Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Philosophy? Well...

Many times, we apologists hear things like “Philosophy just infuriates me. Every time I hear it, I roll my eyes. I deal in facts, and we have science to tell us what is real.” One would be surprised at how many times you might hear this from Christians, not just atheists! This is a major problem, and it is a problem of perception, not the intellect. The last thing I want to do is frustrate people. I think we philosophers tend to frustrate people because, intuitively, people know that we are justified in certain beliefs.

Here’s an example: my wife sometimes gets frustrated in philosophical conversations. She knows we are justified in making inductive inferences. And you know what? She does know that. But if she were to become frustrated, and say to me, (not that she does) “This whole thing is stupid! We’re obviously justified in believing that the sun will rise tomorrow, so who cares? Why would you say we aren’t?” What would my wife’s problem be? Is she being obstinate? No. Is she trying to be a jerk? No. Is she telling me philosophy is not important? Kind of. But what is she really doing? She’s really reacting to the idea that somehow we don’t have the knowledge we take ourselves to be having. But here’s the kicker: the philosophical problems we might bring up are not the further claim that we are not justified in holding certain beliefs. It’s the question to wonder how it is that we are justified. These are two very different things.

Why is that important? Because everyone is a philosopher. Everyone has a reason or reasoning process that they think is more or less the truth of the matter. When someone says, “I don’t do philosophy; I deal in facts,” they presumably believe some epistemological (way of knowing) claim like one ought to deal only in facts. If they don’t, it’s difficult to see if anything more than an autobiographical fact is being shared. But suppose even this is true; the person who says they don’t use philosophy is just informing you, and holds no opinion on the matter. Surely they expect to be telling someone else this information when they tell you, and not merely shouting to hallucinations or in their own minds. But if they believe that, whether consciously or unconsciously, then it seems they hold, as a presupposition, that the external world is real.

Now here’s where some of you might start to roll your eyes. “Oh here he goes again,” you’ll think. “Of course there is an external world.” Again, it must be stressed that’s not the point. I agree there is an external world, and I’m not trying to call it into question. The point is that one takes it as a truth of reason (presupposed) that the external world is real. Whether you think that is rational (as I do) or irrational (as very few do) is of no consequence: you are a philosopher. The only differences will be to what degree you are aware of your philosophy and then whether or not you’ll be a good or bad philosopher. You literally cannot think about any issue without engaging in some kind of reasoning or beliefs or presuppositions, whether explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious.

So which will you be? The Church needs good philosophers, good theologians, good Sunday school teachers, good preachers. We've had too many bad ones in the past.

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