Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Swinburne speaks


An update on the SCP controversy, about which I have blogged recently (here, here, and here).  I have been in communication with Prof. Richard Swinburne, who has kindly offered “thanks for the support which you have given to me personally and to everyone concerned that the SCP should welcome lectures and papers from those defending traditional Christian morality.”  Prof. Swinburne informs me that he has prepared a public statement on the controversy.  Since readers of this blog will naturally find such a statement of interest, I offered to post it here.  Here it is:

It is sad that my recent keynote lecture on "Christian moral teaching on sex, family, and life" at the Midwest conference of the Society of Christian philosophers has led to so much ill-feeling between Christians, and between Christians and non-Christians. I do feel strongly that traditional Christian views on these matters  should be subjected to critical philosophical assessment in the friendly atmosphere typical of philosophical seminars; and that proponents of opposite views should be free to express and defend their views in public (including in any SCP conference or journal) - so long as they express them with sensitivity to the feelings of others (and perhaps also with that qualification appropriate to almost all philosophical views - 'It is just possible that I am  mistaken'!) Michael Rea, the current President of the SCP has assured me that that is the SCP policy. So I believe that the SCP provides a very good forum for such discussions; and it has my strong support in its work.

19 comments:

Shane Scott said...

Those committed to following Christ are called to respond to reviling with grace. It is no shock when unbelievers react with vile language and insults (though - as you have pointed out - it is stunning when professed believers seem more sympathetic to those who are insulting Christians). Prof. Swinburne is modeling the dignity and grace we are called to uphold. My only concern is that Rea himself has done nothing in a public way to assure readers that the SCP indeed upholds the right of traditional believers to express their convictions.

FM said...

Swinburne is being very gracious and perhaps too kind.

At least it shows who the bill and truly are.

Daniel Carriere said...

Has Rea publically retracted his facebook post? Or made any public attempt to repudiate his previous comments?

Crude said...

Has Rea publically retracted his facebook post? Or made any public attempt to repudiate his previous comments?

You're asking too much of the man.

Let's ask if he's 'liked' any Facebook posts defending the right of Christians to question secular orthodoxy on sexual relations.

Anonymous said...

Let's ask if he's 'liked' any Facebook posts defending the right of Christians to question secular orthodoxy on sexual relations.

Lol! Crude is my kind of troll.

Bilbo said...

Dr. Feser,

I admire your publishing Prof. Swinburne's statement, in which he continues to endorse the work of the SCP. In light of his statement, have you reconsidered your decision to withdraw your membership in the SCP?

Bilbo said...

By the way, it looks like I should amend your title to Professor Feser. Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

Bilbo,

The 'good faith' approach evinced by Prof. Swinburne in his statement clearly shows that doesn't know how to deal with SJWs. He needs to read Vox's book, 'SJWs Always Lie' to get himself up to speed.

AndyTGD said...

Very disappointed by Prof. Swinburne's statement. Frankly, it is not exactly helpful, more illustrative of how liberalisation of these academic institutions occurs. Most of it is simply lamentable, spineless even, bordering on naïve capitulation. The man is living in a fantasy land if he thinks such people can be appeased with reference to reasonable disagreement; his beliefs have a priori been disqualified as unreasonable and dangerous, and he is ploughing ahead with providing the SCP with his "strong support in its work". Frustrating.

DNW said...

Some men, some temperamental conservatives or mild mannered Christians, are just incapable of fighting back. The most important thing to them ultimately, even above their liberty and basic human dignity, is acceptance and inclusion; which they see, if they are religious, as the highest value" above even ordinate and morally justified self-respect.

This is not politics in the usual sense of the word. But it does show the danger inherent in one's [not Feser] projecting characterological attributes on to a man merely on the basis of some against-the-grain musings he has made.

He might be weak, or he might be sincere. He might even be willing and eager to go to the cross a willing sacrifice, as he imagines it. But unless you wish him to sweep you and your sons and daughters along, it is best to maintain some kind of critical distance.

We seem in this country to no longer be used to normal, reasonably self-assertive masculinity, and unjustifiably mistake a Christian tinged conservatism, or supernaturalistic stance, for it.

As we all know, a natural law Christian, is likely to have a quite different sense of boundaries, moral right, and justice, than a fideist pietist; though both may claim to be Christians.

Crude said...

Agreed, DNW.

If Rea wants this issue handled, urging Swinburne to act as a willing sacrifice won't do the trick. Let's get a clear statement out of Rea.

Something like, 'The SCP will always allow for people who question or criticize the morality of sexual choices and orientations, including 'LGBT' choices/orientations, and will not try to pressure people into silence for defending traditional Christian views.'

Shouldn't be hard, now should it? If that's the assurance he gave Swinburne - and nothing less than that assurance would suffice - then let him give it to everyone else.

Edward Feser said...

Bilbo,

No, I Have not changed my mind. I posted Prof. Swinburne's statement here not to endorse it but rather because I think it only fair to him that his own views on this matter get publicity.

In my view, however, nothing has changed. Prof. Swinburne is free graciously and humbly to refrain from demanding an apology for any offense caused to him personally. But the issue is really not primarily about him. It's about the "message" Rea's original statement sent about those who defend traditional Christian sexual morality in general. They were all effectively thrown under the bus by that statement, not just Swinburne alone.

As I keep saying, to cancel the implicature or "message sent" by Rea's original statement would take an equally clear, forceful, and public statement by Rea himself. We still don't have that, and from what I can see we are not going to get it.

Eric Rasmusen said...

Professor Swinburne said, "I do feel strongly that traditional Christian views on these matters should be subjected to critical philosophical assessment in the friendly atmosphere typical of philosophical seminars; and that proponents of opposite views should be free to express and defend their views in public (including in any SCP conference or journal) - so long as they express them with sensitivity to the feelings of others..."

Notice that "so long as they express them with sensitivity to the feelings of others". When has that ever been a criterion for whether to allow scholarly discussion? It is not even scholarly to say that a scholar should be careful not to upset his audience. The best scholarly argument is one that terribly upsets its audience by showing them that what they thought before was wrong. Godel no doubt made Bertrand Russell feel very bad, but does that mean we should call it the Some-New-Difficulties Theorem instead of the Impossibility Theorem? And there is even a place for sarcasm and teasing, for poking at pomposity, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness--- not just by Jesus, but by philosophers too.

Anonymous said...

The negative reaction to Swinburne here is pretty revelatory. I hope you'll forgive me for concluding that what many of you really support is the freedom of proponents of traditional Christian morality to say nasty things to and about their opponents, while "SJWs" and the like are to be castigated for being anti-philosophical when they do the same thing. How many of you would not have made a bunch of angry noise if you had gone to an SCP session in which someone vigorously defended sodomy as morally indifferent? How many of you would nothave demanded to know from Rea whether the SCP supports such a view? How many of you would not have considered canceling your membership solely on the grounds that a keynote speaker had been invited to offer such a view?

Ed's initial response to this fiasco was admirable: in a philosophical context, we should all be able to discuss issues like these without allowing anger and offense to derail philosophical argument. What many of Ed's fans here seem to want, instead, is rather an inversion of what Swinburne's detractors wanted: forget philosophical argument, let's get into some righteous condemnation.

Y'all are right that the atmosphere among many members of the academic left is like that. But if you intended to suggest that you're somehow different in how you treat those who disagree with your strongest convictions, you're doing a pretty poor job of it. I suspect that many of you are not actually members of the SCP; that organization is probably better off because of that.

Crude said...

How many of you would not have made a bunch of angry noise if you had gone to an SCP session in which someone vigorously defended sodomy as morally indifferent?

Pretty much none of us, I gather. You think this is new and uncharted territory? We're used to it. In fact, I dare say, most of us enjoy such offerings, for a key reason.

SJWs fear the very existence of open contradictory opinions and arguments.
Anti-SJWs tend to love 'em, because dismantling 'em is fun, or even learning from 'em.

That's your big mistake. You think that anti-SJW sorts think like yourself. "Y'all" reason "well *I* would hound to the ends of the earth anyone who deviates from orthodoxy in any environment, even a broad one like the SCP. Surely you would too!" Sorry, but it ain't the same.

What many of Ed's fans here seem to want, instead, is rather an inversion of what Swinburne's detractors wanted: forget philosophical argument, let's get into some righteous condemnation.

We want it made clear that dissent - which, in this case, is literally just arguing the millenia-old orthodox position on this topic - is welcome. That it won't be stifled, threatened, or discouraged. At least not by anything but yet more argument.

That's meager, it's minor. It's reasonable. Yet Rea, one must assume, simply will not give it. If he does, I'll celebrate. I doubt I'll be alone.

But if you intended to suggest that you're somehow different in how you treat those who disagree with your strongest convictions, you're doing a pretty poor job of it.

Ed's blog routinely features and discusses arguments from critics of the existence of God, of Natural Law morality, and more. We've discussed 'em in the comments for years. Bullshit gets called out, or dishonesty or insincerity. But the act of giving an argument? Try finding discouragement of that. At worst you see folks getting told that their argument has been heard before, often by people willing to go at it at length anyway.

I fail to recall the need for a trigger warning on the grounds that someone was defending the morality of anal. I do not recall Ed apologizing to readers on the grounds that someone with a rainbow flag and an axe to grind expressed a view contrary to traditional Christian morality, or the wisdom of Aristotle.

Sorry to kick the soapbox out from under you, but if you're going to grandstand, you need more to stand on than what you've got.

Eric Rasmusen said...

Anonymous, you're very confused. The criticism of Swinburne is not about his position on sodomy at all. The criticism is of his mild response to the idea that when someone makes a philosophical argument that homosexuality is sinful, that someone is to be condemned and repudiated.

DNW said...



"Anonymous said...

The negative reaction to Swinburne here is pretty revelatory. "


Temperate, measured, much of it relatively abstract.

Brandon said...

I hope you'll forgive me for concluding that what many of you really support is the freedom of proponents of traditional Christian morality to say nasty things to and about their opponents, while "SJWs" and the like are to be castigated for being anti-philosophical when they do the same thing.

It's remarkable that you think you can get away with saying this directly to someone while providing literally no evidence or argument for such a sweeping and well-poisoning conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Leave us say that Rea's private, personal assurance to Prof. Swinburne that the SCPs stated policy--of permitting traditional Christian views to be expressed at its forums and in its publications--is technically still on the books hardly suffices to satisfy the concerns of its critics. What is so disappointing is Swinbrurne's treatment of this issue as a purely private affair. He is an elder statesman of the field in a very secure professional position, who can write and speak more or less as he pleases. His endorsement of the SCP's manifest hypocrisy on this subject is a betrayal of those scholars not already so secure in their statuses, who must now face potentially career-destroying verbal assaults and profanity-laden smears by their seniors in the field, should they offend Rea's exquisite sensibilities on the subject of sodomy, and presumably any other moral question on which the academic left has staked out a passionate position.