Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking Like a Christian, Week 2: Philosophy

Of all the topics in the "Thinking Like a Christian" series, this has got to be the hardest to distill, in understandable, concise, and yet sufficiently thorough language, into a 40-minute S.S. lesson! The word philosophy, recognized by many as a Greek word meaning "love of wisdom", occurs only once in the entire Bible, in Colossians 2:8:

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
There are many "philosophies" out there. Some of them are almost comically erroneous; others are quite difficult to discern from truth. What are some important biblical truths about philosophy? I offer these observations:

1. The most significant and important philosophical truth in the Bible is that Jesus Christ is the Logos (Word) of God (John 1:1-4). Christ is the explanation for the universe and everything in it. Furthermore, all the Christian doctrines of God, creation, design, etc., etc. are consistent with the findings of science, history, and personal experience. The philosophies that "spoil" you will teach you otherwise.

2. The Bible does not ask the Christian to abandon reason in order to accept truth. Isaiah 1:18 reminds us: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." Understood in the context of salvation (a rather important topic in the Bible!), God asks us to use our reason to understand not only our need, but also His provision and gift of salvation. A great truth! 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us of our Christian duty to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear," which again emphasizes our need as Christians to reason with biblical truth.

3. I offer this golden quote from Warren C. Young's book A Christian Approach to Philosophy:

"The crucial problem is that some thinkers place their trust in a set of assumptions in their search for truth, while other thinkers place their trust in a quite different set of assumptions."
Our set of assumptions is found in the Bible. Everything else is "vain deceit."

4. Christianity answers more of the deeper questions of life more completely than any other worldview. Again, this should not surprise us, since our philosophy and faith ought to founded in the Book which God Himself wrote.

5. Philosophy leads us astray when it is based on "vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." What should we do with such philosophies that lead us astray? Read 2 Corinthians 10:5:

"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
Cast them away! Know that God wants you to intentionally remove such philosophies from your life whenever they might exert a control over you. (One extra word to parents: Teach this to your children by precept and example—every single day! Teach them that thinking biblically is good, and that following the world's thinking is not good—it must be "cast down"!)

Philosophy, of course, is a very broad subject; many books and dissertations exist on the topic. In this entry I want to discuss several areas of philosophy and how a Christian worldview deals with them.

Faith and Epistemology: Hebrews 11:1 defines faith; Epistemology is defined as "The branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and origin of knowledge. Epistemology asks the question “How do we know what we know?" in the The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd ed. This seems like an unresolvable paradox until we recognize that all knowing requires faith! Where is your faith? Is it in God, or something else? Edward T. Ramsdell is responsible for this great quote in his book, The Christian Perspective (p. 42):
"The natural man is no less certainly a man of faith than the spiritual, but his faith is in the ultimacy of something other than the Word of God.The spiritual man is no less certainly a man of reason than the natural, but his reason, like that of every man, functions within the perspective of his faith."
Please note also that Christian philosophy does not throw out tests or reasons for truth. If anything, we are to consider the evidences that reason can employ.

Reconciling Science and Christian Philosophy: One of the most repeated (and erroneous) statements on this subject is that these cannot peacefully coexist. The scientific method is actually a help to the Christian, for it is based on observations—and the Christian should be OK with that. Indeed, it is the man who believes life sprang from non-life or that a large explosion was the catalyst for the known universe that should be concerned with observations. Observations from the scientific method support the Christian's teleology (discerning God from His design) and cosmology (questions about the origin and nature of the universe).

Scientific discoveries also support the conclusion that God exists. Here are four of them:

  1. The Second Law of Thermodynamics (increasing entropy)
  2. The apparent impossibility of spontaneous generation of life from non-life
  3. DNA and genetic information theory
  4. The "Anthropic Principle": The cosmos seems to be "fine-tuned" to accommodate human life
It is also interesting to note that modern science, for the most part, was founded by men with a Christian perspective—men who, observing laws in nature, gave credit for those laws to an all-powerful Lawgiver.

Metaphysics (the branch of philosophy dealing with "first principles" and ultimate reality): The two main classes of metaphysics are plainly addressed by Christian philosophy.
  • Ontology—the nature of existence or being. Christians believe that God exists; God is.
  • Cosmology—the origin and nature of the universe. God created it, from nothing, as He described in Genesis 1.
Take, for example, the Mackinac Bridge. Does it exist? I have, by my count, crossed it five times, so I am going to say, Yes. Where did it come from? There are plenty of eyewitnesses (and probably a documentary on the History Channel) to its construction, so I'll assume it did not simply evolve at that location over a period of untold years.

Do the universe, our planet, our human race, and the other uncounted things we see around us exist? If so, where did they come from? The answers: Yes; because God created them.

The mind and the body are two different things: Christians believe the mind, or consciousness, exists as a separate entity from the physical body. Admittedly, some of the other worldviews believe this also. We believe that the mind was created by God. The key implication is this: Matter exists, and something other than matter exists. Christians believe in both the material and the supernatural. The Bible teaches that the physical body is not the same as the soul or spirit in verses such as Daniel 7:15; Micah 6:7; Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; and James 2:26.

Christian philosophy represents a worldview that is entirely consistent with the Bible. The choice of a supernaturalist worldview (that there exists something beyond the natural) will have strong influence over many areas of a person's life. Life is meaningful and purposeful, and our beliefs must be shaped and directed according to a coherent, reasonable, biblical worldview—not "tossed to and fro" by whatever secularist teaching comes along.

And a final quote from Warren C. Young:

“In the same way it can be said that the Christian philosopher and theologian must be acquainted with the contending worldviews of his age.Philosophy, after all, is a way of life, and the Christian believes that he has the true way—the true pattern for living.It is the task of the Christian leader to understand the ideologies of his day so that he may be able to meet their challenge.The task is a never-ending one, for, although the Christian’s worldview does not change, the world about him does.Thus the task of showing the relevance of the Christian realistic philosophy to a world in process is one which requires eternal vigilance.To such a task, to such an ideal, the Christian leader must dedicate himself.”A Christian Approach to Philosophy, pp. 228-229.

1 comment:

DeanO said...

A well written post. I love that God asks us to reason. A great point