August 21, 2015

Horse 1965 - Deceptive Philosophy

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
- Colossians 2:8

In broad terms the two parts of the Bible, that is the Old and New Testaments are built in the same fashion (at least in the order that they usually appear in western Bibles). The Old Testament is comprised of several books of history, a song book, three books of philosophical discourse and the rest is made up of prophecy. The New Testament is made up of five books of history, the letters themselves whilst they are pastoral and doctrinal in nature are still pieces of philosophical discourse and finally there is one book of prophecy.

I think that it is a mistake to suggest that the Bible is opposed to philosophy when so much of it is either blatantly made up of it or contains pointers to it. The word philosophy itself is made up of two Greek parts; being “Philos” which means “love of” and “Sophia” which means “wisdom”. Taken together philosophy means "a lover of wisdom" or “a friend of wisdom” and indeed any functional definition of philosophy must include an enquiry into the nature of knowledge itself. Philosophy as a pursuit, asks questions about the nature of being and how and if things can be known.
Nor do I think that asking questions of the why and how your set of knowledge is, is a bad things either. In the book of Acts, Luke writes that the people of Berea "were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true".  Going away and checking new information against what you already know or against a standard is surely a sound approach and the ability to question "why is it so?" must surely lie at the heart of any enquiry.

This is where I think that the scientist, the theist, the atheist and the philosopher all agree in principle. They might disagree with each other about the makeup of their worldview but I think that it's probably true for everyone that knowledge and wisdom is built up through the assessment and evaluation of all new pieces of information. Everyone suffers from confirmation bias to a degree and some pieces of information when thrown against an existing knowledge set, either bounce off and are rejected entirely, shift existing pieces of information about or shatter old pieces of information. The scientist, the theist, the atheist and the philosopher all engage in this process whether they're actively aware of it or not and I hold the view that the possessor of a human mind is perfectly entitled to hold any knowledge set they like because it is impossible not to acquire one.

The fool says in his heart,  “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
- Psalm 14:1

There will be some pieces of information within a knowledge set which are very very tightly bound in place; so much so that there will inevitably be a clash of opinion when possessors of two human minds with opposing sets of knowledge start throwing pieces of information at each other. It is reasonable to expect that for an atheist that the inverse "The fool says in his heart, ‘There is a God.’” will be their opinion stemming from their worldview. It is important to remember on both sides that the other person is entitled to their opinion, since a possessor of a human mind can occupy no other space.
The Bible itself starts with the assumption that there is a God. In English translations this is started in the first four words "In the beginning God..." and in the Hebrew this is even more economically rendered as just three. The assumption of whether there is or isn’t a god, stems from at least some a priori position. Even these two positions still require as least some presupposition; it depends what is deemed as acceptable evidence. The area of study that looks at what is and isn’t knowable is epistemology and it asks the question of how it’s possible that we really can know anything at all.

Paul’s discourse has to be taken in context. This comes within a passage talking about the Deity of Christ and the implications thereof. This would have been set against a prevailing climate of Greek thought in in particular the school of philosophy known as Stoicism.
The Stoics held that the goodness of an individual lies within the state of their soul itself; in the attaining and exercise of wisdom and self-control. Christians hold that there are no fundamentally “good” people; that people are inherently selfish and have rejected God and face punishment as a consequence. The biggest clashes of opinion would have been in whether or not a person could be “good” enough and the setting of Stoicism within a pantheistic worldview as opposed to the Christian’s triune God.
Both the Stoics and Christians would agree though that the possessor of a human mind holds an inner freedom against the world and that the world is fundamentally flawed and sinful.
Paul writes about philosophy with the qualifier “apaté” which means to  make a false impression, to deceive or cheat. The qualifier is a specific instruction to check for motives and to make an enquiry into the nature of knowledge itself. It isn’t a blanket instruction to throw out all of philosophy as worthless; nor should it be.  Philosophy in asking questions about ethics, logic, evidence, materialism, aesthetics, virtuousness is not only useful but we should be asking those sorts of questions anyway.

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