Philosophy 101: Clarifying terms

March 2, 2009 — 3 Comments

Upon doing my homework (for this blog of course, not for school), it came to my attention that there are several things that must be addressed before really moving into crafting a worldview, or a Christian philosophy of life.

For starters, we have to unpack a little further the first 2 bullet points from the last post which were respectively:

  • The nature of accepting things on authority
  • How to deal with the circularity in assuming God and the Bible and then using both to support the assumption

We could add to these other ideas to unpack such as:

  • What we generally mean when we speak of philosophy
  • What we mean by the term “reason”

We’ll actually start here and summarize some ideas from David K Clark’s book To Know and Love God (pgs 295-304)

In there, we find the four sense with which we can take the term “philosophy”

  • As a person’s overall worldview
  • As the formal cluster of academic disciplines (epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and more)
  • As a second order or higher level of study related to some first order activity like teaching (i.e. a philosophy of teaching, or philosophy of education)
  • As a commitment to clear analytical thinking on a subject.

For the purposes of what we are doing here, we will use worldview when referring to option #1. For option #2 we will refer to the actual branch itself, as in we will speak specifically about the discipline and not just lump all branches together. When option #3 is employed it should be easy to spot and more or less, this whole blog series is a philosophy of Christianity, or a philosophy of life in a certain sense. At the same time we are hoping to employ clear analytical thinking on the subjects with which we interact, so we are also using #4 extensively.

Hopefully this clears things up in respect to philosophy, now we can move on to evaluate the idea of reason. Generally there are three options:

  • It can refer to “autonomous reason” or the idea that human thinking stand independent of God and is capable of being a final arbiter in the realm of knowledge.
  • It can refer more generally to the ability to think about any subject at all.
  • It can refer to distinct facet our human noetic equipment that enable us to understand data and form beliefs.

In respect to these, option #2 is the closest to being neutral in that it is generally a God-given capacity that all humans share. When it becomes more acute and matures it intersects with option #3. In contrast, option #1 is a specific way that reason is employed that rests on the metaphysical assumption than man is in some sense ultimate, in that his reason has the purpose of ordering and making sense of reality for him.* The antithesis to this idea is that God orders and makes sense of reality and man merely thinks God’s thoughts after Him in this respect.

Option #1 listed above entails the idea that man has the final criterion for truth within himself and therefore every form of authority that comes to him (i.e. the Bible or God) must justify itself by standards inherent in man and operative apart from the authority that speaks (see Van Til, Defense of the Faith 4th ed., 149).

Having clarified a bit the nature of what we are talking about in reason and philosophy, the last thought provides a good transition into the realm of authority, for we really can go nowhere in terms of using the Bible until we provide a basis for why it is acceptable to base our philosophy on the revelation in the Bible (and even for that matter if the Bible is revelatory).

This will take two posts: this one, in which I will set forth the position we are taking, and another one that provides a defense for that position. It helpful also to note that we are not necessarily going to employ reason in a linear fashion. By that I mean, we are not establishing a first car in a train of propositions like Descartes attempted to do. As much as possible, Descartes will serve as a foil for demonstrating the wrong method in our estimation, i.e. the method that employs reason in the sense of option #1 above. Descartes lifted his linear reasoning from mathematical propositions and tried to apply them to other domains of knowledge. This unfortunately does not work in the sense of philosophy that we are dealing with. Since we are arguing for a worldview as a whole, we need not necessarily proceed in linear fashion (Clark, 86), but rather in considering worldviews as a “web of beliefs” we are simply identifying our central proposition.

The central assumption then that we are starting with is this:

“I believe that the Scriptures are wholly inspired by God in all of their contents and are wholly inerrant in the original writings, of which we are able to make very clear approximations through textual criticism and conscientious scholarship.1 These original writings are not only inerrant and inspired in all areas of faith and practice, but in all areas of subject matter upon which they speak.2 The Scriptures are God’s special revelation to mankind and as such have a mediated authority from God Himself and are therefore to be trusted and carefully exposited to discern the truth they contain.3

A corollary or application of this might read:

“The doctrine that is contained within the Holy Scriptures is useful chiefly in all areas of faith and practice and is able to adequately instruct the believer concerning growing in holiness, once one is in proper relation to God.12 A proper understanding of the doctrines in Scripture is necessary for the man of God to “be complete, and thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It is the final determinant in all areas of godliness as chiefly derived from its inspired, inerrant, and authoritative nature.13

I would also say that in light my recent growth in thought on the subject I would modify, “determinant in all areas of godliness” to “determinant in all areas of life and godliness,” since this is what the apostle Peter actually said. If you would like to see the full statement on the doctrine of Scripture you can go here and see the parts I left out as well as the footnotes to the above statements.

This is but a recapitulation of Sola Scriptura, which is not to say the Bible is the first point in a sequence of reasoning but that the Bible is central in our thinking, and serves as a regulator for our reasoning (in the sense of option #2 leading to option #3).

In this sense, we are not creating a line of reasoning in which the final conclusion is, “The Bible is the Word of God and is therefore authoritative.” Instead we are presupposing the Bible as the authoritative Word of God and this also amounts to implicitly assuming the entire Christian worldview. This will be dealt with in the next essay, for it deserves a blog of its own rather than being attached to the end of this one.

The bottom line though in this essay is that we are discussing worldviews and for our purposes are presupposing the Bible as central to our understanding and crafting of our worldview. In the following essay we will deal with this idea more fully and rather than reasoning to it in linear fashion (something you cannot do to arrive at a presupposition), we will reason (option #2 of reason, which in this instance is also option #4 of philosophy) concerning the impossibility of the contrary. That is, it will be shown that unless you start here, you cannot go anywhere.

*This is an implication of holding a libertarian notion of free-will, something all non-Believers necessarily do and many evangelicals unfortunately do. As will be shown in forthcoming essays, this is a very damaging thing to do for many of the basic beliefs of the Christian faith. As will be principally shown, this is the dynamic that exists in the sovereignty of God human responsibility-freedom debates and is the prime reason one cannot just “go to the text of Scripture” to resolve the difficulties. Holding this idea of free-will is a metaphysical assumption that functions as a set of glasses through which a person reads the Bible. Approaching the text with a different set of lens yields a different understanding and that is precisely why we are endeavoring here to do what we are doing. We are demonstrating the proper set of lens through which to understand reality. More on this of course will come later.

Nate

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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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