Tag Archives: J.P. Moreland

Philosophy and the Christian (PFCW)

“To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” – C.S. Lewis in “Learning in Wartime”

When I told my high school math teacher that I was changing my college major to philosophy he wrote a letter to me and signed off with Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than Christ.” This teacher was certainly not the first person to react this way when I would tell them that I was getting my B.A. in Philosophy, from a secular university nonetheless!

Nowadays, however, there is a greater appreciation for philosophy among Christians. For many, however, it still echoes C.S. Lewis’ position quoted above – philosophy is a tool for defending the faith. In a sense that is true, often Apologetics is profoundly philosophical. However philosophy is so much more than that!

In their recent book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview 2nd Edition, William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland put forth a convincing argument for why Philosophy, not just apologetics, is a good thing for Christians. They begin by appealing to philosophy_dictionarya lecture given by the former UN General Secretary, Charles Malik, at Wheaton. Malik said that evangelism was about “saving the soul and saving the mind.” By this Malik meant that there is an intellectual struggle going on in today’s universities and scholarly journals, which are inherently anti-Christian. Malik emphatically states, “For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ, as well as for their own sakes, evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence!” (Malik, The Two Tasks)

Part of recentering ourselves into a position of responsible intellectual existence, is the recovery of philosophy as a Christian task. Why? There are at least 3 reasons. First, philosophy is the foundation of The University. As the University goes, so goes culture. Second, pastors deal with peoples’ question about moral values, suffering, evil, religious skepticism, etc. Philosophy addresses all these issues. As Craig and Moreland say, “We do not know how one could minister effectively in a public way on our university campuses without training in philosophy.” (PFCW, 6) Third, not being “passive, sensate, busy and hurried, incapable of developing an interior life” is part of Christian discipleship. (PFCW, 6)  Philosophical thinking promotes the life of the mind, which in turn, affects our spirituality.

If those reasons don’t convince you that Christians should engage with philosophy, at least in some way, then perhaps the fact that theology necessarily interacts with philosophy will. What do I mean by that? I mean that all of our theological concepts have philosophical implications and that our philosophical assumptions have theological implications. Think for example about the concept of Justice. Theories of justice are common discussions among philosophers. These discussions trickle their way down into popular culture. The result is that you probably have adopted one of these theories of justice, and probably aren’t even aware of it. Your theory of justice, which you probably aren’t aware of, affects how you read biblical passages about justice and it affects how you think about God’s justice.  Or take another example, this time related to the philosophical concept of free will: “A psychologist reads the literature regarding identical twins who are reared in separate environments. He notes that they usually exhibit similar adult behavior. He then wonders if there is really any such thing as freedom of the will, and if not, he ponders what to make of moral responsibility and punishment.” (PFCW, 22) Whatever this psychologist decides on regarding his understanding of freedom will have profound theological impact. Is theological determinism compatible with moral responsibility? Can we be morally responsible if we are bound to sin according to the doctrine of Original Sin? After all, original sin, implies that it is inevitable we will sin. And what about God? Is God free to choose between genuine alternate possibilities? If not, is he really free? If so, does that mean that God must be able to choose between evil and good in order to be free? All of these are philosophical issues that make their way into theology. Or what about our doctrine of atonement? Most evangelicals believe in a doctrine of penal substitution. But is penal substitution just? Who dictates what is just and what is not? Is retributive punishment the best form of punishment? How can Christ take our punishment on our behalf? What makes it the case that we are united with Christ on the cross?  Again, all of these are philosophical questions with profound theological implications.

philosophy

All of this is just to say, philosophy is important. Philosophy is a worthwhile task for Christians. Christians should not ignore philosophy. If you agree with any of these statements, or are open to exploring whether or not you agree with these statements I recommend the following books:

  1. God and the Philosophers edited by Tom Morris
  2. Philosophers Who Believe edited by Kelly Clark
  3. An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology by Tom McCall
  4. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland
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Book Review – The Soul by J.P. Moreland

It seems as though believing in the soul is out of fashion now a days, even among evangelicals. But J.P. Moreland, an evangelical philosopher, has stood up to defend the traditional Christian belief in the soul in his new book The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why it Matters.

According to Moreland, there are four reasons why its worth spending time thinking about the existence of the soul:

  1. First, the Bible seems to teach that consciousness and the soul are immaterial and we need to regard this teaching as genuine knowledge and not as faith commitments that we merely hope are true. (12)
  2. Second, the reality of the soul is important to various ethical issues that crucially involve an understanding of human persons. (15)
  3. Third, the loss of belief in life after death is related to a commitment to the authority of science above theology. But belief in the soul is being scientifically discredited. (17)
  4. Fourth, understanding the immaterial nature of the human spirit is crucial to grasping the essence of spiritual growth. (17)

Building upon these convictions J.P. Moreland attempts to make a case for the immaterial nature of consciousness and the soul without using the Bible, instead he makes a case for the soul through philosophical arguments.

Summary

The book is broken up into five chapters. In the first chapter, Moreland lays some philosophical foundations for discussing the soul. For instance he introduces Leibniz’s law of the indiscernability of identicals, and he introduces the reader into discussions about neuroscience and philosophy. In chapter two, he summarizes what he takes to be key Old and New Testament passages that illustrate the mind/body dualism taught in scripture. This chapter doesn’t exactly argue for substance dualism, but it does argue that this is the biblical position. Chapter three makes a case for property dualism, while defending the position against several objections including the problem of other minds and the problems brought about by a Darwinistic conception of evolution. Moreland also devotes some space to arguing against physicalist accounts of property dualism. Chapter four is the core of the book. In this chapter he makes a case for substance dualism and the immaterial nature of the self. Moreland offers five arguments for the belief in substance dualism. Having established that substance dualism is the correct position regarding the existence of the soul, he makes some philosophical observations regarding what the nature of the soul might be like. He concludes the book with some philosophical thoughts on what the future of human beings might look like if they are in fact souls.

Pros

1-The Soul is a very clear introduction to the topic of dualism. Moreland’s clarity in presenting difficult philosophical positions is probably this book’s greatest strength. At the end of each chapter he provides a summary outlining what his points were and breaking down each argument into its individual parts. Because he does this it will be very easy for those seeking to use this book for apologetic purposes to learn these arguments and/or be ready to respond when people challenge their beliefs.

2-Although his discussion about the state of the soul after death seems a bit out of place, it was one of the most interesting sections in the book. How he handles the doctrine of Hell is philosophically sophisticated (he relies heavily upon Swinburne’s argument for Hell). This section will certainly help readers as they think about the spiritual implications of belief in the soul.

Cons

I believe in substance dualism. In fact I hold to a Cartesian account of substance dualism much like Moreland does. However I think that several of his arguments for this position are actually pretty weak. For instance, he makes an argument for the soul based upon belief in Free Will, Morality, Responsibility, and Punishment. Essentially he argues that if physicalism is true then human free will does not exist – thus determinism is true. If determinism is true then there is no such thing as moral obligation and determinism. This seems to be blatantly false to me. He argues as though the belief that determinism and moral responsibility are incompatible is blatantly obvious. The problem is though that it is not blatantly obvious. Any compatibilist will tell you that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible. Also he makes an argument for the soul based upon the idea that for agency to be meaningful identity has to persist over time, but if we are purely physical then agency is meaningless. Once again, it doesn’t seem so obvious to me that this point is correct. In fact, Jonathan Edwards seems to argue that identity does not persist over time, yet he holds to a strong notion of agency and moral responsibility. All this to say that even though I believe that Moreland is arguing for the correct position, I believe that many of his arguments in this book are quite flawed.

Conclusion

Should you read this book? Yes. If you are looking for some basic arguments for why it is rational to belief in the soul then this book is for you. The book essentially shows that belief in the soul is not irrational and he gives you some good reasons why this is so. However if you are looking for a book that establishes a strong case for the existence of the soul, then I would look elsewhere. There is quite a difference between arguing that a belief is rational and arguing that a belief is rational and correct. This book does the former. So if you are okay with that then pick up this book.