I had a wonderful time talking with Dr. Tim McGrew, who teaches philosophy at Western Michigan University. He is also the Director of the Library of Historical Apologetics. It’s very important that we Christians think well and understand what philosophy is in order that we might become better apologists. I hope you were blessed by the wisdom that Dr. McGrew displayed in this episode. If you want to capitalize on the matching grant opportunity available to the Library AND became a sustaining monthly donor to receive a free 8 GB USB flash drive (preloaded with data from the Library) then click here.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill. I’m excited for today’s discussion. We’ll be talking about the relationship between Christianity and philosophy and a lot of people have different perspectives on us and I’m looking forward to being joined by Dr. Tim McGrew of Western Michigan University. He’s a contributor to a recent book, Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy put out by Zondervan and so I’m looking forward to getting his perspective and also to tell us a little bit about the different views as well and I’ll be sharing a little bit about my experience and my discussions with people on how they’ve understood philosophy.
I think there’s a large misconception out there about what philosophy is and so we’ll be talking about that as well, but before we get into that we’ve got a few announcements and then a brief discussion about a movie that Chris and I saw. Chris is here in the studio with me. The brief announcements. I’ve mentioned this the past couple weeks. We have a matching grant opportunity up through the month of December by a generous foundation that’s supporting Defenders Media so if you are interested in supporting the work that Defenders does and if you’re interested in supporting the work that Veracity Hill provides and does for yourself or for others, then please consider giving a donation, whether it’s a single one time or a monthly either way.
Of course, we prefer the monthly for the long-term benefits, but at this point with this matching grant opportunity, we’ll take anything that you are willing to give and what the Lord has put on your heart to give, so that’s a great opportunity to support a good Christian apologetics ministry. So we’ve got that and if you want to participate in our discussion today, you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Also, did you know that you can text into the show? Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888 and once you do that, you’ll be subscribed to our list. We don’t send a text message out all that often, but it’s a great way for you to get in touch with me. You can send me questions that you may have or topic or guest requests. Again, that’s the word VERACITY to 555-888.
Discussion about Rogue One. Chris.
Kurt: We saw this fantastic film. Yes. If you’re listening here, this is hopefully going to be a spoiler-free brief discussion about Rogue One, because we don’t want to spoil any of the good stuff.
Chris: Of course not.
Kurt: You are a bigger Star Wars fan than I am. Fan which is the short form of the word fanatic.
Chris: Fittingly so.
Kurt: Even though I like going to the imaginary words and exploring them, you had all these characters’ names down. I just knew the one guy’s last name and I didn’t even get that right and maybe we shouldn’t spoil that, but what were your thoughts?
Chris: My initial thoughts were as a Star Wars fan, it’s a good film to go see. If you drop money on it now you’ll be pleased with what you walk away from. The film’s main purpose is to connect to the events leading up to episode IV and as you watch the film you start to realize this literally takes place hours before the opening credit roll of Star Wars Episode IV and they do a brilliant job connecting a lot of events and setting up almost everything that happens in Episode IV and some things that do happen in episode VI, however, like most of a lot of the things Abrams is involved in in some way, the first act is a little weak and it’s very chaotic…
Kurt: Yeah. As someone, I mean, you probably knew more what was going on. It was only till afterward I knew what they were trying to do, but when you’re watching it for the first time it can be confusing.
Chris: There are a bunch of characters that are introduced at the very beginning and they go through things that it seems like we’re supposed to care about, but we have no knowledge of these characters and don’t particular care about what’s happening.
Kurt: That’s a good point.
Chris: Once we get into its second and third act it’s relatively smooth sailing from there aside from some clunky writing which Star Wars fans have gotten used to overlooking by this point.
Kurt: One of my buddies, Sam, he said that it’s an amazing hour and a half film. It’s a really really good two-hour film, cause he’s talking about the first act, so now I want to get the thoughts here of a friend of mine, Mark, who does movie reviews.
Kurt: We’ll bring him in here and get his thoughts since he had an even more critical perspective on this. Mark. Are you there?
Mark: Thanks for inviting me.
Kurt: Yeah. Of course. I figured I’d give you a heads up that we were talking about Rogue One. I know you’ve put out a blog post with your review. As we’ve mentioned this is supposed to be a brief spoiler-free discussion Mark, so as best you can without spoiling anything for people who haven’t seen it, tell us what were your thoughts about the film?
Mark: I am a Star Wars fan going back as most every nine-year-old boy. I was excited to see it and a little bit disappointed and I hope I don’t lose any friends or followers for this, but my feelings of it were it was nicely well made and stuff. They didn’t mention it was supposed to be what was called a stand alone, but they brought in a few cameos or Easter eggs if you will of characters that you’ll know, and some of them are minor which I was okay with. There were some major ones to which I was “Really? Why were they there?” and I won’t go into saying who they are, but there were also some parts where you expected to be in the Star Wars movie and it wasn’t including one very specific thing at the beginning of the movie which I won’t say…
Chris: I hear you Mark.
Mark: It ended up really making me feel a lot more upset than I thought I would be. Also to the fact that there was, the music was done for the first time not by John Williams.
Chris: That’s right.
Kurt: Michael Glacchino. Right?
Mark: Yeah. Thank you for pronouncing that name. I wasn’t going to be able to. But, yeah, and he does a fair job with the music and what not, but I mean John Williams is John Williams. There’s no one near his level of talent. So for my blog, my website which was, I do it, out of five stars I give it a 2 and a half, which isn’t necessarily saying it was bad or horrible. It’s in the middle, but if I had to pick positive or negative, it would be a slight negative as well.
Kurt: Yeah. Mark is one of those critical reviewers. What was that Mark?
Mark: I was saying it wasn’t the worst Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen. For me that’s still Episode II, but it wasn’t as good as The Force Awakens in my mind.
Kurt: I know that discussion is going on now in Social Media. Hey Mark, we’ve got to get to our next segment but thanks so much for calling in and if you want to read more about Mark’s film reviews you can go to checkmarkedfilmreviews.com. Thanks, Mark
Mark: Yes. No problem. Thank you sir. You guys have a good one.
Kurt: You too. Alright. So thank you to Mark for coming on and talking about his view on Rogue One there. He definitely has more of the critical reviews if you check out his website, but I appreciate that. It’s not just the regular website where he just says “Oh this is a great review” and he says that about any movie he sees which you certainly get that out there. For me, Chris you mentioned this, like you said it takes place in the hours preceding up to Episode IV. Now some of the things that would not be ruining the spoilers are because if you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve seen….Darth Vader’s in the film which is great. He’s got a really good scene as well in that film, and also I put on Facebook as a joke, “Major Spoiler alert” and then I go down and I write, “They get the plans to the Death Star”, and I don’t think some people realized I was joking and of course you know they have the plans for the Death Star if you’ve seen Episode IV, so I do apologize to any people that didn’t understand that, that I was joking about that. At any rate, very good film. Yes. I haven’t staked a claim about if it’s better than The Force Awakens or not. Chris. What are your thoughts and then we’ll get to the main segment of the show.
Chris: What of them is better? I’d say it’s not as good. It’s better than Episodes I, II, and III, and what it’s supposed to do it does very well, but it suffers from some Act I problems and some clunky writing. Other than that, it’s watchable. You can spend money today and you will not be disappointed. It’ll be fine.
Kurt: Cool. Great. Awesome. So let’s move on over then to the main segment of today’s show. We are talking about Christianity and philosophy and we have the deep pleasure and those that are watching on Facebook live on our Facebook page, they can see that we have printed an image of a smiling Dr. Tim McGrew. This is something that we’re going to try doing new every week.
Chris: We’re going to have a Tim McGrew every time we have a speaker?
Kurt: Boy I wish. No. We are going to do our best to print up an image of our guest so that way you can know what the person looks like that you talking on the phone line, so without further ado, let me invite Dr. McGrew to join us here. Dr. McGrew. Thanks so much.
Tim: Hi Kurt. Good to be here.
Kurt: So you are a professor of philosophy at Western Michigan University. You are a genius pretty much if I say so and if I say that I say it modestly….
Tim: That got awkward fast.
Kurt: You are able to go into some very deep philosophical issues, especially in epistemology which is your specialty, that is just so far over many peoples’ heads, but as someone myself, I’ve studied philosophy as an undergrad. I certainly can appreciate the importance of doing those things and so maybe some people don’t appreciate that and we’ll get into that discussion a little bit here in a few moments about what philosophy is and such and so you’ve been there in Michigan for a long time. You’re also the director of the Library of Historical Apologetics. Tell us a little bit about for those that are unfamiliar with that, tell us a little bit about the library.
Tim: Sure. The library’s located at historicalapologetics.org. You can also find us on Facebook. Just look up library of historical apologetics. It’s our goal to be the clearing house for forgotten works of apologetics that really deserve to be reclaimed. Things that have been unjustly neglected and we have those available for downloading. We have summaries. We have some discussions of some of the figures and some of the works so if you go to historicalapologetics.org and poke around a little bit you’ll see some of that material and that is really our kind of gift to the Christian community because there’s so much wonderful stuff back there that people really need to rediscover. Every single time I get somebody reading one of these little books I hear back, “Wow. Why didn’t I find this years ago? This is changing my life.” So it’s really good stuff.
Kurt: I know we recently had, I think a mutual Facebook friend. He’s also a Cubs fan, Jay W. He recently posted about how he’s been reading up on your website and he doesn’t have the time to read all of this beautiful stuff that he’s finding. He needs to create time I guess, but he’s really enjoying what he is reading there. Now let me also make mention of this and I’ll do it again later. We’re going to be giving away a USB flash drive, 8 GB flash drive with a lot of data here from the library, a number of Dr. McGrew’s talks and just some of these great PDF files from this bygone era and it even has LHA’s logo so we’re going to be giving that away for free so pay attention to our Facebook page to our for instructions on how to win that in the next coming days here.
Tim: This is how inclusive this is. I haven’t even seen the logo on the drive so Kurt is really giving you guys first dibs.
Kurt: And to our Facebook live friends I will go ahead and show it up to the camera. In fact, I can even put it right there on top of my computer there. Chris will do his magic. Okay so we brought you on here today even though we’ve got to bring you on just to talk about historical apologetics. That’s not what we’re talking about today and some of that’s because we’ve got this new book out called Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy and it’s a fascinating book. I was able to read a couple of chapters here in preparation and so I’ve got some questions for you. Some of them are going to be a bit basic, more than the type of questions you’re used to Tim, so I wanted to start off with asking the question, “What is philosophy?” and I ask this because a number of us know kind of what Christianity is. Christianity is for people that believe that Jesus is Lord and they follow His teachings and perhaps there’s some entailments there about orthodox Christian doctrine. Right? What’s the relationship between orthodoxy which is right belief and orthopraxy which is right practice, but a lot of Christians do not know even still what philosophy is so could you tell us a little bit about that?
Tim: Sure. Literally, the word philosophy means the love of wisdom and that’s what people chose as a description when they were identifying what it was they were doing. In the ancient world philosophy was not separated out as a discipline from things like natural science and psychology and so if you were a philosopher, you did all of that and as time went by some of those disciplines sort of peeled off and became their own thing, especially if there were some experimental methods that could help us to answer certain questions, but today it’s a discipline in which we attempt to answer extremely deep and important questions in a way that’s conceptually precise and argumentatively rigorous so we try to make it very very clear what we’re saying, make distinctions very very sharply and try to reason things out as far as we possibly can.
Kurt: And so in that sense when we understand philosophy that way we just understand it broadly speaking, it provides the tools for thinking rigorously, analytically, critically, and even still clearly about everything in life.
Tim: It does, but it does so at a level where, questions tend to cluster and some of the clusters have this particular property that the answers you get to those questions will affect the answers you give to a whole bunch of other questions. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I? What’s the meaning of life? Those questions, you get answer to those, right answers or wrong answers, and they will place a lot of constraints on the answers you give to other questions. What should I be doing today? The very day to day practical kinds of questions turn out to be rooted in sometimes subconsciously we don’t even realize it, these things are rooted in very deep philosophical commitments, and philosophy also provides us historically with a selection of those deep questions and a lot of what philosophers do is to come back to those questions and try to make progress on those perennial questions, the questions that have always bothers people, people have always wondered about.
Kurt: Right, and at least in my experience when I’ve met philosophers, at least Christian philosophers I shall say, they tend to be some of the most humble and yet winsome people I’ve ever met because they study a lot so they’ve learned how much it is that they don’t know and so maybe from the little bit that they do know, they share what they have, but go ahead. What were you thinking Tim?
Tim: I was just gonna say there’s nothing like studying a discipline like philosophy for making you realize how much you don’t know, how hard some of the natural questions are and if you’re attempting to answer them on your own, if you’re out there just saying I’m looking around and trying to be up on my recent science, I’d like to know something about history, and I’m going to try to use the data from science and history and experience and try to make progress on a really really deep question, it’s not like nobody’s tried before. It’s kind of humbling to realize, “Wow. There are superb geniuses throughout thousands of years who have tried to make headway on this and here’s little old me trying to follow in those gigantic footprints.”
Kurt: Right. Right. Yeah. Not only just the contemporary discussions in philosophy, but then you have the whole history that you perhaps should start with and that just takes a really long time to understand and grasp. There’s a vast array of perspectives in the history of philosophy so, yeah. It can be a very humbling experience to do that study.
Tim: No doubt.
Kurt: So some of my interest here in talking about philosophy is to help Christians understand why it’s important. So why should Christians care about philosophy?
Tim: For many reasons. Christianity offers answers to some of those deep and important questions. That’s one reason right there. You’re in this conversation already. You may not know it, but you are. You are already engaging with issues that plagued Plato and Aristotle and Aquinas and Descartes and Kant and Hume had thought about and had opinions about and wrote about so you might as well do it in a way that is engaged and do it not sleepwalking, but with your eyes open. Another thing is that bad answers exist and those bad answers are extremely popular so someone needs to understand the discipline if only to answer bad philosophy. This is important because philosophy, whether it’s done well or done poorly, tends to gradually take over large segments of culture and so you find people acting in accordance with ideas that would have been put forward by, say, Nietzsche. They have maybe no idea that these are Nietzsche’s ideas but they seem to them to be very natural, obvious, correct, and if those are ideas inimical to Christian which many of Nietzsche’s ideas of course are, then they’re moving to a set of unwritten marching orders that gets filtered down into the culture through media, through movies, through art, and if you’re not aware of that, you can’t fully understand what’s going on or why it’s happening and that will make you less effective in engaging with that culture.
Kurt: It’s interesting that you talk about ineffectiveness and I’ve certainly seen that in my discussions. I think a number of Christians are perhaps insecure because they haven’t been, they’re not prepared. They’re not ready to answer some of those objections from the philosophers, the non-Christian philosophers, and what I mean by that is, sort of what you said Tim, it’s not necessarily the philosophers that they’re dealing with, but the arguments that the philosophers, but now have been disseminated to the masses, sometimes over decades, maybe 100 years even, and it takes over culture, becomes a really popular notion, and so we sort of see, and correct me if I’m mistaken since you’re an academic, we see a sort of a lag time, if you will, so it usually takes the writing in academia to occur and then the influence doesn’t happen overnight. If you just had to give a ballpark how long would you say based on your observations it takes some philosophical notion in the ivory tower to make it down the stairs to the masses?
Tim: It really varies. It depends on how prepared the culture has been, how softened up if I can put it that way it’s been for the reception of the idea. It could be anywhere from fifteen years to 100 years, but there is tether for each idea that culture bounces along behind the philosophy at some distance or other and usually if the conditions are right, it’ll end up being so pervasive that people won’t even think of it as a philosophical position. They’ll simply say, “Well this is obvious.” Take common slogans. Right? “It’s wrong to impose your beliefs on others.” Maybe that’s a philosophical claim? It doesn’t sound like it does it? It just sounds like one of those things that everybody knows. Everybody knows that that’s true, and it’s so hard to engage with something like that without creativity and understanding. If somebody just throws that at you, your first reaction is likely to be, “Wow. What do I say now?” And that’s why it’s important for there to be some people to think about these things and ask these questions and come up with clear well-formulated answers that make sense and can be defended because that can enable people who aren’t themselves professional philosophers to engage more effectively with their friends, their co-workers, their neighbors, their fellow college students, and that is something that we really don’t do very well on the whole. There’s some wonderful exceptions, but on the whole we’re not doing very well with that in Christian culture in the 21st century. We need to get better at it.
Kurt: I know for some people they take certain passages from the Bible as a sort of mandate for everyone to be an apologist, always be prepared to give a defense for the hope that’s within in. Now I don’t think that every person should be a high-level apologist if you will or even a medium level apologist, but if we had an apologist in every church, shall we say, someone that was well-read enough who may not be an academic him or herself, but can read it and interpret it and understand it and then communicate that to the lay level, I think that would be a good thing because then, I know I’ve attended churches where they were not following right belief. They were not following in alignment with the Scriptures and so that’s why we need apologists. One of the reasons why is to guard the faith as we see in the New Testament. So yes, there is definitely an importance there to study philosophy at a certain level and maybe if we’re not reading the philosophers ourselves we’re reading the people that have read the philosophers so that’s important to still do that because Tim as you mentioned, whether we know it or not, we’re doing philosophy and so it’s really important that we understand a bit more about what it is we’re doing when we are discussing, when we’re thinking, when we’re communicating and talking to people, so we’ve got to take a short break here. This has really been good so far, Tim. We’ll take a short break from our sponsors and when we get back, we’ll get more into the book The Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. I’m here today with Dr. Tim McGrew and today we are discussing Christianity and philosophy, but before we get back into that, it is time for one of the favorite segments of our show called Rapid Questions. This is a segment where we ask short light-hearted questions and we want fast responses. Are you ready, Tim?
Rapid Questions with Dr. Tim McGrew
Tim: Alright. Let’s go.
Kurt: Okay. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Kurt: What school did you go to?
Kurt: What is your favorite sport?
Kurt: What fruit would you say your head is shaped like?
Tim: I wouldn’t.
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Tim: Don’t have one.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Tim: Right here in Michigan.
Kurt: Which celebrity are you most like?
Tim: Steve Martin.
Kurt: The hokey pokey, electric slide, or the Macarena?
Tim: None of the above. I’ll take a
Kurt: Left or right?
Tim: Right. The alternative seems so sinister.
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Tim: Anyone that puts us together. Probably anniversaries would do.
Kurt: Anniversary, and the last question I have for you is are you a Cubs fan?
Tim: I am.
Kurt: Alright! Yes. I saw that you were during this last playoff run for the Chicago Cubs, my beloved Cubs, I saw that you sort of got in the spirit and glad to see that you are rooting for the Cubs.
Tim: You did. Lydia grew up in Chicago of course and says she remembers her grandfather waiting through season after season for the Cubs to win it.
Kurt: I don’t know when her grandfather lived. My grandfather lived his whole life and never saw the Cubs win so that’s just a reminder of how long it had been since the Cubs had won. So, alright.
Kurt: Yes. That’s right. But not anymore. Now it’s 2016.
Kurt: Okay. So let’s get back to our discussion about Christianity and philosophy. So we’ve got this recent book that’s come out. I think it’s Zondervan. I haven’t double-checked that. They do the four views. They do a wonderful series on issues for people that are unfamiliar with different perspectives on any given theological issue. They put out some great books on these topics and so it’s a great way to expose yourself in a good way to different views and to see the counterpoints because the way this is formatted is each contributor gets a chapter. There are replies by the other contributors and then there’s sort of a closing response or a rejoinder by that person to those criticisms so it’s a great format. So we’ve got this book here Tim and before we get into your perspective, I want to ask sort of what are the four perspectives represented here about the relationships between Christianity and philosophy?
Tim: The best way for you to get that answer would be for you to ask the other contributors themselves, but since you’re asking me, Graham Oppy represents the agnostic naturalist who suspects there is no God, thinks that every aspect of our experience, everything that might count as data is explained at least equally well by a universe that’s purely naturalistic. The only items that can cause things to happen are things that are studied by natural science so there’s no God, no angels, no demons, no human soul. There’s literally nothing in heaven and Earth that is not dreamt of in his philosophy. That’s how he likes it. Paul Moser takes a position that I think lies closest to Christian mysticism. In his view the natural world does not afford the slightest evidence for God’s existence or attributes, but God communicates Himself to every individual in a direct and very intimate fashion and invites us by this personal experience into a relationship with Himself. Scott Oliphant endorses a special brand of reformed epistemology known as presuppositionalism. His view if I understand him is evidence for God if viewed in Christian perspective, but no one sees it as evidence for God unless he’s already accepted that Christianity is true, that the Bible is God’s word, and that the reformed creeds provide the proper articulation of Christian theology, so it’s a very much colored glasses on, colored glasses off kind of thing. You really can’t see it until you’ve already brought into it according to Scott Oliphant.
Kurt: Right. Right. And it seems that Moser’s and Oliphant’s positions are close, but they are distinct. Is that right?
Tim: A lot of sparks fly as we try to figure out where we stand relative to one another and so it would surprise you how different three Protestant guys who want to take Scripture seriously can be.
Kurt: Okay. So your position here, what’s called the convergence. Tell us a little bit about that.
Tim: So I think that philosophy confirms Christianity and that Christianity completes philosophy. I think the study of philosophy done properly shows us reasons to believe that there is a God, the creator of the universe, an intelligent designing mind who’s taken thought for our well-being. If that much is true, then of course it becomes our highest priority to find out more about God, more about who He is, more about what our proper relationship is to Him, but on the other side I think Christianity completes philosophy because some of those deep questions philosophers are concerned with can’t be answered fully and some of them can’t be answered at all without a revelation from God to man. I’m persuaded by the public evidence that Christianity is the fullest expression of that revelation and without it we can’t answer those critical questions.
Kurt: How would you say then that philosophy confirms Christianity? What is it about philosophy that makes any contribution then to the Christian worldview?
Tim: Well you remember that I said that Christianity makes certain claims about some of those deep questions? Right? I think that philosophy shows us that Christianity is not simply a fascinating story that somebody invented out of the back of his head. It gives us reasons to believe that it is in broad outline on the right kind of track even though Christianity is far more specific, gives us far more details, than unassisted philosophical reflection can arrive at and what that means is that people who never thought of Christianity before, maybe never heard of Christianity before, still have some resources that should give them the sense that this Christianity thing, this could be the real deal. This is not some fantasy that’s unconnected with the data of our experience.
Several of the clues that we have available to us in experience point in this direction. Once you get that far you have to make a choice because Christianity puts claims on you. If it’s true, then you’re not your own person. Your life isn’t your own to live as you like. It is from a non-Christian perspective, rather inconvenient and that’s a test then of your integrity. In philosophy we talk a lot about following the argument wherever it leads.
That’s a very important aspect of philosophical culture. It goes way back of course to Plato’s dialogues about Socrates and once you realize, wow, there’s a certain amount of evidence pointing in the same direction as this Christianity stuff, then you have to decide whether you’re willing to follow up on that even if it means you’re going to have to give up some things you’re rather attached to and that is a test of character and I think things are set up this way deliberately and there’s certainly enough evidence, but we can choose not to follow the evidence. I had a guy tell me once after a whole night of arguing. We started at 11 and we ended as the sun rose and he just stared me, he said, “I can’t answer your arguments,” and then he shook his head and said, “But it just won’t wash with me.” It wasn’t that he had seen through the arguments and had bulletproof answers to them. It was that he didn’t want to go where the argument was going.
Kurt: In apologetics certainly, apologetics is both a science and an art and some of the science is the arguments. Some of the art is recognizing where people are at because for some people they just don’t want to believe and those are the people that you won’t win over because they’ve already made up their decision. There’s nothing you can say, even if what you’re speaking is absolutely true, that will force them to bend their knee to Jesus. They might think that Jesus is Lord, but so do the demons and so the question is whether people will bend their knee, whether they will submit to His authority over their life, and that’s a difficult thing. Right? It’s a difficult thing to be a Christian, to take up your cross daily, to put to death the desires of the flesh.
It’s a hard thing and some people are not up to the challenge and so, Tim, I know you’ve probably had interactions like this. Part of the experience for us is in helping that distinction be made clear because some people are going to put on the intellectual objections as a mask, a forefront, to the reality which is that they just don’t want to because of whatever other reasons they might have. Perhaps they’re living in sin and they enjoy doing those things and they don’t want to modify their behavior for example. I guess maybe my initial question to you Tim wasn’t super precise. Forgive me. I’m not a philosopher. When we talk about how philosophy confirms Christianity, could you be a bit more specific? So what are some certain things in philosophy, say natural theology, is just one branch of theology that philosophy makes a larger contribution to than say New Testament studies, for example. So what are some things that you see philosophers talking about when they’re talking about natural theology?
Tim: Sure. This is a branch of the philosophy of religion and it deals with arguments for and against the existence of God so can you infer the existence of a powerful creator of the universe from what you know about the physical universe or what you can determine from it? Can you infer the existence of an intelligent creator of the universe from, say, aspects of design that are found in a cosmos at various levels and people have then worked these arguments out in detail in different levels about different things, whether the fundamental constants of the universe are fine-tuned, whether there’s design in say the existence of carbon residence which permits the formation of carbon which is the basis for all biological diversity in life that we know.
There’s a whole bunch of different arguments from design, the cosmological argument, there’s versions of those arguments. There are moral arguments, arguments from consciousness, arguments from reason, and then there are arguments against the existence of God and I think good philosophical reflection can help to put them in their place and show the limitations of their force like the problem of evil. Why would a good God if there were a good God permit so much pain and suffering and wretchedness and evil as we find around us? Not only that we find some, but that we find such scope and variation of suffering. How could a good God allow that? I think that that’s a problem that philosophy can make some progress on.
Kurt: Yeah. For philosophers when they’re talking about this, they’re not specifically referring to the Christian God, at least yet. Is that right? How does that usually work?
Tim: If I refer to a guy who lives in Chicago, I haven’t given enough detail to specify you. Right? I haven’t said your name. I haven’t said that you have a podcast called Veracity Hill. I could say those things and that would narrow it right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not talking about you if I’m talking about a guy in Chicago. I might be. We just don’t know which guy in Chicago yet. Right? So philosophers talk about a first cause, a designing mind, a conscious intelligence, and those are all true descriptions of the Christian God, just incomplete, and that’s one of the reasons that I say in this book that Christianity completes philosophy because once we get that far we want to know more. What’s that God like? Hey. Let’s come over and have a look at what Christianity has to say about that and whether Christianity itself is rationally credible.
Kurt: And then at the same time once we do come to Christian belief, then we can almost look back and say, “Yes. That’s the one we’re talking about.” When we are bringing these arguments from natural theology.
Tim: I think that’s exactly right, but we don’t do that by saying, “Oh. Here’s a god. I think I’ll guess that that’s the one.” There are actual concrete reasons to take the more specific claims of Christianity seriously and boy, that evidence is evidence I wish that I could get into the hands of everyone who has to think about these issues at all which is nearly everybody and that’s one of the reasons that we find the historical apologetics website. I’m glad you mentioned that earlier.
Kurt: Of course. Of course. So now I do have a question because I’ve interacted with an atheist on Facebook from time to time and he’s not too fond of philosophy. I think he misunderstands philosophy, but one of the sort of line of arguments if you will that he uses which is just ironic because of what philosophy is and his perspective on it. He says that arguments, they’re just semantic. So maybe the claim is that the cosmological argument is sort of circular reasoning. You’re just assuming the conclusion that there is a god when we need to leave it up to science to see what’s beyond if you will. What would you say to someone like that who is not too fond of deductive arguments and think that they’re just semantical word games?
Tim: I usually ask, “Okay. Give me an example of a version of an argument for the existence of God, an argument of natural theology. You pick whether you want this to be cosmological, teleological, that’s been presented by a respectable professional who’s trying to put it in its best light, and then let’s assess this in detail.” I find very often people who make quips like that have never engaged with any positive presentation of the case. What they’ve engaged with that other skeptics have put forward and it’s very easy to misrepresent a view. It’s easy to misrepresent atheism and to laugh at what you’ve presented as the view without ever really engaging with then reasons that make people hesitate to come over and join so your side and so when I hear really facile, very simple, oh it’s all so simple, everybody who believes this other thing is an idiot. Really? I don’t think all atheists are idiots. Why would anybody think that all Christians are idiots? Oh. They’re not. They’re just blinded by cognitive bias. Is cognitive bias only for religious believers or do atheists also have problems with cognitive bias? Let’s be even-handed here. There are some things that are problems, but they’re usually everybody’s problems and if they are everybody’s problems, then it’s not fair for us to dismiss all alternative viewpoints to our own, but then isolate our own from that arbitrarily. That just doesn’t work.
Kurt: Yeah, and so there’s that challenge for non-Christians to understand us and our beliefs correctly, but there’s also the challenge that we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ to make sure that they are understanding what a person is saying and presenting and we then should perhaps be charitable to what they might have to say so that we can understand what they are trying to say and so we don’t straw men them or attack them so it’s very important so philosophy presents that challenge to both sides.
Tim: It does, and it’s very easy to misunderstand people. That’s one of the reasons I like the format of this four views book so much. Everybody has the same opportunity to state the case for your own position. Each of those contributors has a chance to write a pointed critique of each of the other main positions and then each contributor to address the critiques of his own position by the other contributors so it’s really an opportunity to try to come to mutual understanding as much as is possible.
Kurt: Within one book.
Tim: And that is a really valuable one thing.
Kurt: Yeah. Within one book because as you know, you can only say so much and so you could write an encyclopedia volume on everything that was written in that short book but Zondervan tries and it’s still worthwhile. It’s a great primer if you will for the differing perspectives. With those differing perspectives Tim, tell us, what do you think are some of your biggest concerns with the three views other than your own?
Tim: Okay. So really briefly, Oppy thinks that the public evidence points toward naturalism rather than towards theism, much less Christianity. Moser dismisses appeals to the public evidence. In his view that doesn’t yield any significant reason to reveal a God worthy of worship and he puts all of his eggs in the existential encounter basket. Oliphant denies that anyone except a Christian can evaluate the evidence correctly. Each of those things is I think wrong, but they’re reacting to something right. They’re just taking it too far thinking as if it were the whole thing, so I would grant to Oppy for example that if there were some pieces of evidence which if you would consider them in isolation seem to point toward naturalism, but it’s not our responsibility to jump to a conclusion on the basis of a casual glance. We need to assess all the evidence that we can and form a conclusion based on a careful consideration of all of that, and that evidence is very rich. It’s much richer than most skeptics like Oppy or even most Christians commonly believe.
I agree with Moser that Christianity involves more than just intellectual assent to propositions. We are being called to a relationship with our creator, but an intense private religious experience is something else. Some people claim to have those and for all I know they do, but the rest of us aren’t in on that and I think that it’s really a mistake to say as Moser seems to say that those experiences are normative for all Christians and if you don’t have them, you’re not a Christian, and speaking as someone who’s never had such an experience, I’m very grateful for the abundance of public evidence, evidence that I think Moser severely underestimates.
Of course, not everybody is willing to look at the evidence and Oliphant is making much of that. He’s right if all he says is that this is a difficulty. We have biases. We’re apt not to look carefully at evidence against our own positions, but in my opinion he exaggerates that very real difficulty into an impossibility. I think many people are able to come to an understanding of the reasonableness of Christianity on the basis of public evidence. I think they can overcome their biases and they can see past those things. I’d like to persuade Oliphant that this is true as well, but he has a theory that blocks him from that and I think that is a problem. It’s a very grave thing to say that people who apparently are trying to seek the truth are actually completely opposed to finding it.
Kurt: Right. Right. And almost as if there’s a, there are certain theological positions at least for Moser and for Oliphant that would serve as an influence to their view. Wouldn’t you say?
Tim: Philosophical and theological positions both. For example, we disagree on the interpretation of Romans 1. I think it’s perfectly obvious that Paul is making an argument from creation there or alluding to such an argument which he expects his readers to recognize and to accept and Moser and Oliphant against the very substantial majority of commentators on Romans want to say, “No, no, no, no, no. Nothing to see here. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.”
Kurt: Excellent Star Wars reference. Yes. Yes. So it does get down and I’ve had a number of theological debates throughout my studies. For some people even, while I think that theological and philosophical arguments should convince Christians, sometimes it may just boil down to their interpretation of the text. They’re willing to hold their ground because they think the text says X and so they’re unwilling to do that until you get into those discussions about the text and you guys do do that in these chapters in the interactions so it’s at least a testament to the authority of Scripture shall we say for Christians that it plays such an important role in our worldview that it’s also then very important that we’re interpreting the text in the right way.
Tim: It certainly should be.
Kurt: Right. Right. Great. Dr. McGrew. Thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate you taking the time to come on and to talk about this book. We’ve got to bring you back on to talk about the library of historical apologetics and before you go, let me make two announcements regarding LHA. Again, we’ve got this USB flash drive. It’s an 8 GB flash drive full of data from the library, talks that Tim has given, I think even some of your powerpoint presentations are on here. We’re going to be giving away this flash drive for free so stay tuned to the Veracity Hill Facebook page to learn about those details and if you don’t win, let me tell you about this great opportunity.
The library currently has a 50% matching grant opportunity available to them so that’s to say if you donate $1, they will get an extra 50 cents from a generous foundation, so if you give $20, they will get a total of $30, so right now here’s a great opportunity to support their work because your donation will then be halved as much added on top of your donation, but Defenders is throwing in this incentive for you as well. To any sustaining monthly donor of $10 or more, we’re going to send you the flash drive for free so if you want to start supporting the library, you’ll get this flash drive full of data, 8 GB, with LHA’s logo. You can show your friends what a great ministry that it is to you and to others so please consider donating to Dr. McGrew’s ministry there and check out the web site at historicalapologetics.org. Tim. Thanks again for joining us and we hope to have you on again soon.
Tim: I would love to.
Kurt: Bye bye. Okay. So that’s really a great primer to this book here, to the different views, the different perspectives on Christianity and philosophy and so really I think you should check it out if you’ve got the opportunity. For my Facebook live here I’m going to show you the book here, once again what it looks like, with the four contributors, and again if you aren’t aware of this series, this style of counterpoints, you need to check out Zondervan because they’ve got some great books on that. So now I get to play this favorite tune here that I like to play when someone writes in to the show. Here we go.
Kurt: Okay. So that means someone has written into the show. Here’s we’ve got Michael. He writes in that he’s still trying to figure out, he writes, “I’m still trying to figure out what you are. Not an Arminian. Not a Molinist. Not a Calvinist, but maybe between an Arminian and a Molinist?”
Chris: A lot of words in there Kurt.
Kurt: Yeah. A lot of words. So for those that are, we’re coming to an end, I’ve got to keep brief here. We had a show with Jerry Walls who represented the Arminian view and he had some criticism against the Calvinist view. We’ve got to bring on a Calvinist to just bring in the counter-perspective there. Basically these debates get into how God predestines people or elects them and so some of them base this decision on foreknowledge so the Molinist view is sort of a complex view of that. I don’t associate myself with any of those three camps. Some of it’s for a number of reasons. Let me just explain two of those reasons.
First, I hold to a different theological anthropology. I know that’s a big term. I hold to a different view of the nature of man than what you find in the Reformed tradition, from which you get Calvinists and then also even Arminians are part of that Reformed tradition. Now Molinists, Louis de Molina, he was a Jesuit priest so that’s sort of a Catholic position, but it’s not exclusive to Catholicism, but at any rate, I don’t associate with any of those three for the reason regarding human nature, but also on election, so I hold to what’s called the corporate election view and I think an individual is elect insofar as they’re part of the corporate group.
This is close to, I wouldn’t say it’s identical but close to the view that N.T. Wright talks about. One scholar who’s really been great on this issue for me, his name is Brian Abasciano, and so if you’re interested, you want to see those articles that I’ve read that have influenced my thinking on the matter, go ahead and send me an email and I can send those your way. My email is Kurt@veracityhill.com and I can send those to you, so Michael, maybe that’s why you have found that I’m difficult to put into a camp. I’m a happy Protestant, but some of my views are close to the Eastern Orthodox church on this issue, and maybe they’re not identical to the Eastern Orthodox’s church, to their view. I’m still exploring it. That’s part of the reason why I like studying theology. I’m trying to figure this out on my own, but in community I should say, in theological community.
You should never study theology in isolation, but that is to say how typical of a Protestant that we should sort of figure this out again. I do recognize church tradition. In fact a lot of my work is studying the church fathers so I do have an appreciation there as well. Good. Alright. So Michael, thanks for writing in. If you want to write in, again you can just send me an email. We’ve got a contact form on the web site. You can also text me or you can call in to the show at any time whether we are live or if it’s dealing the week and you just want to leave a message to me. You can call the number. It’s 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. So that does it for the show today. I’m grateful for the continued support of our patrons so what are our patrons? Chris. You’ve heard it enough times. Patrons are enough people that chip in just a few bucks a month to help us out. They’re the oil to this machine. I’m also grateful for the partnerships that we have with our sponsors, Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor. Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, and Evolution 2.0, and thank you to the tech team, Chris. That’s you today. I appreciated the discussion on Rogue One.
Kurt: I kind of feel like, we saw it late, so I kind of feel like maybe we should go see it again because I realize, boy I was tired. I think I could enjoy it if I weren’t so tired. We went and saw what is functionally speaking the midnight showing. I guess that means I’m getting old.
Chris: It may be.
Kurt: When I get tired. And you had an appointment at 7 A.M. Did you make it there?
Chris: I did make it there.
Kurt: Ooh. Nice. Beautiful. Well done. Alright. So thank you today for the work that you do and thanks to our special guest Dr. Tim McGrew for coming in to talk about Christianity and philosophy and thank you for listening in and striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.