As an academic subject, philosophy can be quite technical. I have read the works of certain philosophers, and even heard some in person, whose teachings were so deep that it was virtually impossible for me to make any sense of the content that was being presented. That being said, it does not have to be that way. In its essence, philosophy is not that complicated. It only gets complicated when the material is presented in a highly technical manner. It is actually possible present any topic in a highly technical, difficult to understand way and professional philosophers have done a really good job of elevating theirs to that level more than most. But in truth, everyone has a philosophy which they live by and it is possible to express it in terms that can be understood by the average person.
Philosophy is nothing more than an investigation of the nature, causes and principles of: 1) reality, 2) knowledge and 3) values. Since these three things are not material items, this investigation has to be based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods. Empirical methodology is the use of scientific means to try and understand a subject. An empirical methodology can get at many things in life, but certainly not everything. And even empirical study is built upon some kind of philosophical foundation.
When it comes to getting at immaterial matters, we are required to use a different kind of methodology. In order to contemplate philosophy, as a topic based in the immaterial, logic becomes the key means of dealing with it. And in order to do that, there are two elements that must be in place. First, there must be a being who is capable of conscious, logical thought. Secondly, that person must have some approach to understanding logic which determines how the philosophy is contemplated – that is, a worldview foundation.
Every worldview has some understanding about philosophy (its view of reality, knowledge and values). Thus, every worldview has a philosophical point of view. Understanding the place of philosophy is a critical piece in understanding any belief system. Lets begin by looking at how the four worldviews deal with philosophy.
How Do the Four Worldviews Approach Philosophy?
Naturalism asserts that reality, knowledge and values are all expressions of physical reality, and understanding them is based on reason alone. Since the supernatural is not acknowledged to exist, the only way a Naturalist concedes that mankind could have come into existence is by naturalistic evolution. Thus, the body and the mind are all strictly expressions of material reality. In philosophical terms this is referred to as mind-body monism.
Naturalistic philosophy claims that matter came first and mind evolved out of it. Thus, reality, knowledge and values have their origin in the physical realm. To them, an understanding of all three of these can only take place in the animal which is highly enough evolved to be able to contemplate them. Until that creature exists, there is no such thing as philosophy. And, of course, they assert that as of this time, only the human animal has evolved to this level. Thus, only humans are able to deal with the topic of philosophy and they must do so as a matter of temporal existence, not as a transcendent set of beliefs. In other words there is not a “true” philosophy because there is not anything beyond this world for it to be based upon. Philosophical ideas must all be relative.
Animistic philosophy is based on tradition alone and has nothing more to base its beliefs upon than the traditions which have been passed on from previous generations. It simply assumes that human beings are spirit creatures in a physical body who interact with spirits who exist in the spirit world. They believe that human spirits will pass into the spirit world when the body dies. Reality, knowledge and values are all grounded in the traditions which have been passed down from the ancestors.
Far Eastern Thought
The basis for understanding philosophy based on Far Eastern Thought is in experience alone. This worldview is founded on the belief that reason cannot be trusted.
Far Eastern Thought understands ultimate reality to consist of an impersonal life force. The physical reality that humans live in is seen to be illusory as it is separated from the main body of the life force (ultimate reality). In Far Eastern Thought, personal experience of the life force within is understood to be the only connection we have with actual reality. As such, it is seen to be necessary to somehow connect with the ultimate life force using experience based methods in order to tap, even imperfectly, into actual reality. This is problematic, though, in that these various means of tapping in are also tied to the illusory material reality we are confined to. There is no empirical or verifiable experiential means of confirming the actual truth of this worldview.
Theistic philosophy bases its beliefs on mind-body dualism. That is, theists understand the spiritual and the physical worlds to be two actual aspects of reality which are able to interact with one another.
Theistic philosophy takes seriously the existence of both the physical and spiritual realms. As such, the body is understood to be an actual entity which operates on the basis of natural law. At the same time, the supernatural is also acknowledged to be objective reality and the human mind is seen to operate in that arena. The mind is not merely equal to the brain, but is a separate spiritual element of our personhood. As such, it is capable of transcending the body to interact with other spiritual beings, both human and supernatural.
As such, reality, knowledge and values ultimately have their origin beyond this world in God, himself. There is understood to be an objective basis for philosophy, then, in God. An understanding of this “true” philosophy must be gained by revelation from God.
How the Christian Worldview Specifically Approaches Philosophy
Christian philosophy is founded squarely on a Theistic worldview foundation, but does have its own unique approach to dealing with philosophy. In the Christian worldview, we recognize that mind (represented by a being who is capable of self-conscious thought) precedes matter (the existence of the natural universe). That is, God existed before the material universe came to be. And as Christians, we believe that the mind which existed before matter is specifically the God of the Bible.
If this is true, an understanding of actual reality must have its basis in something outside of the physical universe. By extension, then, philosophy (reality, knowledge and values) must also have its foundation outside of the physical universe. The origin, then, of reality, knowledge and values is God himself, and any human philosophy which is based in reality must be derived from that. That being the case, the truth about philosophy can only be understood when God reveals to us what that reality is.
Since we, as Christians, acknowledge that God is the foundation of a reality that is objectively true based on his actual existence, it becomes important for us to understand that reality. At this point we can only move forward by exploring what God has revealed in the Bible about the elements dealt with in philosophy.
The most essential element of reality is God himself. He is self-existent and there has never been a time when he did not exist. Everything else that exists was created by him.
Material reality, by extension, did not exist until God created it. When he did create it, he did so with a specific purpose in mind and he designed it to accomplish that purpose. We know what that purpose is because God chose to reveal it to mankind. The purpose involves the ability of mankind – a creature made in God’s image – to engage God in a personal relationship. As a result, the material universe exists in a way which provides for the existence of human life on planet earth.
Every part of the reality that exists is objective in nature – both the material and the spiritual. That is, it exists as something real and tangible. The material part of reality operates according to natural law, which God established for the purpose of sustaining his creation. Since God is the creator of the universe, and due to the fact that he transcends it, he is able to interact with his creation without upsetting its natural operation.
The origin of knowledge is also in God. He is a being whose very nature includes the ability to know. As a result, the knowledge that exists in humans has its origin outside of the natural universe.
The reason mankind has the capacity for knowledge is that he is created in the image of God. In mankind, God created a being who has many of the personhood characteristics that exist within himself. One of these characteristics is the capacity for knowledge. There are two aspects of this knowledge that man is able to tap into.
The first aspect is that we have the ability to learn things about the natural universe we inhabit. This not only includes the empirical elements of the universe which science deals with, but also elements which exist beyond empirical analysis. This would include such things as the laws of logic and matters which deal with mind and spirit. Since these things are also parts of the objective reality that God created, our ability to delve into and understand matters related to these areas are included in our use of knowledge.
The second aspect of knowledge is something that is given to us from outside our natural abilities. The Christian view of knowledge is based on a special revelation that God has imparted from beyond the physical universe. This relates to knowledge about the very nature of God and reality which exists beyond the ability of unaided human reason to fathom. If humanity is to grasp this knowledge, it must be specially revealed to man by God himself. This special revelation is not without evidence for its validity. It has a basis in history, the laws of evidence and archeology. That being said, its origin is outside of the natural universe – that is, from God himself.
Since there is objective evidence for the Christian view of philosophy, we must also recognize that the issues related to philosophy are not simply a matter of faith versus reason. The fact is, the basis of every belief system (and thus every approach to philosophy) is founded upon is a set of faith assumptions. The question then becomes: Which set of presuppositions most closely aligns with life as we experience it? The Christian faith clearly fits this best.
The specific beliefs which are the basis for the Christian faith include:
- mind existed before matter,
- God existed before people,
- design existed before creation,
- life emerged from life,
- enlightenment emerged from light, and
- all elements of reality reflect order.
These aspects of reality match up precisely with the teachings of the Bible and are backed up by what we know from science. In fact, there are four key scientific laws and principles which support the Christian presuppositions.
1. The second law of thermodynamics – the universe tends toward heat death.
2. The impossibility of spontaneous generation of life from non-life.
3. Genetic information theory which asserts irreducible complexity.
4. The Anthropic Principle which asserts that the universe is fine tuned for life in spite of the fact that this is not a necessary condition.
There is one more element that also fits into the category of knowledge which we must address. That is, the mind is separate from the physical body. Our thinking process is something different from the material world. Certainly the mind operates on and influences the body and the vice versa. But they are not the same thing. Matter (the brain) exists. Something other than matter (mind) exists. And these two interact with each other. Consciousness is a spiritual element, not a physical one.
As a result, we see that there is consciousness outside of matter and this consciousness had to come from somewhere. Christian philosophy asserts that it came from the “ultimate mind” – God himself.
Values also emerge from a transcendent source. In fact, as with reality and knowledge above, values exist as an objective fact. This reality is an expression of the very character of God. Truth, love, right, and justice are the foundation stones of Christian values and are objective expressions of the very person of God himself.
Our knowledge of these values is also dependent upon special revelation. Since God exists beyond our ability to know him with unaided reason, it was necessary for him to share information with us about true values if we were to have any knowledge of them. And he has, in fact, done just that. The revelation that God gave of himself in the Bible gives us not only the characteristics of his personhood, but also expresses those characteristics as values that humanity must incorporate into life.
Christian philosophy is not an unreasonable approach to understanding reality. In fact, when we come to understand that every philosophy is based on a set of faith presuppositions, and that Christianity’s faith foundation matches most closely with the way human beings experience life, Christian philosophy is clearly seen as the most rational point of view which can be held by rational people.
© 2010 Freddy Davis