A forum for discussing matters of moment, from a curmudgeonly perspective. (The ideas posted here do not necessarily represent those of any organization with which I am a part). Rude and insulting remarks will not be published, but civil disagreement is welcome.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Darwinism's Commitment to Materialism
The contemporary Darwinian establishment is philosophically committed to naturalism (or materialism) as a worldview and modus operandi. This cannot be stated too strongly. The natural world is all that can be studied and must, by itself, provide all the answers to scientific questions. Darwinian naturalism takes two forms: metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism is the philosophical claim that only material states exist; there is nothing immaterial, spiritual, or supernatural. Methodological naturalism is the means of scientific inquiry, given the presupposition of metaphysical naturalism (namely, that what does not exist cannot be detected). This methodology can also be stated in supposedly agnostic fashion. A scientist claims that she is not ruling out God and the supernatural, but that science qua science should not attempt to study such things. Therefore, only natural explanations are allowable; only materialistic explanations are christened “scientific.”
While methodological naturalism appears modest and agnostic to the untutored, it is a ruse for metaphysical materialism. Methodological naturalism assumes that even if God or anything supernatural exists, this cannot be evident in the universe. It thereby issues a metaphysical veto against any empirical evidence for the immaterial—such as the soul, God, or the supernatural—regardless of the evidence that may be available. This is hardly a neutral strategy. If the mandate of science is to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and then to select the best hypothesis for any given field of study, methodological naturalism betrays science itself.The prevailing naturalism of biology is evident in this pronouncement by Richard Lewontin, an eminent biologist and defender of Darwinism.
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
As Philip Johnson has cogently argued in his pivotal book, Darwin on Trial (1991), if one is committed to naturalism a priori, something like Darwinism must be true, since naturalism disallows the existence of any intelligence behind the origin and development of life. Before this, but with less cultural impact, cultural critic Richard Weaver made the same essential claim, arguing that if naturalism is the only allowable worldview, then alternatives to Darwinism would not be considered. Even during Darwin’s day, George Mitvart, a distinguished professor of biology, claimed that Darwin presupposed naturalism in order to explain away any religious realities.
When Lewontin warns of “the Divine Foot in the door,” he means that anything but “absolute materialism” will undo science itself by allowing for haphazard divine interventions into the natural order that would subvert the regularities required for scientific observation and theorizing. That claim will be a taken up in the next chapter.
If empirical scientific study regarding the origins of life is separated from “absolute materialism,” the possibilities for explanation expand tremendously. This “wedge” strategy—i.e., introducing nonmaterialistic considerations into the investigation—is central in reopening the debate concerning the best explanation for the origins and development of life on earth. As Philip Johnson puts it, for naturalists, “In the beginning were the particles,” and the particles had to do all the creating. This stands opposed to the biblical claim that “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1).
Chesterton noted that the Christian need not be committed to a completely static creation, because natural development occurs in God’s world; but the materialist must not allow any element of design to creep into his theory: “The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle.”
 On methodological naturalism, see Cornelius Hunter, Darwin’s Proof (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books 2003), 147; William Dembski, The Design Inference (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 171-72; Alvin Plantinga, "Methodological Naturalism."Origins and Design18(1) (1996): 18-27;“Methodological Naturalism? Part 2: Philosophical Analysis” Origins & Design 18:2 (1997). We will return to a proper sense of science in the next chapter.
 Richard Lewontin, ‘Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review, January 9, 1997, 31.
 Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial, 2nd ed. (Downer Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
 Richard Weaver, Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of our Time (orig. pub, 1964; Bryn Mahr, PA: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1995), 139-140.
 See the discussion in Benjamin Wiker, The Darwin Myth (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2009), 124-130.
 Phillip Johnson explains this strategy in depth in The Wedge of Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
 Phillip Johnson, Reason in the Balance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), chapter five.
 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York, Image Books, 1908), chapter two.
Kenneth Samples in Without a Doubt (Baker, 2004) has aptly summarized ten ways in which Christian belief creates a hospitable environment for scientific inquiry. (I have modified them somewhat.)
1. The physical universe is an objective reality, which is ontologically distinct from the Creator (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1).
2. The laws of nature exhibit order, pattern, and regularity, since they are established by an orderly God (Psalm 19:1-4).
3. The laws of nature are uniform throughout the physical universe, since God created and providentially sustains them.
4. The physical universe is intelligible because God created us to know himself, ourselves, and the rest of creation. (Genesis 1-2; Proverbs 8).
5. The world is good, valuable, and worthy of careful study, because it was created for a purpose by a perfectly good God (Genesis 1). Humans, as the unique image bearers of God, were created to discern, discover, and develop the goodness of creation for the glory of God and human betterment through work. The creation mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) includes scientific activity.
6. Because the world is not divine and therefore not a proper object of worship, it can be an object of rational study and empirical observation.
7. Human beings possess the ability to discover the universe’s intelligibility, since we are made in God’s image and have been placed on earth to develop its intrinsic possibilities.
8. Because God did not reveal everything about nature, empirical investigation is necessary to discern the patterns God laid down in creation.
9. God encourages, even propels, science through his imperative to humans to take dominion over nature (Genesis 1:28).
10. The intellectual virtues essential to carrying out the scientific enterprise (studiousness, honesty, integrity, humility, and courage) are part of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:1-17).
While Christianity and science have had their scuffles, there is nothing inherent in the Christian worldview that is inimical to science rightly understood.
Please join us for the Grand Opening Fundraiser of our new "Eat What You Want, Pay What You Can" concept cafe on South Broadway. Cafe 180, and our supporting non-profit organization Appetites Unite, Inc., aim to serve delicious organic, local, seasonal food, to all people, regardless of income or ability to pay. When you eat at Cafe 180, you can feel good knowing that you are helping to eliminate hunger with a hand up, not a hand out.
Please come for drinks, appetizers, live music and to meet fellow Cafe 180 supporters! Teresa Roberts Logan (http:// laughingredhead.typepad.com), an acclaimed artist, will be hand painting the walls and a canvas or two for auction.
By Marjorie Dannenfelser president, Susan B. Anthony List
Two Susan B. Anthony scholars, Ann Gordon and Lynn Sherr, think they've struck at the heart of the pro-life argument: the Susan B. Anthony List's ignorance of who its namesake actually was. Citing a lack of documentation of the suffragists' stance on abortion, the authors concluded that Anthony was, "instead," pro-women's rights - in the Hillary Clinton-era sense of the term - or, at best, that abortion was nowhere on her radar.
The argument is unfounded on many levels, but foremost, on the credibility issue.
Susan B. Anthony was passionate and logical in her arguments against abortion. The Revolution was her brainchild, co-founded with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as a weekly women's rights newspaper that acted as the official voice of the National Woman Suffrage Association and in which appeared many of her writings alongside those of her like-minded colleagues. Most logical people would agree, then, that writings signed by "A" in a paper that Anthony funded and published were a reflection of her own opinions.
In one house editorial, signed "A", she wrote: "Guilty? Yes. No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who... drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!" [The Revolution, 4(1):4 July 8, 1869]
Further, as one becomes familiar with Anthony's compatriots and their thoughts on the issue, it is clear and consistent that these early women leaders did not believe abortion was a good thing for women.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton lamented, "When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." [Letter to Julia Ward Howe, October 16, 1873]
In Anthony's The Revolution, Stanton referred to abortion as "infanticide." [1(5):1, February 5, 1868]
Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate, told a newspaper of the day that "Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth." [Wheeling, West Virginia Evening Standard, November 17, 1875]
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician, recorded in her diary her thoughts about Madame Restell, an early New York abortionist. She said, "The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. That the honorable term 'female physician' should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women." 
All of this went on-record at a time when abortion wasn't even a hot political issue of the day. Even those doctors practicing abortion had to disguise what they advertised as a service to restore a woman's regular menstrual cycle. Abortion simply wasn't up for debate at a time when society itself was firmly against the practice.
So, while the Life cause isn't the issue that earned Susan B. Anthony her stripes in American history books, historians would be wrong to conclude that Anthony was agnostic on the issue of abortion.
Anthony understood that fighting for women included the rights of her unborn child.
Over time, "feminism" became the label adopted by activists preaching that women's rights and abortion rights were somehow one and the same. For years, too many feminists have told women facing a crisis pregnancy the only way to continue a successful life is to have an abortion.
But recently, there has been a shift back to the traditional roots of a Susan B. Anthony feminism that empowers women through their strength to give life even in the most difficult and unexpected circumstances. In recent Gallup polling, more and more women self-label themselves "pro-life" over "pro-choice." More and more pro-life women run for public office.
Many conservative commentators have hailed this "new feminism," the rising majority of women who reject the radical feminism of the 1960's and use traditionally "feminist" issues, such as abortion, to herald in a new era of women's rights. This new wave of excitement is poised to elect true pro-life women to Congress, and the Susan B. Anthony List is looking forward to November to usher in these leaders who understand that the rights of one are not built on the broken backs of another.
And, in case there's still lingering doubt about where Susan B. Anthony's convictions lie, her words to Frances Willard in 1889 speak for themselves: "Sweeter even than to have had the joy of children of my own has it been for me to help bring about a better state of things for mothers generally, so that their unborn little ones could not be willed away from them."
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide organization dedicated to advancing, mobilizing and representing pro-life women in the political process.
We Stand With the Victims of 9/11, We Oppose the Mosque at "Ground Zero," and We Urge You to Join Us in Opposition
To the Elected Officials of New York:
We the undersigned join with millions of Americans who are opposed to the founding of a mosque at the very site where Islamist jihadists destroyed the World Trade Center and took the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
We are opposed to the grotesque symbolism represented by the building of this mosque at "ground zero." We are especially appalled that those pushing for this mosque have designated its grand opening date for September 11, 2011 – the ten year anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
We are deeply disturbed by the insensitivity to the families of the victims of the 9/11 jihadist attack exhibited by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his supporters. We find it grossly hypocritical that Islamists and their allies repeatedly lecture Americans about the need to be "sensitive" to Muslims while Imam Rauf and his allies practice the height of intolerance and insensitivity through the blatant act of building a mosque at "ground zero."
We are offended by the views Imam Rauf has expressed about 9/11, such as his conspiratorial theory that Muslims did not perpetrate the 9/11 attack and that America's policies were partly to blame for the attack. Such views are a slap in the face of the victims and families of 9/11.
We find it repulsive that Imam Rauf and his followers and supporters would seek to build a mosque near ground zero promoting the same Sharia ideology that the 9/11 hijackers used as the justification for their act of unconscionable murder.
Therefore, in deference to the families of the 9/11 victims and their memory, we call upon the elected officials of New York to oppose the building of this mosque near ground zero and for them to urge Feisal Abdul Rauf and his followers to find another location for it.
[Having heard Os Guinness give two presentations yesterday, I am stirred to re-post my review of his excellent book, The Case for Civility. The review was first published in The Denver Post in 2008.]
Os Guinness, The Case For Civility: And Why Out Future Depends on it. HarperOne, 2008. $23.95. 214 pages with index. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis, Professor of Philosophy, Denver Seminary.
Os Guinness is an Englishman born in China, who has lived in the United States for over twenty years. His many previous books have established him as an astute sociologist and social critic, who is deeply concerned about what has been called “the American experiment.” But this noble experiment is, he believes, now endangered by a rancorous lack of civility in the public square. The 2008 political campaigns give us countless examples of such bombastic infractions, but the deeper problem lies in the national character of the last several decades. Guinness claims that unless America develops a more respectful and thoughtful mode of public conversation it may lose its privileged status. Unless this country becomes more peaceable in debate, it will become less respectable before the eyes and ears of the world.
Guinness offers a wise and compelling vision for civilizing the American public square, one which moves beyond the shouting matches of the culture wars. Quoting President John F. Kennedy, he envisions a “world safe for diversity.” But unlike multiculturalists, Guinness neither vilifies the unique heritage of America nor opts for ethical relativism. He rather appeals to the principles of the American founding, most notably those enshrined in The First Amendment. The five freedoms found there enact a covenant of good will between dissenting parties. This demands the discipline of respecting the rights of those with whom one disagrees, but it by no means excludes the pursuit of objective truth as the goal of such disputes. Unlike tolerance, civility, on the contrary, requires knowledge and courage. Guinness argues that civility is a higher virtue than mere tolerance, which easily devolves into apathy and indifference. Civility is not the fruit of relativism, which despairs of objective moral knowledge. Guinness writes, “Truth and tough-minded debates about truth are the oxygen of a free society.”
While writing as a Christian, Guinness charts a course for "a civil public square," in which citizens of any religion or no religion are allowed and encouraged to let their voices be known and to respect the voice of others. Guinness argues against two popular views of public life: "the sacred public square" and "the naked public square." The sacred public square allows but one religion, which dominates and excludes other dissenting voices, religious or otherwise. Such theocratic arrangements are both un-American and unjust, since conscience must be respected. Yet Guinness equally rejects the naked public square (a term coined by Richard John Neuhaus in 1984), in which religious citizens are not allowed to bring their deepest convictions into civil life. This, too, is un-American, since what the First Amendment disallows is a church established by the state, not a state informed by the religious convictions of its citizens.
Guinness is no partisan politically. He has strong words against the both the Christian Right and the New Atheism of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others. These acerbic unbelievers are free to disagree with religious claims, he writes, but their scorched-earth approach to all religion as irrational and unworthy of political representation makes them deeply uncivil. Religious conservatives, on the other hand, have failed to convincingly articulate a vision of the common good, have too often played “the victim card,” have been too narrowly partisan, and have often descended into apocalyptic rhetoric that ill-befits the public square. A civil public square demands better behavior from both—and all other—groups.
Readers of Guinness's previous and much larger work, The American Hour (1992), will find echoes of it in The Case for Civility; but the latter is far more than a digest of the former. It is, rather, a timely and clarion call to principled pluralism tied to the essence of the American experiment. We ignore its message to our own shame and detriment.
Chapter One of "On Jesus" by Doug Groothuis, pubished by Wadsworth, 2003
Was Jesus a Philosopher?
This question was posed by the moderator at an early Republican presidential debate in 1999: “Who is your favorite political philosopher?” George W. Bush surprised, if not stunned, his fellow candidates, moderator, and audience when he tersely declared, “Jesus Christ, because he changed my life.”
At the philosophical level, we might say candidate Bush dropped the ball. He gave a religious or devotional justification for his choice of Jesus as favorite philosopher instead of stipulating just what it was about Jesus as a philosopher that he valued above other philosophers.
The responses to Bush’s one-liner ranged all over the political map. Was his response just shameless, pious posturing? Or was it a sincere and disarmingly modest confession—or just inappropriate in that setting however sincere it may have been? In any event, Bush’s clipped but controversial response raises a deeper question largely if not entirely avoided in the popular press: Was Jesus—whatever else he may have been—abona fide philosopher? If the answer is Yes, several other engaging sorts of questions emerge: What kind of philosopher was he? What did he believe and why? How does his philosophy relate to that of other philosophers? Does his philosophizing have anything to contribute to contemporary philosophical debates? Further, just what is a philosopher anyway?
Jesus and the Philosophers
Jesus remains a potent symbol for influencing opinion, political or otherwise. Some teenagers wear bracelets with the initials WWJD, which stands for “What would Jesus do?” This reveals that they regard him as a moral exemplar, the ideal ethical agent, who should be emulated because of his character and insight. The same perspective is expressed in the classic medieval text on spiritual devotion, The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis.
Some today claim to know Jesus’ essential philosophy and use it for marshalling mass opinion. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched a campaign in 2000 claiming that Jesus was a vegetarian. One of their advertisements features an iconic depiction of Jesus surrounded not by a nimbus, but by an orange slice. It reads: “Be merciful. Go vegetarian.” Claiming that an ancient Jew who celebrated Passover was a vegetarian is highly implausible. Nevertheless, the campaign shows the importance people place on Jesus’ outlook.
No one can sanely question the global, historical, and perennial influence of Jesus of Nazareth in every area of human endeavor.In a work limited to Jesus’ influence in Western culture, the esteemed historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote:
Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?
In the last several decades the most explosive growth of Christian belief has occurred not in the West, but in the developing world. Moreover, Jesus’ influence has never been confined to the West. He was, to steal a term from Hegel, a “world-historical” figure, whose life continues to radiate and resonate worldwide.
But none of this directly answers the question before us: Was Jesus a philosopher? Most reference books in philosophy apparently think that Jesus was not a philosopher, given the lack of references to him. For example, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1967), long a standard reference work, has no entry under “Jesus” or “Christ.” The newer and well-respected Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998) has no entry for “Jesus” or “Christ,” but includes one on “Buddha.” Even the recent resurgence in Christian philosophy, evidenced by the size and influence of the Society of Christian Philosophers, seems to have done little to counter these conspicuous omissions. Karl Jaspers includes Jesus (along with Socrates, Buddha and Confucius) in the first slim volume of The Great Philosophers (1957), but this is rare. As we will see, Jaspers did not esteem Jesus as a philosopher in the classical sense.
Jesus certainly influenced philosophers and thinkers of all kinds (Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Pascal, Kierkegaard, etc.), and countless thinkers have philosophized about him (how could he be both divine and human?) but this, in itself, does not make Jesus a philosopher. The philosopher Augustine was very influenced by his pious mother Monica, but that does not make her a philosopher.
One’s religious commitments do not necessarily answer this question a priori. One may worship Jesus as God Incarnate yet be puzzled or even offended at the notion that he was a philosopher. “Isn’t philosophy something the Apostle Paul warned against?” one might object, based on a certain reading of the second chapter of Colossians (verse eight), which warns of “hollow and deceptive philosophy.”
But even those with no fear of philosophy per se may demur at defining Jesus as a philosopher. In a move unlike virtually all other recent histories of philosophy, the Protestant philosopher Gordon Clark devotes several pages to Jesus’ thought in his once-popular history of philosophy, Thales to Dewey (1957). Clark denies that Jesus was “a naïve, nontheological teacher of simple morality,”as some have affirmed.But Clark asserts that although Jesus had a developed monotheistic theology, his importance lies not in what he taught, but in what he did—particularly his death—and in his claim to be God incarnate. For Clark, Jesus as a teacher (or philosopher) takes a back seat to Jesus as crucified and risen savior. Clark seems worried that if one emphasizes the teaching of Jesus this might demote him to a mere moralist, stripping him of his supernatural credentials.
Conversely, contemporary Christian philosopher Dallas Willard insists that Jesus was the most intelligent person who ever lived. He laments that so many fail to take note of this and instead view Jesus as “a mere icon, a wraithlike semblance of a man, fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or alienated social critic, perhaps, but little more.” For Willard, a religious commitment to Jesus entails a certain view of his intellectual abilities: “‘Jesus is Lord’ can mean little in practice for anyone who has to hesitate before saying, ‘Jesus is smart.’ He is not just nice, he is brilliant.” Willard certainly does not shy away from deeming Jesus a philosopher.
It seems that the presence or absence of Christian faith does not automatically answer the question of whether Jesus was a philosopher. We must delve deeper into the matter by attending to Jesus’ statements in the Gospels.
Jews, Greeks, and Philosophers
Some have excluded Jesus from the ranks of the philosophers simply because he happened to be an ancient Jew, and not a Greek. Historian Humphrey Carpenter entitles a section of his short book on Jesus, “Jew, Not Philosopher.” His assessment trades on the well-worn notion that Jews never developed philosophy because they, unlike the venerable Greeks, were too theological, and, therefore, not speculative. Reason was not their tool of enlightenment. Jews were called to believe and obey a higher authority, which they rarely questioned and never investigated in any truly philosophical fashion.
Carpenter asks if Jesus’ teachings would appear remarkable when contrasted with those of Plato and Aristotle. His answer is that “such a comparison is meaningless.” This conclusion was not reached because of their different ideas about humanity and the good life, but because of their different approach to knowledge. Plato and Aristotle constructed “elaborate philosophical models of man and the world, from which they deduced ethical conclusions.” But Jesus supposedly lacked such a system. His modus operandi was “inspirational,” not discursive or systematic. Jesus was unsystematic to the point that he had “no concern with consistency in his teaching.” Although Carpenter allows that philosophers may glean insights from Jesus, “Jesus himself…was no philosopher; his mind was characteristically Jewish.”
Carpenter’s position is puzzling. First, he seems to identify philosophy per se with the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. While these giants are paradigmatic philosophers, a thinker need not resemble them in every way to be a philosopher. Nietzsche, for instance, is deemed a philosopher by nearly everyone; yet he was not systematic and took pride in that fact. Moreover, he often wrote in parables, stories and aphorisms—methods used by Jesus himself.
Carpenter’s criteria for being a philosopher would appear to shut out Socrates, a character vital to the philosophy of Plato and all subsequent philosophy. Socrates built no system but engaged in protracted dialectic with a host of interlocutors. He was a gadfly and a midwife, not a builder of an intellectual edifice. Worse yet, like Jesus, he wrote nothing. What we know of him is preserved in other’s writings, principally Plato’s. This is another parallel to Jesus, whose words are recorded by others in the Gospels. Moreover, Socrates himself operated in the “inspirational” mode when seized by his “daimonion,” an unphilosophical thing to do, according to Carpenter.
Interestingly, in his discussion of Jesus’ approach to the Jewish Law, Carpenter notes that Jesus did not endorse blind obedience to the Law, “but the kind of reasoning obedience which considers why God has given some particular commandment to men.” Carpenter further maintains that if Jesus thought in terms of conscience, “he would presumably have regarded it as the will of God expressing itself clearly in human reason.” Jesus, according to Carpenter, uses reason in his understanding of God, the Law, and the proper human response to God—yet he is somehow not a philosopher because he was non-rational and unsystematic. This looks inconsistent.
What is a Philosopher?
These reflections show that we cannot proceed further in answering our question, “Was Jesus a philosopher?” without thinking more clearly about the term “philosopher.” What qualifies someone as a philosopher? We can certainly point to uncontroversial specimens, such as Plato and Aristotle. This is an ostensive definition: we pick out a referent that fits the category. But what of harder cases, such as Jesus? Of course, philosophers philosophize, but not everyone who philosophizes is a philosopher, just as not everyone who works on an automobile is a mechanic. We think of most philosophers as intelligent, but not all the intelligent are philosophers. Many individuals’ intelligence may not be invested primarily in philosophy. Neither can we limit the philosophers to those who are formal academics, those who hold professorships in philosophy. Some philosophers, such as Hume, Spinoza, and Pascal, have lacked institutional affiliation, but not philosophical credentials.
Rather than chase down further definitional dead ends, I propose that the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a philosopher (whether good or bad, major or minor, employed or unemployed) are a strong and lived-out inclination to pursue truth about philosophical matters through the rigorous use of human reasoning, and to do so with some intellectual facility. The last proviso is added to rule out those who may fancy themselves philosophers but cannot philosophize well enough to merit the title. Even a bad philosopher must be able to philosophize in some recognizable sense. By “philosophical matters” I mean the enduring questions of life’s meaning, purpose, and value as they relate to all the major divisions of philosophy (primarily epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics).
What makes a question philosophical may be highlighted by the following: To explain the physical basis of vision is not, in itself, a philosophical matter, but a scientific one regarding physics and physiology. But to ask whether vision allows us to know the external world as it is in itself is a philosophical question regarding realism and nonrealism. Likewise, to ask whether a personal agent may be immaterial (such as God or an angel) is a philosophical question.
Yet one may speak to life’s meaning, purpose, and value in a nonphilosophical manner—by merely issuing assertions or by simply declaring divine judgments with no further discussion. A philosophical approach to these matters, on the contrary, explores the logic or rationale of various claims about reality; it sniffs out intellectual presuppositions and implications; it ponders possibilities and weighs their rational credibility.
Therefore, the work of a philosopher need not include system- building, nor need it exclude religious authority or even divine inspiration so long as this perspective does not preclude rational argumentation. Being a philosopher requires a certain orientation to knowledge, a willingness to argue and debate logically, and to do so with some proficiency. On this account, was Jesus a philosopher?
Was Jesus a Philosopher?
Despite Jesus’ inclusion in the Great Philosophers series, Karl Jaspers discounts Jesus as a traditional philosopher because he “preaches not knowledge, but faith,” and he “shows little concern for logical consistency.” Jesus was a prophet heralding the end of the world and calling people to a new order of life in light of this immanent urgency, “not a philosopher who reflects methodically and systematically orders his ideas.” He cannot take a “place in the history of philosophy with any rational positions.” However, if Jesus’ lack of concern for knowledge ordered into a system disqualifies him as a philosopher, it should also exclude Socrates, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein, who built no systems.
Inconsistency in philosophy, or elsewhere, is no virtue, but a vice. If one affirms A and non-A in the same way and in the same respect, one has affirmed nothing—except a classic defect in reasoning (violating the law of noncontradiction). Nevertheless, some philosophers have viewed consistency with some skepticism, thinking that reality is too complex or opaque for such stipulations. That may have rendered them bad philosophers, but it does not disqualify them from the ranks entirely. Besides, philosophers who explicitly prize consistency (the vast majority) sometimes contradict themselves anyway. This philosophical failing can have small or great consequences for the cogency of the philosopher’s views, but the presence of inconsistencies within a philosopher’s viewpoint does not, by itself, disqualify the thinker from being a philosopher.
In any event, the consistency of Jesus’ teachings cannot be so easily impugned. Jaspers cites just two cases of Jesus’ supposed inconsistency and explores no possibilities for how these might be reconciled. One example contrasts Jesus’ teaching on not resisting evil (Matthew 5:38-42) with his statement that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. How can one be a sword-brandishing pacifist? Yet the passage about bringing a sword (Matthew 10:34-39) has nothing to do with self-defense or military situations, but with the fact that one’s allegiance to Jesus will bring strife and division when one’s family members do not follow Jesus. Therefore, the contradiction between Jesus’ two statements is only apparent and not real.
Jaspers juxtaposes two more sayings of Jesus, which he claims are logically inconsistent. Jesus says that (1) those who are not against him are with him, but in another place he says that (2) those who are not with him are against him. Jaspers does not explain what the inconsistency between these statements might be, so we are left to guess. However, statement (2) could easily be seen as another way of putting statement (1). Thus there are those who are not against Jesus (that is, those who are with him) and there are those who are against Jesus (that is, those who are not with him). So, statements (1) and (2) seem correlative, not contradictory. The point in both cases is that there is no neutral ground; one must be either with him or against him.
But consider the events occasioning both of Jesus’ statements. These two statements are made in different dialogical contexts and serve different purposes. The context for Jesus’ statement that “those who are not against us are for us” is a case where those not in the inner circle of his disciples are seen casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:38-41). Jesus tells his disciples that these others are following him as well, although they are not known to the disciples. He explains, “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.” The context for the other statement, “he is who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30), is Jesus’ confrontation with his theological opponents over his authority to drive out demons. Rather than widening the circle to include those who are already really following him (as in the first case), here Jesus is drawing a clear contrast between his followers and his detractors. While the contexts and purposes differ, there is no logical contradiction between Jesus’ two statements.
Despite Jasper’s claim that all Jesus’ “direct statements are vehicles of a meaning which ultimately evades rational interpretation,” Jaspers later approvingly quotes Hegel on Jesus: “Never have words so revolutionary been spoken, for everything otherwise looked on as valid is represented as indifferent, unworthy of consideration.” Whether this assessment of Jesus is accurate or not, it belies the notion that Jesus’ message is “beyond rational interpretation,” since Jaspers and Hegel rationally interpret Jesus’ message as “revolutionary.”
Jesus did not build a philosophical system in the same sense that Spinoza or Hegel did. Wittgenstein, arguably the most influential philosopher of the twentieth century, did not build a system at all, although he developed a distinctive philosophical method, which in some ways attempts to dissolve philosophical questions. But the fact that Jesus did not “build” a philosophical system does not preclude the possibility that he thought in terms of a well-ordered and logically consistent account of reality and argued rationally with those who disputed it. If he thought and spoke in this manner, he was a philosopher indeed—and the most influential one in Western history.
Some may bar Jesus from the halls of philosophers by virtue of his prophetic or supernatural orientation toward teaching and the rest of his activities. It is assumed that a prophetic or oracular disposition makes philosophizing unnecessary or even counterproductive. If one receives a revelation from above, why argue from premise to conclusion? Why bother with induction, deduction, abduction, reductio ad absurdum or a fortiori arguments and the like when one is divinely inspired? Why criticize another’s argument as fallacious? One would simply announce, declare, or proclaim—or bring down fire from heaven to end the argument entirely. Some Christians might even regard the notion that Jesus was a philosopher as ill-advised or blasphemous, since they take him to be God Incarnate. God has no need of human philosophy, after all.
These objections can be met in two ways. First, one need not bristle at the thought that even God Incarnate might philosophize with lesser beings, if it were for the purpose of engaging their God-given reasoning abilities. After all, the Apostle Paul—taken by many to be a superlative authority on Jesus—claimed that all knowledge and wisdom is found in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9). According to orthodox Christian thought, Jesus is not only divine, but truly human: “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). However Christians may understand the relationship of deity and humanity in the person of Jesus, they must confess that God in Christ took on a genuinely human nature—reasoning abilities and all. As I will later argue, a close look at many passages in the Gospels reveals that Jesus does engage in careful reasoning regarding the afterlife, his own identity, political obligations, and more. He was not above a good debate. The Hebrew Scriptures, which Jesus revered, report that the prophet Isaiah, speaking as God’s oracle, said, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18). Jesus would agree.
Second, and more generally, a claim to divine or supernatural inspiration (whether explicit or implicit) need not rule out reasoning and debate in principle. Authority can be established through sound reasoning and the ability to interact rationally with disputants. While the sacred books of theistic religions offer divine pronouncements sans argument, this is not the only mode of divine disclosure possible.
However, as we will discover later in this book, the tone, style, and content of Jesus’ teachings and his debates with the leading thinkers of his day are very different from, say, the manner of Socrates, the quintessential philosopher (if unpublished). Jesus was a unique kind of philosopher. Jaspers underscores this in a passage worth examining:
Jesus teaches by proclaiming the glad tidings, Socrates by compelling men to think. Jesus demands faith, Socrates an exchange of thought. Jesus speaks with direct earnestness, Socrates indirectly, even by irony. Jesus knows the kingdom of heaven and eternal life, Socrates has no definite knowledge of these matters and leaves the question open. But neither will let men rest. Jesus proclaims the only way; Socrates leaves man free, but keeps reminding him of his responsibility rooted in freedom. Both raise supreme claims. Jesus confers salvation. Socrates provokes men to look for it.
I will argue that Jesus’ “proclaiming glad tidings” (the gospel) is not incompatible with prodding people to think; he often did so. Demanding (or, better, encouraging or calling for) faith can occur alongside the rational exchange of ideas, and Jesus illustrated this. While Jesus spoke with “direct earnestness,” sometimes he did communicate indirectly, especially in his parables. Jesus and Socrates do differ dramatically in that Jesus is never described as searching for truth or being gripped by uncertainty. Although Jesus proclaims ideas from a certainty of knowledge, he does leave some questions open (such as the number of those redeemed, why certain evils occur, and the timing of his return). Socrates is a kind of philosophical goad and midwife while Jesus exhorts his listeners to be “born again”—but not without reason and argument in support of the faith and commitment enjoined.
 Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 1.
 On this movement, see Kelly James Clark, ed. Philosophers Who Believe (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
 Gordon Clark, Thales to Dewey: A History of Philosophy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1957), 210.
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper- SanFrancisco, 1998), 134.
William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010. $16.99. 286 pages.
Apologetics is the discipline of defending Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent to life. The apologist may be a philosopher, historian, theologian, or a practitioner of some other intellectual discipline. However, in the broadest sense, all Christians are commanded to have a reason for the hope within them, to offer this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), and to love God with all their minds (Matthew 22:37-38; see also Romans 12:1-2). Jesus defended his views through argument (see three examples of this in Matthew 22), as did the Apostle Paul throughout the Book of Acts (see especially his speech to the Athenians in Acts 17). (I defend the claim that Jesus was a philosopher and apologist in On Jesus [Wadsworth, 2002]).
Learning apologetics (first from Francis Schaeffer) transformed me from an intellectually insecure and timid Christian into a thinker who had found confidence and certainty in the challenging world of ideas. All Christians need this kind of confidence and should receive the exhortation that the Apostle Paul gave to his disciple Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). While I have learned much from many apologists, William Lane Craig work’s has been formative for me in many respects. As a respected philosopher who often writes at the highest intellectual levels in academic journals and books, Craig has, through his long and fruitful career (which includes debating influential atheists and other non-Christians), also offered apologetics at a more popular (but always intellectually serious) level. With On Guard, Craig distills and simplifies work available in other books (such as Reasonable Faith and God: A Debate Between a Christian an a Atheist) in order to present a thorough defense of Christianity. While taking the reader fairly deep into apologetic arguments, the book does not presume much knowledge of philosophy. To keep the reader’s interest, it uses charts and graphics—but not to excess. The book is also punctuated by two “personal interludes” in which Craig presents his own “journey to faith.”
In ten chapters, Craig explains the nature and purpose of apologetics, the significance of God’s existence for the meaning of life, why the existence of the universe is best explained by God, how the universe reveals God’s design, and how the existence of morality is best explained by God as its source. He also takes up the problem of suffering, and the identity of Jesus as God Incarnate and as raised from the dead. The final chapter asks, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” and addresses the claim that Christianity is too exclusive and harsh (consigning unbelievers to hell). While presented in a rather popular form, Craig does not cut any corners, and he gives ample documentation where needed.
While I disagree with Craig’s strategy at a few points (particularly on religious exclusivism and the problem of evil), the book deserves high praise as a complete, readable, and compelling defense of Christianity. While Craig uses the design inference to defend the fine-tuning of the universe for human life (given its unlikely combination of constants, proportions, and laws), he fails to use this argument to infer design at the biological level, as do the proponents of Intelligent Design such as William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and Michael Behe. But this is a small complaint given the overall excellence of this work, which I highly recommend to who are all interested in apologetics at the beginning to intermediate level. After reading On Guard, one will want to explore Craig’s more advanced works, as well as writings by J.P. Moreland, Paul Copan, Winfried Corduan, Norman Geisler, Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, and other philosophical apologists. Nothing less than the rational defense of eternal truth is at stake.
Nothing on this blog represents the position of Denver Seminary. I am a Christian, philosopher, teacher, writer, and preacher, who is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary. My most recent of my eleven books is Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2011). I have published ten others, including Truth Decay and On Jesus. I direct the Christian Apologetics and Ethics MA program at Denver Seminary.