Knowing and Being Known: Introductory Thoughts

I did not begin studying philosophy until I was 4 years into my Masters degree (which took me 8 years and 11 months to complete). For the longest time I viewed philosophy as a discipline for really smart people. However, as I look back on my life, I believe I didn’t give philosophy the time of day because I thought it was boring — a musty relic of academic disciplines. I was spontaneous (or so I thought)—I didn’t want to be “stuck” in one place; rather, I wanted to travel, to see the world, and to be invested in something bigger than myself. Philosophy did not fit the bill.

Little did I know at this time, though, that the questions and longings I had were (in part) philosophical in nature. The last two years of my college career was a period of deep anxiety and, at times, depression.[1] I recall a prayer that I repeated rather often during this time of my life—that I would know God. I longed to know God beyond the mere intellect; however, I didn’t know how else to say what I longed for other than stressing the word ‘know’ to entail a fuller, substantive, and deeper sense of knowing God. Continue reading

‘Till You’re Blue in the Face: Some Thoughts on Faith and Reason

What is philosophy?

This  question has driven my studies since I first became interested in the discipline ten years ago. For the longest time, I gave little attention to philosophy, thinking that it was for really smart people and those who liked to ask nagging questions about abstract ideas. Yet, when I took my first philosophy class out of a desire to know more about the discipline (instead of taking it because I had to for my degree), I realized that there was much more to philosophy than I had dismissively thought before. More specifically, I began to realize the value philosophy has for the believer. Continue reading

Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Final Thoughts – Philosophy, Just Do It

This post concludes my interview with Dr. Mark Coppenger (SBTS) in 2007 on the role of philosophy for the believer.  Here I offered my thoughts on my interview with Dr. Coppenger; I post my thoughts from 2007 unchanged for my sentiments remain the same.  I hope to write another post soon tying together my interviews with Drs. Cabal and Coppenger.

Thoughts:

Many people view, study and even teach philosophy as if it were just a collection of thoughts and ideas from the past with no real bearing on our lives today.  Dr. Coppenger likens this to the insect trapped in amber – it’s something interesting to look at, but it’s dead and useless.  Philosophy, however, is not a passive discipline. Continuing with Dr. Coppenger’s illustration, we should “crack open the amber, fire up that insect, and fly it around the room.”  In other words, we should interact freely with philosophy, for the issues dealt with in the past are practically the same issues we deal with today.  Rather than just merely studying philosophy, we should do philosophy as we study the thoughts and ideas of the past and seek to answer today’s questions.

I’ve had the opportunity to sit in three of Dr. Coppenger’s philosophy courses in the past two years – Apologetics, Worldviews, and Ethics – and he teaches philosophy the way he learned it, by getting right into the issues and getting your hands dirty.  Every night in class, we cracked open more amber-trapped insects and flew them around them room.  Though this form of learning is quite different from that which I’m used to (straight lecture), Dr. Coppenger taught me how to look at issues and what questions to ask – he taught me how to do philosophy.  More importantly, though, I realized how lazy a thinker I’d been and how I took for granted my beliefs.  So, I encourage you, if you have the opportunity to study under Dr. Coppenger, do it.  You will be challenged and stretched, but will learn much in the end.

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2012

Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Part II

This is the second part of a three part series of an interview I did with Dr. Mark Coppenger (SBTS) in 2007 on the role of philosophy for the believer.

Danny:  I would venture to say that a small majority of Christians are called to study philosophy.  What would you say those Christians who are not called to study philosophy?  What are some things that you feel they can do to at least to be familiar with philosophy?

Dr. Coppenger:  I will first say this, that there are very few philosophers who write clearly.  You don’t have to be obscure to be a philosopher.  But, there are people who explain philosophy [clearly].  For example, the book Philosophy for Dummies by Tom Morris.  He has a Southern Baptist background and has taught at Notre Dame.   Just as I right now am listening to a book tape about basic economics during the Great Depression, and I am doing more particular studies of American painters from the Hudson Valley School, I broaden myself to see what’s out there.  People should become familiar with what’s out there and know the tools.

I think a simple course in logic is not a bad thing.  You have what’s called formal logic, which is like mathematics or geometry where you have symbols.  [And you have]  informal logic, where you go over the fallacies, where you can recognize what an ad hominem argument is, where you attack the person instead of his ideas. Where you can recognize an over-worked appeal to pity where you get the audience crying and off the issue.  A little review of those fallacies [would be beneficial].  To commit a fallacy doesn’t mean that your point is false, it just means that you got there in a cheesy way.  So, a little bit of that is good.

Socrates over said it when he said an unexamined life is not worth living.  I think a lot of unexamined things are worth living.  That doesn’t mean we commit suicide if we haven’t examined our lives.  But, I think that if you are raising your kids with a very firm conviction – this is what patriotism is, this is what kind of art should be on our wall, this is what zoning laws ought to be, this is how we should treat Shariah law if it crops up in our neighborhood – if you are teaching those things, I think there should always be a desire to walk around the issue, to be reflective.

As John Milton, I believe, said, “It is good to be promiscuous readers.”  By promiscuous, he didn’t mean reading tawdry books, but to be well read.  It turns out that a lot of philosophy in journals of opinion.  If you read New Republic, Weekly Standard, or Books and Culture, they are doing philosophical sorts of things.  If want to stand back and look at where something leads, be a reader; just be a reader.  You’ll discover as you read broadly that you’ve been breathing in philosophy and speaking philosophy.  It’s really rational, thoughtful reflection on the bigger questions of life.  It used to be that philosophers were cosmologists and they were dealing with things such as: What is the universe?  Is it earth, air, fire and water?  But, Plato really set the table.  Alfred North Whitehead said that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato.  What Plato did is, dialogue by dialogue, he put out a human concern so that, in one dialogue you talked about justice.  In other dialogues: friendship, courage, love, knowledge, art and beauty.  We’ve been wrestling with those questions ever since.  What is a just state supposed to be like?  What is it to be virtuous?  If I go into a 7-11, there’s beer in the back of the store and I know that I shouldn’t drink beer, is it more virtuous for me to struggle?  So I walk past the beer section several times and fight the urge and then get in the car?  Is that more virtuous, to fight the good fight every day?  Or, is it more virtuous to have a habit of not even going near the beer and it’s nothing to you?  Well, Aristotle would suggest that virtue is a habit.  What is praiseworthy?  What is to be sought – to be constantly fighting, or to have a more automatically thoughtful life?  Virtue, that’s an issue.  Courage, is it courage to get up and charge a machine gun [in war], or is it courageous to wait until dark and sneak around the flank?  What is courage?  So, just understand that the conversation has been going on for a millennia and it’s great to get in on it because it has to do with how you live your life.

One of the great fun things of philosophy is that its subject is everything.  If I am in organic chemistry, I’m going to be really focusing on amino acids and things like that, but in philosophy, one does everything from analyzing a presidential speech, to fighting off Richard Dawkins on atheism, to dealing at a block party whether or not [theneighborhood association] should have a green friendly lawn care service.  You do ethics, you do arts, etc.  Anything is out there.  There is philosophy of sports, philosophy of arts, etc.  It’s just great fun to have the worldview picture.

Danny:  So, it’s not something we should be afraid of.  Granted, there have been many weird philosophers out there, and in general, that’s probably what most people see and are afraid of letting their kids or themselves be exposed to.  But, being ground in God’s Word, Christians should not be afraid to go out there and get our hands dirty.

Dr. Coppenger:  It’s kind of the same as theology.  There’s a lot of scary theology and a lot of people have been messed up by theology, but there is a lot of wonderful theology in doing theology once you see how it covers and connects all kinds of stuff.  That’s a joy too.

Danny:  Is there anything else that you would like to add to those interested in studying more philosophy?

Dr. Coppenger:  It seems to me, and this is good for preaching as well, that if you are a promiscuous reader, in the good sense, then your vocabulary grows, you see things that you’ve not seen before and then you walk with people around an issue.  It’s when we become so insulated that we don’t get to test our ideas against anything else, so our mettle isn’t tested and tried in the fire.  Then we are always sort of frightened or vulnerable.  Now, we do understand that the Bible is true, we don’t have to re-establish that, so we’re not afraid that the Bible will be disproved or that we’ll lose our salvation.  But, you really want to be in there pitching thoughtfully when the ideas are flying around the room.  The more you read, the more you have illustrations, the more you see connections.  With writing, writing is re-writing.  You put an idea down and you walk away from it, then you look back and keep refining it.  Again, it’s an uncommonly stubborn attempt to think clearly, and you can watch people do it and you can join in on it.  C. S. Lewis models this beautifully.  Read how he wrestles with ideas in the book God and the Dock, where deals with the humanitarian theory of punishment.  He lines out four theories of punishment and walks around each theory, pressing and pressing each one to determine which is actually more humanitarian.  Again, a beautiful model of philosophy.

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2012

Interview with Dr. Cabal: Final Thoughts – Philosophy Serving the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Here are the links to the entire interview:

My Thoughts

As stated in the introduction to this interview, philosophy has been and still is largely misunderstood by most Christians [scholars and laymen alike].  If one views philosophy in a narrow sense as a discipline that only upholds those ideas that are set up against God, then his apprehension about philosophy is rightly understood to an extent.  Yet, to view philosophy in such a way is to completely misunderstand what philosophy is, its importance and its role; it’s akin to one refusing to eat meat because of the number of cases of high cholesterol brought about by fatty foods such as meat.  Yes, one can abuse the use of meat in his diet, but when eaten properly, one can receive the nutrition provided by meat intended for a healthy, well-balanced life.  Likewise, philosophy, when used properly, provides the necessary tools for one to develop a well-thought, well-defended understanding of the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15).

Our ability to think rationally is a gift from God given to us when He created us, and philosophy is the discipline in which all aspects of life are sought to be understood rationally.  As such, we must not be unwise stewards of this gift, nor should we shun this gift.  Christians above all should take seriously our responsibility to “think hard about things,” thinking through issues and rightly applying the Word of God in all facets of life.  Let us not be found to be lazy thinkers.  Now, I must confess that I am guilty of lazy thinking more often than not.  For far too long, I’ve merely accepted for the most part the tenets of the Christian faith without seriously and thoroughly thinking through my beliefs.  But, through my recent philosophy courses, I’ve come to the realization of the necessity for believers today, especially myself!, to thoroughly think through issues and to understand the issues at hand in today’s day and age, and philosophy is a discipline in which one can learn to do so.  May we not view philosophy as that discipline designated only for non-Christians, but as that which Christians should champion for the defense of and furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Glory of God.  Philosophy, rightly understood under the authority of God’s Word, can be a valuable tool in the Christian’s hand.

What I want do not intend to say in this post and in my interview with Dr. Cabal is that philosophy is to be studied by all in the sense that all must be well-versed in philosophy.  Far from it!  Rather, I hope to show its importance in the life of the Christian and the importance of having some sort of exposure to philosophy.  We live in a world today that is increasingly hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; we must be ready to give an answer for our faith and be able to understand and expose the false beliefs of this world.

Interview with Dr. Ted Cabal: Introduction

To inaugurate the relaunching of this blog, I thought I would re-post an interview I did with Dr. Ted Cabal, professor at SBTS, back in 2007 on the the place of philosophy in the life of the believer.  I believe the study of philosophy coincides with the study of theology as the two disciplines have spilled over into each other (intentionally or not) throughout history, thus to understand philosophy can help the believer to understand certain aspects of theology, why certain theologians avoided or reworked particular doctrines, etc.  Dr. Cabal has played an integral part in my development as a student and as a developing philosopher, particularly in his fostering in me a love for the history of philosophy (hence the direction I am taking in my doctoral studies).  I hope you find the subsequent posts helpful today as they were for me several years ago.

“Philosophy: A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.”  – Ambrose Bierce

“Leisure is the mother of philosophy.” -Thomas Hobbes

“All philosophies, if you ride them, are nonsense, but some are greater nonsense than others.”  – Samuel Butler

“There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it.” – Cicero

The quotes above present the sentiment most people have of philosophy. Philosophy is thought of being nothing more than thinkers thinking up weird and lofty ideas that have no application in the real world.  As such, philosophy receives a bad rap and little attention in our world today.  This sentiment is especially true among Christians.  I will venture to say that when most Christians think of philosophy, they think of evil ideas and theories expounded by men and women set up against the Jesus Christ and the Gospel.  The popular verse referred to as a warning against philosophy is Colossians 2:8:

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (NASB)

Yet, as previously pointed out, Paul did not intend to warn us against philosophy itself, but against philosophies that set itself up against God and Jesus Christ.  Instead of shunning philosophy, Paul utilizes philosophy in the very logic and argumentation used in his letters!  So, if Paul used philosophical principles of logic and argumentation, should we as Christians today avoid philosophy as a whole, or can we employ philosophy, without shame, for the furtherance of God’s kingdom and for the defense of His Gospel?

This semester [that is, Fall 2007] I am taking History of Philosophy I taught by Dr. Ted Cabal.  This course, in conjunction with my previous philosophy courses, has fostered in me not only a joy for philosophy, but also an awareness of its place and role in Christianity.  Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ted Cabal, Professor of Christian Philosophy and Applied Apologetics, for a short interview on the issue of philosophy in the Christian’s life and its proper place.  Below is his biography from his faculty page on http://www.sbts.edu/:

Dr. Cabal has sought to instill in his students a drive for academic excellence, as well as devotion to Christian apologetics. Once an ardent atheist, Dr. Cabal was converted while reading the New Testament Gospels. He has planted and pastored several churches, and served on the faculties of Dallas Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary before coming to Southern. His interest in helping others to know the truth in Christ has motivated his numerous college campus talks and debates with philosophy professors. In addition to journal articles on issues such as postmodernism and the age of the earth controversy, Dr. Cabal is the general editor of The Apologetics Study Bible (2006).

(A note of correction on The Apologetics Study Bible – was released on October 1, 2007). 

Here are the questions that I presented to Dr. Cabal:

  1. When and how did you come to the realization that philosophy was the area that you wanted to study? (Part I)
  2. What were some of the misconceptions that you had about philosophy before you studied philosophy?  (Part I)
  3. What are some common misconceptions that Christians have about philosophy, and how would you answer them? (Part II)
  4. What role should philosophy play for the seminarian: the seminarian called to study philosophy and the seminarian not called to study philosophy? (Part III)
  5. What is the role of philosophy in the life of the Christian? (Part IV)
  6.  Part 2 of “What is the role of philosophy in the life of the Christian?”