Tag: Philosophy

Alētheia, 2

I have said that “truth” is a person—namely, Jesus Christ. But there is more, I think, that can be said about this. Taking cues from Heidegger, I understand alētheia as denoting “disclosure.” The noun alētheia is actually the negated form of the verb lēthō, which means something along the lines of “to be hidden” or “to be outside one’s notice” (e.g., see Mk 7:24). But when “a-” is put in front of lēthō, the opposite is meant, namely, an un-hiddenness. If lēthō means “closure,” then a-lēthō (or simply, alētheia) means dis-closure. The word alētheia, or “truth,” then, means to take something that is veiled or hidden and un-veil or un-hide it. At its most fundamental level, “truth” is the uncovering of that which is covered, it is the revealing of that which is hidden. This is what truth is in everyday life. When a person “tells the truth,” they disclose reality. That is, they show what is, in fact, the case. Suppose, for example, that an archeologist comes upon an ancient, mysterious (but very beautiful) object. The scene is at first confusing, perhaps even perplexing. But after years of research, the archeologist discovers the truth—the truth about the object, who made it, where it came from, its significance, etc. When we say the archeologist “discovers the truth” about the object, what we really mean is that the archeologist un-veils the mystery; he/she reveals and un-covers the reality of the object (e.g., that it was crafted in the Bronze Age). “Truth,” therefore, is an un-veiling, an un-covering, and an un-hiding.

And this is the essence of the person of Christ. The one true God is revealed, unveiled, and disclosed in Christ. When Jesus says in Jn 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, the life,” it is in the context of showing the Father: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (v.7). Phillip begs to see the Father, and Jesus’ reply is telling, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Phillip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (vv.8-9). To know Jesus is to know God.

Moreover, Jesus is the picture “of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). As Gadamer has taught us, all pictures have the essence of presentation—i.e., they image-forth. This is their mode of being. He says, “A drama really exists only when it is played, and ultimately music must resound (T&M, 115).” I wonder if there is not a parallel here? Just as sound cannot be separated from the essence of music and just as performance cannot be separated from the essence of a drama, so also is Jesus the very real presentation and revelation of God to the world. Indeed, it is through Christ that the divine drama is being revealed, disclosed, and unveiled. Why? Because Jesus is Truth.

Quote: N.T. Wright on Words and their Meaning

“First, the meaning of a word (following Wittgenstein) I take to be its use in a context, or an implicit context; that is, its use of potential use in a sentence or potential sentence. If I say ‘book’, the meaning of this is in doubt until I form a sentence: ‘I am going to book the tickets’; ‘The book is on the desk’; ‘The criminal was brought to book.’ Even where a word is clearly univocal, we can never rule out possible metaphorical meanings, and in any case we only know the univocal meaning through experience of sentences in which it has become plain. Second, the meaning of a sentence is its place in a story or implicit story. ‘The book is on my desk’, spoken by my assistant, carries a different meaning (a) in an implicit story in which I have been searching my shelves in vain for a particular book, and (b) in an implicit story in which I had intended to hide the book before the next person enters the room. ‘Jesus was crucified’ carries different meanings in the story told by the centurion as he reported back to Pilate, in the story told by the disciples to one another the same evening, and in the story told by Paul in his mission preaching. Third, the meaning of a story is its place in a worldview. (This assumes, no doubt, several intermediate stages, in which lesser stories acquire meaning within larger ones, and so on.) As we have seen frequently, stories relate in a variety of ways to worldviews: the articulate them, legitimate them, support them, modify them, challenge them, subvert them, and even perhaps destroy them. The same story can have different meaning in relation to different worldviews.”

N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, vol. 1, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 115-116.

Logisch Denken: The Cosmos, Beginnings, Faith & Reason — Part 3

With the series that I have called “Logisch Denken,” I’ve tried to show that faith in God is reasonable. (Stated negatively, I’ve tried to show that faith in God is not unreasonable.) The common assumption among skeptics, and even among a certain number of evangelicals, is that “faith” and “reason” are not in any way compatible. Thus, what I have tried to show (and will conclude with this post) is that this is not the case—faith is not unreasonable, both reason and faith are compatible. 

I talked about causation in the last post. Here I want to examine one more aspect of how the universe came to exist. We determined previously that the universe—i.e., the the space-time universe—must have had a cause. We recall that to say otherwise would commit oneself to an infinite regress of sorts, and all things considered, this is not logically satisfying (at least in light of the alternative). We concluded that the theist’s idea that the universe was created by God is not, at least up until our last post, shown to be in the slightest bit irrational, for theist’s believe there was a cause for the universe to come into existence; they simply call this cause “God.” Since it is not unreasonable to believe in causation, the belief in God as the Cause, then, is compatible with reason.

Of course, just because the universe had a cause does not necessarily lead one to conclude theism, at least not initially. It could, after all, have been the case that the universe caused itself to come into existence. How does this idea stand in the face of logical scrutiny? There are, perhaps, several things that could be said here, but let’s look at just one area of critique below regarding the idea of self-causation.

If the universe was caused, it was either caused by itself or caused by an outside agent/force. If it was caused by itself, then the universe would be both its own effect and its own cause. But this means, it seems, that the universe would had to have existed before it existed in order to have caused itself to come into existence. But this is absurd, for how could something exist before it existed?[1] That violates a fundamental law of logic, namely, the law of non-contradiction. Therefore, the universe’s cause for its existence, by definition, must have come from something outside of the space-time universe. Logic lends to this idea. So does theism, which also states that the universe’s cause remains outside the space-time universe, namely a cause described as “God.” Theism is therefore seen to be both reasonable and unscathed.

Technically, I’m not trying to prove God’s existence with this argument. What I am trying to do here is somewhat less ambitious. My point is to simply show how belief in God, theism, is not unreasonable. After all, belief in causation is not absurd. Moreover, the attributes of God, as depicted in the tenets of classical theism, seem to be compatible with what logic demands of the universe’s cause—namely, a cause that is non-material, all-powerful, and timeless (not to mention all-knowing). This, again, is what theists call “God.”

Therefore, belief in God, while it may be a matter of faith, is still seen to be a matter of reason, for I have shown through a set of propositions that theism can be construed logically. In the end, however, I realize that the arguments that have been presented in these posts may not convince the atheist/agnostic that theism is true, and that’s quite okay. But out of all the things the atheist/agnostic will say by way of response, one of those things cannot be that belief in God is illogical or unreasonable. It turns out that theism is quite reasonable.

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[1] William Lane Craig brings this point up often.

“We Know in Part”: On the Limits (and Comforts) of our Way of Knowing

Human beings are knowers. That is, our mode of being—i.e., the manner in which we go about life—is that we come to know things. What things? Everything—things like people, objects, TV shows, the color of that dress, what this blog post is about, etc. But in order to know these things (and anything, really), we must interpret. No matter the person, everyone is engaged in interpretation. All of life is interpretive. For example, we are always interpreting other people (“What are they saying with that facial expression?”); we are always interpreting TV shows (“What was the ending of LOST all about?”); we are even at times interpreting the color of dresses (“Is that dress gold or blue?”); you are even interpreting this blog post (“What in the world is Matthew saying?”).

Thus, you are an interpreter. Your entire life is interpretive, and through interpretation, you come to know things. But what can you know? I believe that people can have confidence that they are able to arrive at truth about the real world. You can surely know, quite reasonably, things about other people (for example, their likes and dislikes; what makes them happy or sad). Moreover, you can know that the moon exists or that there is a computer (or smartphone) screen in front of you or that there is a chair in the middle of the room (if indeed there is one). 

But it is important to say one thing about our ability to know these things: We don’t know things completely and objectively; we don’t know things as they totally are.

Now, this might be confusing, but let me explain. Let’s suppose I have an object sitting in front of me, say, a big square box. Now, since I’m sitting on the couch across from this big square box, I wonder to myself, Can I see the box in its completeness? The answer, of course, is no: I cannot see the box in its entirety. That is, I cannot see it completely. The reason is because I am only looking at the part of the box facing me at the moment (and of course part of the sides of the box since it sits a bit diagonally across from me). But make no mistake, I cannot see it completely. Moreover, by not being able to see it completely (all of the sides, including the top and bottom at the same time), I also cannot see the box objectively (at least in the purest since of the word). That is, I can’t see the entire object, which I call “the box.” How come? Because I, as the viewing subject, am looking at the box from a certain angle, namely, from the west side of the room where I am sitting on the couch. Thus, I do not, strictly speaking, see the box objectively or completely. Echoing St. Paul, I know the box only in part (1 Cor 13:9).

A further illustration is in order. Suppose I’m standing on the northwest corner of Fifth and Main. Looking across the busy intersection, I witness two cars wreck into each other. I observe, as it were, two cars collide. But I only do so from a specific angle or vantage point, namely, the vantage point of the northwest corner of Fifth and Main. Did I see the wreck completely or objectively? No, for my encounter with the object (the wreck) was actually only partial and subjective. Make no mistake about it, though: Even though I could not see the object of my observation (i.e., the wreck) completely and objectively, it doesn’t follow that there never was an actual wreck or actual cars or actual people driving the cars. Thus, I don’t think I need to say the wreck’s happening was somehow contingent upon my observing it. (Relativism is not a necessary consequence of what I’m saying here.) At any rate, I can know there was a car wreck, just not from a God’s-eye point-of-view. Rather, I witness it from a human’s-eye point-of-view. Why? Because, well, I am a human.

I happen to think that all of interpretation is like this, for we all have angles from which we interpret, whether car wrecks or biblical texts. We each have an angled-view, or rather a worldview, from which we come to know things—all things, in fact. It’s nonsensical to suggest otherwise. But let’s suppose I do suggest otherwise. Suppose I say, “I can know the big box in the middle of the room completely and objectively. After all, I can get up off my couch and walk to the other side of the room and look thusly. If I do this for every possible angle (a tiring enterprise, I suspect), then I can see the entire box as it is—completely and objectively.”

In response to this, I concede that one could perhaps do this (given enough time and perseverance), and it would appear that as a result one could “know” something objectively and completely. However, on closer analysis I’m not so sure. For at the very moment you get off of the couch and observe the box from a decidedly different angle is to, at the same time, leave your previous point-of-view and substitute it for another. It is at this point where your view of the box is still a “point-of-view.” In fact, with each and every point-of-view, you are moving as it were through space (not to mention time) and viewing the object differently in each case. This does not do violence to the realism of the object, but it does necessitate a change in how you come to know the object and in your perception of it (perhaps you discover, for example, that the other side of the box is colored pink—thus, your horizons of knowledge about the box is enhanced and broadened. That is, you learn something new). Similarly, as you go for a walk in the park, you can only see (and hence observe, interpret, and know) that which is in front of you. Your viewpoint is always angled in this way. Even if you were to turn around and look behind you, your looking behind is, once more, angled. In short: You cannot ever know things fully and completely at the same time and same place; you cannot know things without a point of view. You are not God, after all. Your knowing is always provisional in this sense because you are a humble human.

Personally, I find this whole thing frustrating (finitude is never comfortable). But never mind that, for it is the reality of what it means to be a human—that is, a human being. And this, as a result, is part and parcel of what it means to be finite—not just in regard to mortality but also our knowability. Just as I cannot be in more than one place at one time, so also I cannot know something without knowing it from just one place in one moment of time. The German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, encouraged us to take our own historicality and finitude seriously; that is, according to him we ought to allow it to come to bear upon our knowing and understanding things. Thus, while we can know truth and the real world, we can only know it partially. This, I think, accords well with traditional religious conviction, especially of the Christian sort. If one were to insist to Paul that our knowability was infinite (i.e., “God-like”), I suspect he would respond to such a proposition with a mē genoito.

As a committed theist, not to mention a Christian, this approach is arguably the humble one, for it accounts, as I have said, for our own human finitude (a fairly important aspect of Christian doctrine). The Enlightenment encouraged us to pride ourselves on reason, with some strands of the movement going so far as to say that we can know things as they are (a strong positivism, we may call it). Ever since Descartes, we don’t like anything that whispers even a hint of uncertainty. But the Christian tradition arguably takes exception to such claims. A Christian epistemology, it seems, would imply a less proud approach to what, and how, humans know—namely, that what we know, and the way we know, is only in part. (Descartes rolls in his grave at such a suggestion, but let him roll.)

Moving on, this idea I have expounded on above has, I think, ramifications for Christian belief and praxis. Perhaps there are some pastoral implications as well. As a pastor, I find myself in constant engagement with hurting people—with death, interpersonal conflict, doubt, and questions about life and life’s difficulties. Like most pastors, I sincerely want to offer hope and help people. (Seldom, though, do I ever end the day thinking I’ve done a good job on this; there is always one more person I could have visited or called or counseled or prayed with; hurt is everywhere, at least since Eden’s gates slammed shut). That said, some of the hurts that people experience are, sadly, unanswerable. Unfortunately, there is no repository of theological-pastoral answers from which I can draw and hand them to my people for a quick and easy fix (hasten the day for when Eden’s gates fling open!) Moreover, for someone who hates overly-tried and obnoxiously-tired clichés and platitudes, I find myself using them even on myself. Unfortunately, pastors are not immune to suffering. I, often enough, go through times of hurt and pain, too. Such self-inflicted clichés take the form, more or less, of the following: “I’m not sure why there is evil and suffering in my world, but I know there is a reason.”

Ugh. Psychologically, I find such words unsatisfactory.

But I wonder if I should reconsider. I mean, even though this is psychologically unsatisfactory, could it not be philosophically reasonable? There’s nothing unreasonable, after all, about the idea that just because I do not know something completely and objectively (namely the answer to why there exists evil and suffering) that it follows there is no complete and objective answer to the question itself. Personally, again, I find my limits to what I can know frustrating; but I wonder if there is not, upon closer consideration, something comforting about these limits? Let me explain.

Just as I would not want to deny that there is a box in the middle of the room merely because I cannot see it completely and objectively, so also I do not want to deny that there is an answer to the question of evil and suffering just because I cannot, completely and objectively, know it. In some ways, I reckon it’s at least possible that precisely because I can’t discern a complete and objective answer to the question of evil and suffering, that such provisionality itself grounds the idea that there is indeed an objective and complete answer out there. In much the same way, I suspect it is not unreasonable to suggest that, precisely because I can observe a square box (however partially) from a particular angle is due to the corollary fact that there does, indeed, exist a whole object in the middle of the room. Likewise, my provisional understanding of how, and why, suffering exists is, perhaps, due to the fact that there is a larger answer somewhere out there. At the very least, I don’t think this idea is outside of the realm of possibilities.

We may question the color of the dress from person to person as to whether it is gold or blue, but it seems altogether unreasonable to question whether there is a dress at all. We know in part precisely because, perhaps, there is a whole. We may not know the whole thing, but it doesn’t follow that it isn’t known or at any rate knowable by Someone. It is not unreasonable, then, to trust in the One who knows things fully and completely—whether it be the real existence of dresses or the real existence of real answers to our own very real suffering.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

(1 Cor 13:12-13 ESV)

Logisch Denken: The Cosmos, Beginnings, Faith & Reason — Part 2

Continuing from my last post, I’m exploring the question, “Is it reasonable to believe in God?” Of course, behind this question is another: “Is faith and reason reconcilable?” I maintain that the answer to both questions is, quite simply, yes. My main goal with these posts is to show that it is not unreasonable to believe in God and that reason and faith can cohere.

I have shown in the last post that the universe had a beginning (or, at the very least, that it is reasonable to think it did). And if the universe did indeed have a beginning, then what caused the beginning? What caused the universe to jump into being? It is reasonable to suggest that events, such as beginnings, do indeed have causes (as philosophers like W. Craig say). In fact, I’m not sure that it is satisfying to say otherwise. After all, the claim that “The universe began to exist—i.e., came into being—from nothingness all without a cause” is really a leap of faith in its own right. Is it not, after all, the case that effects have causes?

It is true that the noted skeptic David Hume taught us that our beliefs about cause and effect are not as as air-tight as we might think. Thus, the proposition, “The universe had a cause,” is not inherent to the proposition,“The universe had a beginning,” such that if you have the latter, you must a priori affirm the former. It’s not like taking the proposition, “Sam is a bachelor” and then concluding a second proposition, namely, “Sam is unmarried.” That second proposition is true based upon the first proposition, for to be a “bachelor” is to be “unmarried.” In other words, the truth of the second proposition is inherent to the first. 

But that’s not how propositions about causation work, at least according to Hume. I’m no Hume scholar, but he essentially taught that a person believes in cause and effect based upon past experiences of how objects (such as billiard balls) interact when they come into contact with one another. That is, a person knows that when a ball rolls into another ball of less or equal weight, there will be an effect—namely, the effect that the second ball will be pushed forward. But this belief about cause and effect is not itself based upon a priori reason; it is, rather, based upon past experiences of how a person has seen objects interact. Thus, one might say that even the idea of cause and effect, too, is a leap of faith. 

But which “leap of faith” is more reasonable? Hume, despite his own skepticism, admitted that it would be “absurd” to do away with causal propositions. The question, therefore, still remains: Is it more reasonable to claim that an event, say, the beginning of the universe, had a cause for its beginning or to claim that it sprang from nothing without cause? Heeding Hume’s remark about absurdity, I think the answer would have to be in favor of causation. To me, it seems that the burden of proof is not upon those of us who claim the universe, as an event, must have had a cause, but rather upon those who would deny it. After all, it seems more reasonable to affirm the idea of causation.

But nevermind which is more reasonable. As a committed theist, I am saying something a bit less robust. In fact, all I want to do (keeping in the spirit of these posts) is to say, quite simply, that it is not unreasonable to believe the beginning of the universe did, indeed, have a cause. That is, there is absolutely nothing logically contradictory about that proposition at all. In fact, it seems quite reasonable to say such a thing, not least when we take in past experiences about cause and effect. That is, to say the universe had a cause is an instance of logical thinking (taking “logical” in the broad sense: that it is not unreasonable to trust my senses).

Is belief in God, therefore, irrational or otherwise unreasonable? No, not in the least. Theists (at least those within the traditional camps, i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all believe the universe had a beginning, and this beginning was caused. Therefore, up to this point, I have shown how, by thinking logically about the universe, traditional beliefs inherent to theism are quite reasonable. Faith and reason, at least up until this point, are not at odds.

But there still remains one more hurdle to my entire argument. Could it be the case that the universe never needed a Divine cause for its existence? Could it be that the universe caused itself to come into existence? 

We will tackle that in the next post.

 

 

Logisch Denken: The Cosmos, Beginnings, Faith & Reason — Part 1

I’m doing a series of posts under the title Logisch Denken (German, “think logically”). In a few paragraphs, I’m attempting to show that Reason and Faith are not, contrary to popular opinion, mutually exclusive. That is, I don’t think a person must choose between one or the other. In fact, what I hope to accomplish is to show, quite simply, that there are instances where reason can cohere with a faith commitment (i.e., that these two are not at odds). My last post kicked things off by attempting to do this very thing. There I tried to point out that the universe, having merely a contingent existence, required (by definition) some sort of necessary existence/being for it’s own being and existence. I ended the post by saying that a person (an atheist, say) should not be afraid to follow the argument even if it resulted in religious implications. To do otherwise is unwarranted dogmatism. In this post, I want to continue showing how logic and religious faith cohere, that they are not necessary enemies.

First, let’s examine once more the cosmos—that is, the whole of space-time. One must ask the following question: Did the universe have a beginning or is it beginningless? Either the universe had a beginning or it always existed (in some fashion). Which of these is most reasonable? Theists (believers) would say that the universe most definitely had a beginning, for it was created by God. It is important to point out, moreover, that this is similar to the position of most scientists, even non-theistic ones—namely, the idea that the universe had some sort of (however mysterious) “beginning.” This idea is called “Big Bang Cosmology.” The prevailing idea among scientists (both theistic and atheistic) is that the universe “sprung” from some point of singularity. Scientific data does seem to lend support for this hypothesis, e.g., Edwin Hubble’s discovery of how the universe seems to be expanding as shown in spectrum shifting, etc. The theist’s idea that the universe had a beginning lends to the prevailing scientific consensus that the universe began with, well, a “bang.” I’m not a physicist, but I do know a bit about some of the philosophical issues that pertain to this. And I think philosophy could help illuminate the question of beginnings further.

On this, let’s suppose the other position, namely, that the universe—the whole of space/matter and time—was infinite. Is this a reasonable idea? I don’t think so. I follow philosopher W. Craig on this one. That is, the idea of an eternal/infinite universe is not a reasonable position precisely because it results in odd mathematical paradoxes. Craig, if I remember right, once gave an example of the paradox. For instance, suppose a person, Sam, had an infinite amount of marbles. Moreover, Sam took the time to number all of them. Let’s further suppose that Sam gave all of the odd numbered marbles away to a friend named Katy while keeping the even ones for himself. In response to this, we ask an initial question, How many marbles does Sam have after he gave away the odd numbered ones? Well, he would have an infinite amount of (even numbered) marbles. Furthermore, how many marbles would Katy have? She, too, would have an infinite amount of (odd numbered) marbles. So the paradoxical question is this: How can half of an initial set of marbles be, at the same time, equal to the number of the original set? The idea seems self-contradictory, for how could half of a whole be, at the same time, equal to the whole? This is logically contradictory. But even more so (I’m unsure if Craig himself points out this following question), How could Sam even have taken the time to number the original set to begin with? He would never have finished the numbering process before he could have given away the odd numbered ones, for it would have taken him an infinite amount of time to count them. The point, it seems, is this: actual infinity does not exist in a space-time universe. The concept and idea does, yes. But actually, no. Thus, the universe—the set of space-time “stuff”—is not eternal or infinite. Or, at the very least, it’s not logical or in any case reasonable to believe it is.

There’s more to say about all this—e.g., what caused the Big Bang? Does the Big Bang need a “cause”? We will tackle those questions and similar ones in the next post. But suffice it to say presently: The theistic idea that the universe did, in fact, have a beginning is not an unreasonable idea. In fact, this idea itself is the general consensus of the scientific community and it is also philosophically much more satisfying, at least in the face of the alternative.

Is theism unreasonable? So far, absolutely not. It is, at least up to this point, entirely consistent with what most believe about cosmology, as we have said. But I’m prepared to go further than this. I will go so far as to say with other theists (Craig, Moreland, et al) that theism, as opposed to non-theism, is not only not unreasonable, but a worldview to be preferred since it is most reasonable. I will say more about this in the next post.

(The third installment in this series can be found here.)

Logisch Denken: On the Universe, Existence, & Religious Implications

Let’s think logically about the space-time universe and its existence, its being. The universe is contingent—that is, the universe doesn’t exist by necessity, and it could have been the case that the universe never existed. There’s nothing, in other words, necessary about the fact that the universe exists. Therefore, the universe has a contingent existence. One must wonder, then, what its existence is contingent upon? (One, by the way, cannot appeal to some other contingent being or thing as the reason for the universe’s existence, for even that other being or thing is itself contingent and as such requires its own reason for existing.) It seems one would need to eventually arrive at some necessary existence in order to explain the universe’s contingent existence. There simply doesn’t appear to be a way around this fact, as it seems to be the most reasonable thing to conclude.

To be sure, a Necessary Being would indeed provide an adequate answer, and it seems belief in a Necessary Being is where our reasoning would lead us. But why are some so hesitant to go there? Is it because this would be a “religious answer” and, if adopted, would only send us back to the dark ages, an old time when dogma, not reason, was the rule of the day? But is it not first, and most properly, a logical answer? 

Just because logical answers may lend to religious implications does not mean they should be avoided. To insist otherwise appears unreasonable and is nothing short of dogmatism (an odd position for non-religious skeptics to find themselves). At any rate, it is here where the believer is actually shown to be less dogmatic than the ardent skeptic; perhaps it’s simply more logical to be religious than dogmatic? All the same, to believe in a Necessary Being is not, most assuredly, contrary to reason. It actually seems to be quite reasonable—an instance of logical thinking.

(The second installment in this series can be found here.)

Gadamer on Being Prejudiced

hans-georg-gadamerHere’s a great article touching on the work of 20th century German philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer. I’m currently finishing up my PhD on Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, and it continues to be a wonderful experience. If you have any interest in the subject of hermeneutics (and even textual exegesis), you need to check out Gadamer, a premier philosopher if there ever was one. His magnum opus, Warheit und Methode, is game-changing. (You can get the English translation, Truth and Method, at our bookstore).

As the article suggests, the thrust behind Gadamer’s work was that he sought to do the unthinkable: undermine the Enlightenment’s most basic idea, namely, that a person can, by adopting a (scientific) methodological approach to knowledge, free themselves from all the restraints and chains of prejudice. (This word, prejudice, is a translation of the German Vorurteil, and it simply means to “pre-judge.” Originally, this word never connoted anything negative; today, however, the word has taken on new meaning, denoting a social vice of some sort—e.g., when a person speaks of one’s “sexist prejudices.” Originally, the word implied nothing of the sort; it simply meant to make a preliminary judgment, whether good or bad.)

All that to say, scientific methodology continues to be all the rage these days. It’s not uncommon to even hear philosophers (of all people, they should know better) talk about the benefit of becoming a critical thinker who can now “free his/herself from things like assumptions (particularly religious ones).” As a critical thinker, they say, one “doesn’t have to be held down by such things any longer.”

Like the article mentions, these sentiments come from the likes of Richard Dawkins, who isn’t a philosopher by trade, though who does remain a rather hawkish atheist who regularly speaks critically of religion but praises science and reason. Dawkins (and others) often talk about how science is the key to progress, whereas religion—being held down by prejudices and tradition—remains nothing more than a nagging vestigial organ of the bronze age.

But as Gadamer painstakingly shows in his Truth and Method, such ideas don’t hold much weight. We all have prejudices—whether religious or skeptical prejudice. And the scientist is no exception. It’s simply foolish to think otherwise.

Read more here.

Two things that prevent Christians from thinking well

Part of the reason I started Trinityhaus was because I wanted to encourage Christians to think deeply, clearly, and carefully. It’s been my conviction that modern Christianity–particularly within the evangelical tradition, of which I am part–has failed at this God-given task. I don’t call this a “God-given task” flippantly. Jesus himself says, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The word for “mind” is dianoia. It connotes the idea of using one’s intellect rightly, that is, reasoning well and the ability to reach truth by means of critical, logical, thinking.

My hope in life–as both a pastor and director at Trinityhaus–is to help Christians glorify God with their minds, spurning their relationship with God to go beyond just flutters of the heart. My calling is to provide believers with the resources they need in order to learn Scripture and engage other thinkers (whether Christian or non-Christian) in a critical way. By doing all this, my hope is that each learner will get closer to truth and therefore closer to God himself. (Truth, after all, always leads to God.) In short, I want Christians to learn how to think carefully, to reason well.

But what are some things that keep us from being careful thinkers? I’ve identified two items below: The first is a false belief, the second is a misguided attitude.

(1) We believe ignorance is a virtue and thinking is unbiblical. A Pastor once told me that the Bible never tells us to use our head; the point of the Bible, he urged, was to simply love and trust God. This is the classic problem with what is wrong with much of modern Christianity. Has God not called us to think, to use our minds at all? The truth is that he has. Even the slightest glance at our own religious writings tells us so much. Take the wisdom literature, Proverbs, for example. Here, an entire section of Scripture is devoted to urging God-followers to think wisely. The book of Job, too, is an invitation to encounter God while pondering the blessed reality of the good and the harsh reality of evil and suffering. In the New Testament, Paul likewise encourages his readers to engage his meticulous arguments in his letter to Rome, a task not for the faint of heart. The truth is that the Bible not only calls us to think, but it actually requires us to think if we are to engage it in a meaningful way (again, think of how Paul depends on the logic of his arguments. Jesus, by the way, is no exception; he can argue quite well, too). Therefore, ignorance is not a virtue; it’s actually a vice (Prov 18:2; 19:2). And thinking is not unbiblical; having knowledge and knowing how to use it is thoroughly biblical, a Christian virtue in fact (2 Peter 1:5).

Moreover, thinking is also essential to our being human. Central to the Judeo-Christian worldview is that God has endowed us with his image and likeness. This entails the gift of volition, of free agency. That is, we have the ability to make meaningful choices. And God expects us to make good choices, wise choices, choices that result in blessings and not curses. But such choices, by definition, assume deliberation. Every wise person will, before making a hard decision, engage in reasoned and diligent deliberation (Prov 14:15; 21:5). A person is to ponder their decisions well, carefully weighing in their mind the potential consequences of future choices. It’s a myth, therefore, that God has not called us to think. It’s clear that he has not only called us to think but to think well.

(2) We refuse to read widely. Another way Christians will fail to fulfill their call to think well is to refuse to consider the opinions of differing people. In evangelical circles, I’ve noticed something. Often, we evangelicals get “cliquish” in our beliefs and convictions. For example, we often find ourselves reading and listening only to those authors–pastors, theologians, philosophers–with whom we happen to always agree. It’s not at all bad to have favorite authors. Neither is it wrong to primarily associate yourself with a group of thinkers that you can easily and comfortably identify with. There’s no problem with being proud of, and comfortable within, your own respective ecclesiastic distinctives (most reformed believers find themselves in a reformed church, charismatics in a charismatic church, etc). The problem, though, is that all too often evangelical Christians never get outside their comfort zone. Rather, they remain content never to read, for example, another author that might challenge their own tertiary beliefs, even when these new ideas spring from the pen of a fellow believer in Christ. I think this is dangerous for a couple of reasons.

First, if you never read outside your tribe’s own wise men, then you may not fully appreciate your own tribe’s convictions. One of the reasons I enjoy reading other thinkers with whom I most definitely disagree is because it actually serves to strengthen and solidify my own convictions. By reading other authors, I come to realize that their counter viewpoint is fairly weak and how mine is actually to be preferred. I’m sure a fish appreciates the water most when it finds itself flopping on a dock.

Second, you may actually be wrong about your beliefs. It may be the case that your conviction or belief is actually the result of, say, a bad interpretation of Scripture. Perhaps you’ve always believed you were right about “________” but, in reality, you have been wrong the whole time because you didn’t have all the right facts. Or maybe you simply mis-arranged the facts such that the truth became distorted and you have been, despite your firm confidence to the contrary, wrong the entire time. To be sure, this describes all of us at some point in time. In fact, I’d venture to say that both you and I believe some falsehood right this very second. Unless we have come to believe we are infallible creatures (a claim I’m not willing to make), perhaps we have some more learning to do in the future?

But here is the deal: You will never come to find out you are wrong if you never read opposing opinions. What’s interesting is how many evangelicals (again, I include myself on this charge) are so quick to point out how “the opposing side is wrong,” yet actually never take the time to listen to the other side at all. This isn’t smart (Prov 18:13). Do we read other works from other sectors of the Christian world in order to be challenged and learn truth? We should: Semper Reformandathey say. Do we stop to listen to other viewpoints, even those that don’t come explicitly from Christians? We need to. Even the Church Fathers saw glimmers of truth in the Greek philosophers. So did St. Paul, who found an opportunity to quote a pagan philosopher and poet (Acts 17:28). I’m glad the Apostle read widely, outside his tribe. If we–modern Christians, not least those in the evangelical tradition–fail to do so ourselves, we will portray ourselves as poor thinkers. We will also continue to exist in ignorance in the presence of an unbelieving world, displaying an arrogant folly too self-infatuated to be cured. The truth is that our Faith urges its adherents to do the opposite: to think deeply, clearly, and carefully.

 

From personal experience, that’s why I’ve enjoyed being a research student. It’s been sanctifying. As a grad student, I’m actually required to engage with, and leave ample room for, other thinkers who would disagree with me. Uncomfortably, I’m constantly being challenged by opposing views. It has even been the case that, after spending time in study, I’ve had to change my own beliefs. I’ve had to admit that I was wrong. There is a certain level of humility involved when you are forced to confess that. Maybe even embarrassment. But at the end of the day, humility and confession have always been part of the Christian way. “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17). It’s good to be examined. We should admit more often that there really does exist areas of the ocean that we, like our proverbial fish above, have yet to explore. You don’t have to be doing a PhD to come to that realization. This is common sense stuff–truth that any sound, well-reasoned mind will reach on its own.

So, let’s not be mistaken: ignorance has never been a virtue, especially in traditional and apostolic Christianity. Let’s commit ourselves, then, to loving wisdom, seeking understanding, and reading widely. By doing so, we will become better and more careful thinkers, the very thing God has called us to be.

The Vision of Trinityhaus

Christianity has a long tradition of emphasizing the life of the mind as an act of worship to God (one recalls great theologians and thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Lewis). However, the unfortunate trend of the past century in many Christian circles has been to forget (or perhaps simply neglect) to carry on this great tradition. Our prayer at Trinityhaus is to reverse this trend by equipping and challenging the church—as well as skeptics and seekers—in such a way that they might consider renewing, not just their hearts, but also their minds to the glory of God.

Trinityhaus exists to provide the church with the resources it needs to be both an intelligent and gracious witness for the Christian Faith. In an era of increased skepticism and secularism, this task is necessary and important. Christians often feel ill-equipped to answer the fundamental questions about their faith, especially when they are posed by an increasingly suspicious culture. As a result, these questions tend to be answered unsatisfactorily or worse, unanswered altogether. Trinityhaus seeks to stand in the gap by training Christians how to make a reasonable defense for their faith and to come alongside the skeptic in a gracious way in order to help them on their own spiritual journey toward Christ.