Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Transworld Irony (new term)

Transworld Irony (or TWI): It is possible that in every possible world there exists at a college named after John Calvin a philosophy professor who offers a free will defense for the problem of evil. 

Marilynne Robinson: What Literature Owes the Bible

This wonderful piece was published last week in the New York Times. Authored by the writer and novelist Marilynne Robinson, it begins this way:
The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know.

Literatures are self-referential by nature, and even when references to Scripture in contemporary fiction and poetry are no more than ornamental or rhetorical — indeed, even when they are unintentional — they are still a natural consequence of the persistence of a powerful literary tradition. Biblical allusions can suggest a degree of seriousness or significance their context in a modern fiction does not always support. This is no cause for alarm. Every fiction is a leap in the dark, and a failed grasp at seriousness is to be respected for what it attempts. In any case, these references demonstrate that in the culture there is a well of special meaning to be drawn upon that can make an obscure death a martyrdom and a gesture of forgiveness an act of grace. Whatever the state of belief of a writer or reader, such resonances have meaning that is more than ornamental, since they acknowledge complexity of experience of a kind that is the substance of fiction.

Old Jonathan Edwards wrote, “It has all along been God’s manner to open new scenes, and to bring forth to view things new and wonderful.” These scenes are the narrative method of the Bible, which assumes a steady march of history, the continuous unfolding of significant event, from the primordial quarrel of two brothers in a field to supper with a stranger at Emmaus. There is a cosmic irony in the veil of insignificance that obscures the new and wonderful. Moments of the highest import pass among people who are so marginal that conventional history would not have noticed them: aliens, the enslaved, people themselves utterly unaware that their lives would have consequence. The great assumption of literary realism is that ordinary lives are invested with a kind of significance that justifies, or requires, its endless iterations of the commonplace, including, of course, crimes and passions and defeats, however minor these might seem in the world’s eyes. This assumption is by no means inevitable. Most cultures have written about demigods and kings and heroes. Whatever the deeper reasons for the realist fascination with the ordinary, it is generous even when it is cruel, simply in the fact of looking as directly as it can at people as they are and insisting that insensitivity or banality matters. The Old Testament prophets did this, too.

>>>continue reading

Friday, December 23, 2011

The God-Haunted Atheism of Christopher Hitchens

That is the title of my most recent entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
On December 15, contemporary unbelief lost one of its most gifted apologists, Christopher Hitchens. He, along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, are often referred to as the four horsemen of the New Atheism. It is called the “New” Atheism because of its evangelistic zeal, an enthusiasm largely absent from the more urbane and engaging infidelities of “the Old Atheists” like Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, or Antony Flew.

But like all undisciplined enthusiasts who confuse wisecracking proselytes with wisdom-seeking pilgrims, the New Atheists seem incapable of completely ridding themselves and their disciples of the metaphysical infrastructure of the creeds from which they claim to have decisively fled. Hitchens, for example, in his book God Is Not Great, argues that “religion poisons everything,” blaming religious believers and their beliefs for many of the atrocities of history.

>>>continue reading


Monday, December 19, 2011

Some reference work contributions now accessible online

For those who may be interested, the following is a list of reference work contributions of mine that are now accessible online.  Just click the name and you will arrive at the entry.

  • “Agnosticism.” (co-authored with  Maurice Redmond Holloway SJ). The New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2009. 2 volumes. Robert L. Fastiggi, Editor in Chief. Detroit: Gale, 2009. volume 1, 5-10. (an update and revision of the original entry authored by M. R. Holloway, SJ)

  • “Alliance Defense Fund.” The Praeger Handbook of Religion and Education in the United States. Edited by James C. Carper and Tom Hunt Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009. Pp. 55-56.

  • “J. M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies.” The Praeger Handbook of Religion and Education in the United States. Edited by James C. Carper and Tom Hunt Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009. Pp. 268-269.

  • “Dawson, Joseph Martin.” Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties. Volume 1. Edited Paul Finkelman. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2007. Pp. 397-98.

  • “Edwards v. Aguillard, 382 U.S. 578 (1987).” Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties. Volume 1. Edited Paul Finkelman. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2007. Pp. 480-482.

  • “Epperson v. Arkansas 393 U.S. 97 (1968).” Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties. Volume 1. Edited Paul Finkelman. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2007. Pp. 511-512

  • “Abortion.” Religion Past and Present: Encyclopedia of Theology & Religion, Volume 1. Edited by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski and Eberhard Jüngel. Boston: Brill, 2007. Pp. 9-10



    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Dear President Obama....

    A new video at


    For more on religious liberty and conscience, read the outstanding work of George Mason University law professor Helen Alvare.


    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Newt Gingrich, Redemption, and the Presidency

    That's the title of my latest entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here's are some excerpts:
    In 2009, Gingrich was received into the Catholic Church, the faith of his third wife, Callista Bisek. Because Catholic conversion requires the sacrament of confession, Gingrich has been absolved of his sins. This, of course, suggests to many, including me, that one cannot evaluate Gingrich’s candidacy and character without taking his conversion seriously. It is a mistake for Christians to emulate the world and treat a man’s conversion as if it were the metaphysical equivalent of a change in hobby.

    On the other hand, Rod Dreher raises an important point in suggesting that Christian conservatives take care in their choice of standard-bearer. Relying on insights by New York Times writer Ross Douthat, Dreher argues that Christian conservatives, in the toxic atmosphere of the culture wars, cannot afford to have as a public face a figure who for most of his adult life has shunned the virtues and ways of life that Christian conservatives want to advance in the public square.

    Read the whole thing here.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Richard Dawkins carrier of bu!!sh-t meme

    (HT: Ed Feser)

    This is just hilarious. Apparently, the great atheist scientist Richard Dawkins, who recently made quite a public fuss in his refusal to ever debate philosopher William Lane Craig, now claims that he in fact has debated Craig, and according to Dawkins, Craig was deeply unimpressive when they sparred. That's a pretty amazing feat: Dawkins is claiming that while he would never be caught dead debating Bill Craig he has in fact defeated him in debate at least once. I'm not sure that would qualify as a miracle, though it may qualify as an intellectual version of the Monty Python dead parrot sketch.


    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    The Immaculate Conception, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Catholic Church

    Today, December 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Sometimes my Evangelical Protestant friends, knowing that I am a Thomist, will point out that St. Thomas Aquinas did not believe in the Immaculate Conception, suggesting that the Church should have stuck with St. Thomas and not declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma. For example, my friend Norm Geisler writes: "Many of the Catholic beliefs that concern Protestants most were not declared dogma until long after Aquinas. For example, Aquinas denied the immaculate conception of Mary, and it was not declared dogma until 1854."

    In fact, during my September 3, 2009 dialogue with Timothy George at Wheaton College, we briefly discussed St. Thomas' denial of the doctrine, with Dr. George maintaining that Catholicism would have done well in not straying from the Angelic Doctor on this matter.  One of the points I made in the dialogue was that St. Thomas' understanding of Mary's holiness was far from the Protestant view. To be sure, for St. Thomas, Mary was indeed conceived with original sin. Nevertheless, it was removed by God after she was conceived (technically, after she was "animated"). She was also the recipient of an abundance of grace so that she may be protected from all actual sin. So, St. Thomas' view, though not the view currently held by the Church as dogma, contained within it some of the same logic on which the Church's dogma is based. Here is St. Thomas from Summa Theologica, III, q. 27:

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    2011 Synthese article may be downloaded for free through December 31, 2011

    I just found out this afternoon that my 2011 Synthese article, "Or We Can Be Philosophers: A Response to Barbara Forrest," may be downloaded for free until December 31, 2011. Many people, because they did not have a subscription or an academic appointment at an institution that does have a subscription, were not able to download the article without paying a hefty fee.  For those folks still interested in reading the piece, they can do so free of charge until the last day of the year.

    For previous posts on this matter, go here.