Evangelical Philosophical Society news

As many Philosophy Foosballers know, I (Dr. V) had the wonderful opportunity to travel with my wife (Carla) to attend the annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the EPS Apologetics conference. (For more information, see Providence News.)
I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, Paul Copan, J. P. Moreland, Michael Licona, John Warwick Montgomery, Angus Menuge, Irving Hexham, Craig Keener, and others. We are blessed to have such fine people doing such excellent intellectual work!

Books at the conference were sold at 40 to 50% off the regular price, so I almost exceeded the weight limit for my airline luggage on the return trip!  Two recently published books stood out from all the others, and I hereby draw your attention to them: Michael Licona's The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (InterVarsity Press) and Paul Copan's Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker).

Pruss' Argument From Forgiveness

To my mind, there are few contemporary philosophers of religion who are more inventive than Alexander Pruss of Baylor University. Though he knows the classical arguments of philosophy of religion well (cosmological, ontological, etc.), he's also constantly creating new arguments for theism. I find his creativity inspiring, and also very instructive for budding undergraduate philosophers (like those frequently found lunching every odd-dated Wednesday in the Providence cafeteria).

Back in September, Pruss posted an interesting argument from forgiveness that I think is worth pondering. It's reprinted below (click here to go to the original post, which includes follow-up comments).
  1. (Premise) If one has done a wrong, one ought to ask someone for forgiveness of it.
  2. (Premise) If God does not exist, there are some wrongs (e.g., the murder of someone who has no friends or relatives) that one cannot appropriately ask anyone for forgiveness of.
  3. (Premise) If one ought to do something, then one can appropriately do it.
  4. Therefore, if God does not exist, there are some things one ought to do but cannot appropriately do. (By 1 and 2).
  5. Therefore, God exists. (By 3 and 4).

Second Ever Philosophy Foosball Club Dinner a Success!


The evening of Thursday, October 7 2010, was the second ever Philosophy Foosball Club Dinner (see photos below). Here are some details:

1. The dinner was held at Dr. V's home in Steinbach. Excellent catering was provided by Carla (Dr. V's wife) and Tom (Carla's and Dr. V's son, who is a first year Providence student with a strong interest in business). Big thanks to Carla and Tom!

2. In total, 15 students/ former students from Providence College attended the dinner. (Extra thanks go to Carla and Tom for the fine—and large—meal.)

3. The PFC dinner was graced by a visit from Landon Oakes, a former Prov student and current philosophy student at Bemidji State University in Minnesota. We're glad Landon could make it. (Note: In photo #4 [see below], Landon looks like he was glad to have made it too, since he seems to be taking a very long time to say grace. Nicole Dyck and Phil Wiebe are being very polite as Landon continues praying through after-dinner coffee.)

4. Joining the PFC event too, momentarily via Facebook, was a special guest from Thunder Bay: Former Prov student Elizabeth Busby! Lizz sent her greetings.

5. After dinner, student president Garrett Erskine presented a fine and encouraging speech. Thanks Garrett! (Dr. V realized later that former student president Paul Oleniuk, who also was at the PFC dinner, should have been asked to say a few words too, plus should have made a speech at last year's PFC dinner. Paul, please be forewarned: At next year's PFC dinner you will be asked to give three speeches! (And, yes, Garrett, you are hereby forewarned, too.)

6. After Garrett's speech, the PFC discussed two major and deeply interesting philosophical topics/ questions (though, of course, a few other topics and questions were sprinkled in). The first topic, introduced by Jordan Byggdin, was an argument from sociologist Christian Smith's recent book, What is a Person? Here is Jordan's summary of the topic: "In essence, Smith argues that simple correspondence between thought/ proposition and external world/ object is not legitimate, since the two are essentially different kinds of things. Smith suggests 'transpositional correspondence' instead, a process by which we 'translate' or 'recode' facts about the external world into truthful propositions, relying on the presupposed validity of our senses and other means." The second topic was introduced by Jeff Honsberger, and here is Jeff's summary of the topic (and sketch of the discussion): "The second question began by building off/ misrepresenting a line from the RSA Animate lecture, First as tragedy, then as farce, 'the worst slave owners were the ones who were nice to their slaves.' The discussion meandered, beginning from an attempt to question which has greater moral imperative micro or macro change, if the two are in opposition. The subjects of slavery, biblical arguments for and against social justice, Marxism, capitalism, social justice, charity, as well as a discussion of the actual lecture which the original question diverged from were all addressed periodically. Here is the original lecture http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpAMbpQ8J7g."  Both topics were excellent and thoroughly discussed.  Many thanks to Jordan and Jeff!

7. After the philosophical discussions, numbers were drawn (yes, to once again honour Pythagoras) and Philosophy Foosballers were allowed, in an orderly fashion, to (a) enter the tiny hallway to Dr. V's sacred space (i.e., his basement office/cellar), (b) sift through a pile of books (which no longer fit in Dr. V's library), and (c) take home some favourites. (Fun project: See if you can find the photo below wherein Sean Brewster, Garrett Erskine, and Jeff Honsberger are waiting for their turn to look for books and are doing, with varying/ dismal degrees of success, impressions of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker. Hint: You may have to click on photo #8 [below] to get a better look.)

8. During the "book crawl" and over coffee, various philosophical discussions were continued (although, as photo #11 seems to show, Mark Jensen is simply reading a story to David Ward). Speaking of coffee, it's interesting to note how caffeine affects people differently: See the golden aura/ halo of calmness in the photo of Jordan Byggdin and Paul Oleniuk, and then see the lack of calmness in the photo where Mark Jensen and Malcolm Montgomery give us the thumbs-up. (Next year the four of you will be limited to one cup of Java!)

9. No Crokinole games were played this year, apparently because of rumours from last year's PFC dinner that the "v" in "Dr. V" stands for virtuoso (in Crokinole). (Yes, this is a throwing down of the Crokinole gauntlet! Did you read this last sentence, Rob Horsley?!)

In sum, the second ever Philosophy Foosball Club dinner was excellent—and a wonderful success. Thanks to all who attended.

- Dr. V

Second Ever Philosophy Foosball Club Dinner Photos (Okay, so next year we should hire a professional photographer…)

On Truth

Os Guinness speaks on truth in a 14 minute video titled Why Truth Matters. Christian Week editor Doug Koop reacts negatively to Os Guinness's "tough words...". For some clarification of the concept of truth look at H. vander Something-or-other's "What is truth?" - Dr. V

P.S. Some comments about the Second Annual PFC Dinner are (still) forthcoming. I apologize for taking so long.

Charles Taylor event postponed

Sadly, the Charles Taylor lecture at the U of Winnipeg has been postponed due to illness. For further information, check here or here.

- Dr. V

Charles Taylor at U of W

Canadian philosopher Dr. Charles Taylor, professor emeritus at McGill University and author of A Secular Age and Sources of the Self, will be giving a free lecture at the University of Winnipeg on Thursday, October 28th at 7:30pm in the Convocation Hall. The lecture is entitled, "Solidarity and Diversity in a Secular Age: Managing Belief and Unbelief in the Public Square." Did I mention it's free?

If you live nearby, this is a great opportunity for you to see an influential contemporary philosopher (and Christian) discuss an important topic that affects all members of society. I strongly encourage PFC members to attend!

Two Abortion Articles

Thanks to Dr. V for the link to the first article.

Also, check out this website featuring hundreds of links to videos of Dr. William Lane Craig.

The Berlinski-Hitchens Debate

On September 7th, 2010, Christopher Hitchens and David Berlinski squared off at the Fixed Point Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama before a capacity crowd of 1,200. The question being debated was whether or not a purely atheistic society is preferable to a religious one. Overshadowing the debate was Hitchens' recent cancer diagnosis (as you can see from the above picture, Hitchens has lost his hair due to chemotherapy). The debate was filmed and will be released on DVD in November, just in time to make it on to your philosophically-inclined Christmas wishlist.

I'm especially interested in listening to this debate because, while many debate opponents are mismatched, I think Berlinski and Hitchens are well suited to debate each other. Both men are rhetorical, witty, iconoclastic public figures. This decreases the chance that the debate will be won or lost based on one debater out-talking another.

Click here to read an overview of each debater's main points, as well as some issues raised by the debate. Click here to read a newspaper review and see some pictures of the debate. Finally, click here to read Fixed Point Foundation executive director Larry Taunton's reflections on the evening.

Recent Developments in the Philosophy of Religion

Robert Gressis, a contributor over at The Prosblogion, a philosophy of religion blog, has posted a couple of very interesting articles about recent developments in the field of philosophy of religion. The first is entitled, "Atheist Burnout and the Direction of Philosophy of Religion." It discusses philosopher Keith Parsons and his recent public decision to quit the philosophy of religion because he no longer finds theism respectable, let alone tenable or presentable. Parsons writes, "I just cannot take their [theistic philosophers'] arguments seriously anymore, and if you cannot take something seriously, you should not try to devote serious academic attention to it." As soon as Parsons said this several others philosophers admitted that they had reached the same conclusion. Gressis' three brief reflections on this situation are, in my opinion, worth reading.

The second article is entitled, "Philosophy of Religion as Seen by Atheists." It follows up on the subsequent comments and discussion generated by Parsons' announcement, and summarizes the two main opinions floating around this issue.

What are your thoughts on these recent developments in the philosophy of religion? Do you think they could they be part of some larger movement within philosophy or Western society (e.g., university politics, academic freedom, the "New Atheism")? If more atheists quit or discredit the philosophy of religion, what ripple effects might it have on the discipline in the future?

New Apologetics Links

Looking for some summer reading to tide you over until Dr. V's philosophy courses begin? Then check out the 'Christian Apologetics Links' and 'Philosophy Links' sections of the PFC blog. They have been updated with several new links to philosophers, apologists, and apologetics organizations of note. There are also many other interesting links available on the right-hand side of this blog.

Also, for more links, take a look at Apologetics 3:15's list of 100 Christian Apologists, and their Christian Apologetics Blog Directory. Happy reading!

Creation Trailer

Hello Philosophy Foosballers! I hope your summer is going swimmingly. In no time at all we will be back at Providence. In the meantime, check out this trailer for the movie Creation, a new bio-pic about Charles Darwin. We might have a public screening of this movie sometime in the Fall. It looks like it will stimulate some philosophical debate about the relationship between science and religion and, more specifically, between Christianity and Darwinian evolution.

Paths Up The Mountain

Hello philosophy foosballers! I hope your summer break is going well. Here's some philosophical food for thought as you mow the lawn, drive to work, sip a slurpee, fire up the barbecue, or head to the beach on a sunny day. The topic: religious pluralism. Are all religions just different paths up the same mountain? Or can only one be ultimately true? Is salvation attainable for those outside my religion? Why do so many religions exist? How can I know which is really true? These are questions we ask ourselves sometimes, and Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, thinks they're perennially important and still worth discussing in contemporary Western society. So he has written a new popular book called God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World And Why Their Differences Matter (HarperOne, 2010).

In a recent interview Prothero says, "The world is furiously religious" and so thinking and talking about religion is still very important, even in our postmodern, secular day and age. In the book's trailer he adds, "It [religion] is something that motivates people militarily, economically, politically. We need to know something about the great religions of the world in order to make sense of the world that we live in." In the interview he goes on to say that the two approaches to comparative religion that dominate our Western society currently -- lumping all religions together and labeling them as bad, as the New Atheists do, or saying that all religions are basically the same, as relativists do -- aren't fair to the world's faiths because these approaches fail to appreciate the important differences between religious traditions.

So what does all this have to do with us? Well, for we philosophically-inclined foosballers, what is important about this book is not its ridiculously long subtitle, but the ideas behind it, i.e., the ongoing philosophical debate about religious pluralism and the current social milieu into which this book is being released. In this book Prothero aims to question some of the dominant assumptions that many people in our society hold about religions. In a culture in which "tolerance" is highly prized, Prothero's book risks being misunderstood as intolerant and narrow-minded, when in fact it is trying to broaden people's thinking by clarifying the debate and fostering constructive interfaith dialogue.

In my mind, this is an issue where philosophy directly intersects with current events, ethics, and the public sphere. Religious pluralism isn't just an idea debated in classrooms. As Prothero points out, what we think about the world's religions will have an impact on how we relate to one another individually and on a societal level: "How do we get along with one another? It's not by pretending we're the same. It's by acknowledging the differences we have and then coming to understand them and respect them." This necessarily involves some careful philosophical thinking and religious literacy (the latter being a topic that Prothero has also written on).

I don't know about you, but I think this book will stir up some much-needed public dialogue about religious pluralism. I hope it will also foster some critical thinking about comparative religion, atheism, and relativism. Anybody thinking about reading Prothero's book this summer? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the book, on religious pluralism, or on the dominant way people think about religions today. Is there a certain way of thinking about religious pluralism that you have found helpful? Are there certain points which you feel are often missed in these discussions?

Ok, I'll let you get back to your summer activities now. Happy thinking!

Plantinga retires

Alvin Plantinga, professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, has retired. Read the full story here.

- Dr. V

Changing of the Guard


It is my privilege to make two announcements on behalf of the Philosophy Foosball Club blog:

1. Mark Jensen has graduated from Providence College (congratuations Mark!) and has retired as our blogmaster (we will miss you). Mark Jensen will henceforth be known as PFC's blogmaster emeritus.

2. Jordan Byggdin has accepted the position of blogmaster (three cheers for Jordan!). We look forward to having Jordan at the helm of the PFC blog.

- Dr. V


Philosophy giving wings to Boethius
The Philosophy Award. Given to a student who has shown excellence in scholarship in the area of Philosophy. Students who receive this award must have an AGPA of 3.5 or higher after completing a minimum of 30 credit hours at Providence College. (Winner will be announced at the graduation banquet.)
- Dr. V

Most Valuable Player

To whom will the first-ever Philosophy Foosball Club Most Valuable Player Award go? Find out at the PFC lunch on Friday, April 9, 2010. (Sorry, no T-shirt will be awarded; it's just to grab your attention.)

- Dr. V

Philosophy! What's it good for? Absolutely...EVERYTHING!

Why Study Philosophy?
To answer this question, here is a statement by Jordan Kotick, Vice-President J.P. Morgan, Wall Street:
  • While considering what to study in my first year as an Undergraduate, I decided to take a few Philosophy courses. When informed of my decision, those I knew murmured, "Philosophy . . . what are you going to do with that?" Soon after my first year was complete, realizing that I enjoyed these courses and my intellectual curiosity was peaked and challenged, I decided that one of my double majors as an undergraduate was going to be Philosophy. The echoes grew louder as those I knew grumbled "Philosophy? what are you going to do with that?" After four years and a Bachelor of Arts Degree under my belt (with a major in Philosophy), I realized there was more Philosophical work to be done. I decided to go to Graduate School. You can only imagine the reaction I received when I announced that I was going to spend the next two years beginning and hopefully completing my Master of Arts Degree in Philosophy. They shouted "Philosophy? what are you going to do with that?" as the cries of derision grew exponentially. It is interesting to note what has happened since completing my M.A.. To make a long story short, of late, I have been pursuing a top job at one of the leading investment banks in the world. This position was"short listed" to 150 people as interviews went on concurrently in various countries around the globe. At the end of the process, I received the offer and am now working in New York as a Senior Strategist at one of Wall Street's leading firms. After accepting the offer, I asked the Board, who ultimately made the final decision, why I was chosen above the others. Without blinking an eye, the Head of the Strategic Hiring Committee stated a list of reasons, the very first of which was "Out of all the people we considered, you were the only one who studied Philosophy, not to mention having a Masters Degree in it. That told us immediately that you can think outside the box." I have come to realize the answer to the question perpetually posed, "Philosophy? what are you going to with that?" The correct response is "Absolutely anything you want." As Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference."
- Dr. V

P.S. Jordan Kotick is now with Barclays Capital, as Head of Global Technical Strategy.

P.P.S. Jordan Kotick and I did our M.A. degrees in Philosophy together at the University of Windsor. He became rich, famous, and travels around the world; I became a philosophy professor in Otterburne, Manitoba, and I sometimes drive to Winnipeg. On frosty Manitoba mornings I've noticed that even among the roads less travelled, some have far less traffic than others.

P.P.P.S. For more information on why you should study Philosophy, check out Why Study Philosophy? and Why We Shouldn't Hate Philosophy (the latter is for persons who may be concerned that the Bible has a negative attitude toward Philosophy).

Intelligent Design seminars

The Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture is now advertising its 2010 Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design (July 9-17 in Seattle, Washington). The seminars are open to college students (juniors or seniors) and graduate students (first-year) in the natural sciences, social sciences, or humanities. Also, students whose applications are accepted will receive financial assistance for course materials, lodging, meals, and travel. For more information, look here.

- Dr. V


"To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice." - Proverbs 21:3 (NIV)

For some practical ways of doing what is right and just, check out International Justice Mission Canada. For a fine philosophical-apologetical look at IJM-founder Gary A. Haugen's book Just Courage, read Dallas K. Miller's review.

- Dr. V

Helping Haiti

We can send help to Haiti in various ways. Here are a few: Canadian Red Cross, Compassion Canada, World Vision. Prayer is important, too.

- Dr. V

P.S. The photo shows some of the destruction due to the recent earthquake in Haiti. Christ is our hope and strength.

Essay Contest


"In 2010 the International Society for Science and Religion will be celebrating the 80th birthday of its founding President, John Polkinghorne. In association with the Ian Ramsey Centre in Oxford, it is organizing a conference on 'God and Physics' as part of this celebration, to be held at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, from 7th to 11th July 2010. ... ISSR will also be publishing a festschrift on Polkinghorne’s work, based in part on invited papers to be given at this conference. In addition to these two activities, and with funding from the John Templeton Foundation, the Society now offers three substantial prizes to students or younger academics (not yet in a tenured post) for an essay, of no more than 10,000 words, on an aspect of Polkinghorne’s work: 1st prize £10,000; 2nd prize £5,000; 3rd prize £2,000."
For more information, click here.
- Dr. V