Accounting for the imago Dei

August 13, 2010

J.P.'s recent philosophy book, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (SCM Press, 2009), argues for the following:

Given the ontological nature of the image of God, among other things, this implies that the makeup of human beings should provide a set of recalcitrant facts for other worldviews. The reason behind this claim goes like this: If Christianity is true, then certain features should characterize human beings. Those features do, in fact, characterize human beings. Thus, these features provide a degree of confirmation for Christianity. They characterize God and, moreover, come from Him. He made us to have them. The Christian offers a challenge to other worldviews – particularly, naturalism: Show that you have a better explanation for these features than Christianity does (with its doctrine of the image of God), or show that these features are not actually real, even though they seem to be (5).

A worldview, J.P. says in the book, is at the very least an hypothesis that attempts to explain various facts about reality (3). A "recalcitrant fact"  is in view when he argues that the worldview of naturalism has failed to better explain the nature of human persons compared to other competing hypotheses (e.g., Christian knowledge tradition).

A recalcitrant fact is one that is obstinately unco-operative in light of attempts to handle it by some theory. A theory may explain some facts quite nicely. But a recalcitrant fact doggedly resists explanation by a theory. No matter what a theory’s advocate does, the recalcitrant fact just sits there and is not easily incorporated into the theory. In this case, the recalcitrant fact provides falsifying evidence for the theory (4).


  1. What recalcitrant facts tend to uniquely differentiate the power of Christian explanations from non-Christian explanations about reality?
  2. How might the practice of recognizing, listing, and thinking about various recalcitrant facts be useful for one's worldview belief-formation?
  3. How can a Christian teacher (pastor, professor, small group facilitator, etc) use recalcitrant facts in his or her teaching about the uniqueness of the Christian worldview? Why would this be beneficial to both the teacher and the student?

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One Response to 'Accounting for the imago Dei'

  1. Phileosophos says:

    I haven’t read the book from which you’re quoting, so this may be something you address there; if so, please forgive my ignorance and feel free to advise me to RTFM. Your thoughtful blog post raises two questions in my mind. First, isn’t the argument you’re making quite literally fallacious in affirming the consequent?

    To be more explicit, you say: “If Christianity is true, then certain features should characterize human beings,” which sounds straightforwardly “P -> Q”. You continue “Those features do, in fact, characterize human beings,” which sounds to me like “Q”, after which you conclude “Thus, these features provide a degree of confirmation for Christianity,” which seems a lot like “P” to me. Perhaps you avoid the fallacy in question by saying “a degree of confirmation” rather than claiming truth is entailed? Otherwise the prospects for that argument appear pretty dim.

    Second, and far less trenchant, is more of a question: if we grant your reasoning, I wonder whether the same sort of argument might work in reverse for the atheist who thinks Christianity is man-made nonsense? In other words, can’t the atheist say that your set of recalcitrant facts about man, whatever they turn out to be, happen to match nicely what Christians expect God to be, which lends “a degree of confirmation” to the hypothesis that Christianity is man-made nonsense?

    On a wholly personal note, I’m so glad to see you have a blog. I’ll be able to keep up with what’s going on in your life. Thanks for posting. I’m a former student who misses you.