Reflections on Biblical and
Christian Philosophy

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Faith vs. Faith – Fighting on Level Ground

In both secular and Christian publications, one often hears such phrases as “faith-based organizations,” “peoples of faith,” and “the religious and irreligious.”  The implication of these designations for Christians, however, is to admit defeat before ever engaging in battle.  Throughout history there has been an antithesis between faith and reason.  If one group is “faith-based,” then by default the other is “reason-based.”  When presented in this way, those who are “reasoning” have virtually already won the argument.  “Everyone” knows that to reason is better than to have “faith.”  At least that is how the argument goes in the public square.  Thus, I will present that Christians must continually and broadly begin to demonstrate that every person acts by faith—secularists, Christians, and those of any other religion.

Of course, to most Christians today, they have already admitted defeat.  They do not want to “polish brass on a sinking ship.”  But at least they ought to recognize that they have not upheld the honor of Christ, by allowing his followers to be placed into a category of irrationality.  Then, there are those Christians who seem intent to invite persecution.  They conclude that secularists have won the political and cultural battles.  The only thing left is to accept persecution, being brave martyrs.  After all, Tertullian said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed” (of the church).  The more persecution, the more that the Church grows—by this brand of reasoning—more irrationality.

This desire is a distortion of both Scripture and the progressive triumph of Jesus Christ as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  History is “His-story”—His Providence in action.  As someone said, it is better to let the enemy die for his faith, rather than the Christian.  It is precisely on this word, “faith,” that I want to propose one strategy in this war—at least a stepping-stone as the Church learns its postmillennial message or otherwise seeks to honor both Christ, His Word, and elementary logic.  Allowing Christians to be labeled as a “faith-group” is to place us in an intellectual and cultural ghetto without relevance.  Such ghettos inescapably lead to a political and geographical ghetto, as has been seen recently in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.  

Everyone Begins with Faith

The first step is for Christians to recognize that Augustine of Hippo had the right sequence—“I believe in order to understand,” or faith precedes reason.  Many Christians, especially those Reformed, have learned that everyone bases their ethics and politics on presuppositions.  Now, this terminology is correct, but let us see how this works.  There are people of “faith” and people with “presuppositions.”  We still lose the public debate.  Presuppositions trump faith in the immediacy of communication.  The issues must become one “faith” vs. another “faith.” 

My present area of work is in philosophy, where I have found that philosophers obfuscate through multiplication of terms and imprecise and changing definitions.  For example, some philosophers talk of “basic beliefs.”  Others speak of foundationalism.  Many Christians, as we have seen, speak of presuppositions.  But, there are many synonyms of this concept: axiom, assumption, bias, basic belief, fundamental belief, core belief, bias, starting point, first principle, foundational principle, foundational belief, first philosophy, ultimate concern, and ultimate reality.  Then, one could add any and all “-isms”: communism, socialism, conservatism, fascism, Nazism, etc.  And, then, there are all the “religions” of the world.  There are thousands of basic beliefs!

My point is that we have many names for essentially the same concept: basic beliefs or simply belief or faith.  No one starts from reason alone—one always has to assume (believe) some value upon which to base his reasoning process.  The attempt to “reason without belief” began with the  Enlightenment Project.[1]  Not only has this project failed, it should never have had the standing that it did.  Some blame Thomas Aquinas.  Certainly, he gave a huge impetus into the separation of faith and reason, but almost all who followed him, both secularists and Christians, continued this separation.  In a sense, the Reformation contributed to this separation because it centered on Biblical theology and did not (with a few exceptions) address philosophical issues directly.[2] 

Perhaps, the Enlightenment Project is best illustrated in the Logical Positivists of the early 20th century.  They held to the Verification Principle that “a proposition is ‘cognitively meaningful’ (true) only if there is a finite procedure (scientific method) for conclusively determining whether it is true or false.”[3]  This school of thought had a strong influence for decades until their own camp realized that their Verification Principle cannot itself be verified!  It must be taken on faith!  Three observations can be made here.  (1) That the Verification Principle ever had any influence demonstrates that philosophers are poor logicians and grammarians.  (2) The principle itself is basic “belief”—it is a position of “faith.”  The Logical Positivists are a “faith-group.”  (3)  While the phrase is not used as much today, the Verification Principle is still the basic belief of agnostics and atheists: There is no God because He cannot be empirically (scientifically) verified.  Miracles do not occur because they violate natural laws.  Again, their basic position is one of faith (belief) in a statement that cannot itself be verified, but accepted on faith.

Use Their Own Philosophers as Temporary Allies

David Hume (171l-1776), a thoroughgoing atheist,[4] said (in paraphrase), “What ‘is’ cannot determine what ‘ought’ to be.”  That is, nothing that we observe can determine what is right or wrong (ethical).  This proposition means that empiricism (observations) can never determine what should or should not be done.  It means that science (empiricism) can never find even one answer to any ethical question.  It means that science cannot even determine whether any particular use of its technology is right or wrong.  For example, is dynamite a “good” thing or a “bad” thing?  It is very useful in excavation, but horrendous what it does to human bodies in warfare.  This proposition destroys all attempts of psychologists and sociologists from giving instruction to individuals or society.  These disciplines can only describe (observation); they cannot prescribe (determine right and wrong).

Paul Tillich, for all his theological errors and heresies, defined religion as “the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of life.”[5]  He goes on to classify “Fascism and Communism” as “quasi-religions” because “quasi indicates a genuine similarity, not intended, but based on points of identity.”[6]  Thus, he equates political-social ideology with a religious or faith position—a correct analysis!

Scott Oliphint, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, has stated that within epistemology and metaphysics,[7] there is no consensus in philosophy.[8]  No consensus after some 2500 years!  No consensus after the thousands upon thousands of pros and cons written on various subjects.  Epistemology and metaphysics are the central concerns of philosophy.  Thus, philosophy demonstrates that it has no answers.  If philosophy has no consensus, then anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s!  Further, there is nothing in philosophy to challenge in any way the faith of Christians—nothing.

Even The Humanist Manifesto III uses “believe”:

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe.

Once one starts looking for “faith,” belief,” and “believe, it is amazing how almost everyone of any worldview uses these “religious” words

Natural Science and Faith

Much empirical science will be consistent with Biblical principles, and if the public is not careful scientists subtly substitute moral opinions that masquerade as "science" because the statements are made by scientists.   For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics takes a formal stand against spanking, not because of any medical or psychological science—there is none.  It does so out of pure “belief.”  The American Psychiatric Association did not reverse its policy on homosexuality in 1973 as wrong behavior because of investigative science, but because extreme pressure was placed upon them by homosexual lobbyists.  While secularists argue for gay and lesbian parents, hundreds of social studies show that children of traditional (Biblical) families (which includes proper discipline and involvement by parents) have far greater achievements in life than those from broken and non-traditional families.  So, the ethical positions of these “scientific” organizations are clearly not based upon research, but the beliefs of its leaders.

George Barna Gets One Thing Right

On April 24, 2009, George Barna set an example for the Christians in the public arena.  His research title was “America’s Seven Faith Tribes Hold the Key to National Restoration.”  He divided the entire population of America into the “faith tribes” of casual Christians, Captive Christians, Jews, Mormons, Pantheists, Muslims, and Skeptics.  Everyone fell into a faith tribe—everyone speaks to worldview issues from a position of faith.  Whatever you think of Barna’s research, he has set this one example.  The battle for worldview and culture is one faith against another.

Some Caveats

The English language has no verb form of “faith.”  It also has the synonyms “faith” and “belief.”  For this reason, one often finds faith and belief defined as different entities.  Further complicating the situation is “fideism,” which is just another synonym for faith.  Again, use of synonyms can cause both intentional and unintentional obfuscation and confusion.  In the Koiné Greek of the New Testament, there is only one root, pisteuo (verb) and pistis (noun), for both “faith” and “believe.”  Any distinction between the two in English is theologically, philosophically, and colloquially entirely artificial and a personal choice of the one speaking, even if found in dictionaries.

Christians in philosophy are of little help to this obfuscation.  Without doubt Alvin Plantinga has caused an explosion of interest in philosophy among Christians with his famous, “Advice to Christian Philosophers.”[9]  It is estimated that 30 percent of current teaching philosophers are Christians.[10]  But where are they in the public arena?  Where are they in helping Christians combat people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennet from a Biblical “basic belief,” as Greg Bahnsen did with Gordon Stein?[11]  While many of them do debate secularists, they do not base their arguments on Biblical faith.

As was reviewed above, philosophies and religions are not separate endeavors—they have the same concerns of origins, knowledge, and ethics or technically—metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  Purely obejectively, more weight should be given in validity to philosophy or religion.  But, in fact, theologians (of all religions) are often better logicians than philosophers because they understand that reasoning begins with faith.  Philosophers are deluded when they begin with reason, and thus they are poor logicians.  But philosophy and religion should be seen as synonymous—seeking the same purposes of being, purpose, and ethics.  History shows an overt blending of the two in Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Kierkegaard, and many others.  There is a covert blending of religion in all of them, including profound atheists such as Marx, who “believed” in the evolutionary process of nature and the goodness of man.  And, of course, worldview is a synonym also.  Recognition of these synonyms will focus public discussions on the issues, rather than confusing them through a plethora of terms.

It is this distortion through terminology that Richard Dawkins and others are able to have any audience at all.  They do not state, and commentators do not see, that their argument is as religious, having basic beliefs.  Their supposed evidence is not a brute fact, recognized by everyone as true, but a fact only has meaning according to the underlying belief of the person using that fact.  Christians who let them argue in this way have already lost the debate, allowing them to appear as though they have a basis in reason when they do not.  Christians who argue on the basis of science have already given away the argument because science is only as sound as its method, and all science is empirically based, and therefore by its own process can never arrive at truth.

Back to the Marketplace of Ideas

Those in the Reformed and theonomic camps are thoroughgoing in their attempts to be presuppositional, and it is the right position except in the marketplace of ideas with secularists.  In the history of philosophy, there has been an antipathy between “faith” and “reason.”[12]  Thus, whenever Christians are called a “faith” group, or some other appellation with “faith” in it, and they are contrasted with secularists, they cannot avoid this antipathy of a “faith group” vs. a “group of reason.”  If one were an independent observer with the contrast of one group as one of “faith,” and one of “reason,” which gets the immediate credibility?  The group of reason.  So, we have lost the debate, before it has begun.

Take this recent example from an American Vision article.[13]  The focus of the article is not what is important here, but the words that denote foundations for argument.  This quote is purely for illustration, not to differ with the author’s argument.

No one is neutral. We all have a presuppositional starting point that informs our interpretations and thinking. Krugman displays this in his own article. He begins with a fact, i.e. two studies show that conservative professors are a small minority at elite universities, and goes on to interpret this fact through his assumptive left-leaning grid. 

Now, let me re-phrase these sentences with my substitution of faith.

No one is neutral. We all have a starting point of faith that informs our interpretations and thinking. Krugman displays this in his own article. He begins with a fact, i.e. two studies show that conservative professors are a small minority at elite universities, and goes on to interpret this fact through his own left-leaning position of faith.

When we write articles, letters-to-editors, and in speaking, we need to clarify that each side is taking a position of “faith.”  It is a faith position vs. a faith position.  We can no longer allow the label of “faith-_____” without demonstrating clearly that both sides are “faith-groups.”

It may be easy to learn to substitute “faith” for presuppositions or other equivalent terms, but with a concerted effort, this approach could be a major step in at least achieving a stalemate in the marketplace of ideas.  Now, a stalemate is not our ultimately goal, victory is.  But we have made a mountain that cannot be climbed when we allow “faith” vs. “reason.”  This allowance places us in an intellectual ghetto—the physical ghetto is next.  God calls us to “be wise as serpents.”  Indeed, did not the Serpent offer a “faith” in himself vs. a “faith” in God’s Word—two positions of faith.  The only way that the battle has changed is that Christ has achieved the victory.  One front of that battle is to win in the marketplace of ideas—Biblical faith vs. secular faith.  It must be stated that way, or it becomes “faith” vs. “reason.”  We will not win that contrasted position.  I personally think that this approach is one that is extremely necessary for Christians to level the playing field in public forums.

 Endnotes


[1] The “Endarkenment” would be more accurate for what it accomplished.

[2] I am not faulting the Reformers at all!  They had their hands full with to bring corrections theologically while facing active persecution.  But at some point Biblically based scholars must take on the philosophers at their own game.

[3] Wikipedia, “Logical Positivism.”

[4] There is some debate whether he was an agnostic or an atheist.  That debate is really silly!  He argued vigorously against Biblical revelation.

[5] Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religons, (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1963), 4.

[6] Ibid., 5-6.

[7] Metaphysics is simply the study of “what is” or “being.”  Epistemology is simply the study of the origins and validity  of knowledge. 

[8] Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), 36-37, 122-123. 

[9] Faith and Philosohy, Volume 1, Number 3, 253-271 (1984).

[10] I cannot remember where I saw this number.

[11] http://www.bellevuechristian.org/faculty/dribera/htdocs/PDFs/Apol_Bahnsen_Stein_Debate_Transcript.pdf

The full text of this debate is available at this URL. 

[12] This antipathy is false, as I have developed on my website: http://www.biblicalphilosophy.org/Logic/Reason_Full_Definition.asp

[13] http://americanvision.org/998/why-college-professors-liberal/?utm_source=Weekly+Review&utm_campaign=389ffb1baa-Weekly_Review_06_05_2010&utm_medium=email

 


 

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