“You’ll never learn to read.” Those words from an elementary school teacher stung Brandon Rickabaugh with crushing power that he can still feel today. Laboring with learning disabilities, the young Rickabaugh figured he was just stupid. “If I couldn’t get something right off the bat, then I gave up,” he said. So he dropped out of school at age 16.
Today you call him Doctor Rickabaugh. He’s a decorated scholar, PBA professor and keynote speaker for the university’s Interdisciplinary Research Conference March 14-15. So what happened to the kid who thought he was stupid?
First, Jesus happened to him. Rickabaugh came to faith a few years after dropping out of school, and began attending a church where philosopher Dr. J.P. Moreland was teaching a class over several weeks. Moreland’s teaching “just opened up this world to me,” he said.
Rickabaugh began to believe that questions he long had wrestled with could be answered. “I’ve always been very, very perplexed, curious and frustrated with figuring out who I am.” Coming from “a very broken home,” he suffered from a horrible self-image, longing for someone to believe in him and support him. He came to understand that “the Lord believed in me, and was calling me to study.”
He found people “who believed in me, and who saw things in me that I couldn’t see.” And he began the process of learning how to learn “and learning that I could learn.” It was a deep spiritual struggle, he said, but he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of California, Irvine. Next came a master’s in philosophy from Biola University, and finally, in 2020, a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Baylor University, where he received the Outstanding Dissertation of the Year award.
Multiple honors followed. Named 2022 Early-Career Philosopher of Religion by Tyndale House, University of Cambridge, Rickabaugh won a $200,000 research grant to further his work in public-facing philosophy and finish three academic books on the philosophy of mind and human consciousness. He joined Palm Beach Atlantic’s faculty as assistant professor of philosophy and research scholar in public philosophy. “Brandon is a scholar’s scholar, but he also cares deeply about public-facing philosophy and speaking to the culture, to the church, in a language they can understand,” said Dr. Paul Gould, director of PBA’s Master of Arts in Philosophy of Religion.
But what Rickabaugh loves about his own story, he said, “is that it cannot be explained on my own effort. There were just too many doors that opened, too many accomplishments that I have, that are so far beyond my natural abilities. And that, I think, is a huge, huge gift, this confidence in Jesus, that He cares about what I’m doing, cares about who I’m becoming,” and provides the people along the way to help.
Philosopher Moreland has continued to be major help to Rickabaugh, and the two have recently finished writing a major academic book, The Substance of Consciousness: A Comprehensive Defense of Substance Dualism.
In all of his accomplishments, Rickabaugh sees “God just showering me with encouragement. That’s what I want for others,” he said. “That’s what I want for my students.”
Rickabaugh’s keynote address at PBA’s research conference is 11 a.m. March 15. His topic is “To Have Eyes and Not See? Knowing Jesus in a Culture of Disillusionment.” Look for it to be “a charge to regain the vision that flipped the world upside down and started universities in the first place.” And as you listen to Rickabaugh’s charge and philosophy, you might laugh as well as ponder. Comedy, he said, “can reveal the absurdity of life apart from Christ in a way that gets past our defenses,” and humor “signals that joy and rest are very good for our souls.”
The research conference takes place in the university’s Weyenberg Center, on the second floor of the Lassiter Student Center. The conference schedule includes a variety of research presentations by PBA faculty and students, as hinted by the samples below:
- “Often Wrong, Never in Doubt: Mitigating Overconfidence in Leadership Decision-making,” by Rinker School of Business faculty members Dr. Garrett Lane Cohee and Dr. Cora Barnhart. “Leaders are often celebrated for quick and decisive actions,” say the professors. But “while decisiveness is admirable, poor decision-making is not.”
- “Targeting the TRPM8 Receptor: The Gateway for Anti-Cancer Properties Associated with Carvacrol – A Plant-Derived Bioactive Molecule,” by student Allison Cool, Dr. Cidya Grant and Dr. Christopher J. Hickey. The researchers found evidence for a possible therapeutic alternative to treat skin cancer.
- “Drunk on Christianity: How Christian Families and Churches Unwittingly Play the Same Games as Alcoholic Families,” by 2014 PBA graduate Peter Copan. He cites research saying that adult children of missionaries have “almost identical problems” to adult children of alcoholics. He suggests paths toward post-traumatic growth for those looking for healing.
Presentations will be video recorded and made available for viewing on the web.
In addition to oral presentations, the conference features a variety of poster presentations by faculty and students. These will be on display at the Warren Library March 13-17.