Philosophy

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective: The Curse of Autonomy

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In this article on the roles of faith and reason I want to turn to examine some biblical passages which, I think, really help us to understand why reason must be driven by faith. The first of these comes from the Garden of Eden.

Autonomy: our default position in the use of reason

Although we do not have a protracted narrative of all that went on between the serpent and Eve, we do have everything necessary for us to learn what God wants us to learn. The culmination of the devil’s temptation of the woman was in the words, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5). Of course this was a lie. No one could know good and evil like God without being God. But the promise of “being like God” was what did it.

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Epistemological Foundations for a Biblical Theology, Part 2

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A biblical epistemology

The first epistemological statement in the Bible is actually made by the serpent in the Garden: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). Satan prescribes knowledge through contradicting God’s design for knowledge. The fact that Satan chose epistemology as an early battleground underscores the strategic significance of epistemology in God’s design.

In this context Satan challenges Eve to consider a different starting point than God had prescribed, and if she does, Satan promises, Eve will have a better outcome—that her knowledge will be more complete, even to the point of making her godlike. While the actions Satan prescribed did result in particular knowledge (Gen 3:22), it was a distortion of God’s design for knowledge and resulted in tragedy and not blessing. These events invite the reader to inquire as to God’s ideal for human knowledge, and the answer is provided especially in the writings of Solomon, to whom it was granted to be exceedingly wise (1 Kings 3:12).

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Epistemological Foundations for a Biblical Theology, Part 1

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It attempts to answer questions regarding the origin of human knowledge, and considers especially how we can know with certainty. Epistemological answers are basic and necessary building blocks of any philosophy, worldview, or belief system. In fact, of the four major components of philosophy and worldview (epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political thought), none can be adequately addressed until we answer the question of how we can know.

Regarding metaphysics, for example, we can’t make legitimate assertions about the character of God or the existence of the human soul until we first address how such assertions can be verified or falsified. Further, unless we have a means for validating ethical prescriptions as either worthy or unworthy, we have no warrant for choosing one prescription over another—especially when we encounter apparently competing or conflicting goods. And if we have no mechanism for authentication, then how can we even arrive at a definition of what is good in the first place? Finally, in socio-political thought, on what basis can we choose one system of government over another, or how can we determine whether a law is commendable? Without correct epistemological answers, there is no basis for our understanding or choosing one thing over another. In short, epistemology is really about authority, verifiability, truth, and certainty.

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Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective: A Case Study

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A Case Study: Harold Netland and the Demand for Neutrality

As we further consider whether reason should be categorized separately from faith as properly functioning independent of it, I cite the example of an article by Harold Netland entitled, “Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria.”1 In Netland’s 1991 article we see an able but, I believe, misguided critique of presuppositionalist John M. Frame’s epistemology as set forth in his book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. The overall burden of Netland’s complaint is clear, there must be some mutually shared neutral criteria that all people, whether Theist, Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Humanist, or whatever, can use to judge each other’s positions.2 It is the possibility of this neutral ground that Frame, in common with other biblical presuppositionalists (including the present writer) denies.

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A History of the Problem of Evil - Modern Philosophy, Part 2

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Hume (1711-1776)

Leading up to Hume, theodicy grew to be an increasingly central issue not only in theological discussion but also in philosophical inquiry—for some (such as Leibniz) it was a primary stimulus. Hume’s empiricism brought no less emphasis on the topic but did, however, generate dramatically disparate conclusions. Countering in particular the teleological concept, Hume attacks theism mercilessly. While epistemology may be his primary battleground, the problem of evil attracts much of his attention. It is notable that for Hume arriving at a theodicy was not his ambition, rather he sought to obliterate traditional notions of God. Having already countered to his own satisfaction a priori arguments for God’s existence, Hume attacks what he believes to be the last bastion of grounding for belief in God—the teleological idea.

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A History of the Problem of Evil - Modern Philosophy

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Calvin (1509-1564)

Calvin resolutely disregards human volition as a means of absolving God for evil’s existence, and thus rejects earlier mainstream theodicies. In Ockham, however, Calvin finds an agreeable response to the problem, and builds upon Ockham’s foundation—his conception of good. Calvin minces no words when describing the root of good:

The will of God is the supreme rule of righteousness, so that everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it. Therefore, when it is asked why the Lord did so, we must answer, Because he pleased. But if you proceed farther to ask why he pleased, you ask for something greater and more sublime than the will of God, and nothing such can be found.1

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A History of the Problem of Evil - Overview, part 2

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Within the various religious traditions there is broad agreement that evil exists and that it is a central theme in the comparative doctrines, yet justification for the existence of evil and magnitude of the paradox differs significantly from belief system to belief system. While each system gives at least some attention to the problem, it seems readily apparent that within the Christian tradition one will find the greatest consideration of and more numerous propositions for resolution of the problem. Perhaps the problem of evil is a central issue for the biblical system, since it is more precisely definitive of the character of God than it is in any other system.

Plato (428-348)

In Plato’s dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro, Socrates asks “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” The question reflects a dilemma related to the problem of evil. If the former is affirmed then the gods are governed by an absolute standard which would necessarily be superior to them by virtue of its governance. If the latter is affirmed then any absolute standard of piety (or goodness) must be dismissed. If the latter is affirmed then the gods (or God) could not accurately be described as absolutely good since there would be no absolute standard of good, but again if the former is affirmed then the gods (or God) could not be described as all powerful, since they (or He) would be governed by piety (or goodness).

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A History of the Problem of Evil - Overview

The seemingly unavoidable contradiction between the existence of a personal God and the reality of evil provides a crucial point of entry not only for (1) argument for and against the existence of God and (2) discussion of the nature and character of such a God; but also, as Neiman suggests, the problem of evil is itself an organizing principle for history of philosophy.1 Thus the theologian will not be the only interlocutor on the subject, but rather in fact the philosopher must also dedicate significant energies to understanding and ultimately dealing with the problem. Perhaps if Neiman is correct, the problem has even less to do with philosophy of religion than with philosophy itself, or then again, as I would suggest the problem of evil affords an example of the unbreakable bond between religion and philosophy and the resultant necessity of interdisciplinarity between the two.

Noting the significance, then, of the issue, this present discussion will (1) identify major theorists and their statements of the problem within context, and (2) give attention to various attempts at resolution also within a chronological context. I will neither offer critiques of these various attempts nor propose a theodicy (explanation or defense of why God permits evil), nor will I attempt to offer a comprehensive discussion of pertinent thinkers and their views. The focus here will be an introductory survey intended to provide a working and historically informed definition of the problem of evil from theological and philosophical vantage points.

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