Since I retired in 2011 after teaching philosophy for 43 years at Augsburg, I have fulfilled my desire to write and to teach as a volunteer in educational institutions in other parts the world. For two years I taught philosophy at ABC University in Yekepa, Liberia, a mining town established by Lamco, a Swedish-American iron mining company. After its destruction during the Liberian civil war, the university was restarted to teach students, long deprived of educational opportunities, in theology, education, communications, and business. In a succeeding year I gave lectures and conducted a semester-long faculty development workshop at the University of Žilina in Slovakia. I spent the spring term of 2016 in Accra, Ghana, teaching at Good News Theological College and Seminary, established by the Mennonite and Lutheran churches to train leaders for the African Instituted or Indigenous Churches. The school educates a diversity of students through its day school and weekend college programs for working adults.
My passion for teaching and the rewards I receive come from the students I teach. I enjoy seeing students discover and learn, grow in their appreciation of what they read and study, mature in their critical thinking skills, and come to a greater understanding of themselves and the world around and beyond them. Philosophy provides the perfect context for these tasks when it asks students to discern the meaning, truth, justification, and significance of the ideas they encounter. Philosophy also prompts us to ask very personal questions about the meaning and significance of life and about our individual vocation, which is, in diverse ways, to serve others on behalf of God.
My role in teaching is to stimulate students to consider, question, and carefully develop their own viewpoints. In class and conversation I challenge students to think, not only about the positions they hold, but the reasoning they use to support their views. Through dialogue and with lots of support, students blossom into careful, critical, and creative thinkers, and I hope, into persons of faith. Since my objective in teaching is to help students become curious about the world and become independent learners, I take as my motto: “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.”
See my publications listed below. I also serve on two editorial boards: Science, Religion, and Culture, and the Journal of Interdisciplinary Philology.
Other Interests: Professors have a life outside the college. My interests extend beyond the classroom and writing to my family, doing volunteer teaching in other countries, engaging in sports such as racquetball and canoeing, and camping and travel. I have spent time in every state, 73 countries, and on all the continents. Over the years I have taught for a semester or more in Lesotho, Kenya, China, Liberia, and Ghana. I have participated in or led Fulbright-Hays Travel Seminars in India, Pakistan, and Namibia, and have lectured or read papers in China, Korea, Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany, and Russia. Travel makes it possible to meet interesting persons, to make friends with people from different nations, and to experience the richness and diversity of cultures, geography, history, flora and fauna.
I am active in the Roseville Covenant church and work with the Evangelical Covenant Church of Kenya and churches in Liberia to develop projects and leadership training that further their mission in their communities.
- B.A. Wheaton College
- M.A. Northwestern University
- Ph.D. Northwestern University
- Divine Providence: God’s Love and Human Freedom. Wipf and Stock, 2016. Adopting a view that we have limited freedom and that this is most consistent with divine sovereignty, the book combines philosophical analysis and theological reflection on God’s properties (goodness, power, and knowledge) and on his actions (with respect to suffering or evil, to miracles, and to petitionary prayer).
- Epistemic Obligations: Truth, Individualism, and the Limits of Belief. Baylor University Press, 2012. This book explores the important question whether we have a right to believe whatever we want, or whether we have an obligation to believe what is true.
- Introduction to Critical Thinking. McGraw-Hill, 2001.
- Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. Oxford University Press, 1996; 2nd ed. 2001; 3rd ed. 2007; 4th ed. 2010; 5th ed. 2014. (Co-author). This widely used anthology contains an excellent selection of readings.
- On Behalf Of God: A Christian Ethic For Biology. William B. Eerdmans, 1995 (Co-author).
- Reason and Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford University Press, 1991, 2nd ed. 1998; 3rd ed. 2003; 4th ed. 2009; 5th ed. 2013. (Co-author). As a companion to the Selected Readings, this widely used secondary source presents and explains key ideas in the philosophy of religion.
- The Law of Karma: A Philosophical Study. The Macmillan Press Ltd. and University of Hawaii Press, 1990.
- Evil and a Good God. Fordham University Press, 1982.
- Is Man the Phoenix? A Study of Immortality. William B. Eerdmans, 1978; reprinted by University Press of America, 1983.
- The Cosmological Argument: A Reassessment. Charles Thomas, 1972.
Chapters in Books:
- “Theories and Unobservables: The Realist/Nonrealist Debate in Science and Religion.” “Scientific Realism,” “Religious Realism,” and “Experience and the Unobservable,” in Melville Y. Stewart, ed., Science and Religion in Dialogue, vol. 2. London: Blackwells; Beijing: Beijing University Press, 2009, 1011-1077
- “Healing View,” in James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., THE NATURE OF THE ATONEMENT. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2006, 117-156.
- “Divine Revelation: Discernment and Interpretation” in James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, eds., For Faith and Clarity. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006, 85-112.
- Tensions in a Stewardship Paradigm,” R. J. Berry, ed., Environmental Stewardship. London: T & T Clark, 2006, 112-128.
- “At Any Rate There’s No Humbug Here: Truth and Perspective,” in Gregory Bassham and Jerry L. Walls, eds., The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy. Chicago: Open Court, 2005, 53-64.
- “Dances of Death: Self-Sacrifice and Atonement,” in Jorge J.E. Gracia, ed., Mel Gibson’s Passion and Philosophy. Chicago: Open Court, 2004, 190-203.
- “Explanation and the Cosmological Argument,” in Michael L. Peterson and Raymond J. Vanarragon, ed., Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion. London: Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 97-114.
- “Epistemology: Theological;” “God: Philosophy;” “God: Arguments for the Existence of;” written and/or edited contribution to Encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001.
- “Karma and the Problem of Evil,” in Gary E. Kessler, ed., Philosophy of Religion. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1999, 246-55. (reprint of article)
- “On Being a Professor: The Case of Socrates,” in David W. Gill, ed., Should God Get Tenure? Essays on Religion and Higher Education. William B. Eerdmans, 1997, 8-26. (reprint of article)
- “Implications of the Human Genome Project for Views of Morality,” (co-author with V. Elving Anderson), in James P. Hurd, ed., Investigating the Biological Foundations of Human Morality. Queenston, Ontario: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996.
- “Monism and Immortality,” in Melville Y. Stewart, ed., Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology of Contemporary Views. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1996, 673-90. (reprint of article)
- “Freedom, Justice, and Moral Responsibility,” in Clark Pinnock, ed., The Grace of God, the Will of Man. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Press, 1989, 277-303.
- “Buddhism, Karma and Immortality,” in Paul Badham, ed., Death and Immortality in the Religions of the World. New York: Paragon Press, 1987, 141-157.
- “God Limits His Power,” in David Basinger and Randall Basinger, eds., Predestination and Free Will. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986, 101-124.
- “The Divine Command Theory and Objective Good,” in Rocco Porreco, ed., The Georgetown Symposium on Ethics. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1984, 219-233.
- “On Being a Socratic Professor,” Acta Humanica (Žilina: 2015): 26-34.
- God and Good Revisited,” Philosophia Christi, 16, no. 2 (2014): 319-338.
- “The Russell-Copleston Debate on the Cosmological Argument,” Dialogue (UK) 38 (Apr. 2012): 29-35.
- “Religious Experience as an Observational Epistemic Practice,” Sophia 51, no. 1 (2012): 1-16.
- “Finding a Locus for Dialogue between Genetics and Theology,” Theology and Science 9, no. 2 (May 2011): 193-195.
- “Rethinking the Basis of Christian-Buddhist Dialogue,” Philosophia Christi 12, no. 2 (2011): 393-406.
- “Evil,” and “Ontology,” in New Dictionary of Theology (Revised). Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press (2009).
- “The Cosmological Argument,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (on-line) 2005, revised 2008, 2012, 2016.
- “Does Plantinga Have His Own Defeater?” Philosophia Christi 8, no. 1 (2006): 141-150. (co-authored with Adam Nugent).
- “Miracle Cure or Moral Quagmire,” The Covenant Companion (October 2004): 6-9.
- “Dialoging Around the Well,” Till and Keep (2003): 32-4
- “Lutheran Identity and Diversity in Education,” Intersections 17 (Summer 2003): 21-8.
- “Boulders, Native Prairie, and a Stewardship Ethic,” Worldviews 7, no. 1/ II (2003): 93-112.
- “The Hermeneutic Circle and Authorial Intention in Divine Revelation,” Sophia 42, no. 1 (May 2003): 47-60.
- “Genesis 1 as a Theological-Political Narrative of Kingdom Establishment,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 13, no. 1 (April 2003): 47-69.
- “Epistemology: Theological;” “God: Philosophy;” “God: Arguments for the Existence of;” written and/or edited contribution to ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CHRISTIANITY. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2001.
- “Inclusivism and the Atonement,” Faith and Philosophy 16, no. 1 (January, 1999), 43-54.
- “By His Stripes We Are Healed,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41, no. 4 (Dec. 1998): 551-560. Translated into Russian, (International Scholar’s Publications, 1999).
- “The New Integrationists in Science and Religion,” Christian Scholar’s Review 27, no. 3 (Spring 1998): 338-352.
- “Mission and Hiring Policies in the Christian College,” Intersections, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 13-19.
- “On Being a Professor: The Case of Socrates,” Faculty Dialogue, 1996. Winner of the Ted Ward writing award.
- “Justifying In-principle Nonpredictive Theories: The Case of Evolution,” Christian Scholar’s Review 24, no. 3 (June 1995): 397-422.
- “On Obligations to Future Generations,” Public Affairs Quarterly 6, no. 2 (April 1992), 207-225.
- “Simulating Latin American Economic Culture,” with Sharon Reichenbach, Social Education 55, no. 3 (March 1991): 188-191.
- “Imaged Through the Lens Darkly: Human Personhood and the Sciences,” with V. Elving Anderson, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 2 (June 1990): 197-213.
- “Karma, Causation, and Divine Intervention,” Philosophy East and West 39, no. 2 (Spring 1989): 135-149.
- “The Law of Karma and the Principle of Causation,” Philosophy East and West 38, no. 4 (Oct. 1988): 399-410.
- “Evil and a Reformed View of God,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 18 (1988): 67-85.
- “Fatalism and Freedom,” International Philosophical Quarterly 28, no. 3 (Sept. 1988): 271-285.
- “Est Ubi Gloria Nunc Babyloniae?” Christianity and Literature 37, no. 4 (Summer 1988): 25-42.
- “Euthanasia and the Active-Passive Distinction,” Bioethics 1, no. 1 (Jan. 1987), 51-73. [Translated into German “Euthanasie and die aktiv/passiv-Unterscheidung,” in Anton Leist, ed., Um Leben Und Tod. Frankfort am Main: Suhrkamp (1990): pp. 318-348.]
- “Hasker on Omniscience,” Faith and Philosophy 4. no. 1 (Jan. 1987): 86-93.
- “Cutting the Gift that Ties,” Brethren Life and Thought 31 (Spring 1986): 111-120.
- “Omniscience and Deliberation,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16 (1985): 225-236.
- “C.S. Lewis on the Desolation of De-valued Science,” Christian Scholar’s Review 11, no. 2 (1982), 99-111. Reprinted in Seven 4 (Mar. 1983): 14-26.
- “The Captivity of Third World Churches,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 18, no. 3 (July 1982): 166-179.
- “The Gift of Singleness,” The Reformed Journal 32, no. 3 (March 1982): 4-5.
- “On Disembodied Resurrected Persons: A Reply,” Religious Studies 18 (Spring 1982): 225-229.
- “The Deductive Argument from Evil,” Sophia 20, no. 1 (Apr. 1981): 25-42.
- “Basinger on Reichenbach and the Best Possible World,” International Philosophical Quarterly 20, no. 3 (Sept. 1980): 343-345.
- “The Inductive Argument from Evil,” American Philosophical Quarterly 17, no. 3 (July 1980): 221-227.
- “Mavrodes on Omnipotence,” Philosophical Studies 37 (Feb. 1980), 211-214.
- “Why Is God Good?” The Journal of Religion 60, no. 1 (Jan. 1980): 51-66.
- “Price, Hick, and Disembodied Existence,” Religious Studies 15 (Fall 1979): 381-389.
- “Must God Create the Best Possible World?” International Philosophical Quarterly 19, no. 2 (June 1979):, 203-212.
- “Monism and the Possibility of Life after Death,” Religious Studies 14 (Mar. 1978): 27-34.
- “Resurrection of the Body, Re-Creation, and Interim Existence,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 21 (Dec. 1977): 33-42.
- “Natural Evils and Natural Laws: A Theodicy for Natural Evils,” International Philosophical Quarterly 16, no. 2 (June 1976): 179-196.
- “Camus and Kierkegaard: A Contrast in Existential Authenticity,” Christian Scholar’s Review 5, no. 3 (1976): 223-240.
- “The Cosmological Argument and the Causal Principle,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 6, no. 3 (1975): 185-190.
- “Re-Creationism and Personal Identity,” Christian Scholar’s Review 4, no. 4 (1975): 326-330.
- “Life After Death: Possible or Impossible?” Christian Scholar’s Review 3, no. 3 (1974): 232-244.
- “How to Pull Your Family Together,” Eternity 25, no. 8 (Aug. 1974): 13-14.
- “Why Minister to the Dead,” The Lutheran Standard 11, no. 13 (July 6, 1971), 8-9.
- “Divine Necessity and the Cosmological Argument,” The Monist 54, no. 3 (July 1970): 401-415.
- “Grandma’s Funeral: A Painful Post-Mortem,” Eternity 20, no. 10 (Oct. 1969): 16-17. Reprinted in Miriam G. Moran, ed., Death: Jesus Made It All Different, (New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, 1977), 136-40.
I thoroughly enjoyed delivering my keynote talk at this year’s 1 day genealogy seminar hosted by Le Comité des Archives de la Louisiane (http://www.lecomite.org) in Lafayette, Louisiana. The hospitality was warm and welcoming. The attendees were brilliant (it was great seeing such a wide range in ages!). And the food? My mouth waters at the memories of all of the delicious Louisiana dishes I sampled for the first time. It’s official. I’m addicted to shrimp Po Boys.
One point elicited more post-talk questions than any other in the course of my 2 hour Discovering My American Identity discussion. The questions arose from one thing in this slide below:
The questions had to do with critical thinking.
Critical thinking is part of my basic toolkit in terms of life skills. It’s no wonder considering I minored in philosophy as part of my university degree. Critical thinking is one of the cornerstones of philosophy. It’s a skill that I apply to pretty much every aspect of my life. It is also the bedrock of my genealogical work.
So what is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is a an approach to thinking, regardless of subject, or content, or a problem. It is a process through which a thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing their thought process; analyzing the route by which a person goes from Point A to points B, C, and D in his or her thinking. Boiled right down, critical thinking is thinking about thinking. Done right, it is a self-corrective process. It entails effective communication and problem-solving skills. Critical thinkers make a commitment to overcoming their native egocentrism and sociocentric beliefs – or biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or down-right prejudiced thinking, in other words (Critical Thinking Community).
Why is it important?
The folks over at the Critical Thinking Community put it best:
A well-cultivated critical thinker:
- Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
- Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively;
- Comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
- Thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as needs be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
- Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
So what does Critical Thinking have to do with genealogy?
Quite a bit as it so happens.
My 2011 post entitled A Tale of Two Emily Petersons(https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/a-tale-of-two-emily-petersons-edgefield-county-sc/) was actually a post about critical thinking in a genealogical context. It outlined an early attempt at me applying my critical thinking skills to a genealogy problem. In a nutshell, I was faced with the prospect of two family members who bore the same name, lived near to one another, and who were clearly related to one other. However, one would be my direct ancestor, while the other would be an ancestral cousin. Critical thinking would be the key to unlocking who each of these two women were in relation to my ancestry.
Once I learned how to unlock all of the information various vital records and state records (e.g. censuses) held, I was able to solve the mystery. Well, records and a better understanding of my Edgefield County, South Carolina family’s history. Time, diligence in my education as a genealogist, and critical thinking, each played a part to enable me to ask the right questions in order to read the necessary records…and reach a correct conclusion.
I am fortunate that the lives of my famous relations are well documented. Their lineages have been researched and argued over for over a century…and longer in some instances. Critical thinking really comes into play with my ancestors and ancestral kin whose lives did not play out in the local or regional spotlight, or on the national stage. Whether they were poor immigrants/indentured servants, lived in remote areas in the nascent American colonies/early years of the Republic, free people of colour, or the enslaved, their existence in official records is patchy at best. Typically, any records and written materials in which they are mentioned weren’t for them. Rather, there exist only cursory mentions about them in regards to the lives of other people.
For instance, Mary Turner, an Irish indentured servant, only appears in court records due to her master’s complaints about her conduct. Once freed of her indenture, she seemingly disappears from the face of the earth. She was poor, and a woman – probably illiterate – and as such, much of her life story remains unknown. The sole reason I know her name stems from her giving birth to three mulatto children out of wedlock, and the punishments meted out to her as a result. Did she ever marry? Did she remove herself and her children to the then frontier territories opening up in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina? These territories were occupied early on by free people of colour. While she was white, her children were not, and this hypothesis makes as much sense as any other. Critical thinking may enable me to unlock the mystery of her whereabouts after 1695.
My enslaved ancestors appear as property in deeds filed in the local courts as part of property transactions. Researching the enslaved requires a high degree of critical thinking as it involves piecing together the life story of a people with enormous gaps in their history.
Critical thinking comes into play when there are gaps in the records. Or, like my question about Emily Peterson, you have to do some deductive thinking to finally hit upon the right answer.
Here is bog standard application of critical thinking in a genealogical context:
Here is a family branch for my 3x great uncle, Rev Edward Mathis.
Look at the year Charlotte Sue Hardy was born. Then, look at the years of birth for all of Edward’s children.
I’ve seen too many trees that show Charlotte as the mother of all of Edward’s children. I’ve even had a few arguments over it. Born in 1898, that just can’t be. A woman born in 1898 won’t be the mother of children born between 1905 and 1910. It is arguable, and even probable, that she could indeed be the mother of James Leroy Mathis, who was born in 1916. There is a noticeable gap between the birth of James and his nearest sibling in age, Lauvinia. This has me hedging my bets that James was the first child born to Edward Mathis and his second wife, Charlotte. Seemingly, Lauvinia is the last daughter born to him and his first, currently unknown, wife. However, there is another significant gap between James and his sister Beulah. Given the information on her death certificate, Beulah is the first confirmed child of Charlotte Hardy. So…I’m awaiting the discover of James’s death certificate to confirm that Charlotte is indeed his mother.
This is critical thinking at its most basic.The Moses Williams project involves turbo-charged critical thinking; especially as the team is working with one-named ancestors in the depths of slavery.
Interrogating information – especially conflicting information (i.e. dates of birth or marriage or death, places where our ancestors were living at any given point and time, name misspellings and name variations, etc) – are all bits and pieces of information that require critical thinking when determining whether the record you are looking at is for the person you are researching.
Last, but by no means least, critical thinking enables me to explain to a fellow researcher how I reached a certain conclusion when a clear paper trail of documents is lacking. This doesn’t automatically mean that I am correct. It forms an understandable and explainable framework that informs someone else how I reached a conclusion. He or she can then respond in kind until we work out what the truth actually is.
The Critical Thinking Process
The McGraw Education website goes into depth explaining the 6 steps to critical thinking as shown in the image above. I highly recommend visiting the site which can be accessed via Reichenbach: An Introduction to Critical Thinking, Chapter 2 Study Guide: http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/philosophy/reichenbach/m1_chap02studyguide.html
The images below syntheses the McGraw Hill information in two handy infographic:
Here’s an outline of the critical thinking process:
The infographic below tackles the Six Steps of Critical Thinking:
If you’re new to the whole critical thinking process, I appreciate it can be daunting at first. I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to stick with it, and incorporate it into your genealogy working practice. You will find your research will progress in leaps and bounds.
ancestry, family history, genealogy
critical thinking, information anaylsis