Book Write-Up: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview

J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig.  Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  IVP Academic, 2003.  See here to purchase the book.

J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig are reputable philosophers and apologists.  This book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, covers a variety of philosophical issues and views and discusses how they can relate to a Christian worldview.

The book is 626 pages and has 31 chapters, along with “Suggestions for Further Reading” concerning each chapter.  I will not comment on all 31 chapters, but I will say something about each “Part,” as the book is organized into six Parts.  Then, I will offer some general impressions about the book.

Part I defines philosophy, justifies it from a Christian perspective, and sets forth rules of logic (in which you use letters and symbols to represent arguments).  My favorite passage in this Part is when Moreland and Craig respond to a Christian argument that human reason is corrupt as a result of the Fall, and thus philosophy is useless.  Moreland and Craig note that the Bible employs reason and logic, even when speaking to the sinful and unregenerate.

Part II concerns epistemology: can we know anything, and how do we know what we know?  It critiques skepticism and postmodernism, while also discussing Alvin Plantinga’s view that naturalism should logically lead to skepticism.  It discusses justification: are internal criteria (i.e., our senses, our minds) sufficient for us to say that we know something (i.e., that the ball is red), or are criteria external to us (i.e., we see a red ball because red light bounces off of the ball) essential?  This Part also explores religious epistemology: do we know that certain religious claims are true, and, if so, how?  The exploration of religious epistemology largely covers Alvin Plantinga’s work.

Some things stood out to me in this Part.  First, the authors said that skepticism and postmodernism are self-refuting because they make the truth claim that accurate truth claims are impossible.  I rolled my eyes at this, expecting that to be their sole attempt to refute skepticism and postmodernism, but I was wrong.  They justify this argument, addressing the counterargument that we should make an exception for the skeptical truth claim.  They also interacted with arguments for skepticism.  Second, the authors quoted a passage in which Charles Darwin expressed a fear that evolutionary naturalism challenges epistemology.  In a July 3, 1881 letter to William Graham Down, Darwin stated: “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the conviction of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”  Third, in discussing Plantinga’s argument that naturalism can lead to skepticism about evolutionary theory, I saw that Plantinga employed a few bizarre hypotheticals (i.e., suppose you have an animal that feels pleasure when it is attacked).  Craig and Moreland themselves occasionally use bizarre hypotheticals.  It’s probably something that philosophers do.  It still strikes me as bizarre.

Part III is about metaphysics.  One chapter spent a lot of time on the different kinds of nominalism as they relate to the color red: can we say that there is a general category of red, or should we reject the concept of general categories because each object is unique?  In reading this, I wanted to throw up my hands and say, “Look, there are objects that have different shades of red!  Why does this have to be so difficult?”  This Part also discussed the mind-body problem: the question of whether humans have souls or just physical brains.  On page 300, Moreland and Craig state: “Just because computers can imitate intelligence, or because we continue to learn more about the brain and its interaction with the soul, it does not follow that there is no soul and no enduring self.”  I think these things should be taken very seriously, though, since they relate to the question of whether the mind can be attributed to the brain, and whether the brain can produce free thoughts (contrary to determinism, which Moreland and Craig believe materialism entails).  Another topic that this Part covered was “Free Will and Determinism.”  My understanding is that Moreland and Craig support libertarianism, the idea that humans have free will and are the authors of their choices.  Yet, they are fair to compatibilism (the idea that choices are caused) and wrestle with its arguments.  Do they present a libertarianism that acknowledges that certain factors influence our choices?  Maybe, but I do not clearly recall their presentation of it.

Part IV concerns philosophy of science.  I would like to make five points about this Part.  First, Moreland and Craig provide an effective section about the different conceptualizations of “laws” and “theories.”  As Moreland and Craig point out, most scientists reject the idea that theories are mere guesses, which become laws after being proven.  This section was informative.  Second, there were places in which I thought that Moreland and Craig were flirting with creationism, anti-evolutionism, and Flood Geology, but I could be wrong on this.  They may have just been using examples of arguments that they deemed relevant to the discussion: they also cited as relevant the view that nature has flawed design and thus probably was not designed.  Third, Moreland and Craig showed how empiricism and realism can run contrary to each other.  This can initially appear counter-intuitive, since do not both acknowledge the existence of an outside world and hold that we can arrive at fairly accurate knowledge about it?  Actually, because empiricism focuses solely on what we can see, that leaves out a lot of knowledge!  Fourth, I appreciated the authors’ engagement of anti-realist arguments.  On page 334, for example, Moreland and Craig refer to an anti-realist observation that “In the history of science, many theories have explained phenomena, generated fruitful research and accurate predictions, yet were later abandoned as false.”  Fifth, the authors discuss the role of Newton’s theology in some of his scientific conclusions, and how Einstein would later disagree with Newton.  That actually came out in the first episode of the National Geographic TV series, Genius!

Part V was about ethics.  Is there an objective foundation for ethics?  Are ethics relative or absolute?  Here, I think that the authors made a special effort to convey how the other side (from their standpoint) would respond to criticisms.  There were times in reading this book when I wondered if the authors’ presentation of a perspective was complete, if an actual adherent to the perspective would accept the authors’ conceptualization of their viewpoint, or if an adherent would be able to respond to the authors’ easy knock-down punch of their ideas.  In short, would the adherents say “Wait a minute!” after reading the authors’ presentation of their position?  There was a little more back and forth in the section on utilitarianism (though, of course, Moreland and Craig are the ones summarizing the different perspectives).

I am ambivalent about some of the authors’ arguments in this Part.  Against utilitarianism’s claim that we should do what maximizes our pleasure and minimizes our pain, Moreland and Craig ask about those who find immoral acts pleasurable.  Moreland and Craig also robustly argue that egoism by itself cannot be a foundation for ethics: it can be part of the equation, but it cannot uphold ethics on its own.  Maybe they have a point here, but I wonder: Is it too much of a stretch for me to go from saying that I want good things for myself, to saying that I should want good things for others, too, since the other is just as valuable as I am?  Moreland and Craig dispute utilitarianism’s claim that we should define ethics according to what is the greatest good for the greatest number by saying that we do not always know the long-term effects of certain actions, and whether those effects are good or bad.  Perhaps, but should consequences be considered irrelevant in defining an action as moral or immoral?  If we see that an action consistently makes people miserable, should we hold out hope that eventually it might have a positive effect, or can we arrive at a fairly safe conclusion that there may be something wrong with the action?  Moreland and Craig appeal a couple of times to the value of moral intuition, and yet, in arguing against relativism, they note cultures that have a different morality.  If we all have a reliable moral intuition, then how do we account for the cultures that have practices that are morally offensive, from a number of people’s standpoints?  Finally, Moreland and Craig are trying to argue that God needs to exist for there to be a foundation for objective morality.  I question how much the existence of God actually solves.  Granted, you have God, and God enforces morality, which comes from God’s character.  But we still have to figure out what God wants.  We have our own conceptions of God.  And there are passages in the Bible that many today find morally offensive.  Moreland and Craig undoubtedly would have their responses to these concerns: they believe that there is apologetic evidence for the biblical God, and they would have their explanations for the morally offensive passages of Scripture.  Still, I wonder: does believing in God result in an understanding of objective moral values, when there is still a lot of subjectivity in the world?  In areas, perhaps.

Part VI covers such topics as arguments for the existence of God, God’s attributes, the problem of evil, the Trinity, the relationship between Jesus’ divine and human natures at the incarnation, and Christian exclusivism.  I have some points.  First, the coverage of the cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God was effective.  Moreland and Craig argued that some of the models upheld by critics of these arguments themselves presume that the universe does not go back infinitely, or have some assumption of fine-tuning.  Moreland and Craig seem to consider the ontological argument to be a good argument, even though I still look at it and think, “What the heck?”  Second, Moreland and Craig were unafraid to think outside the box, and that is commendable.  They believe that God has existed in time ever since creating the universe, as opposed to being outside of time.  They also offer a rehabilitation of Apollinaris (whom has been considered a heretic) that they believe remains within orthodoxy: that Jesus can still be fully human when his mind is the divine logos, since humans are made in God’s image.  This is brilliant, but they did not offer a robust answer to the question of how Jesus’ mind can be the divine logos, and yet Jesus can still be tempted to sin, or can be afraid.  They tried to address this question, but they failed, in my opinion.  Third, I liked their argument in their discussion of the problem of evil that there are many good things in the world, that many of us, notwithstanding our suffering, consider life to be worth living.  Fourth, I did not care for their defense of Christian exclusivism.  They say that God loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved, and yet that God put those whom he knew would not believe in contexts in which they would never hear the Gospel.  Couldn’t God at least offer them an actual opportunity, if God loved them so much?

In terms of general assessments, this book is helpful in terms of the background information that it provides.  The back cover calls it an “introduction” to philosophy.  I am not sure if I would have understood it as well as I did had I not had previous exposure to the philosophical concepts in the book.  And, even then, there were parts that were over my head.  For me, the book put pieces of what I knew in context, while also exposing me to additional nuances and shades of thought.  The authors try to be lucid and in many cases succeed: I could understand the broad thrust of what they were saying, even if some of the details escaped me.  They also used examples and illustrations, which could be helpful.  Maybe a person with no exposure to philosophy could get something out of this book: he or she may have to read it slowly, though!

That said, I give the book five stars because it was informative and wrestled with different positions.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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