Reflection on APA’s Central Division Meeting 2014

At the end of February (27-28) I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago, IL in order to attend the American Philosophical Association’s Central Division meeting. This opportunity came by way of traveling with my current philosophy professor, Dr. Mark Coppenger, as well as a couple of Ph.D (philosophy) students and a Th.M student. Leaving Southern Seminary’s campus (Louisville, KY and note I drove from east TN the day before), we made the journey to Chicago. Allow me to be brief and break down the trip this way: 1) people; 2) philosophy; 3) place. 

1). People

I was blessed to have attended this conference with some great men. Dr. Coppenger is a great and insanely smart guy who loves Christ and philosophy (he may teach philosophy but he has a pastor’s heart). He did a wonderful job in organizing our stay and in accommodating me the night before we made the trek to the Windy City. Having lived in Chicago as a church planter he was an indispensable tour guide, as well. The other students were Daniel Cabal (Ph.D- philosophy), Eric Williamson (Ph.D- philosophy), and Max Noh (Th.M – philosophy). This trip was my first time for meeting this guys. I learned so much about philosophy, art, ministry, missions in Muslin countries, and, really, life from these men. It was an encouraging time of fellowship. Being an M.Div student, it was also great that these guys were so patient with my ignorance on many things philosophical.

2). Philosophy

I am no philosophy wiz, and (I hope) I don’t pretend to be. I simply have an interest in philosophy of religion, and in particular, apologetics and the Christian (v. other) worldview. Having said that, I followed the lead of my more-knowledgeable philosopher friends and ventured into some interesting papers. We went to two papers regarding the philosophy of the mind, and in particular (1) beliefs and judgments on normative claims, and (2) pseudonyms and superheroes (“Is Clark Kent, Kal El, and Superman all the same person?”). Here are a few observations. 1) each paper and philosopher were so “deep” in their own field of study (philosophy of the mind, for instance) that they didn’t deal with other branches well. It was extremely narrow in focus. For example: the person giving the paper in a philosophy of the mind section was speechless after being asked about the practical value of their topic and answered “I don’t know” when asked about the epistemology of a particular aspect of their belief. All that to say, each philosopher had their niche and really only spoke within it, which is somewhat understandable in the sense that perhaps an orthopedic surgeon doesn’t have the same skill set and vocabulary that a brain surgeon does. 2) there was a lot of “chest-beating.” I understand that, especially for the young folks who were trying to get recognized or further their young careers, there may have been a lot at stake in presenting a paper. My problem is this: people were using terminology to one up another, which just seemed arrogant and unnecessary as they tried to seem intellectually superior. Also, without clarifying their terms, this really left those of us who are not studying in their field with a sense of real disconnect. I understand each field, not just in philosophy but all studies in general, have their own set of vocabularies; this was made plain to me in Chicago (Though I try to be aware of who I am talking to so I can contextualize my speech; As this trip has shown me, I hope to develop a better awareness for when to use theological terminology and when not to). A plus at this conference was that I got to meet William Lane Craig. He happened to be presenting a paper on Divine aseity. I will be honest and say that I got him to sign my name badge and took full advantage of a photo op.

3). Place

This was the first time I had been to Chicago. It was characteristically cold and windy. It was large but also compact in that most things  one needs could be found within walking distance. A couple of the students and myself went to the Art Institute of Chicago, which was interesting and educational (these guys really knew their art). Another first was riding the subway. I had never done so, but it was great to experience traveling via subway.

Overall the trip was great! (Great car ride conversations on a wide variety of subjects– this may have been the most enjoyable aspect of the trip: the fellowship of brothers in Christ.) I learned quickly that the kind of philosophy many of the people at the APA was doing is not the kind of philosophy that my fellow SBTS students and myself were interested in. In our opinions, good philosophy has “cash value;” it is applicable; practical; one can see how it applies to everyday scenarios. That is precisely what these SBTS Ph.D students concluded and it is my conclusion, as well. The things done in philosophy should contribute to some aspect of our lives whether it be an ethic, worldview, or other perhaps contributing to a coming-to-faith experience for some. So much more could be said but I’ll end here: this experience was insightful and really eye-opening to professional philosophy and it was a wonderful time of fellowship.

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