“Understanding a Command to Believe” – Lecture at Fresno Pacific University

[Note: this lecture took place in the Fall of 2015. I attended the CVPA conference for extra credit in an Introduction to Philosophy course I was taking at the time. The following is the extra credit assignment I wrote.]

The coffee was hot and the pastries a day old as the crowd gathered in B. C. Hall on the campus of Fresno Pacific University for the Central Valley Philosophical Association conference. The lecturer was Dr. Michael Stannard, and he was delivering a paper on “Understanding a Command to Believe.” By deliver I mean he read it. His rationale behind reading his paper was simple: “If you write a paper, read it.” So he did for 25-30 minutes of the hour allotted to him.

Since the paper was read, the delivery was not that great. However, the content was excellent. Dr. Stannard discussed Kant, brought in Socrates, and then discussed the Catholic catechism. His basic premise revolved around the idea of faith, or belief, where it comes from, how we have it, and how we come to have it as rational beings. Believe is caused by God by grace, but we, as rational beings, confirm our belief, acknowledging that God is the source of our faith. This, in brief, was Dr. Stannard’s argument.

Following the reading of his paper, Dr. Stannard fielded questions from the audience for about 20 minutes. The questions were intriguing, especially the question asked about ISIS and their beliefs. Dr. Stannard explained that ISIS is a classic case of replacing spurious good for real good, borrowing terms from Kant. There was a lot of discussion about the self-revelation of God (i.e. special revelation). One question was about natural or general revelation and how that factors into Dr. Stannard’s argument.

One thing I was confused about was what an “isomorphism” is. Dr. Stannard used the phrase a couple times in his paper and it came up in at least one of the questions. I am still not very certain what it means, but with a little research I have found that it seems to be a way of speaking of things which, though not equal, correspond to one another. But I am still struggling to understand how that fits into Dr. Stannard’s argument.

Another aspect which caught my attention and which I appreciated was that this philosophical lecture incorporated a lot of theology. The lecture itself did not argue for the existence of God; it started from the presupposition of the existence of God and proceeded to argue concerning self-revelation and our subsequent reception of it as rational beings. As a student of theology, I was captivated by the theological approach to philosophy.

This conference was not very big. A rough estimate would be that about twenty-five to forty people attended. I was grateful for this because it allowed me to approach Dr. Stannard following his lecture and ask a question (I did not ask my question during the Q&A period because I wanted to allow the PhDs in the room to ask their questions). I asked a question about how the Abraham and Isaac narrative fits into his discussion of Kantian good and his paper’s argument about belief. His answer addressed the larger narrative of Abraham’s encounters with God leading up to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac.


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