Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Epistemology and Biblical Theology

In 2017, Routledge published Epistemology and Biblical Theology: From the Pentateuch to Mark's Gospel (Routledge Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Biblical Criticism) by Dru Johnson. Dru Johnson is an Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at The King's College in New York City. He is currently a Templeton Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews (Logos Institute); Associate Director for the Templeton Jewish Philosophical Theology Project (Herzl Institute, Jerusalem); Series Editor for Routledge's Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Biblical Criticism monograph series; and co-chair for the Hebrew Bible and Philosophy program unit in the Society of Biblical Literature.

From the publisher's description of Epistemology and Biblical Theology:
Epistemology and Biblical Theology pursues a coherent theory of knowledge as described across the Pentateuch and Mark's Gospel. As a work from the emerging field of philosophical criticism, this volume explores in each biblical text both narrative and paraenesis to assess what theory of knowledge might be presumed or advocated and the coherence of that structure across texts. In the Pentateuch and Mark, primacy is placed on heeding an authenticated and authoritative prophet, and then enacting the guidance given in order to see what is being shown in order to know. Erroneous knowing follows the same boundaries: failure to attend to the proper authoritative voice or failure to enact guidance creates mistaken understanding. With a working construct of proper knowing in hand, points of contact with and difficulties for contemporary philosophical epistemologies are suggested. In the end, Michael Polanyi's scientific epistemology emerges as the most commensurable view with knowing as it appears in these foundational biblical texts. Therefore, this book will be of interest to scholars working across the fields of Biblical studies and philosophy. Dru Johnson's other "Bible and Philosophy" books include Scripture's Knowing and Knowledge by Ritual. See also Dru's paper here at the EPS website, "A Biblical Nota Bene on Philosophical Inquiry."
Dru Johnson's other "Bible and Philosophy" books include Scripture's Knowing and Knowledge by Ritual. See also Johnson's paper here at the EPS website, "A Biblical Nota Bene on Philosophical Inquiry."

Join Dru Johnson, Oliver Crisp, Joshua Blander, and Kevin Vanhoozer for an EPS session, "Engagement with Scripture in Philosophy and Analytic Theology" at the 2017 SBL/AAR annual conference in Boston, November 19th.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

What is "Responsible Belief"?: An Interview with Rik Peels

Is it the case that what we believe and what we do not believe has a great impact on what we do and fail to do? Hence, if we want to act responsibly, we should believe responsibly? But do we have the kind of control over our beliefs that such responsibility for our beliefs seems to require? Do we have certain obligations to control or influence our beliefs on particular occasions? And do we sometimes believe responsibly despite violating such obligations, namely because we are excused by, say, indoctrination or ignorance?

We recently interviewed Rik Peels about his book Responsible Belief: A Theory in Ethics and Epistemology (Oxford University Press, 2017). Peels is an assistant professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His primary research interests are the ethics of belief, ignorance, scientism, and various issues in the philosophy of religion, such as whether God has a sense of humor.

What do you care most about in this important discussion about responsibility and our belief formation?
One of my main purposes in this book is to put responsibility for belief on the philosophical agenda. Ethics has paid plenty of attention to responsibility for our actions and omissions, but, clearly, we act on the basis of our beliefs. Epistemology has focused on knowledge and what is necessary for it, such as epistemic justification. Thus, the ethics of belief is a relatively neglected field. I deem it of crucial importance, though, for our beliefs are our window on the world and they thoroughly impact how we live our lives. We, therefore, need a theory of responsible belief.
What is the main argument of Responsible Belief?
I start the book with William Alston’s well-known argument against the idea that we have obligations to hold certain beliefs. I agree with him that we have obligations to hold certain beliefs only if we can control our beliefs, but that we lack such control over our beliefs. I, therefore, accept his conclusion that we do not have obligations to hold beliefs. I spell out a way to save responsibility for belief, though, by explaining how we can be derivatively responsible for our beliefs in virtue of the influence we have on them: what evidence we gather, to what extent we work on our intellectual virtues and vices, and so on, makes a difference to what we believe.
How do you develop that argument?
I develop this argument by way of three things. First, by defending the premise that we have obligations to have certain beliefs only if we can intentionally form certain beliefs (that is, if we can control them). Second, by showing what is problematic about several other attempts to meet Alston’s argument, such as so-called doxastic compatibilism, which claims that reasons-responsiveness suffices to be responsible for one’s beliefs. And, third, by developing an account in terms of the influence we have on our beliefs and what I call intellectual obligations to exercise such influence, like gathering more evidence, becoming more open-minded, and improving one’s skills in deductive reasoning.
Why do you find that argument to be compelling?
I find it compelling because it squares well both with various social practices and with our phenomenology in belief formation. It is an important practice to hold people responsible for their beliefs, such as their racist beliefs, their views on euthanasia, their political views, and their religious beliefs. But it seems we never choose to hold  those beliefs: we never decide to adopt them and we never or hardly ever choose to perform a series of actions in order to come to hold a particular belief. Rather, we talk to people, gather evidence, reflect on it, and then make up our minds. Thus, my theory of responsible belief can maintain doxastic responsibility without giving up any crucial normative principles or how we experience our own belief formation.
What are some criticisms of your argument that you find most interesting or wortwhile?
Here is one thing. In the book, I argue that people have contingent intellectual obligations, such as professional obligations the police have to investigate a murder and the obligation to find a solution for a problem if I promised you to do so. However, I also argue that all of us have non-contingent moral and epistemic obligations in virtue of being human beings. For example, if we find ourselves with two contradictory beliefs, we should try to find out which one is false (or maybe both). Some philosophers, though, such as Trent Dougherty, Pamela Hieronymi, and Sandy Goldberg, have argued that there cannot be epistemic obligations to act, since epistemic reasons count for or against propositions, statements, claims, or other things that can be true, whereas actions cannot be true or false.
What is your response to this criticism?
My response is twofold. First, it is false that epistemic reasons can only count in favor of things that are true or false. Our current epistemic reasons count in favor of suspending judgment on the proposition that the number of stars is even. But suspension of judgment is neither true nor false. Second, it seems that we can have a moral obligation to do things because of the moral consequences if we fail to do them. And we can have a professional obligation to do things because of the professional consequences if we fail carry them out. But if that is the case, then why can we not have an epistemic obligation to do something because of the epistemic consequences if we fail to do it?
How does Responsible Belief intersect with your other projects?
I currently work on three other projects that are closely related to the issues I explore in this book. I scrutinize scientism, which is basically an ethics of belief: namely the view that one should believe something only if there is sufficient scientific evidence for it [see, for instance, Jeroen de Ridder, Rik Peels, René van Woudenberg, Scientism: A Philosophical Exposition and Evaluation (Oxford University Press, 2018)]. My account renders this view problematic. I also work on ignorance and my theory of responsible belief casts light on when it is permissible to be ignorant and when it is not [see Rik Peels, Martijn Blaauw, eds., The Epistemic Dimensions of Ignorance (Cambridge University Press, 2016), and Rik Peels, Perspectives onIgnorance from Moral and Social Philosophy (Routledge, 2017). Finally, I am working on the epistemic responsibilities of the university and it seems to me that teaching responsible belief formation in an age of (alleged) fake news and widespread intellectual vices is crucial to the task of universities.
How might Responsible Belief help illuminate discussions in philosophical theology and philosophy of religion?
At least two things come to mind. It is sometimes said that it is morally wrong to believe in God or that it is epistemically irresponsible to believe the claims of the gospel. My theory of responsible belief that I defend in this book provides some of the resources to show that no moral or epistemic intellectual obligations have been violated in coming to hold these beliefs. Second, an important issue in the debate on divine hiddenness is whether there is non-culpable non-belief. My theory of responsible belief delivers important tools needed to establish whether there is indeed such a thing as non-culpable non-belief.
Learn more about Rik Peels' work by going to his page, and you can follow him on Twitter @RikPeels.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

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

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

Topics include:
  • whether naturalistic theories of emergence are compatible with science 
  • whether “New Wave” Kantian philosophy of religion is compatible with Kant’s Deism 
  • an assessment of the latest philosophical defenses of the sanctity of the unborn 
  • whether benevolence is insufficient for Christian love 
  • how should the conditions and tasks of apologetics be reassessed in light of various epistemological challenges. 
Among the articles, philosophical notes, or book reviews, this Summer 2017 issue also features extended interactions with the works of Charles Taylor, Brian Leftow, Stuart Kauffman, James Mumford, and Myron B. Penner.

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

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Koons and Pickavance on a Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics

In 2017, Wiley-Blackwell published The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics by Robert C. Koons and Timothy Pickavance. Koons is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. Pickavance an Associate Professor and Chair of the Talbot Department of Philosophy at Biola University.

From the publisher's description:
The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics presents an extensive examination of the key concepts, principles, and arguments of metaphysics, traditionally the very core of philosophical thought. Representing the first exhaustive survey of metaphysics available, the book draws from historic sources while presenting the latest cutting-edge research in the field. Seminal works of philosophers such as David Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Kit Fine, Peter van Inwagen, John Hawthorne and many others are covered in depth, without neglecting the critical contributions of historical figures like René Descartes, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Bertrand Russell, and more.
  • It represents the most comprehensive guide to metaphysics available today 
  • It offers authoritative coverage of the full range of topics that comprise the field of metaphysics in an accessible manner while considering competing views 
  • It explores key concepts such as space, time, powers, universals, and composition with clarity and depth 
  • It articulates coherent packages of metaphysical theses that include neo-Aristotelian, Quinean, Armstrongian, and neo-Humean 
  • It carefully tracks the use of common assumptions and methodological principles in metaphysics

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Continue to Pray for Nabeel Qureshi!

Please join us in continually praying for our dear brother and colleague, Nabeel Qureshi, as he battles stage IV stomach cancer. Doctors currently give him like a 1% chance of recovery.
  • We pray that the Holy Spirit would rise up with great power to completely heal Nabeel of this illness. 
  • We pray that God would strengthen Nabeel's faith and the faith of all those who call on our Lord for His deliverance. 
  • We pray that God would break the power of any encroaching despair and discouragement that would seek to rob Nabeel and his family of their joy, hope and contentment in Christ. 
  • We pray for Holy Spirit guided wisdom and discernment for all of Nabeel’s doctors and for all those who directly care and minister grace to him. 
  • We pray for an abundance of encouragement, and strengthening of Nabeel’s leadership, vocation and witness.
Video updates from Nabeel are available here, and his latest medical and spiritual update video is posted below. PRAY and SUPPORT Nabeel and his family.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What is Responsible Belief?

In 2017, Oxford University Press published Responsible Belief: A Theory in Ethics and Epistemology by Rik Peels. Peels is an assistant professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His primary research interests are the ethics of belief, ignorance, scientism, and various issues in the philosophy of religion, such as whether God has a sense of humor.

From the publisher's description for Responsible Belief:
What we believe and fail to believe has a great impact on what we do. This is true for extreme beliefs, such as fundamentalist beliefs, but also more mundane beliefs. Hence, if we want to act responsibly, we should believe responsibly; however, it seems we lack the kind of control over our beliefs that such responsibility requires: we cannot choose our beliefs. The book evaluates several responses to this so-called problem of doxastic involuntarism, and finds that each of them fails, including the currently popular response that we are responsible for our beliefs to the extent that they are reason-responsive. There is an alternative solution. We lack control over our beliefs, but we can influence them: we can choose to perform certain actions that, as a matter of fact, make a difference to what we believe. We have influence on our beliefs in virtue of our control over our belief-forming mechanisms, our evidence base, and our intellectual virtues and vices. We have a wide variety of moral, prudential, and epistemic obligations to perform such belief-influencing actions. The book also considers in detail when we are excused for a belief: we can still believe responsibly if we are excused for our belief by force, ignorance, or luck. A careful consideration of these excuses teaches us, respectively, that responsible belief entails that we could have believed otherwise, that responsible belief is radically subjective, and that responsible belief is compatible with its being a matter of luck that we hold that belief.
In August 2017, Synthese published Peels' article, "Responsible belief and epistemic justification."

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Angus Menuge on AI and the Metaphysics of Mind

In 2016, Angus Menuge gave a presentation for the European Leadership Forum's conference on the topic, "Artificial Intelligence and the Metaphysics of Mind."

Description: Ray Kurzweil and others have suggested that computers will very soon exhibit Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).  AGI implies that the systems will not be domain-specific (like chess-playing systems) but can adapt to a wide range of contexts.  Few would dispute that these systems will solve problems which unaided humans could only solve by using their intelligence, and that the AGI systems will often be faster and more accurate.  If one wants to call this ability “intelligence,” then doubtless AGI systems are intelligent.  But this impressive progress does nothing to bridge the chasm between computers and the metaphysics of mind.   The human mind has a number of intrinsic characteristics, such as subjectivity, intentionality, teleology, and rationality, which a computer can only simulate.  If one defines “intelligence” in terms of a subject’s capacity to seek out and acquire knowledge of the real world, then I see no reason to think that the most sophisticated AGI system is a substantial advance on a pocket calculator.

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