Philosophy or Religion?

What’s your philosophy?  What’s your take on issues like whether the human mind is the same as the human brain?  If you think there is no difference, your philosophy on that is naturalistic.  If you think maybe there is a difference, maybe your philosophy is more spiritual.  If you’ve never really thought about it, you’re probably operating as if you had.  In other words, you assume they’re the same, or you don’t.  Does it matter?

Some in the scientific community would have us simply behave as if philosophy does not even exist.  They want us to be entirely focused on the physical realm, and simply to waste no time contemplating such things as are not natural.  But is that even possible?  Faith is required.  There are mysteries.  We can not know all things.  We therefore must take some things on faith.  I have never been to Antartica.  I take on faith that it exists.  I have never seen Bigfoot.  I take on faith that it doesn’t.  Both conclusions are reasonable based on the evidence.  Yet both also require faith.

Faith gets a bad rap because many people think of all faith as blind.  I believe in a reasonable faith.  My religion is reasonable.  My philosophy is that Christianity is the most reasonable thing in which to have faith.  

One internet dictionary service defined philosophy this way:  “A study that attempts to discover the fundamental principles of the sciences, the arts, and the world that the sciences and arts deal with; the word philosophy is from the Greek for “love of wisdom.” Philosophy has many branches that explore principles of specific areas, such as knowledge (epistemology), reasoning (logic), being in general (metaphysics), beauty (aesthetics), and human conduct (ethics).”

Those are areas that religionists and philosophers both consider to be their own turf.  So philosophy and religion have a lot in common.  A key difference is that philosophers typically follow no one, and usually have few real committed adherents.  Believers in a religious faith follow gods, or a God, and they follow a particular doctrine, which can be defined “A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; dogma.”  That being the case, who would you say is more reasonable, the Christian, who has the Bible to use as a guide to all of life, or the naturalistic scientist, who denies the very existence of anything that cannot be tested by the scientific method?

We who say we have no faith just can’t live  as if we do.  No matter how much we deny the existence of spiritual matters, or insist that it is normal and rational to live without them, we just can’t pull it off.  There are seminal events in life that, while unpredictable in their timing, are nonetheless inevitable.  We are presented with a dire situation of some sort, and we must make a choice.  There is no way to know in advance which path will produce the better outcome, and indeed we may feel that no matter what choice we make, there will be hell to pay.  So we think hard, or we cry out, or we pray.  What should I do?  Some of us – even those who do not profess a particular faith, will pray at such times.  And on that day when we breathe our last, we finally come face to face with the inevitable.  Was I wrong?  

So philosophy and religion are close cousins, and we simply cannot make rational sense out of life without contemplating some of the mysteries on which different philosophies are based.  So we’re all philosophers.  Some of us are just more reasonable than others.

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12 thoughts on “Philosophy or Religion?

  1. Brother John, I’ll take the first question at the top. What’s your take on issues like whether the human mind is the same as the human brain? The mind would be the soul, the brain flesh. The mind/soul would be eternal because God foreknows us in eternity/ past, present and future. hence the brain is carnal or should I say temporal, as in these things they will pass away or from dust it came and to dust the brain/flesh will return. But PTL my friend the mind/soul will be around for eternity. What Ya Think my brother?

    Peace,
    Sandy

  2. Hi John,

    I’d like to suggest that evidence normally does not binary. It is not conclusively one way or the other.

    Then why must we jump from our initial state of not-knowing into one of the two options that we have mentally constructed.

    Don’t we lose intellectual integrity when we commit to either of the 2 committed choices when there is insufficient evidence?

    In addition, If I decide that Wendy’s is the best place to each lunch, then there discover a line a mile long, I don’t tell myself “Well, I’ve made a commitment, therefore I’m standing all day in line.”

    Wise choices are made only when they are warranted, and the choice has nothing noble in itself as the word “faith” would imply. If you find yourself wrong, the only proper thing to do is change your mind.

    What do you think?

    Cheers, Phil

  3. Thanks for your reply, Phil.

    I assume you meant “is not binary”. Ah, but in this case it is. You believe in God’s existence, or you do not. There are no other alternatives. You say you are agnostic. By definition, you believe the evidence is not compelling either pro or con. Therefore, you choose to withhold belief until and unless you can see sufficient evidence to tip the scale.

    I was an agnostic for most of my life. What tipped the scale for me was seeing that belief in Christ is capable of radically transforming lives. Chuck Colson is a good example. He went from Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” to being the leader of an international ministry that has done more good than this short reply could graze the surface of. He was literally born again. When I turned to Christ, I said to God “I have lived 57 years not believing in or trusting you. I am not particularly happy with who I am as a result. I can see that belief in you IS rational after all, so I am turning to you. I will live the rest of my life believing that you do exist, and I will learn everything I can about you.”

    Belief in the existence of things that cannot be explained naturalistically (see my most recent post here) is proof (or at least a very strong positive indicator) that there is a non-naturalistic realm. Christians call it the spiritual realm. And if there are strong indications that the spiritual realm exists, that at least leaves the door open to the possibility that God exists.

    So, how did it work for me? For one thing, I had always believed that the evidence for Darwinian evolution was compelling. Since turning to Christ I have learned that not only is the evidence for transitional species – which are necessary it we all have a common ancestor – almost nonexistent, but even if they weren’t, his theory still does not tell us how life started in the first place. In fact, to my knowledge, there is no viable theory other than creation that answers that question!

    Wisdom is a good thing. It is important to make wise choices. And yes, intellectual integrity is at stake. But there is something far more important at stake than intellectual integrity. So, at the end of the day, my decision to turn to Christ was an admission that I did not have all of the answers, and never would. And, I met people whom I admired, respected and saw as highly intelligent, who lived lives of balance, generosity, consideration, integrity, and congruity. In fact, they were the most appealing people I had ever met. So I saw that it not only is a reasonable faith, but one that offered a better way to live while on Earth, and the promise of something far better beyond this life.

    So, what do you think? Is that intellectually congruent?

  4. Hi John,

    Yes, thanks for reading between the lines on that “binary” foul up.

    Yes, the epistemological status is not binary. You say one must either believe that god exists or believe that he does not exist. Then you say that you were an agnostic (a third status). How do you reconcile these 2 statements?

    What evidence do you have that god and not Chuck changed Chuck’s life? And if I can offer examples of changed lives from other religions, does this also validate the existence of their gods and warrant belief in those gods? The evidence that you say is convincing for your god must be missing from other religions, otherwise there is not intellectual integrity.

    Your introduction of the Colson anecdote suggests that you find rhetoric more compelling than reason. And I think you ought to know better as someone who seems to be fairly well-read on apologetics that the word “proof” cannot be applied as you have.

    And I’d like to be sure I’m reading your words correctly on one point.
    Are you actually suggesting that, because we don’t have an explanation for a material phenomenon, that it is “positive evidence” for a super-natural cause?

    I also noted that you seem to be uncomfortable without a making a commitment to a position on how life started. This is a major problem with the human psyche. We make commitments to one side or other of a dilemma when there is insufficient evidence. Discomfort is no excuse to leave the status of “uncertain”. Why this binary compulsion?

    I think you’re saying that there is something that trumps intellectual integrity, and that is entering a belief system, even if untrue, that gives life meaning an purpose. Is this what you’re saying?

    It would really help if we could abandon the prose common in blogging to keep our comments short and logically condensed so that we can effectively address each others’ positions. Is that fair? Syllogistic statements avoid superfluous comments that tend to only confuse the underlying logic of the argument.

    Cheers, Phil

  5. I guess I should, as an example, give a syllogistic arguments related to our discussion.

    1. For any epistemological decision involving the existence of a certain entity “A”, there must be at least 3 choices.
    – “A” exists.
    – “A” does not exist.
    – There is insufficient evidence to know if “A” exists.

    2. The accumulation of evidence is linear.
    Belief must track evidence.
    Therefore, to the degree that evidence for any given proposition is linear, the corresponding belief must also be linear, rather than categorical.

    3. To the degree that there is a body of evidence “E” for the existence of a certain entity “A”, the strength of belief in “A” can not justifiably exceed “E”.

  6. (After reviewing your comments, I see you are actually saying that either you have made a decision to believe in god, or have not made a decision. If this is what you are actually saying, what do you want to demonstrate with this statement?)

  7. No need to reconcile the two statements. I was an agnostic, now I am not.

    What changed Chuck’s life was chuck’s acknowledgement that he was not capable of seeing his own pride and arrogance, and his decision to surrender to God’s sovereignty. You could argue that it was just a change of heart, but I don’t care. He believed God, and his life changed. Why quibble?

    You said “Your introduction of the Colson anecdote suggests that you find rhetoric more compelling than reason. And I think you ought to know better as someone who seems to be fairly well-read on apologetics that the word “proof” cannot be applied as you have.” I don’t know how or why you would infer that. In fact, I was an agnostic for most of my life because I did not see how faith in God could be reasonable. I wonder if that shoe needs to be on your foot! You seem more interested in having this and other conversations (rhetoric) than you are in dealing with the really important issues.

    You also said “And I’d like to be sure I’m reading your words correctly on one point.
    Are you actually suggesting that, because we don’t have an explanation for a material phenomenon, that it is “positive evidence” for a super-natural cause?” No, I modified the word proof for that very reason. I am aware that I cannot prove that God is any more than you can prove He is not. That said, what explanation do you have for the spiders, and the bee swarms and the salmon in my “Brave New World” post. Calling it instinct is an intellectual cop-out. So is ignoring it.

    On the question of how life started, I simply want to assert that one should have a belief system that is coherent at every level. If no credible theory of the origin of the universe exists other than that is was created out of nothing, you could simply ignore the issue, as atheism and agnosticism requires, or you could score one for faith in God as the only reasonable alternative.

    What trumps intellectual integrity is the question of eternity. And again, you must make a choice: There is life after death, or there is not. If you are certain there is not, then perhaps intellectual integrity is uber-important. If you are unsure (and who isn’t?) than you might want to be careful about the choices you make. I have come to believe that everything in this life is preparation for the one to come.

    To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, ‘There are two kinds of people – those who say to God, “Thy will be done”, and those to whom God says “Fine, have it your way”‘. I believe that is the question on which hangs all of eternity.

    As for restricting ourselves to syllogistic arguments, I’d rather just talk.

    As for your last comment, no. That’s not what I am saying. I think I addressed that adequately above.

    And what about my original questions? If you are right, what have you gained. And if you are wrong, what have you lost?

  8. Hi John,

    We’re both all over the board now, which makes it difficult to know which arguments to comment on. And as it it 04:04 here in Tokyo, I’m headed to bed and save the banter for another day. Sorry.

    Maybe you can throw one single argument at my mind which struggles with single-tasking these days. 😉

    Well, let me just say that for every Chuck you introduce as evidence for the efficacy of Christianity, the Muslims have their own anecdotes of changed lives, as well as every other religion. We cannot use anecdotes of single individuals when the population is in the millions. Only statistical evidence is appropriate here. I think that looking at divorce rates, incarceration rates and obesity rates would be a good place to start to see if there really is a holy spirit in control of lives. I actually wrote a blog on statistics called “The Trump Card Of Subjectivity” you might want to check out.

    Well, I really should get to bed now. Have a great day!

  9. Sure,
    That’s a good place to start.
    When I rejected the notion of Santa, I also rejected the entire ontology that goes with Santa. I had to give up my belief in Rudolf, a factory at the North Pole, and getting presents simply based on my behavior.
    Some of my classmates “knew” that Santa was real because the felt his presence. Most of them stopped believing at some point because there was no real evidence for Santa, in spite of the wonderful concept.
    Is life without Santa not worth living? It is admittedly a different kind of life, but there are the joys of honest intellectual pursuits that cannot be shared by those who still believe in Santa. Their innocent, wide-eyed and credulous sense of wonder is endearing, as I also remember the feelings, but at the same time, it is a bit sad to see it continue even when their minds should have developed healthy skepticism and a willingness to face the world as it really is. Perhaps they would not want to live in a world without Santa. That does not make Santa and the accompanying ontology any more real.

    Having said that, if you were able to show me flying reindeer or one with a glowing nose, I am open-minded enough to reconsider my position.

    So you have introduced “Christ” will all the unsubstantiated connotations of the Bible. You have also done the same with “Heaven”. You’re beginning with concepts that have been introduced by the Bible, yet you reject other religious books.

    Could you outline the nonarbitrary reasons why the Bible is more true than other books?

    I’m certain you don’t like the Santa analogy, but the credulity and lack of critical thinking is quite similar. Please remember, I was a believer until around the age of 32.

    Cheers, Phil

    1. So, you reject Santa in order to retain the “joys of honest intellectual pursuits that cannot be shared by those who still believe in Santa”. Well that sounds fine to me. After all, the evidence against Santa’s existence is far more persuasive than is the evidence against the existence of Christ. In addition to its reasonableness, of course, is the fact that the consequences of being wrong are not exactly ‘die on that hill’ kind of important.

      On the other hand, what if Jesus really said that He IS God, and that there is no way to have life without Him? The Greeks had several words for life, one of which was Psyche, meaning life as we commonly understand it for us. But their word Zoe was used to describe the life that starts at the moment one is born-again, and never ends! That life for you, I would submit my friend, has yet to begin! And without it, you will never ‘get’ what we Christians have.

      We are ‘in but not of the world’. By that we mean that even though we still have trouble, we do have something others do not have. We have hope, for one thing. Non-Christians have no real hope. We have not only the promise of eternal life with the giver of life, outside of the constraints of time, matter, space and energy that we know now to be absolute, but the expectation that somehow we will never WANT it to end. And it is offered by our God as a gift to every person on the planet without condition. We are free to reject it, and tragically many people do, but all that is required is to say, ‘I want that’, and to mean it at the heart level. No other faith system offers that free unconditional gift. In fact no other faith offers a chance to be forgiven and redeemed for all the bad things done in life.

      Imagine twins still inside their mother’s womb. One says, “You won’t need that tube, dude! You’ll have this stuff called food that you’ll enjoy by doing something called eating. And you’ll have this stuff called air, which you will bring in to your lungs (trust me, you have a pair).” I could go on and on, but you can imagine how the one telling the story will be frustrated trying to get his twin to ‘get’ it. What it takes is a leap of faith, and his brother is just too intellectually honest for that.

      Well, let me use this paraphrase of words written by the Apostle Paul to describe this gift we have in the here and now. And remember, it’s a no-lose proposition – better life now, and life that’s even better after that!

      “If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!”

  10. Hey John,

    It looks like this will have to be my last comment. You made no attempt to answer my question, nor did you ask me a related question (or any question).

    The entire bulk of your comment is built on assumptions I’m trying to address.

    It’s like talking about the nature of Mrs. Claus without establishing Mr. Claus exists first.

    But it was fun trying.

    Cheers, Phil

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