Does Philosophy Conflict with Christianity
[The following article first appeared in a special Gospel Advocate issue on Christian Evidences January 23, 1969.]
“Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8).
“For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seeks after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men: and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
The Bible, not the unaided intellectual powers of men, is the source of truth in religion. Clearly, some philosophy is in conflict with Christianity. Paul emphasizes this! But is everything that has to do with philosophic endeavor in such conflict? It seems clear that such is not the case.
What Is Philosophy?
For the purposes of this essay it will be assumed that philosophy is simply the effort to integrate one’s life experiences; that is, it is thinking which tries to discover connected truth about all available experience. Basically, there are two ways by which the study of philosophy is carried on: (1) the historical approach and (2) the issue approach. The historical approach concentrates on the related, chronological contributions of the acknowledged outstanding philosophers. The issue approach is concerned with such questions as: (1) Who, or what, am I? (2) What is real? (3) What can I believe? (4) What can I know? (5) How can I know it? (6) Are there some things which are right and some other things which are wrong? (7) If so, are these things always right or always wrong? (8) How can I know if I am reasoning in a valid way? (How can I know if my premises necessitate my conclusions?) (9) What is truth? How do I find it? (10) Is there really any meaning to my life? (11) Does God exist? Can I know that He exists? (12) Has God revealed Himself to man?
All Men are Philosophers
Since all men are interested (at least to some degree) in such questions, Aristotle was right when he claimed that all men are philosophers. Every person has some view of reality, of what he knows and how he knows it, of what is of value and what isn’t, etc. So, if one were to maintain that all philosophy conflicts with Christianity, he would be condemning not only all other men but himself as well.
What Conflicts with Christianity?
What conflicts with Christianity is not philosophy per se, but bad (or false) philosophy. Much the same point might be made in regard to science and religion. While there are within science propositions which conflict with Christianity it is not science per se which conflicts with Christianity; it is bad (pseudo) science which so conflicts. There is much even in religion which conflicts with Christianity, but it is not religion per se which so conflicts (after all, Christianity is a religion—the one true religion). It is bad (or false) religion which conflicts with true Christianity.
Just so it is with philosophy. It is not philosophy per se which conflicts with Christianity; it is bad (or false) philosophy which so conflicts. True Christianity and true philosophy do not conflict.
For instance, there is a group of philosophers who are deeply impressed with the method and success of science. These philosophers recognize a sharp distinction between meaningful and meaningless (nonsensical) expressions. They hold that only two types of expressions are meaningful: (1) analytic propositions (ones which are truly by virtue of the meaning of the words which compose them), e.g., statements of mathematics and tautologies such as “all bachelors are unmarried men,” and (2) synthetic statements, ones which can be confirmed or disconfirmed (at least in principle) by empirical evidence; e.g., “all dogs in Blankville have tails.” According to this view, such statements as the preceding can be either true or false, but any other kind of statements, such as “God exists,” or “God loves man,” is neither true nor false, but are nonsensical (meaningless). Ethical statements (such as “murder is wrong”) are viewed as being nothing more than expressions of one’s feelings or emotions. Since the principle of verification (upon which this system is based) is neither analytical nor capable of being empirically verified, measured by itself, it is either meaningless or self-contradictory.
Philosophy which holds that human reason, unaided by divine revelation, is the adequate and only guide to religious truth is clearly in conflict with Christianity. (The Bible is the complete, authoritative guide to all truth in religion. 2 Tim. 3:16-17.) The rationalist (in religion) holds that the intellectual ability of man himself is able to arrive at all conclusions and to solve all problems which may relate to human existence. This view the Bible emphatically denies (1 Cor. 1:18-25; Jer. 10:23; Prov. 16:25).
On the other hand, the view that reason should be excluded and that religion is totally a matter of faith (which is exclusive of reason and/or logic) is also in conflict with Christianity. Such a view entails the position that the existence of God cannot be proved and denies all contact between religious faith and reason. Such a view is clearly in conflict with Christianity. Those who hold that religious faith should be entirely divorced from reason could not consistently give any reasons why they are right. So far as they reject reason or logic, they renounce any claim of truth which is entitled to the respect of anyone else. If they happen to have any truth, it is an entirely private truth for which they can make no case. In true Christianity, faith and reason are not divorced but are always related in proper order. This is made clear in such biblical statements as: (1) “Be ready always to give an answer [defense] to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15); (2) “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1); (3) “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
It is clear that the Bible recognizes that the existence of God can be proved from the “things that are seen” (Rom. 1:18-20; Ps. 19:1). The apostles presented evidence that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and then—and not until then—did they expect people to believe that He was (Acts 2:14-41). Christianity is not divorced from logic and/or reason.
In the light of the preceding facts we can conclude: (1) that there is some philosophy which conflicts with Christianity, and (2) that there is some philosophy which does not so conflict.
We live in a world in which the educational level of our society is constantly rising. Many in the world as thoroughly aware of the kinds of thinking which is characteristic of this age. Surely the Christian should aspire to be no less aware of such matters. It is very difficult for one to appeal to those who have attained an educational level which is higher than the one on which he lives and moves. Christians also should be able to recognize various ideologies as they meet them. Only in this way will they be able to point to weaknesses and show the superiority of Christianity to those people who may be blinded by false views. May every Christian see both the value of true philosophy and the dangers of false philosophy. While many propositions set out by philosophers conflict with truths of Christianity, none of these conflicting ideas has ever been sustained. Men err when they strive to gain answers by the use of the unaided human intellect alone to questions which are answered only in the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17). To be saved from sin, one must hear, believe, obey the gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:13-17; Acts 2:22-38; 22:16).
Thomas B. Warren