosophical thought. So the ‘analytic’ component to analytic theology will be distinctive to the extent that it is appropriating the modes and methods of an analytic approach to the subject matter of theology. It is certainly distinctive for the Christian theologian to be engaged in an analytic project qua theologian, that is, from within the bounds of the Christian tradition, pursued in a faith-seeking-understanding manner, rather than qua philosopher, as someone with an interest in these issues coming at them from the ‘outside-in’, as it were. Someone from another faith tradition might also be an analytic theologian. I do not doubt that one could do analytic theology in Judaism or as a Muslim – and there might be a good case for doing so. But that, it need hardly be said, is a rather different enterprise than Christian analytic theology. I am not responsible to the Jewish or Muslim community. But I am responsible to the Christian community. And, for obvious reasons, that shapes the sort of issues I want to deal with as an analytic theologian.

Part one of the interview with Crisp and Rea can be read here. Michael Rea is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and Director of Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion. Oliver Crisp is a Reader in Theology at Bristol University. Both Rea and Crisp have been contributors to Philosophia Christi. Philosophia Christi has also published philosophical theology theme issues, such as the Winter 2008 book symposium on Abraham’s Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation or the Winter 2003 issue on the trinity.

Analytic Theology: Interview with Editors Crisp and Rea (part one)

We are happy to feature an interview with Oliver Crisp and Michael Rea about their important co-edited volume, Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology (Oxford, 2009). Below is part one of two.

How did this book come about? Does the timing of the book’s release, compared to if it were released 10-15 years ago, indicate how philosophical theology work is maturing?

Crisp: Believe it or not, the book came about over a cup of coffee. In 2004-2005 I had a post-doc at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame where Mike and I got to know each other. One of the best things about that year was the time I was able to spend talking to philosophers. Mike and I became firm friends and often spent time discussing philosophical-theological issues. One afternoon over a coffee on campus we were talking about the state of contemporary theology and how strange it was that most theologians didn’t really access contemporary analytic philosophy in the same way that they accessed continental philosophy, especially given the renaissance in philosophy of religion since the 1960s and then the turn to Christian doctrine amongst analytics from around the early 1980s. We thought that we could put together a set of essays that showcased a properly analytic approach to theology – and that is where it all began.

Rea:  Part of what struck us, too, was the fact that philosophers were now talking quite a bit about topics like the trinity and the incarnation that fall squarely within the domain of theology, and it seemed odd to us that, by and large, philosophers and theologians working the same topics were nevertheless almost totally ignoring one another.  It was clear to us that part of the explanation had to do with a sort of disdain among theologians for analytic approaches to theology, and a similar sort of disdain among philosophers for the sort of continental/postmodern approaches that seemed to dominate theology.  We thought it would be good to explore this methodological divide.

As to the question of timing, I think that this kind of book has found a receptive audience because contemporary analytic philosophical theology has become a serious concern. So, yes, it seems to me that its publication is an indication of the maturing literature in the field. But it is also interesting that theologians are beginning to think about analytic philosophy too (e.g. the work of William Abraham – one of our contributors in the book – and Bruce Marshall). I hope that AT may be a contribution that stimulates more theological interest in this field.

What accounts for the turn toward “the explication of core doctrines in Christian theology” by philosophers of religion that self-identify with the so-called “analytic tradition”?

Rea: Part of the reason is surely just the fact that (a) quite a lot of the people working in contemporary philosophy of religion have Christian backgrounds, and (b) by the mid- 1980s, the stock issues in ‘generic’ philosophy of religion—questions about the rationality of religious belief, traditional arguments for the existence of God, and the like—had been pretty thoroughly explored.  I suspect, too, that part of what has happened in philosophy of religion is similar to what seems to have happened in other naturally interdisciplinary sub-fields like philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind:  for a while, philosophers work on certain paradigmatic philosophical issues that they think they can explore on their own; but as the conversations become increasingly sophisticated, they find themselves drawn more deeply into the literature and the problems of the related discipline (particular sciences in the case of philosophy of science, and empirical psychology in the case of the philosophy of mind).

Crisp: It might also be worth saying that around this time there was a renewed interest in historic questions raised by philosophical theologians of the past, particularly the medievals. And the sorts of issues they were interested in often involve matters with a direct bearing on central Christian claims such as the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement. I suppose it is also true that the renewal of metaphysics in the 1970s meant that such concrete metaphysical issues in Christian theology became much more attractive as areas to be mined by analytics than had previously been the case. The success of analytic philosophy of religion opened up the field of philosophical theology, as it opened up Christian philosophy more generally.

Al Plantinga likes to joke that much of the most interesting theology of the past twenty years has been done by analytics, not by professional theologians. But I think there is more than a grain of truth to this. Analytics are often excoriated for being ‘ahistorical’. But in fact, I think that analytics involved in philosophical theology have shown increasing historical sensitivity borne out of a deep engagement with particular theologians, including the medievals, the magisterial reformers and some post-Reformation figures like Molina and Edwards. This engagement with the tradition and concern to draw upon historic Christian discussion of doctrine in order to argue for key dogmatic claims is, I think, a very welcome development, and one theologians may benefit from.

How should philosophy in general, and philosophy of religion in particular, integrate with theology?

Crisp: It seems to me that the boundaries between philosophical theology and systematic theology are rather porous. Systematic theology always involves appealing to some sort of metaphysical claim or other – a matter that the American Lutheran theologian, Robert Jenson, makes plain in his Systematic Theology. But I am not sure that ‘integration’ is the right word. Bridge-building might be more like it. How can bridges be built between analytics and theologians that might be mutually beneficial and that might mean there is more traffic between the two disciplines? That is an important question, I think. And it is not all one-way traffic, either. There is important theological work that analytics can benefit from, e.g. the recent re-evaluation of St Augustine of Hippo by people like Michel Barnes and Lewis Ayres.

The ‘how’ question is partly about more discussion between analytics and theologians and more time being given to move beyond facile characterizations of the ‘other’ discipline. This is beginning to happen too, e.g. the Logos conferences that Mike has been organizing through the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame, this year in conjunction with Dean Zimmerman at Rutgers, on the model of the Metaphysical Mayhem conferences. Last year’s conference was a real success. I’ve been at venues where mutual animosity between philosophers and theologians has prevailed. This was a forum where there was (I felt) evidence of a real desire to engage across these two disciplines. There is an AAR session on AT planned for later this year. It will be interesting to see to what extent it gets a wider hearing in the ‘Religion’ academy.

Rea: Here too I think that the analogy with other interdisciplinary subfields is useful.  How did philosophy of mind integrate with psychology?  How did philosophy of physics integrate with physics?  To the extent that these subfields have integrated with their sister disciplines, the integration has largely come about by experts coming to realize that awareness of what is going on in the sister discipline is importantly relevant to their own research.  The main obstacle to this realization in the case of phil religion and theology is just the methodological divide:  by and large, philosophers of religion and theologians have tended to view their relevance to one another in about the same way that analytic metaphysicians and Heideggerians have tended to view their relevance to one another.  And the only way to overcome the methodological divide (I think) is to explore it, talk about it, and see how deep it really runs. 

What is analytic theology?

Crisp: Analytic theology is the theological appropriation of the tools and methods of analytic philosophical theology for properly theological ends. It is really about bringing the work analytics have been doing into the theological fold. There is little that is new in this, apart from the fact that theologians are now engaged in work that is consciously appropriating the literature and methods of analytics for their own constructive theological work.

Rea: One criticism of our book (in Gordon Graham’s review in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews) is that we haven’t sufficiently differentiated analytic theology from (analytic) philosophical theology.  This strikes me as a rather odd objection, in light of what I say in the introduction.  (Here I repeat some remarks I made over at Prosblogion when the review came out.)  As I see it, analytic theology overlaps analytic philosophical theology–in fact, there’s not a whole lot included in the latter that wouldn’t also be included in the former. Graham notes that if that is true, then “analytic theology is nothing new, and has been carried on with vigor for the last four decades or more”. Fair enough, but I never claimed that analytic theology is anything new. As I see it, the most important (intended) contribution of the volume is just to get people reflecting on this already-familiar enterprise as a legitimate way of doing “theology” rather than simply as a form of applied “philosophy”. And even this idea (i.e., that what analytic philosophers of religion have been doing for decades is a perfectly legitimate form of theological theorizing) isn’t really new either–as anyone can see by looking at systematic theologies from the early 20th Century and before.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part consists of chapters under the title, “In Defense of Analytic Theology.” How do the chapters by Oliver Crisp, William Abraham, and Randal Rauser contribute to this discussion?

Crisp: The first two chapters are articulations of AT. Mike’s Introduction is really a third attempt to get at AT too. In fact, it is the best piece of the three. My essay is really an attempt to argue that AT is not something theologians should shrug off as peripheral or unimportant. I also try to show that analytic theology is not necessarily about a narrow set of metaphysical commitments – that one could be an analytic theologian and take a rather different tack from the one I prefer. William Abraham’s piece is more about what analytic theology as a species of systematic theology might look like. It is a more ‘constructive’ piece of work than mine, in some respects. By contrast, Randal’s paper is a sort of ground-clearing exercise. Using the work of Harry Frankfurt, he asks whether certain contemporary theologies are locked into a perpetual bull-session aiming at effect rather than at truth.

What further work needs to be done concerning how and why analytic theology can be developed and strengthened in light of the alternatives?

Crisp: I think it would be interesting to engage other theological methods that are the subject of current interest in the literature. For instance, a useful discussion might be had with post-liberal theologians, or with representatives of Radical Orthodoxy. But for the present, I think we need more examples of analytic theology. It is all very well talking about theological method. What we need to see is what analytic theology looks like. I’ve published a monograph on the Incarnation that attempts to begin this [God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology]. Randal has just published a long essay on theological method that is a piece of analytic theology [Theology in Search of Foundations]. And Mike and Tom McCall have just published a collection of essays on the Trinity [Philosophical and Theological Essays on the Trinity] in which there is also evidence of analytic theology being done (especially in Tom’s essay in the volume). I have already mentioned William Abraham’s work, the most recent example of which is his Crossing The Threshold of Divine Revelation. Michael Sudduth has just published his book on Reformed Objections to Natural Theology, which should be of use to analytic theologians since it deals with whole question of natural theology. As the literature expands I hope we will see further discussion with those involved in other approaches to theology.

Rea: I also think that the objections against analytic theology need to be taken a lot more seriously by analytic theologians than they have been.  There are, I think, real worries to be raised about the limits of our abilities to theorize about God; illusions on the part of analytic philosophers about the degree to which they’ve managed to exchange evocative metaphors and other ‘fuzzy’ forms of speech for precision and clarity deserve to be questioned; and so on.  In the introductory essay I made an attempt to articulate some of these objections in a sympathetic and serious way, but I think that there is a lot more that could be done, and then, of course, the objections need to be dealt with.

The chapters of the second part address relevant “historical perspectives” about various issues and concerns relevant to analytic theology’s viability. How do these chapters by John Lamont, Andrew Chignell, Andrew Dole, and Nicholas Wolterstorff contribute to this discussion?

Crisp: The main concern that these essays address is the objection that analytic approaches to matters theological tend to be historically flimsy, or that they end up with a rather anemic, abstracted notion of what Christian theism really consists in. We were also concerned to ensure that key theologians were addressed, because the tradition matters in theology. John Lamont’s piece is a careful attempt to look at some of the Fathers. Andrew Chignell’s piece is concerned with Kant and the Kantian ‘legacy’ for philosophy and theology. Andrew Dole’s piece is on Schleiermacher’s anti-realism. (Tom McCall deals with Karl Barth in the context of his doctrine of Scripture in the third section of AT.) I think that each of these pieces is really terrific. Nick Wolterstorff’s essay is more about the development of analytic philosophical theology. And he makes the point I made earlier that the boundary between analytic philosophical theology and systematic theology is not the hard-and-fast one often presumed.

Are there other historical issues and concerns in this area that would merit further consideration and development?

Crisp: As I have already indicated, there is already a flourishing literature in medieval theology that has been done by analytics. I think it would be good to see more work done on Patristic theology and how this might be brought into the discussion. John Lamont’s essay is a good beginning, but there is much more that could be done in this area by analytics. It would be good to see what analytics could bring to this. It would also be interesting to see more work done on recent (i.e. late-twentieth century) theology. This would be more of a challenge, I think, because so much of this draws upon a continental approach to theology, e.g. the existentialism of Bultmann or John Macquarrie. But perhaps this is an opportunity, a bit like recent analytic work that has been done on Nietzsche – a thinker that does not strike one at first blush as an obvious candidate for an analytic assessment!

Michael Rea is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and Director of Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion. Oliver Crisp is a Reader in Theology at Bristol University. Both Rea and Crisp have been contributors to Philosophia Christi. Philosophia Christi has also published philosophical theology theme issues, such as the Winter 2008 book symposium on Abraham’s Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation or the Winter 2003 issue on the trinity.

Call for Papers: Hiddenness of Spiritual Realities

The Philosophy of Religion Group is issuing a call for papers for its session at the 2010 American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting on the topic of “The Hiddenness of Spiritual Realities.” While the topic of “divine hiddenness” has received a modest amount of attention in recent years, the topic of this session is being cast a bit more broadly. Those proposing papers are welcome to address the topic of divine hiddenness, however the program committee is also interested in considering papers that address hiddenness in non-theistic traditions, as well as aspects of hiddenness that are not focused on the existence of God. Papers might thus address other topics where the hiddenness of a spiritual reality is initially surprising or unexpected given particular claims within a tradition. For example, for traditions with an emphasis on natural law, the hiddenness of divine moral mandates might merit attention. For traditions with a commitment to reincarnation, the seemingly minimal evidence for the existence of “past lives” might require explanation. Etc.

Those wishing to submit papers for consideration should send 350 word (or less) abstracts to the Program Chair, Michael Murray at no later than SEPTEMBER 1, 2009.

Interview with Chad Meister: Philosophy of Religion Reader

We interviewed Chad Meister, Vice President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, about his recently released Philosophy of Religion Reader (Routledge, 2007).

Chad, you are a seasoned observer and contributor to philosophy of religion work. Give us a sense for how this field in philosophy has blossomed over the last 50 years or so.

The field of philosophy of religion has exploded in recent years. In some ways this is a surprising phenomenon, for in the mid-twentieth century, with the rise of logical positivism, discussions of religious matters were basically relegated to Bible and religion departments. With the demise of positivism, and the work of such first-rate philosophers as Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, philosophy of religion was resurrected. There is now widespread interest in the philosophical reflection on religious issues, and this is evident in the growing number of articles, monographs, companions, journals, and anthologies dedicated to the field. It is perhaps right now one of the “hottest” areas of philosophy.

As you know there are different philosophy of religion anthologies available today. What makes your selections unique? What sort of contribution are you trying to achieve with this anthology?

In the past, most philosophy of religion anthologies focused exclusively on Western theistic issues such as arguments for and against God’s existence, religious language, morality, the nature of God, and so forth. While much work in the field is still Western and theistic in nature (and these are indeed yet productive and fertile times for engaging in such issues), religious parochialism is unwarranted, and the discussion is now beginning to swing in broader directions. There are rich traditions of philosophical thought in non-Western and non-theistic religions, and as the world community has globalized in myriad ways in recent decades, such interaction, engagement, and expansion should be reflected in philosophical and religious publications as well. So besides traditional Western issues (including such recent ones as intelligent design and open theism), I have also included in my reader non-theistic perspectives of ultimate reality and their responses to evil, religious experience, and death and the afterlife. I have also included some of the recent trends which are often ignored in anthologies such as feminism in philosophy of religion and religion and the environment. In addition, I wanted this work to be a useful reader and guide for students, so I included a significant number of pedagogical tools (as I note below). I don’t think any reader/anthology on the market has as many student aids.

I’m finishing up a textbook that is designed to be used along with this reader, and it is scheduled to be published yet this year. Many of the central issues included in the reader (both Eastern and Western) are also addressed in this textbook. Another good introductory textbook that would work well in tandem with this reader is Reason and Religious Belief by Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger (Oxford University Press, 2003, 2008).

What was it like to produce this anthology? Can you briefly walk us through why you wanted to do this anthology? Were there guidelines/principles that you followed to help decide what to include vs. what to exclude from this volume?

I was invited by the publisher to craft the reader and the corresponding textbook. I strongly suggested that they be more global than most of the readers and texts in print since this more accurately reflects current trends and research interests in the field. The publisher agreed and allowed me to move in this direction. In terms of the entries, I wanted to include classic and contemporary pieces – both Eastern and Western – that have (or I believe will) stand the test of time as major works in philosophy of religion.

Producing this volume was a lot more work than I anticipated. Not only did I read through all 63 essays several times before submitting them to the publisher (all 700 pages of them), I also wrote section introductions, introductions and reflection questions for each essay, and annotated further readings for every essay. I also wrote a glossary of technical terms and compiled an extensive, three-column index. Just thinking about that project makes me tired!

Anthologies are a wonderful occasion to consider where a discussion has gone and where it might go. Are there areas of philosophy of religion that remain underdeveloped for one reason or another? Where might some fruitful research yet occur in light of the trajectory of the field?

As I mentioned above, most of the philosophy of religion readers and anthologies published in the past few decades have focused almost exclusively on a handful of issues. These are no doubt fundamental and timeless topics. However, the field is now much broader than this, and there is much work to be done in engaging with Eastern thought, continental and feminist studies, religious diversity and comparative religion. Furthermore, studies in philosophical theology (which is often taken to be an area within philosophy of religion) is beginning to blossom, and I believe the next several years will reflect much new and exciting work in these areas.

Can you identify any emerging philosophy of religion leaders who are doing some important work today?

There are a number of scholars who are emerging leaders in the different areas of philosophy of religion. I’ll mention just a few who come to mind: Michael Rea (philosophical theology), Robin Collins (fine-tuning argument for God), Paul Griffiths (religious diversity), Sarah Coakley and Pamela Sue Anderson (feminist philosophy of religion), Paul Copan (ethics and the moral argument for God), Daniel Howard-Snyder and Paul Draper (problem of evil), Paul Moser (divine hiddenness), Jerome Gellman (religious experience and mysticism), and Charles Taliaferro (coherence of theism, among others).

You do work in philosophy of religion and Christian apologetics. These two areas are interrelated. What might professional philosophers of religion learn from apologetics ministries? Conversely, what might apologetics ministries learn from professionals in philosophy of religion?

Apologetics ministries are typically focused on questions and concerns which are immediately relevant to the culture. For example, many such ministries have been responding recently to the works of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett, as these new atheists are having a significant influence on the culture. Tackling some of the philosophical and moral challenges raised by the new atheists would certainly be a worthy endeavor for professional philosophers of religion. Thankfully, some have. Bill Craig and I, for example, have brought together about a dozen philosophers (as well as a few theologians and biblical scholars) to take on these new atheist challenges in a forthcoming book we are co-editing.

Apologetics ministries are also addressing some important questions that have not been on the forefront of philosophy of religion studies in recent years. For example, religious rites comes to mind. With the liturgical renewal currently occurring in many contexts, such as in the emergent church movement, it would behoove philosophers of religion to reflect on such questions as What is a religious rite? Why have religious rites been neglected in recent philosophy of religion? How important are such rites in the practice of religion? Charles Taliaferro has begun to tackle these questions, but much more philosophical work needs to be done here.

Apologetics ministries can learn much from philosophers as well. For example, the rigorous philosophical work that’s been done on a few key apologetics issues has been quite impressive in recent years. As a case in point, consider the remarkable works of Alvin Plantinga and Eleonore Stump on the problem of evil. Many apologists do not realize that now even most atheist philosophers agree that the logical problem of evil has been forcefully rebutted – so much so that leading atheist philosophers no longer focus on it but have moved on to the evidential problem instead. Reading journals like Philosophia Christi would also benefit apologists as many apologetics-related issues are regularly addressed in the journal by leading philosophers of religion.

Chad Meister is the Director of the Philosophy Program and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Bethel College. More information about Chad’s speaking and writing can be found at

Love, Wisdom and (Christian) Philosophy

Does the practice of Christian philosophy (or should it, at any rate) produce wisdom?

As a contribution to the Christ-shaped philosophy project, Ttis paper considers recent claims about analytic theology and philosophy and their connections to wisdom and love, specifically those made by Michael Rea, Paul Moser and Michael McFall. It argues that the relationship between Christian philosophy or theology and wisdom-rooted love is not well represented by either the Moser-McFall camp or by Rea and is closer to Aaron Preston’s account of historical philosophy.

The paper concludes by considering the role of irony in doing Christian theology and philosophy.

The full-text of this paper is available for FREE by clicking here.

New Essays on the Philosophy of Alvin Plantinga

Kelly James Clark and Michael Rea (eds.), Reason, Metaphysics, and Mind: New Essays on the Philosophy of Alvin Plantinga (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Christian philosopher and theologian Jim Beilby (Bethel University) has a helpful NDPR review on the latest celebration of Al Plantinga’s work.

“The culmination of a long and fruitful career is always something worth celebrating. But some retirement celebrations require a little something extra — like an academic conference and a book,” writes Beilby.

The context for the development  Reason, Metaphysics and Mind is the May 21-23, 2010 conference in honor of Plantinga. “[nearly three-hundred people] gathered, Beilby notes, “not only because Plantinga is world-renowned for his contribution to the fields of epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion, but also because “Al” — as most of the conference participants know him — is their friend, mentor, and/or former professor.” One is reminded here of Wolterstorff’s paper at the closing session of the conference, “Then, Now, and Al” (which is also available in the book).

Not surprisingly, the topics addressed by the papers in this book are as wide-ranging as Plantinga’s own work.

The quality of the essays in this volume is very high. They all provide an important contribution to their respective areas of philosophical discourse and some have the potential to be classics. I found Ric Otte’s essay, for example, to be profoundly helpful in advancing (and in some ways, redirecting) the conversation about the problem of evil. Furthermore, the distribution of the topics provides an interesting survey of some of the best work in analytic philosophy and analytic theology out there.

The essays in the volume also nicely illustrate the profound impact Alvin Plantinga has had on the field of philosophy. His purely academic achievements were not the only reason for this conference and ensuing volume. Consider the first footnote in Michael Bergmann’s essay.

I am very pleased to be presenting this chapter in honor of Alvin Plantinga. His philosophical writings are brilliant, field defining, and full of wit, all of which make them both hugely beneficial and a huge pleasure to read. But even more impressive and meaningful to me, however, is the manner in which he has modeled in his own life, in multiple ways that I think about often, how someone with a career in philosophy can be a faithful Christian (p. 9, n. 1).

Comments such as these, including the whole of Wolterstorff’s essay, indicate that Al has not been content to merely blaze new trails in the philosophical landscape. He has shouldered the more difficult task of guide and mentor to many who have followed him on those new trails. This volume appropriately conveys appreciation for his work, both philosophical and personal.

I do, however, have three small quibbles with the volume. First, the issues engaged by the essays are profoundly interesting and the contributors and respondents are all top-notch, so I would very much have liked to have seen more extensive conversations between them. Second, some (but not all) of the essays include a short rejoinder to the comments of the respondent. But this rejoinder is included as a postscript to the original essay and before the response. This is, as I said, a quibble. It is certainly possible to read the essay, skip ahead to the response, and then jump back to the post-scripted rejoinder. But this is unwieldy and unnecessary. Third, not all of the essays include a rejoinder.

Bergmann, Flint, Merricks, and Sosa do, but Otte, Stump, van Inwagen, and Zimmerman do not. But, of course, these are not objections to the content of the volume. The problem here is not, one might say, philosophical indigestion. The problem here is analogous to that of Oliver Twist. The philosophical food in this volume is so appetizing that I found myself saying, “Please sir, I want some more.”

As more books come out about the influence and leadership of Plantinga’s work, it will be interesting to explore his impact on some aspect of a ‘pentecostal philosophy’ (e.g., the work of Jamie Smith), Christian apologetics (e.g., his influence on Bill Craig’s epistemology), and to more interdisciplinary discussions (e.g., science and theology), including the work of Christian scholarship.

Recently, Plantinga and Wolterstorff were Presidential Visiting Scholars at Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought. Below is an interesting video interview with both of them. The interviewer, philosopher Tom Crisp (a former student of Al’s), asks them questions pertaining to the nature of Christian scholarship and the role of Christian scholars in the academy and in society.

Recommended EPS-ETS Panel Discussion (FRIDAY): Forgiveness

Analytic Theology: Forgiveness

9:45-12:55 pm
Marriott – Foothill D

Moderator: Michael Rea
(University of Notre Dame)

9:45-10:25 am
Cristian Mihut
(Bethel College, Indiana)
Changing One’s Heart: Forgiveness, Resentment, and Empathy

10:35-11:15 am
Christian B. Miller
(Wake Forest University)
The Challenge to Virtue, Character, and Forgiveness from Social Psychology and Philosophy

11:25 am–12:05 pm
Peter W. Martens
(St. Louis University )
Does Atonement Entail Forgiveness? Two Classical Approaches to Jesus’ Death