Although a philosophy professor, Stephen Wykstra’s first passion was chemistry. “My first love was chemistry, from fifth to 10th grade. My dad helped me build a science laboratory in my basement,” he said. His journey to philosophy began in a season of suffering and questioning. “My dad died when I was 13,” he said. “As I entered my teens, I started worrying about whether God existed and other fundamental questions, and I started getting interested in Eastern alternatives to Christianity.”
After graduating from high school in 1967, Wykstra pursued this newfound interest by hitchhiking east to the League of Spiritual Discovery in East Village, New York. “People were approaching alternatives to religious experiences,” he said. “Many saw Jesus as a guru teaching about a ‘kingdom of God within you’ that could be accessed by psychedelics. As the summer progressed, I felt this couldn’t be a path to ultimate reality.”
Hitchhiking back to Michigan, a college student picked him up and witnessed to him. “I was convicted that I’d taken a wrong road. I knelt by the side of the road [and] asked Jesus, if he was there, to forgive and heal me, to come into my life and to show me who he really is,” he said.
Wykstra then went to Hope College in the fall of 1967 to study chemistry, but soon dropped out in a state of confusion. He entered a mental health facility. “I had a caring therapist who helped melt the spiritual façade I’d built up around myself after the death of my father,” he said. He returned to Hope for the spring term and in 1972, he graduated with a double major in philosophy and physics. Wykstra went on the University of Pittsburgh, earning his PhD in history and philosophy of science in 1978.
Wykstra then taught at the University of Tulsa in 1978 with his wife, Anne Larsen, whom he’d dated when they were students at Hope and married in 1973. Both are retiring this year to pursue their research and writing more undistractedly. Wykstra’s research and publications over many years combine history and philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, and epistemology, with a special focus on the problem of evil and religious epistemology.
In his teaching at Calvin, he has especially loved working with philosophy majors. “They have always been very dedicated to philosophy, and passionate about it. I’ve loved working with majors and upper-level classes; they fertilize our thinking as professors as much as we do theirs,” he said. He has also loved Tuesday afternoon colloquiums with other philosophy professors to review and critique each other’s work.
Wykstra’s avocations include windsurfing vacations with his daughter Stephanie, Chinese martial arts tai chi and wushu, chess and blues harmonica. However, he has now begun a project of building a community of active world-view investigation. “I want to open up space for honest and respectful worldview thinking, for a generation that feels distanced from conventional religion. I want to help nurture an honest community of ‘faith seeking understanding;’ one where believers, half-believers and once-believers can face hard questions and seek light together,” he said. “I will do it in prayer and with a certain fearlessness, for the sake of coming generations.”