It’s a truly terrible title for a post, I admit, but I just couldn’t resist. Sorry.
Anyway, on to the substance. In 2011 Wesleyan philosopher Jerry Walls published an article, “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist,” in Philosophia Christi. A compatibilist is one who holds that freedom is compatible with determinism (in this context, divine determinism). Walls’s arguments are targeted primarily at Calvinists, who typically endorse a compatibilist view of free will (and rightly so). Variants of Walls’s criticisms are pretty commonplace among non-Reformed Christian philosophers (hence the “Co” of the title).
The most recent issue of Philosophia Christi (Summer 2015) includes a splendid response to Walls’s article by Steven Cowan and Greg Welty. Greg has posted the article on his website with some scene-setting context and interesting commentary on how the debate between classical theists and non-classical theists is playing out. (Note also the link to an addendum to the printed article with fourteen ‘bonus’ rebuttals.)
Philosophy matters, because theology matters. It’s encouraging to see this important issue debated with respectfully but rigorously in the pages of a peer-reviewed philosophy journal.
A couple of months ago I received a polite and thoughtful email from a student at Princeton University with some criticisms of my little book What’s Your Worldview?. I’m reproducing the email here (with the author’s permission) with my responses interspersed.
I recently picked up and read your book What’s Your Worldview? The questions you posed were fascinating—I always love these kinds of philosophical questions. I also enjoyed the fact that the book is meant to be an “interactive” guide to the discovery of a worldview (no doubt a complex task).
I respect your worldview. However, I found your presentation of the opposing views to be highly biased. I do not fault you for being biased; as you say in your introduction, we are all unavoidably biased (“Does that mean the whole book is biased? Well, sure!”). I disagree, however, that bias cannot be hidden (or at least, not so obviously flaunted as it is here).
Last week a shocking video was released which showed the Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, casually discussing how to perform abortions so that the murdered baby’s body parts can be preserved and sold for medical research. A second video was released today by the Center for Medical Progress which features another of Planned Parenthood’s top doctors, Dr. Mary Gatter, apparently negotiating over the price of organs harvested from aborted babies.
This is truly horrific material, even if we should not be surprised given what we already know about how the abortion industry operates. So much could be said about the ethical and political dimensions, and most of it has already been said by others more eloquent than me. (I particularly appreciated Brit Hume’s short but hard-hitting commentary.) However, I do have one observation to add to the discussion, which I haven’t yet come across elsewhere.
[The following article appeared in the June 2015 issue of Tabletalk magazine. It is reproduced here with permission.]
“What is truth?” Pilate’s question reflected a jaded skepticism toward the very idea of truth rather than a serious philosophical inquiry. How tragic that a man entrusted with matters of life and death should express such a cynical attitude. And how very different should be the attitude of Christians, whom Jesus described as those who are “of the truth” (John 18:37).
The supreme value of truth is evidenced by the presence of the ninth commandment in the Decalogue: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). The commandment is most immediately concerned with truthfulness in a judicial context. Deuteronomy 19:15-21 gives instructions about witnesses in a criminal case. A single witness is insufficient to establish a charge; there must be two or three witnesses (Deut. 17:6; see also Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19). If there is any question about the integrity of a witness, the judges must “inquire diligently,” and if the witness is found to be a “false witness” (Heb. eid-sheker—the same term used in Ex. 20:16), he must receive the very penalty that would have been applied to the accused. Thus, perjury carried a maximum penalty of death under the Mosaic law.
Some sage advice from Greg Welty, who knows whereof he speaks.
In a debate with Rabbi David Wolpe in 2008, the late Christopher Hitchens inveighed against Wolpe’s claim to have knowledge of God:
By what right, rabbi, do you say that you know God better than they do, that your God is better than theirs, that you have an access that I can’t claim to have, to knowing not just that there is a God, but that you know his mind. You put it modestly, but it is a fantastically arrogant claim that you make — an incredibly immodest claim.
I was reminded of Hitchens’ objection, and similar ones in his exchanges with Douglas Wilson, when I saw the following tweet by proselytizing atheist Peter Boghossian (retweeted, presumably with approval, by Richard Dawkins):
I take it Boghossian doesn’t mean exactly what he says here, because as a matter of fact some people have made both claims. Rather, his point is that one cannot consistently make both claims. Why? Apparently because he thinks it’s inherently prideful or arrogant to claim to know God’s will. The same would go for the claim to know other things about God, such as his purposes for us and for the universe as a whole. And of all things what could be more arrogant than the claim of Christians to know God personally?
I recently received a query from a reader who is eager to learn more about analytic philosophy, and to develop the skills and strategies valued by analytic philosophers, in order to apply them in his own field (which is not philosophy). Since I’ve been asked similar questions in the past, I thought it would be good to post something here about how to “get into” analytic philosophy and how to learn the “tools of the trade”. No doubt there are many people who could give better advice here, but since I’m the one who received the query, I ought to give it a shot! (I welcome comments from any other readers who work in analytic philosophy.)
Last year I posted an approving review of Nigel Biggar’s In Defence of War. One topic Biggar doesn’t directly address in his book is the ethics of nuclear deterrence. This omission he has now remedied with an excellent article on the moral and practical rationale for nuclear deterrence and the role of the UK in holding nuclear weapons. His argument is particularly important in light of the sweeping electoral victory in Scotland enjoyed by the SNP this week and their stated position on the UK’s Trident programme.
Frédéric Bastiat, writing in 1850:
When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns its back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe.
Isaiah 5:20 immediately comes to mind. No further commentary needed, I assume, unless you’ve been living as a hermit for the last decade.