Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 12, 1970
NUMBER 40, PAGE 3,5b

Christianity And Philosophy

[Number 1]

Gordon Wilson

Classical philosophy has been concerned with four main issues historically. These are: The nature of God; the nature of the universe; the nature of man in society; and the nature of man as an individual. In this article we shall look briefly at the first two of these problems.

The great Greek philosophers whose names are known in virtually every household: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, were gravely concerned about the nature of God. While the ancient world as a whole had lapsed into pagan idolatry, and from idolatry to atheism, these thinkers draw near to pure monotheism. They believed in one God who created all things which are, and to whom man is accountable. They built up large discipleships which followed them in their thinking; yet their philosophy never solved the problem of God — who and what He is.

Greek civilization has had tremendous influence on our modern society. Its influence is felt in our system of law, in our Western form of government, and is seen in our sculpture, architecture, and other arts. But, outside of some literary references to mythology, Greek religion has had no effect on modern religion. This fact testifies to the futility of philosophy's attempts to explain God, whose "ways are past finding out" by the natural mind of man.

The question of who and what God is has been wrestled with through several stages. There was the Deistic approach which, transported to France from England, became Rationalism; an attempt to find God in nature and in the natural mind. The Deists believed in one God who is Creator, but did not believe in a supernatural revelation, or in miracles. All that man could know about religion came through nature; thus Christianity was rejected. Matthew Tindal, in 1730, published his Deist's Bible, "The Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature." This book received special attention from Joseph Butler in a powerful and effective work, "The Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed," which is credited with stopping the further advance of Deism. William Paley's "Evidences of Christianity" was also directed against this philosophy.

Then there was the Pantheistic thrust. Benedict Spinonsa taught that God is to be identified with nature; that there is only one substance, and that is God. Nothing exists except God, and God is everything which exists. Everything is God, and God is everything. Many modern religious "liberals" hold a view similar to this. It is, of course, at the heart of so-called Christian Science. These examples should be further evidence of the failure of philosophy to find out God.

While human philosophy is stumbling in the dark, the New Testament speaks clearly on the nature of God. Christian epistemology rests on revelation. All that we can know about God's nature is found in what He has revealed about Himself. Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." We know God through the revelation which He has made of Himself in Jesus the Christ. There are arguments which can help us to see the existence of God, but we do not ultimately rest our views of God's nature on the ontological, cosmological, or theological arguments. We rest them instead on Christ: God is like Christ. The characteristics of God are displayed in His Son: His holiness (Luke 1:35); His justice (Acts 7:54); His mercy (Hebrews 2:17); His love (John 15:13); and His truth (John 14:6). Philosophy cannot answer the question, What is God like? Christianity answers, God is like Christ.

The problem of the universe is not the concern of the philosopher which it once was. Now the matter has been referred to the scientist, and philosophy has practically bowed out. In centuries past, an Aristotle would be involved in more than speculation; he would participate in scientific investigation. It was possible then to bridge the gap between philosophy and science — to the benefit of both, in my opinion. Now it is different. There are very few philosophers who are attempting to work out a "philosophy of science" that is coherent and binding. There are even fewer scientists who are interested in this field of inquiry. This may be very unfortunate, for its result is rank materialism on the part of many men of science, and an ignoring of metaphysics by philosophers. The thing metaphysics is interested in is the search for reality: What is the real substantial nature of the universe? It is material, to be sure, but is its reality the material of which it is composed?

Most scientists who have made great reputations have been men who have specialized in some single small field.

We do not think of a man as a scientist, but as a particular type of scientist. We cannot even stop when we have narrowed his interest down to, say, the discipline of biology, but must think of him as a particular type of biologist. He may be a biochemist, or an ecologist, or a hematologist, etc. Yet even this is not narrow enough, for the biochemist may specialize in cells (or more narrowly, in the cellular mitochondria). The ecologist may study only ant populations (or more narrowly, only soldier ants). The hematologist may concern himself with just the white blood cells (or more narrowly, only abnormal blood cells). With this kind of specialization there has been tremendous advancement in every scientific discipline. But it is obvious that such specialists cannot possibly see the whole picture.

At one time the universe was thought of by philosophers as anthropocentric. Everything that exists was conceived of as centering in man and existing for man's benefit and use — in spite of the fact that there was no known way for man to get to the universe to use it! Man was the whole meaning of the world; indeed, of all the worlds.

Later, the prevailing view of the universe was geocentric; everything was made to support the earth, and all of the planets, the sun, moon, and stars all revolved around the earth. This Ptolemaic cosmology had to be abandoned when it was found that the earth moves instead around the sun.

The Copernican cosmology produced a heliocentric view of the universe. But this too proved too narrow when it became known that our sun is only one medium-sized star in the midst of an apparently unlimited number, each of which has its own coterie of planets. Now we have the generally held galaxtocentric view of the universe. But why should we think that this is the ultimate reality? Might we not find that, inasmuch as there are other galaxies than our Milky Way, our present view is too limited? May I also suggest the thought that since man has moved a long way toward ability to reach and use other parts of the universe than the earth, perhaps the original man-centered view could be reinvestigated? Of course, the New Testament plainly says that the universe is Christocentric — in Him all things consist (Colossians 1:16, 17).

The word of God speaks somewhat more clearly about the universe than does either philosophy or science. We learn from the Bible that, whatever may be the material slant of the universe, this earth is the visited planet. Here is where a Redeemer came to raise a fallen race. This is where the great God who made it all chose to descend in a garment of flesh and to favor the world as His special concern. We do not as yet know what may populate other planets, solar systems, or galaxies; but this one is populated by men who are potentially sons of God.

Moreover, it is revealed to us that the world is a providential order. It is under the control of One who is "upholding all things by the word of His power." Here is a God so uniquely ours that while He measures the waters of the sea in the hollow of His hand, He at the same time carries the little lamb in His bosom (Isaiah 40:11, 12). God is both transcendent to this world and imminent in it; on this the Christian can rest, free from the unsatisfactory speculations of the best which philosophy can offer.

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