Philosophy deals with at least these three main questions:
1. What is it that really exists?
2. What should we do?
3. How can we really know anything for sure?
Philosophies that answer the first question are dealing in something called “metaphysics”. The second question is dealt with in the area called “ethics” and the third in the area called “epistomology”.
Every person answers these questions somehow. The way a Christian answers these questions is often radically different to the way someone who is not a believer will answer them. I think it is worth discussing what the alternatives are and whether the Christian viewpoint seems to be superior or inferior to other philosophies – and for what reasons.
If the Christian answers to the basic questions like “What is real?” are incorrect, then we should throw out the whole Christian system and find one that works. But I contend that the Christian system works extremely well and fits best with what we observe in nature and in ourselves. I will try to show that the materialist scenario does not fit with what we observe – and believing it requires enormous leaps of faith in what amount to “magical” powers of matter and energy which have never been shown to really exist. Not only that, but the materialist scenario, if seriously accepted, gives us no reason to suppose that our own minds are much more than a certain kind of chaotic random accident. Why then should we trust what our minds tell us?
Options in Metaphysics
What is it that really exists? “Materialists” want to assert that when you get down to it, all that really exists is matter and energy, which are really two different forms of the same thing. They would also perhaps add to this list “time” and “chance”. Scientific materialists also believe in something they call “the laws of physics”. They assert that these things “just are” or “always have been”.
Others believe in a world of spirits that exists in parallel with the material world we can relate with by means of our five senses. True Christians and in fact adherents to most religions of the world would believe in this system of metaphysics. But subscribers to the Judeao-Christian worldview would further assert that there is an Uncreated Eternal God who is the Creator of all things seen and unseen. This would be denied by pagans and polytheists of various stripes, who nonetheless believe in the existence of a spiritual world.
Others believe in a world where “mind” or “Mind” has always existed in one form or another. In such systems, the material world might be believed to have a separate existence but in many the idea is there that matter is simply a product of “mind” – whatever that is. Some Buddhist systems of thought which actually deny the existence of a Creator appeal to ideas like this. They say that Mind is all there is. Philosophies like “zen” encourage people to turn inwards, abandon rationality and logical thought, and thus somehow achieve “enlightenment”, whatever that is. Its hard to explain anything meaningfully when you believe that rationality itself is suspect.
Some view the whole universe as a kind of Divine mind. This is pantheism. The universe itself is a kind of “God” and everything in it is therefore in some sense “divine”. A lot of Hinduistic thinking falls into this category. Most of the various gods of hinduism therefore are just a part of the system, not in any sense the creators of the system.
So we see there are different options in metaphysics.
On Materialism and Naturalism
Naturalism is the idea that everything can be explained in terms of certain things which were always just there in one form or another, and operate according to certain fixed principles. In naturalistic systems, the Universe is considered to be a Closed System – nothing acts on it from outside of itself. Naturalistic philosophers refuse to acknowledge the possibility of a Creator. They don’t LIKE the idea of a Creator or beings that don’t follow the laws of physics because they feel it would undermine the whole scientific enterprise. This is understandable perhaps in the light of the foolish and primitive superstitions which have existed over the centuries of man’s recorded history, but just because the thought is understandable does not mean it truly holds as true. In fact, a careful examination of the history of science shows that it does not.
The hope of many scientists like Richard Dawkins is that they can “reduce” the study of complicated things like animals down to biology, then to biochemistry, chemistry and ultimately elementary particle physics, without recourse to belief in any kind of Designer or Creator. “Scientific” materialists hold that there is no spirit world, no God or gods and no “purpose” to any of the “apparent design” we see in nature. All such materialists are atheists. They believe that Darwinian evolution explains how progressively more complex forms come out of simple ones.
A lot of people today believe what these educators have told them. They simplistically believe claims that all serious scientists today are atheists or agnostics. They forget that mankind has a time honored tradition of telling LIES, and that scientists also are known to be part of the same mankind.
Perhaps the main attractiveness for many in the philosophy of naturalism is in believing that mankind is “autonomous” and can therefore pursue whatever else takes his fancy without needing to believe in or fear a mighty Creator or Judge who will one day call him or her to account. If that means he or she can live like a cat or some other sexually promiscuous animal without guilt or shame, that is seen as tremendously “liberating”.
Concerning this, the Bible says:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” (Romans 1:18,19)
Perhaps for some the attractiveness is in the idea that everything can be reduced in principle to something we can or will understand. The idea that we can one day “know it all” or work it all out certainly appeals to human pride. I remember thinking such thoughts as a science undergraduate student at the University of New South Wales many years ago. I was very disappointed when I found out that Godel (umlaut missing) had actually proved that in any sufficiently powerful formal system there are true propositions which CANNOT be proved by means of the axioms and rules of that formal system! Not even MATHEMATICS could be proven as consistent and reducible to simpler things, such as set theory or logic.
Whether it is the desire to indulge in sex, greed or pride that motivates it, “liking” a certain philosophy does not mean it corresponds to reality, the reality that One Day may come and BITE YOU BADLY WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT.
Does the Hypothesis of a Creator God have Predictive Power?
One of the tests of the scientific value of a hypothesis is whether it has power to predict certain things which are unknown at the time the hypothesis is put forward, and which can be confirmed or proven wrong by subsequent experimentation, observation or research.
One of the successes of Einstein’s theory was that it predicted the motion of certain planets more accurately than the Newtonian model. The experimental observations came after Einstein put forward his theory. If they had been different, they would have called into question the usefulness of Einstein’s theory. But instead, the observations confirmed the value of the theory. This is how good science works. It can make predictions which are later confirmed by observation.
The Bible begins as follows: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Now at the time Moses wrote this statement, no one had any theoretical scientific basis for knowing if the physical Universe had always existed, or whether it had a beginning. Genesis 1:1, if treated as a scientific hypothesis, could find support if there was solid theoretical and experimental data that supports the idea that there existed a time before which there was no physical universe here such as we know it. But if evidence was found that the Universe has pretty much always been there – that space, time, matter and energy have always existed pretty much as they do today, then Genesis 1:1 would seem to have little value as a scientific hypothesis.
It turns out that the red shift in the spectrum of light coming to us from the stars and Einstein’s theory of relativity show that the Universe has ever been expanding, and that there was a time, 15 to 17 billion years ago, in which all the Universe was in a tiny point of infinitessimal size. What existed before that time? Nothing that we can speak about with any solid theoretical scientific basis. It seems then, that the Bible is right on this point. There was a BEGINNING, and all the scientific evidence we see now is in support of this idea. The hypothesis is later confirmed by experimental data and the best theories in physics that we have at the present time.
This conclusion is so hard to escape that many cosmologists, astronomers and physicists have more or less been forced to concede that it looks likely that only a Pre Existent Power outside of the known Universe could have been at work to bring the present Universe into existence. The initial conditions appear to have been so precisely ENGINEERED that many of these physicists and cosmologists have come to believe in God. This is where the evidence has been leading for some time now.
It has been shown that if some of the constants of physics were even slightly different, conditions could never have come about which would have allowed for the possibility of anything like the lifeforms we have ever observed.
To get around the theistic conclusions that these pieces of evidence point towards, materialists are forced to speculate about all kinds of things that they can never see, nor hope to see. It is speculated that an infinite number of universes have come about and that because of this, it is not surprising that a Universe like ours exists in which life is possible. These scientists are not talking about anything they have seen or could hope to see. It is merely am unverifiable speculation, invented in the hope of justifying the atheistic position. As such these scientists are no longer doing science – they are doing metaphysics – philosophy. Since these people are asking us to believe in things for which there is no evidence, which cannot be seen but merely imagined, we have to ask whether it is not THEY who are the unscientific ones who are similar to those who may believe in hobgoblins, elves and fairies at the bottom of the garden.
I have to laugh at what I see as the feeble and fraudulent constructions made by biologists in support of the theory of Darwinian evolution. No amount of missing transitional forms can ever move a convinced Darwinist to reconsider his views. Darwinists have demonstrated that for them almost any common feature between two distinct species counts for evidence of evolution rather than evidence of design. They have demonstrated that they don’t need to see EVIDENCE that MICRO changes between species are the steps that make up the BIG CHANGES between things like reptiles and birds, to give one example. Presumably one day a reptile laid an egg, a lot of mutations happened at once in the genetic code, and out popped a reptile with wings! What is the evidence for this? It is that we have found fossils that suggest that indeed there were flying reptiles. But this doesn’t prove anything about how these flying reptiles came to be.
That flying reptile presumably went on to mate with another flying reptile similarly formed by random chance, and they kept on reproducing until everything from finches to eagles had been produced by blind unguided random accidents. I don’t buy it. I don’t NEED to buy it, because I am satisfied for other reasons that there is a God who not only has worked in the past, but also actively works in my life today and in the lives of multitudes of others who have given testimony of the facts. I don’t have an emotional need to deny the reality of a Creator and Judge, because I have already accepted what this God has done to save me from my own moral failures. I don’t have to fight against what has been revealed to my conscience and my understanding concerning God. That is why I also don’t have to believe that animals are possessed of seemingly magical powers to make multiple radical changes to their own DNA so as to produce new species just like that.
The number of serious problems that Darwinists face is almost without number.
Can any Darwinist explain how the complex specified information in the genetic code came to exist by random processes – in violation of modern information theory as proposed by Claude Shannon and others?
Can any Darwinist explain how self replicating machines called cells came into existence by means of unguided blind natural processes? None can, any more than they can explain how a computer could build itself out of the sand on the seashore. A living cell contains technology far more interesting than that of a Von Neumann computer in any case. Until now, with all our scientific skill and intelligent design, we have not been able to build a machine which is capable of building copies of itself! Such a machine, if constructed, would truly be a technological marvel. Yet living cells are such machines, and they are very very small. Not only can they build near copies of themselves, they can also combine with other cells in special ways in which to pass on certain but not all of their characteristics in new and interesting ways. It is really amazing actually. And if I had many lives myself, I would be happy to devote one of them to studying this fascinating subject in greater detail so as to understand more of the amazing mysteries which research may one day unveil.
It is not SCIENCE, but NATURALISM which conflicts with FAITH
There is no real conflict between SCIENCE and theism. Even today, perhaps 40% of professional scientists are theists of some kind. The conflict that exists is a conflict between the unnecessary and unproven PHILOSOPHY OF NATURALISM and the PHILOSOPHY OF THEISM or belief in God.
I contend that Darwinistic evolution is postulated by those who have a philosophic commitment to naturalism only because they have no other option – apart from the theory of panspermia. Unless you want to say that life always existed in some form or other from all eternity, Darwinism of some kind is the ONLY possible alternative to some kind of theistic or supernatural scenario. I contend that Darwinistic evolution is postulated NOT on the basis of evidence, but in spite of the evidence. Theistic scenarios are ruled out in advance by some philosophers of science because they are considered to be against the rules of science. Some feel that any tacit acknowledgement of a Creator would undermine the whole programme of science. It might undermine the program of NATURALISM, but theistic belief never stopped Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Faraday or Maxwell from making groundbreaking developments in science. These people and many like them today were and are theists.
By what authority do those who consider their own brains to be the freak products of chance claim to have rules for thinking which can in principle answer EVERY IMPORTANT QUESTION? Scientists would do well to embrace the humility required to acknowledge that there are important questions the answers to which are outside the scope of science.
I contend that what we see in nature and in ourselves as human beings unmistakably points to the existence of a Divine Creator and Personality who is Eternal, exists both in and outside of Time, and who created us for His own purposes. To quote Romans 1:19,20
“… what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse”
Further, I see in the nature of mankind the capacity for such things as love and hate, which are relational in nature. I believe that the only way that “Relationship” could exist now is because it eternally existed in the Creator itself. This I see as a logically compelling reason for belief in the Trinity. In the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there always was Relationship. And it is this Godhead which has revealed itself to us in the pages of the Bible. When you think about it, its hard to believe that it could really have been any other way.
I hope that these thoughts are helpful to some people. They may be helpful because we are called to love our God with all our MIND. We should not deny that we have the capacity to think, nor should we finally cease from thinking at all in our pursuit of spirituality. God wants us to enjoy Him from every angle.
Questions about options in ETHICS and EPISTOMOLOGY on this site will have to wait for another day. But for those who are interested, I’d like to recommend the book “He is there and He is not silent” by the Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer. I am sure you can find it on Amazon.com.