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A defense of Philosophy against arguments by some Evangelical Christians

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. Summer Midday.
"Utinam logica falsa tuam philosophiam totam suffodiant!"
(Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. Summer Midday. Source)

1) Introduction

I spend most of my days defending Jesus Christ against people who claim Science and Reason "prove" the Bible is a lie. So forgive me if I'm a bit awkward defending Science and Reason against incorrect arguments based on the Bible: I don't get much practice!

2) Some things I don't defend about Philosophy

Right from the start, in order to minimize misunderstandings with Evangelical Christians, I must list some things I absolutely don't want to defend:

2.1) The "wisdom" of the flesh. The word "wisdom" has many different meanings. One of them is very bad: "For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent'" [1Cor 1:18-19]. Of course, we don't want to defend that kind of "wisdom"!

2.2) Bad philosophers. A quick look at the History of Philosophy is enough to see just how many bad philosophers there have been (and still are!). Many of the worst diseases of our society can be traced back to corrupt philosophical theories.

2.3) Bad uses of philosophy. Even snippets of good philosophy can be put to bad use. As Saint Thomas says:

The study of philosophy is in itself lawful and commendable, on account of the truth which the philosophers acquired through God revealing it to them, as stated in [Rm 1:19]. Since, however, certain philosophers misuse the truth in order to assail the faith, the Apostle says [Col 2:8]: "Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men [...] and not according to Christ".
[Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 167, a. 1, ad 3].

3) Some of the things in the Bible I agree with

I've just listed a few things associated with Philosophy which are bad, and which I hate and don't want to defend. Now concerning the Bible, I agree with everything that is in it, if it is properly interpreted. Here is an non-exhaustive list of things in the Bible I agree with (the exhaustive list is in the CCC):

3.1) Jesus Christ is the Lord. [John 13:13; John 20:28; etc.].

3.2) Only Jesus Christ can save us. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." [1John 4:10] "To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" [2Cor 5:19], or again [Jn 10:1-10], and so on.

3.3) Baptism is necessary for salvation. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" [Jn 3:5].

3.4) God is Wisdom. One of the meanings of the word "wisdom" is one of the infinite perfections of God (along with Life, Justice, Truth, Love, etc.). "O Lord how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all" [Ps 104:24].

3.5) One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is Wisdom. "And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord" [Is 11:2]

Etc., etc.

4) What is "wisdom" of the flesh?

We sometimes call something "good" not in a strict sense, but in a loose sense. For example, if a thief trips over his own shoelaces, clobbers his head against the safe and while falling down triggers the alarm, the police will say: "That was one bad thief!". But if the thief is an expert, cracks the safe, and gets away without even tripping the alarm, the police will say: "That was a good thief". Of course the police doesn't think being a thief is a good thing! But if you use your talent to attain a goal, in a way you are "wise". If that goal is the only true goal of our lives (God), then you are wise strictly speaking. But if you use your reason to order everything in your life toward a bad goal, like accumulating money, having more sex, or gaining more power, you are "wise", but in the bad sense of the word.

And just as with regard to those things which are truly good, we find a highest cause, namely the sovereign good which is the last end [i.e. God], by knowing which, man is said to be truly wise, so too in evil things something is to be found to which all others are to be referred as to a last end, by knowing which, man is said to be "wise" unto evil doing, according to Jeremiah 4:22: 'They are wise to do evils but to do good they have no knowledge'. Now whoever turns away from his due end [i.e. God], must needs fix on some undue end, since every agent acts for an end. Wherefore, if he fixes his end in external earthly things, his "wisdom" is called earthly, if in the goods of the body, it is called sensual wisdom, if in some excellence, it is called devilish wisdom, because it imitates the devil's pride.
[Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 45, a. 1, ad 1].

Of course Saint Thomas Aquinas refers to [James 3:15]: "this wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish". When you are "wise" in such a perverse way, true wisdom seems like folly to you [1Cor 1:18-19].

5) What is Philosophy?

The "wisdom" I'm talking about here is not wisdom of the flesh, nor the Infinite Wisdom of God, nor the gift of Wisdom given to us by the Holy Spirit. The wisdom I'm talking about is the science that studies ultimate and final causes, using only natural reason. I could explain this all at length right here, but it takes about two thousand pages. In the meantime, you can consult a very brief introduction in: "The Philosopher's Glove".

6) Why is Philosophy fundamentally good?

Using the Book of Genesis, and our head, we can see that Philosophy is not bad, because Philosophy (when well done) is the product of the proper use of our reason, which God gave us. God is Good, and God created the Universe. God created man endowed with reason, heman and woman He created them. And He saw that it was good.

But men have sinned, and their sin has "screwed up" the universe. Among other things, man's reason has been affected by his sin. So is reason good? Yes, in a way. Is reason bad? Yes, in a way.

Men can use their reason to come up with bad arguments (also called "sophisms") to defend the indefensible (like racism, murder, theft, etc.). But if reason is used properly, if sin doesn't disrupt its operation, then reason can arrive at many truths.

For example, the reason can find out that 2+2 equals 4. And the reason is right. It has attained a small, but real truth. Reason can arrive at many more truths, since you are either reading this text on an incredible invention called a computer, or reading it on paper, after it was printed with a very complicated machine called a printer!

Saint Paul himself used products of reason to spread the Gospel, whether navigation technology to travel all over (what was then) the whole world, or paper-making technology to have his secretary write down his letters, etc. Without humble reason, we wouldn't even have the Bible, since we wouldn't have had paper or pencils!

Reason can also arrive at more complex truths, like the fact that God exists ("The invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" [Rm 1:20]). Please! This doesn't mean that reason can demonstrate that there are three Persons in God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)! Or that Christ died on a Cross for our sins, etc. Reason can know very few things about God, unaided by the Revelation, but still, well-used reason can know some very important things.

7) What are the relationships between Philosophy and the true Faith in Jesus Christ?

It might be a good idea to start with the relationship between Philosophy and false religions! See "100% of all religions are false ( 1%)".

What follows is a quick overview taken from Thonnard, 244:

Faith and Reason have independent domains. Anything known by intrinsic evidence (experience or demonstration) belongs to reason. Anything known by extrinsic evidence, i.e. knowledge based on divine Revelation, belongs to Faith. Something cannot be known both by Faith and Reason, based on their formal object (i.e. the special aspect considered, or the special "light" used to see it), but Faith and Reason can study the same material object (this doesn't mean that the object is made of matter! It's just a technical expression in Philosophy). For example, Theodicy, the third part of Metaphysics, itself the fourth part of Philosophy, studies God. But so does Theology, using the Bible. They have the same material object, but different formal objects, since Philosophy uses only the light of natural reason, whereas Theology uses Revelation.

That is the theory. In fact, because of original sin, man's reason has been obscured, and his will is wounded by concupiscence. So truths that are theoretically attainable by Philosophy (the fact we have a spiritual soul, that God exists, etc.) are practically not accessible to the majority of men. This is why the Revelation was necessary, even for things which we should be able to find out by ourselves (like the Ten Commandments). But this doesn't prevent Philosophy from developing herself in her own domain.

Faith and Reason cannot contradict each other. Both have the same origin: God who is the Unique Truth. Of course bad Science can apparently contradict the true Faith, and false religions can contradict good Science (And bad Science and false religions really make quite a racket!).

Reason has a triple role toward Faith:

7.1) Apologetics. Reason can help lead to Faith, by demonstrating "preambles to Faith", like God's existence and especially the possibility and the fact of Revelation (i.e. the "believability" of Revelation).

7.2) Theology. Reason cannot demonstrate Faith (since these mysteries can only be proved by Holy Scripture divinely guaranteed by miracles), or explain it, but it can powerfully help us better understand it.

7.3) Polemics. Reason helps defend the Faith by refuting all objections, either by showing the objections are simply false, or that Faith is not absurd.

8) Conclusion

Defending true Philosophy against some Evangelical Christians is a good way to bring them closer to Jesus Christ, while also bringing them closer to unbelievers who currently have only their reason!

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