Philosophy comes for the Greek words phileo, which means “to love” and sophia, meaning “wisdom.” Philosophy has various disciplines such as metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science,etc.
In the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul exhorted the believers at Colossae about being aware of false and hollow philosophy. His exhortation in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,” is more prevalent than ever in relation to how the world views the Bible. In exegeting this Scripture, many critics think Paul is warning against philosophical studies of any kind. However, it would be a mistake to assert that Paul is making a sweeping condemnation of all philosophy. If we understand this passage in relation to the rest of the context of Colossians, Paul was warning against a dangerous type of philosophy which was a proto-Gnostic heresy.
The Gnostics separated matter from thought. It was precisely because Paul was familiar with philosophy that he was able to recognize the deception that was infiltrating the community at Colossae. Furthermore, in relation to philosophy, Paul ended up quoting pagan philosophers in Acts 17:28. His knowledge of the philosophy around him prepared him to reach a different audience than his own Jewish countrymen. .
Although Colossians 2:8 warns believers about the vanity of pursuing certain types of philosophy which are not according to Christ, this scripture actually explains why we must study philosophy. Christians study philosophy to make sure that their presuppositions regarding reality, knowledge, and ethics/morality are rooted in a way that honors their Lord. At the present moment, Christian philosophy is flourishing. There are organizations such as The Society of Christian Philosophers and The Evangelical Philosophical Society.
Some people find philosophy to be dry and boring while others find it to be quite stimulating. I think all people engage in philosophy (without even knowing it) in some way or the other. In their book Introduction to Christian Philosophy, Norman Geisler and Paul Feinberg discuss the relationship between philosophy and the Christian faith:
“A Christian has a specific interest in and responsibility to study philosophy. Philosophy will both challenge and contribute to the understanding of his faith. Some Christians are suspicious of philosophy because they have heard stories of others who have lost their faith through the study of philosophy. They have been advised to avoid philosophy like the plague. Upon serious reflection it is clear that this is not wise advice. Christianity can stand up to the intellectual challenge mounted against it. The result of such a challenge should not be the loss of faith, but the priceless possession of a well-reasoned and mature faith. Furthermore, there are serious consequences of a failure to be aware of contemporary thought patterns. Rather than being exempt from their influence, one becomes their unwitting prey. Unfortunately, too many Christians hold beliefs that are inimical to the Christian faith, and are unaware of that fact. Since all truth is God’s truth, and since philosophy is a quest for truth, then philosophy will contribute to our understanding of God and His world. Furthermore, history shows that philosophical arguments and concepts have played a large and important role in the development of Christian theology. While not all theologians agree on the value or appropriateness of these arguments, all admit that some knowledge of philosophical roots is necessary to the understanding of Christian theology.”
While there are several philosophies that have impacted how people view the Bible, I will go ahead and list some of them here. By the way, some of these philosophies are synonymous with a persons’ worldview/lifeview.
Pragmatism has been one of the most prominent philosophies within American culture over the first quarter of the twentieth century. John Dewey was at the forefront of pragmatism within the educational system. For the pragmatist, an idea is said to be true if it “works” or brings desired results. Pragmatism is not as interested if the idea is objectively true, but simply if an idea leads to expedient or practical results. Life is certainly filled with pragmatic realities. If one medicince does not work we try to find one that does work. Unfortunately, just because something works over a long period of time, that does not make it true. A lie can work, but its effectiveness does not make it true; it is still false, even if the result is beneficial. (1)
Furthermore, one can see the relativist nature of pragmatism in relation to the Bible. Another proponent of pragmatism, William James, said, “On pragmatic principles, if the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, it is true.” (2)
While the Christian faith does have a pragmatic aspect to it, the problem with presenting Biblical faith as something that is simply pragmatic is that it tends to draw the typical response, “If Jesus works for you, that is great, but it is not my thing.” Pragmatism sometimes leads to what is called “The Felt Needs Gospel.” It is true that the Gospel does meet a variety of needs in people’s lives. But I still concur that we need to present our faith as something that is true and reasonable. As J.P. Moreland says:
“ Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” (3)
2. Scientism (see more on Naturalism below)
Although scientism is not considered a philosophy, in some cases, it does claim to make metaphysical claims. Some who embrace what is called “strong” scientism believe a proposition can only be trusted if it can be formed and tested by the scientific process. For some who uphold strong scientism as the champion of intellectualism, the Bible is considered primitive and an untrustworthy source for truth. Furthermore, Biblical miracles are considered as “prescientific” and can be explained by science.
I already mentioned John Dewey. Dewey, who was a major proponent and signer of Humanistic Manifesto I, said: “The nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human value.” Within scientism, there is also what is called ‘weak” scientism. Weak scientism does hold the position that truth can be found in other fields besides science, but still believe that science is most important academic discipline within human learning.
While the Christian worldview is not opposed to science, it does recognize the limitations of science in relation to the discovery of human knowledge. Therefore, strong scientism ends up committing the reductive fallacy by taking one area of study and reduces all reality to this one area alone. Furthermore, for those that assert that all truth claims must be scientifically verifiable end up making a philosophical assumption rather than a scientific statement.
What needs to be remembered is that science is dependent upon certain philosophical presuppositions. To deny some of these nonempirical realities would be to undermine empirical science. Some of these presuppositions are:
1. The existence of a theory- independent, external world
2. The orderly nature of the external world
3. The knowability of the external world
4. The existence of truth
5. The laws of logic
6. The reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth-gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment.
7. The adequacy of language to describe the real world
8. The existence of values used in science (e.g., “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”)
9. The uniformity of nature and induction
10. The existence of numbers (4)
And here are some of the theists (who believed in God as a Primary Cause) who gave birth to modern science:
Johann Kepler (1571–1630), celestial mechanics, physical astronomy
Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), hydrostatics
Robert Boyle (1627–1691), chemistry, gas dynamics
Nicholas Steno (1638–1687), stratigraphy
Isaac Newton (1642–1727), calculus, dynamics
Michael Faraday (1791–1867), field theory
Charles Babbage (1792–1871), computer science
Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), glacial geology, ichthyology
James Simpson (1811–1870), gynecology
Gregor Mendel (1822–1884), genetics
Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), bacteriology
William Kelvin (1824–1907), energetics, thermodynamics
Joseph Lister (1827–1912), antiseptic surgery
James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), electrodynamics, statistical thermodynamics
William Ramsay (1852–1916), isotopic chemistry (5)
In the words of physicist Paul Davies, “Science began as an outgrowth of theology, and all scientists, whether atheists or theists…..accept an essentially theological worldview.” (6) One of the most outspoken and prolific writers on the relationship between science and religion is Rev. Dr John Polkinghorne. His website is here:
In his book The Limits of Science, Nicholas Rescher also offers a helpful comment about this issue. Rescher says, “The theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and end-all –that what is not in science textbooks is not worth knowing is an ideologist with a peculiar and distorted doctrine of his own. For him, science is no longer a sector of the cognitive enterprise but an all-inclusive world-view. This is the doctrine not of science but of scientism. To take this stance is not to celebrate science but to distort it.”
3. David Hume
Christianity relies on a God who intervenes into human history. Without Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Christians are dead in their sins (1 Cor. 15:16). Therefore, the possibility and actuality of the miracles such as the resurrection of Jesus are of the utmost importance. David Hume ( 1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher and historian. Although many of his arguments have been found to be problematic in contemporary philosophy, his legacy and writings live on in the academic arena. Almost all the skeptical arguments against miracles (such as the resurrection of Jesus) in the Bible can be traced back to Hume. As James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis say, “It is no exaggeration to say that, from his days to ours, the vast majority of philosophical attacks against the rationality of theism have borne an unmistakable Humean aroma.” Hume left us with his argument against miracles:
1. Natural law is by definition a description of a regular occurrence.
2. A miracle is by definition a rare occurrence.
3. The evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare.
4. A wise man always bases his belief on the greater evidence.
5. Therefore, a wise man should never believe in miracles.
A response to Hume’s argument:
1. Even if people saw Jesus rise from the dead, according to Hume, you as a wise person, should not believe it. It seems a bit odd to something wrong to disbelieve what you verified to be true.
2. Hume confuses probability with evidence. He does not weigh the evidence for each rare event; rather he adds the evidence for all regular events unworthy of belief. This is flawed reasoning. The issue is not rather we have an event is that is regular or rare, the issue is whether we have good evidence for the event. We must weigh the evidence for the event in question, not add the evidence for all previous events.
3. Hume’s Weltanschauung (the German word for worldview) is cleary seen here. He rules out miracles in advance and hides behind his presuppositions.
4. Hume’s “uniform” experience either begs the question or is special pleading. It begs the question if Hume presumes to know the experience is uniform in advance of the evidence. (7)
The reliability of the miracles in the Bible have also been greatly impacted by philosophical naturalism. For a naturalist, reality is exhausted by the spatio-temporal world of physical entities that can be investigated in the natural sciences.
In his book Worldviews in Conflict, the late Ronald H. Nash helps explains naturalism,
“For a naturalist, the universe is analogous to a box. Everything that happens inside the box (the natural order) is caused by or is explained in terms of other things that exist within the box. Nothing (including God) exists outside the box; therefore, nothing outside the box we call the universe or nature can have any causal effect within the box.”
Unfortunately, the term naturalist is generally thought of in reference to atheists and materialists. This is bit problematic. Many theists have no problem in looking for natural/secondary causes. And there have been thinkers (such as Immanuel Kant) who thought God created the natural laws to act in a certain order but didn’t look to God to intervene into the world after this point (deism).
But the difference is that theists are open to a primary cause as not being simply regulated to natural causes alone. We know through the regular observation of the world that certain kinds of causes regularly produce certain kinds of events. For example, wind on sand (or water) produces waves.These what are called natural, or secondary causes. Natural laws do nothing and set nothing into motion. A “law of nature” is a description of what happens when no agent (whether it be divine, human, etc) is interfering or intervening into the casual order.
But in addition to secondary or natural causes, there are primary causes. Intelligence is a primary cause. For example, when we come across a sandcastle on a beach we never assume that waves and sand put the sandcastle together on it’s own without any outside/human agency.
Likewise, we would never think that a natural law on it’s own would produce the faces on Mount Rushmore.
Naturalism (as currently discussed and advocated by Richard Dawkins, some atheists, etc) is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced.
Let me give another illustration as to how this works. For DNA to actually exist as information, there must be a cell in which it functions as information. However the cell is not made up of DNA, it is made up of proteins and it is vast array of protein structures and protein based activities that allow the genetic code to come to life. So this would mean we would need the chance generation of a multitude of protein structures as well as DNA. Since proteins are made of amino acids, they must occur in very particular sequences. Choosing a very small protein with 100 amino acids we find the odds are 20 to the 100th power to one against that happening. So if we make that a little clearer, if we calculate the odds of that happening with a very modest protein, we see it is about 12,000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 to one against getting the simplest protein structure by chance. (8)
But once again, despite what we observe from the principle of uniformity, since naturalism (as currently discussed and advocated by Richard Dawkins, some atheists, etc) is a a presupposition of science as presently practiced, Blind Chance will always be viewed as something that can accomplish such a task. Therefore, Dawkins confuses the principle of uniformity with uniformitarianism. Uniformitarianism wrongly assumes that all causes of events in the world must be natural causes. Both Dawkins and Francis Crick both admit that while the world shows every indication it is designed and have purpose, they add one qualification; it only looks that way. In other words, while the design is evident, it can be explained without resorting to any Designer.
5. Empiricism: “How can I believe in a God I can’t see?”
A. J. Ayer, following David Hume, originally claimed that for a statement to be meaningful it had to be either true by definition or else empirically verifiable through one or more of the senses. This principle was a dominant view in philosophy departments during the 1960’s. This view proved to be too narrow and self-defeating since on this ground the principle of empirical verifiability was not itself empirically verifiable. Therefore, it is meaningless as well.
Hence, the verification principle broadened out to other kinds of verification tests such as experiential, historical, and eschatological. Some have decided to stick with a “crude empiricism,” in that unless the God of the Bible is a material object that can be verified with one’s five senses, He doesn’t exist. In response, it is a category fallacy to ascribe sensory qualities to God or fault him for not being visible. Since we can’t see God as a material object, we have to look at the effects in the world and make rational inferences to the cause of the effect. Hence, we have to look to see if God has left us any pointers that lead the way to finding Him.
These are just a few of the philosophies that impact how people approach the Bible. Many of them are a regular part of the thinking on university campuses across the country.
1. Erickson,M. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.1998, 43-45.
2. Ibid, 44.
3. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 25.
4. Moreland, J.P. The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer. Downers Grove IL InterVaristy Press, 1994, 16-17.
5. Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, 167-169.
6. Davies, P. Are We Alone? New York: Basic, 1995, 96.
7. See Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. I Do Not Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 197-217.
8. See Hahn, S. and B. Wicker. Answering The New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkin’s Case Against God. Stubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road Publishing. 2008, 30