My Education, My Goals, and the Value of Philosophy

I've written about my credentials in my book Why I Became An Atheist (WIBA). I earned a bachelor's degree from Great Lakes Christian College, two master's degrees from Lincoln Christian University, a Master's of Theology degree with half of the hours in William Lane Craig's classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and then spent a year and a half in a PhD program at Marquette University in Theology and Ethics. Most students who spend this much time in school would have their PhD's by that time.

I took classes titled, "Religious Epistemology" (with Stuart Hackett) "Analytic Philosophy" (with Paul Feinberg), "Religion and Science" (with Bill Craig focusing on the philosophy of science)," "Plantinga's Thought" (yep, under Bill Craig in the year 1984)," "Calvin" (under the late Kenneth Kantzer known as the dean of evangelicalism, where we went through Calvin's Institutes), "Philosophy of Knowledge," (with Marc F. Greisbach who had been the President of the American Catholic Philosophical Association), "Theological Ethics" (with Catholic ethicist Daniel McGuire), and "Protestant Christian Ethics" (with Ron Feenstra, now the Director of Doctoral Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary). I took a whole host of others like "Philosophers of Religion: Descartes," "The Concept of God," "God as Creator/Redeemer," "Making of the Contemporary Mind" (this class by James Strauss really enlightened me), "19th Century Theology," "Seminar: Word of God," "Philosophy of Language," "Apologetics: Discovering the Christian Mind," "Theology and Hermeneutics," "20th Century Theology," "Historiography of Theories of History," "Advanced Introduction to the New Testament," "Historiography of Physical Sciences," "Major Philosophical Thinkers/Systems," "Historiography of Theories of Mind," "Atheism and Theism," and many others that were biblical and/or practical for ministry and teaching in the apologetical field. I learned Greek and Hebrew and could even read the Bible in these original languages.

I have taught Apologetics, Hermeneutics, Christian Theology, Christian Ethics, and Bible classes for Lincoln Christian University and/or Great Lakes Christian College. I have also taught Introduction to Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Introduction to Ethics, Critical Thinking, and World Literature classes for the College of Lake County, Kellogg Community College, and/or Trine University. I did this as an adjunct instructor, mostly while I was in the ministry for 14 years in Christian Churches in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana as an Associate Minister, Minister and Senior minister. I was the President of the ministerial association in Angola, Indiana, when I was a minister there. As an atheist I have read a paper for a Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and one for the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. I still teach online college classes for the CFI Institute on occasion.

You would think I studied the issues out to know what I'm talking about, yes? I mean, really, you cannot claim I'm ignorant. That option is not one you can seriously entertain. I might be wrong, but I'm not ignorant.

People question whether I'm a scholar or a philosopher or one who has pretty much the equivalent of a PhD. Okay. Who cares? This is all in the mind of the beholder at my level anyway, so have at it. One thing is for sure. I have the attention of the scholars on both sides of our debates. Both sides are recommending my books while skeptical scholars are writing for me, for which I am very grateful. My book WIBA is being used in several seminaries in both undergraduate and graduate classes. The Christian Delusion has been hailed as "a triumph."

More than once I have been told I should get a PhD to gain more credibility. At this point in my life where I live and work and the money and time needed to do so isn't a live option for me. Besides, given what I'm going to say about philosophy later in this post why would I bother? The philosophy of religion is a dead end leading no where. And I'd rather be dragged through the mud than get a PhD in biblical studies. What a waste for me at this point!

I'm already doing what I think is important anyway, so why not keep on doing what's working? My goal, like German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is to "Philosophize With a Hammer," or like Karl Marx I say, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world...the point is to change it." I think I am helping to change the religious landscape as it is. I'm already doing what most PhD students wish they could do, make an impact. My target audience is the university student or the intelligent educated person in the pew. Targeting that audience will make the most lasting impact on the religious landscape. My goal is to use what I've learned to bring solid scholarship down to my target audience.

Which brings me to the value of philosophy. Over the years I have found that one bastion for Christian apologists has been philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion. The scholars have honed their definitional apologetics in such a fine-tuned manner that when engaging them in this discipline it's like trying to catch a greased pig. Or, to switch metaphors, trying to chase them down the rabbit's hole in an endless and ultimately fruitless quest for definitions. What's an extraordinary claim? What's the definition of supernatural? What's the scientific method? What's a miracle? What's a basic belief? What's a veridical religious experience? What's evil? They do this just like others have done over questions like, "What is the definition of pornography?" And then they gerrymander around the plain simple facts of experience. I would rather deal in concrete examples like a virgin who supposedly had a baby and a man who was supposedly was raised from the dead.

As a Christian myself I could read philosophical atheists and not be fazed at all. I read the appropriate journals along with large sections of J.L. Mackie's book, The Miracle of Theism, Michael Martin's Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Bertrand Russell's debate with Frederick C. Copleston, Russell's Why I am Not a Christian, books and articles by Antony Flew, especially his "Parable of the Invisible Gardener" and the logical positivist debate that ensued. I could read that literature all day long and never be fazed in my delusional Christian beliefs. After all, none of them ever proved God didn't exist, a standard I had that was utterly unrealistic. Who is their right mind would ask that the opposition must show that it's impossible for God to exist? And these atheists never argued against the reliability of the Bible or the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or not very well at all, which were the kingpins of why I believed what I did.

Even though I could do so, I don't much argue philosophically against the existence of God for three reasons. First, my own experience shows that while philosophy is important it doesn't change the mind of the believer. Second, I have been soured by the way Christians can use philosophy to defend their faith. I was shocked when I saw Richard Swinburne's book, The Resurrection of God Incarnate, where he argued that if God exists then it's a 97% probability that Jesus was raised from the dead. This is one of the brightest Christian philosophers, mind you, who argued for an utterly ignorant conclusion. What? If philosophy can be twisted this badly then it can't be very useful in our debates. That's why I loved Jaco Gericke's article Fundamentalism on Stilts and asked him to write a chapter for my new anthology, The End of Christianity. Third, better minds than mine have made the philosophical case against God's existence that at this point there isn't much left to say. The case has been made so thoroughly that even a heavyweight like Keith Parsons has quit teaching and writing on the philosophy of religion. For my part Natural Theology cannot survive much longer even among evangelical philosophers. [Scientists have done likewise with any notion that there is any intelligent design, which is also a fundamentalism on stilts].

Don't get me wrong. I value philosophy. In fact I use it, and it certainty helped me to think critically. It's just that what really caused me to doubt was reading the biblical scholars, initially James Barr, Conrad Hyers, Claus Westermann, and others. Of course, now I've read a host of them since that time. I've learned there is no basis for thinking philosophy can help Christians believe the Bible or that it contains anything like the god they defend, which is the basis for what they believe. Just ask them what they would believe if there was no basis for the Bible being in any meaningful sense the word of God, and you'll see exactly what I mean.

So, here I am debunking Christianity, something that has such a wide-diversity of opinion among Christians themselves that I typically am told I never understood true Christianity, or that I was never a true Christian in the first place. Liberals say I'm ignorant too, not knowing that I used to be a liberal for about six years before I became an agnostic for another six years before I became an atheist in 2005. I know what it is to be a liberal and to argue like a liberal. I just choose to target evangelicals, that's all. Liberals offer a milquetoast version of religion that can be safely ignored for the most part, except as they are enablers for the more dangerous versions of the Christian faith.

Doing philosophy is much more respectable since Christians can engage in that activity and not feel as threatened. You want to get respect? Talk philosophy. Do it well and Christians will love the discussion back and forth. You want beaten up?...then try to change the religious landscape like I do. I get beaten up by almost all sides at least some of the time, sometimes by ignorant people who think they know more than I do. Maybe they do in some cases but they attack me as if I don't know jack.

I know what I'm doing even if Christians think I'm ignorant and even if some atheists don't appreciate why I argue the way I do, since I'm trying to reach out to Christians in ways they can best understand. Other atheists might distance themselves from me because they think I'm a militant. But why am I a militant just because I'm arguing in the best manner I know in order to change the religious landscape? Don't other atheists hope to do this? I'm just sharing what I've learned. If I didn't then all the years I studied Christianity would pretty much be a waste.

There are a great many people who still don't know of my work who could benefit from it. But I'll continue doing what I do in hopes I can help change the religious landscape one person at a time.

I am not alone in what I'm doing. Others like the scholars who have written chapters for my anthologies know exactly what needs to be done. I'm so glad they understand and are lending their voices in our common cause.

Read More of What to Expect At DC


More about me:

The Rest of the Story About John

My Internet Infidel Profile Page

My CFI Speakers Bureau Page

My Secular Student Alliance Speakers Page.


John's books:

1) Why I Became An Atheist (WIBA)

2) Personal Reflections & Arguments (PRAA)

3) The Christian Delusion (TCD)

4) The End of Christianity (TEC)

5) I co-wrote the book with Dr. Randal Rauser, God or Godless?: One Atheist. One Christian. Twenty Controversial Questions.

6) The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True.

7) Christianity is Not Great (CNG). This work will be published in the fall of 2014 by Prometheus Books and will include some superior authors.