fbpx

The Relationship of Philosophy to Theology

For Reformed theologians it can be rather difficult to articulate the relationship between philosophy and theology. Is philosophy simply theology asking different questions? Is it a distinct discipline that can be differentiated from theological inquiry? Bob LaRocca drives a discussion pertaining to these difficult questions.

Participants: , , ,


Philosophy for Theologians aims to look critically at the problems of philosophy by considering everything in light of God's revelation. The program not only wants to address philosophical questions but also to equip you with a way to think about these questions. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

Leave a comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Mallie

9 years ago

Finally! Thank you for bringing the show back! I’m a philosophy major, and so I’m always eager to hear how philosophy and theology relate to each other. Great job.

Carl

9 years ago

Gentlemen,
an important topic- glad you addressed it.

Kuddos to Bob (I think it was him) for attempting to hash out some helpful boundaries. A bit disappointing that the discussion did not touch more deeply on questions like, “What, then, is the proper use of philosophy in (doing) theology?”, but not particularly surprising that it did not.

A few general comments on Bob’s categorization… I thought it very astute and helpful, actually, with a minor but important qualification: On the point where he touches on theology’s utilization of philosophy, I would suggest again – even for fear of sounding like a broken record – that theology is not free to use philosophy “as much as it wants” (49.36m). We appear to be rather obviously constrained by Scripture on this point.

I hold that we are not free to mingle philosophy, speaking generally, with our theology. I further hold that sound reformed tradition concurs with this. The participants of this panel all take an opposing view, I am aware, but I would argue that you have not made an exegetical case for this, ever, but merely assumed it. (Not that this disposition is uniquely yours, to be sure. It seems well grounded across the departments of today seminaries, I am also aware.)

So to hear Bob’s attempts at categorization (and formalization) was a refreshing breeze.

Yet the reluctance with which the rest of the panel endured his helpful efforts – with a very clearly expressed view to the authority, and not to rigid boundary! – was telling. This indeed is one of the places where, in my experience, Van Tilian expositors appear most determined to remain undisturbed. And not without reason, i think. When the boundary between these fields of study is loose, or nonexistent, even according to the model of VT’s writings, the unchecked mixture of theology and philosophy is free to promulgate itself as orthodoxy. But place a biblical constraint on the use of philosophy, even the ones proposed here by Bob, and Van Tilian construct itself begs to be revisited while shedding light on another important truth: That the unregenerate man may well attain correct/true (whatever adjective you fancy) knowledge in any field of natural sciences, philosophy included, provided its findings do not contradict sound theology.

Now, I know this last statement is not where Bob intended to go with his categories and I do not want to misuse his words in any way- I understand him to be a self professed Van Tilian. But I think his categorization helpful in promoting reflection on some important biblical matters.

Jim Cassidy

9 years ago

I think there was an awful lot of talking past one another here.

Patrick

9 years ago

Glad to see philosophy for theologians back.
Much of the latter half of this discussion puzzled me. It would help to know more about Thomistic philosophy to understand Bob’s many distinctions between the disciplines, though his basic points (e.g., the understanding of the nature, role, and (subordinate) authority of philosophy in the Reformed traditions) shouldn’t be controversial, and seem to be verbatim Van Til or Oliphint. Yet I don’t think Bob was being clear enough in distinguishing the Reformed (or Thomistic) conceptions of philosophy and theology, versus philosophy and science as viewed and practiced within other philosophical traditions—a point that Daniel(?) brought out at 48:30 in describing the specialization of philosophy within contemporary departments.

From my perspective, much contemporary philosophy is dependent on the sciences and does not take an authoritative or constraining stance. Philosophers dictating the sciences from the armchair via introspection, intuition, and conceptual analysis, have been too often mistaken in the next generation. Think of Kant’s assertion that Euclidean geometry is a necessary category by which we structure our perception—only a few decades before the development of non-Euclidean geometries. One way to know Thales’s metaphysics is incorrect is by knowing there is a Creator-creature distinction, yet another way is through the natural sciences, to test the empirical status of his water-ontology. In other words, much philosophy is (and should be) subservient to the sciences, simply because much philosophy is within the bounds of science an attempt to understand the world in ways the sciences are good at discovering—the role of neurological faculties in moral judgment, the reliability of probabilistic reasoning or intuition, cross-cultural differences in linguistic practices such as proper name reference, or conceptual issues in the sciences.

I don’t see where such scientifically oriented philosophy fits into Bob’s picture, perhaps simply because Bob is not fully acknowledging that much of what is called philosophy, especially in the late 20th century and today, is simply theoretical science, to which we should have no objection (and I think such division of labor is most welcoming after so many centuries of philosophers dictating—via pure conceptual analysis or intuition—how the world must of necessity be, science or theology be damned).

Ontological naturalism (whatever that is) might be incompatible with Christian theism, but a weak methodological naturalism shouldn’t be within the proper domains. Of course, the naturalistic projects range from eliminitivistic of traditional philosophy (e.g., the Churchland’s eliminitivism in philosophy of mind, to Ladyman’s recent book Everything must go: metaphysics naturalized) to simply conversant with philosophy. Which particular project places too much authority on science or philosophy, or which is simply false or self-refuting, will have to be discovered in the details.

So, for instance, when Bob seems to equate philosophy and theology at 45:30-46:10, he might want to note the fact that much of what goes on in philosophy, Christian and non-, does not fit this schema—his is a normative schema, not descriptive of, say, how philosophy is practiced, I take it. Bob’s definition of philosophy is appropriate, but it does place most of what goes on in philosophy as not philosophy but science, and it does not give us a priori grounds for rejecting the contents of those sciences or philosophies.

Jim Cassidy

9 years ago

Bob at 1:02 dichotomized theology and history. This can have the danger of falling into fideism. On the other hand, Daniel was placing too much emphasis on extra biblical knowledge, disciplines and material. Bob is right here, Scripture is different. The young believer or the sweet old Christian lady can understand the Bible without any extra-biblical material whatsoever. On the other hand, history and theology are never in contradiction to one another. We may not gain our theological doctrine from historiography nor from logic, but logic and historiography are never affronted by theological doctrine (or, at least, ought not). That brings up the question, however: who’s historiography and logic? And here we must go back to revelation (both general and special). And I think Bob wanted to do that. That even our historiography and logic is never independent of God or his revelation (enter the VT quote given by Jared). This is why I think there was much talking past one another, and a rapprochement is not far off. Bob just needs to refine a bit to cut off any suspicion that any discipline can be considered independent of God, revelation, and theology.

Sorry guys, these thoughts are rambling. The show was great and a lot of fun to listen to, as iron sharpens iron.

PS – We have to be careful with Wright’s quote on history and Christianity. For him, history is not determined by special revelation, but rather is an autonomous discipline to which he believes he needs to make Christianity adhere. Because of his critical-realism, he is able to use a filter approach with the biblical text, questioning the historical nature of some texts, or re-interpret them, if they do not fit into the mold of his own autonomously derived historiography.

Benj

9 years ago

You’re right, Jim, there’s a lot that comes with Wright’s view of history. I merely meant to emphasize that Christianity is based on an event that we believe really, historically occurred in time and space. We fail to be responsible interpreters of God’s revelation if we neglect its historical context.

G. Kyle Essary

9 years ago

Glad to have PfT back.

matt crotts

9 years ago

Wow – what an excellent talk!

I’m thankful for the benefit of being able to sit back slightly more as a listener of a podcast, rather than that of a participant in a live, interactive conversation – otherwise I probably would much more easily have gotten lost!

I think I adopt LaRocca’s hermeneutic more readily than the others’. I’m not able to tell if it’s more because of the presuppositions driven by my personality or the objective weight of the argument. I think that formalism is something of an epistemological draw to some more than others, but for personal motivations driven by the inevitable effect of our subjective natures (obvious, of course).

Who was it that said, something to the effect of, “There are personal motivations the heart knows not what of?” I remember disagreeing with this philosopher on most points but in this one, but it seems easier to apply when, as some would see it, we’re splitting epistemological hairs.

Nevertheless, I think that LaRocca’s argument is more cohesive and thorough in its system than the others’, contentious and full of tricky implications as it evidently is. In the heat of the moment that it’s being drawn out, though, it’s a bit more difficult to supress a distrust for, perhaps because it has the potential to slightly readjust so many of our presuppositions (and that seems to always leave Reformed folks feeling more vulnerable than those in other camps who don’t use Van Tilian apologetics so heavily)

Jim Cassidy

9 years ago

Matt, are you thinking of Blaise Pascal?

matt crotts

9 years ago

“Love has its reasons that Reason knows not.”

Looks like I didn’t remember the quote correctly at all. However, I suppose it still can be used similarly, even if Pascal meant it for a different context.

Thanks Jim!

Steve

9 years ago

I enjoyed the discussion even though this seems a “Gordian Knott” of a problem. I personally prefer Scriptural Primacy. What texts would you recommend as a starting point for this issue? Around 44:15 the issue and number of philosophical disciplines came up. I am always amazed at the reductionism of Axiology to just Ethics surly Value Theory and Aesthetics are part of this discipline. Thanks again for a stimulating programme.

Steve

Bob L.

9 years ago

Matt C. – I think you are right – most of the heat is how I express this ordering of sciences rather than the ordering itself. I could use more Van Tillian language, but I think the Scholastic categories are tighter and cleaner. Nonetheless, they are interchangeable. In the end, and in my opinion, I’m really just allowing scholastic categories to formalize what I and others have always said as Van Tillians – the transcendence of theology and the dependence of all other knowledge (and being!).

Steve – I take a traditional view on the ordering of philosophical discourse. Metaphysics takes primacy (first philosophy) over epistemology and ethics. That is to say, metaphysical doctrines contour and calibrate epistemological inquiry – and to the best of our ability, not the other way around! These subdisciplines investigate the most proper questions and problems in philosophy. After these doctrines are set, aestetics, politics, jurisprudence, philosophy of history etc, are legitimate topics for philosophical inquiry, but they are taking all of their principles from what has been already discoverd in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Here is a crude way of putting it – you can’t have a metaphysic or epistemology without governing theological doctrines already set and you can’t have a philosophy of history or art without governing metaphysical or epistemological doctrines in place. What myself and many experienced in college is that for history or art, etc there is no metaphysic or epistemology to draw from because they are decried as principleless and thus arbitrary, and rightly so. My whole and most imporant point is that for Christians, reformed Trinitarian Christians, metaphysics and epistemology are NOT principleless and arbitrary – but activated and governed and founded within a Christian Trinitarian worldview. Nonetheless, even while philosophy depends on the higher science of theology, philosophy still has a separate body of knowledge that is not derived from a theological investigation but a distinct philosophical one. I suppose that is the controversial point. (It warrants repeating – in ultimate principle there is no philosophy, knowledge, thought, or language without theological truths governing, determining, and founding the whole life and world system).

Nate

9 years ago

One concern I have is an oddly high view of philosophy which I detect lurking in the background. It should be clear that philosophy is dispensable. I’ve come up with my own definition of philosophy which I’m working to refine. I’ll try it out on you guys to see what you think. Philosophy is ‘people talking’. In my view it must be clear that philosophy is no more eternal than anything else in the fallen world, no more righteousness than any other passtime of man. I agree that philosophy can deliver “truths” – let’s say “ideas” to avoid unnecessary tension – ideas that can’t be found in theology. So can anything else – cooking, playing sports, learning to post “a reply” on reformedforum. But philosophy is as limp as anything else in terms of the abiding value of what it can offer. Remember how Hume used to throw his arms in the air – proverbially – and resort to backgammon after nearly destroying scientific knowledge. In Hume’s world, backgammon gave him ideas (truths?) that philosophy couldn’t provide. This is normal experience for all people. As far as loving my wife, philosophy is useless. It would be pretty crazy to think that, on average, better philosophers are better husbands. As for Aristotelian metaphysics, I can’t imagine any reason to put that in a category all its own, finding some island between the Creator and the creature, or something ethical Switzerland between the sinner and God, just for Thomas’ Aristotelianism. It may be a great way to talk about what things are – it may be the best any man has ever devised. But, first – who out there really needs to talk about ‘what things are’? And, secondly, the grass withers, the flower fades, friends. It really isn’t of much lasting consequence, not compared to the surpassing glory – and that comparison is categorical. There is no foundational structure: there is the Word and there is everything else. A very high view of some school of metaphysics or any philosophy at all is just odd, strikingly parochial, and totally without biblical warrant.

Patrick

8 years ago

I am hoping philosophy for theologians (along with the other programs such as Reformed media review) makes another return sometime soon. There was also talk at one point of having a sort of philosophy for theologians reading group over summer . . . and there was also talk of rich donors willing to fly out all participants for a colloquium at WTS at the end. The last part may have been made-up. but I am sure none of you are that busy this summer anyway. Ok, that is likely not true either. In any case, new episodes of whatever quality would be much enjoyed.

"Philosophy for Theologians" on Aquinas and Other Topics | The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast | A Philosophy Podcast and Blog

8 years ago

[…] take precedence over philosophy and every other corner of the intellect is elaborated directly on a recent episode called “The Relation of Philosophy to Theology.” I won’t try to do that discussion justice here; just check it out if you’re interested. […]

Refomed Philosophy

8 years ago

[…] are your views?do you agree or disagree? You can view the video discussion in full here: The Relationship of Philosophy to Theology – ReformedForum.org Shawn Attending Cornerstone Baptist Church Wilmington,North Carolina Adherent of WCF "And […]

Onedaringjew

8 years ago

Re Romans 16 on divisions, ok, all you chaps back to the drawing board. Hmmm.

reformed-forum-logo-white400

Contact Info

Reformed Forum
115 Commerce Dr.
Suite E
Grayslake, IL 60030

+1 847.986.6140
mail@reformedforum.org

Copyright © 2019 Reformed Forum