Saturday, August 27, 2016

Matthew Franck reviews Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith

On June, 24, 2016, over at Public Discourse, Matthew Franck published a review of my latest book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Dr Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute, as well as Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Redford University.

I am happy to report that he agrees with the book's central thesis, namely, that judges and legal scholars often misunderstood, misrepresent, and in some cases, caricature, the epistemic status of religious beliefs. He does, however, have reservations about my critique of Intelligent Design in chapter 6, though it doesn't surprise me. That is one part of the book where I thought I would get the most push back from some fellow travelers.

He concludes his review with these words: "But this is a small reservation about an excellent book, written with admirable clarity, and amply demonstrating the compatibility—indeed the happy and mutually fulfilling companionship—of faith and reason, even and especially in matters of public life."

You can read the entire review here.

Taking Rites Seriously Wins Prestigious American Academy of Religion Book Award

I am not only pleased, but honored and humbled, to announce that my book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015) has been chosen to receive the American Academy of Religion's 2016 Book Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Constructive-Reflective Studies. According to AAR's August 22, 2016 press release: "The awards honor books of distinctive originality, intelligence, creativity and importance; books that affect decisively how religion is examined, understood, and interpreted. For more information, please see https://www.aarweb.org/programs-services/book-awards. Awards will be presented at the AAR’s 2016 Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday, November 20, 2016, at 7:30 PM."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Elected Vice President and President-Elect of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

I am honored and humbled to report that I was informed this morning by Professor Mirela Oliva, National Secretary of the American Catholic Philosophical Association (ACPA), that "the voting members of the [ACPA] have elected you Vice-President/President-Elect. Congratulations." She goes on to write: "[Y]our term as Vice-President will begin at the conclusion of this year’s Annual Meeting and it will last until the conclusion of next year’s Annual Meeting. So you will be Vice President at the 2017 Meeting. At the end of that meeting, you will assume the duties of President and will remain in that position for one year. So your presidential meeting will be the 2018 Meeting."

When I think of the stature of not only the ACPA's prior presidents but also its most accomplished members, I do not exaggerate when I say that I am honored and humbled by this news.




Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Waco Tribune-Herald: all the news that's printed to fit.

My colleague, Elizabeth Corey, was quoted in an April 9 story in the Waco Tribune Herald. Here's how the reporter presents it: 

In an Oct. 28 online article, Baylor Honors Program Director Elizabeth Corey wrote, “Christian schools should think long and hard . . . before they sign their souls over to the secular rule of diversity officers.”
Because that didn't quite sound like Elizabeth, I went back to the original piece to see what actual words are in place of the ellipses.  Here's what I found: "Christian schools should think long and hard about exactly what kind of diversity they wish to promote before they sign their souls over to the secular rule of diversity officers." (missing words in bold)

That changes things a bit, doesn't it? 

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Courses I'll Be Teaching Next Fall at the University of Colorado, Boulder

In February I was offered and accepted the position of Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder for the 2016-2017 school year. My home institution, Baylor University, has graciously permitted me to take a one-year leave of absence.

I will be teaching two courses in the Fall and two in the Spring. Here is my Fall schedule:

PHIL 4010: Single Philosopher: Aquinas
TR 11:00-12:15
Here's the philosophy department's description of the course: "This is a special team-taught course, led by Professor Robert Pasnau, a leading historian of medieval philosophy, and Visiting Professor Francis Beckwith, a prominent Catholic moral philosopher. We will work our way through the central ideas of Aquinas's philosophy, beginning with his conception of human nature, followed by his account of human happiness, the nature of God, and his theory of natural law." I am honored to be team-teaching this course with such an accomplished scholar.

PHIL 1600: Philosophy and Religion
TR 8:00-9:15 am
The official university description reads: "Philosophical introduction to some of the central concepts and beliefs of religious traditions, focusing particularly on the question of the existence of God and on the relation between religious beliefs and moral beliefs. Approved for arts and sciences core curriculum: ideals and values." My plan is also to cover some issues of faith, reason, and public life, questions I've addressed in my most recent books, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015), Politics For Christians: Statecraft and Soulcraft (InterVarsity Press, 2010), and Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Of course, we will be examining differing perspectives, including those critical of the views I defend in my works.

Because I accepted the CU offer after the official Fall 2016 schedule had already been published, the second course, "Philosophy and Religion," does not appear on the published scheduled, though one can register for the course if one is a CU student.

So, if you are a CU student and are interested taking either one of these course, I hope you would consider signing up for either one.

I am looking forward to my year at CU.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Cambridge releases UK/European edition of my new book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith

Yesterday, February 4, Cambridge University Press released the UK/European edition of my new book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith.  Here's a brief description of the book from the publisher:
Taking Rites Seriously is about how religious beliefs and religious believers are assessed
by judges and legal scholars and are sometimes mischaracterized and misunderstood by those who are critical of the influence of religion in politics or in the formation of law. Covering three general topics – reason and motive, dignity and personhood, nature and sex – philosopher and legal theorist Francis J. Beckwith carefully addresses several contentious legal and cultural questions over which religious and non-religious citizens often disagree: the rationality of religious belief, religiously motivated legislation, human dignity in bioethics, abortion and embryonic stem cell research, reproductive rights and religious liberty, evolutionary theory, and the nature of marriage. In the process, he responds to some well-known critics of public faith – including Brian Leiter, Steven Pinker, Suzanna Sherry, Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls, and Richard Dawkins – as well as to some religiously conservative critics of secularism such as the advocates for intelligent design
If you want to read more about the book--including the table of contents and an excerpt, go to the book's website takingritesseriously.com.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Carl Henry's Quandary

"Carl Henry's Quandary" is the title of the article I contributed to the Fall 2015 issue of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought (JCLS), which was just recently released online. The issue is devoted to assessing a mid-1960s private disagreement between the late Evangelical theologian, Carl F. H. Henry, and the future president of Fuller Theological Seminary, the philosopher Richard Mouw.  The disagreement arose over an article that Henry and commissioned Mouw to write for Christianity Today, where Henry served as editor at the time. As the JCLT special issue editor, Thaddeus Williams, describes it in the opening article:
Mouw wanted to rouse the dosing church in America to engage the social evils of the day with more political clarity and verve....Henry...offered Mouw an instructive critique. According to Henry, individual Christians may engage the political process by endorsing specific policies; whereas the church as an institution should stick to declaring the general principles of a biblical worldview as they relate to socio-political issues, while stopping short of explicit public policy endorsements. For Henry, the institutional church
can and should voice negative verdicts on bad policies, but lacks the “mandate, jurisdiction, or competence to endorse political legislation or military tactics or economic specifics in the name of Christ.”

Mouw “grudgingly accepted what [he] considered a less-than-fully satisfactory compromise arrangement,” while remaining convinced that “the church could rightly say a bold ‘yes’ to specific policy-like solutions.” Forty-three years later all of that would change. In January of 2010, Christianity Today [CT] published Mouw’s updated reflections under the humble and candid title, “Carl Henry Was Right.” Why did Mouw, over the course of four decades, come to side with Henry in placing specific policy endorsements beyond the purview of the institutional church’s mission and mandate? Was Carl Henry right? [notes omitted]

Friday, January 22, 2016

Roe v. Wade at 43: Critiques and Reflections

Today, January 22, 2016, is the 43rd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973), the opinion that declared abortion a constitutional right.  Over the years I've published several online analyses of Roe v. Wade and its logic:

"Abortion and Human Equality." Interview in National Review Online (22 January 2014)

"Roe at Forty, Part 1: The Court's Failure to Address the Unborn's Moral Status," The Catholic Thing
(4 January 2013)

"Roe at Forty, Part 2: The Court's Two Unwarranted Stipulations," The Catholic Thing (4 January 2013)

For those looking for a more extensive critique of Roe, in chapter 2 of my 2007 book, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press), I offer a detailed analysis of Roe and some subsequent Supreme Court opinions on abortion.

Although I do not critique Roe in my most recent book--Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015)--it includes a chapter relevant to some of the philosophical and legal issues central to the abortion debate: "Personhood, Prenatal Life, and Religious Belief." 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Tump's "Freedom Kids" and Obama's "Children of Change": What Do They Tell Us?

This video, featuring the Trump-supporting "Freedom Kids," has received a lot of attention and ridicule online:


In 2008, this video, featuring Obama-supporting "Children of Change," received a lot attention and ridicule online:

Both videos, though cringe-inducing, express legitimate longings on the part of certain segments of the American populace. Our political leaders and opinion writers ignore these sentiments at their own peril.  A presidential candidate who can tap into these deep yearnings in a way that is intelligent and respectful while being assertive and non-abrasive will win the White House.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God - Part II

That's the title of my most recent contribution to The Catholic Thing (TCT), which was published online this morning. It is a follow-up to my December 17, 2015 TCT piece,"Do Muslims and Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?"  The occasion for writing the original essay was the controversy surrounding Wheaton College (IL) professor, Larycia Hawkins, who put on administrative leave for publicly claiming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Earlier this week Wheaton began termination proceedings against the professor. 

This is how today's piece begins
On December 17 on this page I addressed the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I gave the same answer given by Vatican II, and by the
Catholic Church since the Council: yes. Muslims and Christians do worship the same God, even though Islam holds an imperfect understanding of the divine, since it denies Christ’s divinity and thus, by implication, God’s triune nature. 
As the Church declared in Nostra Aetate (1965): “[Muslims] adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men. . . .Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet.” 
This argument prompted several critical replies, almost exclusively from non-Catholic Christians, including distinguished thinkers such as Albert Mohler, Andrew Walker, Matthew Cochran, and Peter Leithart. (To say nothing of a raft of outrage from TCT readers.) Each, with differing emphases, correctly documents what Christians believe are the inadequacies of Muslim theology given how God has progressively revealed himself through history as taught in Scripture. I do not dispute this point; it is actually consistent with my argument. Let me explain. 
The Church’s view rests on the distinction between “general” and “special” revelation. The former concerns those truths about God that can be known through unaided human reason; the latter, those truths about God known only through Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and/or the Holy Spirit speaking through the magisterium. (Many Protestants also accept this distinction, though they only include Scripture under the category of special revelation). 
In order to better grasp this distinction, let’s consider an argument for the existence of a Creator God offered by the Persian Muslim philosopher, Al-Ghazali (1058-1111 AD): the “Kalam Cosmological Argument.” It figures prominently in the work of Evangelical philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig. He summarizes the argument in this way:

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Carl Trueman selects Taking Rites Seriously as one of his top 4 books of 2015

Over at Reformation 21, the website for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, theologian Carl Trueman lists my new book, Taking Rites Seriously, one of the top 4 books of 2015.  Here's Professor Trueman's list:
R. Kent Hughes and Douglas Sean O'Donnell, The Pastor's Book (Crossway). This book is an extremely helpful handbook on all aspects of the pastoral task.

Francis J. Beckwith, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge). Given the growing pressure on religious freedom, it is important for Christians to understand how the law works, both institutionally and culturally. These connected essays by Frank Beckwith are superb.

Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left (Bloomsbury). I
read everything I can by Scruton. Witty, learned and always very helpful. Any man who can speculate as to whether there is more to Habermas's theory of communicative action than 'his inability to communicate it' is well worth reading.

P J O'Rourke, Thrown Under the Omnibus (Atlantic Monthly). My Christmas holiday reading. A fat selection of the best writing of one of the funniest political and cultural commentators around.
Carl Trueman holds the Paul Woolley Chair of Church History and is professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He writes regularly for the First Things blog, First Thoughts, and hosts the podcast, Mortification of Spin
Me, Carl Trueman, and the Mortification of Spin team--
Aimee Byrd, Todd Pruitt, and Alicia Elaine Ward--in Atlanta last November



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Book Recommendation: God Without Parts by James E. Dolezal

Over the Christmas break I read the 2011 book by James E. Dolezal, God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God's Absoluteness (Pickwick Publications, 2011).

When the book was first released, Dr. Dolezal dropped me a kind note in order to bring his book to my attention.  I was grateful for the suggestion, but at the time I was too busy working on several projects including my most recent book, Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015).  Now that I am working on a book on Thomas Aquinas and Evangelicals--which is probably at least two years away from completion--I wanted to reacquaint myself with some of the issues in philosophical theology that originally drew to me philosophy as a young man. Among those issues is the question of divine simplicity, the doctrine that God is simple. It is a doctrine--embraced as uncontroversial by the Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformed traditions until fairly recently--that maintains that God is not a composite entity. In fact, he is not an entity at all, but the Transcendent Creator and Source of all that is non-divine.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Yale's God and Human Flourishing Program: "The Same God?"

Just found this interesting collection of papers via Fr. Al Kimel's blog.  Located online at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, you can find the papers here. This is how "The Same God?" consultation is introduced: 
The consultations immediately preceding The Same God? investigated what it means for human beings to flourish—and of the centrality of God’s power and activity to our highest flourishing considered from the standpoint of Christian theology. But what difference do alternate religious standpoints make to such an account of human flourishing, and how are we to consider the “God” invoked in “God and Human Flourishing” given religious pluralism? Specifically, to what extent can one assume the sameness of the God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam—the three great monotheistic faiths whose followers comprise over half of humanity? 
This question has a significant bearing on human flourishing: if God is integral to human flourishing, then whether this majority of humanity is worshipping the same God is a poignant question. Many Christians agree that Jews, Christians and Muslims do worship the same God, although many more Christians hold this to be true with regard to Judaism than to Islam. What remains rather unclear and largely unexamined in scholarly literature is the exact basis on which Christians claim that they do (or do not) worship the same God as Jews and Muslims—a central point of investigation for this consultation.Select papers from this consultation were published in a volume by Eerdmans Publishing Co. titled Do We Worship the Same God?  
Again, you can find the papers here.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Muslims, Christians, and the Same God: Round-Up with Advice to Volf and Clark (with Addendum)

Since the publication of my December 17, 2015 piece over at The Catholic Thing--"Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?"--many others have commented on the topic as well.  

Those generally in the "yes" column include.....



Those generally in the"no" column include.....


Those who think the question is too complicated to offer a quick and easy answer include....


The occasion for so much commentary on this topic over the past three weeks is the controversy surrounding Dr. Larycia Hawkinsa Wheaton College political science who claims that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Some argue that this may violate the school’s statement of faith, to which all faculty must subscribe.

Although I disagree with those at Wheaton College (and elsewhere) who make this claim, I think it is uncharitable to accuse them of harboring anti-Muslim bigotry, as both Volf and Clark charge. It seems to me that those who take the "no" side on the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God are defending a reasonable position, though it is one that I (along with Volf and Clark) think is mistaken. 

If Volf and Clark seek to persuade those with whom they disagree, they should take a page out of their own book and extend the same charity to their fellow Christians that they (rightfully) believe their fellow Christians should extend to their Muslim neighbors. 

Addendum: Both Clark and Volf respond in the combox. I am grateful for their replies and clarifications. They are scholars from whom I have learned much. 

Let me address each of their comments.