What Did the Philosophers Know and When Did They Know it? Part 2

Stephen J. Drain's picture

Jesus told Pilate, “For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37).

Therefore see to it that the light in you is not darkness” – Jesus (Luke 11:35).

While skimming a book I’d previously read entitled “The Great Philosophers: From Socrates to Foucault”, a quick summary of influential philosophers, I was sometimes struck by the darkness and futility of their ideas. Yet I was open to seeing truths that might be found within the shadows so to speak. I gleaned what truthful ideas I could from Socrates and Plato, Rousseau and Hobbes, etc., and I peered into the darkness and madness of Nietzsche, a darkness and madness that some speculate, eventually killed him.

If your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).

But God has also said, “Let light shine out of the darkness” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

In my first column on this subject, I expressed my belief that the foundational understanding that God exists or, as I called it, “In the beginning, God” (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1). This understanding combined with some of the things ideas of the great philosophers helps us to see and even agree with the following:

·         Good is foundational, preceding even evil itself. Even evil finds its very life blood by leeching off of good.

·         Objective fixed standards are needed for definitions and for progress to occur.

·         Mankind tends to regress morally, no matter what other kinds of advances it makes. Mankind’s natural state is war.

·         A society in which “God is dead” DOES become a “will to power” society. Someone or some group will rise to the top, decide what is best for all, especially themselves, and will ensure compliance by threat of force.

·         The Golden Rule still remains foundational while “Do what you like, so long as you’re not hurting anyone else” is willfully ignorant of the myriad of ways actions might hurt others.

·         Any real truth should be consistent with all truth and Christianity is consistent with all truth.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5, NIV).

So let us look further into what some of the ideas of the philosophers:

In the godless utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, I read the idea that what is best is that which brings the greatest happiness to the greatest amount of people. This idea presents all sorts of problems. In such a system there will inevitably be those who will, of course, have to put aside their own happiness for the happiness of the whole. But why would anyone do that? (Unless following the example of Christ—Philippians 2:5-11). If this life is all there is, according to a great many of them, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” (see 1 Corinthians 15:32). Why deny oneself contentment, happiness, or pleasure in order that others may have it, if we all just die and disappear in the end? After all, as the modern adage says, “You only go ‘round once!”

And how can the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people even be determined? Even in the United States, the idea of “the pursuit of happiness” has become more and more subjective, pitting “happiness” factions against each, for it easy to see that some people’s happiness is diametrically opposed to the “happiness” of others! Who could define or decide “the greatest happiness to the greatest amount of people”? Who would be in charge of defining this? Would those making the decisions make sure that they were setting aside their own happiness for the greater good? (Oops, sorry, I used the word “good”. We would need an objective standard to determine this, would we not?) Human history and human nature seems to prove that those with the power to decide most often sacrifice the happiness of others for their own happiness. But, still, go ahead, try to define the word “happiness” without being subjective. And what of the ones who will have to sacrifice their happiness for the happiness of the others? What if they do not wish to do so? Will force be used?

It all comes rushing back now: Without God we will have no objective standard of “good,” none-the-less happiness. Societies will then have to revisit Nietzsche’s “will to power” and answer the question of “what will be done with those who do not want or resist having their own good and happiness sacrificed?” We return to Hobbes idea that mankind’s natural state is war. And we see that over and over again the so-called, wisest among us disagree. “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” We’ve gone full circle.

Without the existence of God, all this human philosophy is nothing more than navel gazing. Without the existence of the in-the-beginning-God we must ask Arthur Allen Leff’s question, “Says who?” when utilitarianism or any other “ism”, philosophy, or moral system is preached to us. In biblical Christianity, however, we find a Creator, designer of man, the One whom best knows how the human machine works, the One whom creates boundaries in order to protect us and others, while at the same time destroying other boundaries in order that we should flourish together.[1] Thus Jesus’ viewpoint is completely different than ours in many respects.[2]

As Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. has written,

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than a peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”[3]

So who is to decide on the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people? Who is to lay aside their own rights for the benefit of all? Answer:

Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11, NASB. Also read Isaiah 53:3-6).

For me, utilitarianism trumpets the name of Jesus Christ, as I believe that the greatest happiness for the most people is found in the restoration of Shalom, the kingdom of God and the restoration of all things because of Jesus Christ. He put aside His own happiness (so to speak) for the sake of others; the One for the many. Speaking of Himself, Jesus said, “For… the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV).

And so we find Leibniz answering the atheists who say things such as, “God cannot exist since such horrible tragedies take so many lives” and answering those who say, “The world would be such a better place if such and such had never occurred.” Leibniz counters them by questioning “whether human happiness was necessarily the right measure for assessing the goodness of the world”[4] (and therefore also the goodness of God). But it appears to me that he is only speaking of subjective human happiness because, as I’ve said, our Creator can truly know mankind’s truest happiness and that which will bring the utmost happiness to the most people. The Bible tells us that mankind’s truest happiness is living in right relation to God and his fellow man, in a perfect remade world for eternity one day.

Unending joy will crown them, happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and suffering will disappear” (Isaiah 35:10, read also Revelation chapter 21).

But certainly by now I will be accused of saying things that cannot be proven. But I ask, does it fit the realities of what we see around us, what we desire most deeply, etc.? If one presupposes that there is no such thing as God, the supernatural, or miraculous, that people cannot rise from the dead or have eternal life, then certainly they will discount all I say as being nothing more than wishful thinking, myth, or fairy-tale. But perhaps their disbelief in God, the supernatural, or miraculous, that people may one day stand before God and be judged for their actions and perhaps receive a bad verdict,[5] is their wishful thinking, myth, or fairy-tale.

They may discount our belief as faith and say that faith is opposite of reason and reality, but in many cases their worldview is the one that opposes reason and reality. (Ever heard the worldview that says “People are basically good”? Is that not a denial of the evidence? What of those who say, “There is no such thing as truth.” Are they telling us the truth? What about the worldview that says human beings have more than two sexes? Is that not a denial of scientific evidence? On and on it goes.) Their accusations are often smoke and mirrors because they do not want their worldviews put to the same tests of reason and/or coherence. Secondly, they pretend that their worldviews are based only on facts, not faith of any kind, but they are not being truthful.   

Aristotle had the idea that we all begin with assumptions in order to build our world of knowledge and understanding. This means that everyone (Christian, non-Christian, atheist, scientist, etc.), each alike, has something that might rightly be called “faith” underlying all they believe. Mine is “In the beginning, God” and everything is built upon that. If we are to know anything it begins with that.[6] The other side, however, pretends that they have no such assumptions. Again, untrue. (Ask Aristotle.) For instance, Carl Sagan said, “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” That is a statement of faith. It cannot be proven. It is not even scientific. Yet the statement appears to be foundational for him and many others. Others presuppose (assume, accept by faith) that the five senses or the scientific method is the foundation to all that can be known. But stop to think for just a moment… Can you prove to me that you think? By which of the five senses do you prove it? How does the scientific method prove your thoughts? And can the scientific method even prove that the scientific method is valid?

What of the scientist and the scientific method as a way to prove what is true, real, or factual? In Francis Bacon’s assessment, our senses, and by extension even the scientific method, are imperfect and fallible, “Discovering instances which support an hypothesis, even a very large number of instances, does not guarantee its truth. However, identifying falsehood amounts to a kind of certainty.”[7] So one can say, “Aha! We have found one case where such and such a theory has been proven wrong”; thus proving with certainty that a theory is wrong, but one cannot prove anything by the absence of information (argument from ignorance) or the absence of “proof.” Karl Popper exposed the same flaws in the scientific method which “consists [only] in the falsification of theories, not the inductive verification of them”.[8] Here we can read, “The empirical basis of objective science has thus nothing ‘absolute’ about it. Science does not rest upon solid bedrock. The bold structure of its theories rises, as it were above a swamp. It is like a building erected on piles. The piles are driven down from above into the swamp, but not down into any natural or ‘given’ base.”[9]

Rene Descartes looked for something else foundational, summed up in his famous “Cogito ergo sum” or “I am thinking; therefore I exist” which makes my friend Chris’ head explode due to the circular reasoning. Thus it also misses the mark.[10] Schopenhauer seemed to build on this with the idea that we can have knowledge of things without the use of the five senses (or the scientific method), since we have the knowledge of ourselves, from within our very selves.  (If we know that we think without five senses proof or scientific proof, do our thoughts not exist? Or do we all just have firsthand intuitive knowledge of some things?) There appears to be things we just know, inherently, despite John Locke’s theory that we are all blank slates (“tabula rasa”) when we come into this world. No, I think Romans 1 hints at the most basic thing we can know:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:18-22, NIV).

The foundational truth is this: “In the beginning God”  (Genesis 1:1).

Fundamental and foundational: God.

Think of the account of Moses and the burning bush, when Moses questioned who was talking to him:

Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:13-14, NIV).

I AM. The name of God.

Since we have firsthand internal evidence of our own existence, at the very least, and since we seem to know (We’d better know!) we are not self-existent, but contingent creatures and dependant, it then follows that we also know inherently that there is a Prime Mover (Aristotle), an Unmoved Mover (Aquinas), which brings me to Jean-Paul Sartre’s confusing ideas of “being for-itself” and “being in-itself.” Truthfully, I have absolutely no idea of what Sartre was talking about here, but it certainly reminded me of the One who IS Being-In-Himself:

I AM” (Exodus 3:14, see also John 8:58).

The Self-Existent One who simply IS.

Instead of Kant’s “categorical imperative”, we find God is the Categorical Indicative! We find the ultimate statement of fact upon which all other things are built, upon which (upon Whom) all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are built!

YHWH (“Yahweh”, “the LORD”, “Jehovah”):

I AM.

 

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).


_______________________

To read more of my columns go to http://blogs.bible.org/blog/26077



[1]
See places such as John chapter 4, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:26-29, etc.

[2] I suggest picking up the book “Searching for God Knows What” by Donald Miller.

[3]Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, a Breviary of Sin” by Cornelius Plantinga Jr., copyright 1995 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., page 10.

[4] “The Great Philosophers: From Socrates to Foucault”, copyright 2005 Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2006 Barnes & Noble Books, page 57.

[5] Read  John 5:28-29, John 3:18, Revelation 21:8, etc.

[6] Jeremiah 9:24, Proverbs 9:10, Ecclesiastes 12, etc.

[7] “The Great Philosophers: From Socrates to Foucault”, copyright 2005 Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2006 Barnes & Noble Books, page 35.

[8] Ibid, page 142.

[9] Ibid, page 143.

[10] It misses the mark due to the circular reasoning, not because it makes my friend Chris’ head explode.

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