Rational Faith with Stephen Davis

From Volume 1, Issue 6, 2017

EOF: Thanks for coming and talking to us and sharing with us about your new book, Rational Faith,  A Philosopher’s Defense of Christianity. There are a plethora of books on this subject of philosophy and Christian faith. Maybe you could tell us what sets this book apart from some of the others?


DAVIS: I think there are a lot of good books out there and I don’t want to be in a position of criticizing any of them.  I have spent many years as a professor of philosophy at a secular school, Claremont McKenna College, which is a prestigious,  very selective liberal arts college in southern California; part of the Claremont Colleges. It is entirely secular. We do have Christian students there, quite a few of them, but obviously it’s not a Christian place at all. Over the years I have had many students who were raised as Christians, and most of them still want to see themselves as Christians, come and see me to talk to me in my office. Maybe they have taken a class from me or maybe they have heard somewhere that I am a Christian professor, and have asked me various questions about intellectual and academic issues that have troubled them that they have run into in classes that they were taking and it seemed that at the end of my career, I started thinking, “Hey, I could maybe take many of these issues, and possibly many others that I wasn’t asked about, and turn them into a book where I was trying to explain to Christian students, and even to some young Christian faculty members, especially at Christian colleges, all of whom got their PhDs at secular places, about some of these issues and what I think Christian answers to them can be.” That’s where the book  came from, that was the motivation for it and I hope and pray that it can accomplish some of the things that I had in mind for it.


Since it’s still fresh on my mind from reading it, I can say something that caught me (because I read a  lot of these types of books) is that  you have kept it at a level that still covers some of the hard issues  at an intellectual level, but also talks to people at a level that they can  understand and it’s enjoyable.  They don’t have to stop at every other sentence to look up four different philosophical phrases.  It’s really good.


I have tried to do that, so thank you for noticing it.


Sure. You’re trying to answer hard questions in the book, and prior to tackling those questions, you start the book with a discussion about  epistemological and moral relativity. I thought it would be interesting  if you could explain these terms to the reader, in case they are not quite  up to speed with philosophy and theology.


I’d be happy to do that. Let’s say that relativism is the view that anything that you believe is true. True for you. It may not be true for me. So truth is relative to who you are and what you believe. Epistemological relativism is a relativism that is just as concerned with truth and it says that a statement is true if you believe it. Then they add true for you, maybe not true for me. Like a student once said to me, as I quoted him in the book, “Well, Professor Davis, Christianity is true for you, but not for me.” That’s epistemological relativism that has to do with truth.

Moral relativism follows from epistemological relativism. If you’re an epistemological relativist you are also going to be a moral relativist, although not everybody draws that conclusion. Moral relativism is just in the realm of ethics and morals, not necessarily all matters of truth, but it says that anything you believe about duty and obligation and morally right and wrong, anything that If you’re an epistemological relativist you are also going to be a moral relativist, although not every body draws that conclusion.  Moral relativism is just in the realm of ethics and morals, not necessarily all matters of truth, but it says that anything you believe about duty and obligation and morally right and wrong, anything that you truly believe, is true for you but maybe not for somebody else. You could be a non-epistemological relativist, who believes that there are matters of truth; where if something is true, it is true for everybody no matter what they believe but then think that in moral matters truth varies from person to person and so somebody may think that murder is morally wrong, no matter what anybody has ever said and for a moral relativist, that person’s truth is in believing that, but there may be somebody else who doesn’t believe that, who believes that murder is ok — let’s say a murderer — and that’s true for him, for that particular murderer. So that’s the distinction between the two. They are closely connected in that if you’re an epistemological relativist, you pretty much have to be a moral relativist, but you can be a moral relativist without being an epistemological relativist.


It is like the foundation for any discussion of the Christmastide and so I want to delve into that a little deeper  because we are obviously talking about subjective truth. For Christian philosophy, really any philosophy,  you need to think there are some objective truths. I’ve always felt like understanding objective truth has  always been the foundation to begin anything philosophical, or even an ontological discussion. Obviously you agree because you start that in the first chapter before getting into some of the harder questions. But could you expound  on that concept of what you were just talking about, but with objective truth?


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