Friday, February 04, 2011

The Challenge of Christian Philosophy to the Secular University

extract from Christian Theist blog

"It’s important to point out that modern philosophy, however, has not been always so friendly to the project of theology. In fact since the eighteenth century, its role has been much closer to mortician than handmaiden. David Hume’s assault on miracles and proofs of God’s existence, Immanuel Kant’s rejection of our cognitive ability to get beyond the limits imposed by the empirical world, the Vienna Circle’s trumpeting of the verification principle and insistence that theological claims fail to express meaningful propositions, and many others have all seriously challenged not only philosophical interest in theology, but also the viability of doing theology at all.

But since the 1960s, the philosophical landscape has changed. Atheist and naturalist Quentin Smith, writing in the journal Philo, charts the trend:

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… This is not to say that none of the scholars in the various academic fields were realist theists in their “private lives”; but realist theists, for the most part, excluded their theism from their publications and teaching, in large part because theism (at least in its realist variety) was mainly considered to have such a low epistemic status that it did not meet the standards of an “academically respectable” position to hold. The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of [Alvin] 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…

…[R]ealist 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. …

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.
The Reader in Contemporary Philosophical Theology is a new textbook, coming out at the end of this month, that speaks to this resurgence of interest in Christian doctrine. Edited by Oliver Crisp (based at the University of Bristol, England), the Reader features articles by these leading philosophers apart of this new renewal of Christian philosophy."
Smith is now probably pleased to see the counter-activity of late,  in the work of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, if not that of Christopher Hitchens. But what this means is that the naturalists feel threatened by the ground that they have lost. Now is no time for Christian realists to let up. It is no small victory, and certainly a great irony, that God's  "last academic stronghold" is the philosophy department. May it move from being last to first, as young people respond to the call to submit their intelligence to the service of Christ the King.   

1 comment:

Mark Sittner said...

What a wonderful post!