Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Is Faith Practical?

“Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.” – William James Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have remarked, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” Making a decision is difficult for many of us because most of the time we need to do so without having all the information necessary to make a choice that anticipates all outcomes and addresses all possible questions. I was reminded of this recently while giving my daughter a driving lesson. About to pull onto a busy road, she asked me whether it was safe to go. I evaluated the environment and, while a few vehicles were approaching some distance away in the right-hand lane, I anticipated that she had enough time to pull out safely and told her to go ahead. As she began to pull forward, I saw a large pickup speeding past the other cars in the left-hand lane rapidly approach our entry point. But it was too late--she was committed. She cut off the driver in the truck and after I uttered a choice word or two, she scolded me for my obviously faulty advice. After we both calmed down, I explained to her that driving often involves making split-second decisions and often having to adjust to a rapidly-changing situation. I later realized that the near accident was my fault, not because I misjudged the situation, but because I attempted to make the judgment at all. As the driver, the decision should have been hers and she should have gone when she judged it was safe. In his fine book, The Metaphysical Club , Louis Menand describes William James (d. 1910) as a man who viewed the ability to make decisions in the teeth of risk and uncertainty as a mark of true character. James came to realize very early in life that for many of the choices we face, we lack conclusive reasons (and don’t have prospects for gathering them) and that to be human is to take risks about the things we believe. But James himself found it difficult to live with his own philosophy. Earning an M.D. from Harvard, James (whose his sister referred to as a “blob of mercury”) changed disciplines not once but three times moving from medicine, to psychology, to philosophy. It is no wonder then that his Gifford Lectures, The Varieties of Religious Experience, is a project in which he attempts to develop a philosophy, Pragmatism, that attempts to find equal epistemic standing to both science and religion. Why settle for one when you can have both? By briefly examining Pragmatism, we can get a better handle on some of the essential concepts that drives existentialist thought and look at how that thought informs our understanding of religious belief.1 I claimed in previous essays that in many communities (confining my analysis to fairly traditional communities in the West) religious belief is grounded by way of an existential leap of faith. Fundamental to this move is the idea that a rationalist approach to belief—deciding to believe in God based on whether one determines there is enough evidence to do so—is itself a leap of faith but of the entirely wrong kind. Religious commitment is just that: a decision to commit oneself wholly to a person experientially not adhering to an idea intellectually. But what does one do with the apparent evidence that would seem to conflict with such a commitment?  Hasn’t science provided us with models of biological development and cosmology that undermine any rational belief in a divine being?  Hasn’t it demonstrated that miracles can’t occur, that belief in divine activity a delusion, that religious commitment is sociologically dangerous? Hasn’t science removed any explanatory role religion might play in a reasonable person’s worldview? If so, then the person that wishes to be rational (or at least believe that the scientific method is truth conducive) and still maintain religious beliefs is a bifurcated individual that lives in a world where reality has to live alongside fantasy. James attempted to show that this decidedly is not the case. At the root of his argument was a rejection of the idea that the scope of the explanatory power of science and reason should take pride of place in our epistemology. In fact, James says, when it comes to understanding what it means to be human (or to use language I introduced in an earlier essay: to understand existence rather than essence), science is rather weak. He writes, Nevertheless, if we look on man's whole mental life as it exists, on the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and that they inwardly and privately follow, we have to confess that the part of it of which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial. It is the part that has the prestige undoubtedly, for it has the loquacity, it can challenge you for proofs, and chop logic, and put you down with words. But it will fail to convince or convert you all the same, if your dumb intuitions are opposed to its conclusions. If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your faiths, your needs, your divinations, have prepared the premises, of which your consciousness now feels the weight of the result; and something in you absolutely knows that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.2 William Barrett, who we met in an earlier essay, confirms that Existentialism essentially agrees with James here. Existentialist thought is essentially at odds with any thoroughgoing scientism—the view that the methods of the hard sciences can fully explain our essence as well as tell us what it all means. American philosophy is dominated by analytic philosophy (Barrett says "Logical Positivism" is another term for this) which has at its core science--the defining feature of modern culture. However analytic philosophy then goes on and attempts to establish the unsupportable idea that "science is the ultimate ruler of human life, which it never has been and psychologically never can be. Positivist man is a curious creature who dwells in the tiny island of light composed of what he finds scientifically 'meaningful,' while the whole surrounding area in which ordinary men live from day to day and have their dealings with other men is consigned to the outer darkness of the 'meaninglessness' " 3 In order to understand this idea, we need to grasp a key concept in both Pragmatist and Existentialist thought. That is, that reason is epistemically limited. For James (and other Pragmatists like C.S. Pierce and Blaise Pascal), there are certain beliefs about which reason is unable to help us decide. There are ideas for which, either due to their complexity or nature, reason can play little or no role.  In these cases, we are forced to start with our intuitions and experiences and make judgments solely based on their overall value in holding them or the overall value in the means by which the judgment is made. For example, if a lifelong friend is accused—ostensibly on the basis of solid but inconclusive physical evidence--of a crime, say murder. You know your friend to be gentle, kindhearted, a lover of humanity, and not prone to rash action, you may choose to believe in his innocence even if the authorities claim they have strong but inconclusive evidence of his guilt. You maintain your friend’s innocence because of the experiences you’ve had and because you deem it more valuable to be loyal than to make a judgment when you are unable to draw a conclusion based on the evidence. The key here is that adjudicating between the guilt or innocence of your friend is impossible solely based on the evidence. This is not a trivial point which we’ll return to momentarily. In this case, you draw a conclusion (make a decision) on other grounds—practical grounds—that have little to do with where you think the evidence leads. James argues that reason is just as inadequate a guide when it comes to religious matters. So to accept the pragmatist position, one first has to believe two key propositions. First, that adjudicating between the truth claims of religion and the truth claims of atheism is not possible. Second, that given the truth of the first proposition, believing religious truth claims is still valuable. The first proposition is essential to understanding the Pragmatist solution and without fully embracing it, Pragmatism appears to be grossly ad hoc. The Pragmatist does not need to deny the value of reason entirely. However for certain questions, reason is limited if not altogether irrelevant. Religion should be accepted because of it’s overall practical usefulness (consider Pascal’s famous “wager” argument). “If we pass from disbeliefs to positive beliefs, it seems to me that there is not even a formal inconsistency to be laid against our method.” says James. “The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can use, the gods whose demands on us are reinforcements of our demands on ourselves and on one another….Religions have approved themselves; they have ministered to sundry vital needs which they found reigning. When they violated other needs too strongly, or when other faiths came which served the same needs better, the first religions were supplanted.”4 In one step James not only provides a ground for religious belief but also for adjudicating between religious truth claims. If you want to decide which religion to believe in, you must first decide which beliefs are pragmatically live options for you. Notice here that James isn’t considering the truth of the belief because such consideration is not possible. That is, we not only cannot determine the truth value of the claim “God exists” but we have no prospects for determining its truth. I don’t think James’ position is that knowing that God exists (or does not exist) is logically impossible. Only that given our current epistemic situation, it’s practically not viable. Philosopher Peter van Inwagen explores this possibility at the end of his excellent Metaphysics. He suggests that certain questions in metaphysics and theology may be beyond the intellectual capacity of humans. “If we cannot know why there is anything at all, or why there should be rational beings, or how thought and feeling are possible, or how our conviction that we have free will could possibly be true, why should that astonish us? What reason have we, what reason could we possibly have, for thinking that our intellectual abilities are equal to the task of answering these questions?”5 Perhaps questions about specific religious beliefs fall into this category and if so, religious belief, if it is to be held at all, won’t be grounded on reason. When faced with the option of believing in religious truth claims, then, you have to decide what you will do with them. If your experience leads you to believe in a higher power or an ethical system that only makes sense on religion, then turning to reason to help you decide may be a fool’s errand. But decision-making in the Jamesian model appear to be intensely personal. And this leads to a consequence I’ve been flirting with in this series and one we’ll have to examine more closely later: if deciding to believe is a personal matter and not publicly falsifiable, either the believer should refrain from making public claims about the implication of those beliefs or the beliefs themselves have no public relevance. A driver who chooses to believe that her vehicle may be able to fly (who can know, really?) either should leave the car in the garage or drive as if it can’t. Copyright © 2010 Philosophy News Service 1. Purists will undoubtedly (and rightly) object to placing pragmatism under the broad rubric of existentialism. I will attempt to call out the distinctions in these views both in this essay and in future essays. I’m categorizing pragmatism as a form of existentialism—at least when it comes to religion--mainly because I think their similarities far outweigh their differences and for ease of exposition. 2. James, W. (1997). The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Touchstone. (74) 3. Barrett, W. (1963). Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books. (21) 4. James, 1997. (264-265) 5. Inwagen, P. v. (1993). Metaphysics. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. (201) Series index << Previous in series Next in series >>    

Study Breaks: In the mind or the body?

Stanford researchers find that the “need” for study breaks has less to do with our biology and more to do with our beliefs. "If you think of willpower as something that's biologically limited, you're more likely to be tired when you perform a difficult task," said Veronika Job, the paper's lead author. "But if you think of willpower as something that is not easily depleted, you can go on and on." Of course if the mind just is the brain, then the distinction between biologically needing a break and believing that you need one becomes a false distinction. Isn't it? I need a break.

Faith and Reason in Existentialist Thought

"There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it." – George Bernard Shaw I sit here at 1am writing this essay. I put in a full day at the office, spend hours commuting to and from work, and then enjoy time with my family over dinner and a movie. I work on my finances, do some minor chores around the house and then retire to my study to read and write. I sip on a glass of wine and settle into a relaxing peace that only comes late at night among my books which force me to reflect on why I forego much-needed rest, rebelling against the requirement my bourgeois lifestyle has placed on me. My immediate, placating rationale for my rebellion is that I love philosophy—which I do. But that’s not it. Ultimately its because I want my life to mean something beyond mere being in the world. I want my life to mean something—however small--to the wider world in order to somehow flaunt the standard-issue fact that I merely spent time on this planet. It’s an ineffable pull to expand beyond myself, if such a thing is possible, and become something more than common. But the yearning is a black hole. The more of my life I throw into it, the more it demands. It’s insatiable and that insatiability is the ultimate human paradox. We are mortal animals with an inevitable expiration date and we have the unenviable capacity to know it. There are both religious and non-religious interpretations of this struggle.1 But some thinkers have recognized a common thread that cuts along the religious axis. They have seen this paradox as the battle between what we are and what we strive to become. Our rational part demands that we acknowledge our animality and the place such creatures have in the world. Eat well, exercise, don’t be a burden and help where you can, raise the next generation, and when its time to go, leave the place pretty much as you find it and you can ensure a well-attended eulogy. This is what we are, this is our essence and we must deal with it. But to be human is to be dissatisfied with this cold, common evaluation. We are beings in the world who have the ability to make choices that shape what we can become.  We believe our future is not determined and that the inexorable laws of the universe can be heated just enough by our will to allow us to bend them and shape them into what we desire. Ultimately, the universe wins but in our short time here, we strive to become and not merely be. We work towards a kind of transcendence in the constant battle against finitude. This interpretation has broadly been labeled existentialism and the general framework has had strong religions and secular proponents. Greek philosophy is based on the examination of essence. It attempts to analyze the way things are as the basis for what they can become. Put simply this approach places essence before existence. In terms of the human condition, it sought to first understand our essential properties and from there establish our contingent ones. Existentialism is the philosophy that this approach is, to our detriment, utterly wrong: it is existence that precedes essence. The essence of being human just is to live, to exist, to become. The person that lives solely based on the rude functioning of the animal—the thing that eats, sleeps, has sex, produces waste, and repeats the cycle day after day—isn’t a human. He is little more than an animal. To be human is to transcend the mere functions of the body and mind and to become something more.  But making this move has a frightening consequence. It unleashes humanity into a chaotic world that, as Hobbes observed, is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. To be human, is to fully embrace that reality and acknowledge that each of us is that poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage to, at the end, be heard no more. To live existentially is to face that bracing truth and yet strive to become. Sola fides quarens intellectum The major theme of this series is that modern religion is made up of two seemingly incompatible epistemologies and it is the social implications of this amalgam that is driving much of the modern debate over religion. Modern faith is grounded on a commitment to a person and as such is thought to be isolated from any rationalist critique. At the same time, people of faith claim that their beliefs are true and as justified as any axiom in science. Religious belief, I’m claiming, is not formed or grounded in reason but many believers also want to insist that it is certainly not unreasonable. As I’ve stated previously, religious belief is grounded existentially. But what does this mean exactly? Existentialism, almost by definition, eludes analysis. Using language to describe existentialist thought, even by existentialists themselves, is difficult if not impossible. Existentialism is not a system, does not have creeds or a core set of doctrines, it’s resistant to slogans and labels. It is elusive, changeable, and essentially individualistic. William Barrett, who has attempted to gather the many loose threads of existentialist thought and perhaps done so more successfully than any other writer, describes existentialism not as a typical philosophy or a spectrum of philosophies, but as a philosophy that transcends philosophy. It is the “individual human personality itself struggling for self-realization."2 One does not arrive at existentialism as a conclusion to a set of arguments but lives “existentially.” Existentialism is the state of being in the world and the process of becoming a unified individual. The individual is the start and end of existentialist thought and is why it serves such an important role in grounding faith. Perhaps existentialism is the only ideology that could fulfill this role. Thorough-going existentialists will insist that every worldview must start and end with the individual and one finds it difficult to argue against this conclusion. Somewhat obviously, each person gets at his or her world through their own perceptions which are colored by their dispositions, environment, and other beliefs. In other words, worldviews are not things that exist apart from the individuals that possess them. And it’s fairly safe to say that no two persons have ever shared or will ever share the same worldview. A key existentialist insight is that no doxastic practice makes sense apart from the individual. As we’ll see later, Kierkegaard attempted to show (not argue) how such a view not only fits within the Christian worldview but how the Christian worldview doesn’t exist without it. But the focus on the individual sets the stage for the idea that religious belief is grounded inwardly and then expressed not vice versa. The individual chooses to put his or her faith in God, chooses to trust Him, chooses to give her life over to Him. Christianity is defined (if it can be defined) solely in terms of these choices and thus is not a product of some public,  rational, exercise. The true believer is one that lives for, not merely thinks about God. He is the servant and the lover, not the philosopher or the scientist. Many within modern religious circles resonate with these ideas though they are very uncomfortable with the dichotomy. Christianity, for example, allows one to be both a servant and a scholar and there is no need to choose between the two they say. And this is where the contemporary rub comes.  Copyright © 2010 Philosophy News Service 1. Religious interpretations from Christianity to Buddhism (if the latter should rightly be called a religion) have provided a transcendental framework in which to understand this transcendental striving. Many theistic religions, for example, describe it as the soul’s latent desire to be one with its creator. It’s a “divine thirst” that can only be fully satiated when the soul leaves the body and is unified with God but can partially be slaked in this life by living for God (see 2 Corinthians 5: 6-9 in the Christian Bible for example). 2. (Barrett, W. (1963). Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books., p. 13) Copyright © 2010 Philosophy News Series index << Previous in series Next in series >>    

Bookshelf: Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World

Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World Dowd's conclusions (insofar as they're decipherable) seem consistent with a desire to retain the engine of religion--what could broadly be called the existential urge--without having to invoke the God of traditional theisms as the object of religious sentiment. Dowd's god however is a personification of the universe as a whole and he views the universe as a living organism that is made conscious through the large mammalian brains of homo sapiens (as far as we can tell). Unfortunately, Dowd does both religion and science a disservice. Religion without God is unintelligible and science characterized by excessive sentimentality is diluted. Dowd's narrative ends up being far too thick on sentiment and much too thin on substance. Dowd doesn’t argue for his positions, he preaches them. As with any sermon, one either chooses to accept it or reject it. Anyone looking for a religious version of Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth should look elsewhere (The classic The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James is a good alternate). For those who have ears to hear, Dowd’s narrative is also quite condescending to positions he finds anachronistic and outdated. His message to the modernist laggards is clear: get up to speed or you will be culpable for the world’s problems. Dowd casts himself as a visionary who peers in the not-so-distant future and has a sort of friendly contempt for those who remain stuck on a pre-enlightened worldview (in both science and religion). Dowd attempts a rich stew made up of equal parts religion and science but ends up creating a thin, bland, lukewarm swill garnished with rose petals.

How Do Faith and Reason Relate?

Many years ago while working at a small bookstore in Portland Oregon, I was thumbing through a trade journal that was lying around the stock room and I came across an interview with Billy Graham. The interview was fairly standard fare as those things go except for the answer to one question which, I recall, struck me when I read it and still strikes me 15 years later. The journal asked Graham how he developed his core Christian beliefs. His answer was both simple and, in many ways, brutally honest. He replied, In the moonlight, I went into the woods. I opened the Bible and laid it on a tree stump. Then I knelt down and said, ‘Oh, God, I don’t understand all that is in this book. Many things seem to be contradictory. I cannot intellectually accept it, but I am going to accept it by faith as your Word, your inspired, divine Word.’ And I did accept it by faith, and I never had a doubt since then. While this quote probably does not accurately reflect many important nuances of how Billy Graham came to faith, it does, I think, embody the caricatured tension that exists between faith and reason. More importantly, it resonates with many religious people and perhaps accurately describes how they came to have faith in God. In these short sentences, Graham describes a kind of faith that has real epistemological power and provides a window into the existential grounding on which many religious people establish or sustain religious belief—a subject I introduced in the previous post in this series. In future essays, I briefly will explore existentialist philosophy with the goal of better understanding the nature of this grounding and to further unlock the apparent tension that exists in modern discussions of faith and science. Before exploring existentialism, I find it necessary first to attempt to define what is meant by the term “faith” and how it relates definitionally to reason or rationality. As we’ll see in the discussion on existentialism, faith as a practical idea is present in all worldviews and it would be incorrect to describe it merely as a religious concept. It does, however, take on special meaning in a religious context and religious people tend to be much more open to the role and importance it plays in their worldview.   What is faith? Faith is not a purely epistemic concept. When trying to define faith solely within the bounds of epistemology, the definition either ends up being inadequate or else it misses its target altogether. While some attempt a purely epistemic description, typically faith involves an affective or aspirational element. Richard Swinburne makes this point when he writes, “Some . . . writers . . . use ‘faith’ interchangeably with ‘belief’ . . . Christian faith is used to mean a belief that certain central Christian doctrines are true. For others, Christian faith is the belief that these doctrines are true accompanied by some affective component (such as a love of God or hatred of one’s sins).” 1 Many view religious faith as belief along with trusting the object of belief (God) and on this point, religious faith may differ from what we might call faith in general. Philosopher Paul Helm describes faith this way. Essentially, a person exercises faith by having a trust relationship with a person. But, says Helm, faith also involves a modicum of understanding (where understanding is a form of propositional knowledge) about the person who is trusted. After all, one has to know something about the person in whom she is trusting. A common theme in Augustine and Aquinas is the idea that faith is epistemically prior (insofar as belief in God is concerned) and understanding is a secondary, though important, augment to that faith. Faith is the means by which one exercises trust in the object of the understanding.2 Philosophical theologian and erstwhile president of the College of New Jersey (the school we now know as Princeton University) Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) in his famous discourse on the religious affections treats faith similarly. The affections, he says, are one of the two main functions of the soul. The other is reason. The affections of the soul are its inclination toward an object. In fact, the affections are, in one sense, not to be distinguished from the will. They drive a person toward an object of delight. It is in this capacity that the characteristic evidence of true faith lays. He finds a place for evidence in his development of the ground of belief in the truth of the gospel. He argues that testimony cannot replace evidence when it comes to truth. He is quick to point out however that reasons and arguments alone are sufficient. In order to explain this, Edwards develops a concept of the spiritual sense. Reasons and arguments are useful only when the Spirit has worked to illuminate the understanding so the individual has eyes to see and ears to hear. He says the Spirit “unveils” the mind so it can grasp the truth. Also, he has a role for direct apprehension and intuition when it comes to religious belief. However this apprehension is not apart from any and all argument or deduction just long chains of arguments. In fact he says the deductive chain is one link long: by way of the divine glory does the mind ascend to the truth of God. Thus faith, for Edwards, is a combination of a spiritual awakening that allows one to understand the rational grounds for the truth of the gospel.3 With faith in general, the object takes on a variety of different forms. One of the leading philosophers of the 20th century, Roderick Chisholm, while being the embodiment of the analytic philosopher, still understood that even those committed to a largely rationalist approach to knowledge start with a leap of faith. Chisholm observes that certain things are presupposed when philosophers attempt to answer questions about what we are justified in believing and what were are justified in presupposing when we attempt to answer that question.  “Certain things are presupposed by the fact that one is able to ask the questions.” Be assuming that the enterprise of epistemology is possible—an assumption without which knowledge gathering could not proceed according to Chisholm—”epistemologists presuppose that they can succeed.” This means that epistemologists “have a kind of faith in themselves.” I think Chisholm’s point is that these assumptions and presuppositions must be made but they themselves cannot be proven by some prior or more basic method. It is faith that one is rational and that the rational method can get one at truth. 4 We’ll examine the other extreme when we survey existentialism. Existentialist thought puts a much greater emphasis on the faith component and minimizes (and in some cases eliminates) any role for reason in knowledge gathering. A middle way Between these extremes, some are attempting to find a rapprochement—a middle way. F. Leron Shults, while writing in a religious context, defines faith more broadly as “trust in the fecundity of a web of beliefs, which itself has been mediated by our experience.” This definition could apply to faith in general or religious faith in particular though the object of trust for Shults appears to remain this-worldly. He rejects the strong dichotomy between faith and reason so present in the modern discussion and argues that the scientific rejection of the “fiduciary” component of knowledge is just as misguided as the rejection of strict rationalism by religionists. Postmodern (what Shults calls “late modern”) thought provides the framework for an inter-disciplinary conversation while allowing each position to retain a kind of particularity. His model suggests that each of us can only start from our particular viewpoint which we, perhaps by necessity, must take to be objectively true. However we have learned that we must also hold that viewpoint with the knowledge that we are “socially located.” By that he means that we must recognize that not everyone holds that view and this forces us to engage in dialogue based on the “embodied desire” to learn about views that differ from our own. Starting with Kant (who, in my opinion, is the father of postmodernism), the notion of relation became a more fundamental category than substance and accident. From Kant we get Hegel then the existentialists and the pragmatists. All these thinkers emphasized relation (Hegel with his “synthesis,” Kierkegaard with his “relation of itself to itself” and Pierce with his three classes of relations) over opposites. Shults’s point is that neither side is primary but the the product of the two together is: the relation they create when they stand in juxtaposition. The same is true of faith and reason. Shults writes, “Instead of asking whether we should begin with rational proofs and ‘add’ faith when we hit a mystery, or whether we should begin with our fideistic commitments and then ‘add’ reasonable arguments only when pressed, we might begin with the relationality within which ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ are mutually constituted….Rationality involves committing oneself to a belief, and faith involves making judgments about what is trustworthy” 5  Each of these definitions has its merits and they generally fall along similar lines. For present purposes, I think the following definition will suffice: faith is belief which has the following two properties: (1) the justification which accrues to the propositional content of the object faith necessarily will be insufficient such that it cannot be known to be true and (2) the doxastic attitude of the one having faith includes an affective component usually involving trust in the object of faith. It’s not necessary up front to specify the justificatory strength for items of faith nor is it important to specify any particular basing relations between the object of faith and other beliefs. While important, these items should surface in a broader analysis of particular faith commitments—something I’ll attempt to do in future posts. When Billy Graham, by faith, accepted the Bible as God’s inspired, divine word, he apparently came to believe that the Bible is inspired by trusting God as the author. He, in short, made a leap of faith. Copyright © 2010 Philosophy News Service Notes 1. Swinburne, R. (2009). Authority of Scripture, Tradition, and the Church. In T. P. Flint, & M. C. Rea (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press., pp. 25, 26. Swinburne makes the rather striking acknowledgment that “the Christian tradition has had no clear view of the nature of faith.” He also notes that Christian faith could also include the idea of “acting on the assumption that (or trusting that) Christian doctrines are true, and perhaps also believing that they are true or perhaps without that belief.” Needless to say that defining faith could either involve an epistemic component or not. If the definition of faith is unclear among theologians and philosophers, it gets even murkier outside of academic circles. 2. Helm, P. (1997). Faith and Understanding. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 3. Edwards, J. (1997). The Religious Affections. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust. 4. Chisholm, R. M. (1989). Theory of Knowledge (3 ed.). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 5. Shults, F. L. (2006). Trinitarian Faith Seeking Tranformative Understanding. In P. Clayton, & Z. Simpson (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press., p. 493 Series index << Previous in series Next in series >>    

Unlocking the Tension Between Faith and Reason

Faith positions that attempt to conserve what could be viewed as a classical position—that the power of faith comes not from its ability to explain the world but from its ability to transform it—is finding itself drastically removed from—and therefore increasingly in conflict with—a Western culture that is seeking to get by in this world by better understanding how it works. [More]

Dowling College Hosting Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

Oakdale, Long Island, New York, April 8th, 2011 In order to increase student awareness of and interest in philosophy, and to encourage contributions to the scholarly community, Dowling College Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies invites students to submit papers relating to any philosophical topic or period. Authors of accepted papers will be given the opportunity to present their work at Dowling College’s first undergraduate philosophy conference. Deadline for Submissions: January 15th, 2011 Submission Guidelines: Although papers must relate to a philosophical topic or period, that does not mean that other areas, such as psychology, sociology, neurology, biology, etc., are excluded. As long as the paper engages with its topic in a philosophical manner you are more than welcome to submit the paper. Presenters should plan on having 15 minutes to present their work (approx. 8-10 pages long). Time limits will be strictly enforced. Attach a copy of your submission in .doc or .docx format to an email, and send it to Adam Kohler at and Christian Perring at Within the email, please include your name, email address, and college/university that you are affiliated with. Please do not include your name on your paper, so that it may be reviewed “blind” by a committee of conference organizers. Authors whose papers are accepted will be notified by Feb 15, 2011. When you submit your paper, please indicate whether you would be interested acting as a discussant for another speaker's paper. Please remember that you do not have to be a philosophy major to submit a paper! All currently enrolled undergraduates are welcome to submit their work. The Rudolph Campus of Dowling College is located in Oakdale, NY. This is 50 miles from NYC, and 25 minutes walk from the Oakdale LIRR train station. For more information contact Adam Kohler at

Creation out of Nothing

This article in The Wall Street Journal is a promotional article summarizing a central argument in Stephen Hawking’s and Leonard Mlodinow new book, The Grand Design . In the article, Hawking and Mlodinow explain that the universe appears to be fine tuned to support life but no Designer is needed to do the fine tuning or the creating. Laws of physics predict universes like ours. Father Spitzer demurs. In this article, Spitzer explains that Hawking and Mlodinow employ a faulty metaphysic to explain their physics. Spitzer has a new book as well called New New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Thanks to Ben Olsen and Stan Dokupil for the links. See also: Hawking declares philosophy dead? Hawking’s M Theory

Where’s God When You Need Him?

A problem in theology and philosophy known as the hiddenness of God has challenged thinkers for centuries. The rational arguments have gone back and forth and even many of the New Atheists employ it in their books. Rick Pimentel provides a brief survey of some of these arguments—and some responses—in his latest article for the Table Talk series. He observes that many of the responses given by theologians don’t seem to provide an adequate response and then offers a possible way out. What do you think? See the full article here.

Latest News

Here are some of the things going on in philosophy
and the humanities.

See all News Items

Philosopher Spotlight

Conversations with philosophers, professional and non-professional alike.
Visit our podcast section for more interviews and conversations.

Interview with

Dr. Robert McKim
  • on Religious Diversity
  • Professor of Religion and Professor of Philosophy
  • Focuses on Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Alvin Plantinga
  • on Where the Conflict Really Lies
  • Emeritus Professor of Philosophy (UND)
  • Focuses on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Peter Boghossian
  • on faith as a cognitive sickness
  • Teaches Philosophy at Portland State University (Oregon)
  • Focuses on atheism and critical thinking
  • Has a passion for teaching in prisons
See all interviews


Twitter followers


News items posted


Page views per month

21 years

in publication

Latest Articles

See all Articles