A reader wrote in to ask for advice on material relevant from the move from Bare Theism to Xn Theism. I’m sympathetic with that request, because I think it’s a neglected point. I think that might be because there is much historical material which must come into the discussion then, and many philosophers aren’t as comfortable/knowledgeable about that.
Swinburne is both comfortable and knowledgeable in that area, and has written a fair amount about it across several books. An outline of suggested readings follows.
Apart from what Alvin Plantinga calls creative anti-realism, the two main philosophical options for many of us in the West are some version of naturalism and some version of Judeo-Christian theism. As its title indicates, J. P. Moreland’s The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism (SCM Press, 2009) supports the theistic position by way of a penetrating critique of naturalism and such associated doctrines as scientism. Moreland briefly discusses creative anti-realism in the guise of postmodernism on pp. 13-14, but I won’t report on that except to say that his arguments against it, albeit brief, are to my mind decisive. Section One of this review will present in some detail Moreland’s conception of naturalism and what it entails. Sections Two and Three will discuss his argument from consciousness for the existence of God. Section Four will ever so briefly report on the contents of the rest of the book. In Part Two of this review I hope to discuss Moreland’s critique of Thomas Nagel’s Dismissive Naturalism. Numbers in parentheses are page references. Words and phrases enclosed in double quotation marks are quotations from Moreland. Inverted commas are employed for mentioning and ‘scaring.’
Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Volume 2 is now on Amazon. OUP’s site lists it here, with the following information:
Table of Contents
Introduction , Jonathan L. Kvanvig
1. On Evil’s Vague Necessity , Michael J. Almeida, (University of Texas, San Antonio)
2. Epistemic Humility, Arguments from Evil, and Moral Skepticism , Daniel Howard-Snyder, (Western Washington University)
3. Fission, Freedom, and the Fall , Hud Hudson, (Western Washington University)
4. Evaluating Religion , Tomis Kapitan, (Northern Illinois University)
5. Against Deity Theories , Brian Leftow, (University of Oxford)
6. Pointless Suffering? How to Make the Problem of Evil Sufficiently Serious , Hugh J. McCann, (Texas A&M University)
7. Divine Will Theory: Intentions or Desires? , Christian Miller, (Wake Forest University, North Carolina)
8. Design Inferences in an Infinite Universe , Brad Monton, (University of Colorado, Boulder)
9. Gods , Graham Oppy, (Monash University, Australia)
10. The Evolutionary Answer to the Problem of Faith and Reason , J. L. Schellenberg, (Mount Saint Vincent University, Nova Scotia)
11. Lotteries and Miracles , Jordan Howard Sobel, (University of Toronto)
12. Ockhamism and Molinism — Foreknowledge and Prophecy , Ted A. Warfield, (University of Notre Dame)
This final chapter of Moser’s The Elusive God serves as both a summary and a guide for applying the ideas developed earlier in the book. As with the volume as a whole, Moser emphasizes the volitional role we play in coming to have evidence of God’s perfectly loving and noncoercive redemptive purposes.
Much of what Moser says is, I think, something that most Christians would agree with quite easily: the importance of finding and knowing God, the ways in which life is a gift, how eternal life is received rather than earned, the impact of death, that our only hope to escape death requires something outside of ourselves, the difference btween self-interestedness and the vice of selfishness, etc…. And there is much that I like here (such as his discussion of faith as a disposition to trust God). But, in what is (perhaps unfortunately) standard philosophical fashion, I’ll focus on what’s unclear or potentially problematic.
A central theme here is that the “truth indicators that constitute evidence need not be arguments” (244); furthermore, it seems that Moser thinks of these indicators in a non-propositional way altogether, more along the lines of what Eleonore Stump calls ‘second-person experiences’. Surely Moser is right to say that “divine-human interpersonal interaction in direct firsthand knowledge of divine relvation” is central (245). But I think that Moser should grant (perhaps he does grant–it’s not clear to me) that propositional beliefs, and natural theology in particular, can help us decide whether such second-person experiences are veridical or not. If I have an experience of what I think is a direct encounter with God, say of an Abrahamic sort to kill my son Jameson, I’d want to test that experience in light of what I know about the nature of God before deciding to obey it. (This is particularly true if we take seriously, as Moser does, the ways in which sin can distort our thinking. More on this in a bit.) If I should “willingly ‘fall into the abyss of God’s incomprehensibility'” (246), I ought to make sure that it is God’s incomprehensibility that I am falling into–and beliefs will be an essential aspect of making this judgement.
(More below the fold…)
Deadlines have kept me away from the discussion since my last comment on, I think, one of the very first posts. So it’s good to have this deadline to make me get this post up. If Moser is playing John the Baptist here, am I doomed to play Judas? You’ll sense a lot of frustration with this chapter, but I tried to keep it light-hearted as usual. If you read me as outright angry, just imagine an emoticon smiley face at the end of every other paragraph. 🙂 I’m not angry or mean, just frustrated. Well I’m not angry anyway. The litany of questions pleading for clarification is below the fold.
There is quite a bit of interesting material in these sections; I’ve tried to cover most of it while keeping the word count down as much as possible. At the end, I’ll raise a couple of objections and propose a friendly(ish) amendment to Moser’s overall project.
Having left Athens behind, Moser turns his focus to Jerusalem, and in particular the “kerygmatic core” of the Good News movement, according to which God sent or raised Jesus (why not “and”?), the proper response to which brings certain benefits (p. 163). Moser then explores (pp. 164ff.) some of the controversial questions surrounding the atonement—i.e., some of the questions regarding the connection between the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus on the one hand, and the forgiveness of human sins (human “resistance to divine unselfish love”) on the other. Moser labels his approach to the atonement the divine manifest offering approach, and he summarizes it as follows (p. 165):
The NDPR Review of Linda’s new book can be found here. Though it is not written to address the topic of atonement in Christian theology, it has important implications for that area, and it is because of this connection that I note the review and the publication of the book. It looks like must-reading for anyone interested in theories of the atonement.
We return this week to Moser’s book The Elusive God. In these three sections Moser addresses God’s intervening Spirit, the acquaintance with the power of God’s intervening Spirit, and the split between Jerusalem (philosophy) and Athens (theology). While there are a number of places in which I wanted to agree with Moser, I found the arguments scarce, the explanations often confusing, and some of the claims simply repetitive. Perhaps this is because this section marks more of a turn to theology rather than philosophy, but nonetheless I still expected more clarity.
As we’ve seen to this point, Moser certainly doesn’t think it is sufficient to have propositional knowledge of God. His claim is that a perfectly loving God is going to offer a distinctive kind of purposively available evidence. A kind of evidence that has been widely overlooked by philosophers and theologians. This evidence is that divine self-revelation of God’s imparted Spirit to humans. With the imparting of God’s Spirit, humans receive the power to be transformed towards God’s moral character.
I’m far from an expert on these matters, but from the small sample of theology I’ve read it doesn’t seem to me that the imparting of God’s Spirit and it’s transformative power have been much neglected. Perhaps I’ve just been reading all the right stuff, but I doubt it. Examples like this, and the repeated kicking at natural theology, keep me thinking that I wished Moser would just make the case for his positive argument without trashing the practice of philosophy and theology along with their practitioners.
In any case, Moser makes a number of appeals to the writings of Paul in making the case for how the imparting of God’s Spirit gives us two things, (1) a new noncoercive power that is felt by the recipient and observable by others, and (2) directly self-authenticating firsthand veridical evidence of God’s reality. One thing that get’s confusing is that it often isn’t clear on the first reading who power is supposed to be evidence for. On the one hand we can have knowledge of God’s Spirit via our conscience, but we can also have knowledge via the evidence of new power. Of course both of these are also supposed to serve as evidence for others, at least if the have “eye’s to see”.
I’ve read this section about 15 times and it still isn’t clear to me what the Spirit is supposed to be. I suspect that if one didn’t grow-up Christian, or spend a good deal of time reading theological literature, one could easily get lost or confused about the Spirit. Here are a few candidates for what Moser means when he talks of Spirit:
- Spirit = Holy Spirit (i.e. third person of the Trinity)
- Spirit = God (e.g. God is Spirit and he’s imparting himself)
- Spirit = gift of spirit
Moser could have meant any of these, or he could have meant none. The matter is complicated by his remark that the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Jesus Christ, but when talked about this way it sounds more like team spirit. I think I want to agree, at least to some extent, on the power of the Spirit. However, I want to make sure that Moser and I are thinking of the same thing, and that simply isn’t clear to me.
Moser does three main things in sections 5-8 of chapter 2:
1. He gives an explanation for divine hiddenness
2. He gives a deeper explanation of purposively available divine reality using the notion of attunement
3. He gives an argument for God’s existence.
I will briefly describe these three things and raise a few questions along the way.
1. Divine Hiddenness
Moser provides a handful of possible explanations for divine hiddenness, distances himself from two popular explanations, and then makes a move that is quite analogous to the skeptical theist response to the problem of evil.
Moser calls his reply to the problem of divine hiddenness the Divine Purposes Reply, which states, “God would restrain divine manifestations, at least for a time, to at least some humans in order to enhance satisfaction of God’s own diverse perfectly authoritative and loving purposes regarding humans” (110). Furthermore, there isn’t one particular purpose that God’s hiding satisfies. Moser suggests the following as some of God’s purposes: