Now, here’s a thing. Many Christians disdain Philosophy arguing that all the philosophy we need is in the scriptures, and we don’t need to worry about Aristotle, Renee Descartes, Bertrand Russell, Jena-Paul Sartre and the rest of that lot!
Well, yes and no. Scripture is certainly sufficient and does provide us with all the answers we need, if not always all the answers we would like! But, we do need to engage with the world and provide an account of our faith. Not always of course, Jesus spoke of casting pearls before swine (Matt 7.6) and Paul describe the wisdom of God as foolishness to men and vice versa in 1 Corinthians. He also says ‘Beware lest any man spoils you through philosophy.. “ – Colossians 2.v8). But Peter says “…always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”. (1 Peter 3.15). That means that some Christians at least need to be able to deal with worldly philosophers and address the topics, problems and solutions that they raise.
It is also important to realise that whilst philosophers may appear to have little impact upon our day-to-day lives their ideas and approaches underpin most of modern-day thinking and determine many of the thoughts and actions not only of our neighbours and those in the world, but of ourselves also. An example is helpful at this point. Jena-Paul Sartre (an others) developed and promoted the idea of existentialism. What is that? Well, philososopybasics.com describes it as:
“…a philosophy that emphasises individual existence, freedom and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning in life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe”
So individual thought and self-interest is valued above notions of morality, law, relationships and community – sound familiar? Not only is this perspective reflected in much of our modern entertainment (“a moody hero who lives by his own rules”) but we often see it in everyday life – dare I say in the actions of those people who bought excessive amounts of toilet rolls or deliberately congregated in groups having been asked to self-isolate. Generally, people thinking – “The rules (or the good of the community) does not apply to me”.
For many people naturalism is the order of the day. What matters is “matter” – the physical universe in which we live. So, for example on the issue of free will the argument is that there is no such thing as our thoughts and actions are determined first of all by biological developments as we are conceived and grow and then by our brains, which ultimately are a set of immutable chemical reactions (although subject to outside influences such as, nutrition, for example, which themselves follow on from other physical forces). It is interesting how some of the arguments generated by this resemble those between Arminians and Calvinists in the Christian church).
John Byl in his book the ‘The Divine Challenge” sets out a Christian viewpoint on the matter of philosophy. He starts off with a framework (developed elsewhere) that encompasses ‘Mind, Matter and Math”, arguing that the abstract world of maths exists outside of matter, as does that of the mind, and that the three relate to each other. (For example, a simple equation like 2+2=4 is clearly abstract and not matter, but without it very little science – the study of matter – makes sense). But without the Mind to make that connection, it matters little. Similarly, a thought (for example, “it is a nice day today’)might be generated by matter (activity in the brain), but it is not matter, but surely still exists!
Byl goes on to look how naturalism does not help to connect these three elements, but the scriptures and the Christian worldview do. So, to conclude, philosophy, and a Christian perspective on it is not for most of us, and that is fine. But we do need to be aware that however dull or impenetrable we find it, it does have a profound effect upon the world we live in, albeit a hidden one. God, in his wisdom does not provide us with the answers to every conceivable question – not least because he wants us to exercise our minds in seeking out the truth. But we need to be clear that the Scriptures provide a better and more coherent basis for understanding life, the universe and everything than philosophy alone ever could.