The Apologetics of James McCosh (1811-1894)

After sixteen years’ service as a parish minister at Arbroath and Brechin, he moved from his native Scotland when, in 1851, he was appointed to the Chair of Logic at Queen’s University, Belfast. This appointment came as a result of his growing reputation as a natural theologian, achieved as a result of the publication of his book, The Method of Divine Government, Physical and Moral, in 1850. He moved to the U. S. A. in 1868 when he was appointed by Princeton College to the dual position of the Chair of Philosophy and the President of the College. In 1888, he resigned from the Presidency, continuing in the Chair of Philosophy until his death. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy – ‘the principles of common sense’ – propounded by Thomas Reid (1710-96) in opposition to the scepticism of David Hume (1711-86). Though lacking in originality, his vigorous writings on the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy, e.g. Intuitions of the Mind (1860), The Scottish Philosophy (1874), have exerted a significant influence on the theological development of ‘old Princeton and Westminster’, Different conclusions have been reached concerning the extent to which old Princeton and Westminster theology is built on Scottish Common Sense Philosophy. Vander Stelt – Philosophy and Scripture (1978) – draws a close connection between the two while Calhoun – The Majestic Testimony (1996) – does not. In his defence of theistic evolution, e.g. The Typical Forms and Special Ends of Creation (1855) and The Supernatural in Relation to the Natural (1862), he adopted a view which was extremely uncommon among orthodox evangelicals of his day. Those who share his outlook will regard his work as apologetically significant. He also engaged in the kind of apologetics which argues for the Christian faith by challenging the validity of alternative philosophies. In these controversial writings, e.g. An Examination of Mr. J. S. Mill’s Philosophy (1866) and Christianity and Positivism (1871), he often advanced rather superficial criticisms which were based on a failure to achieve an adequate understanding of the views he attacked.
David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: The Majestic Testimony (1869-1929), (Edinburgh, 1996)
J. C. Vander Stelt, Philosophy and Scripture: A Study in Old Princeton and Westminster Theology, (Marlton, New Jersey, 1978)

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