A Journal Like None Other
by Keith M. Parsons, Editor
The following article is from Philo,
Volume 1, Number 1.
In the staid and sober world of academic journals, something exciting has just
happened. A new peer-reviewed philosophy journal has just been launched to do something
unheard of - offer rigorous critiques of theistic and religious claims. The journal's name
is Philo. It began when I proposed the idea to Free Inquiry Editor Tim Madigan.
He raised the issue with Paul Kurtz, who
enthusiastically supported the project and agreed to make Philo a publication
of the Council for Secular Humanism. Philo is
sponsored by, and is the official journal of, the Society
of Humanist Philosophers. With considerable diffidence, I agreed to edit the new
journal. I agreed only because I was assured of the support of Lewis Vaughn as my
Executive Editor. His expertise makes the project possible.
My inspiration for selecting the name "Philo," Hume's skeptic in his Dialogues
Concerning Natural Religion, was a remark made by Richard Gale in his outstanding
book The Nature and Existence of God. In his Introduction to the work, Gale
comments that he wrote the book because, given recent, sophisticated work by theistic
philosophers, he felt that it was time for a return of Hume's Philo. This also is the
justification for the existence of this journal.
Over the past two decades, a number of outstanding theistic philosophers have produced
a number of very significant works in the philosophy of religion. Some of these works
employ conceptual tools developed in science, the philosophy of science, and formal logic
to give new life to old arguments. For instance, Richard Swinburne's The Existence
of God applies Bayesian confirmation theory to the traditional cosmological and
teleological arguments for the existence of God. He thereby produces powerful new
inductive versions of those arguments, which, he claims, are not vulnerable to the
standard refutations. In a similar vein, William Lane Craig has employed highly technical
points from current physical cosmology to refurbish cosmological arguments. Other
philosophers defend sophisticated modal versions of the ontological argument.
Philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga and William Alston have developed defenses of
theism that depart from the old-fashioned natural-theology project. Plantinga develops an
anti-foundationalist position he calls Calvinist (or Reformed) Epistemology. This position
permits belief in God as a properly basic belief, i.e., a belief that is rational though
based on no evidence or argument. Alston argues the intriguing view that the Christian's
claims to perceive God need be no less rational than our everyday perceptual claims. R. M.
Adams also provides novel treatments of old issues, such as the problem of evil.
A new development has been the resurgence of anti-evolutionism and the emergence of
so-called "intelligent design" theory. Led by activists such as Philip Johnson,
this movement has attracted endorsements from several leading philosophers. More
sophisticated than the crude propaganda of "scientific creationists," the new
anti-evolutionism is also an attack on scientific naturalism. I intend that an entire
issue of Philo will soon address "intelligent design" and its
Finally, the Fellowship of
Christian Philosophers has flourished and produces an outstanding journal, Faith
and Philosophy. Various other lesser-known journals are devoted to the rational
defense of theism in general and Christianity in particular.
While these various apologetic enterprises have multiplied, with some notable
exceptions, the response of nontheist philosophers has been muted. Only a handful of
book-length responses have appeared. Several critical pieces have appeared in the
journals, but are generally swamped by the volume of pro-theist pieces.
The purpose of Philo is, quite simply, to provide a single source for the
best peer-reviewed articles by nontheist philosophers on topics relating to the philosophy
of religion and religious apologetics. We shall also publish articles on naturalistic or
humanistic ethics. This does not mean that editorial policy will exclude articles by
theists; our policy is to publish the best articles we receive. However, we aim to become
recognized as the source for the highest quality writings by the most distinguished
nontheist philosophers. In this sense we aim to make our journal the counterpart of Faith
Philo aims to be a professional journal of the highest quality and will
therefore inevitably contain highly technical materials of interest chiefly to
professional philosophers. However, I think that philosophers should not feel it beneath
their dignity occasionally to address semi-popular apologetic works. These works are often
quite influential, and, unless philosophers examine them, they often go without
significant critical evaluation. I therefore do not consider it out of place for
philosophers to critically examine semi-popular apologetic works in the pages of Philo.
This means that educated nonprofessionals should also find things of interest in Philo.
Each issue of Philo will consist of three parts. The first section will
contain peer-reviewed articles. The second section will consist of responses to earlier
articles and replies by the original authors. I expect that the articles in Philo
will provoke a number of lively controversies, and we intend to provide a forum for such
continuing discussion. The third section will be a lengthy section of book reviews. Works
in the philosophy of religion appear quite frequently, and we shall aim to have the more
important of these works reviewed by the appropriate experts. Most reviews will be short,
but works considered particularly significant will be reviewed at length in "review
We are particularly lucky to have an outstanding group of articles in the first issue.
Contributions come from Kai Nielsen, Adolf Grünbaum, Richard Gale, Quentin Smith, Paul
Kurtz, Michael Martin, Theodore Drange, Theodore Schick, and H. James Birx. One could
hardly have asked for a more distinguished group of philosophers to grace our first issue.
Other very distinguished philosophers have agreed to serve on our editorial board. These
include W. V. Quine, Kurt Baier, Mario Bunge, Daniel C. Dennett, Paul Edwards, Ted
Honderich, Philip Kitcher, and Antony Flew. We expect their writings to appear in the
journal in the future.
I think that all who take a serious interest in the rational evaluation of religious
claims will find a great deal that is useful and compelling in Philo.
Keith Parsons is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston at Clearlake.