Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

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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Friday, October 4, 2013

Deep Discounts on Books by EPS Members

Enjoy at least 50% off the retail price of these print or Kindle versions:

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Christ-Shaped Philosophy Project and Discussions on Natural Theology

A little over a year ago, we inaugurated the "Christ-Shaped Philosophy" (CSP) project at the EPS website.

Now, with over 30 contributions, you can download all of these engaging papers that interact with Paul Moser's "Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Wisdom and Spirit United." Some recent contributions include lively discussion on "natural theology" and Moser's "Gethsemane Epistemology":

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Responses to "An Argument for God from Logic"

In 2011, James Anderson and Greg Welty published a paper in Philosophia Christi, titled, "The Lord of Noncontradiction: An Argument for God from Logic" (Winter 2011: 321-338). The paper appeared in the same issue as our "God and Abstract Objects" discussion with Paul Gould, Keith Yandell, Richard Davis, and William Lane Craig.

Anderson and Welty's article sought to "offer a new argument for the existence of God."
We contend that the laws of logic are metaphysically dependent on the existence of God, understood as a necessarily existent, personal, spiritual being; thus anyone who grants that there are laws of logic should also accept that there is a God. We argue that if our most natural intuitions about them are correct, and if they are to play the role in our intellectual activities tht we take them to play, then the laws of logic are best construed as necessarily existent thoughts - more specifically, as divine thoughts about divine thoughts. We conclude by highlighting some implications for both theistic arguments and antitheistic arguments
In recent months, we have also featured three responses at the EPS website:
Anderson and Welty have now offered a reply to these three critical responses, titled, "In Defense of the Argument for God from Logic."
This article interacts with critiques (Tony Lloyd, Alexander Paul Bozzo, and Nathan Shannon) of some of the more salient and recent criticisms to our 2011 Philosophia Christi article, “The Lord of Noncontradiction: An Argument for God from Logic.” Yet even by taking seriously such interesting criticisms, we continue to be persuaded by the defense of our original thesis and argument. For example, we are not persuaded that Shannon has identified any false premises or fallacious inferences in our argument, or that he has demonstrated our conclusion to have theologically problematic entailments. Contrary to Lloyd, the laws of logic are “contingent on God” only in the sense that they are metaphysically dependent on God’s existence, in precisely the way that God’s thoughts are metaphysically dependent on God’s existence. Moreover, in response to Bozzo, we deny that human thoughts are numerically identical to God’s thoughts, because we deny that human thoughts are identical to the propositions expressed or contained by those thoughts. But we do affirm that the propositions expressed or contained by human thoughts should be identified with divine thoughts.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Greg Ganssle Media on the Problem of Evil

For your next Introduction to Philosophy class, consider using this video trilogy by our own Greg Ganssle, wonderfully provided through WiPhi: Open Access Philosophy:

Part 1

Greg lays out a classic argument that God does not exist, which he calls "The Problem of Evil." He distinguishes two versions of that argument, which are sometimes called "the deductive" and "the evidential" version. He goes into some details on the deductive version.

Part 2

Greg gives a response to the deductive version of the Problem of Evil on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. In thinking about this response, we need to think about whether God can make contradictions true, and whether God can have good reasons for allowing bad things to happen.

Part 3

Greg considers the evidential version of the Problem of Evil, and gives a response on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. This involves considering whether God might have a good reason to allow bad things to happen.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

On Dallas Willard's Work: An Interview with Bill Heatley

Recently, I interviewed Bill Heatley in light of Dallas Willard's passing on May 8, 2013 (memorial service videos here). Bill is, among other things, the son-in-law of Dallas and Jane Willard. We discussed Dallas' work, including his "unfinished" work-in-progress. Bill, along with his wife Becky, have played and will continue to play a crucial role in helping to bring Dallas' work to the public.  Bill and I share a common vision and affection for some of Dallas' (often under-appreciated) work on the Professions and the theology of work entailed therein, which we also discussed in light of Dallas' long-anticipated manuscript on The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge. Below is the full-text of the interview.

First, Bill, I must ask, how are you and the family doing?

Dallas showed us how to live in Christ and now he has shown me how to journey from life to life through death and the present reality of the great cloud of witnesses. So, there is great joy covering and infusing the deep sense of sorrow and loss. My mind turns to a question or event that I would talk with Dallas about and he's no longer there to chat with. A problem confronts me and he’s no longer there backing me up. So, we carry on and live, as best we can in God's grace, like Jesus would if he were we, and everywhere we go we remember to “give 'em heaven” as Dallas told Larissa, my daughter, to do. We miss him and look forward to seeing him again.

Can you say what is the status of Dallas' manuscript, tentatively titled, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge? I know many in the Christian philosophical community want to know. Is it now considered “finished”? Also, over the years, Dallas has done various talks related to “Christian apologetics,” including a few years ago for the EPS. Is there any future plan to compile Dallas’ work in this area toward a posthumous book? Is so, what might that look like?

Yes, before Dallas passed away, there were two book projects in various stages that Dallas was working on: a) The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge and b) Gentleness: Apologetics in the Manner of Jesus. The plans for publishing Disappearance and Gentleness are proceeding and I look forward to reporting on progress in the near future. There were also several other book projects where he was guiding others.

Can you be a little more specific about the status of the Disappearance manuscript?

There are two basic ways to understand the status of the Disappearance manuscript. There is the “completeness” factor and then there is the “maturity” factor. Before Dallas passed on, all of the chapters were completed. So, we have the entirety of the manuscript. But in terms of the manuscript’s maturity, all of the earlier chapters are more mature than not. But the last chapter needs some maturity. There is a team of scholars looking at this chapter as it stands now, comparing it to other versions, and seeking to reconcile it with notes from Dallas during the last time he taught on the subject at the University of Southern California in 2011. We want to ensure that nothing relevant is missing here in order to bring closure to this work.

Do you have a publisher?

Currently, there is not a publisher. We are looking for a reputable, mainstream academic publisher that will do great service to the presentation and widespread marketing and publicity of this title in academic contexts, such as in philosophy, history of ethics, and religious studies areas, and more.

Disappearance is a more academic project than not and intended to persuade fellow scholars. As a practitioner at heart, did Dallas intend to ever write a non-academic version of Disappearance?

Through his speaking and writing, Dallas had two primary types of audiences. He was attentive to both his academic and non-academic readers and listeners. I would say that his primary audience was his academic audience.  One of his intentions in writing Knowing Christ Today was to bring some of the Moral Knowledge material to a general audience. Of course, those same ideas are treated in much more depth in this current manuscript.

In light of all he’s written, do you know how Dallas viewed the stature of Disappearance? For example, did he view it as his magnum opus?

Those of you who know Dallas know that the words “magnum opus” would never leave his lips. I would say that he tended to view the Disappearance manuscript as an extremely important academic work, but I don’t think he would have said that all of his work to date culminated there. For remember his two types of audiences: academic and non-academic. Our family certainly considers his Divine Conspiracy as a magnum opus on the Christian spiritual formation side of things.

In fact, some of the earliest, rudimentary seeds for Disappearance are actually available in the Divine Conspiracy, and then you see further developments in The Great Omission and then well into Knowing Christ Today. He was ruminating, writing and speaking on themes relevant to Disappearance for probably the last ten years of his life.

Do you know what were Dallas’ hopes or aspirations for Disappearance?

He really wanted this work to penetrate into the academy and to make a difference among scholars. For 125+ years ago, it was common (even among scholars, let alone among practitioners) for moral knowledge to be seen as an actual body of knowledge intended to be integrated into life. For it gives authority to lead and guide life. But how moral knowledge is viewed today is very different.

Although it is not a widely-reported fact, Dallas was thoroughly interested in the history of the Professions and understanding their role in shaping “common goods” in society, correct?

Yes, in the last year he had turned his focus toward the “next phase” of The Divine Conspiracy and was investing time toward the professions and the common good. Another way he spoke about it was the common goods of the classic professions, “what are the common goods of the Legal Profession, Medical Profession etc., in terms of the kingdom?” It was an area of increased attention in his talks. For example, one of his last talks for The Oikonomia Network was on this topic. In his discussions with me and others, he saw the “next phase” as the bridging of the Christian “Spiritual Formation” stream in American culture and the “Faith and Work” stream. The impact of disciples in the workplace was, in Dallas' mind, the next wave of The Divine Conspiracy. As he told me, “spiritual formation that doesn’t include work, isn't spiritual formation.”

How might the work on the Professions and the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge be related?

Good question. I think they can be related as two parallel tracks. For the first track, Dallas believed that the “next wave” of The Divine Conspiracy would crash into the professions and the work of all Christians as we live out our discipleship 24x7. The second track is that many of the professions today suffer from a tangible disappearance of moral knowledge.  You see this in the many ethical issues within business that have flooded the news for years now, and in the business courses offered in college that teach ethics merely as what I prefer to call “litigation avoidance” rather than something that has an effect on actually improving the character of the students in the class. In this regard, it’s not surprising that it is essential that moral knowledge is regained as a body of knowledge in academia.

Any indication of what Dallas wanted to start writing but was never able to do so?

Nothing further started as a book idea but many areas of interest and attention. The two books mentioned above were where he was investing his thoughts and energies. He desired to have a similar impact on the Academy as he had on Spiritual Formation and he also wanted to redeem the field of Apologetics back to its original ethos.

Can you say a little more about what Dallas saw needing to be “redeemed”?

As of late, Apologetics – as both an area of study and practice – has been divested of gentleness and the life that Christ came to bring, which Peter references prior to the infamous 1 Peter 3:15 passage. Instead, Apologetics has been reduced to being like a game; an intellectual sport of sorts. It was never intended to look  like that. 1 Peter 3:15 refers to giving an answer to those that ask “why” about the kind of life we have in Christ. It is a life-based response in the character of Jesus. As a study and practice, it has lost its gentleness.

Dallas' 2014 book on apologetics with HarperOne will seek to develop this understanding further. The heart of the book is based on a series of talks on apologetics that Dallas gave many years ago, with additions from other talks over the last few years.

Now, more than ever, it seems like a good time to let people in on what has been your involvement over the years with helping to bring Dallas’ writings to the public. You and your dear wife Becky – coupled with Dallas’ Lady Jane – have been as he would say, indispensable! How have you been at work behind-the-scenes?

Dallas always had a steady family of friends helping him with his writing. He was always so gracious in acknowledging their input. The “Willard Council” was instrumental in helping balance Dallas’ teaching schedule and increase his focus on writing. The family of friends helped with feedback, editing of various kinds, suggestions and encouragement. I’m not sure there was anything “special” about what we did. We just loved him and supported him in any way we could. Dallas always had my back on everything and I had his back on whatever he was doing.  And of course, as he said on the dedication page of Hearing God, Jane has been by his side every step of the way as a “Sweet lady, Good soldier, Faithful companion on the way.”

To enable us to continue that aspect of ministering with him, Dallas gave me and Becky his blessing to establish “Dallas Willard Ministries” which, in conjunction with The Dallas Willard Center, is committed to furthering the good work of Jesus through the writings and teachings of Dallas. Information about both of these ministries is available on our websites: and

Many seem to think Dallas’ work was “unfinished” at the time of his death. What do you think he would say to that claim in light of what he knew and believed about one’s vocation, God’s providence, and the Kingdom of God?

I think he answered that on page 399 of The Divine Conspiracy
We should expect that in due time we will be moved into our eternal destiny of creative activity with Jesus and his friends and associates in the “many mansions” of “his Father’s house.”  … We should think of ourselves as being absorbed in a tremendously creative team effort, with unimaginably splendid leadership, on an inconceivably vast plane of activity, with ever more comprehensive cycles of productivity and enjoyment.
So Dallas is still working at whatever is next for him in his “eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”

The work of Dallas here among us isn’t done either, and the baton has been passed to those of us willing to carry it on. Dallas always had a unique way of seeing and explaining things.  He lived his life immersed in the Trinitarian Reality and because of that reality there was always more for us to learn from Christ through him. The Lord measured his days and Dallas’ work on earth was finished on May 8th, 2013 at 5:55AM PST, but the work of Jesus that was made manifest in and through Dallas’ teachings and writing; that work continues.

At the “Knowing Christ Today” conference sponsored by the Dallas Willard Center in February there was a great awareness that we were being commissioned to carry on the work that Dallas had showed us needed doing. We must decide to either remain by-standers and spectators to The Divine Conspiracy or active participants in the kingdom among us who intentionally engage the with-God life that is presently available.

That’s wonderful, Bill. Can you elaborate a little further on how you see the Dallas Willard Ministries nonprofit differentiating itself from the work of the Westmont Center?

The two are intended to operate as Siamese twins; you know, joined at the heart. At the heart, there is a commitment to collaboratively work together to further Dallas Willard's teaching, whether for academic or non-academic audiences. The Center will be primarily focused on the academy and the Dallas Willard Ministries nonprofit will be primarily focused on non-academic equipping.

I am reminded of Dallas' perspective about the indispensability of “pastors as teachers of the nations.”

Yes, pastors as teachers of the nations are both an “academic” and a “ministry” interest. Because “pastors” have the epistemic right and obligation to guide life on the basis of moral and spiritual knowledge of reality. So, yes, it all comes together with the pastors. And that's how Dallas saw it, even at his last conference at the Westmont Center, where he commissioned pastors to be teachers of the nations.

Bill, any final words?

Just what Dallas said to my Larissa, his Grand Daughter, in April: “Give ’em heaven!”


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