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The Powerful Coherence of the Scriptures for Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, and Medicine

 

With much talk about worldview these days, both inside and outside of Christianity, there is less attention to actual integration and interdisciplinary discussions.  Perhaps this conference will expand a trend towards these goals.  I have ­­more than 30 years of direct background in three of these disciplines and have been indirectly involved in the other.  So, this conference is personally exciting to address all four of these disciplines and attempt a unification and integration of them.

 

 

Authorities, Beliefs, Presuppositions, and Starting Points

 

The problem is always a place to start, so perhaps I can borrow a common theme of both remote and recent authorities that forms a unified, foundational approach.  Saint Paul said that we have unity in the Trinity, our faith, baptism, hope, and body (Ephesians 4:4-6).  Saint Augustine, the Church father, and Anselm, the Scholastic, stated that we “believe in order to understand.”   On a slightly different note, John Calvin said that all knowledge begins with the knowledge of man and knowledge of God.[1]  Abraham Kuyper of the 19th century said,  "Oh, not a  single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"[2]  In the 20th century, theologian and college president Robertson McQuilkin in a paper concerning psychology stated, “The functional control of Scripture over any discipline will vary in direct proportion to the overlap of that discipline with the substance of Biblical revelation.”[3]

 

I am quite aware of the ongoing debate between evidentialists and presuppositionalists, but it seems inescapable that everyone has to start somewhere.  Thus, I contend that the necessity of a starting point settles the issue in favor of presuppositionalism.  Further, the centrality of faith in Scripture establishes presuppositionalism.  As Christians, we have “one faith” and many other forms of unity, as cited above. 

 

Likely, beginning with René Descartes, the concepts of faith and reason became muddled.  That rationalism can answer all man’s questions” is a position of faith, as the logical positivists of the 20th century frustratingly discovered.  So, faith precedes reason, as Augustine and Anselm understood.  Michael Polanyi, world-renown chemist turned philosopher, worked out in considerable detail that scientific knowledge, even that of the “hard” sciences, begins with a personal faith.[4]  In fact, the methodology of faith is common to every action that one takes every day, which is what Kuyper called “generic faith.”  For example, I “believe” that the sun will rise tomorrow; I “believe’ that an airplane will transfer me safely across country; I “believe” that food will nourish me; I “believe” that my work is worthwhile; etc, etc.  This important theme could be a paper in itself, but I must continue with my project here.[5]

 

How does one defend orthodox Christianity—a question that I once faced in writing a paper for a philosophy class.  With so many churches, sects, and denominations, how does one defend an  “orthodoxy?”  There seems only one possibility, the 66 books of the Scriptures, for virtually all Christian traditions adhere to these books.  While they may add other authorities, such as, the Apocrypha, church councils, synods, various creeds, and even the Pope, the large majority, especially historically, hold exactly to these books.  One could choose The Apostle’s Creed, but it is restricted to too few doctrines to be a complete basis for orthodox Christianity.  Other creeds and doctrines become even less common to all sects of Christianity.

 

Thus, my ultimate authority is the inerrancy of Scripture, as it is commonly understood within the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies.  But, we will see that the disciplines of theology, philosophy, psychology, and medicine will relate to the Scriptures in different ways.  My project is similar to, though not identical with, Alvin Plantinga’s call for Christians to focus on work that is consistent and foundational to a Christian’s calling.[6]

 

 

The Scriptures and Theology

 

Again, I turn to the Scholastics for the proper placement of two disciplines: theology and philosophy.  They believed that philosophy was handmaiden to theology and that theology was the Queen of the Sciences.  (I understand that “science” had a different meaning to them then than now.)  Thus, I begin with theology from by Biblical starting point.

 

Pedantically, theology is “knowledge of God.”  Traditionally, there are two sources of this knowledge: general and special revelation.  While general revelation should not be minimized, it alone as a source of knowledge gives a confusing picture.[7]  There is the productive power of the sun, but the power of destruction in earthquakes, hurricanes, avalanches, and tornados.  There is the beautiful reproduction of human life, but debilitating diseases and death.  There is the tastiness of salt, but too much of it poisons and kills.  God is thus powerful, but is this power “good” or “bad?”

 

The theology of special revelation properly answers this question and interprets general revelation.  It describes the Creation of all things, man’s Fall and curse, history that precedes all other history, the predictions of the Answer to the Fall, Messiah’s coming and fulfillment to provide for man’s salvation, and much more.  In fact, it is this “much more” that is central to this paper.  More specifically, how broadly do the Scriptures answer the questions of epistemology?  Certainly, everyone agrees that the Scriptures speak to soteriology.  Less certainly by some Christians, they speak to ethics.[8]  But, my claim is that they are ultimately authoritative for ethics.

 

The issue is simple.  How may ethics be decided?  There are only three ways: (1) a majority vote or vox populi, (2) individualism or everyone does his own thing, or (3) an ultimate authority.  In actuality, every person is an heuristic combination of all of these.  Ethicists differ and often vacillate, as well.  Then, it seems reasonable that I choose number three, especially when the Scriptures present, “Thus says the Lord,” that He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that He is perfect righteousness and justice (ethics and ethical).  That sounds like an ultimate authority to me!  This position does not claim that one theological tradition has a total casuistry, only that the Bible contains all the ethical answers and may be ferreted out over time.  At minimum, we go to the same source, even though we do not arrive at the same answers.  Moore of the specifics of Biblical theology and ethics will be apparent when I discuss psychology and medicine herein.

 

 

What Contribution Does Philosophy Have in this Unity?

 

One of the questions presented to speakers to consider for this conference is “What does philosophy have to contribute to … other disciplines?”  The answer, of course, depends upon what one thinks philosophy is, and that answer is not altogether clear.  Again, pedantically, philosophy is “the love of wisdom.”  But, whose wisdom?  If one goes through a litany of philosophers—Thales, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, the Stoics, the Sophists, the Epicureans, Augustine, the Scholastics, the moderns from Descartes to Hegel, the postmoderns from Kierkegaard to Luc-Marion—where is a common agreement?  These men and others cover an almost infinite spectrum of ideas and speculations that are a virtual encyclopedia of pros and cons, agreements and contradictions.  Perhaps the best thing about this litany is that one can pick and choose to one’s liking and reject what one dislikes.  One could even say that there is no way to be wrong!

 

But likes and dislikes when they repeatedly contradict do not advance a project.  So, another stated question for this conference is, “What is philosophy’s methodology, and what ought it to be?”  Here I find possibility!   J. P. Moreland in his textbook on philosophy stated:

 

Philosophy is the attempt to think hard about life, the world as a whole, and the things that matter most in order to secure knowledge and wisdom about these matters… the attempt to think rationally and critically about life’s most important questions in order to obtain knowledge and wisdom about them… Philosophy is the only field of study that has no unquestioned assumptions within its domain.[9]

As an evangelical, working in philosophy, my most foundational issues have been critically challenged, but also strengthened—consistent with these statements by Moreland.

 

Moreland also said in the same context, “Philosophy is, perhaps, the most important foundational discipline in the task of integrating Christian theology with other fields of study.”[10]  Consistent with one of the goals for this conference and Moreland’s discussion, I will apply critical thinking to the integration of theology, medicine, and psychology.

 

 

                                   Medicine as One of “Life’s Most Important Issues”           

 

My background in medicine began in 1965.  After only a few years, I began to crucially evaluate both the science of medicine and the ethics of medicine.  In these days of Obamacare and medical care at 17 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and more than $2 trillion dollars, the issue is perhaps more relevant than ever.

 

I am glad that you are all seated, because you will hear things that not many physicians or others either do not know or will not say.  Medicine is the discipline by which health is maximized, diseases sometimes cured, and injuries treated.  But what is health?  Health is the maximal physical and mental state of any one person—health is a spectrum.  Every person from the Olympic athlete to the severely challenged person has a different “maximal health” and different “health” needs.

 

This description seems straightforward until beliefs enters the picture.  Health for an Epicurean, a Platonist, an Augustine, a Scholastic, a modern rationalist, postmodern existentialist, communist, and a secular humanist differ.  Within these belief systems, ethical considerations become central.  Jehovah’s Witnesses deny life-saving blood transfusions.  HIV/AIDS is transmitted by illegal drug abuse and what many religions consider immoral behavior.  DDT is not used to save the number one infectious disease killer in the world today—malaria—because of environmental concerns.  My contention is that medicine is inherently a religious enterprise—religion being used here for all –isms and belief systems.   And, I have not even mentioned abortion which destroys millions of unborn lives each year nor have I posed the threat of euthanasia.

 

Then, there are the economic issues about the considerable costs of modern medicine.  What role should religious organizations have in providing health care?  What role should government have in taxation and redistribution for health care?  What services should be provided and for whom?  Should the elderly receive the larger portion of monies, as they do today?   Should euthanasia be used as cost savings? Should the state create a monopoly in medicine through licensure?  All these questions are religious.

 

Then, there is the problem of the “science” of medicine.  In logic, the scientific method of induction is considered a methodological fallacy.  “What!,” you say.  But modern medicine has achieved so much.  Well—such achievement is accompanied by harms that are just as credible and incredible.  I will mention a few major issues.  During the 1980s, 40,000 patients a year in the United States died from drug treatment of heart arrhythmias (irregular heart beats).[11]  The Human Genome Project—the entire mapping of human genes—has had almost no impact on the treatment of disease.[12]  Major drugs do not “work” in 40-75 percent of people.[13]  The War on Cancer, was created by the National Cancer Act of 1971, but “cancer remains a largely incurable disease.”[14]  For the most part, fat-lowering drugs which are prescribed to tens of millions do not increase longevity.  More so, these drugs only “work” on one in 40 to 100 patients.[15]  Anti-depressants work no better than a placebo.[16]  Some 800,000 people die each year in the United States from inpatient and outpatient adverse drug reactions, medical errors, bedsores, acquired infections, unnecessary surgery, surgery-related complications, and nursing homes—which makes “medicine” the leading cause of death in the United States.[17]

 

Such statistics may be quite alarming and unexpected.  Perhaps, you think they are made by odd-balls and misfits.  Actually, all these statistics—and hundreds more with similar conclusions—are all from the “medical and scientific literature.”  And, they are mostly, if not entirely available to you, through Google and other search engines with the corresponding keywords and phrases.  You can do your own research.

 

Then, you might ask, “How do I evaluate and trust modern medicine?”  I defer an answer to that question for a few more paragraphs.

 

How Does Secular Psychology Fit Into This Integration?

 

There are two major divisions of secular psychology: the experimental and the theoretical.  The experimental is simply research that is based upon the scientific method, primarily with animals and occasionally with humans.  However, by definition science can make no ethical judgments.  Science is limited to the natural or material, not the speculative or supernatural (religious) realm from which values are obtained. 

 

Theoretical psychology is just that—theoretical.  As in our discussion of philosophy and medicine, one’s choice of psychology is a personal one among hundreds of competing theories.  There is no way to determine which is true and which is not—without some sort of standard.

 

Simply, “How does secular psychology fit in?” For the most part it does not contribute—from these scientific and theoretical considerations just mentioned.   It can offer neither science that is true nor norms for thinking and behavior.  It may offer some useful techniques, such as, Rogerian questioning and expressed empathy.  I want to propose instead that the Old Testament Psalms reveal the pathos of the human soul—psyche—and the New Testament provides additional instructions for moral and spiritual guidance.

 

The Bible as the Integrating Whole

 

At first glance the disciplines of theology, philosophy, psychology, and medicine appear diverse.  But with God as our Creator who is perfectly unified within Himself and the Trinity, surely there is an epistemology of coherence.  I contend that the coherent unifier is the 66 books of the Bible.  Let us review how that might work.

Most easily, theology is simply Biblical theology[18] which is best described as systematic theology, since the Bible was written over hundreds of years and by a diverse group of individuals. 

 

Concerning philosophy, it simply becomes the “handmaiden” of theology by its critical method to create, unify, and logically systematize Scripture. 

 

Concerning medicine, the Scriptures create both an anthropology and an ethic.  Man is not “normal,” as modern medicine says, having fallen from his ideal state.  He is dualistic, not simply material—consisting of both body and soul.  If a physician sees you as a product of evolution, you are to him a complex arrangement of chemicals.  Thus, if you have a problem, your chemicals or tissues or organs need to be changed or rearranged.  There are no ethics by which to guide behavior or else he commits the naturalistic fallacy.[19]  Indeed, virtually 30-50 percent of office visits to a family physicians today concern feelings (anxiety, depression), weight loss, pain medication, or sleeping pills)—ills which are not truly “medical” in the traditional sense.[20]  

 

“But,” you ask, “How can the Bible give direction to modern medicine?”  Some examples are these.  (1) Sexual fidelity before and after marriage will prevent contracting any of the epidemic sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.  (2) Conversion to belief in Christ will give  maximal health of the soul.  (3) Spiritual fruits will prevent most, if not all, the need for drugs for “emotional” and problems of the soul/spirit/mind and will have subsequent bodily benefits. (4) Trust in God’s providence will give peace of mind over all the complex uncertainties of medicine. (5) Respecting the body as a “temple of the Holy Spirit” will prevent diseases of alcoholism, drug addictions, and tobacco.  (6) More than one million unborn children in the United States will be allowed to live. The Bible is not a book on medicine, but it is a book on health—health of the soul which is foundational and necessary for health of the body.

 

Finally, I contend that the Bible is a textbook on psychology.  The philology of “psychology” is “study or science of the soul.”  As we have discussed, the theoretical and materialistic anthropology of modern psychology does not believe in a soul.  Further, the science of psychology can give no ethical directives.  The Bible is full of ethical directives from Genesis to Revelation—many of which are quite practical. 

 

Conclusion

 

God’s special revelation to man is the great unifier of theology, philosophy, psychology, and human biology (medicine).  But should we expect anything less?  God created this universe with mankind to live in it.  The Bible is the “manufacturer’s manual” to understanding and fixing human problems.  The Bible is the ground of systematic theology which is methodologically assisted by philosophy.  It is necessary for the health of the soul which is foundational to health of the body.  And, the Bible is a textbook of psychology—what the soul is, what it needs, and how it should think, feel, and act.  The Bible, I believe, is the only ground for a true uni-versity—a unity for all scholarly and educational disciplines.

 

 


Notes

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company,  1979), I(1), 37-39.

[2] Abraham Kuyper,  "Sphere Sovereignty." In James D. Bratt,  Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 488.

[3] “The Behavioral Sciences Under the Authority of Scripture,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 20(1):32-43.

[4] Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge, (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

[5] My position is avowedly not classical foundationalism because my starting point is not a commonly agreed upon “foundation,” but the Scriptures which are clearly not a common foundation of agreement!

[6] “Augustinian Christian Philosophy” at http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles

[7] Richard Kroner, Between Faith and Thought: Reflections and Suggestions, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1966), 27-8.

[8]I equate morals and ethics in this paper.

[9] J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 13.

[10] Ibid.

[11] David H. Freedman, Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us…, (New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company, 2010),  38.

[12] Ibid., 46.

[13] Ibid., 62-63 .

[14] Guy B. Faguet, The War on Cancer: An Anatomy of Failure—A Blueprint for the Future, (Dordrecht: Netherlands, 2008), back cover and page 89.

[15] Speaker’s conclusions from numerous studies and authorities. 

[16] Speaker’s observations of hundreds of studies for more than 50 years.

[17] Gary Null, Death by Medicine, (Mount Jackson, VA: Pratikos Books, 2010), 28.

[18] Here, I am not speaking of the formal discipline of Biblical Theology, but all theology that is coherently and logically derived from Scripture—that is, systematic theology.

[19] The naturalistic fallacy is that “natural” science can make “supernatural” value claims—that is, moral and ethical claims.

[20] Speaker’s personal research.

 


 

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