Monday, May 16, 2011

Philosopher Interview: Paul Moser

Today's interview is with Christian philosopher Paul Moser, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Loyola University Chicago. He talks about his background, epistemology and evidence, his work on New Testament epistemology, the evidence for God, the role (or not) of natural theology, problems with the "two-step" approach, divine hiddenness, purposively available evidence for God, the role of human volition, authoritative evidence vs. spectator evidence, willingness and evidence, advice for Christian apologists, and more.

Full Interview MP3 Audio here (53 min)

Moser's books include:
The Evidence for God
The Elusive God (review here)
Divine Hiddenness
Knowledge and Evidence

Enjoy.

7 comments :

cubeus19 said...

A couple of questions, how does this guy know that common arguments for God's existence like the cosmological, design, and ontological arguments have been refuted by skeptics like he appears to say? And plus how would his version of apologetics be any better than traditional evidential apologetics when dealing with today's atheists? Besides today's atheists are not just atheists they are anti-theists and anti-christians specifically. Apart from God doing a major supernatural miracle on their minds I don't see any of them ever coming to know Christ. Let's face it, we are living in the last days and the atheists we see today must be the "scoffers" that the book of Revelation talks about. Agree or disagree?

Neil Shenvi said...

Brian,
Since you've read some of Moser's books, I had a question for you. It seems like Moser's suspicion or even dismissal of natural theology stems from his belief that evidence from natural theology does not carry with it a moral imperative and does not reveal a God worthy of worship. But doesn't this thesis directly contradict Romans 1:18-20? Paul's argument in these verses is that the natural evidence from general revelation clearly reveals a God immenently worthy of worship such that we are all without excuse when we reject it.

I fully agree that we can treat evidence from natural theology as 'spectator evidence' which requires only an intellectual evaluation without any volitional response. But Romans 1:18-20 indicates that this is a deficiency not in the evidence, but in our own nature. We do not see the evidence because we do not want to see the evidence. It seems to me that if we kept Romans 1 clear in our minds, we could retain a more traditional apologetics approach without falling into the trap that Moser anticipates. What do you think?
-Neil

Brian Auten said...

Niel,

Yeah, I follow what you mean there, I think. And I think I tend to agree. I must admit that I am still a bit fuzzy on how Moser's thesis plays out practically, for I think that the use of natural theology is legitimate and needed.

I wish I would have asked for examples of authoritative evidence. I understand what he means by the idea of spectator evidence, but I am still not clear on what authoritative evidence looks like in practical application.

Neil Shenvi said...

I think Dr. Moser seems to be reacting to two things: first, the fact that the arguments of theology can be and often are avoided by skeptics. And second, that it is possible to misuse evidentialist apologetics so that it comes across as "The evidence is clear. I am good and rational and therefore accept it, but you are sinful and irrational and therefore reject it." Looking carefully at Romans 1, I think we can avoid both of these obstacles.

First, the evidence is indeed often unsuccessful practically but that is due to our own desire to avoid God, not due to the insufficiency of the evidence. For instance, I think it is possible for someone to say "Well, I think the objective universe is an illusion, so the evidence is as well" or "I'm confident that some day, science will provide an explanation for all this apparent evidence." These objections may be technically possible, but they stem from our desire to avoid God at all costs, not from a deficiency in the evidence. Second, if we recognize that all human beings (not just atheists) deeply desire to reject and avoid God, then we will avoid the pride associated with the other pitfall. If we understand Romans 1, then we can acknowledge that we don't accept the evidence because we are more rational or less sinful or more tender-hearted than the atheist. Rather, we accept the evidence because God intervenes to soften our desperately hard heart.

Anyway, I think all of this turns on Romans 1, which seems to indicate that the evidence does point to a God who is great in power and glory and eminently worthy of worship. But it is helpful to keep in mind that the evidence from natural theology is never 'spectator evidence' but always carries with it an obligation and invitation to worship God.
-Neil

Kumikata said...

I hesitate to say this as Dr. Moser seems to be a fine Christian gentleman but with friends like this Christian apologetics doesn’t need any enemies. It sounds like Moser is saying that none of the traditional theistic arguments carry any weight at all. This is actually going further than many skeptics do! I would be interested to see if Moser has every interacted with rigorous forms of theistic argument (i.e. a reply to Swinburne, Craig, or Moreland and their arguments from natural theology).

If Moser is correct in his criticisms, I’m afraid the Christian apologist is left with precious little as his attempt at providing a positive argument for Christian theism seemed rather weak.

Aaron said...

Some apologists favor a two step approach: First argue for the existence of a first cause or an intelligent designer (or for some other kind of morally indifferent entity). Next argue that that thing is worthy of worship.

But this approach won't work. Suppose we want to find out whether or not there is an animal X in my backyard. And suppose we know this about X's personality: it runs and hides every time it hears loud noises or sees bright light. Alison says, "Hey, what we know about X's personality is irrelevant, we can ignore that for now. Let's just go out and search for it." Alison obviously has a bad strategy because if she wants to find X, she should take what she knows about X's personality into consideration from the start. Otherwise she might waste all her time walking around the backyard making loud noises and shining her flashlight everywhere.

Similarly, Moser thinks we can't ignore the moral character of the being whose existence we're inquiring about. We have to consider what kinds of purposes a worship-worthy God would have for humans right from the start. Otherwise we might waste all our time looking for God in the wrong places (e.g. first cause arguments, fine tuning arguments, etc.). If Moser is right, then God would not be interested in merely informing humans that he exists, God would want to transform lives. And God might hide evidence of his own existence from individuals who are not ready (e.g. who would reject God if they were given conclusive evidence of his existence now).

So now, just as Alison might scare off animal X by her loud noises and bright flashlights, individuals might block evidence of God by their unwillingness to be morally transformed.

There are (at least) two ways of challenging skepticism about God's existence. One way is to argue directly for God's existence (and again, our arguments should have as their conclusion "A worship-worthy God exists", not merely something like "There was a first cause").

Another way is to challenge skeptics' expectations regarding what kinds of evidence for God's existence would be available if God existed. We can argue that God, if real, will provide evidence of his own existence directly to receptive individuals at opportune times. Once a person is open to God's authority and love, then over time there can only be two outcomes: Either God gives evidence of his existence to that person and that person becomes a theist, or that person remains an open-minded agnostic who is waiting for and willing to receive God's call.

bennasmith said...

Thanks so much for this interview. The only other multimedia content from Paul Moser that I could find is this lecture at Biola http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L765lDVN0iw.

I want to learn more about Moser's view because it seems so sensible. But it does leave me hanging when it comes to what I should do practically with natural theology (other than forget about it).

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