Category Archives: Philosophy
For the past several months I’ve covered a variety of topics related to theology, apologetics, and the Christian worldview. One of the problems readers may have is that much of the work I’ve done here can seemingly appear random and possibly (though I hope not) without order, obscuring the big picture.
I thought now would be a great time to reorganize the work already posted on this blog in a logical order than helps the reader develop their approach to apologetics (my primary area of specialization) in a Biblically faithful, and philosophically sound way. The goal is this: if you read these in order you should be able to understand the flow of the arguments in favor of the Christian worldview, as well as understand the more philosophical of the entries.
Level 1: Making Sense Out of Apologetics
1) Prologue to Apologetics, part 1, 2, 3, and summary
2) Why Apologetics? part 1, 2, 3, 4
3) Pointers for Defending the Faith, part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and summary
4) Evangelism, Apologetics, and the Sovereignty of God
Level 3: Tackling Objections
1) “But, the Bible was Written by Men!”
2) Is the Bible a Reliable Book? (This is a longer article than most. For a short video clip summarizing, see here)
3)Does the Bible Contradict Science?
4) Is Morality Relative?
5) Do we Judge What’s Right and Wrong by Counting Heads?
Level 4: Taking It Up a Notch
1) Answering the Atheist
2) Answering the Fool According to His Folly, part 1, 2
3) The Uniformity of Nature
4) The Twin Sins of Non-Christian Thinking, part 1, 2
5) Applying Our Approach in a Real Debate
As I’ve been rereading sections of my favorite theology book, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, by John M. Frame, I ran across this gem and thought I should share it:
It is hard for me to draw any sharp distinction between a Christian theology and a Christian philosophy. Philosophy generally is understood as an attempt to understand the world in its most broad, general features. It includes metaphysics or ontology (the study of being, of what “is”), epistemology (the study of knowing) and theory of value (ethics, aesthetics, etc.) If one seeks to develop a Christian philosophy, then he will certainly be doing so under the authority of Scripture, and thus will be applying Scripture to philosophical questions. As such, he would be doing theology, according to our definition [Frame's definition of Theology is "the application of God's word by people to all areas of life."]. Philosophy would be a subdivision of theology. Further, since philosophy is concerned with reality in a broad, comprehensive sense, it may well take it as its task to “apply the word of God to all areas of life.” That would make philosophy, not a subdivision of theology, but identical to theology.
If there are any differences, they would probably be (1) that the Christian philosopher spends more time studying natural revelation than the theologian, while the theologian spends more time study Scripture; (2) that the theologian seeks a formulation which is an application of Scripture and thus absolutely authoritative; his goal is a formulation before which he can utter “Thus saith the Lord.” A Christian philosopher, however, may have a more modest goal: a wise human judgment which accords with Scripture thought is not necessarily warranted by Scripture.
A Christian philosophy can be of great value in helping us articulate in detail the biblical world view. We must beware, however, of “philosophical imperialism.” The comprehensiveness of philosophy has often led philosophers to seek rule over all other disciplines, even over theology, over God’s word. Even philosophers processing Christianity have been guilty of this. Some have even insisted that Scripture itself cannot be properly understood unless it is read in a way prescribed by the philosopher. Certainly philosophy can help us in the business of Scripture interpretation; philosophers often have interesting insights about language, e.g. But the line must be drawn: where a philosophical scheme contradicts Scripture, or where it seeks to inhibit the freedom of exegesis without Scriptural warrant, it must be rejected. (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 85-86)
For more, see:
A brief example of the rationalist/irrationalist principle can be illustrated from the history of philosophy. The epistemology of Immanuel Kant (1724 -1804) taught that the concepts the are necessary for our understanding the world around us, such as causality, laws of logic, time, space, and order, are structured by our minds and imposed upon the things we experience. In order to be rational and make sense out of life we must assume, or presuppose, these notions. Because we cannot prove these categories by touch, smell, sight, etc. they must be thought of as created by, and arising from, our minds, thus ordering and providing the standard for those things that we can empirically verify. This lead Kant to conclude that if we are to think of anything at all we must think in terms of everything being caused by something logically and temporary prior to it. This lead to a fairly deterministic view of mankind (man’s actions are strictly the result of prior conditioning, by both nature and nurture).
But what becomes of personal freedom, and moral responsibility? Kant believed that while we could not prove that man was a responsible moral agent we must nevertheless act as though this were the case. Philosophers have described these as Kant’s two worlds, the world of nature (which leads to determinism), and the world of freedom (where responsibility is found). Kant spoke of the “starry skies above” and the “moral law within.” While Kant could not deny the splendid regularity of the natural world and the reality of humanity’s “moral motions,” his philosophy could not bring these two worlds together. With no rational justification, Kant made the “upper story leap” to irrationalism.
Thus in Immanuel Kant we find both rationalism, and irrationalism.
Likewise, every non-Christian system contains what Jacques Derrida calls “alterity”, i.e. their own system contains the very principles for its downfall. They all “auto-deconstruct.” Esther Meek notes that much of the history of western philosophy can be described as the path from skepticism to “certainty” back to skepticism. The history of secular philosophy, up to this present day, is the story of man’s downward spiral
from epistemological presumption to chaotic relativism.
The Enlightenment project, which started with thinkers such as Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), begun from a theistic basis. Descartes considered himself a Christian and, in principle, sought not to undermine the faith he held. Yet, because his philosophical method began with the human mind as completely sufficient to determine the nature of the “really real,” later generations abandoned the idea that belief in the Biblical God was necessary for understanding reality. Soon enough rationalistic deism was born.
As the downward spiral of western philosophy continued, rationalistic deism gave way to pessimistic nihilism, followed by rebellious existentialism, eventually leading to relativistic postmodernism . Thus, non-Christian thought, when consistent with its own principles leads only to deeper and deeper levels of hopelessness and despair.
Earlier, in my first post on David Hume, I mentioned that a theory of knowledge that claims that all knowledge is based on sense-experience cannot explain why the world runs in such a uniform fashion (what we call the “uniformity of nature”). To drive this point home to non-Christians we should ask them to give an account of why it is that they trust the future to be like the past. If the universe operates in such a uniform fashion this implies design, or teleology. This teleological dimension of the universe has intensely practical implications.
When we take a prescription medication we assume that the positive effects it had in the past will continue into the present and future. This is especially damaging to one who believes the reality can be boiled down to complex matter in motion for unnumbered eons of time. If the universe is impersonal and purposeless, then why assume a uniformity amongst random events? If the answer is because nature has always behaved in this manner we must make it apparent that this response assumes what it needs to prove (i.e. is begs the question). If all “knowledge” comes from sense-experience, then we can have no warrant for saying that the future will be like the past. Why? Because, by definition, we have no “experience” of the future.
The Christian is perfectly comfortable with this uniformity because Scripture speaks of it (Deut. 11:14). God has promised, in His word, to continue to run the universe in a largely uniform fashion, as the covenant with Noah tells us (Gen. 8:22).
Though I am simplifying for the sake of clarity and space, we must realize that this last point is absolutely devastating to many of the “scientific” objections to the faith. The scientific method of inquiry assumes the general repeatability of an experimental procedure to validate a given hypothesis. Without some warrant for the general predictability of nature we can have no assurance that a antitoxin that fruitfully achieved its purpose the first one hundred times will not act as a poison the one-hundred and first. Our lives demonstrate that everyday we act on the belief that nature is uniform. What we’re asking of the non-believing empiricist/naturalist/materialist is to provide a philosophical justification for such a belief from within their worldview.
Naturalistic scientists cannot take their first steps without denying, in practice, their philosophical underpinnings.
Last time we briefly sketched the skeptical epistemology of David Hume. He noted that this thought was working from within a philosophical tradition known as empiricism, the view that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience.
What’s interesting to note is that in David Hume, so many philosopher’s believed that were witnessing the end of philosophy as they knew it. Immanuel Kant (who we’ll discuss at a later date) stated the it was Hume that arose him from his “dogmatic slumbers” and drove him to develop an epistemology that served as a response to Hume.
Does Hume’s radical empiricism help a Christian apologist? Without a doubt (no pun intended!), the answer is Yes. Hume pushes empiricism to it’s logical[ly absurd, yet consistent] limits. The fact of the matter is that though Hume throughly discredited epistemological empiricism hundreds of years ago, most outspoken forms of atheism (ala Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins) are “religiously” empiricist. Likewise the average “man on the street” unbeliever functions on the basis of a “seeing is believing” mentality.
How it works. When we encounter unbelievers with this epistemological framework we should always ask the same questions and hold them to the same level of consistency.
First is the issue of consistency. We should ask the empiricist unbeliever to be absolutely consistent with their theory of knowledge. we could politely ask them if they believe in true and objective moral standards, justice, laws of rationality and mathematics, human dignity, beauty, and real cause-and-effect relations. Now, surely most will. Even those who see where you’re going and attempt to deny these things (by saying, for example, that they are merely social constructs) should be reminded that their everyday actions betray that they really do believe them.
Second, we need to ask revealing questions. Empiricism as a theory of knowledge and truth largely depends on materialism and naturalism (the belief that only the physical realm exists, only matter in motion coming together in strange ways). So, here are some questions to ask the empiricist:
- Have you tasted, touched, heard, smelled, or seen a law of logic? (hereafter i’ll substitute “tasted, touched, heard, smelled, or seen” with “sensed”)
- Have you ever sensed a law of mathematics such as A2 +B2= C2?
- Have you ever sensed a number? (and here I don’t mean a numeric inscription such as 1 or I, 2 or II, but the number itself)
- Have you ever sensed “human dignity”?
- Have you ever sensed caused and effect? (I don’t mean succession-I covered in the first post-I mean causation)
- Have you ever sensed the chief empiricist principle, “all knowledge comes from sense experience”?
By asking such kinds of questions, you’re simply asking the empiricist to be consistent with their principle that all knowledge comes from the five senses. After all, the answer to all the questions above is a resounding No. The naturalist worldview denies a basis for affirming these things and hence cheats when it tried to “borrows” these concepts for it’s anti-God project. And if the empiricist approach doesn’t even provide a sound basis for it’s chief principle (the last question above), then it disqualifies itself as a serious theory of knowledge and challenge to Christianity.
Now, naturally the Christian rejects the principle of empiricism, though we do not deny the need in many cases to be empirical regarding study, research, science, etc. (cf. 1 John 1:1)
Two things remain, an answer to these questions from a Christian worldview (some of which I’ve sketched out in previous posts) and a discussion on the uniformity of nature, which I mentioned in the first post. On the uniformity of nature, I’ll post an independent entry soon.
Thanks for the assist, David!
For the next 2 posts I’d like to take a look at Philosopher David Hume. While he was no friend of Christianity, I believe that his approach to a theory of knowledge (i.e, his epistemology) is extremely helpful in aiding Christians against the predominant philosophical objections to the faith.
Hume stood in the philosophical tradition of British Empiricism, a tradition which teaches that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. That is, if something is not, at least in principle, able to be tasted, touched, seen, heard, or smelled, then it does not count as a potential object of knowledge.
Brief explanation of [some of] Hume’s thought
Hume had an interesting method of sifting through different types of beliefs. Picking up what a tool of analysis from Leibniz, Hume’s fork for sifting is the “analytic/synthetic” distinction. Analytic statements are relations of ideas, and to deny them necessarily leads to a contradiction (laws of logic, definitions such as “all bachelors are unmarried men). These are usually what we think of as a priori truths. Hume’s (hereafter H) attack on analytic statements was that they are tautological, i.e. they add nothing new to knowledge. H believed that his rationalist philosophical counterparts (ex. continental rationalists such as Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz) were building philosophical systems in mid-air, with nothing empirical to ground their flights of fancy.
Synthetic statements are those which can be empirically explored and verified. An example of such a statement would be “Molly’s dress is green.” How can we truly “know” that this statement is true? By checking it out, it must be subject to an
(Please remember that H, like most Enlightenment philosophers, was working with internalist presuppositions, defined “knowledge” as “justified, true belief”. In order for someone to possess knowledge they must be aware of why they believe as they do and how that particular belief fits in and are supported by all their other beliefs. This is also known as classical foundationalism.)
In light of H’s empiricist epistemology, he uses this fork to sort out all philosophical issues. Only synthetic statements lead to true knowledge. So, H asked of the traditional questions of philosophy, are the answers given merely in the realm of relations of ideas, i.e. analytical ? If so, then they are tautological and offer us no help. But since H only accepted as worthy of study and consideration beliefs based on verifiable experience by at least one of the five sense, he lapsed into his notorious skepticism.
**Things Hume doubted because we cannot know them through the 5 senses:
1) The existence of God (but isn’t God-at least the God of the Bible-a Spirit, and hence should not be sought in the same way that we verify material things?)
2) A continuing self through time (when was the last time you experienced your “self”? Looking into a mirror won’t help, because all you see is a body, not the “self.”
3) Causation. (we never actually “see” a cause. We see one event followed by another, but we cannot experience in any way the necessity of the procession of events. In philosophical terms, we “see” a succession of events-ball A moves after ball B strikes it- not causation. Remember, H is being a consistent empiricist)
4) The uniformity of nature. (There is no empirical -and non question begging!- reason to believe that the future will be like the past. We have had no experience of the future, and hence cannot really be sure. An anti-toxin that cures today may poison tomorrow. Of course apart from the uniformity of nature science cannot proceed.)
Of course the truth is that David Hume never said that the above mentioned things do not exist, or even that he himself didn’t believe in them. His point was to demonstrate that autonomous reason has no logical reason for believing these things. Again, his point was that empiricists cannot given a sufficient explanation of how the belief in the above things are consistent with their approach to knowledge.
According to Hume, beliefs in the uniformity of nature and the necessary relationship between cause and effect are rather grounded in our psychological make-up, a “habit of the mind.” Thus, being that Hume rejected the rationality of belief in God, causality, a sustained “self”, etc, he attributed the belief in such things to the irrational aspect of humanity. Without, for instance, a Christian conception that God creates both the world around us and our minds to understand it (being created in His image), Hume had no assurance that the objects of our knowledge and our perceptions of them cohere.
Next we’ll develop more how Hume aids a Christian apologetic argument against naturalism…