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What Philosophy Offers to the “New Evangelization” By William Lane Craig, Ph.D., D. Theol. Introduction Near the end of his wide-ranging encyclical “Fides et Ratio” on the relationship between faith and reason—and in particular philosophy—, John Paul II declared that “the Church considers philosophy an indispensable help” with respect to two tasks: first, “for a deeper understanding of faith,” and, second, “for communicating the truth of the Gospel to those who do not yet know it.”1 With respect to this second task he spoke of “the pressing need for a new evangelization,” and he appealed specifically to philosophers to aid in this endeavor.2 The Pope believed that philosophy has “a fundamental and original contribution” to make “in service of the new evangelization.” This is partly because, as he put it, “Philosophical thought is often the only ground for understanding and dialogue with those who do not share our faith.”3 Philosophy affords a common ground on which we can engage non-Christians. Moreover, philosophy, the Pope said, “is the mirror which reflects the culture of a people.” So, he concluded, “a philosophy which. . . evolves in harmony with faith is part of that ‘evangelization of culture’ which Paul VI proposed as one of the fundamental goals of evangelization.”4 In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI officially established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. The Pope believed it of utmost importance that traditionally Christian nations, especially in Europe and North America, which have become shaped by a culture of secularism, be re-evangelized. I share the Pope’s conviction and believe that Christian philosophy will have and, indeed, is having a vital role in the evangelization of culture. Decisive changes are taking place in the field of philosophy, and the outcome of these changes will reverberate throughout the university and ultimately Western culture. Christian philosophers are significantly changing the current face of Anglo-American philosophy. Indeed, it is no exaggeration, I think, to speak of a renaissance of Christian philosophy over the last generation. Developments in Philosophy In order to understand where we are today, we need first of all to understand something of where we have been. In a recent retrospective, the eminent Princeton University philosopher Paul Benacerraf describes what it was like doing philosophy at Princeton during the 1950s and ’60s. The overwhelmingly dominant mode of thinking was scientific naturalism. Physical science was taken to be the final, and really only, arbiter of truth. Metaphysics—that traditional branch of philosophy which deals with questions about reality which are beyond science (hence, the name “meta-physics”, i.e., “beyond physics”)—metaphysics had been vanquished, expelled from philosophy like an unclean leper. “The philosophy of science,” says Benacerraf, “was the queen of all the branches” of philosophy, since ‘it had the tools. . . to address all the problems.’”5 Any problem that could not be addressed by science was simply dismissed as a pseudo-problem. If a question did not have a scientific answer, then it was not a real question—just a pseudo-question masquerading as a real question. Indeed, part of the task of philosophy was to clean up the discipline from the mess that earlier generations had made of it by endlessly struggling with such


Chicago Studies Spring 2017  

Volume 56:1

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