I’ve now listened to their first several episodes and can give a more comprehensive (both in the sense of covering more of there work and in the sense that I better understand their point) evaluation.
First, this is a good case to counter anyone who equates being Christian with being philosophically sloppy or positively stupid. What attracts me to this mainly is that the guys (there are a few regulars plus guests who are studying some particular figure and want to present him) give nice, in-depth presentations of (short) philosophical texts. The majority of many of the discussions is not about their Christianity (in their case, it’s “reformed,” meaning Protestant descended from Calvinism), and in fact it takes some work and digging into the episodes to figure out what their religious views are.
…That being the second point of interest to the podcast. Now, theology typically bores me to tears, and you’re just not going to see us, e.g. do an episode on a creed like the OPC Confession of Faith that these guys (being based at the Westminster Theological Seminary) profess. What’s interesting is the interaction with philosophy: why are these guys spending time reading Hume and Quine instead of repeating dogma back and forth to each other? What philosophy actually gets taught at a seminary? It took me about two dozen references to “Vantillian” before I figured out that the guys’ central influence is Cornelius Van Til, whose influence in Christian thought is rated (on the Wikipedia page) as comparable to Kant’s influence in secular philosophy. Van Til “opposed the traditional methodology of reasoning on the supposition that there is a neutral middle-ground, where the non-Christian and the Christian can agree.” Now, that doesn’t sound very heartening to good philosophical discussion, but what it means for the podcasters is exactly the kind of self-marginalization (though I’m sure they wouldn’t describe it that way) that I appreciate in a Christian outlook.
To greatly oversimplify, what you might call a natural theology approach to Christianity a la Thomas Aquinas is that any rational person following the evidence will get to Christianity. This is a difficult position to sustain in the modern age (though Swinburne held this position without embarassment, and I’m sure other classy examples abound), the debate having shifted more to “can any rational person actually buy into Christianity?” What you might call an existentialist approach to Christianity (e.g. that of Kierkegaard or Schleiermacher) says that you have to start the enterprise of philosophy already committed to Christianity and interpret everything in light of that. Why would you possibly commit yourself to something like that in advance? For personal reasons, basically, though surely they think the motivators are there for anyone to pick up on (the world itself being Revelation and all).
But again, the podcast doesn’t spend time on that background motivation: it’s aimed (nominally, at least) at those already indocrinated, and as I’ve said, the interpreting everything in light of a pre-accepted Christianity doesn’t mean that they ignore and skew what the authors they’re reading are saying: the account of Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian” in their third episode (the first really good one; I was not crazy about their Descartes presentation, and episode one really does them a disservice: it’s just a clip starting in the middle of a heavily inside-baseball kind of conversation; I’d strongly recommend they record a proper intro to the podcast and rebrand that one) seemed to give a pretty thorough and charitable presentation of Russell’s views. Still, it interests me, at least, to see what their responses to new (and old) atheist critiques are, much as I appreciated reading the new atheists themselves as a list of political talking points against the arguments made by religious representatives.
In short, the podcasters rely on skeptical critiques of folks like Quine (in their lengthy and meaty episode on him) and post-modernism to undercut any possible criticism of Christianity. If you want to say, for instance, that the whole “dying for my sins” thing sounds morally suspect, or that the reports of these particular miracles don’t seem any more plausible than the many others reported by the superstitious ancient world that Christians want to reject, or you want to argue that reliance on a text because it tells you it’s authentic is circular reasoning, then they’ll reply that in order to make such claims, you have to have a full epistemological theory worked out with a foundationalism that has been found through philosophical history to be impossible. It’s a fancy version of “all of your ultimate underlying assumptions have to me taken on faith” with a denial that simple pragmatism supports the more everyday assumptions used to support science, or rather that these pragmatic considerations can’t be extended either to high fallutin’ metaphysical realms, a la Kant’s claim (and Wes’s), or even to those parts of Christianity that directly impinge on our actual experience and the findings of science.
The podcasters’ view (or rather views, as they have some disagreement) on exactly how scripture is supposed to take precedence over philosophy and every other corner of the intellect is elaborated directly on a recent episode called “The Relation of Philosophy to Theology.” I won’t try to do that discussion justice here; just check it out if you’re interested. However, I think it’s apparent by the end how the view destroys itself: one can’t interpret a sacred text without a large set of skills and background knowledge, so you can’t then declare the text itself somehow primordial over that very set of knowledge requisite for understanding the text. Likewise, they reject the subjective, Cartesian, phenomenological beginning point of inquiry in favor of an “objective” starting point: scripture, but it’ll always be you reading the scripture; you can’t circumvent your own epistemological limitations by pushing the responsibility onto some external entity, whether it be God or scripture or hermeneutic tradition or anything else.
Despite this, I’m pleasantly surprised to find a podcast of this sort that is doing basically the same thing as we are: diving into texts and giving their opinions on the details and arguments they find. So, to bolster your consumption of our God episode, I recommend their episodes on Thomas Aquinas, both of which feature guest Bob LaRocca. They go into more detail, I’m sure, than we ever will: