Where Do You Begin?
How Do You Know Anything?
What causes a person to “do
To wonder about the origin of the universe?
To pursue purpose and meaning of life?
To attempt to understand the evil that exists, even the
“inhumanity” of man
Likely, there are innumerable
causes that lead a person to a more serious consideration of his
experience of life.
We have all heard of the persons about to commit suicide who
discovers a Gideon Bible in a motel room.
Descartes proclaimed, “I think; therefore I am.”
The soldier in the foxhole prays for survival.
The mother, gazing at her newborn girl, hopes for a sane
world for her to grow up in.
The list of scenarios is endless.
But from my perspective, these
possible causes of deeper thinking about the meaning and purpose
of life are rarely discussed in philosophy.
In fact, for at least 30 years the overwhelming focus in
academia has been “process,” not answers.
I have studied ethics (particularly, medical ethics) as a
career. Virtually no
academician gives answers.
They only call for students to give some thought to their
The answers, they say, do not matter; only that you give some
serious thought in the “process.”
Well, I am here to say that
“if the answers do not matter, then the process does not matter
there is no right and wrong, why bother?
“Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”
But this directive of
academicians is quite informative about the religion and
philosophy of the person giving it.
They have avoided the reality of the law of
Two different ideas cannot both be true; they could both be
wrong, but not both cannot be right.
Possible Starting Points
A life crisis.
This is a common starting point for many.
A spouse or child dies.
A person is paralyzed from the neck down.
A person is otherwise crippled for life.
Divorce occurs in marriage that once seemed happy.
A career opportunity is missed.
A student fails in school.
A person visits a Third-World country, seeing the poverty
and filth. A person
reads about the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, Pol Pot, and others.
A person has a nervous breakdown.
The list is endless.
What is interesting, however, is that these life crises
usually do not last very long and do not usually involve serious
study. Now, I am not
denying that people often find solace, even conversion to
Christianity, but apart from that change, little change really
seems to occur.
Perhaps less so in high school, but certainly in college,
graduate school, and seminary, a student encounters a professor
or course that confronts his comfortable, but poorly thought
out, view of life and the universe.
Christianity is just a myth, held by ignorant people who
have just not investigated the matter sufficiently.
“Reality” is not really “there”; it is a figment of your
imagination and the professor presents a strong case that
reality is only a perception that is not “real.”
There are all these religions and philosophies—they are
all about the same worldview, just the same view from a
They all have something in common?
How, then, can Christianity be the “only way?”
Here, again, the questioning may
last the length of the semester, but it rarely goes much
further. Who really
begins a serious study of the world’s religions and
philosophies, finally coming to a profound conclusion after
years of study?
“I think; therefore I am.”
Augustine posited, “I believe in order to understand.”
Socrates challenged, “The unexamined life is not worth
living.” By their
examples, we ought to pursue an intellectual examination of the
great issues, but do
we? Such pursuit is
not common. The lack
of study among the world’s peoples is really striking in
comparison the issues of
life, death, and eternity.
An ethical dilemma.
This difficulty may be actual or theoretical.
A woman with an unplanned pregnancy considers abortion.
A man wonders whether to confess his infidelity to his
wife. An investor
has “inside” information to make a lot of money—should he take
advantage of others in this way?
A severely deformed child is born to a family who does
not “want” him. Any
of these and hundreds more may cause a person to do more than
just “take life as it comes” on a daily basis.
They may follow Socrates’ lead that “the unexamined life
is not worth living.”
The morbid specter of death.
John Calvin comments on Hebrews 2:15 in his
This passage expresses in a
striking manner how miserable is the life of those who fear
death, as they must feel it to be dreadful, because they look on
it apart from Christ; for then nothing but a curse appears in
it: for whence is death but from God’s wrath against sin? Hence
is that bondage throughout life, even perpetual anxiety, by which unhappy
souls are tormented; for through a consciousness of sin the
judgment of God is ever presented to the view.
Death is the ever-present,
monumental, bright neon light that remonstrates against the
musings of philosophers.
Every man must have an answer to all the questions that religion and
philosophy poses—within his lifetime.
It is great fun and a stretch of the intellect to thrust,
parry, debate, and argue about the propositions and their
details within philosophy.
But for every man, his time to consider these things is
not unlimited. Even
apart from a premature death, man’s fourscore and ten looms ever
more large on his horizon as he grows older.
On this basis, every man should be investigating all
philosophies and religions to determine his eternal destiny.
The complexity of life and the universe.
Romans 1:19 and following demonstrates that there is some
knowledge of God that is accurate in every person.
Thus, it would be only reasonable that a person at some
point in his life begin to consider from where this complexity
and organization may have come.
That a scientist or a physician can understand this
design and believe in an “accidental” universe defies one’s
imagination. At the
same time, however, this blindness only demonstrates that man’s
soul (mind) must have the regeneration (the disposition to
enlightenment) of the Holy Spirit to accept the true Creator.
Refutation of an argument.
There are many
stories of anti-Christians who started out to prove the fallacy
of Christianity or one of its tenets.
What has happened to many of these scholars is that they
ended up believing in Christianity, or at least finding that
refutation was not possible based upon the “facts.”
Harry S. Stout set out to “prove” that the United States
did not have a Christian beginning.
What he found was that the preaching of the colonies of
the 18th century exceeded in quality and quantity the equivalent
of three college educations over a ten year period.
The “facts” that he found were sufficiently convincing
for him to publish a report that was virtually the opposite of
his beginning premise.
The search for meaning.
It was popular in the 1960s and 1970s for young people to
set out to “find themselves.”
They would travel the United States, Europe, and even
Communist countries, seeking “meaning” to their lives.
After all, each of us is just a tiny dot in the enormous
sometimes became involved in communes, adopted one or more of
the various philosophies or religions that they encountered, or
just continued to be confused.
But they were searching beneath the surface of their
parochial experience up until that time.
Others before and after have made similar searches,
sometimes travelling and sometimes just perusing the library
shelves. Today, that
search could take place on the Internet alone with virtually
every idea possible that is available in considerable breadth
Entry into a Worldview.
The reader can
see by this review that a
starting point is just a beginning step into a worldview.
For example, a life
crisis may take one into Christianity or into Hinduism.
Once that entry is made, then the remainder of the
worldview may be investigated, leading to an acceptance of many
tenets not initially pursued or relevant to the original
starting point is greatly widened into other areas not
considered at the start.
What about You?
Are You Ready to Tackle the Great Assignment That God Has
No doubt that you have been
exposed to some philosophy in college or seminary.
You may see that discipline as unimportant or you may see
it as extremely important.
Well, I would like
for you to see philosophy as necessarily essential in whatever
role God has assigned to you in His Kingdom.
I will present a case that you cannot achieve your
greatest role in serving God and His Church without attention to
an understanding of philosophy and to the tools of philosophy.
Eventually, I will present the
strong argument that
empiricism is the overwhelming philosophy in our day.
Empiricism is even
the predominant philosophy among most of the faculty in
seminaries, Christian colleges, and Christians in the various
professions that include psychology, medicine, education, and
you do not understand that this situation exists, how you grow
in Christ and in His service?
You Must Start Somewhere
There has been and continues to
be a great debate between
Evidentialism has been called “classical apologetics,”
and even has a published book by that name.
I would like to start more simply, and let you choose the
Yes, if we are going to being to look at this debate, where do
we start? Where
would you like to start?
Since you are not here, as I write, I will have to
suggest some starting places.
Look up from this book.
What do you see?
What do you hear?
How do you feel?
What is your emotional state?
Do you want to start with one of those conditions?
Do you want to start with certain
facts? “Facts” are
the method of classical apologetics.
Jesus lived, died, was resurrected, and now ascended to
heaven. It is the
method of Descartes, “I think; therefore I am.”
Augustine of Hippo stated, “I believe in order to
Do you want to start with
Every person is born, nay conceived, with certain
physical and (if you will allow at this point) spiritual
qualities: a certain intelligence, personality, talents, and
eventual physical size and coordination.
He is born into a social setting
of which he has no choice.
He spends many years being directed and taught by others
whom he did not choose.
At some point, he leaves home and begins to make his own
choices? But is he
really able to choose?
He has been “programmed” by nature and nurture for at
least 15-18 years.
Do you want to start with
debate between “faith and reason” goes back to the Middle Ages,
vociferously and extensively.
Does one want to live a life based upon faith, or does
one want to live a life in which evaluations are made on the
basis of sound reason, even logic?
Ah! Both of
these approaches have appealed to many.
One says, “I live my life on the basis of my faith in
God’s revealed Word.
By faith, I will speak, say, and do what He commands!”
But, surely reason has an appeal, as well.
Many want to live their lives by the sound rules of
logic. If there is
any way to think and live precisely, it is through the laws of
Do you want to start with
as the natural sciences are often seen as the source of truth
today? Science has placed
a man on the moon and sent probes all over the solar system and
beyond. Science has
created this powerful computer upon which I am typing.
Science operates on babies in the womb of its mother.
Science has turned nuclear energy into electricity.
Science has found and tapped oil reserves heretofore
unimagined. And, as
we deplete our oil reserves, science is creating numerable
sources of energy.
The ball is in your court,
you like to start?
The astute reader will have
already picked up where I am going.
You have to start
evidentialists may rail against this conclusion, but it is
inescapable; you have to start somewhere.
That “somewhere” is your
starting principle or starting philosophy.
Interestingly, I just created that phrase.
You can start with any of
the points discussed above or any other of your choosing.
This starting principle is not necessarily your
which will be the most basic and unchangeable position that
governs everything else in your system.
It is one that you will choose later, if you continue to
think through these issues.
Even the authors of
have a starting point.
In fact, they have different starting places.
They address presuppositionalists who start with the
Bible or with God Himself.
They do not seem to realize that
even if they did not
find God by beginning with God, it is
their conclusion nonetheless.
They begin with themselves even while they argue that
they cannot begin with themselves.
It is they—the
finite—who are thinking that the finite is not capable of the
Consciously or unconsciously, presuppositionalists are beginning
with themselves as much as we are, and there is no point to
contesting the necessity of so doing.
Even if they argue this point with us, it will be
they who are arguing
with us: one many with another.
Now, there are some serious
problems with these statements which Gordon Clark addresses.
However, I am going to agree with them at this stage of
my presentation so that we can agree on a starting point—the
self. But, we do not
want to stop here, for there is more, much more.
What might you be thinking?
(1) If you begin with what you see in front of you, what
is it that you see?
(2) If you think, as Descartes did, is what you think true?
Does what you see or think correspond with the real
world? For that
matter, what is the real world?
If I presuppose God or the Bible, how did it or Him come
to be? What is God,
or for that matter, what is the Bible?
More basically, what is a book?
What are the words on the pages of the books?
If I begin with the natural sciences, how did the
universe get to be?
How did I-me get to be?
Yes, science got us to the moon, but why should we go
there in the first place?
Was it right to do so?
I could fill this whole page with
such questions. Nay,
I could fill this whole book with such questions.
And, herein is the issue.
principle is not the end of the matter, it is only the
are a whole host of questions to answer.
And, we will get to those questions and suggest some
answers of a reasonable nature.
But we must begin somewhere.
This is my first point here.
Where will you begin?
My next point is, “How do you proceed?”
While the number of starting
principles can vary widely, as briefly reviewed above, the
options to proceed are few in number.
The first decision
must be that there is something worthwhile to find.
Postmodernism is a functional or pragmatic dead end.
It essentially says that there is nothing worthwhile to
find. It is usually
stated as, “There is no such thing as truth,” or “There is no
right or wrong to which I am obligated.”
These propositions end
the journey before it begins.
However, our postmodernists are
Either of the statements above about truth and ethics is
“There is no such thing as truth” is true, then the statement
itself is false, for it posits a truth.
The opposite statement is “There is such a thing as
truth” must be true.
The postmodernist may choose to be irrational—that is his
choice—but it should be clearly pointed out to him that he is
(2) Now, concerning the issue of
morals, one does not even have to apply the inconsistency of the
One can follow any other person around or give him a tape
recorder. They do
not and cannot live by that the maxim “There is no right or
wrong to which I am obligated.
It will not take very long before he encounters a
situation about which he say, “That is not right,” “I think that
such and such should _____________,”
or they simply vote in an election.
If nothing matters, why say or do these things?
If nothing matters, why not just be a hedonist?
But even pursuing hedonism, one has to interact with
other people, and therein is a rub—interactions inescapably
involve right and wrong.
And, it gets worse for the postmodernist, he cannot be
consistent with himself.
He will not be happy or content with either his actions
or his failures except for brief moments.
Further, the very fact that he is a hedonist means that
he is pursuing the “good” life—good is a moral consideration by
cannot escape the moral life!
(As an aside, I believe that
Christians have given credence to postmodernism by trying to
speak and write lengthy diatribes against it.
All that is needed is the paragraph above: one’s own life
violates one’s own creed—whoops, having a creed is inconsistent.
Unavoidable, inescapable, inconsistent.
We have also given credence to many other issues by our
lengthy and “scientific responses, for example, evolution and
scientism. But those
issues are for another time.)
But interestingly in the
statements of postmodernism we begin to find our way.
“There are no absolutes” is an absolute in itself.
Or, “truth does not exist” is a truth in itself.
philosophy have something to say about this conclusion?
Logic, a branch of
philosophy, calls this statement
the law of contradiction or the law of noncontradiction.
(I prefer the latter since it speaks more directly of
what the law states.)
Well, that is interesting.
Are there other laws of logic?
Well, of course, but we will not investigate those yet.
But what else might be available
to us in our pursuit?
Well, communication must take place by the means of
language: words, definitions, sentence structure, and the other
rules of grammar are necessary for communication.
Then, there must be some
consistency of one’s system) of paragraphs and reasonable flow
from paragraph to paragraph. Reasoning
must proceed on some “reasonable” basis that is acceptable to
many readers. Thus, definition, grammar, language theory, and
logic are necessary.
And, so on.
Well, the “so on” involves many
other issues that we must leave for later investigation.
I trust that I have at least established that one must
start somewhere, that is, posit a
starting principle and a
Perhaps that procedure was not necessary, but often we
get into the argument without establishing basics.
That is what I want to attempt in this book.
I would be naïve if I thought that I could establish an
argument with which everyone would agree, but one has to make
the effort. Perhaps
we can come a little closer to agreement.
Perhaps you can see where you need to work towards a
better understanding of the issues.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Elsewhere, I have tried to
establish some common agreement from philosophers and philosophy
in general (link).
I would like to state one of those here.
Now, this reality differs greatly among philosophers,
theologians, and other religions.
Concern with reality is
worldview, ultimate reality, reality, truth, justified true
belief, knowledge, true knowledge, true truth, Ideas, and truth
claims—to name a few.
I am going to choose
adjectives and as one word.
I define truth as
propositions that state things as they really are (reality) and which
are true in the past, present, and future without other
conditions than the first principle upon which they are based.
Many, perhaps most, philosophers
might choose knowledge as
justified true belief for this ultimate designation.
I choose truth because of its identification in Jesus Christ
as “truth” and the Bible’s identification of truth with itself,
as the very Word of God, "Thus say the Lord!".
On this basis, “truth” is able to bridge both philosophy
and theology and is a foundational concept in both.
Thus, in the next chapter I will discuss truth from both
a philosophical and Biblical point of view.
The coherence within each system is considerable, if not convincing.
What Has Philosophy and Life Experience Established
That Might Give Us Guidance?
person dies,and he or she may die suddenly at any time! One could
call death the “great interrupter” or the “great jolt of
there is some urgency to this matter of life on earth.
While philosophers may define and debate
ad infinitum, the
reality is that some investigation into the following must occur
with some degrees of haste and seriousness.
and universities think that they deal with the most vital issues
of life, but all issues are trifles in the face of death, and
what happens thereafter. Are you willing to reject
Pascal's Wager? Consider carefully, we are speaking of
eternity here... eternity. Way beyond a normal lifespan.
No person chooses either his nature or his nurture.
Neither does he choose his early education.
So, the day of “majority” or the day of “accountability”
occurs. He or she
can never get beyond this programming.
Temporally, #1 and #2 to
matter, one would have to accept #3 and #4.
However, the stark nature of these two has a sobering
effect that might be lessened were they listed later.
Indeed, if any thoughts can motivate a person to think
more seriously and definitively (at least to a greater extent
than most seem to do), these two should.
3. I think.
This statement differs from Descartes’, “I think;
therefore I am.”
Thinking does not guarantee existence unless existence is
defined as “thinking.”
(I believe that I would agree with that definition for
what does it mean to exist.
4. Other minds
and the universe exist. This
proposition is dependent upon #3.
What would be the earliest stage that I could posit that
“I think?” The “age
of accountability” is as good as any?
Ten to fifteen years? A
few years earlier or later?
But, again, there is the problem of pre-determinism. If I
think, I have already been programmed to think.
Therefore, at least the people and the part of the
universe that I have known (had some knowledge of) contributed
to “what” I think.
* There is a progression
here. If #3 and #4
are allowed, then other propositions must also be allowed.
5. If I allow
#4, there are other certainties
5.1 Memory has some reliability, but is highly variable
from person to person, the time interval since the original
event occurred, depth of study, etc.
5.2 Time will continue for the foreseeable future.
If I don’t die, tomorrow will come.
While every philosophy and religion posits an end of
time, it is so remote as not to be worth considering apart from
All phenomena cannot be
explained; philosophy and religions are attempts to explain
these phenomena. These
include the origin of living things, man’s consciousness and
ability to think, the “size” of the universe, how matter came to
be, and how infinity entered our vocabulary.
Because of the law of noncontradiction, the statement,
“There is no truth,” refutes itself.
Thus, truth exists, so the pursuit is on to determine
what that truth is.
And so on. I am not sure
that a further progression is needed.
At this point the seeker will choose his own course of
action and area of study.
The New England
Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New
England (Oxford, CT: Oxford University Press, 1986).
The sermons of that time covered every area of
life, including politics, economics, law, public policy,
health, government, theology, and ethics.
C., John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical
Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984).
“social setting,” because there may be no family or a
dysfunctional one-parent family, or he may be placed for