Did Swinburne get Swindled?

Update: Rod Dreher provides more evidence of the vile hatred directed toward Swinburne here.

In case you haven’t already heard, the philosophy gossip blogs are buzzing about the controversy that ensued when an orthodox Christian philosopher defended orthodox Christian ethics at a Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) meeting. To be more specific: at the latest Midwest meeting of the SCP, Richard Swinburne presented a paper in which he argued for the view that homosexual acts are immoral and that homosexuality is a disability that should be cured. The response from some quarters was predictably hysterical and unremarkable. What is remarkable is that the President of the SCP, Michael Rea, shamefully acquiesced to the leftist hysteria by issuing an ingratiating public apology, accusing Swinburne of causing pain and undermining the SCP’s mission of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion:’


Rea’s statement is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is that it seems to endorses a view of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ that does precisely the opposite: exclude people with orthodox and traditional Christian views. Given the tremendous moral freight that terms like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ now carry, implying that someone failed to uphold those values can—not uncharitably—be read as calling the person a bigot and, in this context, a homophobe. This is, in fact, how some took it:


This will serve as a warning to any Christian who might otherwise wish to argue publicly for politically incorrect Christian moral views. The SCP is now a safe space only for BuzzFeed Christians, viz. those who’ve apparently received a new revelation from God abrogating the teachings of the Bible and the Church.

Another problem with Rea’s note is that it seems to have been prompted by selective outrage. It isn’t proper for the president of a professional society, much less a philosophical society, to publicly disavow one of its members merely because his keynote caused offense, or even emotional pain. Peter Singer, for example, has incredibly controversial moral views about abortion, infanticide, and the mentally retarded. These views do cause offense and pain. For example, the assertion that early fetuses are morally equivalent to ‘clumps of cells’ can cause extreme mental harm to women who’ve suffered from miscarriages and, as a result, PTSD. But, to our knowledge, no president of any respectable philosophical society has felt compelled to (a) publicly admonish Singer for his views, (b) cite the unremarkable fact that Singer’s views do not represent the views of the society, and (c) point out that his views cause pain and undermine the society’s goals of inclusion and diversity. In fact, some philosophical organizations have gone out of their way to defend hosting speakers with controversial views in the face of much more significant public outrage and criticism. Maybe Rea is nicer than all of these other people. Or maybe, just maybe, this is another instance of selective outrage against people with conservative views.

Not surprisingly, many commented on Rea’s post expressing their puzzlement at the apology. You can read the post, and the full comment thread, here. But here are some representative samples:


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The social media reaction against those puzzled by the public apology has been interesting. First, there are the defenses of the apology. The main defense seems to be that Swinburne’s comments were damaging, harmful, cruel, and hurtful. Witness:

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That Swinburne’s comments were damaging, harmful, cruel, and hurtful is absurd. This has been a favored tactic of the left for some time. Because they know causing bodily damage, hurt, and harm justifies the use of force in response, if they can convince people in power that certain words and views cause mental damage, hurt, and harm, use of force in censoring it is also justified. So the notion that it isn’t free speech at issue is just as absurd. Some leftists are honest enough to admit that:

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Let’s think about Moser’s post for a minute. Notice how Moser, like all other touchy-feely leftists, produces no argument against the contention that same-sex attraction is disordered or that it is a disability in some relevant sense. Instead all that is offered are claims that this contention is offensive, coupled with some nauseating pearl clutching. Would people like Moser be inclined to say that being born, say, deaf or blind are disabilities? Unless they want to bite the bullet and say that there are no such things as disabilities, presumably so. And would they think that pointing out that blindness and deafness are disabilities as a matter of fact is cause for taking offense? Presumably not. So why say something like that when it comes to non-normative and disordered conditions vis-à-vis sex? Once again we see the leftists’ impulse to cordon off all things sexual from rational investigation. How this is any different from what secularists of old accused the ecclesial authorities of doing—cordoning off theology as an area that could not be critiqued lest one desire to keep his job at his university—is unclear. It is clear, rather, that leftism has all the hallmarks of being a modern sex cult.

But because unwelcome questions and counterarguments to liberal silliness are like garlic to a vampire, the second dominant reaction to the puzzlement at the apology has been, predictably, scorn and accusations of hatefulness. Witness:

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We may have missed it, but none of the comments expressing puzzlement at Rea’s apology seemed hateful or narrow-minded. These, on the other hand:


Not to be outdone by his liberal peers (paragons of the virtues of tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness as they are), University of Nebraska graduate Clayton Littlejohnson (aka “Littlejohn” for short) posted a piece on his blog titled “A Response to Dick Swinburne.” Apparently, anyone who has conservative moral views, including the vast majority of Muslims (we won’t hold our breaths waiting for him to insult them directly), is a dick, according to Littlejohnson. It’s clear from these examples and many, many more that many philosophers loathe their conservative colleagues merely because they are conservatives.

The prefabricated outrage over Swinburne’s views raises some questions of a more speculative nature. Specifically, was this a set-up? After all, Swinburne’s view that homosexuality is a disorder that should be prevented and cured where possible is well known, having been published over a decade ago in his book Revelation (OUP, 2nd ed. 2007). His view has been criticized in the scholarly literature. For example, in language eerily similar but equally nonsensical as Hackett’s hack job, McLean writes, “Swinburne’s ‘revelation’ (as a discursive practice) participates in non-discursive apparatuses of power and domination over women and LGBTQ communities. Thus, in the end, this neo-conservative philosophical discourse on ‘revelation’ employs the illusion of truth to extend itself as power over those who have been customarily marginalized by traditional forms of Christianity.” Similar reviews could be multiplied with ease.

Now, given the fact that Swinburne’s view is well-known, and given the fact that leftist philosophers have already published virtue-signaling reviews of Swinburne’s book for close to a decade, why did the SCP invite him to give a talk on the topic if they thought his comments could be damaging, harmful, cruel, hurtful, or hateful to members of the LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ community? One could understand them doing so if they had given a ‘trigger warning’ before hand. But they didn’t. On the contrary, they let him come and present his well-known views that have already been the subject of dozens of responses—responses that surely Christiana van Dyke, the Executive Director of the SCP, was familiar with, given that the reviews of Swinburne involve van Dyke’s bailiwick. Then, after the conference, Rea and van Dyke, seemingly like wide-eyed innocent children caught completely off-guard, issued ‘apologies’ for what transpired, sparking uproar on the various philosophy gossip blogs and garnering the SCP elites a huge spotlight.

This is like inviting William Lane Craig to give a talk on arguments for God’s existence, then, after he gives a talk on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the organizers feign outrage and pretend to be surprised by the content of his talk. They then issue an apology to Muslims who were offended at Craig’s cultural appropriation. One does not need a tinfoil hat to suspect a set-up. If there’s a better way to obtain a huge audience in front of which to virtue-signal, one would be hard-pressed to find it. So, was Swinburne the unwitting dupe of a leftist conspiracy to shame an elderly, white, male conservative Christian philosopher? That these questions can’t be easily brushed to the side is itself an indictment of academia’s leftist hegemony.


Conservatrarian has a degree in philosophy from the UK. He has published papers mostly on topics in applied ethics. Conservatrarian carries a Glock 19 with a 15 round magazine on his hip at all times, so mess with him at your own peril.

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Ronnie Raygun

Ronnie could impress leftists by citing publications in top ranking philosophy journals. Instead, he wants to anger them by pointing out that he and his wife are creating many children and teaching them to be conservatives, and also has a job doing useful stuff and making money.

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Charles Martel

Charles has degree in philosophy and is currently studying in France. He is staunchly Catholic, staunchly opposed to leftism, and wants to save western civilization. For some reason, he thinks studying philosophy might help achieve that goal.

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Federal Philosopher

Federal Philosopher is a philosophy graduate student in New Jersey. She was awakened from her political slumbers after listening to speeches by Margaret Thatcher. She loves philosophy, but thinks the profession has been hijacked by a bunch of leftist bullies who are little more than partisan journalists that happen to know philosophical jargon. She carries a recurve bow and quiver full of arrows at all times, so as not to trigger leftists by saying she packs a .380 in her purse.

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  1. I organized an SCP conference several years back, and the officers of the SCP played no role in the process. In other words, unless the planning process has completely changed, Rea and van Dyke had nothing to do with inviting Swinburne to this conference. Whatever else one might think about this matter, I don’t think that the “set-up” idea will fly.

    • Unfortunately, I’m not so sure the speculative point can be so easily dismissed, at least given my background knowledge. Yes, your point is the way to deny any shady involvement, and you’re probably right (we’re dealing with a conspiracy theory here!). However, there’s a wrinkle that makes this “out” less than iron clad. CVD was part of the committee that oversaw the joint Calvin-GVSU student philosophy conference. They were supposed to “play no role” here, too. But, as CVD became more convinced that she was doing the Lord’s work fighting injustices, she got more involved. I recall one year that some of the students organizing the conference were very upset. I was told that CVD was putting her thumb on the scales. As it was reported it to me, she was involved in selecting the keynote– strongly advising the students to bring in a woman philosopher–and she also told the students to violate the blind review process so as to increase diversity. In my eyes then, any plausible deniability will be tainted. That’s the price for having an *activist* on the committee, I suppose.

    • The thing to keep in mind is that the authors of this post appear to take for granted that Mike and Christina had something to do with this conference’s lineup of invited speakers. Not an unreasonable thing to suppose, I guess, if you haven’t been involved in planning such events. But my experience is that that that’s simply not how it works. I’m currently on a committee that puts together SCP-sponsored sessions at the ACPA meeting, and we receive exactly zero input on our invitations from Mike, Christina, or anyone else from outside our committee. I can’t imagine it went differently with this conference.

      Of course, I could be wrong. The authors of this piece should probably write to ask the conference organizer. His contact information is pretty easily found.

      I should probably add, since I didn’t think to say this in my initial comment, that (entirely independent of the “who decided on the invitees” question) I do not for a moment believe that either Mike or Christina would be involved in anything like a “set up” of Richard Swinburne.

    • Hmm, yeah, I dunno. Like I said, this is conspiracy theory-level speculation. When one goes down that rabbit hole, doing things like “email and ask if there was any unsavory involvement” is going to be fraught with problem! In any case, it seems to me that it was taken for granted that Rea and CVD at least *knew* of what was going on. If so, they *knew* Swinburne would say the things he’s said for a decade, and which, judging by the reviews cited by the authors of this post, have already caused great harm. This raises questions. Why didn’t they tell the local organizers to at least issue a trigger warning? And why the feigning shock and surprise over what Swunburne said? In fact, if they knew beforehand that he was speaking, and they knew his views, and they knew his views would cause people “harm,” shouldn’t they have done *something*? Do they lack the power to thwart the evil they knew would transpire, or do they lack the goodness? 😉

      But as for me, I assume you’re right; so let’s just chalk it up to complete incompetence on their end. I’m not sure this defense does them any favors, though.

    • I guess I wasn’t expecting conspiracy theory rabbit holes here. I thought this was a respectable conservative blog, not infowars. But I’m still hoping for a retraction from the authors.

    • Chalk it up to inscrutables. It seems what was clearly assumed was that Rea, etc., knew beforehand that Swinburne was speaking on this topic, knew beforehand what his views were, and believed beforehand that his views had caused people “hurt.” Yet, nothing was done *beforehand* to mitigate that hurt. This can be true and it true that they didn’t have a hand in picking the speaker. These are the more interesting questions. You’re pulling out your hair over less interesting incidentals.

    • I believe Mike and Christina have explained themselves adequately–there are answers to your questions in some of their facebook posts.

      You’re right to say there are more interesting issues than whether there was a set up. Whether the statements issued by Mike and Christina were really necessary at all is one such issue. Whether, supposing that statements *were* necessary, the statements that were actually issued were appropriate or helpful is another. I haven’t said anything at all in public about those questions, and don’t intend to. Whether the reactions to Swinburne and “his ilk” from some of the philosophers noted in the post are remotely defensible is yet another issue, and I’m happy to publicly say of course the answer to that is no. But these and other legitimate, indeed important, matters are being overshadowed here by the pointless (and, yes, ridiculous) conspiracy mongering.

  2. The comments you have logged from the Pelvic Left give the game away: they objected not to the manner of Swinburne’s address, but to the conclusions to which he has come. These conclusions would seem obvious enough to somebody not embroiled in the current rage for sexual experiments-in-identity. If you are psychologically incapable of using any organ for what it has been designed, or if you experience compulsive tendencies for its flagrant abuse — for instance, you suffer from pica, and eat things that are not food at all, or that are septic — then anybody would say, “That is a mental disorder,” which may also be a spiritual or moral disorder.

    As for the manner of the address, of what consequence would it be in any case? You don’t get to have hurt feelings when the question is one of truth or falsehood. Oh, you may have those feelings, but they are not pertinent, and if you press to make them not only pertinent but the focus of the question, you are only showing that, at least as far as this issue is concerned, you do not belong in the conversation. Besides, people lie about their feelings all the time, to themselves and to others. No sane person would ever trust someone implicitly when he or she claims to be “hurt” by a statement of moral disapprobation. It is the weakling’s revenge.

  3. The idea that this is a set up is ludicrous, fantastical, and severely hurts any credibility you hoped to achieve or maintain in this write-up. Toner is right–this was organized on the local level, and I highly doubt they even had the chance to go over Swinburne’s paper much beforehand. As someone who was there, what I think was truly unexpected was how someone/some would make this a thing by writing up a/some angry blog post(s) about it. It’s the SCP–we’re not supposed to do that stuff. I, and many others in the room, had problems with Swinburne’s paper. But it’s Philosophy. Don’t disrespect the opinions of someone else by getting hurt–properly critique their argument and explain why they’re wrong.

    • Could you clarify what you mean by “…make this a thing” — what thing? The so-called conspiracy theory? Who made this a thing? The progressives who took offense or conservatives responding to such outrage, real or otherwise.

      Also, the SCP is “supposed to do that stuff” — what stuff? The Society of Christian Philosophers is not supposed to discuss and weigh arguments for Christian ethical views on sexuality in its meetings? That, this is beyond the cuff?

      I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble understanding your comment as coherent rather than a stream-of-conscious.

    • “The idea that this is a set up is ludicrous, fantastical, and severely hurts any credibility you hoped to achieve or maintain in this write-up.”

      First, the authors *raised the question* which is neither ludicrous nor fantastical. Raising questions is what philosophers do (or used to do before philosophy became an arm of politics). I’m tempted to respond in kind that any credibility you hoped to achieve or maintain in this comment is severely hurt by that ludicrous and fantastical remark. But I won’t. ‘Cause I’m a nice guy. And I do appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

      Second, very little in the post relies on the testimony of the authors; the information is widely available, so little to no credibility is needed.

      With the rest, I think I agree. My first thought was that the SCP is either now becoming a theological or political organization and less of a philosophical one.

    • So you’re going for the “incompetent” defense? Because surely the SCP elite knew of Swinburne’s views, and that they had been called “hurtful” in reviews of his book. This info has been around for a *decade*, with reviews complaining of the “hurt” coming out almost yearly. But you want to say they needed to read his talk to know what he was going to say.

    • Aaaahhhhhh! Im suffering cognitive dissonance. I’m not sure what’s the bigger conspiracy theory. The ‘set-up’ or the claim that ‘Rea and CVD had no clue what Swinburne was going to say, and for all they knew he might’ve use the opportunity to come out as a six year old transageist.’

  4. Were any of our distinguished associates at this ill-fated meeting of the SCP? I’m sure Swinburne uttered nothing objectively offensive.

    There seems to be an assumption on the Left that sexual orientation is tantamount to skin color or sex. To identify it as morally wrong or disordered is treated by progressives as asserting someone’s skin color or sex is morally wrong or disordered. They attribute such statements as forms of bigotry akin to racist epithets.

    I’ve always thought sexual orientation, a proclivity directed toward a behavior that is actualized via a conscious choice, is not analogous to the genetically determined, physical characteristics of varied melanin levels and differences in morphology between the sexes.

  5. Keep in mind that even if someone rejects the theory that Swinburne was set up, the article has additional value in documenting the despotic, demagogical, and anti-intellectual attitude of Swinburne’s critics. They are wholly intolerant of rational discourse that questions their sacred cows. And the article just gives a sampling of the irrational, censorious reaction.

  6. “Now, given the fact that Swinburne’s view is well-known, and given the fact that leftist philosophers have already published virtue-signaling reviews of Swinburne’s book for close to a decade, why did the SCP invite him to give a talk on the topic if they thought his comments could be damaging, harmful, cruel, hurtful, or hateful to members of the LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ community?”

    Maybe they are committed to ideological diversity.

  7. Of course it is inconsistent for someone to say they value diversity and inclusion and then call for the exclusion of views one finds abhorrent. That’s standard leftist/PC silliness. At the same time, one can include the views and criticize them severely, precisely on the grounds that those views run contrary to diversity and inclusion.

  8. Alternate title suggestion: “Blessed Richard Swinburne”

    10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matt. 5:10-12

    It’s probably not worth pointing out to Swinburne’s erstwhile detractors that orthodox, historical, Biblical Christianity holds that all people are born “disordered” as a result of The Fall and need to be restored through Christ.

    Furthermore along this same line of reasoning it ought to be hardly controversial, and in fact commonly understood, that orthodox, historical, Christianity also holds *all* sexual activity outside of the Biblically defined male-female “leaving and cleaving” model of marriage to be immoral, which obviously includes homosexual activity.

    Set up or not, the progressive-leftist outrage is predictable, and the SCP’s flaccid response is deplorable.

  9. Wow… that’s pretty bad when Christians reject other Christians just because they believe in Christian values. The dude did not say anything to the effect that gays should be hated, or ostracized…. It is possible to have different beliefs and still embrace other humans who have opposing beliefs and treat them well and interact with them… just because he disagrees does not mean he hates gay people. That is the amazingly hateful ideology that the pc crowd is pushing…. if you disagree with the BLM then you hate blacks, if you disagree with Climate junk science then you are an idiot, if you disagree with globalist ideas then you are a bigot, if you disagree with abortion then you are sexist…. Stop all this pc crap already… it is ok to disagree and it does not mean anyone hates anyone. We are diverse by our very natures, and we are meant to be diverse, and it makes no sense to force everyone into a single mold of how and what to live by, because then you truly do lose the ability to think outside the box and explore all the what-ifs of the universe.

  10. Set up or not….I’ve never heard of this group but…it seems,,from their many put downs of the invited speaker that they are indeed leftist liberal judges who seek to have the philosophy of total freedom to sexual practices as their standard. They’re not arguing for Christian love of everyone who is a sinner…as we all are…but a demand that all forms of sexual practice be accepted by society as a whole. The Christian motto is …love the sinner, hate the sin. Further,,the New Testament,,the foundation of Christianity, says that and also advises that Christian don’t keep company with the sinners,,not even have lunch with them….not allow them to keep fellowship with them is Churches…without trying to first offer them support for a way out of their sins…..

  11. I realize several contributors have signaled this blog is moving past the Swinburne controversy, but I read this excellent post today discussing the matter from an “in house” perspective (at least “in house” inso far as the key players are within the professing church), and I thought I’d share with those inclined to read the post.

    It seems that discussions about the morality and/or immorality of human sexuality results in muddle-headed thinking, which I suspect is due to various reasons, but not the least of which is the invasion of the church by social and theological liberals.

    This has already happened nearly lock, stock, and barrel within academia, and the takeover is nigh complete, same for the media by and large.

    These people, SJW’s/liberal-progressives, are focused on the takeover of social *institutions* for the purpose of the takeover of *society* for the implementation of their own utopian ideals.

    Swinburne is just the canary in the mine. Progressive (liberal) “Christians” (scare quotes!) are doing the heavy lifting inside the professing church that their kissing cousins on the outside can’t perform, but the endgame is the same, and so are the tactics.

  12. Your editors note is patently false. You can see on the screenshot of Elizabeth’s post it was set to a custom subset of her friends list.

    • Hi Kathryn,

      Just to be clear, is the _only_ objection (re: posting screenshots) now to Barnes’ post? Before we (publicly) demonstrate that her post did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy—and indeed was not considered private even by Facebook—as well as how our receipt of that particular comment has a strong legal precedence of not violating a right to privacy, would you like to clarify your position that Barnes is the only concern?

    • Kathryn, why not answer the question. When you object to our posting private comments, to which comments are you referring, specifically? Is it *only* Barnes’s post? That’s it?

    • As I said before, to fully explain publicly why it was wrong to screenshot some of those comments would be to perpetuate the harm that you’ve done. If you want to discuss it, you’re welcome to email me.

    • (And I think it’s pretty obvious from “no. Since that’s neither what I said nor what I meant” in reponse to the question of if my only objection is to your violating Elizabeth’s privacy, is, well … no.)

    • “As I said before, to fully explain publicly why it was wrong to screenshot some of those comments would be to perpetuate the harm that you’ve done.”

      If I did harm, or I thought anyone else on this blog did harm, I would try very hard to rectify that wrong. But if you seriously look at what WE have said vs. the people that we have REPORTED about, is there really any close comparison? Really?

      I think you’re obviously an intelligent person. I have disagreed with you on points but agreed on others. I have no idea why you are siding with the absolutely vile and hateful comments from the side that is trying to shut down the blog by legal force and without cogent argument—those who are trying to silence free speech.

      I realize you might dismiss what I’m saying because you don’t know me. That’s fair enough. But since you have been courageous enough to say who you are, I do know you (a little, of course from a couple websites). And from what I do know, I’m just shocked that you are defending this behavior! Or at least from everything else, you seem better than that what you’re defending. You don’t seem like someone who (e.g.) desires someone’s death.

      So why not throw off the shackles? Stick it to the establishment?! Break on through to the other side?! I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d be happy to have you switch teams and switch hit. 🙂

      We’ll be here if you do.

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