Philosophy and the Christian Worldview: Analysis, Assessment and Development. Edited by David Werther and Mark D. Linville . Pp. xiii, 274, NY/London, Continuum, 2012, $110.90.
Article first published online: 29 NOV 2013
© 2013 Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 55, Issue 1, pages 170–171, January 2014
How to Cite
Meynell, H. (2014), Philosophy and the Christian Worldview: Analysis, Assessment and Development. Edited by David Werther and Mark D. Linville . Pp. xiii, 274, NY/London, Continuum, 2012, $110.90. The Heythrop Journal, 55: 170–171. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12064_45
- Issue published online: 29 NOV 2013
- Article first published online: 29 NOV 2013
This very rich collection, a Festschrift for Keith Yandell, is divided into four parts, respectively on religion and worldview assessment, epistemology, morality, and metaphysics. It well illustrates the new rapprochement between orthodox Christianity and analytical philosophy, which would have astonished informed persons fifty or sixty years ago.
In their Introduction, the editors remind us that to believe anything just is to believe that it is true; for all that this is jarring to the modern mind-set, which feels ‘that there is something arrogant and benighted about taking our own views to be true to the exclusion of the beliefs of others’ (1). In the course of an inquiry whether philosophy of religion is possible, Yandell makes justified philosophical fun of his former anthropology professor, who confidently propounded his belief that all beliefs are culturally determined, and so not true beyond the culture of those who hold them. Of course this, ‘if true, is true of all beliefs in all cultures but held in his, and so false.’ He wisely reminds us that ‘(e)vidence is truth-favoring, not truth-entailing’ (13 – the wisp of hair found at the scene of the crime would appear to implicate the redhead, but may have been planted by someone else). Harold Netland points out that, whether or not this seems proper in the contexts of globalization and post-colonialism, ‘the Christian faith has been regarded by Christians as true and salvific in ways that other religions are not. This has given rise to the new discipline of “the theology of religion”, which addresses issues as complex as they are controversial’ (25). He takes to task such ‘religious pluralists’ as John Hick and Peter Byrne; the charm of such pluralism is largely that it seems to enable one to avoid affirming that large numbers of sincere, intelligent and virtuous people are mistaken in their religious belief. Yet Hick himself is quite clear that such central Christian beliefs as that Jesus Christ is the unique incarnation of the triune God, ‘taken as they have been understood within orthodox Christianity’, are actually false; and just the same applies to central tenets of Islam, Buddhism and Jainism (37). As Paul Copan sees it, one can find hints of natural theology in the most unlikely places; and he argues the greater explanatory power of theism as compared with naturalism in accounting for such diverse facts as our stubborn conviction that moral values are objective (60), and the origin of the universe, as accepted now by the large majority of cosmologists, a finite time ago. Furthermore, a philosopher of science has exclaimed at the difficulty of biologists, for all their efforts, in eliminating teleology from their account of organisms; this is not surprising if theism is true. ‘The sound of naturalism's voice has gone to the ends of the earth, inadvertently declaring the Creator's glory’ (66).
In their investigation of ‘Internalism and Properly Basic Belief’, Matthew Davidson and Gordon Barnes, in a highly sophisticated manner, defend a version of both theories. Charles Taliaferro's pasper is ‘In Defense of the Numinous’; as he says, myriads of people over a wide tract of time and range of cultures report ‘some sense or experience of there being a greater, intentional, good, purposive reality, … often thought to be divine.’ Several contemporary philosophers of religion have maintained that, short of evidence to the contrary, their witness should be convincing (95–6). He concludes that such arguments should be taken as part of a cumulative case for theism as against naturalism, as allegedly accounting more satisfactorily for central elements in our experience and justified belief; and he adds that there are not lacking contemporary philosophers who make a powerful case for theism against the prevailing naturalism (107). Willliam J. Wainwright investigates further the question of the cognitive value of religious experience; if sense-experience may have cognitive validity, as would be agreed on all hands, why should not the same apply to religious experience (109)? He makes the interesting suggestion that monistic mystical experiences of undifferentiated union with the Godhead, at least when taken in conjunction with the kinds of experience which are liable to precede and follow them, are not so foreign to mainstream Christian spirituality as may appear at first sight (131). Terence Penelhum provides an enthusiastic yet profoundly judicious assessment of Yandell's views of Hume on religion. This is one of Penelhum's finest contributions to scholarship; from this reviewer, there could scarcely be higher praise. He remarks that, among Hume's followers, there has been a strong tendency to assume that the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion ought to close off debate over the rationality of theistic belief; but he finds in order the contemporary backlash against this assumption, of which he takes Yandell's work to be the finest representative (146). He concludes with the hope that a contemporary natural theology may perhaps not after all be beyond our reach, a hope he finds strengthened by Yandell's writings (151).
Why Bertrand Russell, at least as represented by his mature thinking (as opposed to his early Moorean phase), was not a moral realist any more than he was a Christian, is the topic discussed by Mark Linville. It was George Santayana who finally convinced Russell that his previous moral realism was not in the last analysis compatible with a naturalistic metaphysics (157–9); and it remains a question of enormous importance how far they were right in this (171). That many metaphysical naturalists are very good people is of course true, but not to the point.). For a number of decades now, William Rowe has been elaborating an argument that the existence of the amount of evil that there is in the world, even if ingenious believers can make it somehow formally compatible with the existence of God, remains decisive evidence against it (175). This argument is examined by Michael Peterson, who concludes that if various important realities, like ‘free will, agent causation, and objective moral values’, can hardly be supported within a naturalistic framework, but are better accommodated on a theistic view, then one can give an adequate account of evil in terms of this (191). A refreshing picture of how different religious traditions, whatever their ineliminable cognitive differences, may in some matters confirm and enhance one another, is painted by Paul Reasoner in ‘Confucian Sincerity and the Imago Dei’. Sincerity, or ch'eng, is declared by Confucian sages to be ‘the beginning and end of things. Without sincerity there would be nothing’ (196). Doesn't this sound rather like the logos in the prologue to John's Gospel?
As William Hasker wryly comments, ‘(n)o headlines are made when a leading philosopher of mind announces his rejection of substance dualism’. But stringently-argued cases against dualism, such as that presented by Jaegwon Kim, are more unusual; appeals to cultural prejudice are generally thought enough (215). Kim has the great merit of having put forward an argument which is genuinely new, ‘related to and yet distinct from the time-honored but ineffective and over-rated “problem of mind-body interaction” ’. But Hasker argues that there are some forms of dualism which escape Kim's objections (226). ‘Do we have free will?’ is surely a good candidate for being the most important of all questions. Noel Hendriksen writes that many approaches to the subject, especially by way of the problem of moral responsibility, are well-worn; but a few remain to be explored, including that according to which it is a ‘proposal about the explanatory history of an agent's decisions’ (229). Either Christ could have yielded to temptation or not. If he could, he is not divine; if he could not, he is not fully human. ‘If this argument is sound, the doctrine of the incarnation is not (252). The dilemma can be rebutted, suggests David Werther, along the following lines: – ‘Feeling a pull toward a lesser good and having the ability to choose that good are jointly sufficient conditions for Christ being tempted. Since choosing a lesser good is not wrong, this sort of temptation is compatible with essential goodness’ (262).