Philosophy matters!

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Yes, from the mid-20th century, or so, philosophers as a group have been suspicious of Christians, and those of other religions–often with good reason…

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Enter William Lane Craig. Hear what the Chronicle of Higher Education has to say about him.

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For more use the DOOR.

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    We have discussed William Lane Craig before. I’ve met very few people who have any idea about what’s going on today in university philosophy departments. There is an openness in many places for more than just secular ideas. And new discoveries in science are part of this, as well as a greater openness among evangelicals to step away from some badly packaged misinformation that they circulate among themselves.

    And I speak as an evangelical myself, with a wide door open for what I consider supernatural…and reasonable.

    Here is a portion from the end of the long, unusally perceptive article from the July 1, 2013 secular Chronicle. (As usual in a lengthy piece like this, I will highlight, make bold or otherwise deface certain points that Adozenseconds thinks certain of its readers will find of particular interest.)

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    [From the middle to the end of the Chronicle article we now quote directly, identifying the writer at the end.]

    Most outsiders are familiar with the caricatures of evangelical anti-intellectualism, from the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925 to televangelists and the faux-folksiness of George W. Bush. So are evangelicals themselves. Almost 20 years ago, the evangelical historian (and historian of evangelicals) Mark Noll warned, at book length, about The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. This, as much as secularism itself, is an ill that [William Lane] Craig and others at Biola have set out to cure.

    “Biblical Christianity retreated into the intellectual closet of Fundamentalism,” he writes in the introduction to Reasonable Faith. “Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us.”

    Craig Hazen, who directs the apologetics department at Biola [originally called "Bible Institute of Los Angeles], calls the problem “blind-leaping.” He told me, “The idea that we’re blind-leaping into faith is actually reinforced by evangelical churches all the time.”

    With close ties to the philosophy master’s program [at Biola], the apologetics program teaches a couple of hundred students at a time how to defend their faith with reasons. There are master’s and certificate tracks, and about half the students take courses online from around the world. The program also organizes high-profile events, such as Craig’s 2009 debate with Christopher Hitchens, and seminars at churches around the country. Part of the purpose of these is recruiting students, and part of it is advocacy; Hazen and his team have to convince fellow Christians that reason is not merely a dead end for faith, and that a grown-up faith in modern society requires grown-up reasons.

    “Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics,” Craig has written. “We’ve got to train our kids for war.”

    The students in Craig’s classes at Biola, it’s true, bear a kind of battle scar. A common story among them goes something like this: When they were teenage boys, growing up in evangelical households, their childhood faith began to buckle. Their classes in school and their classmates and the Internet posed questions they didn’t know how to answer. Their parents and pastors couldn’t help; they only recommended more prayer and faith, more blind-leaping. It didn’t work.

    Then someone would lend them a book by William Lane Craig or J.P. Moreland, or send them a link to a debate on YouTube. All of a sudden, their questions were being taken seriously. They could chew on the latest science and philosophy while still going to church with their friends and families. They went to Biola to study philosophy or apologetics because they knew it would be a safe place to ask any question they needed to, with whatever rigor and detail they craved. Afterward they take the answers they get there back to their friends and to the Internet, and the entrepreneurs among them start apologetics ministries of their own.

    They’re born again: rebaptized in philosophy.

    In class, Craig is more than his students’ teacher; for many, this is the man who saved their faith. Standing before them he projects a paternal bearing, a seriousness broken only when he throws himself into imitations of past debate opponents, especially those with British accents. For the brief weeks each year when he’s on campus at Biola, he eats lunch with his students in the cafeteria. But he won’t tell them his e-mail address, for fear of the onslaught of correspondence that could bring him. If they have any more questions, he recommends that they ask through ReasonableFaith.org, like everybody else.

    “My calling is not the classroom,” he admits. The rest of the year, he spends most of his time at home in Marietta with Jan, where he can study, write, build his ministry, and prepare for his next debate without interruption.

    The story one tends to hear among older people drawn to Craig is a bit different from that of the younger ones; fathers, in fact, often go to him at first at the urging of their Internet-savvy sons. (In April, for a bachelor party, one man from Pennsylvania brought his father and grandfather to Georgia for Craig’s seminar on the Resurrection.) While Craig’s philosophy enables the young to hold on, it gives the elders license to let loose a bit, to think more freely in a faith that for decades may have satisfied their hearts more than their minds. Craig’s muscular arguments lend them the confidence to delve into areas of inquiry that might have previously seemed closed, from historical criticism of the Bible to theistic interpretations of evolution. One middle-aged devotee I met had recently self-published a book on the scientific evidence for Christianity in near-death experiences.

    “A person doesn’t feel like they have to be a six-day creationist anymore,” says Philip Murray, a late-career computer specialist who directs the Reasonable Faith chapter in New York City.

    There’s a prophecy in the Book of Joel, paraphrased later in the New Testament: “Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.” Maybe something of that is being fulfilled in the simultaneously tightening and loosening effect of Craig’s presence. One on one, the younger students err on the side of acting holier-than-thou, while the older ones let a mild curse word or two slip. For both, this philosophy is changing their lives.

    Philosophy was never supposed to be a narrow discipline, fortified from the argumentative swells of the agora by specialization and merely professional ambitions. That was for the Sophists whom Socrates regaled against. Philosophy was supposed to serve the polis, to educate and embolden its young, to raise up leaders. Whether one likes their preconceived conclusions or not, today it is evangelical Christians, with William Lane Craig in the lead, who are doing so better than just about anyone else.

Written by Nathan Schneider,  author of God in Proof: The Story of a Search From the Ancients to the Internet (University of California Press). This article was written with support from a Knight Grant for Reporting on Religion and American Public Life from the University of Southern California.