Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Web Series: 'Miracle: An Argument'

In a new EPS web series of articles, Robert Larmer develops some reflection and argument related to his recent book, The Legitimacy of Miracle (Lexington, 2013). Larmer is Professor of Philosophy in the Philosophy Department at the University of New Brunswick.

In the first part, Larmer argues for a definition of miracle and then rejects the claim that miracles, in the strong sense of supernatural intervention in nature, implies violation of the laws of nature. The claim is rejected on the basis that such intervention can occur not by violating the laws of nature but by altering the material conditions to which the laws apply.

The full-text of this paper can be downloaded for FREE by clicking here.

Enjoy the remaining parts in this web series:
Readers may also be interested in these similarly themed contributions by Larmer at

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Interview with Paul Gould: The Missional Professor

Here at the EPS website, Amy Sherman and Amos Yong, have helped us see some of the vocational and pneumatological dimensions of a Christian scholar's mission in service to Christ and our neighbors. For example, Sherman articulates the following in an interview with me, where she discerns the significance of 'vocational stewardship':
By vocational stewardship, I mean the strategic and intentional deployment of all the dimensions of our vocational power to advance foretastes of the Kingdom of God. By foretastes, I‘m referring to the marks of the future, consummated Kingdom, as we see those described in the scriptural texts that provide glimpses of the new heavens and new earth.
More recently, evangelical philosopher, Paul Gould, has written about similar yet distinct topics regarding the vocation and mission of the Christian professor in his book, The Outrageous Idea of the Missional Professor (samples here). Paul is a member of the EPS Executive Committee, a professor of philosophy and apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and bottom line, an earnest follower of Jesus!

Wipf and Stock is offering the following bulk discounts if purchased directly through their website 20% for orders of 4 copies or less, 40% for 5 copies or more! You can gain further resources, including a leader's discussion guide for the book, by going to and by following updates on Twitter @MissionalProf.

I recently interviewed Paul about his book, and the kind of vision it encourages.

How does this book reflect your many years in campus ministry and now as a professor?
Working as a campus minister for the past 16 years, I have become convinced that the university is one of the most strategic mission fields in the world. Many students come to the university looking for answers to life’s biggest questions—What is truth? How can I find happiness? Is there a God?—and often look to university professors for answers. The reality is that we often falter in our response. Some professors because they think belief in God is a delusion, a crutch, an irrationality. Unfortunately, Christian professors often think there must be a sharp divide between faith and the subject matter of the academic disciplines. The result is that the gospel is relegated to the perimeter of the university—given a role in the private and social lives of students, but not their cognitive lives. Jesus bids us a better way. My desire is that every student would have a chance to know and learn from Christian professors who love Jesus and faithfully (and wisely) integrate their faith into all aspects of their teaching, research, and service within the academy. In doing so, I believe lives will be changed, the gospel will get a fair hearing, and God will be glorified.
Is ‘missional professor’ a clever marketing term or does it refer to a kind of distinct calling for Christian professors?
As I read Scripture, it is clear that God is on mission. He sends Jesus to seek and save the lost. In turn, Jesus sends his followers to the world. The word “faithful” instead of “missional” works but I wanted to highlight one of the aspects of faithfulness to Christ that I think is often overlooked by Christian academics: the fact that God is a God on mission and those of us who have been called to the university are involved on the front lines of God’s plan to reach the world for Christ.
Obviously, there's a variety of Christian professors with different backgrounds, areas of expertise, and different contexts. If I am a Christian who teaches at UC Berkeley in the areas of sociology, what might it look like to be a ‘missional professor’ in this context? How would you guide that professor to see what you see about their teaching, discipline and overall service to others, etc?
I would encourage this professor in three areas: mission, wholeness, and strategy. First, I’d encourage him to understand the importance of the university, his place in God’s story and God’s mission, and his calling to serve God in his teaching, research, and service. Next, I’d encourage him to seek Christian wholeness by cultivating moral and intellectual virtues and pursuing Jesus as his highest good and greatest need. Finally, I’d help him to be strategic as a witness for Christ locally and through his academic discipline. This would include banding together with like-minded Christians and thinking through the key integrative issues between his faith and the academic discipline of sociology.
We will talk more about the anatomy of an academic discipline below. But for now, given the allusion to Marsden’s Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, do you think that ‘Marsden-Noll revolution' did not go far enough in calling Christian professors to address the ‘scandal of the evangelical mind’?
I think their work was and continues to be very important for those of us who would be Christian scholars. I do not, however, think they went far enough. Conceptual integration—the integration of our academic work with the cognative content of our faith—is part of what God calls us to as Christian scholars, but there is much more. This book aims to fill in the “much more” aspect of faithful living within the university: becoming Christ-like, understanding our vocation and calling as professors, evangelism, discipleship, and the importance of coming together for a cause bigger than ourselves or our CV.
Is the problem that prompts the need for forming ‘missional professors’ the problem of Christian professors not being adequately enculturated within Christian traditions of thought and practice? How would you characterize this?
In my experience the two biggest areas of struggle for Christian academics is lordship and mission. Given the competitive, self-serving, often hostile-toward-faith environment of the university, it is easy for Christian professors to lose their first love or get caught up in the pursuit of a career, often at the expense of a vibrant faith in and love of God. It is a daily struggle to keep Christ as Lord over all of life. For others, the struggle is one of a lack of vision and understanding. It is a failure to see one’s work as a vocation—a calling—and students and colleagues as people lost and in need of a Savior. In all cases, I think the root issue is a lack of theological understanding regarding the trajectory of God’s story in the Bible and a failure to find meaning and purpose within that story.
How is the Holy Spirit’s movement integral to the movement of missional professors in the academy?
Without the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of Christian professors both individually and corporately we will not see real change in the university (and because of that, the world). The university is one of the key culture-shaping institutions in the world. We must pray for God’s Spirit to convince us in our heart of hearts that Jesus is our highest need, greatest good, and only hope of the world.
What are the relevant institutions that ought to view themselves as stakeholders of the formation and training of ‘missional professors’ to become who they are called to be and to do under the authority of Jesus?
I think there are four primary stakeholders. The most important is the church. I long for the day when the church prays for, equips, and sends professors to the campus and sees their work as the Kingdom work that it is. Secondly, parachurch organizations located on the university that work with professors play a key role in the formation and training of ‘missional professors.’ Organizations like Faculty Commons, InterVarsity, Ratio Christi and many others bring a wealth of experience, expertise, opportunities, and resources to the table. I’d encourage Christian professors to get plugged into the local faculty movement for fellowship, training, and ministry. Third, Christian study centers are playing a key role as they give Christian professors and graduate students a place to hone their craft with respect to research and to think missionally about the university. By being physically located on the university, and by forging positive working relationships with the university, Christian study centers are modeling the kind of “faithful presence within” that will lead to real change. Finally, Christian academic societies can play a key role in the formation and training of ‘missional professors’ as they challenge their members to join together to work on projects, pursue Kingdom enhancing research, and reach out to others within the discipline with a robust gospel and a gracious spirit.
What is involved with the ‘transformation of an academic discipline’? Can you sketch a framework of the conditions involved?
In the book, I argue that our goal shouldn’t be to transform an academic discipline, rather the goal should be faithfulness unto Christ, and as a by-product, Lord willing, such transformation will occur. I specify four aspects of an academic discipline—guiding principles, a guiding methodology, a data set, and a shared narrative and history. Then I highlight for each aspect possible points of contact between an academic discipline and Christianity. Central to our task is the understanding that there is no such thing as neutrality in the scholarly enterprise, the need to move beyond mere conceptual integration, and the conviction that Jesus Christ is the beginning, means, rational, and end of the academic life for the Christian scholar.
Readers may be interested in the "Christ-shaped philosophy" project here at the EPS website as one possible example that seeks to advance the centrality of Christ for a discipline. Moreover, what does it look like for ‘missional professors’ to speak and live prophetically in their disciplines and departments?
In living for a cause greater than self, the missional professor will be truly outrageous in today’s hollow and fragmented world. Heads will turn. Non-believing professors and students will be forced to examine their own beliefs and hearts in light of the gospel of Christ. Missional professors, captured by the love of Jesus, a passion for research, teaching, and the service of God and man, will, Lord willing, be used to bring others to saving faith in Jesus, meet the needs of the world, and transform their respective academic disciplines and departments.
Learn more about Paul Gould's work by going to

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, August 25, 2014

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

Access the Limited Time Discount
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 Previously at, Naturalism and our Knowledge of Reality was discussed by Paul Gould and EPS President Angus Menuge.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

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).

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Subscribe to the EPS BlogSubscribe to the EPS Blog

Additional Links