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C. Stephen Evans

This tag is associated with 4 posts

Book Review: “A History of Western Philosophy From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism” by C. Stephen Evans

A History of Western Philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism by C. Stephen Evans is a valuable entry in the list of single-volume histories of philosophy. Evans approaches the topic from a Christian perspective, though he does integrate critiques into the exposition of philosophies as he goes. Instead, he offers a perspective in the end of philosophers with which he has significant disagreements.

It would be impossible to summarize the whole work here. Instead, I’ll offer a few highlights. In addition to the introduction and concluding summary, there are 22 chapters focusing on either individual philosophers (eg. Aquinas, David Hume) or movements (eg. Enlightenment Deism, Early Christian Thought). Evans writes in a truly winsome and interesting manner, and his explanation of each philosophy is written in a way that, initially at least, draws the reader into thinking it may be “the” philosophy. When Evans believes there is important criticism to offer, he generally does so at the end of each chapter. When other philosophers have offered significant critiques, Evans incorporates those into the chapter. One example of the latter is the Ontological Argument of Anselm, which receives attention in several different chapters (for example in the chapters on Kant, Early Medieval Philosophy, The High Middle Ages (I) and (II)) with major philosophers either arguing against it or making improvements.

I particularly enjoyed those philosophies which at points seemed unanswerable. For example, George Berkeley’s immaterialism caught my interest when I first got into philosophy, and the puzzle of his thought remains one that intrigues me. As Evans aptly sums it up: “Few people find Berkeley’s arguments convincing. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to see just what is wrong with the arguments” (333). Indeed! Yet, as Evans notes, Berkeley’s arguments just ring of wrongness somehow. Denying the existence of the material world just seems… off to us. It’s one of those pesky philosophical problems that makes the field so intriguing and frustrating all at once.

The chapter on Hume was of interest as well, though I personally hoped he would bring up George Campbell, a contemporary of Hume whose A Dissertation on Miracles offers a decisive rebuttal to Hume’s arguments on miracles. Nevertheless, this and many other chapters are full of insights and interest. The footnotes offer much by way of further reading, as well.

A few criticism might be leveled at this stage. First, there is a notable lack of women in Evans’s survey. Though he does allude to this and does include one woman philosopher as a title philosopher for a chapter, a ratio of >20:1 is not great. A diversity of voices in this regard might have heightened the usefulness of the book. Another critique to offer would be the rather uncritical acceptance of “Western” as denoting something understood by all. In the introduction, there is a brief look at this topic, but little commentary at all is offered on how one distinguishes “Western” from any other kind of philosophy. As with any broad concept like this, it seems almost too broad to be useful. After all, if people like Augustine from Africa and Clement from Alexandria are “Western,” what does the term mean, exactly? Indeed, included in this definition of “Western” are philosophers from New Zealand and Australia. The term just doesn’t seem helpful to begin with.

The strengths of this volume should now be apparent. It presents a broad look at many of the most famous philosophers (and philosophies) that people run into in the United States. Evans offers critical feedback where appropriate, and he presents each philosophy in an effective, interesting manner.

C. Stephen Evans has done a service making this historical look at philosophy. It is surprisingly readable, while also presenting the views of many philosophers in a fair way.  I recommend A History of Western Philosophy as an introduction to the topic alongside other, firsthand works.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Doubts about Evidentialism? C. Stephen Evans and a fideistic problem for evidentialists

GoulburnStSaviour'sCathedralI’ve been reading through a few books related to apologetic methodology and epistemology of late. Most recently, I have finished Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account by C. Stephen Evans. One thing that struck me in the book was a brief discussion of a possible difficulty with evidentialism as an apologetic methodology. Evidentialism is, essentially, the notion that apologetics should be based upon evidences to convince unbelievers of the truth of Christianity.* Evans himself did not direct a specific attack against the method, but some of his work could be perceived as a critique of the method. Specifically, he discussed Kierkegaard’s rejection of evidentialism:

[Kierkegaard] wants to argue that if you want something like an eternal happiness more than anything else, then it may be reasonable to commit yourself wholeheartedly to something that promises to help you obtain it, even if the chances of obtaining what you seek are not high because the objective probability that eternal happiness is truly to be gained in this way is not high either. (Evans, 108, cited below)

The thrust of this point is that one may, perhaps, rationally commit to a belief when the risk/reward is at a certain level. It’s a little similar to Pascal’s Wager, but Evans has more in mind than this: “[I]f your desire for this good is high enough… then even a very low probability would be sufficient to motivate belief” (ibid). The argument is therefore more subtle than a simple risk/reward scenario.** Instead, Evans’ point (or at least his exegetical point regarding Kierkegaard) is that one’s own desires play into commitment to beliefs, and that this is not itself an irrational thing.

Yet this point may seem a bit devastating to evidentialists. After all, evidentialists would generally hold that one should not believe without sufficient evidence, and that theistic arguments are strong enough to convince others to believe. If, however, one may grant that it may be reasonable to hold to beliefs even if there is a very low probability on the basis of one’s desire for a certain end, then it seems that evidentialism may itself be a faulty grasping for rationalistic certainty.

Within Kierkegaard’s own context, he was certainly reacting against rationalism. But evidentialism is not reducible to stark rationalism. Rather, it is a method not only of apologetics but also of epistemic investigation, depending upon one’s usage. Perhaps the evidentialist may acknowledge that one may rationally commit to a position–say, theistic belief–based upon one’s desire for that great good, but that does not preclude evidences for that belief. More importantly, the evidentialist may introduce the concept of a defeater–a belief which may serve to disprove or make another belief more improbable. Once one has been presented with defeaters, one may not rationally cling to one’s belief simply because one desires the truth of it; instead, one must either defeat the defeaters themselves or have sufficient evidence to hold to the belief in spite of possible evidence against it.

It therefore seems to me that arguments like Kierkegaard’s point does not do much to discredit evidentialism. Rather, it merely provides a possibility for people to hold beliefs in the absence of evidence either way. Once one has evidence against one’s belief, however, one should–at risk of epistemic suicide–either ground one’s belief or show that the evidence against that belief is not firmly grounded. Evans seems to acknowledge this as well, for he noted the value of evidence despite the possibility for “properly basic” belief.

Of course the question of whether one “should” think one way or another is itself highly contentious. I’ll leave that debate for another post or, even better, the comments.

*Yes, I do realize I’ve vastly oversimplified here. That’s the nature of writing shortish blog posts! For what I consider the best discussion of different apologetic methodologies, check out Faith Has Its Reasons by Boa and Bowman.

**I also acknowledge that Pascal’s Wager is more complex than a simple risk/reward scenario.

Source

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

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Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Threshold Belief and Evidentialism- Can evidentialism work?

fbr-cseThe evidentialist school of apologetics is essentially based upon the notion that the evidence for Christianity is such as to make it rationally justified to believe (and perhaps even compel one to believe). Note that evidentialists (generally) do not claim that this means the Holy Spirit plays no part in conversion or that people are fully capable to choose God.* C. Stephen Evans, in his book Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account, examined evidentialism in light of Kierkegaard’s critique of the method.

One of the primary arguments Kierkegaard had against evidentialism** is that a human being is incapable of considering the whole range of facts regarding a piece of evidence and so may never be justified in holding evidential belief. Evans characterized this argument (following the terminology of Robert Adams) the “postponement argument”:

The idea… is that historical inquiry is never completed, and thus historical beliefs based on such inquiry must always be tentative. It is always possible, at least theoretically, that new evidence will emerge that will overturn any historical conviction. Thus, if religious beliefs were based on such evidence, they would have to be of this tentative character. (Evans, 108, cited below)

Now–this is key–Evans also noted that “Kierkegaard thinks, however, that religious beliefs should have a kind of finality that differs from this kind of scholarly judgment.” With these quotes in mind, we may examine what seems to be a Kierkegaardian objection to evidentialism.

The objection seems to be that faith requires a kind of certainty which may never be provided by historical inquiry; thus, historical inquiry (evidences) may not provide a justifiable grounding for faith. I think the main problem with this is that Kierkegaard seemingly insisted on an impossible level of certainty for evidence. That is, a dismissal of evidentialism based upon this reasoning seems to be only warranted because Kierkegaard has adjusted the level of evidence needed. It is true that historical inquiry may only ever provide probability, but that does not imply we are incapable of believing anything historical.

Of course, one may argue that I have missed the point Kierkegaard is trying to make. It’s not that all historical inquiry must be subjected to the standard of certainty; rather, only on matters of ultimate import must we have certainty. If this were his claim, I think one may rightly respond by questioning why that would be the case. However, it seems, according to Evans, that Kierkegaard was less concerned with a rejection of evidentialism than he was concerned with maintaining a place for the emotions and subjectivity within faith. On that count, I don’t know of any evidentialist who would argue that one cannot have subjective or emotional reasons for faith either.

Now, to return at last to the quote block above. If all that faith were based upon within an evidentialist system were historical evidences, then it seems the quote is correct regarding the tentative nature of faith. But the evidentialist claim is not that faith may only be based upon evidence. Instead, it is that the evidence is such as to justify or ground faith (some would argue it is enough to compel faith). So perhaps Kierkegaard and evidentialism are not irreconcilable after all.

Perhaps the strongest objection which may be derived from the above comments from Evans and Kierkegaard center around the notion of threshold belief. Evans very briefly hinted at this possible problem for evidentialism: basically, the notion is that for the evidentialist method to work, there must be some “threshold” for commitment to a belief. For Kierkegaard, that threshold is certainty, which is why historical evidence cannot satisfy his criterion. However, for the evidentialists themselves, the question remains as to what that threshold is. If this threshold cannot be pinned down, it may be argued, evidentialism as a system cannot work. I think that this challenge is less an arguments against evidentialism than it is an argument for epistemic uncertainty. However, diving into such an argument is beyond the realm of what I want to hit here. For now, I think that I may answer this argument by simply saying that it does not follow that 1) if we can’t pin down an exact threshold beyond which we must be convinced to commit to a belief then 2) we cannot commit to a belief. The argument is simply off target.

Notes

*I say this so as to avoid lengthy debate, one way or the other, regarding how one comes to be saved. My intent in this post is to investigate the apologetic method, not soteriological details.

**I should note that Kierkegaard should be understood within his historical context, in which he was reacting against overly rationalistic faith. Thus, his (sometimes extreme) reaction against rationalism–while overreaching–is perhaps more understandable. There is also, of course, some anachronism in this statement because “evidentialism” is being used in its specific fashion to reference the method of apologetics, while Kierkegaard was reacting against rationalism. I acknowledge this anachronism but simply point out it is for the sake of simplifying terminology in the post.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Does good always eliminate evil?

michael-binds-satan-william-blakeOne of the key components of the composition of the problem of evil (at least its logical variety)* is the notion that good will eliminate evil. The late J.L. Mackie put it this way:

A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being. (Mackie, 150, cited below)

Simply put, this statement and any like it seem fairly obviously false if made without any rather major qualifications. After all, it seems clear that the total elimination of evil is not actually a logically necessary end for a good being, even an all-good, all-powerful being.

C. Stephen Evans presented a case to show that Mackie’s statement (and those like it) are simply mistaken. He noted that the principle that good must eliminate evil seems to be blatantly false without a number of qualifications. He argued that there are some evils which good beings will allow in order to bring about a greater good. The analogy he used was that of parents not allowing their children to ride in automobiles. After all, this would ensure that they would never be involved in the evil of a car crash, but surely it would also prevent greater goods of interaction with friends, learning to drive and the responsibility that comes with, and more (127). However, Evans was quick to note that a deity is by no means directly analogous to a human parent. The resources God would have to prevent evil are infinitely greater than that of a human parent.

In the case of God, however, God cannot bring about the logically impossible. Rather than going for a full-on theodicy (an account of why evils exist), Evans argued that certain goods are impossible to achieve without some evil. Thus, courage necessitates some kind of suffering (128). He did not argue that this notion alone provides a comprehensive theodicy; but for our purposes it is enough. It seems clear that the notion that good must eliminate evil is not only unsupported by argument (it is an a priori assumption), but also patently false. That is, we have evidence that at least some evil must be allowed in order for some good to be brought about.

I want to be clear about my thesis in this post: I am not claiming to have a comprehensive explanation for all evil everywhere. My claim is rather that good does not, by necessity, eliminate evil. That’s all. I believe that I have established this thesis. If so, then Mackie’s argument (and those like it) fail.

*The logical problem of evil is basically an argument that there is a contradiction in theistic belief related to God’s power and goodness and the existence of evil.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford, 1982).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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