Philosophy and the Christian—Part V

  • Introductions: Name, Do you think killing can sometimes be right?
  • Restatement of theme:
    • “If this issue was the reason a non-believer gave as their obstacle to Christianity, what would we say to them?”
    • Theme verse: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” (Matthew 13:19)
  • Sidenote: Isn’t Christianity all about “faith”?
    • Biblical example:
    • Notes on this question from last week: Why are we bothering to study philosophy? Isn’t Christianity all about faith? Doesn’t trying to reason our way through things simply diminish our trust in God?
      • I really want to make it clear that I certainly don’t think any of this stuff is necessary to become a Christian. For salvation, what is necessary? “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
      • In addition, philosophy is certainly not everyone’s area. Don’t get me wrong—some people just aren’t helped by philosophy. I am—but I know that doesn’t then always hold true for everyone else. Christ’s body has many parts with many members with many different gifts, talents, abilities, and interests. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26) I think philosophy is a great help, a great tool—but certainly not synonymous with salvation.
      • But doesn’t this “reason” come in the way of our faith?
        • I don’t think so. It does if we worship it and make it the sole object of our faith—I trust in reason, not in God. That’s silly. But I think it is a completely different thing to have one’s faith bolstered by things around us. I find my faith encouraged and bolstered by older and wiser Christians, by grace that I see displayed by people in unexpected ways, by a beautiful time in the outdoors, and even reason and philosophy.
        • Paul and even Christ Himself use reason a lot to get their point across—basically, they say, “Hey, doesn’t this make sense?”
        • Read John 20:30-31. John says that he wrote his book “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.” He wrote his book to give us reasons, to convince our minds and hearts, that we ought to have faith in Christ.
        • Reason and faith aren’t necessarily opposed—although they certainly can be. Like how ministry and faith aren’t necessarily opposed—but they certainly can be when ministry becomes an end in itself, such as appears to happen with many televangelists.
      • Philosophy is a good tool to witness with to certain types of people. Just a tool—but Paul, for instance, used his knowledge of the common philosophical ideas in Athens to share Christ. (See Acts 17:16-34)
      • I do think we need to understand at least some of the core philosophies of this age. Not to believe them, but to be able to understand enough of the people around us that we can talk to them “in their language.”
      • Other thoughts/questions/comments?
  • Today’s topic: last one on philosophy—epistemology, or, how the heck do we know anything anyway?
    • First, we need to understand the basic problem confronting philosophers.
      • I was inspired by seeing the Chronicles of Narnia movie—so we’re going to make ourselves some short stories.
      • Get in groups? Individuals, maybe—depending on who is there.
      • Here’s your task. Write a story that you can tell to the class. I’m liking fantasy stories, so I’m thinking a good fantasy like Narnia—tossed into a new world.
      • There’s a stipulation, though. All your main character can know about their world is the individual things they observe. It isn’t any fair to have beavers or lions or ancient texts or heavenly voices or anything tell them what their world is about. They just have to go through life trying to find stuff out.
      • Go!
      • What did you find? Could you make meaningful stories? Put yourselves is the shoes of your character for a moment. What do you think that kind of life is like? What does it make you feel?
      • This is the kind of life that many people think we are living—a life in which we cannot know any of the overarching stories/themes/purposes of our world.
    • There are basically two different ways in which people have tried to find meaning in this world, have tried to assure themselves that they know anything at all.
      • The first is positivism—a focus on science and logic. This view thinks that we can figure it all out with enough experiments and with enough math and with enough logic.
        • This was particularly popular during the industrial revolution. We were going to solve the world’s problems with just enough technology.
          • Then a couple of world wars and a great depression came, and rather knocked that idea flat.
        • It is still popular to a lot of scientifically-minded types today. Particularly those of us that like to think we can solve almost any problem with a computer.
        • Most people, I think, still hold science in pretty high esteem.
        • Philosophers tend to use logic to try understand our meaning and purpose by analyzing language.
        • What problems do you think we run into with this view?
        • However, there is a problem with this view. Primarily, it is that how can we really know that experiments give us truth? People are biased—how to we know they will make objective judgments? Ultimately, we don’t.
      • The other view is basically existentialism in a bunch of different forms.
        • We try to find meaning in something that is mystic and irrational.
        • Try to find meaning and purpose in drug highs. Or Wicca. Or new age. Or workaholism. Or—very commonly—feelings and a vague “hope in humanity.”
          • Bill Joy: “Do you remember the beautiful penultimate scene in Manhattan where Woody Allen is lying on his couch and talking into a tape recorder? He is writing a short story about people who are creating unnecessary, neurotic problems for themselves, because it keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable, terrifying problems about the universe. He leads himself to the question, “Why is life worth living?” and to consider what makes it worthwhile for him: Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony, Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Potato Head Blues,” Swedish movies, Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, the apples and pears by Cézanne, the crabs at Sam Wo’s, and, finally, the showstopper: his love Tracy’s face. Each of us has our precious things, and as we care for them we locate the essence of our humanity. In the end, it is because of our great capacity for caring that I remain optimistic we will confront the dangerous issues now before us.”
          • Bill McKibben: “When I wonder which I’d really choose, I try to think back on my life, imagine the moments I would relive in my mind were I on my deathbed. Almost without exception, those moments involve just the kind of rich meaning that the posthuman world would ask us to surrender: running a race with my lungs bursting, working with almost desperate dedication on a book, watching the birth of my daughter and knowing that she was her own mysterious self and my own lovely obligation. I think that I would not trade these things. I hope that I would not trade these things.”
          • These sound in some ways very good and even right. But don’t we, as Christians have a much deeper meaning and purpose?
  • Problem of knowing. (random notes)
    • scientism/positivism - fails because it assumes we can be objective, for real. And we can’t. Nor do we really know if things will continue tomorrow as they have today—science is a lot about faith, despite what it says—a faith that really is the foundation of science, that our world really is rational. And how can we really know that in and of ourselves?
    • how do we tell the difference between reality and fantasy—drug culture
    • existentialism—mystic experience—is the only way we know anything
    • the positivists once had a hope that we’d find a meaning for life—if we did enough experiments or did the right technology, the optimism of the industrial revolution. since, that’s been rather crushed—we’re cynical that we can figure out anything in our lives…except for mystical experiences….or loves….or taking drugs and making a new imaginary world in our head to find meaning….or something like that.
    • “There are two antiphilosophies in the world today. One is existentialism, which is an antiphilosophy because it deals with the big questions but with no rationality. But if we follow the later Wittgenstein’s development, we move into linguistic analysis, and find that this also is an antiphilosophy. Although it defines words using reason, finally language leads to neither values nor facts. Language leads to language, and that is all. It is not only the certainty of values that is gone, but the certainty of knowing.”
    • “modern man is left either downstairs as a machine with words that do not lead either to values or facts but only to words, or he is left upstairs in a world without categories in regard to human values, moral values, of the difference between reality and fantasy. Weep for our generation!”
    • “…Heidegger and Wittgenstein realized that there must be something spoken if we are going to know anything, but they had no one there to speak. It is as simple and as profound as that. Is there anyone there to speak? Or do we, being finite, just gather enough facts, enough particulars, to try to make our own universals as we listen to ourselves speaking?”….”In the Reformation and the Judeo-Christian position in general, we find that there is someone there to speak, and that He has given us information in two areas. He has spoken first about Himself, not exhaustively but truly; and second, He has spoken about history and about the cosmos, not exhaustively but truly.”
    • Even though some people try to say that there is no correlation between the stuff that we have on the earth and that which actually gives us meaning, none of us actually live that way.
    • We don’t even know who we are as ourselves without having God as a reference point.

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