Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen, Th.M., S.T.M.

Lloyd F. Dean

From JASA 9 (September 1957): 22-23.

For this issue I requested Dr. Lloyd F. Dean of Gordon College to contribute a column in philosophy. He has responded with a plea for more extensive and clear discussion among evangelical philosophers.

Dr. Dean took the degrees of A.M. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston University. He is now chairman of the department of philosophy at Gordon College.

Though the nature and size of this column does not allow it to be a discussion ground between evangelical scholars, there is no reason why it cannot issue an appeal for such discussion. That Dr. Dean has done.-R.D.K.

On the "Now" and "What" of Teaching Philosophy

Almost two years ago Professor Knudsen discussed in this column the difficulty of organizing a course in introduction to philosophy. In pointing out the specific problems, it became clear that the source of the trouble was not only the limited number of modern Christian treatises which could be correlated with an introductory study but also the obvious lack of agreement among Christian philosophers as to exactly what distinguishes the Christian approach.

The present writer has been teaching courses in introduction to philosophy for almost ten years to both large and small classes. During this time certain convictions have grown while others have been set aside. In the beginning I used Edgar Brightman's introductory text, supplemented by outside reading in Clark and the writing of a creative paper. The latter was designed to bring out the distinctiveness of the Christian position. At Gordon College all students are obliged to take nine hours of philosophy: three hours each in introduction, theism, and ethics. This means that all types of students are found in the courses and that certain emphases must be made to reach the dwellers on the periphery of interest and ability. Consequently, I have gradually come around to putting the whole discussion immediately into an explicit Christian context, text-wise. I have found that this makes communication a great deal easier. Thus, I now use Carnell's Introduction to Christian Apologetics as the in-class text and assign Brightman as parallel supplementary reading. This means that certain of the technicalities are de-emphasized, but I feel that I can pick these up later for my majors in the thirty-three hours they are required to take in philosophy.

Now, the fact that I am willing to rise a combination of Carnell and Brightman for the indoctrination of all Gordon students year after year reveals a viewpoint concerning the nature of the Christian approach to philosophy that is in sharp variance with the positions espoused by men like Van Til, W. C. Young, Kantzer, and probably Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd. I include the latter two with some hesitation since, after using Dooyeweerd and Spier in my senior seminar for several years, I am still in doubt as to the propriety of the identification of this position with that of Van Til, even in the basic essentials, although there is certainly a similarity. Incidentally, the writer's use of Dooyeweerd, et al., in the course that crowns our philosophy majors' preparation, should suggest that his predilection for a Clarkian type of position does not preclude real appreciation for the value of the work of such a pioneer scholar as Herman Dooyeweerd. I think that this is important in view of what I wish now to say about the distinctives of Christian philosophy.

It seems to me that if the process of teaching (especially of college students for whom philosophy is not only not a major but perhaps not even an interest) impresses nothing else upon the teacher, it makes unalterably emphatic the necessity of clear distinctions and communications. I do not see how a teacher can possibly put across a concept which in the first place is not clear to him as an instructor. Now this is the great difficulty I find in the positions of men like Dooyeweerd, Van Til, W. C. Young, Kantzer, et al. Their views appear reminiscent of existentialism, at least in fuzziness of expression. Of course, this is a personal opinion. Possibly the fuzziness is in me and not in them. At any rate, I simply cannot understand what significant thing the proponents of this general position are saying. Perhaps progress will soon be made, since I am presently working on a number of Van Til's writings; but up to the present I remain stuck as firmly as ever in the mire of rationalism and idealism.

f would like this article to stand as a protest against obscurity and a plea for forthright and relevant definitions and explanations in Christian philosophizing. I cannot in this short piece present an over-all treatment of the issue, but I would like to cite a few instances of what I have in mind.

I have mentioned Professor Warren Young, whose A Christian Approach to Philosophy (Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1954) is probably the only modern Christian introduction to philosophy explicitly dedicated to that end. Here is an example of the kind of thing I simply do not understand. Throughout the volume Dr. Young operates in terms of a division of philosophical world-views into three group: Naturalism, idealism, and Christian realism. What about Christian idealism? One may not like it, but it has attracted such able minds as Augustine, Berkeley, Edwards, and Clark. What also about realism? In the history of philosophy the term has been classically applied to Aristotle, Descartes, the neo-realists, and the critical realists, to name just a few. None of these are necessarily identified with Protestant Christianity. What can explain Young's use of the term exclusively to denote Christian philosophy? If he desired to use such a designation for his own position, well and good; but to introduce beginning students to the use of such terms as standard is indefensible.

When Young says, in objection to Clark's (or Carnell's) appeal to systematic consistency as the criterion of truth, that it is only the Christian to whom Christianity is consistent, he appears only to state a truism. It might also be said that only the pragmatist accepts pragmatism, that only the subjectivist accepts feeling, that only the positivist accepts the senses, etc. Why is there an emphasis on this tautology? If Young is simply affirming the necessity of regeneration, why does he not say so? Further, have Clark or Carnell ever spoken otherwise? Young also asks who is to determine whether a view is consistent or not? The answer seems obvious-the individual who is doing the determining! Each man must make up his own mind. The fact that others will disagree with me seems to be no valid objection to the criterion of truth I accept, unless the only aceptable criterion is consensus gentium.

I am equally baffled by the approach of Van Til and his followers, when they insist that the Christian starting point is absolutely necessary if there is to be any philosophy at all and then interpret this statement t o mean that systematic consistency is unacceptable as the test for truth. Why? Can one not recognize the necessity of beginning with the Christian major premise if he is ever to arrive at it and at the same time recognize that the Christian position must be tested by the canons of logic and thus shown to be true? And why must the priority of logic as the criterion impy the priority of the truth of natural revelation over that of special revelation? Logic is not an end but a means, and certainly if there were no position to test in the first place the test would have no standing at all.

In the light of the points I have tried to make above, it should be clear that the writer believes that the situation in Christian philosophy today is rather critical. Further, it is to be noted that it is f rom the side of those who cry, "No common ground." "The Bible is self -authenticating," and "Away with synthesis philosophy," that the pressure is coming. Such thinkers even say that there never has existed a Christian philosophy worthy of the name until their own day (cf. Dooyeweerd and Van Til). All this makes it difficult, if not impossible (and certainly improper), for one to philosophize as a Christian and ignore the implications of the new apologetic (and in a real sense it is new and not classic). I would therefore re-echo Professor Knudsen's plea for a "thorough discussion of the problems" between the opposing camps. Above all, let the requirements for publication be clarity and directness of approach. No cause is really served by carrying on activities in a condition of low visibility

Winchester, Mass., June 12, 1957.