Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

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

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Recent Articles of Note from Philosophy Compass

"Preempting Principles: Recent Debates in Moral Particularism"
Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge

Moral particularism, as recently defended, charges that traditional moral theorizing unduly privileges moral principles. Moral generalism defends a prominent place for moral principles. Because moral principles are often asked to play multiple roles, moral particularism aims at multiple targets. We distinguish two leading roles for moral principles, the role of standard and the role of guide. We critically survey some of the leading arguments both for and against principles so conceived.

Simon Keller

Welfarism is the view that morality is centrally concerned with the welfare or well-being of individuals. The division between welfarist and non-welfarist approaches underlies many important disagreements in ethics, but welfarism is neither consistently defined nor well understood. I survey the philosophical work on welfarism, and I offer a suggestion about how the view can be characterized and how it can be embedded in various kinds of moral theory. I also identify welfarism's major rivals, and its major attractions and weaknesses.

"Three Strands in Kripke's Argument against the Identity Theory"
Jesper Kallestrup

Kripke's argument against the identity theory in the philosophy of mind runs as follows. Suppose some psychophysical identity statement S is true. Then S would seem to be contingent at least in the sense that S seems possibly false. And given that seeming contingency entails genuine contingency when it comes to such statements S is contingent. But S is necessary if true. So S is false. This entry considers responses to each of the three premises. It turns out that each response does not fully withstand scrutiny, and so Kripke's conclusion is hard to resist. Section 1 lays out Kripke's argument, and Sections 2 to 4 then discuss responses to each of the three premises respectively.

"Can Physicalism Be Non-Reductive?"
Andrew Melnyk

Can physicalism (or materialism) be non-reductive? I provide an opinionated survey of the debate on this question. I suggest that attempts to formulate non-reductive physicalism by appeal to claims of event identity, supervenience, or realization have produced doctrines that fail either to be physicalist or to be non-reductive. Then I treat in more detail a recent attempt to formulate non-reductive physicalism by Derk Pereboom, but argue that it fares no better.

"The Fine-Tuning Argument"
Neil A. Manson

The Fine-Tuning Argument (FTA) is a variant of the Design Argument for the existence of God. In this paper the evidence of fine-tuning is explained and the Fine-Tuning Design Argument for God is presented. Then two objections are covered. The first objection is that fine-tuning can be explained in terms of the existence of multiple universes (the 'multiverse') plus the operation of the anthropic principle. The second objection is the 'normalizability problem'– the objection that the Fine-Tuning Argument fails because fine-tuning is not actually improbable.

* Neil Manson also helped guest edit our "philosophical issues in intelligent design" issue (vol. 7, no. 2).

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Interview with Carl Raschke: GloboChrist

We interviewed Carl Raschke, a professor and chairperson of the department of religious studies at the University of Denver, about his recent book, GloboChristi: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn (Baker Academic, 2008).

What is “GloboPomo” and how might Christian philosophers pay attention to it in the way that they engage ideas?

The term “globopomo” is a word I crafted in the book to convey forcefully the sense that what we in the developed world blandly term the “postmodern world” these days is ultimately the emerging globalized world. The process of globalization , which is often misunderstood as involving mainly finance and communications, challenges Christian thinkers in particular to think through questions that have been in the past remained largely local, regional, or simply hemispheric – we might also add culture-specific, sectarian, and denominational - in scope.

Borrowing from the argot of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, we can say that globalization is an ongoing, simultaneous transformation of nations, cultures, and religious outlooks and practices everywhere on the planet which they term “de-territorialization.” De-territorialization, especially in the field of anthropology, has come to mean the uncoupling of meaning from its specific historical site, or locus. Thus, for example, “Mexican food” really has little to do with cuisine consumed regularly in Mexico. The growth of Christianity in Roman times represented a de-territorialization of what were once exclusively Jewish signs and symbols - e.g., the notion of the Messiah. Paul’s writings is a treasure trove of globalized, and thus de-territorialized, Jewish soteriology and eschatology.

But this “de-territorialization” is what makes Christianity distinctive historically. It is also the key to what we understand as the unique Christian revelation. Now we are witnessing on an impressive scale the de-territorialization of what until recently was considered a “Western religion.” The book plays off the unquestionable sociological reality that the center of gravity of world Christianity is rapidly moving from the developed West (or the “global north”) to the developing world, or the “global south.” That is far more than a geographical trend. Our very notion of what it means to be “Christian” is being de-territorialized. De-territorialization is a word that applies to the history of culture and ideas in the same way that “de-construction,” which is closely associated with postmodernism, applies to the reading of texts. God is using history to deconstruct Christianity. But, of course, he is “deconstructing” it to fulfill what Christ commanded us to do in the first place – “make disciples of all nations.” The theology of globopomo is the incipient new theology of the Great Commission.

Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your own journey as a Christian? How has that journey helped shape what you are passionate about in GloboChrist?

A good bit of my own “journey” or long process of spiritual formation is laid out in my earlier book The Next Reformation (Baker Academic 2004). I won’t rehash it here. All I can say is that God is constantly encountering me, transforming me, and of course using me in both subtle and obvious ways, which have varied from era to era. I’m chronologically older than a lot of people who know me realize, which means only that I’ve been around. I guess I could best sum up my life with the famous words of The Grateful Dead – “it’s been a long, strange trip.” But so is God’s story from Abraham through the prophets through Jesus to the present. The story keeps going on. That story is “His-story,” and of course his-story and her-story. As to why I’m passionate about what I write in GloboChrist, that’s pretty easy to explain.

I was getting tired of all the controversy – and really rather silly and unproductive bickering about whether we should, shouldn’t, or shoulda or woulda consider ourselves “postmodern.” Or “emergent,” or non-traditional, or whatever. So I asked myself, okay, what does that word “postmodern” really mean. Well, I went one Sunday to a rather mainstream, relatively large church in Arlington, Texas and I heard an aging missionary give a passionate testimony about why he was living out his seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. The pomo crowd doesn’t usually take missionaries very seriously, but for some reason it just hit me (or God hit me over the head, take your pick), not quite like on the road to Damascus, but close. The guy didn’t talk all about the “souls” he was saving. He talked about doing his own little part to be obedient to Christ’s global command to us on his resurrection appearance. And I thought to myself, “that guy is more postmodern than anyone who’s read all of Derrida five times over.”

You claim that “Relational Christianity is postmodern Christianity” (italics in original, 20). Can you briefly explain what you mean? How and why is “relational Christianity” not premodern Christianity, for example?

I’m not sure how to answer such a question, because I’m not making a “claim.” Claims are for lawyers, argumentative philosophers, and mining assayers. As one of my good friends and former grad students who is a “missional” megachurch pastor in Denver would put it, if it’s in the Word of God, which it is, it’s not a “claim.” There’s a difference between a claim we make about God and how God reveals himself to us. God reveals himself to us as the “relational God.” We can start with the nature of human beings made in the “image of God,” which is an image of pure relationality, as Karl Barth has insisted. But we need only to reference the Emmanuel prophecy. Our God is inextricably “God with us.” That’s what makes Christianity unique, and it’s why all evangelicals say you have to have a relationship to God (not “claim” you have a relationship to God) to be saved. It’s also an argument against those who deny the Trinity.

Now when I say that “is” postmodern Christianity, I’m not historicizing it. Obviously, it is Christianity, as I’ve indicated. But I find it not a little significant that those who spend most of their times among evangelical theologians attacking the straw man of “postmodernism” and insist they are defending Biblical Christianity rarely dwell on this fact of God’s relationality. They want to defend the “truth claims” of Scripture, etc. Scripture doesn’t make claims about anything at all. Through Scripture God claims us, and claims our lives, or whole lives, our whole being. Christian Scripture is not our “revelation.” Our revelation is the person of Jesus Christ himself, a person with whom we are in relationship with and who dwells in the midst of our relationship with others, who reveals himself in those relationships. As I’m fond of saying, if you want your revelation to be a book or set of texts, you might as well become a Muslim. When I say “relational Christianity is postmodern Christianity” I’m saying that, theologically speaking, we’ve finally got a handle in our postmodern age what Christianity is all about. We lost that sense long ago, maybe as far back as the second century.

In GloboPomo, a decent amount of attention is given to the influence of Islam and eschatology and its relevancy in the “postmodern moment”. Can you briefly explain their importance for understanding the times we live in and the sort of realities that confront global Christian witness.

Let’s go back to what I just said in answer to the last question. Islam is the 800-pound gorilla in today’s world, and that includes the Christian world. We in the West don’t seem to want to talk about it in a honest way, though I can say most Muslims do, if we would let them. We either want to make it a ferocious bogey (on the right) that somehow threatens the foundations of our “American way of life”, or on the left we want to trivialize it as a bunch of people with “alternative life styles” that we need to be more understanding of. A lot of those on the religious left seem to put Islam in the same category as being gay or being vegan – in other words, one more colorful specimen of “otherness” that we can admire while we’re pushing our conceptual shopping cart down the great supermarket isle of cultural and religious diversity.

Of course, if any of these people actually studied Islam closely, which they don’t, they might have quite a different take. Islam claims to be the “final revelation,” and that Mohammed is the “seal of the prophets.” In other words, Islam purports to have the final truth – about everything. That’s why I say we are experiencing not a “clash of civilizations,” but the historical working out of what is a “clash of revelations.” And revelation is about what is final, i.e, about how things are shown to be the case in the final summation, i.e, about eschatology. Before the worldwide Islamic revival that really started in the late 1960s, we didn’t have to take Islam that seriously, because it didn’t take itself that seriously. But now it does. The Islamic revival is not at all about a bunch of “extremists.” That’ s our own condescending, wishful thinking. It’s about people taking seriously the depth and passion of their own eschatological commitments. We ignore our own real Christian commitments at our own peril.

What we have in the West, and just as much in the “emergent” church as in the traditional church, is a tendency to substitute the spiritual version of “consumer choices” for committed Christianity. It’s what I call “Burger King Christianity.” We say to our followers, like the old Burger King slogan, “have it your way.” You want a good, intellectually satisfying, evidentially grounded defense of Christian doctrine? We’ve got it. You want to get transported away in the ecstasy of worshiping God through music and swaying with the music? Well, we’ve got that too. You want a group of people who think like you, and believe God is a Republican, if you’re a Republican, or God is a Democrat, if you’re a Democrat, hey, of course we aim to please. Take your pick. It’s your choice. No, actually, it’s not our choice. We are the ones who are chosen. We only have the choice, as in Mission Possible, of accepting the mission for which we are chosen. I ask basically in the book, are we as Christians “eschatologically committed” to our own revelation (not to our own personal ideologies and life-style choices), the reality of the Personhood of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Are we committed in a global sense?

If a North American Christian philosopher is to take your GloboChrist seriously and attempt to apply your thesis and perspective to their thinking Christianly about matters of philosophy, theology and apologetics, how would you like to see your book influence them?

As I’ve indicated, I haven’t customized my writing for what I think you might mean when you say “North American Christian philosopher.” I’m writing for Christians who happen to have an interest in postmodern philosophy – and theories of globalization - rather than, say, gourmet cooking. But I’m writing for those who are willing to let go of what they think they require to be convinced. As the Gospels show us, the people who always had the best, technical – and often “philosophical” - arguments were the Pharisees. And Jesus didn’t seem to ever convince them. How could he? “Hearing they will not hear.”

I’m not saying the “North American Christian philosopher” can’t be convinced (though he should be “convicted”), nor am I necessarily comparing him, or her, to a Pharisee. But people who have the best arguments often have the least sensitivity to what God is trying to say. That’s perhaps why, as the Gospels tell us, Jesus spoke in parables. All I can say to them, or anyone else for that matter, is “study the Bible, go listen to some people, read some philosophical and social theoretical books, and ultimately experience God in a way you’re not used to doing.” That’s how I came to write this book in the first place.

More of Carl Raschke can be found at his This interview was the result of an advertisement agreement with Baker Academic.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Byrne on Theistic Philosophers

In his recent Boston Review article, Alex Byrne seriously misrepresents the lay of the land in current Anglo-American philosophy, especially when we take the long view of the last several decades. As Quentin Smith has documented, (Philo 4/2 [2001]: 3-4), there has transpired since the late 1960s a veritable revolution in Anglo-American analytic philosophy with respect to the philosophy of religion in general and natural theology in particular. It is atheism that is in retreat and theism that is on the rise. Tangible measures of the sea change that has occurred is evident in the number of new philosophy journals devoted exclusively to the philosophy of religion, in the burgeoning market in philosophy of religion textbooks, in the demand among university students for courses in philosophy of religion, and in the percentage of graduate students in philosophy who are Christian theists. The difference between the discipline as it appeared back in the 1930s or 40s and today is like the difference between night and day. Byrne’s tendentious spin on Dean Zimmerman’s words obscures the point that outspoken, highly respected Christian philosophers are numerous today, even though many of their colleagues (like Byrne?) are dismissive of their religious beliefs.

Equally misrepresentative is Byrne’s characterization of contemporary Christian philosophers as content with “pulling up the drawbridge and manning the barricades, rather than crusading against the infidel.” Never mind the ugly militaristic imagery. Insofar as they have engaged in defensive operations, Christian philosophers have done so in order to show that the shopworn anti-theistic arguments like the meaninglessness of religious language, the vaunted presumption of atheism, the incoherence of theism, and the problem of evil are, to borrow Byrne’s phrase, “underwhelming” and do not stand up to scrutiny. Moreover, Christian philosophers certainly have gone on the offensive as well, as all of the traditional theistic arguments—cosmological, teleological, axiological, ontological—find numerous articulate defenders today (I list some in my piece in Christianity Today, July 2008, pp. 22-27).

Byrne similarly misrepresents Plantinga’s work on religious epistemology, epitomized in Warranted Christian Belief. On one level, Plantinga’s work is defensive in showing that Christian belief can be wholly rational, justified, and warranted even in the absence of arguments and that atheistic objections to the contrary all fail. On another level, however, the work is a frontal assault on atheistic naturalism, as Plantinga argues that there is no acceptable account of warrant (and, hence, of knowledge) that does not appeal to the notion of the proper functioning of our cognitive faculties, a notion best cashed out in terms of their functioning as they were designed to, and, moreover, that naturalism is rationally unaffirmable, since on naturalism our cognitive faculties are selected not for their being truth-conducive but survival-conducive, so that we can have no confidence in the truth of their deliverances—including, ironically, the truth of naturalism.

The question raised in the final paragraph of Byrne’s article is squarely addressed by Plantinga’s religious epistemology. Plantinga agrees that, for the most part, Christian theists “do not believe that God exists on the basis of any argument.” Plantinga thinks that there are, in fact, good arguments for God’s existence and has defended over two dozen of them; but he thinks they’re not necessary in order for religious belief to be justified or warranted. In that sense Plantinga concurs with Byrne that “The funny thing about arguments for the existence of God is that, if they succeed, they were never needed in the first place.” That is to say, if theistic arguments are sound, then God exists and has likely furnished us with cognitive mechanisms that yield warranted theistic belief independent of argument. But when Byrne opines, “How they know that God exists, if they do, is itself unknown,” then he has simply failed to be attentive to Plantinga’s epistemological model, for that model does explain how it is that Christian belief is warranted apart from argument. To assert otherwise is just to ignore all that Plantinga has written on the subject.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Interview with Bruce Benson: Evangelicals and Empire

We interviewed Bruce Ellis Benson, a professor and chairperson in the philosophy department at Wheaton College, about his recently co-edited book (with Peter Heltzel), Evangelicals and Empire: Christian Alternatives to the Political Status Quo (Baker Academic, 2008).

Please provide a brief overview of the book's scope and thesis.

This groundbreaking collection considers empire from a global perspective, exploring the role of evangelicals in political, social, and economic engagement at a time when empire is alternately denounced and embraced. It brings noted thinkers from a range of theological perspectives together to engage the most explosive and discussed theorists of empire in the first decade of the twenty-first century, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Using their work as a springboard, the contributors challenge evangelicalism's identification with right-wing politics and grapple with the natures of both empire and evangelicalism.

Why the focus on "Evangelicals and Empire"?

As my co-editor and I considered the evangelical landscape, it became apparent that there was a rapidly developing critical mass of younger—and even somewhat older—evangelicals (such as the emergents, Jill Wallis, the red-letter Christians) who simply didn’t buy the evangelical embrace of empire. Hardt and Negri helped us think through the problem of empire not simply in terms of the nation state but also in terms of global capitalism. While we find Hardt and Negri’s vision of “multitude” problematic, the term resonates with a new generation of prophetic evangelicals who seek the embodiment of the kingdom of heaven.

Tell us about your own journey with this topic. How did you get interested?

Both of us happened to move to New York City just days before 9/11. That event awakened us to political realities in a remarkably new way. For my co-editor, that meant returning to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon at Riverside Church in 1967, in which he spoke of the need to forsake the idols of racism, materialism, and militarism and live into what he termed “the beloved community.” For me, it meant feeling in a deep and practical way the call of the marginalized other that is so central to the thought of the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and the Christian philosopher Jean-Luc Marion. Both of them remind us that God judges us on how we treat the least in society—the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.

In terms of the "political status quo" to which you offer "Christian alternatives," what is in view here and why does that status quo require a Christian alternative?

At the time we began working on the book, the hold of the so-called “religious right” on the Republican Party was remarkably strong. While we as editors hold many things regarding orthodox Christianity in common with the “religious right,” we felt that an important missing aspect was what we term the “unified Gospel,” in which the personal Gospel is fully united with a concern for social justice (the so-called “Social Gospel”). I think it is safe to say that, however much the contributors to this volume differ on all sorts of things, they all agree on that commitment to a unified Gospel.

What is distinctly Christian about the alternatives that are presented?

In line with that commitment to a unified Gospel, the contributors to this volume take the truly radical aspects of the Gospel quite seriously. They are “prophetic” in the sense of returning to the calls of the Hebrew prophets, which Jesus repeats and even intensifies. Contributors to this volume take seriously the idea that the witness of the Christian community is distinct because we testify to the living Christ and are empowered by the Spirit to work for justice in the world. Whereas secular activists think that they can make the world a better place, we are saying—like King—that justice will flow like a mighty stream through the power of a loving God. We find this all to be deeply humbling, since we realize that we are merely repeating anew what the Hebrew prophets and Jesus said.

The book appears to be mostly focused on Western political policy and philosophy? Why is that?

Given that Hardt and Negri are working out of Marxist philosophy as inflected by Michel Foucault, they are western philosophy. In contrast, we are pushing back against them by way of world Christianity. We explicitly draw on world Christianity—whether African, Asian, or Latin American—to speak to the west. Although western Christians tend to think that Christianity is a “western” religion, the contributors to this volume try to remind those in the west that Christianity’s roots and certainly much of its history are distinctly eastern.

For Christian philosophers working on Christian and public policy issues, what advice would you offer for how to approach the subject of political power?

Read the four Gospels and do what Jesus commands.

More of Bruce Benson can be found at his website. This interview was the result of an advertisement agreement with Baker Academic.

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