Both astrophysicists and microphysicists have lately been discovering that the series of events that produced our universe had to happen in a rather precise way—at least, they had to happen that way if they were to produce life as we know it. Some might find this fact unremarkable. After all, we are here, and it is hardly surprising that the universe is of such kind as to have produced us. It is simply a tautology to say that people who find themselves in a universe live in a universe where human life is possible. Nevertheless, given the innumerable other things that could have happened, we have reason to be impressed by the astonishing fact of our existence. Like the man who survives execution by a 1,000-gun firing squad, we are entitled to suspect that there is some reason we are here, that perhaps there is a Friend behind the blast.
In recent years, scholars arguing against a conservative understanding of biblical inerrancy have appealed to a wide range of issues. It has been argued, for example, that belief in inerrancy should be abandoned or redefined because inerrancy is not taught by the Bible and it was not the view of many leaders in the history of the church. Others argue that the concept of inerrancy is not adequate to capture the nature of the Bible as revelation. As important as these and related issues are, one suspects that Donald Dayton put his finger on the central reason why some scholars feel a need to abandon or redefine inerrancy: “For many, the old intellectual paradigms [including inerrancy] are dead, and the search is on in neglected traditions and new sources for more adequate models of biblical authority.” Simply put, many no longer think that it is rational to believe that inerrancy is true. What are we to make of this objection?
In his survey of the history of thought with respect to miracles, Craig traces the demise of the plausability of such supernatural events amongst biblical scholars, expressed first in naturalistic explanations for biblical events and ultimately in the repudiation of the reliability of the biblical texts. Craig addresses the influence of Bahrdt, Paulus, Schleiermacher, Strauss, and Bultmann before turning to their intellectual forebears, the thinking of Spinoza and Hume and the backdrop of Newton’s mechanistic universe. Craig offers a response to each of these principal thinkers in turn, concluding that “the presupposition of the impossibility of miracles should play no role in determining the historicity of an event”, even an allegedly supernatural one. In so doing, he challenges the notion that natural law must preclude miracles and provides a patient response to each of the principal objections. Craig’s lengthy article is a worthwhile read both for its summary history of biblical scholarship and for its recommendation for appropriate criteria in the study of history. ~ Nate
Paul Vitz, a professor of psychology at NYU, proposes a provocative thesis: atheistic inclinations or commitments are often rooted in the so-called “freudian psyche”, that subconscious sum of our memories, fears, impressions, and deep seated dispositions formed early in our lives, particularly in relation to our fathers. While psychological grounds for belief are usually used to undercut the rationality of theism, here Vitz runs the argument the other way in a fascinating summary of psychological factors tied to atheistic belief. And by way of example, he considers the possible psychological motivations of the father of psychoanalysis, Freud himself. Turns out atheists have daddy issues as well. Vitz’s argument here was a prelude to his later work, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism.
William Alston brings a philosopher’s perspective to prayer, the somewhat audacious belief that humans can speak with God. Alston considers in particular the yet more remarkable belief that God responds to our petitions. A 2005 Rasmussen poll found that 47% of Americans pray daily or nearly every day. But however common, prayer rarely benefits from this kind of philosophical reflection. Alston addresses the issue of God’s foreknowledge and omniscience and how these comport with the notion that God’s action in the world can be moved by prayer. In particular, he considers objections to the idea that a “timeless” God can engage in dialogue with creatures who are in time. He concludes: “God is essentially timeless in the sense that, apart from His free choice to the contrary, none of His actions or states would be datable nor would He live through temporal succession. But God has the capacity to freely choose to render His activity, or portions thereof, temporally ordered. And this permits Him to enter into genuine interaction, conversational and otherwise, with temporal creatures.” ~ Nate
Philosopher William Alston articulates why he returned to Christianity after discarding his Christian faith not once, but twice. Alston notes that it was not any of the classical arguments for the credibility of Christian faith that beckoned him back, but rather something more intangible: “My coming back was less like seeing that certain premises implied a conclusion than it was like coming to hear some things in music that I hadn’t heard before, or having my eyes opened to the significance of things that are going on around me.” Alston goes on to say that what has kept him faithful ten years on is a real sense that God remains active in his life… that his faith “is working; the promise is being fulfilled”. For what it’s worth, here’s one man’s testimony. ~ Nate
In this paper, I ponder two questions: (1) Why can’t the religious believer simply put the burden on the skeptic, and ask him to justify his unbelief, with the underlying assumption that as between theism and atheism, it is the former that is obviously true and the latter that is obviously false? (2) This not being possible in any way that is of immediate interest to religious belief, how does the believer regard his inability to prove the truth of faith in the manner the skeptic demands?
In the paper that follows I write from the perspective of a philosopher, and of course I have detailed knowledge of (at best) only my own field. I am convinced, however, that many other disciplines resemble philosophy with respect to things I say below. (It will be up to the practitioners of those other disciplines to see whether or not I am right.)
Basinger responds to Anthony Flew’s contention that: “the historian must maintain with respect to any alleged miracle that the event did not in fact occur as reported”. Basinger concedes that Flew’s argument has merit, but argues that it ultimately fails. And by the way, to save a trip to dictionary.com, “nomology” is the science of laws. Basinger concludes: “The fact that an alleged occurrence is incompatible with current nomologicals must indeed be seriously considered when the historian rules on its historicity. However, Flew has failed to demonstrate that a seeming counterinstance must be shown to be consistent with current nomologicals before the historian can justifiably rule that it can be known to have occurred. Alleged ‘miracles’ cannot be dismissed this easily.”
“The problem of the criterion” seems to me to be one of the most important and one of the most difficult of all the problems of philosophy. I am tempted to say that one has not begun to philosophize until one has faced this problem and has recognized how unappealing, in the end, each of the possible solutions is. I have chosen this problem as my topic for the Aquinas Lecture because what first set me to thinking about it (and I remain obsessed by it) were two treatises of twentieth century scholastic philosophy. I refer first to P. Coffey’s two-volume work, Epistemology or the Theory of Knowledge, published in 1917.1 This led me in turn to the treatises of Coffey’s great teacher, Cardinal D. J. Mercier: Critériologie générale our théorie générale de la certitude.2 ¶ Mercier and, following him, Coffey set the problem correctly, I think, and have seen what is necessary for its solution. But I shall not discuss their views in detail. I shall formulate the problem; then note what, according to Mercier, is necessary if we are to solve the problem; then sketch my own solution; and, finally, note the limitations of my approach to the problem.