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#726 Languishing Philosophically in Canada

April 04, 2021

Hi Dr. Craig, Thank you for your work. We met once in Toronto at your discussion with Jordan Peterson and Rebecca Goldstein. It was a real privilege, sir.

As a Torontonian, and more specifically as a doctoral student in Philosophy in Canada, I am confronted with a problem I was hoping you could help me with. It is becoming clear to me that the philosophy of religion is a dying sub-discipline in philosophy departments in Canada. Not only am I told to not specialize in it due to difficult job prospects, but I am also confronted with a sea of incompetent philosophers of religion. For example, the main philosopher teaching natural theology is in the Department of Religion. It is abhorrent that this is the department that natural theology is studied.

Let me explicate a précis of what happens. We look at ontological arguments historically with no reference to contemporary modal versions with replies to Kant - it is *assumed* Kant was right about natural theology), we assess cosmological arguments without discussing your and others’ work and any attempt at systematization of the premises, there is a gross misrepresentation of natural theological arguments (Aquinas’ arguments in particular), and so forth. I find myself often talked over when making critical distinctions e.g., linear vs hierarchical causality, or even bringing into the discussion the relevant literature/contemporary discussions on these topics. I am aware of a rich world of literature and am not able to share it with my colleagues.

Let me give you a case in point. We were discussing in a graduate philosophy of religion seminar Aquinas’ rejection of the ontological argument. The professor made us read Aquinas without reading Anselm. I had mentioned that this was historically uncharitable - let alone philosophically uncharitable. Then, when we assessed Aquinas’ criticism, we were then told that Anselm wasn’t really offering an argument at all. Of course, Adams’ reformulation of the argument in symbolic logic came to mind. I mentioned this, and I was essentially ridiculed for this. We then moved onto Aquinas’ arguments for God’s existence, and each of the arguments were both underdeveloped, distorted and eventually abandoned. I thought to myself: Feser was brought to Christianity through realizing how bad these arguments were - I surely hope the same happens for this professor. The level of incompetence is astounding, disheartening and, quite frankly, annoying.

Sir, you have spent your whole life debating against incompetent misunderstandings, plain distortions and immature readings of your work; however, you never lose hope and you always press forward as a Christian philosopher with integrity: What advice would you give to a graduate student who, in trying to serve Christ and His kingdom, is confronted by this level of academic superficiality?

Thank you, and God bless,


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Dr. craig’s response


I chose your question not because I have any particularly good advice to share but principally to alert our readers to how desperate the situation is at Canadian universities. The intellectual stagnation you describe is truly appalling and inexcusable. Given the resources available today and the significant advances of the discipline with respect to the issues you raise, professors who are stuck in the past as you describe are guilty of a dereliction of duty towards their students, who are paying them to obtain a quality education. Just this week, in writing on God’s necessary existence, I re-read Anselm, Hume, and Kant on the ontological argument and was frankly taken aback at how weak the critiques were. It occurred to me that thinkers (mainly theologians) who are still stuck in the Kantian criticisms are just uninformed about the ontological argument and necessary existence. You’re right that natural theology should not be taught in Religious Studies departments, where the professors are not philosophically equipped to deal with the issues, but rather in philosophy classes. That the arguments of even these figures of the past, now overtaken, should be misrepresented and glossed over is just reprehensible, unworthy of a university education. It is disheartening that the renaissance in Christian philosophy that has transpired in the United Sates has had so little apparent impact in Canada.

So what can you do? Well, a few points come to mind:

1. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Even back when I was a graduate student, the conventional wisdom was that you won’t find a job in philosophy. As a Christian, you needn’t listen to the doom-and-gloomers. God has a will for your life, and He has promised to guide you as you trust in Him (Proverbs 3.5-6). If you are walking in His will, He’ll take you where He wants you to be. It may or may not be a teaching position. Look at me. Though I was once a full-time faculty member, I left that profession because I felt called to a quite different sort of ministry. So now I teach only a few weeks per year. You probably couldn’t guess where you’ll wind up even if you tried. Just trust God every step of the way, and He’ll take care of your future.

2. Focus on doing first-rate philosophical work. Rise above the standard set by your weak professors. Learn all that you can from them, but do not rest content with the mediocrity they model for you. Use your classes and your papers and dissertation to do your very best work, drawing upon the vast resources available to you today. Unlike students of previous generations, like those of the mid-twentieth century, you, at least, have access to the finest, cutting edge work in the field. Strive for philosophical excellence.

3. Network with other Christian philosophers in the US. I hope you’re a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and/or the Society of Christian Philosophers. If you can attend an annual meeting of EPS, you’ll find the Christian fellowship uplifting and the interchange of ideas stimulating. Given your situation, you need to form a new peer group, and these societies enable you to do just that. They can lead to personal email exchanges with people studying similar things, which can help you transcend your immediate, depressing circumstances.

4. Finally, don’t allow yourself to become bitter. It would be understandable and easy to become resentful toward your professors for the disservice they are doing you. But that “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12.15) would hurt only you. Trust God to fill you with His Holy Spirit and to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23) in your life. Your trial will soon be over, Lord willing, you will graduate far better equipped than were your professors to pursue the career that God has in store for you.

- William Lane Craig