Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on about some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll answer the question “What’s Philosophy Good For?” in under 700 words. Heh.
What’s philosophy? Its concepts, learning, and understanding of aspects of reality, ethics, (et. Al) without relying solely on observation AND it entails thinking so we can know if it makes sense. Now, this doesn’t mean that it has to be immediately obvious, but rather as in being logically coherent. But can this sort of thinking do any good without hard proofs found in the sciences or the revelatory propositions from the Word of God?
A scientist (and a theologian) might say “of course not; they have no real value outside of what’s really there and proven.” But then they fall into a trap. For in the field of sciences, thinking about things without observing how they are put together is one of the basic building blocks to understanding. You get rid of this process you might as well chuck most of science. Likewise in theology. God reveals a propositional truth in his recorded word but he rarely shows how those things are put together—that’s the job of your brain. Sure, there’s systematics of data involved, but you can’t really observe any of this in the real world: you employ philosophy to explain how it is put together.
Well, look at how Scripture speaks about God’s power. God has power, he can break mountains, create the cosmos and melt it away, and nothing (or anyone) can stand before him. Does this mean God can do the logically impossible like create square circles or married bachelors? Of course not, that makes no sense—it’s not a matter of power to do the logically impossible, says the good theologian. But you’re not going to find that idea in Scripture; you sift it by speculative means.
Likewise, Scripture speaks about God’s foreknowledge (Is 42:9) and pre-destination (1 Cor 2:7)—but how those are put together is completely a matter of philosophical considerations. Is it a matter of God fatalistically controlling everybody and everything? Is it a matter of God determining and time events transpiring? Is it a matter of God working conjunctively with creatures? Is it a matter of God determining which future comes to be based on free activity? Is it a matter of God determining to bring about what he saw would come about? Is it a matter of God deciding certain things but the rest is nebulous wiggly-wobbly timey-whimey stuff? Philosophy offers answers that connects these things and puts them forward as explanations.
Throughout theology we constantly and consistently employ philosophy: God’s sovereignty and the problem of evil? Freedom of the Will and the sovereignty of Christ? The Self-Revelation of God and His Silence? The Inerrancy of Scripture and the Freedom of the Writers? Philosophy, philosophy, philosophy, philosophy. Forget it when we start thinking about the evidential proofs for God (the teleological argument, the cosmological argument, the ontological argument, the moral argument, etc.). Philosophy is here to stay.
Does this all mean that philosophy is inerrant? Hades, no. It means it’s a (possible) explanation that ties things together underscoring how a particular belief isn’t incoherent. I guess we can go around and use the word “tension” to point out how Scripture reveals things, but when we’re explaining how it might work, philosophy comes to the fore and providing answers.
Yeah, Christians might not like that but then we have concepts, but as long as we don’t have a revelation that puts it all together for us (and we have God given brains), philosophy is here to stay.
So what is philosophy good for? Quite a lot!