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Why Philo?

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 philosophical defenders.

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 and Philosophy.

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 essays."

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.


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