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Uncovering the Other Side of the Debate

by Keith M. Parsons, Editor

The following article is from Philo, Volume 2, Number 1.

Philosophy of religion, like any area of philosophy, thrives on debate. One aim of Philo is to redress an imbalance in recent discussions. I recently received a copy of Charles Taliafero's masterful survey Contemporary Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998). The very extensive bibliography lists many recent works by theists and only a few by atheists or agnostics. We skeptics have definitely not been keeping up our end of the debate in the philosophy of religion. This is too bad since, as I argued in an earlier editorial, the result has been that various sophisticated apologetic enterprises have flourished without the rigorous critical scrutiny they deserve.

Perhaps things are now changing. Theistic philosophers have recently written a great deal about the historical arguments for the Resurrection of Jesus. These arguments are backed by an impressive degree of historical and biblical scholarship and cannot be lightly dismissed. Michael Martin is one of the few nontheist philosophers to address these arguments. His article "Why the Resurrection Is Initially Improbable" in the inaugural issue of Philo argued that the resurrection of Jesus must be regarded as initially improbable even by theists. He contended that the evidence for the Resurrection is insufficient to overcome that initial implausibility.

In the present issue Stephen T. Davis responds to Martin's earlier article in his essay "Is Belief in the Resurrection Rational?" Martin's reply to Davis is also included in this issue. Their debate is lively, and I hope it signals the beginning of a deeper dialogue between Christian and nontheist philosophers on these topics.

This issue also features an article by Victor Reppert defending the "argument from reason" for theism. His claim is that reason in principle cannot be reduced to or supervene upon physical causation and that substance dualism is the only adequate account. This argument has been addressed before, but not with the incisiveness of Reppert's essay or with his knowledge of the philosophy of mind. James Lippard's brief commentary on Reppert's paper is also here. Lippard's aim is not to present a decisive refutation, but simply to illustrate a contrasting view and open the path to further discussion.

Philosophers Wes Morriston and Evan Fales also have contributed interesting and pertinent articles to this issue. Morriston examines a premise of one of the most discussed recent theistic arguments, the kalam argument of William Lane Craig. Morriston criticizes Craig's arguments against the possibility of an infinite past. Fales addresses the ever-volatile issue of religion and politics. His challenging claim, based on anthropological evidence, is that gods are necessarily political and that the introduction of religious reasons into political debate therefore must involve the intrusion of a political ideology alien to liberal democracy.

Finally, Jeffery Lowder and I have contributed book reviews. Lowder provides a much-needed critique of Lee Strobel's recent The Case for Christ. Strobel is a former investigative reporter who has interviewed leading Christian apologists and summarized their arguments for the historical reliability of the New Testament account of Jesus and his purported Resurrection. Lowder shows the glaring deficiencies both in Strobel's research and in the arguments he presents. I review two recent books by Nicholas Rescher and Thomas Nagel on the issue of objectivity. Recent attacks by postmodernists, social constructivists, feminist theorists, and other relativists have undermined the ideal of objectivity. Nagel and Rescher mount spirited counterattacks that, in my view, perform the admirable task of pushing back the tide of cognitive relativism.

Keith Parsons is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston at Clearlake.

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