What Is Philosophy?
J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig
Where am I or What?
From what causes do I derive my existence,
and to what condition shall I return?
Whose favor shall I court, and whose anger must I dread?
What beings surround me?
And on whom Have I any influence, or who have any influence on me?
I am confounded with all these questions,
and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable,
inviron’d with the deepest darkness,
and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.
DAVID HUME, A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Not every problem, nor every thesis, should be examined,
but only one which might puzzle one of those who need argument.
ARISTOTLE TOPICS 1.11 (105A1-5)
Ought not a Minister to have,
First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgment,
and a capacity of reasoningwith some closeness. . . .
Is not some acquaintance with what has been termed the second part of logic,
(metaphysics), if not so necessary as [logic itself], yet highly expedient?
Should not a Minister be acquainted with at least the
general grounds of natural philosophy?
JOHN WESLEY, ADDRESS TO THE CLERGY
You are about to embark on an exciting and fascinating journey—the philosophical
exploration of some of life’s most important ideas, ideas about reality, God, the
soul, knowledge and truth, goodness, and much, much more. Make no mistake
about it. Ideas matter. The ideas one really believes largely determine the kind of
person one becomes. Everyone has a philosophy of life. That is not optional. What
is optional and, thus, of extreme importance is the adequacy of one’s philosophy of
life. Are one’s views rational or irrational, true or false, carefully formed and precise
or conveniently formed and fuzzy? Are they conducive to human flourishing or do
they cater to one’s fallen nature? Are they honoring or dishonoring to the triune
God? The discipline of philosophy can be of great help in aiding someone in the
search for an increasingly rich and robust philosophy of life.
For centuries, people have recognized the importance of philosophy. In particular,
throughout the history of Christianity, philosophy has played an important role in
the life of the church and the spread and defense of the gospel of Christ. The great
theologian Augustine (354-430) summarized the views of many early church
fathers when he said, “We must show our Scriptures not to be in conflict with
whatever [our critics] can demonstrate about the nature of things from reliable
sources.”1 Philosophy was the main tool Augustine used in this task. In 1756, John
Wesley delivered an address to a group of men preparing for ministry. He exhorted
them to acquire skills which today are often neglected in seminary education but
which seminaries would do well to reinstate. And much of what he said is sound
advice for all Christians. For Wesley, among the factors crucial for the service of
Christ was a tolerable mastery of logic and philosophy in general.
Unfortunately, today things are different. Theologian R. C. Sproul has called this the
most anti-intellectual period in the history of the church, and former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Christian statesman Charles Malik warns that the
greatest danger facing modern evangelicalism is a lack of cultivation of the mind,
especially as it relates to philosophy.
This trend within the church is coupled with two unfortunate features of Western
culture: the rampant pragmatism in society with the concomitant devaluation of
the humanities in university life and the nonexistence of philosophy in our
precollege educational curricula. The result is that philosophy departments are
endangered species in Christian colleges and seminaries, and serious philosophical
reflection is virtually absent from most church fellowships. This, in turn, has
contributed to intellectual shallowness and a lack of cultural discernment in the
body of Christ.
But is philosophy really that important for the life, health and witness of the church?
Are God’s people not warned in Scripture itself to avoid philosophy and worldly
wisdom? And just what is philosophy, anyway? How does it help believers form an
integrated Christian worldview? How does philosophy relate to other disciplines
taught at the university?
2 THE NATURE OF PHILOSOPHY
Scholars generally are agreed that there is no airtight definition that expresses a
set of necessary and sufficient conditions for classifying some activity as
philosophical, conditions which all and only philosophy satisfies. But this should not
be troubling. In general, one does not need a definition of something before one
can know features of the thing in question and recognize examples of it. One can
recognize examples of historical study, love, a person, art, matter, sport and a
host of other things without possessing an airtight definition. Nevertheless,
definitions are useful, and a reasonably adequate definition of philosophy can be
How might someone go about formulating such a definition? Three ways suggest
themselves. First one could focus on the etymology of the word philosophy. The
word comes from two Greek words philein, “to love,” and sophia, “wisdom.” Thus
a philosopher is a lover of wisdom. Socrates held that the unexamined life is not
worth living, and the ancient Greek philosophers sought wisdom regarding truth,
knowledge, beauty and goodness. In this sense, then, philosophy is the attempt to
think hard about life, the world as a whole and the things that matter most in order
to secure knowledge and wisdom about these matters. Accordingly, philosophy
may be defined as the attempt to think rationally and critically about life’s most
important questions in order to obtain knowledge and wisdom about them.
Philosophy can help someone form a rationally justified, true worldview, that is, an
ordered set of propositions that one believes, especially propositions about life’s
most important questions.
Second, our understanding of philosophy will be enhanced if we observe that
philosophy often functions as a second-order discipline. For example, biology is a
first-order discipline that studies living organisms, but philosophy is a second-order discipline that studies biology. In general, it is possible have a philosophy of x,
where x can be any discipline whatever; for example, law, mathematics, education,
science, government, medicine, history or literature. When philosophers examine
another discipline to formulate a philosophy of that field, they ask normative
questions about that discipline (e.g., questions about what one ought and ought
not believe in that discipline and why), analyze and criticize the assumptions
underlying it, clarify the concepts within it and integrate that discipline with other
Consider biology again. Philosophers ask questions like these: Is there an external
world that is knowable and, if so, how does one know it? What is life, and how
does it differ from nonlife? How should someone form, test and use scientific
theories and laws? Is it morally permissible to experiment on living things? When
biologists talk about information in DNA, how should we understand this talk? How
does the biological notion of being a member of the kind Homo sapiens relate to
the theological notion of being made in the image of God or to the metaphysical
notion of being a person with legal/moral rights? These questions are all
philosophical in nature, and by examining them it becomes evident that
philosophers ask and seek to answer presuppositional, normative, conceptual and
integrative questions about other fields of study. Thus, by its very nature
philosophy is, perhaps, the most important foundational discipline in the task of
integrating Christian theology with other fields of study. This claim is examined in
more detail later.
One more observation is important. Because philosophy operates at a
presuppositional level by clarifying and justifying the presuppositions of a discipline,
philosophy is the only field of study that has no unquestioned assumptions within
its own domain. In other words, philosophy is a self-referential discipline, for
questions about the definition, justification and methodology of philosophy are
themselves philosophical in nature. Philosophers keep the books on everyone,
including themselves. The justification of the assumptions of any discipline, including
philosophy, is largely a philosophical matter.
A third way to characterize philosophy is simply to list the various subbranches of
philosophy. In addition to the different second-order branches of philosophy, such
as philosophy of science (see part four) or religion (see part six), a number of
standard areas of study are first-order parts of philosophy. For example, logic (see
chap. 2) investigates the principles of right reasoning and focuses on questions
such as When can a conclusion legitimately be drawn from premises and why?
Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief (see part two). What
is knowledge? Can we have it? How do we know things and justify our beliefs?
What are the kinds of things we can know? Metaphysics is the study of being or
reality (see part three). Here are some metaphysical questions: What does it mean
for something to exist? What are the ultimate kinds of things that exist? What is a
substance? What is a property? Is matter real? Is mind real? What are space, time
and causation? What is linguistic meaning? Value theory is the study of value; for
example, ethical value (see part five) and aesthetic value. What does it mean to
say something is right or wrong, beautiful or ugly? How do we justify our beliefs in
These subbranches combine with the various second-order areas of investigation
to constitute the subject matter of philosophy. In these areas of study, philosophy
serves both a critical and a constructive function. Philosophy is critical because it
examines assumptions, asks questions of justification, seeks to clarify and analyze
concepts, and so on. Philosophy is constructive because it attempts to provide
synoptic vision; that is, it seeks to organize all relevant facts into a rational system
and speculate about the formation and justification of general worldviews. Chapter
two includes an examination of the role of philosophy in forming and assessing a
We have briefly examined the different aspects of philosophy in order to get a
better grasp on what the discipline is and the sorts of issues within its purview. Let
us now look at the importance of philosophy for the Christian life in general and the
Christian university in particular.
3 A CHRISTIAN JUSTIFICATION OF PHILOSOPHY
The history of the church reveals that philosophy has always played a crucial role in
the nurture of believers and in the proclamation of a Christian worldview in general
and the gospel in particular. The first universities in Europe were, of course,
Christian, and the study of philosophy was considered of central importance to the
health and vitality of the university and the Christian life. This is no less true today.
In fact, there are at least seven reasons why philosophy is crucial to the texture,
curricula and mission of the Christian university and the development of a robust
First, philosophy is an aid in the task of apologetics. Apologetics is the task of
giving a reasoned defense of Christian theism in light of objections raised against it
and of offering positive evidence on its behalf. Scripture commands us to engage in
apologetics (see 1 Pet 3:15; Jude 3). The Old Testament prophets often appealed
to broad arguments from the nature of the world to justify the religion of Israel.
For example, they would ridicule pagan idols for their frailty and smallness. The
world is too big, they claimed, to have been made by something that small (see Is
44—45). Arguments like this assume a philosophical position on the nature of
causation; for example, that an effect (the world) cannot come from something of
lesser power than itself (the idol). Again, the Old Testament prophets often
appealed to general principles of moral reasoning in criticizing the immorality of
pagan nations (e.g., Amos 1—2). Arguments such as this utilize natural moral law
and general philosophical principles of moral reasoning.
In the New Testament, the apostles used philosophical argumentation and
reasoning to proclaim Christ to unbelievers (see Acts 17:2-4, 17-31; 18:4; 19:8).
Their practice was consistent with that of the Old Testament prophets in this
regard. Philosophy aids a person in stating arguments for God’s existence. It also
helps one clarify and defend a broad view of what it is for something to exist so as
to include nonphysical and nonspatiotemporal entities; for example, God, angels
and perhaps disembodied souls. When an objection against Christianity comes
from some discipline of study, that objection almost always involves the use of
philosophy. When Freud argued against religion on the grounds that our ideas of
God are mere illusions, grounded in and caused by our fears and the need for a
father figure, his attack, while rooted in psychology, nevertheless involved the
discipline of philosophy. He was considering the basic question of how the source of
our belief relates to our justification for that belief.
Second, philosophy aids the church in its task of polemics. Whereas apologetics
involves the defense of Christian theism, polemics is the task of criticizing and
refuting alternative views of the world. For example, in the field of artificial
intelligence and cognitive psychology there is a tendency to view a human being in
physicalist terms, that is, as a complex physical system. Despite protests to the
contrary from some Christian thinkers, dualism (the view that we are composed of
both a physical and a mental entity) is the view taught in Scripture (see 2 Cor 5:1-8; Phil 1:21-24). Part of the task of a believer working in the areas of artificial
intelligence or cognitive psychology is to develop a critique of a purely physicalist
vision of being human, and this task includes issues in the philosophy of mind (see
Third, philosophy is a central expression of the image of God in us. It is very difficult
to come up with an airtight definition of the image of God, but most theologians
have agreed that it includes the ability to engage in abstract reasoning, especially in
areas having to do with ethical, religious and philosophical issues. God himself is a
rational being, and humans are made like him in this respect. This is one of the
reasons humans are commanded to love God with all of their minds (Mt 22:37).
Since philosophy, like religion, is a discipline that chiefly focuses on ultimate
questions near the very heart of existence, then philosophical reflection about
God’s special and general revelation can be part of loving him and thinking his
thoughts after him.
Fourth, philosophy permeates systematic theology and serves as its handmaid in
several ways. Philosophy helps to add clarity to the concepts of systematic
theology. For example, philosophers help to clarify the different attributes of God;
they can show that the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are not
contradictory; they can shed light on the nature of human freedom, and so on.
Further, philosophy can help to extend biblical teaching into areas where the Bible is
not explicit. For example, several areas currently under discussion in medical ethics
(active/passive euthanasia, genetic screening, withholding artificial food and
hydration, artificial insemination) are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture. The
philosopher can, however, take the language and doctrines of the Bible and
appropriately recast them in the relevant categories under discussion. In this way
the philosopher can help to shed biblical light on an issue not explicitly mentioned in
Scripture by providing conceptual categories and analysis that fit the situation and
preserve the tenor and substance of biblical teaching.
Fifth, the discipline of philosophy can facilitate the spiritual discipline of study. Study
is itself a spiritual discipline, and the very act of study can change the self. One who
undergoes the discipline of study lives through certain types of experiences where
certain skills are developed through habitual study: framing an issue, solving
problems, learning how to weigh evidence and eliminate irrelevant factors,
cultivating the ability to see important distinctions instead of blurring them, and so
on. The discipline of study also aids in the development of certain virtues and
values; for example, a desire for the truth, honesty with data, an openness to
criticism, self-reflection and an ability to get along nondefensively with those who
differ with one.
Of course, the discipline of study is not unique to philosophy. But philosophy is
among the most rigorous of fields, and its approach and subject matter are so
central to life, close to religion and foundational to other fields of investigation, that
the discipline of philosophical study can aid someone in the pursuit of truth in any
other area of life or university study.
Sixth, the discipline of philosophy can enhance the boldness and self-image of the
Christian community in general. It is well known that a group, especially a minority
group, will be vital and active only if it feels good about itself in comparison with
outsiders. Further, there will be more tolerance of internal group differences, and
thus more harmony, when a group feels comfortable toward outsiders.
In a fascinating study, John G. Gager argues that the early church faced intellectual
and cultural ridicule from Romans and Greeks. This ridicule threatened internal
cohesion within the church and its evangelistic boldness toward unbelievers. Gager
argues that it was primarily the presence of philosophers and apologists within the
church that enhanced the self-image of the Christian community because these
early scholars showed that the Christian community was just as rich intellectually
and culturally as was the pagan culture surrounding it. Says Gager:
Whether or not the apologists persuaded pagan critics to revise their view of
Christians as illiterate fools, they succeeded in projecting for the group as a whole a
favorable image of itself as the embodiment of true wisdom and piety. . . . Whatever
we may say about the expressed purpose of these apologies, their latent function
was not so much to change the pagan image of Christians as to prevent that image
from being internalized by Christians themselves.2
Gager’s point could and should be applied to the value of Christian scholarship in
general, but the applicability of his remarks to the field of philosophy should be
obvious. Historically, philosophy has been the main discipline that has aided the
church in its intellectual relationship with unbelievers. Because of the very nature of
philosophy itself—its areas of study and their importance for answering ultimate
questions, the questions it asks and answers, its closeness to theology—the
potential of this discipline for enhancing the self-respect of the believing community
It seems clear that evangelicalism in America is having a serious self-image
problem. The reasons for this are no doubt varied, but it can hardly be an accident
that the average Bible college has no philosophy department, and many evangelical
seminaries do not offer serious, formal training in philosophy and apologetics
beyond a course here and there.
Seventh, the discipline of philosophy is absolutely essential for the task of
integration. To integrate means to blend or form into a whole. In this sense,
integration occurs when one’s theological beliefs, primarily rooted in Scripture, are
blended and unified with propositions judged as rational from other sources into a
coherent, intellectually adequate Christian worldview. Since this will be the main
topic of discussion below, little need be added at this point except to note that the
need for integration occurs in at least three ways.
For one thing, the believing community needs to draw from all areas of knowledge
in forming an integrated Christian worldview consistent with Scripture. Second, a
person grows to maturity to the extent that he or she becomes an integrated,
unfragmented self, and one of the ways to become an integrated person is to have
the various aspects of one’s intellectual life in harmony. If Smith believes one thing
in church and another thing in the lab or office, he will to that extent be a
fragmented, dichotomized individual wherein Christ can dwell only in a shrinking
religious compartment of his life. Finally, when the gospel confronts a new culture,
Christian theology must be related to that culture in a way that is at once sensitive
to the culture and faithful to Scripture. Such a task will include questions of value,
knowledge and thought forms, and these questions essentially involve philosophical
clarification and comment.
These are some of the reasons why the church has always found philosophy to be
necessary. C. S. Lewis once remarked that “to be ignorant and simple now—not to
be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our
weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no
defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy
must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be
The great social critic William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a man of deep
devotion to God and great passion for practical ministry. But Wilberforce saw the
value of philosophy and apologetics even for the training of children in the church!
Queried Wilberforce, “In an age in which infidelity abounds, do we observe
[believers] carefully instructing their children in the principles of faith they profess?
Or do they furnish their children with arguments for the defense of that faith?”4
Sources for similar attitudes could be cited throughout the history of the church:
Justin Martyr, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley,
Francis Schaeffer, Carl Henry. Nevertheless, there is a general perception among
many believers that philosophy is intrinsically hostile to the Christian faith and
should not be of concern to believers. There are at least four reasons frequently
cited for such an attitude.
First, the claim is made that human depravity has made the mind so darkened that
the noetic effects of sin, that is, sin’s effect on the mind, render the human
intellect incapable of knowing truth. However, this claim is an exaggeration. The
Fall brought about the perversion of human faculties, but it did not destroy those
faculties. Human reasoning abilities are affected but not eliminated. This can be
seen in the fact that the writers of Scripture often appeal to the minds of
unbelievers by citing evidence on behalf of their claims, using logical inferences in
building their case and speaking in the language and thought forms of those outside
Second, it is sometimes claimed that faith and reason are hostile to each other,
and whatever is of reason cannot be of faith. But this represents misunderstanding
of the biblical concept of faith. The biblical notion of faith includes three
components: notitia (understanding the content of the Christian faith), fiducia
(trust) and assensus (the assent of the intellect to the truth of some proposition).
Trust is based on understanding, knowledge and the intellect’s assent to truth.
Belief in rests on belief that. One is called to trust in what he or she has reason to
give intellectual assent (assensus) to. In Scripture, faith involves placing trust in
what you have reason to believe is true. Faith is not a blind, irrational leap into the
dark. So faith and reason cooperate on a biblical view of faith. They are not
Third, some cite Colossians 2:8 as evidence against philosophy: “See to it that no
one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on
human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (NIV).
However, on an investigation of the structure of the verse, it becomes clear that
philosophy in general was not the focus. Rather, the Greek grammar indicates that
“hollow and deceptive” go together with “philosophy,” that is, vain and hostile
philosophy was the subject of discussion, not philosophy per se. In the context of
Colossians, Paul was warning the church not to form and base its doctrinal views
according to a philosophical system hostile to orthodoxy. His remarks were a
simple warning not to embrace heresy. They were not meant in context to
represent the apostle’s views of philosophy as a discipline of study. Those views
are not relevant to the context and do not square with the grammar of the
Finally, 1 Corinthians 1—2 is cited as evidence against philosophy. Here Paul argues
against the wisdom of the world and reminds his readers that he did not visit them
with persuasive words of wisdom. But again, this passage must be understood in
context. For one thing, if it is an indictment against argumentation and philosophical
reason, then it contradicts Paul’s own practices in Acts and his explicit appeal to
argument and evidence on behalf of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. It also
contradicts other passages (e.g., 1 Pet 3:15) as well as the practice of Old
Testament prophets and preachers.
The passage is better seen as a condemnation of the false, prideful use of reason,
not of reason itself. It is hubris (pride) that is in view, not nous (mind). The
passage may also be a condemnation of Greek rhetoric. Greek orators prided
themselves in possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice
to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. They did not base
their persuasion on rational considerations, but on speaking ability, thus bypassing
issues of substance. Paul is most likely contrasting himself with Greek rhetoricians.
Paul could also be making the claim that the content of the gospel cannot be
deduced from some set of first principles by pure reason. Thus the gospel of
salvation could never have been discovered by philosophy, but had to be revealed
by the biblical God who acts in history. So the passage may be showing the
inadequacy of pure reason to deduce the gospel from abstract principles, not its
inability to argue for the truth.
We have seen that there are good reasons why the church has historically valued
the role of philosophy in her life and mission, and reasons to the contrary are
inadequate. It is time now to turn to the issue of the role of philosophy in the
integrative task of forming a Christian worldview.
4 THE ROLE OF PHILOSOPHY IN INTEGRATION
It may be helpful to begin this section by listing examples of issues in a field of
study that naturally suggest the relevance of philosophical reflection and where
someone in that field of study may, inadvertently, don a philosopher’s cap.
1. A biblical exegete becomes aware of how much her own cultural
background shapes what she can see in the biblical text, and she begins to
wonder whether meanings might not reside in the interpretation of a text
and not in the text itself. She also wonders if certain methodologies may be
inappropriate given the nature of the Bible as revelation.
2. A psychologist reads the literature regarding identical twins who are reared in
separate environments. He notes that they usually exhibit similar adult
behavior. He then wonders if there is really any such thing as freedom of the
will, and if not, he ponders what to make of moral responsibility and
3. A political science professor reads John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice and
grapples with the idea that society’s primary goods could be distributed in
such a way that those on the bottom get the maximum benefit even if
people on the top have to be constrained. He wonders how this compares
with a meritocracy wherein individual merit is rewarded regardless of social
distribution. Several questions run through his mind: What is the state? How
should a Christian view the state and the church? What is justice, and what
principles of social ordering ought we adopt? Should one seek a Christian
state or merely a just state?
4. A neurophysiologist establishes specific correlations between certain brain
functions and certain feelings of pain, and she puzzles over the question of
whether or not there is a soul or mind distinct from the brain.
5. An anthropologist notes that cultures frequently differ over basic moral
principles and goes on to argue that this proves that there are no objectively
true moral values that transcend culture.
6. A businessman notices that the government is not adequately caring for the
poor. He discusses with a friend the issue of whether or not businesses have
corporate moral responsibilities or whether only individuals have moral
7. A mathematician teaches Euclidean geometry and some of its alternatives
and goes on to ask the class if mathematics is a field that really conveys
true knowledge about a subject matter or if it merely offers internally
consistent formal languages expressible in symbols. If the former, then what
is it that mathematics describes? Do numbers exist and, if so, what are
8. An education major is asked to state his philosophy of education. In order to
do this, he must state his views on human nature, the nature of truth, how
people learn, what role values play in life, what the purpose of education
ought to be and who should be entitled to an education.
9. A physicist ponders Einstein’s theory about the relativity of space and time,
and she believes that space and time themselves must be distinguished from
the empirical, operational space and time utilized in scientific observations
and tests. She agrees that the latter are relative, but she does not think that
this settles the question of the real nature of actual space and time. Each
example is a case where philosophy is relevant to some other discipline of
study and crucial for the task of forming a well-reasoned, integrated
Christian worldview. Philosophy asks normative questions (What ought one
believe and why? What ought one do and why?), it deals with foundational
issues (What is real? What is truth? What can humans know? What is right
and wrong? Do right and wrong exist? What are the principles of good
reasoning and evidence evaluation?), and it seeks knowledge of what some
phenomenon must be in all possible worlds, not what may happen to be the
case in this actual world. In each of the cases listed above, there is a need
for the person in question, if he or she is a Christian, to think hard about the
issue in light of the need for developing a Christian worldview. When one
addresses problems like these, there will emerge a number of different ways
that Christian doctrine and theology can interact with an issue in a discipline
outside theology. And philosophy can be useful both in deciding which model
is the best one to use in a specific case and in helping a person do the work
of integration within that chosen model. Here are some of the different
ways that such interaction can take place.
1. Propositions, theories or methodologies in theology and another
discipline may involve two distinct, nonoverlapping areas of
investigation. For example, debates about angels or the extent of the
atonement have little to do with organic chemistry. Similarly, it is of
little interest to theology whether a methane molecule has three or
four hydrogen atoms in it.
2. Propositions, theories or methodologies in theology and another
discipline may involve two different, complementary, noninteracting
approaches to the same reality. Sociological aspects of church
growth, certain psychological aspects of conversion may be
sociological or psychological descriptions of certain phenomena that
are complementary to a theological description of church growth or
3. Propositions, theories or methodologies in theology and another
discipline may directly interact in such a way that either one area of
study offers rational support for the other or one area of study raises
rational difficulties for the other. For example, certain theological
teachings about the existence of the soul raise rational problems for
philosophical or scientific claims that deny the existence of the soul.
The general theory of evolution raises various difficulties for certain
ways of understanding the book of Genesis. Some have argued that
the big bang theory tends to support the theological proposition that
the universe had a beginning.
4. Theology tends to support the presuppositions of another discipline
and vice versa. Some have argued that many of the presuppositions
of a realist understanding of science (see chap. 16) (e.g., the
existence of truth, the rational, orderly nature of reality, the adequacy
of our sensory and cognitive faculties as tools suited for knowing the
external world) make sense and are easy to justify given Christian
theism, but are odd and without ultimate justification in a naturalistic
worldview. Similarly, some have argued that philosophical critiques of
epistemological skepticism and defenses of the existence of a real,
theory-independent world and a correspondence theory of truth
(according to which true propositions correspond with the “external”
world; see chaps. 5-6) offer justification for some of the
presuppositions of theology.
5. Theology fills out and adds details to general principles in another
discipline and vice versa, and theology helps one practically apply
principles in another discipline and vice versa. For example, theology
teaches that fathers should not provoke their children to anger, and
psychology can add important details about what this means by
offering information about family systems, the nature and causes of
anger, etc. Psychology can devise various tests for assessing whether
one is or is not a mature person, and theology can offer a normative
definition to psychology as to what a mature person is.
These are some of the ways that integration takes place. From the
examples and models listed above, it should be clear that philosophy is
central to the task of integration. Nevertheless, the task of forming an
integrated worldview is a very difficult one, and there is no set of easy steps
or principles that exhaustively describes how that task is to be conducted or
what role philosophy should play in the quest for integration. With this in
mind, the following is a list of principles that can aid someone unfamiliar with
philosophy to think more clearly about its role in integration.
1. Philosophy can make clear that an issue thought to be a part of another
discipline is really a philosophical issue. It often happens that scholars,
untrained in philosophy, will discuss some issue in their field and without
knowing it, cross over into philosophy. When this happens, the discussion
may still be about the original discipline, but it is a philosophical discussion
about that discipline.
For example, attempts to put limits on a given discipline and attempts to draw a line of demarcation between one field of study and another, say
between science and theology, are largely philosophical matters. This is
because such attempts assume a vantage point outside of and above the
discipline in question where one asks second-order questions about that
discipline. Philosophy, it will be recalled, focuses on these kinds of second-
Consider the following six propositions that describe conditions under which
science places a limit on theology or vice versa:
S1. Theological beliefs are reasonable only if science renders them so.
S2. Theological beliefs are unreasonable if science renders them so.
S3. Theological beliefs are reasonable only if arrived at by something closely
akin to scientific methodology.
T1. Scientific beliefs are reasonable only if theology renders them so.
T2. Scientific beliefs are unreasonable if theology renders them so.
T3. Scientific beliefs are reasonable only if arrived at by theologically
Contrary to initial appearances, these propositions are not examples of
science or theology directly placing limits on the other, for none is a
statement of science or theology. Rather, all are philosophical statements
about science and theology. Principles about science and theology are not
the same as principles of science and theology. These six principles are
philosophical attempts to limit science and theology and show their
Consider a second example of where a discussion crosses over into
philosophy almost unnoticed.
Evolutionist: The origin of life from inanimate matter is a well-established
Creationist: But if life arose in the oceans (abiogenesis) as you claim, then
dilution factors would have kept the concentration of large, macromolecules
to levels so small as to have been negligible.
Evolutionist: Well, so what? I do not think abiogenesis took place in the
ocean anyway. Rather, it took place in some isolated pool that had some
concentrating mechanism in place.
Creationist: But the probabilities for such a process are incredibly small, and
in any case, evidence appears to be coming in that the early earth’s atmo-
sphere was a reducing atmosphere, in which case the relevant reactions
could not occur.
Evolutionist: Give us more time, and we will solve these problems. The only
alternative, creationism, is too fantastic to believe, and it involves religious
concepts and is not science at all.
Creationist: Well, neither is evolution science. Science requires firsthand
observation, and since no one was there to observe the origin of first life,
any theory about that origin is not science, strictly speaking.
The discussion starts out as a scientific interaction about chemical reactions,
probabilities, geological evidence and so on. But it slides over into a second-order
philosophical discussion (one that represents a misunderstanding of the nature of
both creationism and science; see chaps. 15-17), about what science is and how
one should define it. These issues are surely relevant to the debate, but there is no
guarantee that two disputants trained in some first-order scientific discipline have
any expertise at all about the second-order questions of what science is and how it
should be practiced. If scientists are going to interact on these issues, then
philosophy will be an essential part of that interaction.
2. Philosophy undergirds other disciplines at a foundational level by
providing clarity, justification for or arguments against the essential
presuppositions of that discipline. Since philosophy operates as a second-order discipline that investigates other disciplines, and since philosophy
examines broad, foundational, axiological, epistemological, logical and
metaphysical issues in those other disciplines, then philosophy is properly
suited to investigate the presuppositions of other disciplines. For example, in
linguistic studies, issues are discussed regarding the existence, nature and
knowability of meaning. These issues, as well as questions about whether
and how language accomplishes reference to things in the world, are the
main focus of the philosophy of language and epistemology.
Again, science assumes there is an external world that is orderly and
knowable, that inductive inferences are legitimate, that the senses and mind
are reliable, that truth exists and can be known, and so on. Orthodox
theology assumes that religious language is cognitive, that knowledge is
possible, that an intelligible sense can be given to the claim that something
exists that is not located in space and time, that the correspondence theory
of truth is the essential part of an overall theory of truth and that linguistic
meaning is objective and knowable. These presuppositions, and a host of
others besides, have all been challenged. The task of clarifying, defending or
criticizing them is essentially a philosophical task.
3. Philosophy can aid a discipline by helping to clarify concepts, argument
forms and other cognitive issues internal to a field. Sometimes the concepts
in a discipline appear to be contradictory, vague, unclear or circularly defined.
Philosophers who study a particular discipline can aid that discipline by
bringing conceptual clarity to it. An example would be the wave-particle
nature of electromagnetic radiation and the wave nature of matter. These
concepts appear to be self-contradictory or vague, and attempts have been
made to clarify them or to show different ways of understanding them.
Another example concerns some conceptions of the mechanisms involved in
evolutionary theory. Some scientists have held that evolution promotes the
survival of the fittest. But when asked what the “fittest” were, the answer is
that the “fittest” were those that survived. This was a problem of circularity
within evolutionary theory, and attempts have been made to redefine the
notion of fitness and the goal of evolution (e.g., the selection of those
organisms that are reproductively favorable) to avoid circularity. Whether or
not these responses have been successful is not the point here. The point is,
rather, that philosophers have raised problems for a scientific theory
because of issues of conceptual clarity. In these and other examples like
them, philosophy can help to clarify issues within a discipline. When
philosophy is brought to bear on questions of this sort, the result may be
that the theory in question is problematic because it involves an internal
contradiction or is somehow self-refuting.
For example, the sociological claim that there is no difference between
intellectual history (roughly, the attempt to trace the development of ideas
through history by focusing on the rational factors involved in the ideas
themselves, including their own inner logic and relationships to ideas coming
after them, e.g., the development of empiricism from John Locke to George
Berkeley to David Hume) and the sociology of knowledge (the attempt to
trace the development of ideas as a result of nonrational factors in a given
culture, e.g., social status, economic conditions and so on) is sometimes
justified by an appeal to conceptual relativism. The claim is made that
different cultures have different language games, different views of the world
and so forth, and that all of one’s views are determined by nonrational
factors and thus are not to be trusted. Such a claim is self-refuting, for
presumably this theory itself would be untrustworthy on its own terms.
4. Philosophy provides a common language or conceptual grid wherein two
disciplines can be directly related to one another and integrated. Sometimes
two different disciplines will use a term in a slightly different but not
completely unrelated way. When this occurs, philosophy can help to clarify
the relationship between the different disciplinary uses of the term in
For example, sometimes an operational definition of some notion can be
related to an ordinary language definition of that notion or a definition from
another field. An operational definition is, roughly, a definition of some
concept totally in terms of certain laboratory or experimental operations or
test scores. Thus one could operationally define a number of sociological
concepts (minority group, traditional family roles, group leadership) or
psychological terms (depression, intelligence) completely in terms of some
operation or test score. A person could be said to be depressed if and only if
that person scored between such and such a range on some standard
Now these operational definitions may be related to our ordinary language
notions of the relevant concepts in question; but they may not be clearly
related, and in any case, they are certainly not identical to them. So
philosophical clarity needs to be given before we can specify the relationship
between depression as it is understood in ordinary language and depression
as it is operationally defined in some test.
This type of philosophical elucidation is especially important when the term in
question appears to be normative in nature. Thus, if one tries to give an
operational, psychological definition of a “mature” or “healthy” adult, then all
one can give is a descriptive definition, not a prescriptive one, for psychology
as it is currently practiced is a descriptive field. Philosophy focuses on moral
prescriptions and oughts; psychology focuses on factual descriptions. So
philosophy becomes relevant in clarifying the relationship between a
“mature” adult, psychologically defined, and a “mature” adult taken as a
normative notion (i.e., as something one ought to try to achieve).
Philosophy also helps to clarify and relate the different disciplinary
descriptions of the same phenomenon. For example, biologists describe a
human being as a member of the classification Homo sapiens. Philosophy,
theology, law and political science (to name a few) treat a human being as a
living entity called a human person. It is a philosophical question as to
whether the two notions are identical and, if they are not, how they relate to
5. Philosophy provides external conceptual problems for other disciplines
to consider as part of the rational appraisal of theories in those disciplines
(and vice versa). A philosophical external conceptual problem arises for
some theory in a discipline outside of philosophy when that theory conflicts
with a doctrine of some philosophical theory, provided that the philosophical
theory and its component doctrines are rationally well founded. For example,
suppose there were a good philosophical argument against the view that
history has crossed an actual infinite number of events throughout the past
to reach the present moment. If this argument is a reasonable one, then it
tends to count against some scientific theory (e.g., an oscillating universe)
which postulates that the past was beginningless and actually infinite. If there
were a good philosophical argument for the claim that space and time are
absolute, then this argument would tend to count against scientific theories
to the contrary.
Again, if there are good philosophical arguments for the existence of genuine
freedom of the will or arguments for the existence of real moral
responsibility and the necessity of full-blown freedom as a presupposition of
moral responsibility, then these would tend to count against sociological,
economic or psychological theories that are deterministic in nature. In cases
like these, a rationally defensible position is present within philosophy, and it
runs contrary to a theory surfaced in another field. The philosophical external
conceptual problem may not be sufficient to require abandonment or
suspension of judgment of the theory in the other discipline; it may merely
tend to count against it. Even so, these kinds of conceptual problems show
that philosophical considerations are relevant to the rationality of theory-assessment in other disciplines.
In sum, we have looked at five different ways that philosophy enters into the
task of integration in a Christian university. It is important to realize that the
Christian philosopher should adopt the attitude of faith seeking
understanding. The Christian philosopher will try to undergird, defend and
clarify the various aspects of a worldview compatible with Scripture. This will
involve working not only on broad theological themes—for example, the
dignity of being human—but on defending and clarifying specific verses in
Scripture. Of course, caution must be exercised. One should not
automatically assume that one’s particular interpretation of a biblical text is
the only option for an evangelical, and one should not automatically assume
that the biblical text was intended to speak to the issue at hand. But when
due care is given to these warnings, it is nevertheless important that the
Christian philosopher tries to forge a worldview that includes the teaching of
specific biblical texts, properly interpreted.
Earlier in the chapter reference was made to a remark from Saint Augustine
to the effect that the Christian intellectual must work on behalf of the church
to show that Scripture does not conflict with any rationally justified belief
from some other discipline. Over seventy-five years ago the great
evangelical Presbyterian scholar J. Gresham Machen remarked that false
ideas were the greatest hindrance to the gospel. According to Machen, we
can preach with all the fervor of a reformer and even win a straggler here
and there; but if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or
world to be dominated by ideas that, by their very logic, prevent Christianity
from being regarded as anything more than a hopeless delusion, then we do
damage to our religion.
Members of the Christian family have a responsibility to promote worldwide
evangelization, the nurture of the saints and the penetration of culture with a
Christian worldview. This task is important to the very life and health of the
church, and when we engage in it, philosophy is now, as it has always been,
an essential participant in this great task.
While there is no airtight definition for philosophy, nevertheless, three features of
philosophy help us understand what it is. The term philosophy means love of
wisdom, and philosophy is an attempt to think rationally and critically about life’s
most important questions. Moreover, philosophy is a second-order discipline.
Finally, there are several first-order areas of philosophy itself, such as logic,
metaphysics, epistemology and value theory.
From a Christian perspective, philosophy can be an aid to apologetics, polemics
and systematic theology. Further, work in philosophy can be a central expression
of the image of God and can be a spiritual discipline. Finally, philosophy can help to
extend biblical teaching to areas not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, it can
enhance the self-image of the believing community, and it can aid in the task of
integrating theology with other disciplines in forming a Christian worldview.
Moreover, four arguments against philosophy were evaluated and rejected. The
last section of the chapter cited examples of the need for integration and for
philosophy to be involved in that activity, various models of integration were listed,
and five philosophical principles used in integration were examined.
CHECKLIST OF BASIC TERMS AND CONCEPTS
external conceptual problem
noetic effects of sin
sociology of knowledge
1. Augustine On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1.21.
2. John G. Gager, Kingdom and Community: The Social World of Early
Christianity (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975), pp. 86-87.
3. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1949), p.
4. William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press,
1982; based on the 1829 edition), pp. 1-2.
About the Authors:
J.P. Moreland (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is Distinguished Professor
of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada,
California. He has written, edited or contributed to twenty books with publishers
ranging from Oxford University Press, Routledge, Wadsworth and Prometheus to
Zondervan and InterVarsity Press. Among his books are Christianity and the Nature
of Science, Does God Exist? (with Kai Nielsen) and Philosophical Naturalism: A
Critical Analysis. He has also published more than fifty articles in journals such as
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, American Philosophical Quarterly,
Australasian Journal of Philosophy, MetaPhilosophy, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly,
Southern Journal of Philosophy, Religious Studies and Faith and Philosophy. He is a
fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.
William Lane Craig (Ph.D., philosophy, University of Birmingham; D.T., systematic
theology, University of Munich) is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot
School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, California. He has published
articles in philosophical and theological journals such as The Journal of Philosophy,
American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, British Journal
for the Philosophy of Science, Modern Theology and Religious Studies. He has
written or co written more than twenty books, including The Kalam Cosmological
Argument; Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom; Theism, Atheism and Big
Bang Cosmology and God, Time and Eternity.
Taken from Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview by J.P. Moreland and William Lane
Craig. Copyright © 2003 by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. Permission kindly granted to
Faith & Reason Forum by InterVarsity Press.