Archives For Philosophy

Yesterday I wrote about the existence of the external world. This is something that every person has to wrestle with. We can’t deny the existence and the form of the world around us, though some have tried. Even those who deny the external world are still forced to live within it. This unflinching reality is an absolute that all people must take into account. They can believe what they want, but they still have to account for the world’s existence and form.

Vitruvian ManIn this post I will explore a second reality that no one can deny—a concept that Francis Schaeffer referred to as the “mannishness” of man. As ridiculous as that phrasing sounds, all Schaeffer was saying is that human beings are unique. We know we are. There’s something special about us, and we have to wrestle with what makes us special and why we can’t shake the feeling that we are somehow qualitatively different than the rest of the natural world.

As an example, take the human personality. What exactly is a personality? Why do we each have one? Why are we able to relate to one another in a personal way? If this world were nothing more than the product of time plus chance, then there would be absolutely no way to account for the existence of personality. There is simply no way to get something personal out of something impersonal. It doesn’t matter how much time you give it or how creative you believe chance to be.

Nor can personality be accounted for in a pantheistic worldview. If God is everything and everything is God, then God is ultimately impersonal. We may well believe that everything is connected, that we are all part of the “infinite everything,” but if we choose to believe this we are forfeiting any hope of explaining human personality. The best we can do here is believe that personality is an illusion that must be overcome.

Unless our worldview adequately explains the personality of mankind—his ability to relate personally with other personal beings, his ability to love, to show compassion, his moral motions, his will, etc.—then our worldview does not fit the world that exists.

From a Darwinian perspective, it has been said that personality can be accounted for in terms of survival of the fittest. People developed emotions because they saw that this would help them survive and master the other creatures. But this is a stretch. It is not at all clear that the first person to develop emotions would have an evolutionary advantage. In fact, if you developed compassion in a world in which no one else felt compassion, you would be at a huge disadvantage. If you developed the ability to love, but no other being on earth possessed the ability to love you in return, you would be digging yourself a whole. Personality simply cannot be accounted for in a Darwinian framework.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, offers a satisfying explanation of the unique nature of humanity. This world began with a personal God, and this personal God created personal beings according to his image. Man is a created being like everything else in creation. But the Bible is clear that man is unique in that he alone is made in God’s image. This explains the indefinable qualities of human beings, and it perfectly explains the existence of personality.

As I said in yesterday’s post, this undeniable “mannishness” of man is on our side, working on our behalf in the minds of those we are reaching out to. We want them to see the world as it truly is. They can choose to believe in a non-Christian worldview, but they still have to live in the world that God made. This means that at every turn they are living in a world that was formed by the God of the Bible, and they find in themselves and in the people around them an undeniable quality that cannot be explained apart from the personal God who exists and lovingly formed them. They will attempt to suppress this truth (see Romans 1), but it will continue to fight its way into their consciousness, like a thorn in the brain that points them always to the Truth.

 

Francis Schaeffer liked to talk about two aspects of the human experience that every person has to wrestle with. These are constants—every person who has ever lived has encountered these two things. The first (which I will explore in this post) is the existence of the external world. The second (which I will explore tomorrow) is what Schaeffer referred to as “the mannishness of man.”

The World 2We live in the midst of a world. We can’t deny it. We keep bumping into it. It’s everywhere we look. Try as we might, we can’t see beyond it, nor can we quite manage to see it differently than it is, though we often try. We can’t get its smell out of our nostrils or its feel away from our nerve endings. It’s just there. Unavoidable. Undeniable.

Of course, people being what they are, some have tried to deny the existence of the external world. Or at least cast doubt upon its existence. Renee Descartes’ famous dictum “I think therefore I am” was the conclusion of his experiment of systematic doubt. How do I really know anything at all? How do I know I even exist? Could not my senses or some evil spirit be deceiving me about everything I’ve ever known? The only thing that Descartes could not doubt was the fact that he was doubting.

Some of the eastern religions teach that this world is nothing more than an illusion. The trick is to call it out and realize that all of the distinctions we make between individual objects (I am not you, you are not a tree, the land is not the sea) are misguided. These distinctions are illusions. So we must let go of the illusion of an external world and mindlessly meld with everything.

How do I know I exist? How do I know you’re not a figment of my imagination? We can certainly ask ourselves these questions.

But at the end of the day, we’re still living in the real world. Go ahead and believe that this world is an illusion. You still can’t escape it. You still have to follow the dictates of gravity. You still come into contact with real people. You still see things like beauty and understand things like truth. Believe what you want, but we all know—truly and deeply—that the external world is real.

Literally every thing points to the reality of the external world. As Christians, the inescapable reality of the external world works in our favor. We can have a discussion with a Buddhist, for example, about the whole world being an illusion. And we can try to convince him intellectually. He will argue against us, but then he must go about his day living as though this world is a real place. In other words, he can say what he wants, but at this point—if he wants to function in the world that exists—he must live inconsistently with regard to his stated beliefs.

Or talk to the person who denies the existence of a Creator. She will explain that the existence of God is improbable or even impossible. But then she has to face the fact that this world is here. Why should it be here? She can appeal to concepts like “deep time” and talk about what could happen when time and chance work together over billions of years, but still—something is here! Where did it come from? That question must persist like a thorn in the brain when the only available answer is, “Well, who knows what could happen when you give it enough time and chance?”

The beauty of this whole thing is that the God who gave us the gospel is also the God who fashioned the external world. And he knows what he’s talking about. So when we speak to people about the truth of the Christian worldview, we can have full confidence that our worldview matches the world that exists completely. No one else has this advantage. So we have both truth and reality on our side—both working together to point people to the truth and power of the gospel. But even more powerful than the existence of the external world is “the mannishness of man”—a concept  that we will explore tomorrow.

Baby In UteroScience can do many things. Since the scientific revolution, we increasingly get the feeling that science can do anything it sets its mind—or calibrates its microscopes—to do. But, of course, that’s not true. There are things that science simply cannot do. One of those things is settle the abortion debate.

The abortion debate hinges on one’s definition of personhood. Contrary to the rhetoric employed, not a single person on either side of the debate believes in murdering innocent persons.

On the pro-choice side, advocates believe that a woman has a right to make her own decisions about her body. And that phrase is key: her body. They believe that the fetus is an extension of the woman’s body. It’s her egg, and it’s growing and developing, but it’s still a part of her body. At some point, that egg will become a person, but prior to that point, it remains a part of the woman’s body and she can choose to have it removed if she wants to. The moment at which a fetus becomes a person is disputed even within the pro-choice camp, but the idea is the same regardless of the timing of personhood.

On the pro-life side, advocates believe that a fetus is a person. Sure, a woman can do with her body what she wants,[1] but the fetus is not her body. It’s a human being. The person is small and inside of her body, to be sure, but that doesn’t entitle the woman to take a human life.

All of this comes down to when exactly a fetus becomes a person. It seems clear that an egg by itself is not a person. It also seems clear that a solitary sperm is not a person. But as soon as these two meet, the debate begins. Many pro-lifers (myself included) believe that personhood begins with fertilization. Other people believe that personhood begins when the fetus is implanted. Or when the heart begins to beat or the brain waves become detectable. Or during a certain trimester. Or at birth. Or even at some point after birth. There are even those who would deny personhood to full grown adults if they have some type of handicap.

The point is, science can tell us exactly what is going on with the growth of the fetus. It can tell us what is going on when fertilization or implantation happen. It can detect and describe the heartbeat and the brain waves.

But science cannot tell us when that fetus becomes a person. Why? Because that is a matter of definition. It is a philosophical question. It is a religious question. We can and should appeal to science in informing our definition of personhood, but we need to understand that this question will not be answered through the scientific method.

And this means that the abortion debate can only be settled at the level of worldview, personal philosophy, and religious beliefs. Christians appeal to the Bible to show that personhood goes all the way back to the womb—even before that, actually. But without divine revelation to guide them, it seems likely that our society will debate the moment of personhood forever.

This does not make the abortion issue futile. Every just cause is worth fighting for. But it does mean that our efforts must be aimed at worldview. Science is a good thing, and it may be useful in illustrating the humanity of even the smallest persons. But we need to recognize that the battle is for the definition of personhood and focus our energies there.

 


[1] We need to be careful about this terminology, however, because none of us is completely entitled to “do with our bodies what we want.” We are forbidden by law from putting certain types of drugs into them, for example. We’re also not allowed to sell them for sex. No matter which side of the debate we are on, we have to be clear that a person’s “right to choose” always has limitations.

“God is dead, “ Nietzsche’s madman declared, “God is dead and we have killed Him!” Through his parable of the madman, Nietzsche was delivering a powerful social commentary. Speaking to a society that no longer believed in the existence of God yet still lived according to the memory of Christian morality, Nietzsche warned that things would certainly change.

You have done away with the concept of God, Nietzsche was saying, now do the necessary work to develop a system of morality that is not based on deity. Those who still held to the Christian form of morality were clinging to a morality of weakness, of servitude. We don’t want any of this love your enemy, turn the other cheek, the last shall be first nonsense. What Nietzsche proposed instead was a morality of power, of self-assertion. Be strong. Dominate. Pursue “the will to power.” If it tends toward weakness, throw it out. If it increases your sense of power, go for it.

Follow this course, Nietzsche said, and we will arrive at something called the Superman. Philosophers are typically careful to explain that Nietzsche’s German word would be better translated “Overman” than “Superman.” Superman, they tell us, conjures up images of capes and underwear worn on the outside of the pants. It carries a sense of superpowers and inhumanity. Well, so what if it does? I’m not a philosopher, so I don’t need to be as careful with my categories. It seems like this is exactly the sort of thing Nietzsche was proposing (cape and exo-underwear aside).

Nietzsche’s Superman was the next phase for mankind. Man has a certain dignity because he has risen above the animals. But man is not the last word. He is more of a transition. If we can make it, if we can assert ourselves and continue to develop, then we will arrive at the Superman. Our caped-crusader Superman is a superhero precisely because he is an improved form of humanity.  Nietzsche’s Superman may as well be a superhero, because he embodies the improvement that needs to be made in order for mankind to reach his destiny.

This Superman is the one who does what he wants—not in such a way that he is helplessly driven by his lusts, for that too would be a sign of weakness, but in such a way that he does exactly what he means to do. The Superman would be free, unconstrained by obligation, servitude, and especially deity. His life would be a declaration of independence, an autonomous hero to surpass what mankind has been able to achieve.

Personally, I can’t imagine a worse future for humanity. Is that what we really need, a post-human being who is more assertive and dominant? Who stands on her own autonomy and does exactly what she means to do at every moment? That’s a terrifying thought.

Nietzsche’s line of thinking fits well within a Darwinian view of life. But if there is any truth to the biblical statement that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9), then Nietzsche’s Superman would be the equivalent of a Super Villain. From the time of the ancient Greeks (and even before), people have assumed that what they needed was a more powerful version of themselves. And thus the Greek gods were basically amplified humanity: superhero versions of themselves, with all of the desires and vices of their human counterparts. Yet this didn’t work out very well in Greek mythology, and we have ample evidence from the history of the world that man cannot be his own savior.

We need a better superhero to rescue us. Someone who has the power to do not just whatever he wishes to do, but the power to transform. Power over the natural world, for example. Or how about power over death? Power to take the dead and raise them back to life. Power to take this clearly broken and hurting world and turn it into something truly and eternally wonderful.

I could get behind a superhero like that.

 

Yesterday I posted a video of Bill Nye calling creationists crazy for denying Darwinian evolution. “Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology,” he says.

In the wake of this post, I came across a comment on the facebook page of a friend of a friend who had shared the article. I thought it offered a great opportunity for follow up and clarification, so I’ll share and respond to it here.

“This guy [meaning me] kinda missed the point entirely. Creationism isn’t a science, and it shouldn’t be taught as a science. It’s a perfectly fine theological argument, but it should not be taught in schools along with darwinism. Plus, really? Someone is going to go after bill nye about science? And cite lawyers? Really?”

Really.

Because the issue really isn’t about science, is it? As I said yesterday, it comes down to assumptions. Which means philosophy. Which means logic and argumentation.

The comment illustrates the point I was trying to make. Creationism is ruled out as a viable option from the start because it is by definition “unscientific.” It has been relegated to the realm of theology. But why should it be?

You have two views of how life began. My view says that an all-powerful, intelligent, personal Being brought life and everything else into existence. Bill Nye’s view says that matter has always existed and that life sprang from non-life on accident. Both views rest on an assumption. The beginning of life can’t be observed. It can’t be tested. It can’t be repeated. So proponents of both views rest their confidence on faith.

The difference is, I acknowledge that my view is based on faith, while Bill Nye claims his view as the very foundation of science and makes fun of my view.

Science is supposedly based on the scientific method. First a hypothesis is formed. This hypothesis can be confirmed using the scientific method if it is observable, testable, repeatable, falsifiable, etc. My belief that life began with an Intelligent Designer cannot be verified using the scientific method, though I believe that using the scientific method to explore the principles and properties of our world generates evidence of an Intelligent Designer.

Is Darwinism any different? No. Can you use the scientific method to prove the hypothesis that life accidentally grew out of non-life? Absolutely not! So much so that serious scientists have proposed that since we cannot find conditions suitable to the spontaneous generation of life on our planet, life must have been sent to our planet from some other planet on which conditions were more suitable to the spontaneous generation of life from non-life.

What we have here is a philosophical commitment that precedes any scientific inquiry. This is why Bill Nye can in all seriousness say that creationism is unscientific and crazy simply because it is not based on Darwinism. He didn’t pull that assumption out of a beaker or read it under a microscope. That is a philosophical statement.

So again, it is essential that we examine the logic of what anyone says. A white lab coat is impressive, but it’s no substitute for good old-fashioned logic. How do we know what we know? Bill Nye says that we can know nothing about our world until we place our faith in Darwin’s theory of evolution. But I’m not buying it. And neither should you.

And as a footnote, let me also acknowledge that many respected scientists are convinced that life was created by an Intelligent Designer. Also, many committed Christians believe that God created the world using some form of evolution. The issue really isn’t science versus faith. It’s about an a priori commitment to a philosophical assumption and then using that assumption as the litmus test for what constitutes science.