Is Philosophy Evil?

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Does the Bible forbid or discourage the study of philosophy? Many will quote passages about deceptive philosophy (Col 2:8), false human knowledge (1 Tim 6:20) and the philosopher of this age (1 Cor 1:20) as being against philosophy in general. Personally, everyone sees that I study, speak and write a great about philosophy. I am also a member of two philosophical societies: The Evangelical Philosophical Society and the Society of Christian Philosophers. Some, seeing this, assume I must be an atheist or believe in relativism because they have wrongly been taught that philosopher is synonymous with atheist and relativist. I remember a young Christian woman at a local college ask me my major. I told her it was Philosophy. She asked me, “How can you as a Christian study philosophy? My philosophy professor told me no philosopher believes in universal truth.” I responded, “Then either you misheard him, or your professor was an idiot!” I personally know several Christians who are professional philosophers who also believe in universal truth.

It is not possible that scripture forbids all study of philosophy. I say this because we have to understand the word philosophy in the ancient context. In the days of the New Testament all knowledge, science and belief were included under the heading of philosophy. The writer of the Maccabees even refers to the Jewish religion he strongly defends as being a philosophy. One of the most active defenders and champions of First Century Judaism was the philosopher Philo. Philosophers studied the universe, ethics, chemistry, mathematics, religion, etc. It is only in modern times that some of these disciplines have been separated from the field of philosophy. In that context if scripture had said, “Avoid all philosophy” it would have been saying, “Avoid knowing anything.” Look at some of the disciplines we gladly accept: theology, anthropology, ethics, aesthetics, and a host of others. In the days of the New Testament these were all part of philosophy. Today, many still are, but some have separated to stand on their own because they take on a different focus. For example, what is the biggest difference between Theology and its underlying field of Philosophy of Religion? Philosophy of Religion is more concerned with delving questions about religious belief: Does God exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? What is the nature of divinity? How does the divine interact with and relate to the universe? Etc. Theology is more concerned with defending a specific system of answers to these questions. Theology can no more be separated from the Philosophy of Religion than my heart can be separated from my living body.

Philosophy literally means: love of wisdom. Nothing in scripture tells us to despise wisdom. We are to despise puffed up, human wisdom that assumes greater knowledge than is possible, or that stands opposed to the revealed wisdom of God. Much of the questionable assumptions from philosophy (relativism, positivism, etc.) actually involve philosophers moving out of their own discipline and making overreaching conclusions. The philosophy rejected by Paul was philosophy of those who ridiculed the gospel in Athens (the Epicureans and Stoics). He does this because their metaphysical views of the universe contradicted scripture. They ridiculed the resurrection not because they didn’t think one could come back from the dead—they assumed this was possible—but they ridiculed it because their view of spiritual and physical dualism made a resurrection undesirable. In their view the flesh was to be despised and one once separated from it to be perfect spirit would never want to come back to the flesh. Paul also denounced this sort of philosophy because their ethical views of right and wrong led them to practices contrary to the revealed Word of God.

Besides, Paul could not be rejecting all philosophers, since he quotes philosophers positive: “Even one of their own prophets says, ‘Cretans are liars’” (Titus 1:12, quote of Epmenides). Paul obviously studied philosophy. Should we fear it?

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