William L. Rowe

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William Rowe
Born (1931-07-26)July 26, 1931
Detroit, Michigan
Died August 22, 2015(2015-08-22) (aged 84)
Lafayette, Indiana
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Michigan
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of religion
Notable ideas
Evidential argument from evil

William Leonard Rowe (/r/ July 26, 1931 – August 22, 2015) was a professor emeritus of philosophy at Purdue University who specialized in the philosophy of religion. His work played a leading role in the "remarkable revival of analytic philosophy of religion since the 1970s".[1] He was noted for his formulation of the evidential argument from evil.[2]


William Leonard Rowe was born on July 26, 1931.[3] According to Rowe, he became an evangelical Christian during his teenage years and planned to become a minister, eventually enrolling at the Detroit Bible Institute for his collegiate education. He reported in personal conversation that he became disgruntled there over the firing of one professor for theological views not held by the administration. Thinking it too political for him, he decided to change course and find a close major to theology, namely, philosophy. He then transferred to Wayne State University. From there his plan was to go to Fuller Theological Seminary as a springboard to entering ministry, possibly teaching ministry. He never made it to Fuller. While at Wayne State University he reported that one particular professor, whose father was a minister but the professor an atheist, had remarkable influence on Rowe.

After his graduation from Wayne State, Rowe began his post-graduate education at the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS). He reported that it was at this time he began to take a more critical look at the Bible, learn about its origins and meet theologians who, unlike himself, did not have a fundamentalist perspective. The result was that his own fundamentalism began to wane.

He received a Master of Divinity degree from CTS, and then went on to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Michigan. He completed his doctorate in 1962, taught briefly at the University of Illinois and later that year, joined the faculty of Purdue University.

Rowe described his conversion from Christian fundamentalist to, ultimately, an atheist as a gradual process, resulting from "the lack of experiences and evidence sufficient to sustain my religious life and my religious convictions." He said that his examination of the origins of the Bible caused him to doubt its being divine in nature, and that he then began to look and pray for signs of the existence of God. "But in the end, I had no more sense of the presence of God than I had before my [evangelical] conversion experience. So, it was the absence of religious experiences of the appropriate kind that . . . left me free to seriously explore the grounds for disbelief," Rowe said.[4]

On August 22, 2015, Rowe died at the age of 84.[5]

Friendly atheism

Rowe introduced the concept of a "friendly atheist" in his classic paper on the argument from evil. A friendly atheist is a person who accepts that some theists are justified in believing in God, even if it is the case that God doesn't exist. This view was criticized by atheist philosopher Michael Martin.[6] One consequence of Rowe's philosophical friendliness was his adherence to the principle of charity.[7] He published in defense of theistic arguments, and was even considered a supporter of the cosmological argument.[8]


Influential papers

  • Rowe, William L. (1979). "The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism". American Philosophical Quarterly. 16: 335–41.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Reprinted in Howard-Snyder, Daniel, ed. (1996). The Evidential Argument from Evil. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • ——— (1996). "The Evidential Argument from Evil: A Second Look.". In Howard-Snyder, Daniel (ed.). The Evidential Argument from Evil. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • ——— (1975). The Cosmological Argument. B: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-8232-1885-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • ——— (1978). Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 0-495-00725-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • ——— (1991). Thomas Reid on Freedom and Morality. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-2557-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • ——— (2004). Can God Be Free?. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-920412-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

About his work

  • Trakakis, Nick (2007). The God Beyond Belief: In Defence of William Rowe's Evidential Argument from Evil. Springer. ISBN 978-1-4020-5144-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also

Notes and references

  1. Trakakis, Nick (2005). "ROWE, William Leonard". In John R. Shook (ed.). Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers. Thoemmes Press. ISBN 1-84371-037-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Trakakis, Nick (2006). "The Evidential Problem of Evil". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2007-04-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Rowe, William L. (2007). Trakakis, Nick (ed.). William L. Rowe on philosophy of religion. Aldershot, England: Ashgate. p. xiii. ISBN 0-7546-5558-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Purdue philosophy professor a gentle atheist". Terre Haute Tribune-Star. April 1, 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  5. "In Memoriam: William L. Rowe (1931-2015)". prosblogion. Retrieved 24 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Martin, Michael (1996). "Friendly Atheism". Retrieved 2007-04-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Burgess-Jackson, Keith. "Book Review". Philosophy @ UTA blog. Retrieved 2007-04-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  8. Taliaferro, Charles. "Philosophy of Religion". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2007-04-20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>