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I am afraid to say that I have become a more regular listener to a podcast from an atheist blog than I am a poster here at Evangel. Luke Muehlhauser’s Conversations From the Pale Blue Dot is one of the better podcasts out there that takes time to examine both sides of important issues in philosophy of religion. His interviews never fail to be charitable and informative even if one does not ultimately agree (see for example, the interview with Steven Porter on penal subsitutionary atonement—for the record I agree with Porter). 

Recently, I was listening to the interview of David Basinger on the subject of Open Theism. Muehlhauser points out that Open Theism is no stranger to controversy and explores the divide that has emerged within Christian theology over its controversial premise of presentism. When asked about this divide, Basinger responds with an interesting epistemological explanation that could apply to many of our disagreements and sheds some light on the differences people have when approaching ecumenical questions (starting at minute 12:37). 

Basinger begins by stating we approach our claims in two different ways. The first approach says, “I affirm this belief and only my perspective is justifiable, therefore the implication is that others who have other beliefs aren’t knowledgeable or aren’t sincere.” The second says, “I affirm this belief strongly, I feel justified in holding it, but other people who hold different beliefs are equally knowledgeable and sincere and therefore are equally justified.” Basinger says he falls into the second camp, and explains his approach by arguing that so long as one’s perspective is self-consistent and sufficiently comprehensive one is justified in holding to one’s perspective. Our choice of perspective has to do with what satisfies our own presuppositions, however they might be formed, and that reason does not have the power to resolve deep metaphysical disputes. 

I will not comment on which approach is right or wrong, but I do think this rubric goes a long way in explaining why ecumenism is so controversial in itself. Mark Olson’s recent post is a paradigm example in how the two approaches conflict. Those that seek to participate in broad ecumenical discussions think that one can be justified in holding to perspectives that conflict with one’s own. The dialogue that follows is one that cherishes tolerance for others out of a sense of charity that affirms that all parties have been intellectually virtuous in seeking justification for their beliefs. This view holds that all parties have labored to be self-consistent and comprehensive in their affirmations. By contrast, those who are suspicious of ecumenical discussions do not see merit in dialoguing with others, because the polemical debates have not been satisfied. Others who hold divergent views are not justified in affirming them, because they either are not properly knowledgeable in what is in fact true, or are dishonest in their denial of what is true. 

How we conceive the value of charity and the nature of truth bears upon how we will approach others in disagreement. The first approach rightly fears relativism and a tepid view of tolerance that opens the doors to error, and puts confidence in the reason to resolve disputes. The second rightly gives respect to the intellectual honesty to those who have worked through the relevant issues, but does not fully trust reason to deliver a reliable way to resolving disputes.

It seems to me that these approaches can reside in the same person at the same time, but on different issues. I increasingly see myself falling into the second camp (since I like Conversations From the Pale Blue Dot so much), but there are many issues where I still reside in the first (for example, on abortion). Much of it comes down to how much belief I have in reason to resolve disputes. 

Where do you think you fall?

More on: Making a Point

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