Tag Archives: Philosophy

How Do the Bible and Philosophy Interact?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Some Christians have a negative view of philosophy, mostly, I think, because they don’t understand what it is and they see it being wielded against their most cherished beliefs. However, philosophy, properly understood, is not an enemy of biblical authority, but a great support.

Philosophy has been called by one Christian philosopher “the skill of thinking really hard.” The ancients thought of philosophy as the love of wisdom. Surely, if you are a Christian, you are not opposed to thinking really hard or the love of wisdom, but just how does philosophy practically interact with the Bible? To the person who says, “I don’t need philosophy; all I need is the Bible,” what can be said in response?

David Baggett and Jerry Walls, in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, provide some helpful ways to answer this kind of question.

[T]rust in the reliability of scripture in the first place assumes trust in the experiences of those biblical writers whose written words God genuinely inspired. Without the requisite trust in those experiences, we are left without rational conviction in the authority of the Bible. Or take the choice of the Bible as authoritative rather than, say, the Koran; this selection, to be rational, requires that we have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s real revelation. Appeal to those considerations involves trust in reason, which involves trust in our ability to think philosophically.

So we need good reasons to trust that the biblical writers really experienced what they recorded. We also need reasons to believe that when the biblical writers contradict writers from other religious traditions, that the biblical writers can be trusted. These are not issues that can be resolved by appeal to the Bible. We need to think philosophically, or put simply, reason our way to these conclusions using logic, evidence, and argumentation.

Baggett and Walls continue:

The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy. Proper trust in the Bible altogether involves the process of thinking rationally. It’s a fundamental mistake to think otherwise.

No less of a luminary than John Wesley weighed in on this subject:

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said that renouncing reason is renouncing religion, that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion. In fact he happened to believe that a thorough acquaintance with philosophy and logic is an indispensable part of a minister’s preparation.

So how are we to answer someone who says that we don’t need philosophy to understand theological truths taught in the Bible?

The sentiment wrongly assumes that we are even able to understand the Bible, let alone discern that it is the ultimate revelation from God, without the capacity to think. Philosophy is, to put it most succinctly, clear thought. Perhaps it sounds pious to say that all we need is the Bible, and Protestants do in fact believe there’s a sense in which it’s true that Christians are to be people of one book, but it’s at worst a sentiment predicated on a laughably shallow, simplistic, naïve epistemology and hermeneutic. It’s just not that simple. We can’t open the Bible and begin to understand it without engaging our reason, and using our critical faculties in this fashion as an interpretive tool is not to exalt the deliverances of reason above the deliverances of scripture.

Don’t think of philosophy as some of kind of esoteric science that threatens to subordinate Scripture. Philosophy simply calls us to think hard, to reason, to use our minds to arrive at truth. Jesus himself commanded us to love God with all of our minds, did he not? So, ironically, those who say we should not philosophize are actually disobeying the Lord.

Is Science Dependent on Other Disciplines?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The use of the scientific method as a way of learning about the natural world has yielded fantastic technologies and discoveries over the last few hundred years.  Nobody can doubt the power of the scientific method – collecting data, developing hypotheses about that data, and then testing those hypotheses with empirical experimentation.

In fact, some people are so enamored of the scientific method that they declare that this is the only way we can gain true knowledge about anything.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland was once told by a man finishing his doctorate in physics that “science is the only discipline that is rational and true.  Everything else is a matter of mere belief and opinion. . . . if something cannot be quantified or tested by the scientific method, . . . it cannot be true or rational.”

Is this true?  Does science stand on its own without any support?  Is it the only way to know anything?

The answer, my friends, is an unequivocal no.

Moreland explains that the statement “only what can be known by science or quantified and empirically tested is rational and true” is self-refuting.  Why?  Because this statement itself is not a statement of science but a statement of philosophy about science.  In other words, at least one philosophical statement must be true for science to even get started.  The aims, methodologies, and presuppositions of science must be upheld by disciplines other than science, for science cannot pull itself up by its own bootstraps.  Science is like the second story of a house; it cannot stand without the first story and the foundation underneath.

What are these things underneath science, supporting it?  Moreland provides several examples.

First, “one must hold that the senses are reliable and give accurate information about a mind-independent physical world.”  This is a philosophical position and there are some in academia who would deny its truth.  The scientist must take this philosophical statement to be true before he can start doing science.

Second, “science must assume that the mind is rational and that the universe is rational in such a way that the mind can know it.  Science must assume some uniformity of nature to justify induction (i.e., science must assume that one can legitimately infer from the past to the future and from the examined cases to unexamined ones of the same kind).”  For example, just because hydrogen and oxygen have formed water in the past, why should we believe it will continue to happen in the future?  Again, this is a philosophical presupposition of science.  In fact, the assumption that the universe is rational such that we can know it is a big surprise if you are a naturalist who denies the existence of a rational creator.

Third, science assumes that “the laws of logic are true, that numbers exist, . . . that language has meaning, . . . that truth exists and involves some sort of correspondence between theories and the world.”  None of these things are demonstrated by science.  They must all be true for science to work in the first place.

Fourth, “science assumes certain moral, epistemic, and methodological values.  Regarding moral values, science assumes that experiments should be reported honestly and that truth-telling is a moral virtue.  Regarding epistemic virtues, science assumes that theories ought to be simple, accurate, predictively successful, and so forth.  Regarding methodological values, science often values such things as disinterestedness, organized skepticism, and procedural rules.”

Fifth, and finally, boundary conditions are not accounted for by science.  “The mass of a proton, the rate of expansion of the big bang, the existence of the big bang itself – in short all cases of genuine brute givens not subsumable under higher laws – are boundary conditions for science.  They are givens which cannot be accounted for by science.”

The idea that science is the only way to find truth is obviously false.  Science rests on piles of presuppositions and assumptions that science-worshipers seem to forget.  Why is this important?  Because there is a whole world of metaphysics, ethics, logic, mathematics, and linguistics that must be studied and understood.  As soon as these things are pushed aside as irrelevant, and forgotten, science dies.

A Simple Argument for God’s Existence

Post Author: Bill Pratt

A couple months ago, we featured a 7 minute audio clip from philosopher Peter Kreeft’s lecture on arguments for God’s existence.  For this post, we are presenting an additional clip from the lecture – this time on the first cause argument for God’s existence.  Again, Kreeft does a wonderful job simplifying the argument so that anyone can understand.  Enjoy!

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Design in the Universe as Evidence of God – Peter Kreeft audio

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Philosopher Peter Kreeft gives a brilliant overview of the argument from design in the audio below.  The audio is excerpted from one of Kreeft’s podcasts where he lectures on five arguments for the existence of God.  I beg you to set aside just 7 minutes to listen to this audio.  You won’t be sorry.

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What is Social Darwinism? – #4 Post of 2009

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Social Darwinism is the theory that persons, societies of people, and races develop and evolve in much the same way that biological organisms evolve due to natural selection.  It is frequently described by the phrase, “survival of the fittest,” which was coined by British philosopher Herbert Spencer just a few years after Darwin wrote Origin of the Species.

The theory speculates that those people groups who are superior in intelligence, creativity, and industriousness would naturally overcome their weaker neighbors.  In doing so, they would become more successful as measured by wealth and prosperity.  This view led to a belief in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that human “class stratification was justified on the basis of ‘natural’ inequalities among individuals, for the control of property was said to be a correlate of superior and inherent moral attributes such as industriousness, temperance, and frugality.”

The ethical ramifications of social Darwinism are immense.  Following its logic, if nature is removing the inferior races of men in order to preserve the superior races, then mankind ought to cooperate.  Even though this is a clear example of the is/ought fallacy, the social Darwinists employed the theory to justify all sorts of behavior.  At the individual level, there was a moral obligation to not help those people who were biologically unfit.  After all, evolution is attempting to remove these people from the population pool.  If a person is born blind, let her die of starvation rather than fit her for glasses.  If she reproduces, she is weakening the gene pool.

With regard to ethnic groups, there arose an ethical basis for racism and nationalism; if a person’s society is shown to be socio-economically superior to others, then ignoring the plight of the inferior races and societies is completely justified.  “At the societal level, social Darwinism was used as a philosophical rationalization for imperialist, colonialist, and racist policies.”

Social Darwinism saw its greatest impact in the Nazi and communist regimes of the twentieth century.  According to Sir Arthur Keith, a strong proponent of biological evolutionary theory, “We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produces the only real basis for a national policy. . . . The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and people were organized slaughter, which has drenched Europe in blood. . . . Such conduct is highly immoral as measured by every scale of ethics, yet Germany justifies it; it is consonant with tribal or evolutionary morality.”

Nazi Germany is generally thought to have exterminated about twelve million innocent people and the regime largely based its policies on the idea that the Aryan race was superior.   It was the duty of the German people to populate the world and eliminate the inferior races.

Marxist regimes also believed that Darwinism could be used to build a legitimate philosophical framework.  Karl Marx was heavily influenced by the writings of Charles Darwin and believed that the dethroning of the bourgeoisie was completely justified to bring about the evolution of mankind that he envisioned.  Marxist governments were responsible for murdering tens of millions of people during the twentieth century.  Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Tse Tung massacred their own people in order to create a new order that they based ultimately upon the concept of “survival of the fittest.”

Although few people claim to be social Darwinists today, the ideas of social Darwinism still surface from time to time.  Our next post will analyze this theory of ethics to see whether it can be grounded in the seven aspects of morality we discussed in What Do We Know About Morality?

[quotation references can be provided on request]

Can Science Answer the Most Important Questions of Life?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Have you ever noticed that the most important questions in life cannot be conclusively answered by the scientific method of empirical observation and experimentation?

We can use science to study the weather, to create wireless communication, to study the respiratory systems of whales, to better see the stars, to learn about soil erosion, to build skyscrapers, and to fly aircraft.

All of these subjects yield themselves to scientific investigation such that mankind can eventually come to know these areas in extraordinary detail and precision.  We just continue collecting data, analyzing data, and testing hypotheses – over and over again until we finally understand.

These subjects are all wonderful, in and of themselves, but they aren’t what’s truly important.  What about God, love, friendship, morality, heaven and hell, human consciousness, the meaning of life, the origin of the universe?  These are the questions that strike us in the middle of the night when a loved one is in the ICU at the hospital, or when we witness the birth of a child, or when we suffer financial ruin, or when we contemplate marrying the person we love, or when we just have some peace and quiet and can immerse ourselves in deep thought.

None of these questions ultimately lend themselves to the scientific method, but they are the most important questions.

My family loves the silly movie Nacho Libre.  In the movie, one of the characters is asked if he believes in God, and he answers, “I don’t believe in God.  I believe in science.”

It is fitting that the movie is a comedy because this response is truly comical.  The person who believes in only science is fundamentally punting on all the major questions of life.  They are saying, in effect, “We are going to limit ourselves to the lesser things of life, the things we can know with a high degree of scientific certainty.”

It’s comical, but it’s also sad.  What impoverished existence – cutting off oneself from the only things that ultimately matter.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Yesterday, I posted on the issue of free will and God’s knowledge of of human free acts in the future.  This is an area the church has grappled with for centuries.  But how do other major worldviews deal with this issue?

Most atheists think they can avoid the issue by denying that God (or divine fate) exists.  Unfortunately, once you banish an ultimate mind as the source of the universe, you are only left with impersonal physical laws operating on matter and energy.

So free will, for the atheist, is just an illusion that our highly evolved brain gives us.  Fundamentally, we are completely determined in our actions and choices by chemistry and physics, by the mechanistic movement of atomic particles .  Free will, under atheism, does not exist.  So the atheist does not really solve the problem of fate and free will.  He just rids us of both, thus denying that the problem is real.

Monistic Pantheists argue that all of earthly life is just an illusion, that we are actually part of one ultimate, impersonal being.  When we realize that we are part of this one ultimate being, the illusion of our individual lives ends as we merge with the ultimate being.

In this sense, our individual free will is also an illusion because we, ourselves, are an illusion.  The only thing that really exists is this ultimate, impersonal being.  Their solution to the problem is to affirm divine fate at the complete expense of human free will or even true human existence.

Oddly enough, even though the theistic God seems to cause problems with the existence of human free will, without a personal God, free will cannot exist!

The Christian concept of God allows for mind to precede and transcend matter, which allows human free will to exist, in opposition to atheism (who only believe matter exists).

Christians also recognize that individual people exist apart from God, in opposition to pantheism.  The concept of human free will cannot exist without individual humans truly existing.  This the Pantheists deny.

Even though we Christians struggle with this doctrine, as do other theistic religions, at the end of the day a personal God is the best ground and source for free will.  Get rid of God, and free will quickly vanishes.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Some people get hung up on the idea that God can know, for sure, what I will freely do in the future.  Their argument goes something like this:  if whatever God knows will certainly occur (as virtually all Christians agree), then either I am not free to act or God does not know what free acts I will perform in the future.

Some Christians take one horn of the dilemma and claim that humans are not really free because human free will would spell the end of God’s infallible knowledge and sovereignty over all creation.  They severely throttle back the meaning of free will to the point that most people would not recognize it any more.  These folks understand humans to be far more similar to animals, operating on instincts, impulses, and desires – all properties that God exercises direct control over.

Others grab the second horn of the dilemma and claim that God does not really know what free creatures will do in the future.  At best, he is making educated guesses, but he cannot know, for sure, what humans will do.  The future free acts of humans are unknown, even to God, until they are actually executed.

I, and most traditional Christians, reject both of these positions.  The Bible seems to clearly teach that God does infallibly know the future, including all free acts that will be performed, and that humans possess a robust free will.  Admittedly, it is difficult to hold these two concepts without tension, but Christian theologians have always done so.

Do we know precisely how God’s infallible knowledge of future free acts coordinates with human free will?  No, I don’t think so.  We always run into the intractable problem of an infinite being interacting with finite creatures.  God knows everything we will do and we are free to do those things, but I don’t think we can ever explain exactly how it works.  There is a mystery to it, but there is no contradiction.

It isn’t just Christians that have had to deal with this issue.  Throughout history, great thinkers have struggled with the seeming paradox of fate and freedom.  If all things are decreed as part of an unchangeable fate, then how is it that we humans are free to do anything?  Rather than toss one of these notions aside, many thinkers have proposed solutions to retain both realities – that some sort of divine fate exists along with human free will.  Two viewpoints – atheism and pantheism – have found other ways around the problem.

Check back tomorrow to see if their worldviews better deal with this problem.

More Ways Humans Differ from Other Animals

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

I have written on this topic before, but it’s so important that when I come across more information, I feel compelled to write about it.

Recently I was reading a book by Hugh Ross (More Than a Theory) and he listed off several stark contrasts between man and all other animals:

  1. awareness of right and wrong (conscience)
  2. awareness of mortality and concerns about what lies beyond death
  3. hunger for hope, purpose, and destiny
  4. compulsion to discover and create
  5. capacity for analysis, mathematics, and meditation
  6. capacity to recognize beauty, truth, logic, and absolutes
  7. propensity to worship and communicate with a deity

The gulf between man and the other animals is indeed massive.  Those of us who recognize this gulf encourage men to reach even greater heights, while those of us who think that man and animal are basically the same tend to excuse every kind of animal-like behavior in man.  After all, those people claim, we are born to act like animals, so why expect more?  (There is a schizophrenic third view that claims men are nothing but complex animals, but still expects men to rise above it.  This view is incoherent to me.)

Of course, the person that philosophically excuses men from animal-like behavior – who believes men are literally animals, and nothing more – quickly abandons that view when someone behaves like an animal toward them.  In that case, all we hear is how the perpetrator should have behaved better and should have controlled themselves.  It’s funny how vain philosophy collapses when it bumps up against reality.

Can God Be Sovereign and Man Be Free at the Same Time?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Yes.  There is absolutely nothing contradictory about an infinite God being in control of every little electron in the universe, but creating creatures in that same universe who have a special power of free will.  God can accomplish everything he wants to accomplish in human affairs through human free will.

While he commands volcanoes to erupt and water to flow as inanimate objects, he commands humans as free creatures.  He works in coordination with human freedom, not without it or against it.

Philosophers refer to this as primary and secondary causation.  God is the primary cause, and he uses the secondary cause of human free will to accomplish his purposes.

It’s ironic to me that some of my 5-point Calvinist friends say that allowing man to choose takes away from the glory of God.

The reality is that claiming God cannot create free creatures and still bring his plans to fruition is really the position that takes away from God’s glory.

Smoke that in your theological pipe for a minute.