Philosophy and Ethics
Philosophy is defined as “a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology 2 a : pursuit of wisdom b : a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means c : an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs.” Webster’s Dictionary
So in Philosophy, we are trying to discover reality, and reality is truth. This matters for us if we’re attempting to develop a holistic approach to the way that we live, think, see, and act in our lives.
“True religion and true philosophy must ultimately arrive at the same principle.” (Webster).
His implication then would be that if we are seekers of truth, our philosophies about life and our religion should arrive at the same point and ultimate conclusions. This makes your thought-life and your actions maintain a linear line of integrity.
It’s not just that Philosophy is interesting to study, to discuss, and to hear about. Philosophy matters because even if we are unintentional about adhering to a philosophy or several, we all do it. We all maintain philosophies about life and various things. The Biblical perspective on understanding philosophy is essentially in the form of a warning which states that it is in fact possible to taken captive by deceptive philosophy. The idea is that there are philosophies that do not line up with scripture, and they need to be noticed, studied, and discerned up against the truth claims of the Bible if we believe that God’s word is truth. That means that accuracy matters.
That is by no means a warning to never learn about opposing or different philosophies. Quite to the contrary, actually, because there should be no fear of ‘different,’ or ‘other.’ That would be silly and also make us ignorant, rendering the stature of our faith less credible.
The idea is to be so in tune with the truths in the Bible that you are able to discern and differentiate between and amongst other opposing philosophies, because it is possible to take hold off philosophies that are not congruent with the Bible and live in light of them without realizing it. Ideas matter. Ideas shape how we respond to life and is what we put our time ad energy into tossing around in our minds. For this reason, wording is important, accuracy is important, and understanding the implication of an underlying philosophy will serve any person well in keeping the helm pointed straight ahead.
So what does deceptive philosophy look like? One good example could be something as simple as listening to Carl Sagan from the TV show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. If you went to public school, it is highly likely that you saw this at some point, so hopefully it would be obvious why his words would be a good example of a wide-spread philosophy.
Sagan said, “The cosmos is all there ever was, is, and will be to come.”
What does that mean to you? At first it feels pretty harmless, right? However what that actually implies and what he is saying then is that “there is no god.” Granted, I am aware that in public school religion is not the backdrop of scientific teaching for multiple reasons. But the thing to understand is that science has taken on a philosophical role that it never had in the past when it makes claims like this, and sends it out to each school aged child and labels it as truth.
There are even non-Christians who believe contrary to this notion, and would assert they have scientific data to back up an alternative claim to this. The point is that there are truth claims thrown out all the time, and if you’re somebody who is protective over your mind and the minds of your children, we need to pay attention. Even more so, we need to teach our children how to pay attention. This is not anti-science; it’s a call to maintain specialization and understand where the scholarly interpretation is absent or present. Scientists are not all philosophers, so the implications stated need specialized interpretation.
The example of Carl Sagan is an example of a kind of knowledge that we get bombarded with all of the time that uses assumptive language, where subtle or not so subtle messages are taken in and believed without conscious dialogue. We buy them without even realizing it. If you buy the statement, you buy the underlying philosophy as well.
It’s not simply that I’m a Christian and I disagree with this scientific claim. The point I am trying to make here is that what is pressed into our minds as subtleties plays a huge role in how we develop the rest of the way we think about life. So the assumptions had better be correct, or at least adequately thought out or else our thinking can be off track in any realm, religious or not. This is precisely why discernment is so big for any human being, but primarily for a follower of Jesus if you are after living a life centered in total comprehensive truth.
Other assumptive knowledge that gets thrown at us all the time are the images we get caught up in, the headlines, and the phrases we use by default as a culture etc. Some things get so deeply ingrained by mere frequency of hearing or seeing that it becomes real or true to us even if it is not. This is the phenomena speaks for itself in the example of the female obsession with body image. The ramifications of that philosophy misused are disastrous in the heart and mind of a woman to the point where (on the extreme side) women starve themselves to play a role they have seen all their lives and have unintentionally absorbed our cultures definition of beauty as truth. We have to think about what we think about.
If I haven’t made a case yet on how deeply philosophy matters, i’ll head back to the Sagan example. Carl Sagan goes on to say that “The cosmos are also within us, we are made from star stuff.” (Watch it if you don’t believe me). This sounds interesting, but it’s also a huge statement that attempts to explain a lot of heavy duty questions that most people ask at some point in their lives: “Who Am I, and where did I come from?”
His statement and plenty others like it have severe implications about what the meaning of life is and all of the other philosophical issues bound up in that. A philosophy that attempts to define everything that exists is really confining if it begins and ends in a small box that concludes that matter and energy are all that there is, was, and ever will be. Plus, our experience of life and reality always feels contrary to such a shallow explanation.
The Biblical truth claim is that God exists, and that He created ‘the box’ that is the universe we live in, and is active within the box itself. When you begin with a God who speaks and acts and cares, who comes to us, dies for us, helps us, it makes life seem like much more than the cosmos and a box. That matches up much more closely with the experience of life that we live, where we all can agree that there is so much that leaves us in awe because of the magnitude of the wonder that we experience.
What I like so much about the Biblical Worldview is that is has such a high regard for human life and humanity overall that you just do not find in other worldviews and philosophies. There is no other worldview that places such an enormous amount of dignity, honor, and emphasis on the human life than Christianity. It is also wonderfully comprehensive, and systematic based on the fundamental idea that God is real and that He has revealed himself to us in a) His Creation, and B) Through His revelation in His word (The Bible).
The quest of all philosophers is to answer the big questions, or the “Universals” of life. People seek it out because how do we make sense of the particulars unless you have the answers to the big questions such as “What is existence? What is reality? What does it mean to exist? If I do exist, why do I exist? Is there meaning to my existence? If I think I exist, where did that thought come from? Where did thinking come from? What is reason? What is logic? If I know something how do I know it is real? ”
From the Biblical perspective, if you’re cut off from the source of universal truth, you are unable to come to a satisfactory, all encompassing answer to all of the most difficult questions life. This reigns true where even the concept of evolution, all of science, and all of philosophy cannot come to complete, hard-wired agreeing terms that answer all of those questions complimentarily.
Rafael’s painting in the Vatican, “The School of Athens,” depicts the philosophical dilema. Plato is there in the painting, and he is all about ideals; Aristotle is all about the particulars. They’re in disagreement and unable to come up with the answers to suit all of the questions and they are deeply burdened by that, as evident in the painting. However they (like many) were both looking for the answers outside of “the box,” where there is no God.
DaVinci sought out mathematics to discover truth, right? He was the king of formulas. But he couldn’t answer the ultimate life questions in mathematics, so he eventually turned to science, and then art, and still couldn’t find it there in a satisfactory manner that he could vouch for because he was looking in the box. All magnificent men, all noteworthy and brilliant beyond comparison- yet all depressed and despondent (read up on their bio.’s if you get a chance Emery), and all failing in their quest for the holy grail of philosophy which is Universal Truth.
The benefit of the Biblical Worldview philosophy is that it offers all of the answers to the big questions so that we can understand the particulars. Without God, we shut ourselves off from His truth and we go off on our own ways and sometimes insane notions where even the brightest minds on the earth take their last breath still wondering the same questions they spent their entire life attempting to answer.
Post Modernism declares that there is no truth at all, but we cannot actually live in a world like that because opposite truths cannot be true. If life itself has no purpose then everything is just a game. That may be satisfactory for some, but what that leaves is such a low value placed on the human being and life in general. There’s a gap there between what we experience in reality versus that claim.
From this perspective, it makes it much easier to understand how people can operate selfishly without concern for others lives or their own, because if this life is all there is and it has no meaning, and YOLO (is that still a thing lol?), a shallow and self promoting existence makes perfect sense. Notions of right and wrong are thrown out because it’s relative in this view. That all sounds nice and politically correct until you’re the one on the brutal end of the wrongdoing while being told it was not wrong because for someone else, it was the right thing to do. This is how things like pedophilia get excused in New York for one example, and blamed on social institutions. Or how rape and murder get excused empathetically as if society are really the ones to blame, and how we excuse ourselves from moral responsibility to ourselves and each other.
If you begin with nothing but the cosmic cube in the box, how do you answer the question of what is right and wrong which one way or another effects every single one of us immensely.
Morality and ethics are not synonymous. Morality is about how we think people should behave at this time in life, or what we do. Ethics is what we ought to do.
So what is right and what is wrong? Is there a standard? Who make the rules? We don’t know how to answer this when God is rejected. If PostModernism is your philosophy for example, then might makes the rules. Whoever happens to be the most powerful. The ones who claim to know what is best for society, and who have the power to implement what is ‘best’ for society make the rules and dictate what is right and wrong. What about when the powerful people’s version of right and wrong drastically hurt other people? What about the minority? This is how and when you find oppression, classically as well as today.
For example, “good,” by definition in a culture is determined by what ‘is’ instead of what ought to be. That is why we can rationalize with and be obsessed with statistics and surveys to attempt to find out what people are doing in order to know the majority choices being made. If the majority do it we call it “good.” The ebb and flow however of fickle humanity is that our definitions of good come and go with each new fad.
I understand why a standard baseline notion of what we ought to do is not appealing to so many people because we don’t like walls or boundaries- or put better, we don’t like being told what to do or how to do it. However like any other thing, when a majority of humans all equally prone to their own whims and notions that suit their versions of good or right or wrong, you get a petrie dish of ideas of right and wrong that sink or swim with the waves of trend. Personally, I do not trust in a humanity that is like myself with the most important life altering answers and positions that affect all people. When I was 20, my version of right and wrong were quite different than now in my thirties because my experience of life has taught me what the ramifications are of my formerly acquired versions of “good.” My version of good actually really damaged my life.
The generation us would likely have notions about how wrong MY version of “good” is, and in the same way I differ in opinion about what this next generation calls ‘good,’ as well. So on and so forth. So who is, right? This is why I perfectly content with humbly accepting a compass for my life that existed before time, and who is active on my behalf and others in the world revealing Himself always. I am so well acquainted with my awful tendencies for self-righteousness, and pride that I wouldn’t even want to be in the position of deciding what is right and wrong for everyone on planet earth. I’m not qualified. Only the engineer of a particular design can tell us what the purpose is and how to use it best without causing damage.
If you do not share a Biblical Worldview, there are only so many other options to choose from in order to obtain a semi-satisfactory explanation for all of your most sensitive life questions. From there, there’s even less to choose from that when followed through to their end philosophically, actually maintain integrity when applied to every question and every facet of existence. What I mean by that is that there are only so many alternative philosophies that do not self-implode when the philosophy is drawn out to its conclusion measured against all variables at all times. Feel free to test this (I encourage you to), if you’re being honest and humble in your research and approach.
Since typically not one philosophy can actually satisfy an honest persons questions, we (on the whole) take bits and pieces from so many worldviews so that we have no allegiance to one, but are left with a jumbled, non-linear explanation for the world we live in. That works for some people who are too busy to recognize or care about the inconsistencies. That is all fine circumstantially I suppose as each philosophy may benefit a particular situation and particular questions. However if an honest discourse is to occur in your mind and you are a genuine seeker of real answers that are plain and can apply to your experience of reality in total, a comprehensive total package worldview is necessary. Not bits and pieces.
A personal worldview would be a set of individual truth claims that you have embraced so deeply that you believe they reflect what is actually real, and therefore they drive what you think, how you act, and what you feel. The issue of worldviews is not light- it’s about how we live in the world with others. Of course the easiest thing to do is to take the work out of it for yourself and just assume ideological philosophy that seems to suit your current self, thoughts, and attitudes about life. However I think that method will still leave us void of answers that actually satisfy the whole being and our entire experience of life and the world around us. The Bible specifically says “Do not be conformed to this world.” Human error is precisely why. This is why we need hard study of the content of the word of God, the engineer. When we apply ourselves to that, the truth claims of God take on a whole different scope and satisfying promise.
Romans 12:22 says to “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Renewing of your mind looks like fundamental transformation into the likeness of God, searching out what His mind and His heart are for His people and for His creation. I’m quite obviously a huge proponent of the Biblical Worldview, but I also lived many years outside of that worldview taking on all sorts of other philosophies inadvertently that shaped the way I lived to my detriment, and left me empty and still left the most important questions unanswered.
Marxism, Postmodernism, Secular Humanism, Islam, Pagan Mysticism, New Age, Naturalism, and any other religion of set of beliefs should be sifted through as if it is the most important job of your entire life because unless just wingin’ it in life satisfies your soul even to the moment of your death, the goal should be to answer your most important question of your whole life that effect yourself, your family, our environment and all of generations that come after us.
The most satisfying contentment i’ve ever experienced is here in this place, where my questions are met with piercing accuracy and holistic integrity. In the next few weeks and months i’ll be doing a breakdown of how each of these alternative worldviews ends up “shooting themselves in the foot.” I have truly some of the most incredible minds of our day helping me on this philosophical life journey of mine, and so for that reason am so pleased to share the wealth of insight they’ve shared with me. Emery and Daniel, I pray that you don’t ever simply ‘take my word for it.’ I pray that whatever you discover in your own study and in your own life that it matches what you experience in reality and matches your experience of creation itself. I love you both tremendously.