Tuesday, December 14, 2004

God is Alive... in Philosophy Departments!

I believe that this could signal the rebirth of the University as the center of the Judeo-Christian tradition (I'll explain more at the end). Consider the following information sent to me by my wizened friend Steve Hays:


is the only professional philosophy journal devoted exclusively to criticisms of
theism and defenses or developments of


the experience of its founding editor:


experience editing Philo was bittersweet. Philo was born out of
discussions between myself and Timothy J. Madigan, Executive Director of the
Society of Humanist Philosophers. I was concerned that recent work in the
philosophy of religion had been dominated by theists, with few replies and
critiques by atheist or humanist philosophers. Worse, a very conservative
strain of apologetic, heretofore relegated to the periphery of academic
discussion, had begun to enter the mainstream. I was, and am, convinced
that the vast majority of professional philosophers are nontheists who endorse
secular aims and values, yet, while theist philosophers energetically pursued
their agenda, the secular voice was mute.

Philo was
founded to provide the forum for the best and most sophisticated expression of
atheist and humanist philosophy, while still being open to the publication of
articles by theists. With much trepidation, I agreed to edit Philo, a job
for which I had no experience. While I have been proud to serve as the
founding editor, I have been disappointed by the response of the philosophical
community. For any journal to thrive, it must have a generous number of
high-quality submissions from top scholars. While I feel that the pieces
we did publish were generally very good, we often had to make issues slimmer
than I would have liked because we had too few top-notch submissions. I do
sincerely hope that humanist philosophers will support Philo by submitting some
of their best work and not leave the field to an increasingly strident and
aggressive religious


us follow this up with the admission of his editorial successor.


LATE 1960s

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; departments of
theology or religion aimed to understand the meaning and origins of religious
writings, not to develop arguments against naturalism. Analytic philosophers (in
the mainstream of analytic
philosophy) treated theism as an antirealist or
non-cognitivist world-view, requiring the reality, not of a deity, but merely of
emotive expressions or certain “forms of life” (of course there were a few
exceptions, e.g., Ewing, Ross, Hartshorne, etc., but I am discussing the
mainstream 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 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. This book, followed seven years later by Plantinga’s even more
impressive book, The Nature of Necessity, made it manifest that a realist theist
was writing at the highest qualitative level of analytic philosophy, on the same
playing field as Carnap, Russell, Moore, Grünbaum, and other naturalists.
Realist theists, whom hitherto had segregated their academic lives from their
private lives, increasingly came to believe (and came to be increasingly
accepted or respected for believing) that arguing for realist theism in
scholarly publications could no longer be justifiably regarded as engaging in an
“academically unrespectable” scholarly pursuit.

passively watched as realist 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.
Christi began in the late 1990s and already is overflowing with submissions from
leading philosophers. Can you imagine a sizeable portion of the articles in
contemporary physics journals suddenly presenting arguments that space and time
are God’s sensorium (Newton’s view) or biology journals becoming filled with
theories defending élan vital or a guiding intelligence? Of course, some
professors in these other, non-philosophical, fields are theists; for example, a
recent study indicated that seven percent of the top scientists are theists.1
However, theists in other fields tend to compartmentalize their theistic beliefs
from their scholarly work; they rarely assume and never argue for theism in
their scholarly work. If they did, they would be committing academic suicide or,
more exactly, their articles would quickly be rejected, requiring them to write
secular articles if they wanted to be published. If a scientist did argue for
theism in professional academic journals, such as Michael Behe in biology, the
arguments are not published in scholarly journals in his field (e.g., biology),
but in philosophy journals (e.g., Philosophy of Science and Philo, in Behe’s
case). But in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, “academically
respectable” to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for
the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today. A count would
show that in Oxford University Press’ 2000–2001 catalogue, there are 96 recently
published books on the philosophy of religion (94 advancing theism and 2
presenting “both sides”). By contrast, there are 28 books in this catalogue on
the philosophy of language, 23 on epistemology (including religious
epistemology, such as Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief), 14 on
metaphysics, 61 books on the philosophy of mind, and 51 books on the philosophy
of science.

And how have naturalist philosophers reacted to what
some committed naturalists might consider as “the embarrassment” of belonging to
the only academic field that has allowed itself to lose the secularization it
once had? Some naturalists wish to leave the field, considering themselves as no
longer doing “philosophy of mind,” for example, but instead “cognitive
science.” But the great majority of naturalist philosophers react by
publicly ignoring the increasing desecularizing of philosophy (while privately
disparaging theism, without really knowing anything about contemporary analytic
philosophy of religion) and proceeding to work in their own area of
specialization as if theism, the view of approximately one-quarter or one-third
of their field, did not exist. (The numbers “one-quarter” and “one-third” are
not the result of any poll, but rather are the exceptionless, educated guesses
of every atheist and theist philosophy professor I have asked [the answers
varied between “one-quarter” and “one-third”]). 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.

Remember, this evaluation was penned by an atheist. What encourages me most about these developments is that philosophy is at the root of the academic enterprise. One can be a professor without being a biologist, but one cannot be a human being without having a philosophy. If the most rigorous philosophical inquiry leads to belief in God, then I expect that in 50 years the academic world will reject the fad of secularism and return to it's roots in theology as the queen of the sciences.

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