Tag Archives: Analytical Philosophy

What motivates William Lane Craig and why is he so effective?

Nathan Schneider, who wrote a balanced profile of Dr. Craig for the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks back, has written an even more in-depth profile of Christianity’s ablest defender.

Here’s the introduction:

Nobody—or just about nobody, depending on whom you ask—beats William Lane Craig in a debate about the existence of God, or the resurrection of Jesus, or any topic of that sort. During their debate at Notre Dame in April of last year, New Atheist author Sam Harris referred to Craig as “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists.”

Over the course of working on my book about how people search for proof of God’s existence, I had the chance to spend a generous amount of time with Craig, both in the Atlanta area where he lives and at Biola University, an evangelical school on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where he teaches a few weeks out of the year. For the book, I’ve gotten to write about ideas like his “kalam cosmological argument,” one of the most-cited ideas of its generation in philosophy of religion, which fuses medieval Muslims with modern cosmology. I also tell of his entrepreneurial savvy in turning the Evangelical Philosophical Society into an academic organization that moonlights as a slick-as-a-banana apologetics platform for changing hearts like yours and mine. But none of that quite captures the man’s role as a sage and exemplar, in which he renders something like the upbuilding service Oprah provides to home-bound American women, except that his acolytes are the precocious set among conservative, evangelical, young-adult males. He makes me almost wish I were that kind of conservative evangelical myself—which is, to him, the point.

Craig dresses impeccably and professorially, often with a buttoned shirt and a patterned blazer, sweater, or sweater-vest. His dimples hint at a basic innocence that can be startling when it pokes through the frontage of logic. I find in Craig the decency associated with an era I am too young to be nostalgic for, and which I’ve been taught to imagine was imperialistic, sexist, homophobic, narrow-minded, or otherwise regressive. His rationalizations of certain parts of the Hebrew Bible can sound like he’s okay with genocide. Yet none of these accusations quite sticks to him; none is even comprehensible in the cosmic snow-globe within which he expertly thinks his way through life, whose sole and constant storyline is bringing more and more souls to a saving knowledge of the one true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I live in a different snow-globe from Craig’s. Nevertheless, I’ve gained a lot from the lessons I learned with him, and from his carefully crafted advice, and from his answers to my questions. (“I may not answer, but you can ask!” he once warned.) They’ve improved my productivity, and my relationship with loved ones, and my physical fitness. It would be selfish if I did not pass some of these lessons on, in synthesized and practicable form, to you.

The article covers 7 points about Dr. Craig:

  1. Do Everything Like It’s a Ministry
  2. Make a Covenant with Your Wife
  3. Organize the Day
  4. Turn Weakness into Strength
  5. Be Prepared
  6. Remember That Time Is Everything—and Nothing
  7. Love God and Authority

And here’s one that I found fascinating, being single myself:

3. Organize the Day

There was a time, says Craig, when he began to worry he was losing his knack for philosophy. “Honey,” he remembers telling Jan, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I just can’t seem to concentrate anymore. I used to be able to study all day long, and there was no problem, and now I find I just can’t concentrate anymore. My mind wanders, and I’m tired.” He was tempted to despair.

“No, no, don’t be ridiculous!” she told him. “You just need to organize your day.”

As usual, she was right. She put him on a new schedule: starting the workday with the hardest philosophical work in the morning, then lighter material, like his writing for popular audiences, after lunch. He doesn’t look at his email until late afternoon, “when my brain is really fried.” (For fear of being bombarded with mail, he doesn’t even share his email address with his graduate students.) Soon after trying this regime, he regained his philosophical powers completely.

The couple’s life together, at home in the suburbs of Atlanta, is a picture of (a certain kind of) teamwork. Craig wakes up each morning at 5:30, and begins the day with devotional time, reading from the Church Fathers and the New Testament in Greek, and then he prays for the spread of the gospel in some benighted part of the world, with the help of the Operation World handbook. Soon, Jan is up. They have coffee together (which he dislikes, but recommends for the health and social benefits), after which he goes down to the weight room for an hour of exercise. By the time he reemerges, she has a hot breakfast ready and waiting—sometimes as elaborate, he says, as ham and eggs and pumpkin waffles with whipped cream and strawberries. (“She’s a fabulous cook.”) He’ll return downstairs for an intensive morning of scholarship, and reemerge for the hot lunch Jan has prepared. Then, he’s back downstairs for the lighter work of the afternoon, culminating in emails, which he responds to in longhand and she has often been the one to type out and send, since his rare neuromuscular disease—more on that in a moment—renders him unable to type. Between meals and typing sessions, Jan plays the stock market. Before long dinner is ready, and they eat, and spend the evening together, watching TV and drinking red wine (which he also dislikes, but also recommends for the health and social benefits).

“She’s not an intellectual herself,” Craig says of his wife, “but she appreciates the value of what I do, and that’s what matters.” One would hope that this is true, because she has typed out all of his papers, books, and both doctoral dissertations. Would that we all had such devoted help, though it may be untenable in the present economic climate for those scholars among us unable to garner five-figure speaking fees. We can at least hold off on our email for a few hours—which I have since done, to enormous benefit.

It’s very interesting to read this because it’s got lots of positive and negative points. On the one hand, he finds Dr. Craig’s conservative beliefs and exclusive positions difficult to accept. On the other hand, he has to admit that Dr. Craig really believes what he says he believes, and he’s very good at persuading others. He’s done his homework. I think the biggest problem that a person has with accepting Christianity is re-orienting the will. Another big problem is being willing to be disapproved of by non-Christians. Even if they can’t beat you, the pressure to compromise and please others makes many people shy away from Christianity.

This new profile of Dr. Craig is getting tons of likes and shares on Facebook, so give it a look. Be sure and share it on Facebook and tweet it, too.

Related posts

What motivates William Lane Craig and why is he so effective?

Nathan Schneider, who wrote a balanced profile of Dr. Craig for the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks back, has written an even more in-depth profile of Christianity’s ablest defender.

Here’s the introduction:

Nobody—or just about nobody, depending on whom you ask—beats William Lane Craig in a debate about the existence of God, or the resurrection of Jesus, or any topic of that sort. During their debate at Notre Dame in April of last year, New Atheist author Sam Harris referred to Craig as “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists.”

Over the course of working on my book about how people search for proof of God’s existence, I had the chance to spend a generous amount of time with Craig, both in the Atlanta area where he lives and at Biola University, an evangelical school on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where he teaches a few weeks out of the year. For the book, I’ve gotten to write about ideas like his “kalam cosmological argument,” one of the most-cited ideas of its generation in philosophy of religion, which fuses medieval Muslims with modern cosmology. I also tell of his entrepreneurial savvy in turning the Evangelical Philosophical Society into an academic organization that moonlights as a slick-as-a-banana apologetics platform for changing hearts like yours and mine. But none of that quite captures the man’s role as a sage and exemplar, in which he renders something like the upbuilding service Oprah provides to home-bound American women, except that his acolytes are the precocious set among conservative, evangelical, young-adult males. He makes me almost wish I were that kind of conservative evangelical myself—which is, to him, the point.

Craig dresses impeccably and professorially, often with a buttoned shirt and a patterned blazer, sweater, or sweater-vest. His dimples hint at a basic innocence that can be startling when it pokes through the frontage of logic. I find in Craig the decency associated with an era I am too young to be nostalgic for, and which I’ve been taught to imagine was imperialistic, sexist, homophobic, narrow-minded, or otherwise regressive. His rationalizations of certain parts of the Hebrew Bible can sound like he’s okay with genocide. Yet none of these accusations quite sticks to him; none is even comprehensible in the cosmic snow-globe within which he expertly thinks his way through life, whose sole and constant storyline is bringing more and more souls to a saving knowledge of the one true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I live in a different snow-globe from Craig’s. Nevertheless, I’ve gained a lot from the lessons I learned with him, and from his carefully crafted advice, and from his answers to my questions. (“I may not answer, but you can ask!” he once warned.) They’ve improved my productivity, and my relationship with loved ones, and my physical fitness. It would be selfish if I did not pass some of these lessons on, in synthesized and practicable form, to you.

The article covers 7 points about Dr. Craig:

  1. Do Everything Like It’s a Ministry
  2. Make a Covenant with Your Wife
  3. Organize the Day
  4. Turn Weakness into Strength
  5. Be Prepared
  6. Remember That Time Is Everything—and Nothing
  7. Love God and Authority

And here’s one that I found fascinating, being single myself:

3. Organize the Day

There was a time, says Craig, when he began to worry he was losing his knack for philosophy. “Honey,” he remembers telling Jan, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I just can’t seem to concentrate anymore. I used to be able to study all day long, and there was no problem, and now I find I just can’t concentrate anymore. My mind wanders, and I’m tired.” He was tempted to despair.

“No, no, don’t be ridiculous!” she told him. “You just need to organize your day.”

As usual, she was right. She put him on a new schedule: starting the workday with the hardest philosophical work in the morning, then lighter material, like his writing for popular audiences, after lunch. He doesn’t look at his email until late afternoon, “when my brain is really fried.” (For fear of being bombarded with mail, he doesn’t even share his email address with his graduate students.) Soon after trying this regime, he regained his philosophical powers completely.

The couple’s life together, at home in the suburbs of Atlanta, is a picture of (a certain kind of) teamwork. Craig wakes up each morning at 5:30, and begins the day with devotional time, reading from the Church Fathers and the New Testament in Greek, and then he prays for the spread of the gospel in some benighted part of the world, with the help of the Operation World handbook. Soon, Jan is up. They have coffee together (which he dislikes, but recommends for the health and social benefits), after which he goes down to the weight room for an hour of exercise. By the time he reemerges, she has a hot breakfast ready and waiting—sometimes as elaborate, he says, as ham and eggs and pumpkin waffles with whipped cream and strawberries. (“She’s a fabulous cook.”) He’ll return downstairs for an intensive morning of scholarship, and reemerge for the hot lunch Jan has prepared. Then, he’s back downstairs for the lighter work of the afternoon, culminating in emails, which he responds to in longhand and she has often been the one to type out and send, since his rare neuromuscular disease—more on that in a moment—renders him unable to type. Between meals and typing sessions, Jan plays the stock market. Before long dinner is ready, and they eat, and spend the evening together, watching TV and drinking red wine (which he also dislikes, but also recommends for the health and social benefits).

“She’s not an intellectual herself,” Craig says of his wife, “but she appreciates the value of what I do, and that’s what matters.” One would hope that this is true, because she has typed out all of his papers, books, and both doctoral dissertations. Would that we all had such devoted help, though it may be untenable in the present economic climate for those scholars among us unable to garner five-figure speaking fees. We can at least hold off on our email for a few hours—which I have since done, to enormous benefit.

It’s very interesting to read this because it’s got lots of positive and negative points. On the one hand, he finds Dr. Craig’s conservative beliefs and exclusive positions difficult to accept. On the other hand, he has to admit that Dr. Craig really believes what he says he believes, and he’s very good at persuading others. He’s done his homework. I think the biggest problem that a person has with accepting Christianity is re-orienting the will. Another big problem is being willing to be disapproved of by non-Christians. Even if they can’t beat you, the pressure to compromise and please others makes many people shy away from Christianity.

This new profile of Dr. Craig is getting tons of likes and shares on Facebook, so give it a look. Be sure and share it on Facebook and tweet it, too.

Related posts

The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles Dr. William Lane Craig

Probably the greatest defender of Christianity of all time has been profiled in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Nathan Schneider.

The article is titled “The New Theist”, which is an allusion to “The New Atheism”. The subscript is “How William Lane Craig became Christian philosophy’s boldest apostle”.

What I like about this article is that I learned new things about Dr. Craig’s big plan:

Along the narrow basement hallway that was home to the Biola philosophy master’s program when I sat in on Craig’s class in 2011, there was a map of the United States on the wall. On it were labels with the names of universities you’ve heard of—Notre Dame, Cornell, Rutgers—and some you probably haven’t. The labels were fastened by pins in three colors. Blue signified alumni enrolled in doctoral programs. Red meant programs where alums had been accepted, and yellow meant where they held full-time teaching jobs. There were several more pins in the Atlantic Ocean: Oxford, King’s College, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

This is a not-unusual sight in the hallway of any placement-minded graduate program. But at Biola—a name derived from “Bible Institute of Los Angeles”—the map had particular significance.

“My goal is for Christian theism as a worldview to be articulated cogently and persuasively in the academy,” says Scott Rae, an ethicist who co-founded the master’s program in the early 1990s. The purpose of the program was not simply to train evangelical Christian students for evangelical Christian schools, but to send those students off to doctoral programs, and eventually professorships, at leading secular universities. “We figured if we ended up with 30 or 40 students, and maybe we sent 20 of them to Ph.D.’s before we retired, that’d be awesome,” Rae added. “The thing just snowballed.”

The program’s other founder, J.P. Moreland, was already in high demand as an author and speaker on apologetics, in addition to being a philosopher of mind. Rae and Moreland invited William Lane Craig to join their team, though he comes to the campus only for brief, intensive courses in the fall and winter. Before long they were attracting more than 100 master’s students at a time (including women, generally, in only single digits); as many as 150 have continued on to further graduate work. Despite having only a handful of faculty, perhaps no philosophy master’s program in the English-speaking world enrolls so many students and, even if by that measure alone, few can claim to be so influential in shaping the next generation of analytic philosophers.

Still, many in the profession aren’t even aware of it. The Philosophical Gourmet Report, which ranks philosophy departments by the reputation of their faculty members, doesn’t mention Biola on its Web page about master’s programs. “No one has ever called to my attention that Biola’s M.A. program should be included,” says Brian Leiter, of the University of Chicago, who edits the report.

Among philosophers—Christian or otherwise—who have worked with the Biola program’s alums, the impressions tend to be positive. According to Laurence Bonjour, a philosopher at the University of Washington who has supervised the Ph.D. work of program graduates, “Biola students, especially those interested in epistemology, are often very well trained.”

“But,” he is careful to add, “I doubt if the Christian aspect of the program has much to do with that.”

For the program’s architects, however, the “Christian aspect” is everything. “What makes this program different from other philosophy programs is the distinctively Christian setting,” says Rae. Students take courses in the Bible and theology as well as in logic, ethics, and metaphysics. On their application forms, they’re asked to sign Biola’s century-old, page-long doctrinal statement and note any points of disagreement; on the campus, alcohol, tobacco, and gambling are prohibited. Craig begins each day’s lecture in his classes with a personal reflection on integrating the life of scholarship with the life of a Christian—covering such topics as marriage, prayer, and regular exercise. Everyone basically agrees on where, in the end, all the flights of argument and inquiry need to land.

Gail Neal, a retired administrative coordinator for the program, says she always noticed a culture of mutual support and encouragement, rather than competition, among the students. “Their whole purpose is to help people know Christ and to make a difference in the world for him, and to bring people into his kingdom,” she told me. “They just empty themselves of themselves, like Christ did for us.”

In a now-decade-old lecture, “Advice to Christian Apologists,” Craig outlined his view of the university as “the single most important institution shaping Western culture.” He argued that it’s a lot easier for people throughout the society to accept Christ as their savior if Christianity appears reasonable in higher education, if the academic conversation takes it seriously, and if there are Christian professors to serve as role models. The Biola master’s program is thus a strategic intervention designed to resound everywhere.

“In order to change the university, we must do scholarly apologetics,” he reasoned. “In order to do scholarly apologetics, we must earn doctorates. It’s that simple.”

And a bit more about how students respond to apologetics:

Most outsiders are familiar with the caricatures of evangelical anti-intellectualism, from the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925 to televangelists and the faux-folksiness of George W. Bush. So are evangelicals themselves. Almost 20 years ago, the evangelical historian (and historian of evangelicals) Mark Noll warned, at book length, about The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. This, as much as secularism itself, is an ill that Craig and others at Biola have set out to cure.

“Biblical Christianity retreated into the intellectual closet of Fundamentalism,” he writes in the introduction to Reasonable Faith.”Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us.”

Craig Hazen, who directs the apologetics department at Biola, calls the problem “blind-leaping.” He told me, “The idea that we’re blind-leaping into faith is actually reinforced by evangelical churches all the time.”

With close ties to the philosophy master’s program, the apologetics program teaches a couple of hundred students at a time how to defend their faith with reasons. There are master’s and certificate tracks, and about half the students take courses online from around the world. The program also organizes high-profile events, such as Craig’s 2009 debate with Christopher Hitchens, and seminars at churches around the country. Part of the purpose of these is recruiting students, and part of it is advocacy; Hazen and his team have to convince fellow Christians that reason is not merely a dead end for faith, and that a grown-up faith in modern society requires grown-up reasons.

“Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics,” Craig has written. “We’ve got to train our kids for war.”

The students in Craig’s classes at Biola, it’s true, bear a kind of battle scar. A common story among them goes something like this: When they were teenage boys, growing up in evangelical households, their childhood faith began to buckle. Their classes in school and their classmates and the Internet posed questions they didn’t know how to answer. Their parents and pastors couldn’t help; they only recommended more prayer and faith, more blind-leaping. It didn’t work.

Then someone would lend them a book by William Lane Craig or J.P. Moreland, or send them a link to a debate on YouTube. All of a sudden, their questions were being taken seriously. They could chew on the latest science and philosophy while still going to church with their friends and families. They went to Biola to study philosophy or apologetics because they knew it would be a safe place to ask any question they needed to, with whatever rigor and detail they craved. Afterward they take the answers they get there back to their friends and to the Internet, and the entrepreneurs among them start apologetics ministries of their own.

They’re born again: rebaptized in philosophy.

Go read the whole thing! And share it! The article is balanced, and that’s what I would expect from a mainstream article. There’s a lot more to the article that I couldn’t excerpt here, so read it all!

Now for my comment: we really need to get to the point where people look to Christian scholars like Dr. Craig as the best representatives of Christianity. The scholars are doing the real work in a time when Christianity is being challenged in the culture. The real heroes of the faith are the scholars. Not the end-time fiction writers. Not the blind-faith preachers. Not the Christian music rock stars. Not the Hollywood celebrities. And especially not the Christian athletes.

Christianity is and has always been a knowledge tradition, and we should be familiar with and appreciative of our scholars, first and foremost. We should be especially appreciative of our philosophers, scientists and historians who deal in logic and evidence every day. These are the real heroes of the faith, in my opinion. We should be paying more attention to them and their work, and reading their books and learning how to apply the knowledge in our daily lives.

One of the things that I try to do in my role in the Kingdom is to try to support Christian college students in philosophy, science and history programs with guidance and awards for good grades. Every semester, I get e-mails from a group of people who report their grades and future plans to me, and then I reward them with items from their list of desired books. My favorite Christian student just completed a Bachelor and Masters degree in a scientific area and is now applying for PhD programs. Another Christian student I am supporting did NINE courses last semester, including TWO graduate courses. I have been sending him academic books to help him in his research twice a year since 2011. He is also planning to go on to a PhD program in philosophy and law.

I want everyone reading this post and ask yourself a question – what are you doing to help support the development the next William Lane Craig? He was an undergraduate student once, you know. And then he was a graduate student. Are we doing our best to support the Christians who are willing to pay the price to infiltrate into the secular university and bring back the PhDs we need? I am doing my part, and I want you to do your part, too. Think about it!

One thing that you can do to impact young people is to visit the Biola University apologetics web store and purchase some of the debates featuring Dr. William Lane Craig on DVD, and try to show them in your church. I recommend the first Craig-Dacey debate at Indiana U, the re-match Craig-Stenger debate at Oregon State U, the Craig-Crossley debate, and the Craig-Ehrman debate. This will help to encourage more of our young people, especially young men, to study hard things in university and go on to get their PhDs. Parents – you really need to be exposing your kids to Christian heroes, because they are the ones who will have an influence in the future. Don’t neglect this precious resource!

New York Times profiles philosopher Alvin Plantinga and discusses his new book

Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga
Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga is widely regarded as the top Christian philosopher in the world, and a former head of the largest professional association of philosophers – the American Philosophical Association (APA).

 Mary sent me this article from the New York Times about Alvin Plantinga and his new book, published by Oxford University Press – the top academic press in the world.

Excerpt:

From Calvin [College], and later from the University of Notre Dame, Mr. Plantinga has led a movement of unapologetically Christian philosophers who, if they haven’t succeeded in persuading their still overwhelmingly unbelieving colleagues, have at least made theism philosophically respectable.

“There are vastly more Christian philosophers and vastly more visible or assertive Christian philosophy now than when I left graduate school,” Mr. Plantinga said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Grand Rapids, adding, with characteristic modesty, “I have no idea how it happened.”

Mr. Plantinga retired from full-time teaching last year, with more than a dozen books and a past presidency of the American Philosophical Association to his name. But he’s hardly resting on those laurels. Having made philosophy safe for theism, he’s now turning to a harder task: making theism safe for science.

For too long, Mr. Plantinga contends in a new book, theists have been on the defensive, merely rebutting the charge that their beliefs are irrational. It’s time for believers in the old-fashioned creator God of the Bible to go on the offensive, he argues, and he has some sports metaphors at the ready. (Not for nothing did he spend two decades at Notre Dame.)

In “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism,” published last week by Oxford University Press, he unleashes a blitz of densely reasoned argument against “the touchdown twins of current academic atheism,” the zoologist Richard Dawkins and the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, spiced up with some trash talk of his own.

[…] Longtime readers of Mr. Plantinga, who was raised as a Presbyterian and who embraced the Calvinism of the Christian Reformed Church as a young man, are used to such invocations of theological concepts. And even philosophers who reject his theism say his arguments for the basic rationality of belief, laid out in books like “Warranted Christian Belief” and “God and Other Minds,” constitute an important contribution that every student of epistemology would be expected to know.

But Mr. Plantinga’s steadfast defense of the biochemist and intelligent-design advocate Michael Behe, the subject of a long chapter in the new book, is apparently another matter.

“I think deep down inside he really isn’t a friend of science,” Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at Florida State University, said of Mr. Plantinga. “I’m not objecting to him wanting to defend theism. But I think he gets his victory at the level of gelding or significantly altering modern science in unacceptable ways.”

Mr. Dennett was even harsher, calling Mr. Plantinga “Exhibit A of how religious beliefs can damage or hinder or disable a philosopher,” not to mention a poor student of biology. Evolution is a random, unguided process, he said, and Mr. Plantinga’s effort to leave room for divine intervention is simply wishful thinking.

“It’s just become more and more transparent that he’s an apologist more than a serious, straight-ahead philosopher,” Mr. Dennett said.

When Mr. Plantinga and Mr. Dennett (who said he has not read Mr. Plantinga’s new book) faced off over these questions before a standing-room-only crowd at a 2009 meeting of the American Philosophical Association, the event prompted ardent online debate over who had landed better punches, or simply been more condescending. (A transcript of the proceedings was published last year as “Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?”)

Mr. Plantinga, who recalled the event as “polite but not cordial,” allowed that he didn’t think much of Mr. Dennett’s line of reasoning. “He didn’t want to argue,” Mr. Plantinga said. “It was more like he wanted to make assertions and tell stories.”

Would you like to know how well Daniel Dennett can debate the naturalism/theism dispute? First of all, Plantinga has debated Dennett, and you can find the audio for it at Apologetics 315.

William Lane Craig also presented several arguments against naturalism to Daniel Dennett in 2007, and Dennett responded by calling it a “first-rate piece of philosophical reasoning”. I link to the exchange and complain about Dennett’s weak response to Craig’s arguments in a previous post.

You may also find this recent interview with Alvin Plantinga, conducted by Brian Auten, informative.

The resurgence of Christian theism in analytical philosophy

Now let’s move from the specific to the aggregate. What is going on with these Christian philosophers?

Well, you can read an excellent article about the resurgence of Christian theism in philosophy departments in the peer-reviewed philosophy journal Philo, which, in my opinion, is the best journal for atheists and agnostic philosophers. The article is authored by the well-known atheist Quentin Smith.

He writes:

THE DESECULARIZATION OF ACADEMIA THAT EVOLVED IN PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENTS SINCE THE LATE 1960s

By the second half of the twentieth century, universities and colleges had been become in the main secularized. The standard (if not exceptionless) position in each field, from physics to psychology, assumed or involved arguments for a naturalist world-view; departments of theology or religion aimed to understand the meaning and origins of religious writings, not to develop arguments against naturalism. Analytic philosophers (in the mainstream of analytic philosophy) treated theism as an antirealist or non-cognitivist world-view, requiring the reality, not of a deity, but merely of emotive expressions or certain “forms of life” (of course there were a few exceptions, e.g., Ewing, Ross, Hartshorne, etc., but I am discussing the mainstream view).

[…]The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of Plantinga’s influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967. It became apparent to the philosophical profession that this book displayed that realist theists were not outmatched by naturalists in terms of the most valued standards of analytic philosophy: conceptual precision, rigor of argumentation, technical erudition, and an in-depth defense of an original world-view. This book, followed seven years later by Plantinga’s even more impressive book, The Nature of Necessity, made it manifest that a realist theist was writing at the highest qualitative level of analytic philosophy, on the same playing field as Carnap, Russell, Moore, Grünbaum, and other naturalists. Realist theists, whom hitherto had segregated their academic lives from their private lives, increasingly came to believe (and came to be increasingly accepted or respected for believing) that arguing for realist theism in scholarly publications could no longer be justifiably regarded as engaging in an “academically unrespectable” scholarly pursuit.

Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga’s writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Although many theists do not work in the area of the philosophy of religion, so many of them do work in this area that there are now over five philosophy journals devoted to theism or the philosophy of religion, such as Faith and Philosophy, Religious Studies, International Journal of the Philosophy of Religion, Sophia, Philosophia Christi, etc. Philosophia Christi began in the late 1990s and already is overflowing with submissions from leading philosophers. Can you imagine a sizeable portion of the articles in contemporary physics journals suddenly presenting arguments that space and time are God’s sensorium (Newton’s view) or biology journals becoming filled with theories defending élan vital or a guiding intelligence? Of course, some professors in these other, non-philosophical, fields are theists; for example, a recent study indicated that seven percent of the top scientists are theists.1 However, theists in other fields tend to compartmentalize their theistic beliefs from their scholarly work; they rarely assume and never argue for theism in their scholarly work. If they did, they would be committing academic suicide or, more exactly, their articles would quickly be rejected, requiring them to write secular articles if they wanted to be published. If a scientist did argue for theism in professional academic journals, such as Michael Behe in biology, the arguments are not published in scholarly journals in his field (e.g., biology), but in philosophy journals (e.g., Philosophy of Science and Philo, in Behe’s case). But in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, “academically respectable” to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today. A count would show that in Oxford University Press’ 2000–2001 catalogue, there are 96 recently published books on the philosophy of religion (94 advancing theism and 2 presenting “both sides”). By contrast, there are 28 books in this catalogue on the philosophy of language, 23 on epistemology (including religious epistemology, such as Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief), 14 on metaphysics, 61 books on the philosophy of mind, and 51 books on the philosophy of science.

And how have naturalist philosophers reacted to what some committed naturalists might consider as “the embarrassment” of belonging to the only academic field that has allowed itself to lose the secularization it once had? Some naturalists wish to leave the field, considering themselves as no longer doing “philosophy of mind,” for example, but instead “cognitive science.” But the great majority of naturalist philosophers react by publicly ignoring the increasing desecularizing of philosophy (while privately disparaging theism, without really knowing anything about contemporary analytic philosophy of religion) and proceeding to work in their own area of specialization as if theism, the view of approximately one-quarter or one-third of their field, did not exist. (The numbers “one-quarter” and “one-third” are not the result of any poll, but rather are the exceptionless, educated guesses of every atheist and theist philosophy professor I have asked [the answers varied between “one-quarter” and “one-third”]). Quickly, naturalists found themselves a mere bare majority, with many of the leading thinkers in the various disciplines of philosophy, ranging from philosophy of science (e.g., Van Fraassen) to epistemology (e.g., Moser), being theists. The predicament of naturalist philosophers is not just due to the influx of talented theists, but is due to the lack of counter-activity of naturalist philosophers themselves. God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.

Quentin Smith is a good friend of William Lane Craig, who is a philosopher/theologian and the top Christian defender in the world, and probably of all time. Smith is the co-author, with William Lane Craig, of the book “Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology“, also published by Oxford University Press. Craig and Smith debated at Harvard University in 2003, and I transcribed the debate for posterity. If some of you are looking for a way to help promote Christian apologetics, you should pick a debate that hasn’t been transcribed and transcribe it. A lot of people read these debate transcripts. I had them printed out in my binder when I was an undergraduate student, in case my professors got boring! I like a good fight.

On a lighter note, my office plant is named Alvin Plantinga. It was grown in water and then given to me by an atheist with whom I work. We discuss these interesting topics over lunch every few months. And so should you. Why not send the New York Times article and the Philo article to an atheist in your office and get the conversation started? There’s enough in this post alone to help you sound like Alvin Plantinga!

William Lane Craig explains God’s omniscience

What does God know? What does it mean to be omniscient?

Summary:

Robert Lawrence Kuhn (host of PBS’ “Closer to Truth”) asks William Lane Craig on God’s omniscience. Questions explored: What does it mean for God to be omniscience? What is meant by proposition? What is meant by non-propositional knowledge? Does God have propositional or non-propositional knowledge? What is the difference between natural knowledge, free knowledge, and middle knowledge? Who is Luis de Molina?

The interviewer is very intelligent and does a great interview!

Tons more videos here. I may post some more when I watch more.