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Ian Church has been accepted into a seminar which blends science, phi­losophy and the­ology. Church will be focusing on the problem of divine hid­denness. Ian Church | Courtesy
Assistant Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy Blake McAl­lister has been accepted into a seminar which blends science, phi­losophy and the­ology. McAl­lister is espe­cially inter­ested in the psy­chology behind reli­gious con­ver­sions. Blake McAl­lister | Courtesy

Both Assistant Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy Ian Church and Assistant Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy Blake McAl­lister have been accepted into a two week res­i­dential seminar program on “science-engaged the­ology” and will attend the seminar to further explore their own philo­sophical queries.

Hoping to bring science, the­ology, and phi­losophy in closer dia­logue with one another, the Fuller The­o­logical Sem­inary will host a seminar this summer focusing on “The Created and Fallen Image of God.”

The program aims to support “science-engaged the­ology, training the­olo­gians in psy­cho­logical science to make new dis­cov­eries and con­tribute to the­o­logical progress,” according to the Fuller website. Church applied to the program because it already fits in with his current research and a paper he is writing on divine hid­denness and non-resistant non-believers he said.

Church said he hopes to answer why a person could be non-resistant to the idea of God, but still not believe, if God is per­fectly loving. This question also relates to the problem of evil, since it seems that God can some­times remain hidden in times of great pain or evil.

“The question of whether or not there are people who are non-resistant in their non-belief is to some extent an empirical question,” Church said. “The psy­cho­logical lit­er­ature on the problem of divine hid­denness has been acknowl­edged but it’s never been explored.”

Church said psy­chology can provide insight into this problem of divine hid­denness since the field may provide insight into the pos­si­bility of a non-resistant non-believer.

Church went on to suggest that one’s com­munity may play a role in one’s ability to be non-resistant in non-belief.

“Is it pos­sible to be non-resistant in your non-belief if your broader social com­munity is resistant in non-belief?” Church asked. “Some empirical lit­er­ature seems to suggest that that is at least doubtful.”

However chal­lenging, this assumption has its problems.

“That assumption is rarely called into question in philo­sophical lit­er­ature because you look like a jerk,” he said. “I can talk to you about people who are as deeply familiar with all the evi­dence as anyone could ever ask for but nev­er­theless they fail to believe and are atheists.”

The seminar will be an oppor­tunity to under­stand the psy­cho­logical dimen­sions of divine hid­denness through the inte­gration of these dif­ferent fields.

“The goal is to try to bring the­ology and the sci­ences in closer dia­logue with one another and phi­losophy as well,” he said.

McAllister’s question con­cerns the epis­te­mology of reli­gious con­version. McAl­lister said reli­gious con­ver­sions pri­marily concern each person’s per­spective.

“You can have an atheist and you can have a theist that will look at the very same event, and one will see an irre­deemable evil that no good God could pos­sibly allow, and the other will see some­thing that, while tragic, will be redeemed in the end,” he said.

McAl­lister hopes psy­chology will aid in answering his question on the mul­ti­plicity of per­spec­tives.

“At a certain point, psy­chology needs to come in to help us under­stand the empirical data on what is trig­gering these per­spective shifts,” he said.

The seminar will also give both pro­fessors the oppor­tunity to apply for more funding, which, according to Church and McAl­lister, may benefit some of the stu­dents at Hillsdale. Church men­tioned the pos­si­bility of funding psy­chology stu­dents’ research or perhaps a reading group.

“The initial hope is that I could use some of those research funds to fund student research here,” Church said. “I’d be par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in getting stu­dents to work on the inter­sec­tions of phi­losophy, psy­chology, and the­ology.”  

Tom Burke, chairman and pro­fessor of phi­losophy and religion, wrote the rec­om­men­dation letter for Church. According to Burke, a science-engaged the­o­logical approach is cer­tainly some­thing that could be brought to Hillsdale.

“A college ded­i­cated to tra­di­tional Western values needs to embrace both the­ology and science, and both science and the­ology need to be in con­stant dia­logue, for such will benefit both on a number of levels, including that of practice,” he said in an email.