Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Interview with J.P. Moreland: The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (part two)

We continue our interview with J.P. Moreland about his book, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei. In this part, J.P. shares how our view of human persons forms culture, how philosophy of religion work is helping to challenge naturalism in various areas, and how J.P. teaches philosophy.


You seem to wear multiple hats in this book as a philosopher, theologian and cultural observer. For you, how are these areas interrelated when offering an analysis of “human persons and the failure of naturalism”?

The philosopher, especially the Christian philosopher, should take a realist understanding of the imago Dei seriously. That understanding presents the philosopher with a prima facie justified case that the six features of human persons mentioned above are real and irreducible. The theologian should take the philosophical arguments seriously as an example of how to clarify the key issues and options and make crucial distinctions relevant to their resolution. The cultural observer should be careful to observe the connection between broad cultural drifts in the arena of ideas and the way human persons are depicted by the advocates of those various drifts.

In your book, you use an important Pitrim Sorokin distinction between a “sensate culture” vs. an “ideational culture.” Can you expand upon what that distinction means and why it is significant?

A sensate culture is one that believes only in the physical world that can be seen and touched. An ideational culture accepts the physical world but also believes in an unseen realm that can be known in other ways. Sensate cultures don’t last very long because they do not have the intellectual resources to sustain a vibrant cultural form of human flourishing. Sensate cultures degenerate into greed, dishonesty and conflicts over power.

For example, it is not wide of the mark to locate the fundamental intellectual cause of our current economic crisis in the ubiquitous presence of a sensate culture in the contemporary West. By contrast, an ideational culture, especially a Judeo-Christian one, allows questions like these to be asked and provides a robust answer to them: Is there meaning to life and, if so, what it is? What is right and wrong? Is God real and is there life after death? What ought the state, public education, and other key institutions do and what role ought they play in a culture conducive to human flourishing? What role ought wealth play in such a culture? None of these questions can even be asked, much less answered, from within a scientific, sensate perspective.

How can a robust view of the image of God positively shape public policy discussions?

In a reductionist culture, human persons will be identified with things such as being an animal, sexual orientation, ethnicity, which are not the most important thing about us—that we are made in zthe image of God, or so I argue in my book. In a reductionist culture, free will and rationality disappear, and are replaced with biological and sociological determinism. Along the way, personal responsibility vanishes and social engineering at the hands of cultural elites achieves hegemony. My book stands against these trends.

It seems that the homogeneous character of naturalism is actually starting to crack and break for some in Western academic circles. If that is the case, what is going on?

For twenty years or so there has been an explosion of Christian philosophy in the academy, and the overwhelming majority of Christian philosophers are theistic realists in the sense that they take their Christian theism to have ontological and epistemological implications that do intellectual work in their field. In the next decade, the prominence of Christians in philosophy will expand even more, and a backlash is sure to precipitate. Scholars in other fields, especially theology and religious studies, would do well to take note of what is happening in philosophy and seek to learn from this phenomenon. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei would be a good place to go to see an example of theistic realism at work.

There is a constant theme in a lot of your writing: Christianity is a knowledge tradition. What is the significance of this claim for how Christianity is perceived in the culture?

If Christianity were regarded as an alleged source of knowledge of reality, then its ideas would be taken seriously, put to the test, and evaluated rationally just like other alleged sources of knowledge. Knowledge, not faith, is what gives people the right to act responsibly in culture. Religious knowledge gives theological claims authority. In The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, I seek to re-establish theological claims about human persons as a reliable source of knowledge about their actual nature.

What type of philosophy courses at a university or a seminary would most benefit from this book?

Courses in philosophy of mind, comparative religion, theological anthropology, ethics (especially metaethics or end-of-life ethics), worldview comparison, and the sociology of culture would benefit from the course. Psychologists would also find much of interest here.

How do you like to teach the areas of philosophy that your book covers?

I usually begin my course by presenting the class with facts and considerations that demonstrate the broad, cultural importance of issues at the core of philosophical and theological anthropology. Then, I seek to use texts that defend various positions on those core issues and work through them carefully with the students. My book would be a good one to use in a course in philosophy of mind/action or theological anthropology. It would also be good for a course in comparative religion, since it presents and defends a Judeo-Christian understanding of the self, and treatments of the self are central issues for any religious system.

More about J.P. Moreland can be found here.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Jime said:

I haven't studied in depth Christian philosophy, but I was very impressed with Dr.Moreland's book "Consciousness and the Existence of God", a masterpiece on philosophy of mind.

I think Moreland's case against naturalism and physicalism (as explained in that book) is hard to refute. It seems very hard for a naturalist to explain consciousness in a fully consistent way.

In the interview of this post, the interviewer said "It seems that the homogeneous character of naturalism is actually starting to crack and break for some in Western academic circles"

I think it's very true. And example of this is the recent book "Naturalism In Question" edited by Mario De Caro and David Macarthur.

It includes papers by naturalists (including first rate philosophers like Hilary Putnam, Donald Davidson, Stanley Cavell and others) analyzing the problems, weaknessess, inconsistences and flaws of naturalism in many areas of philosophy.

They don't defend or argue for supernaturalism or theism; but their critiques against naturalism are very good and, in my opinion, are consistent with some of Moreland's criticisms.

Another good higly recommended book is "The Case for Qualia" edited by Edmond Wright.

It includes papers by contemporary philosophers, cognitive scientists and neuroscientists, arguing for the reality of qualia and showing that reductionism can't fully explain or account for subjective mental states and consciousness.

This book is one of the best I've read on qualia.

As correctly said Dr.Moreland, you don't need to be a theist to recognize or accept the sound criticisms against metaphysical naturalism and its intrinsic flaws.

Keep the good work.

By Blogger Jime, at July 11, 2009 at 8:33 PM  

Blogger Jime said:

As a complement of my above comment, one of the papers of the book "Naturalism in Question", is available here:

http://www.arts.usyd.edu.au/departs/philos/documents/staff/Chap6.pdf

It defends the thesis that naturalism, argueably, leads to skepticism; and the naturalist's ways to avoid this problem are unconvincing.

This argument is not similar to Plantinga's argument. It's a whole independent argument against naturalism's scientistic and non-skeptical epistemology.

The author of the paper is philosopher David McArthur.

By Blogger Jime, at July 19, 2009 at 3:00 PM  

Blogger District Supt. Harvey Burnett said:

Excellent...Totally Excellent!

By Blogger District Supt. Harvey Burnett, at August 12, 2009 at 7:56 PM  

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