Richard Swinburne is one of the most highly respected philosophers in the world. And he is a Christian, broadly orthodox, who has spent much of his career arguing for theism and Christianity.
Swinburne was invited to address the Midwest meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers. His topic was “Christian Moral Teaching on Sex, Family, and Life,” including a discussion of homosexuality, of which Swinburne disapproves. He was invited to address this topic not only because of his stature as a philosopher, but because he had already written on it.
The backlash came almost instantly. For example, Edward Hackett wrote,
Yesterday, I gave Richard Swinburne, the famous Oxford Christian philosopher, a piece of my mind. . . . My response was mixture of abhorrence and overwhelming anger, and I tried as I might to encounter this idea calmly.
In the face of the backlash, SCP president Michael Rea of the University of Notre Dame posted the following to his Facebook account:
I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne’s keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As Preisdent of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward. If you have thoughts or feedback you would like to share with me, I would welcome hearing from you via email or private message.
Now the counter-backlash has set in. The philosophers at Rightly Considered have objected to Rea’s treatment of Swinburne. Journalist Rod Dreher at The American Conservative has written an excoriating article. Even Douglas Wilson has weighed in.
Most importantly, an open letter has been sent from sixty-three members to the leadership of the SCP. The letter calls for a formal apology to Swinburne.
A society of philosophers is supposed to be committed to open enquiry. If it is to be biased at all, one would think that a Society of Christian Philosophers would be biased toward Christianity and its values.
If there is a lesson here, it is that there is no safe space for speaking biblical morality.