Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Interview with R. Scott Smith: In Search of Moral Knowledge

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In this interview, R. Scott Smith discusses the implications of his latest book, In Search of Moral Knowledge (IVP Academic), including how the Enlightenment has shaped our thought-patterns and how a common taproot has animated both 'postmodern epistemology' and 'philosophical naturalism':

In Search of Moral Knowledge is born out of your own teaching experience. What are you called to teach graduate students in the foundational areas that your book also addresses?
I wanted to give grad students (and upper division undergrads, too) a good handle on the crucial factors affecting us in ethics today. I wanted to give a good grounding in moral theory, before we turn to address our many applied ethical issues today.

Ever since I studied with J.P. Moreland, I realized the importance of understanding morals in terms of metaphysical and epistemological issues. E.g., how we come to know which moral properties (principles, virtues) are valid depends upon what kind of thing they are metaphysically. Yet, for a lengthy time now, in western academia, we have suffered a breakdown in knowledge. How can we make good on our various claims? This is nowhere seen more than in ethics, and religion and theology. Yet, as I came to see while studying with Dallas Willard, this breakdown in epistemology is due fundamentally to a breakdown in metaphysics. Specifically, I think it is due to a loss of essences, including universals. We simply cannot know any universal moral truths if there are no universals. And if there are no universals, then we are left with just particulars, including our many particular claims in ethics and religion, which is exactly how many people see things today.
So, how do we make good on our various moral claims (not to mention religious ones), especially in today’s pluralistic setting(s)? 
Many have proposed their answers, yet very few people get down to what I think is the root problem – i.e., a metaphysical one about the rejection of essences, with its enormous theological implications. And, not just any epistemology will allow us to have knowledge, or so I think. I think our abilities to have knowledge of reality depend upon the reality of essences and our being a unity of body and soul.

If the various philosophical and cultural/historical moves rejected essences and instead embraced permutations of nominalism, and these led to a breakdown in being able to make good on our various moral theories and claims, then we need to revisit those moves, to see to what extent they are justified. And, perhaps we need to recover an earlier view that had been rejected. This is why, having seen Willard’s example, I think we need to understand these moves made in the history of ethics (and epistemology, metaphysics, and theology).  For what if those earlier moves were mistaken? We need to examine them, to see just what we ought to conclude, to understand how (and why) we ought to live now.

In this, I think we should find that the Christian God, and Christianity, understood as embracing essences, a robust body-soul dualism, and universals, is the best explanation for what morals are, and how we can know them. So my book serves also as a full-blown argument for the existence of the Christian God.
In recent years, you’ve published two other books that have some overlapping interest with your new book: Virtue Ethics and Moral Knowledge (Ashgate, 2003) and Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality (Ashgate, 2012). In general, how does In Search of Moral Knowledge extend the argument that you’ve developed in these other books?
In Search of Moral Knowledge updates my understanding and assessment of the postmodern turn from Virtue Ethics, particularly in the works of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. In the earlier book, I understood their views more along the lines of how we construct our “worlds” by how we use language in our respective “forms of life.” I based that view on MacIntyre’s understanding of how concepts are embodied in the social world, and how Brad Kallenberg expressed a Wittgensteinian view as language and world being internally related. However, in light of a letter from MacIntyre, and a separate critique from James K.A. Smith, I came to see the “postmodern turn” more along the lines as Jamie states it; i.e., that everything is interpretation. So, I update and alter my earlier understanding, and then I assess that “new” understanding.

My assessment of naturalistic ethics in In Search of Moral Knowledge is an extension of my overall argument in Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality. In Naturalism, I argued that on the basis of the ontology of naturalism, we cannot know reality. In the new book, I summarize and apply that argument to naturalism and ethics, to help show that the fact side of the fact-value dichotomy is false.
Sometimes accounts of ‘postmodern epistemology’ simply begin with a ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy. But part of your contribution to this discussion has been to show how the ontology and epistemology of philosophical naturalism has been influential here. Why should someone understand the conditions and contours of postmodern epistemology from the standpoint of philosophical naturalism as a historically developed set of a ideas?
There is at least one reason why the virtue ethics of Aristotle and Aquinas has had great staying power. In Virtue Ethics, and here, too, I try to show that a metaphysical view that has no place for essences will undermine virtue ethics. At least in terms of historical development, I think postmodernism is a further development in the same overall trajectory of naturalism, and even nominalism. I do not think there is room for essences on any of these views, and postmodernism now takes that stance and applies it to words and their meanings. Derrida, and Dennett and Quine too, realize that without essences, there is no “deeper fact” to what a text means; it simply points on, beyond itself. It leaves the meaning of a text as just a matter of interpretation, without any definitive stopping point. This is due fundamentally to a loss of any place for essences.
In Part One of the book, you offer a “short history of Western ethics.” What do you find to be the most consequential ways for how the “the Enlightenment period” has shaped the fact-value dichotomy?
In that overall period, several factors came together. There had been a series of events in history and science, such that science came to be seen as the paradigm of how we have knowledge. There was great pressure and impetus (especially in the states) for theology to be done scientifically. Along with that emphasis came the stress upon empirical methodologies to give us knowledge. Plus, ontologically speaking, the view was becoming more commonplace that the universe (and humans) are mechanisms.

While not necessarily entailing a denial of the reality of immaterial entities (God, souls, mental states, essences, universals, etc.), these emphases also fit with Bacon’s scientific method, in which he focused on just material and efficient causes, not formal or final ones. These views were worked out in that period along with empiricism (the view that all knowledge comes by way of the five senses) and nominalism (the view that there are no universals, but only particulars, and so without essences, it seems). These views helped set the stage for the rise of naturalism.

So, the view of science that we have inherited from the Enlightenment’s influences (and some before then) have led us to understand scientific knowledge (which is the basis for the facts we know) in terms of empirical methods, and that is often understood in terms of an ontology that is devoid of immaterial realities. Or, if they exist, we cannot know them as such – they play no role in our having knowledge. And without essences, morals and spiritual claims to knowledge really are but particulars, not universals, and subjective, not objective.
In terms of ‘idea grip,’ as Dallas Willard would say, can we really ‘overcome’ the fact-value dichotomy without overcoming some significant ideas from the Enlightenment? 
I do not think we can without doing what you suggest. To help overcome the fact-value dichotomy, several factors will be necessary, I think. In part, it will involve refuting the fact side, that knowledge uniquely comes by way of the sciences. Thus, scientism is one such idea, whether in a strong or weak form, that will need to be repudiated. Another key will be to show that there is more to what is real than what is empirically observable (due to the loss of essences from naturalism and nominalism).

We also need to show that we can, & often do, have knowledge in ethics (and religion, theology). But I think this two-pronged approach will require a refutation of naturalism and anti-essentialism, including nominalism. This book, along with my Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality, are attempts to do just that.

Lately, though, I have been bringing in more lines of thought, including the effects of the “split” upon evangelicals, especially in the states. Our evangelical predecessors in the 1800s and thereafter placed a strong emphasis upon having knowledge of objective truths in all aspects of life by “common sense,” which was thought simply would confirm Scripture. Objective truth was preferred over the subjective, which is a deep legacy of the Enlightenment.

Now, knowledge is important, in that, as J.P. Moreland has said many times, Christianity is a knowledge tradition. We need knowledge, but we need that in conjunction with an intimate relationship with Jesus. That is, we are to live in a deep heart and mind unity with Him, with His heart and mind. His word is to abide not only in us, but we also are to abide in Him (Jn 15:5). We are to love Him with all our being – including both our minds and our hearts. But the “split” discourages and even undermines that unity. By stressing knowledge of reality as the desired goal, while relegating ethics and religion to the realm of the subjective, the “split” undermines the relational aspect of Christianity, instead pressing us to understand the Christian life along the lines of knowledge of objective truths, yet abstracted from a deep, intimate relationship with Him.

So, in western cultures, where we tend to see ethics and religion as personal, subjective, and a matter of opinion, Christians, having been influenced by the “split,” often tend to see their relationship with Jesus as something to be based on believing (& obeying) objective truths. But while that appeals to the mind, it does not necessarily (or easily) touch the heart. That is, it is all too easy for Christians to live out of their “heads” than out of both their minds and their hearts. Yet God wants us to be deeply united with both His heart and mind. If we are not deeply abiding in Him, in relationship with Him (which, out the very nature of relationships, must involve many subjectivities), then we will tend to not be truly abiding in Him. But that is a disaster, for then we will tend to be living in our own strength, not His; and apart from Him, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). To the extent we live in our own self and strength, we will undermine the fullness of His Spirit in us, and we also will give room to the influences of Satan in our thoughts and hearts. I think a grave danger we face as western Christians today is to value knowledge over relationship with Jesus, even though in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3), and we have been given the mind of Christ (and access directly thereto, 1 Cor 2:10-16).

Not only that, He wants our hearts and minds to be deeply united within ourselves, lest we live as bifurcated individuals. God wants us to be whole, well-integrated people, who do not live merely out of just either our hearts or our minds. If we go to seed on the mental, we can know all sorts of truths, but without hearts of compassion, love, kindness, and even power. In that way, we may have knowledge of truth, but not in its fullness. If we tend to emphasize the heart over the “head,” we can value experience at the expense of knowledge, but that too can lead to all sorts of errors. We need both mind and heart unity - in ourselves, which comes from Him, and with Him. (I think this also dovetails closely with reading and practicing God’s written word (Scripture), and listening to His voice, in relationship with Him.)
If moral knowledge is best accounted for by an ‘essentialist’ framework., how can a post-/anti-/non- essentialist view of knowledge, persons, and morality, etc. motivate/justify their claims? 
There are various ways thinkers have advocated for ethics to be based on such frameworks, whether that be Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Bentham, Mill, Rawls, Korsgaard, or naturalists, relativists, or postmoderns. Some, for instance, try to shift knowledge to be a matter of something we have from a particular standpoint, or context, as with MacIntyre or Hauerwas. Knowledge then becomes a matter of what we know from our situated standpoints.

What I think is interesting is that in each of these cases and people I just listed, none of them have any place (or use) for essences, or universals. All embrace, or presuppose, nominalism. Yet, they too have to try to come up with some way(s) to account for moral “phenomena,” such as 1) human life involves morality, however that is to be understood; and 2) there are various morals we all seem to know, such as justice and love are good, and rape and murder are wrong. In the cases of these various theorists, how we know what is moral trades upon how they have defined what kind of things morals are. So, they have to come up with some ways to know these and other facets of morals that will square with nominalism. In some way or another, since there are no essences on such views (or, at least, they play no role in them), these views must be forms of constructivism. Without an essence, there is no defining quality, thereby leaving morals up to us. (And that’s a major reason why I think the fact-value split is so attractive to us; it allows us to think we can live out Gen 3:5 – that we can be like God, defining good and evil, and even reality.)
How does the Christian tradition provide ‘resources’ for overcoming the fact-value dichotomy?
Despite some attempts to conceive (or reconceive) the Christian tradition along nominalist, physicalist, or postmodern lines, I think all these fail, for a number of reasons I have raised in this book, my Naturalism book, and other essays. I think Christianity is best understood as supporting substance dualism, the existence of irreducible mental properties, and universals. (On the latter, see also my essay in Philosophia Christi 15:2). I think this enables us to make sense of many, many important facets of reality, along with Scripture’s claims. E.g., I think that because concepts are universals, many people literally can have the same concept in mind. Because there are essences, there is a fact of the matter of what I meant when I wrote this book, or this sentence. Not just any interpretation goes.

There also can be facts of the matter of the nature of the fetus, the infant, and even the elderly. If there are essences, like humanness, which is instantiated in particular souls, there can be intrinsic properties, like moral worth. I see that as being grounded in our bearing (metaphysically) the image of God. Also, due to the reality of a universal human essence, God the Son really could take on a fully human nature (yet without sin), and thus be able to substitute for us and atone for our sins.

Indeed, if there are universals, there really can be universal morals. And if we all share in a common human nature (as image bearers), then these morals can apply to each of us. Plus, universals as just abstract entities that exist as brute facts (Plato’s view, e.g.) does not really explain why these morals apply to us, or why we should obey them. But their being grounded in God’s character does accomplish that.

Moreover, due to this common human nature, there are some morals we all know to be so, whether by general revelation (such as in Rom 1, 2), or Scripture. There also are some spiritual truths we know – such as that God truly exists (which we may suppress). If so, then there are facts to be known in these areas, and the “split” is false.
R. Scott Smith is Associate Professor of Ethics and Christian Apologetics, Biola University. Enjoy a 40% discount off of In Search of Moral Knowledge by ordering at ivpress.com. Previously at epsociety.org, Naturalism and our Knowledge of Reality was discussed by Paul Gould and EPS President Angus Menuge.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

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.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Phantom, Notre Dame, and Fish Eyes

In late May of this year my wife, step-son, and I—along with a group of students and faculty from my school—went on a tour to London and Paris. It was my fourth trip to London. Before my mom died, she and I had gone there and to Oxford twice, and then my wife and I went a year ago, when we were actually able to spend our first anniversary amidst the towering spires of Oxford.

Save for sharing a brief summary of C.S. Lewis as philosopher, I had no official duties as chaperone on this year’s trip, so I could relax and just take in the sights—and sites. From seeing Wicked and (with EPS vice president Mark Foreman) Phantom of the Opera, to attending Evensong at St. Margaret’s next to Westminster Abbey, to visiting Oxford—an embodiment of the nobility of the intellectual tradition, as my buddy Jerry Walls puts it—England was wonderful as always.

Not the food so much, with their penchant for adding beans to every plate for inexplicable reasons and refusing to remove fish heads before serving them—though I suppose even this is one of England’s many charms.

Paris was just breathtaking, its aesthetic eclipsing even that of London, perhaps because Paris was not bombed as London was during WWII. Seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral, my wife’s favorite stop on the trip, was nothing less than transportive. The Gothic structure took 200 years to build, and I couldn’t help but wonder, as I stood mesmerized before it, what sort of worldview could inspire such an accomplishment? Surely nothing as drab and arid as materialism.

David Bentley Hart likes to point out that what is certain is that, to this point, most of the unquestionably sublime achievements of the human intellect and imagination have arisen in worlds shaped by some vision of transcendent truth.

My step-son’s favorite part of the trip was Versailles, especially the Hall of Mirrors, where World War I officially came to an end. As a history major he was practically moved to tears there after having been a bit of a reluctant tourist until then.

My favorite was the Louvre, and recently reading C. S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism proved a great help in developing my appreciation for the experience. It’s a book I should have read much sooner, teaching us not just how to be better and more discriminating readers, but how to appreciate nature more, listen to music, and look at art. Really looking and listening, allowing the literature or scenic beauty or musical performance or artwork to capture us, speak to us, and do its magic: it takes patience to listen and look carefully enough to penetrate appearances and see and hear what’s there beneath the surface.The paintings I looked at spoke about the sublimity of the everyday, the importance of self-examination, the echoes of beauty in the provincial, the intimations of eternity in the temporal. Seemingly ubiquitous nudity in the art led to reflections on the distinction between art and pornography—with some more help from Lewis, this time his “looking at” versus “looking along” distinction, which can help explain the original scandal of the ornate and risqué artwork outside the Paris Opera House.

Whenever I go to places like London or Paris or Rome with their venerable, storied, and protracted histories, I’m always amazed at the mixed bag those stories offer, from the ignoble to the sublime and everything in between. I couldn’t help but think that the process of sifting through history to learn its lessons, to bend our ear to its voices, to celebrate what’s worth commemorating and mourn what’s worth lamenting, requires that we bring more to our examination of history than the sensibility of a faithful chronicler.

Historians have to choose what to accentuate from among the plethora of historical details, but as human beings, all of us have to distinguish between the tragedies and triumphs of the past. And history itself doesn’t provide the tools for such discernment. History records what happened, but the rest of the humanities—most certainly including philosophy—are necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff, the virtuous from the vicious, the beautiful from the ugly, the kind from the cruel.

After seeing the fifth site of a beheading or hanging, reported in perfunctory and sanguine fashion by a tour guide treating it as casually as a gelato stand, I couldn’t help but worry about a creeping callousness of heart. Enjoying the Jack the Ripper walking tour as much as I did exacerbated my fears all the more, I have to confess.

Outside the British Library, where the Magna Carta is on display, I sat down and wrote a bit about this issue, of which this is an excerpt: 
When we study history without including the necessary evaluative components, the problem seems to be not just bland storytelling, but a narrative lacking humanity. Sometimes I think this is what can bother me about certain tours in which abysmal human failures and tragedies are used as punctuation marks, attention-grabbing or even entertaining aspects of the experience. The danger of desensitization looms—only intensified by the historical distances involved. The study of history, then, needs evaluation. Good history needs to retain its humanity, which requires it contain a critical stance whose force comes from beyond the confines of history alone. Good history isn’t possible without the other humanities.
So a wonderful trip overall, and, like everything else, great fodder for a bit of philosophical reflection. One more of which, if I may: Going to France made me regret not keeping up with my French. In general I wish I’d taken my language studies in the past—New Testament Greek and French—more seriously. Learning a language, far from being a mere hoop to jump through, is a great discipline. It requires we conform to it rather than it accommodate us, and going abroad is a poignant reminder that it’s not just an academic matter. Proficiency in a language provides a window into another culture and an opportunity for another real eye opener.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

European Leadership Forum May 23-29, 2014, Wisla, Poland

What a blessing and privilege it was to attend the European Leadership Forum (ELF) this May!  The conference reminded me of Rivendell.   The hotel in Wisła, Poland nestles in a stunningly beautiful wooded gorge, and the well-conceived program offered spiritual refreshment for laborers in the vineyard.  Over 700 participants from 40 countries met for a wonderful week centered on networking, teaching, mentoring and—most important—mutual encouragement and friendship.   


Every morning we all gathered together for worship and John Lennox’s inspiring meditation on the faith of Abraham.    


Then we broke off into our networks, dedicated to Apologetics, Bible Teaching, Evangelism, Church Planting, Law, Marriage and Family, Media Relations, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Theology, and more.  David Horner and I gave papers for the Philosophers' Network (David defended eudaimonism in Christian ethics, and I defended the soul against materialist critiques). 


The Philosophers' Network included participants from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.  


I was honored to meet Peter S. Williams, one of the most effective Christian apologists in Europe. Here and throughout the conference it was such a joy to see scholars, teachers and ministers so passionate for the faith and dedicated to serving Christ in the church and the world.


This event had many poignant moments for me.  The bookends were a sobering reminder of the horrors of godlessness and an inspiring speech on leading with truth, hope and courage.   

Some of us took the pre-conference guided tour of the concentration camps, Auschwitz I and II, something I had long wanted (and dreaded) to do.  If philosophical arguments do not convince someone of the existence of the soul, this will do it.   In Auschwitz human beings were treated like vermin, and this horrifies us not just because of the appalling cruelty, but because the image of God was desecrated.  The soul recoils from a hell on Earth where over a million people were starved, experimented on, tortured, hanged, shot, gassed and incinerated as if they were nonpersons.  The mountains of suitcases, shoes, spectacles and human hair stand as a grim monument to man’s inhumanity to man. 


The next day, our hearts were broken again—by goodness.  We watched a section of the movie, Weapons of the Spirit, a documentary directed by Pierre Sauvage.  The movie shows how the 5,000 people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France, offered refuge to 5,000 Jews.  Proud descendants of the Huguenots, the first French protestants who had endured terrible persecution for their faith, these villagers did whatever they could to keep their wards alive until the end of the war.   They knew what it meant to love their neighbors as fellow image-bearers, and with no real plan but a consensus of conviction, they lived out their faith.

The conference ended with a resounding speech by Peter Akinola, former African Primate of the Church of Nigeria.  He applied the story of David and Goliath to the present trials of the Christian church.  “Who will stand in the gap?” he asked.    Of course we knew the answer.   We must have faith that God will continue to do what He has always done: when the world sends forth its Goliaths, God raises up Davids, and if God has equipped us with the gifts of leadership, we are called to David’s work.  When the medieval church became corrupt, God raised up the Reformers.  When some in the Anglican Communion embraced revisionist interpretations of scripture, Akinola himself was called to stand for God’s Word.   Even as Europe and the United States flounder in secularism, God is raising a cloud of faithful witnesses to revive the church.  The participants of ELF were eloquent testimony to that, and Akinola exhorted and encouraged us all to go back to our various ministries, confident that God was calling us to stand in the gap, to be the instruments of His renewing work.

With God’s help, the ELF is doing wonders for Christ’s church on Earth.  To see so many talented, dedicated leaders, focusing their intellect, will, compassion and commitment on building God’s kingdom, was both heartening and inspiring.  I hope and pray that the ELF continues to grow in numbers and influence, and urge members of the EPS to be active in supporting the ELF’s important ministry.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Distilling a Defense of The Soul: An Interview with J.P. Moreland

In my interview with J.P. Moreland, not only does he discuss his latest book, but he also discusses trends he sees in the culture that further require a defense of a substance dualist account of the human person.

The Soul seems to function as a 'primer' relative to your many other books and articles on this topic. If so, it's striking to me that such a book would emerge now in this season of your vocation vs. at the beginning of your professional life as a philosopher. What do you find yourself wanting to emphasize now that is different yet similar to what you've been writing about all these years regarding the existence of the soul?
I wrote The Soul at this stage of my life rather than at the beginning of my career because I have studied the issue for many years and have a lot more to say about it now.  I have published a number of technical pieces on the mind/body problem and thought it was time for me to write a book that was accessible to thoughtful laypersons. 
For those that have not tracked your work on the soul, what might be 'new' to them compared to what else they may find in the literature on this topic?
There are really two emphases in The Soul that could, in some sense, be taken as new.  First, I am deeply concerned that there are such things as Christian physicalists.  For the life of me, I don’t see how one can, with integrity, avoid a dualist reading of the Bible, especially if the dualism in mind is not a fairly extreme form of Platonic dualism (the soul is immortal on it’s own, the body is evil as is manual labor, the final state will be disembodied).  I have read Nancey Murphy and Joel Green, and have listened to their lectures on this and had personal conversations with Green, so I know their views.  And without being mean-spirited, I am convinced that Christian physicalism is eisegesis that tries to find a way to read physicalism into the Bible so Christians won’t have to be embarrassed by an outdated dualism that has been largely undermined by science.  To address this concern, I devote an entire chapter of the book to a fairly careful interpretation of the key passages and show that dualism is the biblical view.  Second, over the years, I have picked up some new arguments (and some new ways to put old arguments) for a substantial, immaterial self/soul, ego, I.
The book is dedicated to your friend and mentor, Dallas Willard: “a man with the largest soul I ever encountered.” Of all that Dallas taught you, what’s the most indispensable insight he taught you about the human person?

Dallas taught me many things about human persons, so it is hard to boil all that down to a single insight.  But if I were forced to do so, I suppose it would be that laypeople think that science has shown we are our brains, that this is entirely false and, indeed, the view of the human person in the Bible is still the most reasonable view to hold: that the soul diffuses the body in such a way that the body really contains the soul (the body is en-souled matter), such that soulish dispositions reside in the body qua en-souled matter, and so spiritual formation includes attending to those dispositions by way of habit formation.
So, given what Dallas taught you, how have you tried to extend your own work ‘beyond’ Dallas?

A way of honoring any mentor is to attempt to extend what he taught you beyond his teaching by developing it more fully and extending it into new areas of reflection.  My main work that extends Dallas’ has been (1) developing detailed critiques of the various forms of physicalism extant in the current academic culture; (2) formulating more arguments for substance dualism.  These extensions are in my book.  I should say that I advance my arguments and hold to my views, not primarily because they stand as extensions of Dallas’ thought, but because I think they are true and rationally defensible.
In the Introduction, you spend about two paragraphs articulating some thoughts about human embodiment, where you “take the body to be an ensouled, spatially extended, physical structure” (16). Over the years, most of your approach to explaining the existence and significance of the soul has seemed to focus on acquainting people with the irreducible nature of nonphysical (spiritual) reality (e.g., consciousness) and showing the failures of philosophical naturalism. Is there a reason why your work has not also given priority to a focus on embodiment, given your Thomistic substance dualism? Wouldn’t that Thomistic sense of embodiment have an evidential force to explaining the necessity of a soul?

You are right that the Aristotelian/Thomistic version of the soul and the way it is embodied has not been a major aspect of my writings, though I do lecture on it in my classes at Talbot.  And you are also correct that, given that a body is such only if en-souled—a body without a soul is a corpse, not a body—there are many powers in the body that are not, strictly speaking, physical (e.g., the power to feel anxiety in different parts of the body).  But one can only do so much, and as my career has developed, I have earnestly prayed for Jesus to guide my research and publishing, and as a result, defeating philosophical naturalism as a worldview, and showing that mind/body physicalism is at home in naturalism and not in theism, have been major preoccupations of my intellectual work. 
The last chapter, “The Future of the Human Person” is not about future trajectories in anthropology but about the afterlife. You spend a considerable amount of attention on hell, which evolves into issues of soteriology. While there are echoes of your book with Gary Habermas, Beyond Death, why include a discussion about hell in a book about the soul? Or, for you, what does eschatology and soteriology have to do with philosophical anthropology?

I remain unconvinced by the various physicalist attempts to render an afterlife intelligible, given a physicalist anthropology, and I have read most of those attempts.  Thus, dualism is essential for making credible the reality of the afterlife.  In this regard, the literature on Near Death Experiences provides overwhelming evidence for the existence of a soul and the reality of disembodied existence near or after death.  While I do not agree with the doctrinal ideas in every DNE account, there are simply too many credible accounts that have been studied carefully which lend support to dualism and a disembodied intermediate state between death and final resurrection.  In my last chapter of The Soul I include two NDEs that support these claims.  Besides, if one becomes convinced that the soul is real, then one should give serious attention to what happens after one dies.  In order to give guidance to such attention, I include as the last chapter a treatment of the afterlife.
Anyone who has read your articles and books for any length of time will quickly discover that you are passionate about ‘deconstructing’ the hegemony of scientism in the academy and in the culture at large. Is there a correlation between your critique of that epistemic-cultural hegemony and your (not often known) critique of the hegemony and domination of political power in a society?

There is, indeed, such a connection.  It is on the basis of the possession (or the perceived possession) of knowledge that people have the authority to act in public and shape the common good.  Unfortunately, scientism has led a number of cultural elites to reject traditional Christianity as outmoded and falsified, and to seek to replace it with progressive forms of secularism.  This movement is gaining ascendency in the centers of power in our culture—the schools, universities, media, entertainment, and politics.  This is why we must undermine scientism and contend for Christianity in the public square.  Journalist and regular contributor to Fox News on television—Kirsten Powers—recently converted to Christianity from a secular worldview precisely because she heard a rational defense of the faith and came to realize that the good evidence was on the side of the Christian religion.
We seem to live in a cultural milieu where there is widespread pluralism regarding ‘human identity.’ For example, it is not uncommon for the patterns of our public discourse to run wild with ‘identity talk,’ whether referring to ‘identity politics,’ ‘gay identity,’ or ‘national identity,’ and still more, our ‘Christian identity’ and ‘ethnic identity.’ Granted, these are probably not univocal meanings of ‘identity.’ But what do you make of the proliferation this ‘identity’ fixation?

The proliferation of 'identity' talk represents the rejection of essentialism with its replacement on a form of postmodern constructivism according to which I can construct any identity for myself I want and form groups of others with the same constructed identity.  This group hegemony keeps one from facing who they really are, essentially (image bearers of the biblical God who gave them a nature), and, instead, hiding from reality by the soothing comfort that comes from group reinforcement of their constructed world.
For many philosophers and theologians, your work has helped to shape plausibility conditions and pathways for others to traverse in ‘thinking Christianly’ about metaphysics, philosophy of mind and theological anthropology. What do you hope a next generation of scholars will be enabled to do with and ‘beyond’ the areas that you have cared so deeply about?

I hope that laypersons, especially young Christians who getting ready to go to college or are already there (or who have just graduated) will read The Soul as a way of resisting cultural incorporation into views antithetical to Christianity and common sense.  If we can establish dualism as the biblical and most defensible view throughout the Christian community, then the cream will rise to the top:  some Christians who go into various fields will use the notion of the soul to integrate what they do with the Christian faith.  Such integration keeps Christianity from being marginalized and it shows the important intellectual work the central concepts in Christianity do when employed in the right way.  And the notion of the soul is one of the most important concept for that work.
More about J.P. Moreland can be found at his website. Readers might also be interested in the recent collection of essays by some of J.P.'s friends, which reflect upon and advance some major themes in his writings, entitled, Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland, edited by Paul Gould and Richard Davis (Moody Publishers, 2013).

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Friday, December 27, 2013

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.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Richard Swinburne on Interpreting the Bible

University of Oxford's Richard Swinburne will be the plenary speaker for the EPS annual meeting. The focus of his presentation is on "The Interpretation of Scripture." Here is a summary of what he will be presenting on Wednesday, November 20th at 3:00 pm (Baltimore Hilton: Key Ballroom 1-8):
To interpret any text we must first determine of which book it is a part, who wrote it for whom, and what genres were then available. That will enable us to determine its genre (especially whether it is history, historical fable, moral fable, or metaphysical fable) and that in turn will enable us to determine which of its sentences should be interpreted literally and which metaphorically. The Church Fathers and Councils who had the authority to determine that some book constituted Scripture, were claiming that God was the 'ultimate author' of that book. So we must assume that the whole Bible does not contain inconsistent sentences , nor ones inconsistent with historical or scientific truths. The cultural context of the whole Bible should lead us to think it plausible that it contains much allegory. Origen, Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine followed these rules in interpreting biblical passages in the light of established Christian doctrine including the moral teaching of the Gospels, and of the scientific theories of Greek science. We should  interpret them in the light of this doctrine and of modern science.  
Swinburne is also a lead contributor to the forthcoming Philosophia Christi (Winter 2013) issue on "Ramified Natural Theology." SUBSCRIBE NOW!

Relative to his EPS topic, Swinburne has also spoken on these similar and overlapping issues:

What Does the Bible Mean? (series of video parts)


On "Creedal Christianity"


On the "Defense of Christian Doctrine"


How to Deal with Theological Disagreements


On the Future of Philosophical Theology

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