Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

On Biblical Ethics: An Interview with Paul Copan

EPS philosophers very often seek to address all areas of philosophy and theology, including issues of theoretical, biblical and practical ethics. Paul Copan recently co-authored Introduction to Biblical Ethics with author (and Paul's former professor), Robertson McQuilkin. In this EPS web interview, Paul talks about the value of biblical ethics, the book project, and how to live faithfully in a pluralistic society.

What is "biblical ethics"
My coauthor and I use the specific term “biblical ethics” rather than “Christian ethics.” One key reason for this is that the New Testament itself routinely appeals to virtues, behaviors, and duties highlighted in the Old Testament. The moral heart of the New Testament—even the Sermon on the Mount—isn’t as “radically new” as many think. For example, the Beatitudes very clearly echo the language of Isaiah 61—righteousness, brokenness, mourning, being comforted, rejoicing, possessing the land. Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, was not coming up with a revolutionary moral ideal. And the apostle Paul is standardly referring back to the Old Testament, though shaped by the Christ-event; when Paul says that “all Scripture” is profitable for our conduct (2 Tim. 3:6-17), he is referring to the Old Testament.
How does Jesus shape biblical ethics?
Christ’s Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection notwithstanding, Christ does not give much new ethical content. True, food laws, circumcision, temple sacrifices, and special days don’t characterize the people of God any longer. However, the command to love one’s enemies is found in the Old Testament (Prov. 25:21-22), and loving God and loving others as the moral heart of the Old Testament is repeated throughout the New. Rather, our spiritual lives, social relationships, and moral/virtuous living are shaped by God’s stepping into history in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. While the Old Testament people of God were called to love, Christ appeals to his own example in commanding love: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). Our giving is to be shaped by the self-sacrifice of Christ’s incarnation (2 Cor. 8-9); he gladly became poor for our sakes, and this self-emptying is to shape our own giving through sacrifice, generosity, and cheerfulness.
The formation of the people of God is core to the biblical narrative. How does that shape biblical ethics?
To more clearly understand our calling to live before God as restored priest-kings and thus living faithful lives before God (which includes living and doing “biblical ethics”), we must understand two New Testament motifs: First, as the second Adam (or “new man”), Christ is the truest or the archetypal human being who redeems and restores fallen humanity. Second, Jesus (with those who follow him) is the new Israel—the new people of God. As a faithful Israelite, Jesus comes out of Egypt, is tested in the wilderness, calls twelve new “tribes” (apostles) to be a new people, and experiences the exile of the cross. That is, Jesus lives out Israel’s story as the obedient Son that the ancient people of God failed to be, fulfilling Israel’s and also humanity’s vocation before God. In doing so, he creates a new covenant people united through his death and resurrection.
In these two motifs, we see a new creation (a restored humanity of priest-kings) and a new exodus (creating a new people freed from the enslaving powers of sin, death, Law, and the flesh); these new realities give new shape, identity, and inspiration to the new people of God. Biblical ethics centers on the restoration of our calling as the new Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” or a “royal priesthood” (priest-kings) through Christ (1 Pet. 2:9; cp. Ex. 19:6), through whom we will reign upon the earth at Christ’s return—thus fulfilling humanity’s original calling in Genesis 1.  
How did this book develop?
My coauthor, Robertson McQuilkin, had been president of Columbia International University and my professor when I was a student there; he had been was the original author of the first two editions of the Introduction. The book in its pre-published form was a textbook for my biblical ethics class there, and it had an influence on my thinking about ethics and theology. I greatly appreciated McQuilkin’s nuanced and careful approach to biblical ethics. For example, he discussed ethical hierarchies as well as the permissibility of, say, deception in the face of criminal activity or warfare—exceptions not merely abstracted from philosophical principles but emphasized in Scripture itself.
Our friendship continued over the years, and McQuilkin contacted me about possible leads for coauthoring and revising the book for a third edition. I said that this was a project that interested me, and the significantly revised version brings together our strengths—biblical studies, theology, ethics, philosophy.
How might this co-authored book serve ethics readers?
The book serves ethics readers by anchoring this discipline not in philosophical ethical theories, but in the biblical text, showing the remarkable ethical texture of the biblical narrative and teachings. This includes the foundational reality of the triune God and his making humans in his image as well as the narratival, salvation-historical context of biblical commands, and the moral significance of the Christ-event—his incarnation, teaching, ministry, atoning death, and bodily resurrection.
To Christian philosophers, you seem to suggest that simply analyzing ethical systems is not enough when doing work in ethics. What does your book encourage?
The book serves philosophy by showing how the gospel shapes our ethical thinking; it sets the Christian philosopher on a different cross-shaped pathway. True enough, the Christian philosopher can greatly profit from the study of various ethical systems—even affirming some of their features to varying degrees—without compromising his commitment to Christ. However, Christ-shaped philosophy will lead us to challenge various philosophical ideas. For example, Aristotle’s ethic points away from grace (according to Aristotle, one should never be in anyone else’s debt) and away from humility (we detect a certain pride and even pomposity in Aristotle’s “excellent” man); the gospel is all about receiving God’s grace in Christ and humbly submitting to God and to others.  Furthermore, the Bible presents a rich tapestry of ethical thought in the context of narratives, parables, sermons, epistles, proverbs, and divine commands. Unlike ethical systems like utilitarianism, social contract theory, virtue theory, Kantianism, and the like, we see all of their emphases in the Bible; the Bible takes such perspectives into account to offer a broader, richer ethical outlook rather than reducing all ethical thinking to consequences, virtue, or the like.
Systematic theologians often seek biblical applications and entailment. In some sense, this book could be a handy compliment to a systematic theology.
Yes, the book serves theology by offering an ethic rooted in the biblical text, following a number of lines of biblical theology (e.g., Christ as the new Adam and true Israel), the theme of our kingly/priestly status and vocation redeemed and restored in Christ, who has made us a “kingdom of priests” who will “reign upon the earth.” It discusses themes important for theology, such as the implications of the Trinity for ethics and for community; it examines various attributes of God (e.g., God as humble) that have a bearing on how we are conduct our lives. And theologians, who typically appreciate systematization, can benefit from some of our discussion of common themes—law, love, sin, etc.—as well as from the philosophical engagement of themes in biblical ethics.
What is distinct about the book’s approach when doing biblical ethics?
One chief distinctive is this—being anchored in the biblical text. The book offers numerous philosophical—though still accessible—reflections with ample practical applications on themes such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality/gay marriage, bioethics, pornography, dating, marriage, parenting, economics, just war/pacifism, and the like. Yet we coauthors try to listen carefully to the biblical text and thoroughly engage it. We try to draw out just how rich a source of ethical reflection the biblical text is. 
Do you neglect discussion of ethical systems?
No, and a second distinctive is that the book includes an accessible discussion of prevalent ethical systems (relativism/situation ethics, social contract theory, utilitarianism, Kantianism). We note where they overlap with the biblical ethical picture—and where they depart from it. 
Can readers catch a vision for practices in Christian formation in this book?
Yes, the book—as thick as it is!—has an additional feature of being very practical. How do I take steps in becoming more virtuous?  How do I deal with temptation? What are the pitfalls of dating, and how can I cultivate mental purity in sex-saturated society? It also offers a number of apologetical insights to help believers address moral challenges to their faith.
Is there something distinct about the structuring of the book?
The book begins by discussing love, law, sin, virtue/vice, but then it moves to the broader themes of loving God and loving others. At its core, it is structured around the Ten Commandments (loving God—commandments 1-4; loving others—commandments 5-10). The book also covers material not often found in similar titles. It discusses the relationship of the church and state, the Christian in society, ethical issues on which Christians disagree, divine guidance on matters not revealed in Scripture.
You sometimes disagree with your co-author, Robertson McQuilkin. The book’s lack of uniformism yet unity seems like a distinctive.
Indeed, we coauthors disagree on various matters, and so each of gives his own vantage point. We address topics like the Sabbath (Sunday, or fulfilled in Christ?), alcohol consumption (discouraged, or biblically encouraged within limits?), the complementarian/egalitarian discussion, capitalism and socialism (a “plague on both houses,” or the free market appropriated with important ethical cautions—a system that has helped hundreds of millions create wealth and come out of poverty?), and so on. And we complement each other with the mutually-reinforcing strengths each of us brings to the book.
Any other distinctives?
Yes, these come to mind: Robertson’s late wife, Muriel, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and so Robertson stepped down from his university presidency to care for her. Some of his reflections on his care for her are in this new edition. Also, I address in detail certain ethical issues found in Scripture—namely, “slavery” in the Bible (in the Old Testament, it is like indentured servitude or being a “worker” for someone) as well as the dominant question of God’s command to drive out the Canaanites. These topics and other Old Testament themes reflect work done in my other writings: Is God a Moral Monster? (Baker) and (with Matthew Flannagan), Did God ReallyCommand Genocide? (Baker).
Which areas of biblical ethics seem under-addressed by self-identified evangelical theologians and philosophers?
There are certainly many Christian ethicists from various traditions and disciplines who have done fine, wide-ranging work for our generation—for example, Oliver O’Donovan, Nigel Biggar, Stanley Grenz, Gilbert Meilaender, Glen Stassen, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Robert George, Stanley Hauerwas, Francis Beckwith, Max Stackhouse. With new challenges emerging—from technology to terrorism to sexual ethics—we are seeing many thoughtful Christians rising to incisively and eloquently address them. What is sometimes lacking, though, is a distillation of the academic discussions in order to make them more accessible to a widely Christian audience—what McQuilkin’s and my book has attempted to do.
What is the role of the Spirit when ‘doing’ biblical ethics?
The gift of the Spirit is, of course, the mark of the new covenant people of God. The Spirit, who communicates the presence of Jesus to the believer, enables obedience from the heart (Jer. 31; Heb. 8). God’s people are no longer marked by circumcision, kosher laws, Sabbath-/holy day-keeping, and national identity. Indeed, one could have these markers, but they were inadequate without faith and the Spirit’s empowerment. So while some Israelites had the Spirit of God or were temporarily empowered by the Spirit, many Israelites died in unbelief (Heb. 3:16-18). Not so with the new people of God. Every member of the “new Israel”—Jew and Gentile in Christ—is marked by the Spirit of God, who transforms our thinking (Rom. 12:2). He also enables us to become more like the second Adam (the “new man”) in our character, both as individual believers and as the body of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).
Practically, how does this get worked out?
Prayer and trust in God prepare the soil for the Spirit to work in our lives and to bear fruit through them. While there are “cardinal” or “pagan” virtues such as prudence and self-control, which can often be cultivated by unbelievers, for the believer these virtues are given fresh, powerful inspiration by the Spirit through Christ’s own example, character, and work. What’s more, the “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and love are distinctively Christian, as they are shaped by the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and promised second coming of Christ and carried forward by God’s Spirit.
You say that perhaps ‘traditional religion’ could be understood “as a deeply embedded heart-commitment that is (a) comprehensive, (b) identity-shaping and (c) of central importance” (17). How might we account for ‘traditional religion’ as a moral-spiritual tradition of knowledge and wisdom? How does it ‘fit’ with (a)-(c)?
This threefold description of “traditional religion” (taken from Paul Griffiths) actually accounts for more than just religion; it actually describes the idea of a “worldview” more generally. So this could include atheism or naturalism as well.
However, in speaking of “traditional religion” as “a moral-spiritual tradition of knowledge and wisdom,” we emphasize that all truth is God’s truth.  While Christ is the embodiment of divine wisdom and knowledge, wisdom and moral knowledge in traditional non-Christian religions like Islam or Buddhism still reflect God’s common grace at work in the world. Such truths are not saving truths, however, but they do ultimately point to Christ, who is the truth and the fullness of God’s wisdom. As with Paul at Athens, we should not dismiss such insights, but we can affirm that these display God’s own self-revelation--particularly in Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3); thus, to see Christ is to see God the Father (John 14:9).  
In our book, we note that any person’s view of the State and its role will not be neutral but will flow from a worldview with its assumptions about authority, citizenship, society, human nature, and the good. Moreover, the notion of a “secular State” is itself a myth; the State’s legislation and goals will also reflect a certain view of authority, citizenship, society, human nature, and the good.  So we must, first, recognize and name this reality rather than falling into the sacred-secular dichotomy. We should also challenge the foundations of an arrogantly presumed State authority since authority is ultimately given by God (Jn. 19:11). Such authority is neither free-floating in metaphysical mid-air, and anyone in a position of authority must has a duty to humbly serve the common good. Finally, the church is to be the prophetic voice and the conscience in any nation. God’s primary agents in the world are his people who are called to be salt, light, and doers of good deeds—to be a faithful presence wherever they reside.
How might we think about ethical disagreement from a biblical ethics perspective?
One maxim that applies both to Christian communities and also to Christians within a pluralistic society is this: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Wherever possible, Christians should work with one another to strengthen the church—in worship, the faithful proclamation of the word, in community, and evangelism—and they should be a faithful presence in the communities where God has placed them. Even if they disagree about the nature of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, Christians can band together, say, to help support and rebuild New Orleans in the wake of Katrina—or help women contemplating abortion, or resist society’s sexual slippage by promoting sexual purity and Christ-honoring patterns of relating to one another.
What do you see as a biblical vision for living faithfully in a pluralistic society?
In a pluralistic society, we see plenty of disagreement about political and social policies, but also in the very worldviews we hold. Yet being honorable citizens of a nation is a biblical imperative for us. The book of Acts shows how Christians can be the best of earthly citizens. We should, insofar as it depends on us, live at peace with all people (Rom. 12:18) and pray for those in authority over us (1 Tim. 2:1-4). As citizens of heaven, we must speaking the truth in love, using our prophetic voice to challenges societal injustices and abuses. As citizens of earth, we should set the tone for good citizenship by taking three “Rs” seriously: (1) protecting and promoting the basic rights of all persons, who are divine image-bearers; (2) taking seriously our responsibility as citizens to promote the good; and (3) showing respect to all in conversation, relationships, and political discourse. Despite disagreements of all sorts, tolerance and civility in an age of angry, polarizing political discourse are incumbent upon all Christian citizens.

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

On Evolution, Theology and Thomism: An Interview with Michael Chaberek

The history of theology and Darwinian evolutionary theory continues to attract significant attention by historians, philosophers and theologians. Michael Chaberek’s latest book, Catholicism and Evolution: A History from Darwin to Pope Francis, takes up this history in a fresh and detailed way. In addition, Chaberek’s new EPS web contribution, “Thomas Aquinas and Theistic Evolution,” hones in on the arguments for and against use of Aquinas in the evolution debate. In an EPS interview with Chaberek, he unpacks both contributions and their implications. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Given debates among ‘creationists,’ ‘theistic evolutionists’ and ‘intelligent design’ advocates, what can each potentially learn from your book?
In my book Catholicism and Evolution I offer a different typology: Young Earth Creationists, Progressive Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists and Atheistic Evolutionists. These four groups include all positions in the current debate regarding the origin of species. As you see, there aren’t intelligent design advocates, because one can find them among all “theistic groups” (although theoretically even atheists can adopt the basic claims of intelligent design theory).
What is the relationship between intelligent design theory and a theological framework?
My division is made with reference to a theological standpoint whereas intelligent design is a scientific theory and, as such, is essentially independent from any particular theological views. The book Catholicism and Evolution is mostly historical, covering only the post-Darwinian debates about evolution.
How does your book develop?
The introductory part deals with the controversy within natural science. Its climax is marked by the emergence of the intelligent design theory. The core of the book presents theological debates regarding evolution in the Catholic Church. Two great stages are clearly distinguishable – first is an explicit rejection of the evolutionary story whether in its atheistic or theistic form. The second stage is a moderate acceptance of the theistic form of evolution in the Church. However, even this acceptance is not quite explicit; it leaves many questions opened and is not accompanied by a rejection of either of the competing ideas (i.e. Young Earth Creationism and Progressive Creationism).
How does your perspective differ from other books on the history of this debate?
Unlike the majority of the books on the topic, my goal was not to diminish the initial rejection of the Darwinian theory by the Church and then highlight its acceptance in contemporary theology, but to present the “true” history including both the initial resistance to theistic evolution and the current confusion in the Church on this issue.
How do present debates about science and theology, especially the topic of origins, reflect past developments?
When we look to the past we see a battlefield packed with dead ideas and arguments, and smoke after fiery debates. When we look into the present we do not see a definite answer to the question of the origin of species and the human body in particular. These facts make believers ask a few questions: Can Catholic doctrine evolve to the degree of a complete abandonment of a given truth of faith? Is Revelation so vague and vulnerable to scientific scrutiny that at the end of the day we cannot say anything positive about origins based on Revelation alone? Does the Bible provide us only with moral teachings on how to get to heaven, or does it also shape our worldview, that is, our understanding of the beginnings and the destination of physical reality? As a detailed historical description of ongoing theological debates, my book provides a factographical knowledge which is an indispensable though insufficient tool to resolve these greater questions.
How does your EPS web paper extend your book’s discussion?
Catholicism and Evolution recounts the evolutionary debate of the past 150 years. To provide the full Catholic answer to Darwin’s theory we need to refer to the broader Catholic tradition, specifically the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Darwin tried to justify his grand metaphysical claims about universal common ancestry, transformation of species and the animal origin of the human body by employing some biological facts (like bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics) and laws (like natural selection).
How might Thomists respond?
Today, many Thomists accept those facts and laws, and they think that they indeed justify Darwinian metaphysics, i.e., those grand claims about the universal common ancestry or the transformation of species. Besides, many Thomists accept the theologically unfounded premise that the natural history of the universe cannot contain the so-called “physical leaps”. In other words, they assume that God did not act supernaturally in the natural history of the universe. In order to defend those Darwinian grand claims and the natural explanation of the whole history of the universe, they try to employ Aquinas’ ideas.
Why might some Thomists thinks that defense is needed or compelling?
Some Thomists are honestly bothered by the fact that if Aquinas’ teachings were incompatible with biological macroevolution then either Thomas or evolution must be wrong. Because they believe in evolution and also do not want to challenge the theory reigning in science, they choose to reinterpret Aquinas’ doctrine and show how it is “compatible” or “leaves room” for Darwinian metaphysics.

In my paper, I show that Aquinas’ metaphysics is incompatible with and in fact, contradicts Darwinian metaphysics. And this is true regardless of whether or not one agrees with Aquinas and even regardless of whether or not Aquinas was right.
So, is there a need for a ‘renewal’ of the Catholic theology of creation to address contemporary scientific advances and challenges? If so, what might the contours of that look like?
There is a twofold reason why such a “renewal” is necessary. First, modern science really enriched our understanding of the origins of the visible universe. For instance, throughout the centuries there were two interpretative traditions of the Genesis account. One was attributed to St. Ambrose. According to him different species of living beings were created independently over a time, which Genesis calls “six days”. Another tradition was attributed to St. Augustine. According to him, species were also created distinct from each other but their creation happened in one moment at the beginning of time. Some of them were created in a developed and other in a hidden form or seminal reasons (Lat. rationes seminales).
How does Aquinas factor into this historical theology?
When Thomas Aquinas summarizes the Christian interpretative traditions, he says that he would defend both, and that they agree in their essential points (i.e., supernatural creation of species as distinct since their inception). Modern knowledge in paleontology, however, shows that plants and animals appeared on Earth successively over a long time. This strongly favors the Ambrosian tradition over the Augustinian one. Apparently, contemporary knowledge enables us to settle the question of which of the two traditional interpretations of Genesis is closer to the truth.
What is the other reason for a renewal?
The second reason why the renewal is necessary stems from the fact that the traditional doctrine of creation has been nearly completely abandoned in contemporary Christianity. Even in the seminaries and theological departments, the classic theological treatise "On Creation" (De Deo Creante or De Creatione) has been replaced with the teaching about different science-faith models and vague speculations about “God working entirely through secondary causes”. In Biblical scholarship the historical and literal meaning of Genesis (1-3) was abandoned, giving place to all kinds of reductive interpretations. But new science shows how little the Darwinian mechanism can actually accomplish.
Paleontology reveals striking discontinuity in the fossil record. Thus at the beginning of the 21st century, biological facts stripped of theoretical interpretation encourage us to return to the classic Christian doctrine on creation. There is no contradiction between natural facts and the belief in creation – the contradiction is between the doctrine of creation and evolutionary theory, that is, an abstract construct built upon (or even regardless of) the facts. The renewed teaching on creation needs to take into account both the best scientific discoveries and traditional theological interpretations. 
Fr. Michael Chaberek O.P. is a fundamental theologian, and author of Catholicism and Evolution (Angelico Press, 2015).

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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

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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

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Monday, August 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Naturalisms: Churchland, McGinn and Plantinga’s “Advice for Christian Philosophers”

Many naturalists embrace some version of scientism, holding that modern science is the only or the chief authority regarding our knowledge of objective reality.  And this includes our self-knowledge.  At one extreme are eliminative materialists like Patricia Churchland who dismiss the idea of souls as lazy, defensive, armchair metaphysics.   In her latest work, Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain, Churchland’s main message is that philosophers should get out more, and explore the wonders of empirical neuroscience.  Then they will come to agree with her: “I think about my brain…as me.” (11)  Churchland is quite certain: materialistic science has got us taped.

Yet some naturalists are not so sure.   A leading doubter is Colin McGinn, whose book The Mysterious Flame lays out a position known as “mysterianism.”   McGinn thinks consciousness must have arisen via evolution, and yet also maintains that none of the naturalistic accounts of consciousness (especially Churchland’s) is either plausible or illuminating.   Given that impasse, McGinn’s move is to “doubt the instrument”: our lack of understanding is due to our cognitive limitations.  On McGinn’s view, natural selection did not gift us with the kind of minds capable of understanding the relationship between consciousness and the non-conscious world.

Are we really confined to these two alternatives?    One hopes not, and not just because of the remarkably unproductive exchange resulting from McGinn’s recent review of Churchland’s book in The New York Review of Books.   

For one thing, both alternatives appear self-defeating.  Churchland prizes empirical science as paradigmatically rational, but ignores (or rejects) the need for a first-philosophy, which provides the ontological presuppositions of scientific practice.  These presuppositions include that scientists experience the world and can reason to conclusions about it.  But this requires conscious subjects that think about the world and remain numerically the same through a process of reasoning, none of which is possible if we are just brains: neuroscience reveals brain states without subjectivity or intentionality and in constant flux.  If we are no more than such brains, then there is no scientific rationality and no reason to be a materialist.  McGinn thinks that we cannot think reliably beyond the limits set by the historical, contingent interactions of our species with nature.  But if that were true, as Thomas Nagel realizes in his Mind and Cosmos, we could not have discovered the non-contingent norms of rationality to which science itself appeals.  McGinn’s claim to know that consciousness emerged from an evolutionary process depends on our access to rational norms which (if he is right) are above our epistemic pay grade.

More positively, Christian philosophers should be guided by Alvin Plantinga’s celebrated “Advice to Christian Philosophers.”   We do not have to start from an assumption of scientism, but should re-envision the whole field of philosophical anthropology with the assumption that God is the premier person and that we are made in His image.   Consciousness does not have to emerge from the physical world, because it has always been exemplified by God.  And human beings are integrated wholes: mind and body are designed to work together.   But is this just pious hand-waving?   No, there are many promising attempts to work out this idea in detail.  A select list should include:  Richard Swinburne’s Mind, Brain,and Free Will, J. P. Moreland’s Consciousness and the Existence of God, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei and The Soul, Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro’s A Brief History of the Soul, and eds. Mark Baker and Stewart Goetz’s The Soul Hypothesis.   Collectively, these books show that the soul is not excluded by, but supportive of, scientific rationality, and solves numerous philosophical problems that beset naturalistic accounts, including those of Churchland and McGinn.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Phantom, Notre Dame, and Fish Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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