The Table Video

Keith Ward

Christianity, Philosophy, Questions, and Truth

Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford / Fellow of the British Academy / Priest of the Church of England
July 24, 2013

Keith Ward sat down with the Biola University Center for Christian Thought in San Diego, California in July of 2013. In this clip, Ward discusses his perspectives on Christian scholarship, philosophy, and coming to know the truth.


I suppose, primarily, I’ve been a philosopher always, so that means in particular that I’m more interested in problems than in solutions, and I’m more interested in making things more confusing, complex, and interesting than in giving simple answers.

And that dissatisfies some people, both religious and non-religious, and they misunderstand what’s going on, because I think that Christianity is a mystery in the deepest sense, that of course it’s rational and makes good sense, but it’s not something that the human mind can encompass and give a simple explanation about. So that’s always been my approach in philosophy, and in fact that approach to philosophy, which derives from Wittgenstein, historically, led me, as it led many of his pupils, towards Christianity.

And then I’ve discovered, after becoming a Christian in fact, that I discovered that most people just completely misunderstand the intellectual history of Christianity. There’ve been great philosophers, Anselm, Aquinas, in fact almost every major classical philosopher has had some form of theistic belief. And that’s something that seems to be not very well understood in the modern world, or Eastern Europe.

So part of what I try and do is just recover that tradition. Were they being stupid when they talked about God? Or are there really good reasons to think there’s a spiritual basis to reality? And I think philosophy shows there is such a basis, and I spend most of my time now trying to expand this, or at least get people to talk about it, but as I say, to see the problems of all philosophical views rather than to say “Here’s a solution to all your problems,” “just believe this, you’ll be all right.”

I believe there is such a thing as absolute truth, I do believe for example there is a God, and that God was revealed in Christ, and that we are called to eternal life. So I have some very definite beliefs, but when you come to ask about how I could convince other people of that, are there objective reasons that I could convince any reasonable person that these were true?

I think the answer has to be no, because clearly, many of my most intelligent colleagues have different beliefs, so a philosopher immediately has a problem, why do people believe such different things? They know the same information, they’ve thought about it as deeply as anybody ever has, and they still come to different conclusions.

And that’s a question which has always deeply intrigued me, which leads me to think that reason is not actually the ultimate arbiter of truth. What you believe has to be reasonable, but human reason alone is not going to tell you what is true.

You do your best, I suppose, really, but you always say “Well, I don’t claim to have the” “absolute truth, I believe there is one, I’m as near to it” “as I think I can get, but maybe it’s a long way beyond me.” [calming music]

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