(Continued reflections on the book: God and the Philosophers. The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason. Edited by Thomas Morris. Oxford University Press, 1994.)
Brian Leftow begins his chapter this way:
I am a philosopher because I am a Christian. To many intellectuals, this probably sounds like saying that I am a dog because I am a cat.
Among other things in his essay, he gives a defense of why “Christian philosopher” is not a contradiction in terms. He emphasizes that reason can serve God if given the chance, and that philosophy can be a work of Christian service. Christian belief can be a help, rather than a hindrance, to serious intellectual work.
Having to reconcile faith and reason is actually unique to our modern time period! Leftow does some historical review, showing how the Enlightenment has tainted our view of things. Even the names given to the period between 500 and 1500 AD are biased…For example it was the “age of faith”…in contrast to the “age of reason” that followed. That terminology gives no doubt which age was better! Reason knows. While faith just believes and is unreasonable.
Peter van Inwagen approaches this issue in regards to science. Some secular historians claim that Christianity stifled ancient science and created the Dark Ages. Is this the only way to see it? The ancient Greeks did take magnificent first steps down the path of science, but then the path faltered. Ancient science discovered very little after about the time of the birth of Christ. But if Christianity is solely to blame that sure was fast work, especially considering that Christianity took some time to get established! The modern growth of science did not begin “suddenly” in the 16th century but was continuous with the natural philosophy of the High Middle Ages. It can be argued that the Christian world view produced a mental climate that made the birth of science possible. Those who were actually responsible for the birth of science, such as Galileo and Newton, were indeed Christian.
Van Inwagen makes another fascinating point. As stated, the development of real, modern science happened in a civilization built upon the church. Why didn’t it develop in China or India? One might think that “rational” Confucian China, an ancient civilization with a long history of scholarship and mechanical invention, would have been most likely to have developed science. Yet, they did not. Some blame Christianity for squashing science, but what can you blame it on in the case of China (or India)? Apparently this was a big question in the 18th century, which was never answered, and the question has since been ignored.
Coming back around to Leftow’s thoughts. If philosophy is viewed in its real historical context, it is not Christian but secular philosophers who have made a radical break with philosophical tradition! Until the 1700’s, almost all philosophers drew more or less explicitly on some religious tradition. Purely secular philosophy is a modern and recent innovation. Leftow sums up by stating: So “Christian philosopher” is no contradiction. In fact, someone who moves from explicit Christian faith to philosophy is just bringing the subject back to itself.
The modern marginalization of religion and the secular consensus in academia reminds me of the “tunnel” analogy in the book: Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief by Huston Smith. See this link where I write a book review on it.
To bring this post to a close, I appreciate how Leftow also sees a natural connection between religion and philosophy. And that philosophy does not have to begin with skepticism, but can begin with belief. A philosopher wants answers to questions and is seeking truth. This stems from a love of truth, and not from disillusionment with the search. A skeptic is disillusioned, cynical, wary. Is a cynical skeptic the best adviser on the path to truth? The divorced are not the best source of marital advice! If you are married and live with the expectation of marital discord and breakup, you will probably bring about the breakup you fear. The only way to be happily married is to believe you can be and have trust in your spouse.
Philosophy is a love of truth. If philosophy must lead to skepticism, then the love of truth can only disappoint. If philosophy must begin with skepticism, then you can only love what you do not believe you have. But that would make marriage impossible. As a Christian, Leftow came to philosophy already believing certain philosophical truths – for example, that there is a God. He began already loving certain truths, and wanted the pleasure of more fully understanding them. If you love something…you desire it, revel in it, and want to know more about it. And this is precisely why he sees a natural connection between Christian faith and philosophy.
Well, I am up to 800 words again! I believe I will have one more post where I share thoughts from this book.