The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a project of Stanford University
for the assembly of a freely available work of scholarship in the stated field. But sadly, the work is intentionally written with a deceptively Christian bias, which I became informed of only by complaining of discrepancies in its coverage.
One will take note, in looking over the organization's website introduction
and its "About the SEP
" section that it makes no mention whatsoever of any theological bias; or of Christianity
, specifically, at all. Instead, all that is told of its purpose is that it began "by creating a (static) online dictionary of philosophy" and was developed toward a singular goal, "to be an online encyclopedia that would satisfy the highest academic standards."
It was in light of this claimed purpose and presentation that I addressed the following concern to the SEP:
I was given to understanding that the SEP was a non-denominational effort aiming at providing accurate information rather than prosletyzing a particular faith. It comes as a surprise to me, then, that this work would contain an article on 'Miracles' written by a lauded Christian apologist (http://nobtsapologetics.com/magazine/speakers/dr-timothy-j-mcgrew/), which article firstly neglects mention of ANY religious tradition other than Judaism (briefly) and Christianity (extensively, and despite the extensive reports of miracles amongst most every faith tradition on Earth), and which reads as an apologia for the acceptance of miracles, concluding rather imaginitively that circumstances might make it "wildly improbable, that the testifier is either a deceiver or himself deceived" -- in other words, asking the reader to trust in miracles (but apparently only Christian miracles, the truth or falsity of those being the sole focus of discussion). This bias is unsurprisingly continued in the bibliography, which is heavily laden with Christian apologetics and devoid of materials concerning miraculous claims for any other specific religion.
To this, I received a response containing the following passage:
Your message is written without the knowledge as to the fact that the SEP is designed to be a resource for the academic community of philosophers teaching philosophy in English at universities throughout the world, and that its philosophy of religion section primarily concerns itself with the main literature and traditions that evolved from Christian theologians in the middle ages. So the author wasn't asked to review the literature discussing miracles in all the world's religions, but rather the literature that has emerged in the tradition just identified. We therefore encourage you to read the entry with the goal of finding out what this tradition has had to say about miracles.
Well, obviously my message was written "without the knowledge as to the fact," because, again, nowhere in any of the SEP's materials do they indicate such a bias towards supporting Christianity
!! Instead, a thorough reading of SEP's self-description yields precisely the opposite impression, and a carefully constructed impression at that.
And as to the proposition that this is justifiable based on this claimed purpose of this project being "teaching philosophy in English," well I can think of few examples of more nonsensical reasoning. Philosophical works from all
religious traditions have been written in or translated to English (just as, it must be pointed out, the many of the Christian philosophical works relied upon by the SEP in its own materials have in fact been translated from other languages, ancient forms of Latin and Greek, and from as many other languages in which they've been written). Even those works written in English, if so composed in the Middle Ages, effectively require translation from archaic forms of the ever-changing language.
And finally any competent philosopher will confess to the sheer impossibility of fully discussing the philosophical implications of topics such as "miracles" without addressing the positions of the various worldwide systems of thought. This is one of a great many topics which the SEP treats similarly, addressing only from the perspective of Christian argumentation, and drawing conclusions favoring that position. Indeed, in the SEP's article on "Creation and Conservation
," the author laments the difficulty of theism (examined only by quoting and citing Christian philosophers) to overcome Deism
in light of situations such as World War II
, where an intervening deity might have set a less horrific stage. The author actually concludes the article by extolling "glimmers of hope" that future work will "bar a Deistic account of remote responsibility for the entire unfolding of the history of the cosmos."
So as to avoid a wholly negative review over this fault, I will readily applaud the depth of the SEP's consideration of weighty theological issues, and the fact that despite its hidden bias it avoids the graver pitfall
. Even where its authors lean farther towards Christianity than logic will bear, the work never becomes outright proselytization seeking conversion. And there are some articles on this site which, possibly dependent on the professionalism underpinning their authorship, do seem to present more balanced analyses of their topics. And so, in the final analysis, the SEP is as useful as Wikipedia
or Answers in Genesis
or any other website bearing bias, subtle or overt -- as a useful jumping off point to those who are aware of the potential bias sought to be imparted through its materials.