Friday, July 28, 2006

Philosophical Inventory: What I Believe

It may be helpful, or at least stir some debate, for me to lay out my positions on some basic philosophical, theological, and cultural matters. This essay states my views, but does not defend them. That would take a series of articles (if not books). I have defended many if not all of these claims in my writing or teaching or preaching and hope to defend more in future intellectual adventures.

1. Meta-philosophy (or philosophy of philosophy): I believe in the analytic method of philosophizing, but with the realization that some continental philosophers come up with significant insights. However, the clear articulation of their ideas requires a more analytical approach.

2. Metaphysics: I am a Trinitarian and Incarnational theist, a mind-body substance dualist, a compatibilist on human agency, and an egalitarian on gender (since women and men are equally human, there should be no status differences that uniquely favor men over women on the basis of gender).

3. Epistemology: I am a critical realist (the world and God can be partially known in various ways), a foundationalist (there are basic and knowable truths on which we base other beliefs), and an internalist (we should generally have reasons to ground our beliefs as knowledge).

4. Ethics: I hold to the divine command theory. The good is based on God’s eternal character and is in harmony with the nature of the creation God brought worth. God’s commands, therefore, fit both the divine character and the character of creation. Ethics should balance deontological, virtue, and consequential considerations and should honor human beings (at every stage of development or decay) as bearers of incomparable and irreducible value, given their status made in God's own image.

5. Theology: I am broadly evangelical and Reformed, but not convinced of infant baptism. Besides the last proviso, I accept most all of The Westminster Confession of Faith. This means I hold to the inerrancy of the Bible (an epistemological standard of consequence for all other theological beliefs), that salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone, is by grace alone, through faith alone, and known through Scripture alone. Hermeneutically, I hold that Scripture must be interpreted rationally with the aim of discovering what the author intended to say in his cultural setting. This is should be done according to sound grammatical and rhetorical principles that uncover a text’s objective meaning. When this work is done, the truths derived from biblical texts should be integrated into a systematic theology, since God is not double-minded or ad hoc.

6. Theology of culture: I hold to the Christ the transformer of culture model, to invoke H. Richard Neibuhr’s somewhat imperfect categories, but with a strong emphasis on the church as a counterculture or sign of contradiction against worldliness.

7. Apologetic method: I hold to the cumulative case method (a host of metaphysical, moral, and historical arguments converge on Christianity as the best explanation of the things that matter most), but with a strong emphasis on analytically sophisticated natural theology. I believe that there are compelling versions of all the species of natural theology: ontological arguments, cosmological arguments, design arguments, moral arguments, and the religious experience arguments.

8. Aesthetics: I am a critical realist. There are objective aesthetic properties, some of which can be known through various means. I reject aesthetic relativism as sub-Christian and philosophically indefensible.

9. Philosophy of science:

A. I believe that science and theology should interact with respect to truth claims (J.P. Moreland). God is the author of the book of Scripture and the book of nature (Jonathan Edwards). Since God is the author of both books, in the final analysis, these books will not conflict with one another. Both science and theology make truth claims about objective reality; they may come in conflict with one another or support one another. (“Science” does not automatically win, given its present institutional commitment to philosophical naturalism.) In some cases, however, science will speak to an area about which theology is silent (atoms) or vice versa (angels).

B. I am an Intelligent Design proponent. Natural selection does not adequately explain instances of specified complexity in nature. Design is a legitimate and testable explanatory model for scientific investigations.


Cheerful Curmudgeon said...

First, I want to commend you for your earlier post indicating a Curmudgeon Crackdown. I have observed that the reply traffic is less superfluous. I would think that your readership is the same and more qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) responses will continually be forthcoming.

Second, thank you for sharing your belief structure with substantive and comprehensive unpacking that includes more than philosophy, but integrates the theological and cultural components.

Third, after seriously reviewing your post, I realized why I struggle to win arguments with you. In fact, I am not sure that I have ever won an argument with you! God has hard and soft wired you quite well.

Fourth, I would like to spend sometime (up the road) discussing the biblical case for infant baptism. I was not convinced of infant baptism until I began an in-depth study of various theological understandings of baptism within evangelical thought. As part of permanent ordination as an Evangelical Covenant pastor, I was required to engage this subject rigorously and form a full baptism theology. The Covenant pastor retains the freedom to hold one view over the other as a preference but must understand themselves as a pastor for the entire flock, so a more complete understanding in this area is required. I am now convinced that infant baptism is well supported in the Bible. This same type of biblical understanding occurred as I engaged the theological issues tied to gender. Upon deeper evaluation of the Scriptures, I became a passionate biblical egalitarian. In the same way, I passionately affirm baptism and I am comfortable with the theological underpinnings of infant baptism

Timo_the_Osprey said...

Compatibilist Curmudgeon? You just knocked my socks off!

Edwards would nod approvingly but Chesterton would be wagging a finger at you for that one!

I'd love to see a post concerning your compatibilism. The free will debate is one of the more fascinating debates in philosophy -I bet others would enjoy such a post as well.

It is an especially interesting debate for Christians since so many great minds in the Christian tradition have parted ways on this question. And contemporary Christian philosophers working in the field are divided, too. (Van Inwagen and Fischer come to mind.)

To decide wether or not to commit suicide. said...

Cheerful curmudgeon says he is now convinced that the bible supports infant baptism.

I would be curious to know what particular CLEAR scriptures convinced you of the legitimacy of IB.

Adam said...

A quick question about your "meta-philosophy":

What exactly do you mean by the "analytic method of philosophizing"? Your comment about how the "clear articulation" of continental insights requires a "more analytical approach" suggests that you simply equate "analysis" with "clarity".

Jeremy said...

I don't have a specific comment regarding any of your points. I would only like to say that I wish all Christians would take the time to write out what they believed (and even why). Consious awareness of our worldview, especially where it departs from the Christian worldview (if it does), can only serve to make us more faithful.

David said...

I may be splitting hairs here, but I question whether the description of your meta-ethics counts as divine command theory. I get what your saying, that God's commands will always conform to his nature, and I definitely agree. I just don't think that, historically, divine command theory includes this reference to God's nature as a kind of controlling factor. I wonder if there is another name for this more robust view that you're describing.

Jeremy said...


I hope things are well in Arkansas, and I miss the workouts.

In regards to your meta-ethics comment, this way framing divine command theory is an attempt to split the Euthyphro dilema. The Good is not merely commanded arbitrarily by God, nor does is the Good separate and above God. Divine command theorists see God as the Good--his character is essentially Good such that God commands the Good, and the Good is what God commands. It's not unlike logical possibility constraining possible worlds; God's good character constrains what he commands.

I hope this helps.

By the way, Dr. G, you mentioned something about morality conforming not only to God's character, but to the character of creation as well. Might I take credit for that little insight (remember my papers on virtue preceeding deontology, and that the moral order being tailored to creation's telos, not merely rules that conform to God's character)?

Douglas Groothuis said...

I concur with Jeremy, but I don't remember stealing the chop from him! I know I was teaching the idea that God's commands fit the nature of creation before he was a student at Denver Seminary. Not that I came up with the idea, though! I may have gotten it from Arthur Holmes.

Jeremy said...

Just a bit of a joke, he, he, he! I've already got one footnote in your apologetics book; I'm just trying to milk the old cow dry!

Cheerful Curmudgeon said...

In response to: Dr. Ca (or his associate). You posted: "Cheerful curmudgeon says he is now convinced that the bible supports infant baptism.
I would be curious to know what particular CLEAR scriptures convinced you of the legitimacy of IB."

Dear Dr. Ca:
(And possibly a begininng response to the Constructive Curmudgeon as well!)
This subject requires much more than a blog-post or a list of "Clear Scriptures" to unpack the theological underpinnings of infant baptism.

I believe the key is to first understand (even if one does not necessarily agree) "potential" theological underpinnings, which are then supported by Scriptures. Here is an example of a doctrine that requires an adequate grasp of the theological underpinnings first: The Doctrine of the Trinity. If I were to ask you where is the word "trinity" written in the Bible? I would have to first say that the word trinity is not. Some would say, then the debate is over. But I could first point to numerous passages that help illuminate the theological underpinnings and then the doctrine of the Trinity becomes evidently clear throughout Scripture as believed by those who espouse Evangelical Christian thought.

We all come to the Bible with different presuppositions. I believe that asking good questions (and thoughtfully listening to the potential answers) about baptism is a good way to help work through the presuppositions. For example, is baptism about God? Is baptism about obedience? Is baptism a gift from God or is baptism a gift back to God (or both or not)? Is baptism about a person expressing faith? Is baptism a sign of God's grace? Is a person sealed during the act of baptism? Is baptism a sacrament? Is the Holy Spirit involved in Baptism? Is there any regeneration (and to what level if any?) that takes place during the act of baptism? Is baptism only an outward sign of faith or is it a sign of inward change (or both or not and how do we know?)? What is the inward change and who is responsible for the change? How does the fact that God stands outside of time impact baptism? Is baptism salvific? Is baptism part of a Covenant of the household of faith? Is NT baptism similar to (or the same as) OT circumcision? Is baptism about identification? How does water play a part in baptism? How are the modes and means of baptism significant? Are there chronological or temporal sequences that are significant or required in the act of baptism (and why)? What are the biblical or theological reference points for the temporal and chronological sequences? The list of questions does and should go on. From there, a person with a teachable spirit should be able to grasp (even if you don't agree) some different ways to reference baptism theologically and biblically. I pray that your study of baptism will be fruitful, fun, and glorifying to God. I hope this helps you get started. Blessings!

Ed Darrell said...

You had me right up to intelligent design. Especially considering the record of ID in court on the honesty issue, isn't there some dissonance between advocating such a position, and any other form of ethics? I have never found any ID advocate who could write more than a couple of pages without violating the first point of the Scout Law. Is that not a problem?

Paul said...

Thanks for this Mr. Groothuis.

With respect to point number six (theology of culture), have you ever read a book by Peter J. Leithart called Against Christianity? It is an odd little book that I would be very interested to see your reactions to.