In this episode, Kurt speaks with Doug Groothuis exploring 7 popular philosophical sentences and how they relate to the purpose of life.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Very nice to be with you here. We are beginning our Explore God series where we are looking at some of the deepest questions of life over the next seven weeks. We’ve got a number of great guests that are coming to you and helping us think through these difficult questions, these important questions of life and today’s episode we are talking about “Does life have a purpose?” We’ll be dealing with other topics in forthcoming weeks, for example, “How do I know God exists?” and “Why is there evil and suffering?” Is the Bible reliable?” “Is Jesus really God?” and those sorts of questions over the next seven weeks. We are pleased this week to be joined by Dr. Doug Groothuis, but before we get to our show today, just a few announcements. First, today is a very important day for our ministry of Veracity Hill. After two and a half years have finally made it on the radio and this morning, at 11 A.M. central time, 12 Eastern, our first program aired on WFAM 1050 AM, that’s part of the Wilkins Radio Network in Augusta, Georgia. We’re very pleased to take this step and I want to profusely thank our financial supporters for your commitment to this program and as we begin to air the show in different radio markets across the country we hope it will continue to bless others with the type of content that we are delivering week after week, a 131 straight weekends with new content just for us to think more about life’s issues from the Christian worldview so Chris might have trouble remembering our tagline, but stagging for truth on faith, politics, and society and so if you are interested in hearing a show on some topic that’s of interest to you or a current event that you want us to cover, we would love to hear from you. There are a couple of ways you can get in touch with us. One of the best ways is just to email me. Kurt@Veracityhill.com. You can also text in to our texting platform. Text the word VERACITY to 555-888. That’s a great way you can get some updates from time to time about our program and you can submit questions to us.
Last week, I sort of teased everyone with a question from Aiden from New York City and let me repeat his question. It was pertaining to when Jesus says that He’s coming quickly in Revelation. How is it that He’s coming quickly? It’s been 2,000 years now. Here’s what Aiden writes. He says, “I’m a big fan of your ministry and have benefitted greatly from Veracity Hill. I have a question, in Revelation as well as in Paul’s letters, James and Hebrews, we are told that Jesus is coming soon. Revelation says that He will come soon and to not seal up the words of the book because the time is near. Aiden goes on and on and he basically says at the end, “How should we understand this? Thanks.”
Aiden. First, thank you for being a listener of our program and perhaps if you watch through Facebook or just the podcast thank you so much and thanks for your question. I want to point you in the direction of an expert, I like to bring on experts to the program here, the expert who’s got a very good answer, and I’m going to read a couple paragraphs here, is from Craig Keener, he’s a New Testament scholar at Asbury Theological Seminary. He has this work, The NIV Application Commentary here on Revelation. I’m just actually checking this out through Amazon.com, to show you how much of the text. Here I’m able to get the section where Keener sort of answers this question about Revelation 22. Here’s what Craig Keener writes. He says, “The subject of the book is the events that must soon take place, but what soon means is a matter of great controversy since happily for Christians today, Jesus did not come back in the late first century. Some understand all biblical references to an imminent, soon, coming as referring to a secret return of Jesus for His followers before the final tribulation, but most of these references in context clearly refer to Jesus’s return to consummate history, not to a coming before the tribulation. Soon, simply cannot mean pre-tribulational. Some take the word soon here to mean that once the events begin, they will precede rapidly, but it seems more natural to take them in the more frequent sense as implying that the events of the end will come swiftly. I’m going to jump ahead here. He basically says, this is Keener again, whatever else the time is near might mean, it probably means that the events of the end will be unexpected and that we should be ready for them at any time, so that believers should live every moment as if it were our last. That’s Keener’s approach to that one. I’m coming soon. I’m a bit, now I’m not a New Testament scholar and my Greek is obviously nowhere near, Craig Keener probably dreams in Greek, but I’m sort of sympathetic to the view that when it happens it will be quickly. That’s sort of how I’ve taken it. Not that it will necessarily happen chronologically soon, that is soon from our current standpoint. I hope that makes sense and just know that there are scholars that grapple with the question and I want to encourage you to explore resources out there, commentaries for example like Keener’s here, to begin or continue wrestling with your very important question. Thank you for that.
Moving along to our program today, we are quite blessed to be joined by a professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. His name is Dr. Doug Groothuis and he has written a number of very important works. Many of you might have heard of him from his behemoth work I hold in my hand here, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith and on today’s show, we’re talking about Philosophy in Seven Sentences and it’s relationship to the purpose that we humans have in life. Many of these sentences if not all apply to the important purpose that we as humans have so Dr. Groothuis, thank you so much for joining us on our program today.
Doug: I’m happy to be here. Thank you.
Kurt: Great. To kick us off, give us a brief overview of the book and what your mission was in providing a premier or primer, I’ve heard it different ways, on philosophy.
Doug: Thank you. I do want to return to the question you answered just briefly because one of my colleagues, David Matthewson, who is a New Testament scholar and a Greek expert, has just come out with a book called “Where is the Promise of His Coming?” David Matthewson. He deals with all of the texts that appear at first blush to say that Christ will come very soon after Jesus said it or Paul wrote it or it was written in Revelation. It’s a very, thorough, careful treatment. It’s not highly technical, but it’s one of those books where someone who works at the highest level is making it understandable for a thoughtful person who’s asking that question. I highly recommend that book.
Kurt: The name again of the book and author?
Doug: Right. It’s called “Where is the Promise of His Coming?” by David Matthewson.
Kurt: Okay. I think Chris is going to look that book up right now and we’ll be sure to share our link.
Doug: You should have him on. I recommend you have him on the show also.
Kurt: There you go. We have a topic of request from Dr. Groothuis here. Wonderful. Thank you. Philosophy in Seven Sentences. Tell me what was your vision for the book and reason for its existence?
Doug: When philosophers get old, they sometimes think they can write a primer on a topic because they’ve taught on it, they’ve written on it, they have degrees in that particular topic, but there are so many introductions to philosophy, I wonder did I find anything unique and worthwhile to offer? You may have noticed in about this last ten years there are many books out with numbers in the title, like the history of the world in six wine glasses or things like that. They’re very clever. I thought, “I don’t think I can do philosophy in a physical object. Maybe if I was more clever I could, but what do philosophers have? They have sentences, paragraphs, arguments?” So I tried to isolate seven well-known statements from philosophers that raise significant questions about the meaning of life, about metaphysics, epistemology, what is, what is the nature of being, how can we know, what’s there, how does it matter? I came up with these seven sentences and the tenor of the book I hope is intellectually serious, but the rhetorical style that I used was a bit playful. In fact, I asked the Lord to give me something of the spirit of G.K. Chesterton when I wrote it and if I got 1% of Chesterton, I’d be happy.
Kurt: I know that I read the intro here. I certainly picked up on the wit if you will. You talked about two different types of philosophers. Let me just read this brief excerpt here.”Philosophy is, of course, for experts, those who have accumulated vast student loan debts after which they have logged long and lonely years in the classroom, studying at their desks, and arguing with other philosophers about philosophy. These strange souls are abstruse, esoteric, recondite, (If I’m saying that word correctly), and many other long pompous words not meant for the masses. Philosophers write for each other, argue with each other, and often flummox or bore the hapless college students whose academic requirements put them in their presence.” Of course, you jest here, I’m sure there are some out there, but there are others, many who I have experienced, who are the other types of philosophers. Those who want to teach others the importance of the good life and seeking out the good life, asking the deep questions, learning to think critically, and at least that’s the type of philosophy that I’ve been exposed to, not the other way around. I certainly picked up on the wit there. I would say maybe 3% of Chesterton.
Doug: I hope so. Yeah. We need to work at the highest levels in philosophy and that involves writing academic papers, attending academic conferences, and so on, but as a Christian, I especially want to approach wisdom and show how the proper use of reason can lead to the knowledge of God or at least contribute strongly to the knowledge of God, and by looking at the history of philosophy, we can be introduced to the greatest questions that have been raised and in the book, I don’t give a formal apologetic, but as I reflect on these different statements from Protagoras, Socrates, Aristotle, Augustine, etc., I use that as an entry point to consider significant aspects of the Christian worldview such as obviously, “Is there a God?” and also what is intellectual virtue, how should we go about seeking truth and why, and what might we come up with?’ I certainly value philosophy at the highest level, let’s say the work of much of Bill Craig, Alvin Plantinga, J.P. Moreland, but especially with J.P. and Bill Craig, they also will write for a more popular audience. They do both, and I do both to some extent also.
Kurt: Yeah. It’s great that philosophers can be a bit more accessible and not just stuck in the ivory tower as the term is and help folks like myself or lay level folks to really understand these very analytical issues. Let’s, I brought you on because I thought looking at these seven sentences and its relationship to life’s purpose, that there is a strong correlation here, that some of these very famous sentences from the history of Western Philosophy, can give people a good starting point. Like you said, it’s not a formal apologetic, but it gets people asking the right types of questions, gets their mind engaging and thinking about the deep questions of life. I want to go through these seven sentences as best we can in the short amount of time that we can. I had heard of all of these thinkers except for Protagoras. Maybe I’ve heard his name before, but I don’t recall much about him. Why don’t you guide us through Protagoras. What was it that he said that we should remember?
Doug: Right. He’s known for the saying, “Man is the measure of all things.” He was a philosopher before Socrates. They’re a class of these thinkers, not surprisingly called Pre-Socratic. He was the consummate, quintessential relativist. The fuller quote is “Man is the measure of all things, of things that they are, that they are, of things that they are not, that they are not.” So Protagoras believes that there really isn’t a fact of the matter. It’s all a matter of perspective, how you see it. Now, this view has been around for a very long time. I’m sure even before Protagoras. It really began at the Fall when the serpent wanted to reinterpret what God had told our first parents to seduce them to disobey God, but this view says that your take on things is the deepest you can get. You can’t penetrate to the heart of things. You can’t see the world as it is. You could only see the world, experience the world, in the first-person. You can’t really move from the first person to the way it is or you might say to the third-person reference. We see this everywhere in popular forms of relativism. It’s often tied to hedonism where the old saying was whatever floats your boat or different strokes for different folks, things like that. It’s quite a poisonous view because you’re waving the white flag before reality and you’re content with the subjective and trying to enrich the subjective without considering the objective, what is independent of your mind, your judgment, your feelings, your physical body, so when we think of moral matters or even aesthetic matters, we can certainly find items, statements, that are true in an absolute, objective, universal sense. We can go to laws of logic like the Law of Noncontradiction, something cannot be itself and not itself in the same way and in the same respect and Aristotle codified that for us, I have a chapter on Aristotle also, chapter 3, and there are also moral propositions that are objective, absolute, and universal. You might say incontrovertible, such as rape is always wrong or one should never torture someone gratuitously. If someone says those are just a matter of perspective, it’s hard to know what to do next. Perhaps you’d want to shock them a bit. I had a student years ago, Eugene, Oregon, who said he was a nihilist and this is really what perspectivism leads to, because there is no objective given value. It’s all subjective and it could be anything. I said, “Matt. What if I told you that your parents were brutally murdered in the middle of the night last night?” I was trying to awaken his moral imagination. He looked stunned and sad simply by thinking about it and I said, “Matt. You’d have to say that is wrong,” and he righted himself for a minute, he tried to come back to his nihilist self. He said, “No. I couldn’t say that that was wrong.” I said, “Matt. Your gut spoke louder than your words” or something to that effect.
Kurt: Yeah. His moral intuitions.
Doug: Exactly. Right. Of course, in the world of measurement, certainly human beings measure things. I could measure the desk I’m sitting at, but my measurement does not make the desk the measurement that it is. There is subjectivity always. I use this in my classes quite often when we’re talking about relativism. I say, “How many of you feel hot right now?” How many of you feel about right? How many are cool?” In a class of about 20-30 people, I’ll get respondents in every category, and then I’ll say, “But there’s only one temperature in the room. There’s an objective fact of the matter and there are subjective responses to the objective conditions”, but we need to clarify this, because when we are merely self-referential, the finite and fallen self is not an inadequate integration point or reference point to give meaning in life, to give objective value and purpose and so on. We see a lot of contemporary culture where people are flailing about trying to actualize their shriveled selves because they have no anchor, they have no rudder, and so often they simply try to divert themselves with the kind of superficial happiness as opposed to making truth the #1 issue, objective truth.
Kurt: Most certainly, and a good place for some of those people to start might be actually the next sentence by Socrates and this is one that I had learned in my intro to philosophy class at BIOLA University. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates’s maybe most famous statement. I think that’s probably right. It’s a good starting point, because it can provide an opportunity for people to begin to reflect upon these deep questions of life. That’s part of human purpose is to ask these deep questions. I’m not the one who wrote the book, so you tell us more about Socrates, who he was, and why we should pay attention to what he says.
Doug: Right. Socrates was the first post-pre-Socratic philosopher. It’s interesting that his influence is so great that the people before him are viewed as pre-Socratic. He was a peripatetic philosopher, he walked about.
Kurt: Is that what that big word means? Peripatetic. He walked around.
Doug: Yeah. He asked questions such as “What is justice? What is virtue?” He used what is called the dialectical method. He was not a preacher. He didn’t so much offer arguments as try to elicit truth through reasoning. He did famously say that the unexamined life is not worth living. It’s a bit of an overstatement, because not everyone can be a philosopher in the technical sense or travel about asking questions without a 9-5 job, but it does raise this issue of the human ability to reflect and ponder matters and also the possibility that human beings can so distract and divert themselves that they never want to ask if there is an afterlife or is there hope for the universe? There’s hope in the universe, but does the universe have a divine origin, a destiny? What I deal with there is an exploration of what’s called virtue epistemology which says that knowing reality is not simply a matter of following rational rules. It is that, for example, you need to always be careful not to contradict yourself in your thinking because contradictory propositions cannot both be true, but the search for truth also involves a hunger for truth and the willingness to conform one’s life to that pursuit which involves with selfish people such as we all are in some ways, self-denial, so when I’m teaching, whether it’s at a secular school or at Denver Seminary where I teach full-time, I try to encourage people to make room for reading. Reading, especially deep reading, is falling out of favor in our country. We have a president who doesn’t even read much. There’s a certain about of self-denial that is required to engage the self in the higher things. It could be as simple as going on a media abstention, deciding to not watch any films or television or video games for ten days and use that time to read Plato, who wrote so much about Socrates, or use that time to read Aristotle, to read through the epistles of Paul, to read and re-read one of the Gospels, and see what kind of an effect that has on your awareness, on your sensibilities.
Kurt: That’s a good challenge. I mean, even a ten-day challenge, I know people that do like the 52-book challenge where it’s a book a week and for a lot of people they think there’s no way they could ever do that, but lo and behold, I don’t know if I could read your big huge Christian Apologetics book in a week, but there are certainly books where I’ve sat down and in two afternoons, you go through a book. You could definitely keep that up. A book like this is one that you could probably read in two afternoons, not even full afternoons, if you’re flying and reading well and comprehending well too, so that is a hard challenge. I haven’t taken that challenge yet up, Chris, I don’t know if you’ve ever done something like that.
Chris: A challenge would actually mean a wife make a point setting aside a time during every day, like a day of a week, and we just spend that evening reading a book.
Kurt: No TV.
Kurt: Just reading. Yeah. That’s good.
Doug: That reminds me of George Bush’s biography where he said that he and Karl Rove used to compete every year as to who could read the most books.
Kurt: Is that so? Wow.
Doug: Yeah. I think that’s a good idea. You might want to find somebody and have some good-spirited intellectual competition, but the point of that chapter is not that Socrates found all the answers that are needed, but that his orientation was one of virtue. We need more than asking good questions and reasoning well and talking to people of different views. We need revelation from the infinite personal God. We can’t simply assess the world, reason on it, reason about it, and come up with everything we need to know for a virtuous life and for, in fact, redemption. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get clear about concepts, work on argument forms, be able to spot logical contradictions and logical fallacies which are everywhere and I would encourage everyone listening right now to learn the basic logical fallacies. People number them differently. There are at least ten that are common, one is the false dichotomy which I see all the time. Here’s one. “Don’t defend the gospel. Preach it.” Okay. Do both, just like the apostle Paul, just like Jesus, just like Peter, and so on. Another very common one is to attack the personality of the speaker or the writer as opposed to considering carefully her arguments. That is called argumentum ad hominem or a related term is poisoning the well. “You couldn’t know because you’re a Christian” or “You couldn’t know the truth because you’re an atheist.” We need to go to the arguments and assess them, and there’s so many, but this helps sharpen your discernment skills and once you have mastered the nature of some of these fallacies, you can spot them very readily, and then if you’re pursuing truth, you want to avoid them yourself. We need to test our own convictions against reality and be willing to be caught up short and repent. There’s such a thing as intellectual repentance. We might have thought very badly about a particular issue, about the nature of God or salvation and if God wakes us up, then we need to turn around and find and own and propagate and defend the truth the best we can with humility.
Kurt: You mentioned that Socrates was a dialectical philosopher or speaker and we frequently see that with Jesus as well where He’s engaging, He’s asking questions about a person’s assumptions when they approach Him with a question. We certainly see Jesus adapting that teaching method and it’s a very good method that philosophers, when they’re teaching, use to this day to get students to think and think critically.
Doug: I wrote a book some years ago called On Jesus and I have a chapter on that book called Jesus’s Use of Argument and I show that He uses several well-received argument forms, that He knows how to escape between the horns of a dilemma, He uses a fortiori arguments and so on, and He certainly asks questions. The big difference between Jesus and Socrates is that Jesus knew the answers to His questions because He was God incarnate, and you never see Jesus puzzling over any question about God, salvation, Israel, and so on, however, as the master teacher, the perfect pedagogue, He knew how to elicit reflection, and also some of His questions simply condemned the people who were asking, which was needful if people were insincere or trying to trick Him for good reason.
Kurt: Doug. We’ve got to take our break here. When we come back, we will continue going along these important sentences from the history of western philosophy and throughout that discussion, we’ll be exploring the way in which it can be applied to the purpose of human life, how we should be asking these important questions and thinking about these things and so again, we are joined today by Dr. Doug Groothuis and we’re talking about Philosophy in 7 Sentences, published by IVP, and so be sure to stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you’d like to learn how you can become a sponsor, go to our website, Veracityhill.com and click on that patron tab. Patrons and sponsors are folks that continue to help this ministry go and grow and we would love to get your financial support. I do want to give a shout out to one of our most regular recurring supporters, Mike, thank you for your contribution to our program. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Dr. Doug Groothuis and we are talking about Philosophy in Seven Sentences, his recent book published by Intervarsity Press and also thinking and reflecting upon how important these statements are for human existence and our purpose, the meaning that we have. Now, Doug, there’s a short segment of our program called Rapid Questions and I didn’t tell you about this where we’re going to start a 60-second game clock and I’ll ask you some questions so we can get to know a little bit more about you so I hope you’re going to be okay with that.
Kurt: I think, was that Sunny that I heard bark.
Doug: Certainly. The dog. He wants to be on the show.
Kurt: For those who don’t follow Doug on social media, he frequently shares images of his cute goldendoodle, yes?
Doug: Yes. Goodendoodle.
Kurt: I’ve got an ausiedoodle at home, Australian Shepherd Poodle mix so…
Doug: That must be great.
Kurt: Yeah. Lots of energy. Lots of energy. I’ll start the game clock here and we’ll get rolling with the questions here. Are you ready?
Kurt: Okay. What’s your clothing store of choice?
Doug: Mens Wearhouse.
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Kurt: What’s your favorite music?
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: Would you go bungee jumping or skydiving?
Kurt: When did you last laugh?
Doug: I’m laughing a whole lot lately since I’ve been engaged especially.
Kurt: Very nice. Do you carry a donor card?
Kurt: Okay. Have you ever won a trophy?
Doug: No. I was given a trophy once, but I actually didn’t win it because they gave it to everybody.
Kurt; If you had a big win in the lottery, how long would you wait to tell people?
Doug: I might not tell people at all.
Kurt; Very nice. How many rings, last question here, how many rings before you answer the phone? Do you intentionally wait?
Doug: I see who it is as to whether I answer or not.
Kurt: I like that answer. You see who it is. If it’s someone who’s close to you, I typically pick up right away, but if not, you might let it go. Thank you for playing that round of Rapid Questions. We got to know a little bit more about you. I’m a big Dr. Pepper fan so I was a little disappointed in your declining, but hey, different strokes for different folks or whatever floats your boat.
Doug: On that one you can accept it. I’ve been on a real strict low-carb diet for about eight months. Those kinds of things are off-limits.
Kurt: Gotcha. Good. That’s good self-discipline.
Doug: It is.
Kurt: It’s good virtue here, that you’re exercising. Wonderful to hear. Back to the important stuff of life here, these deep meaningful questions. In the first half of the program we covered Protagoras and Socrates and let’s move along here to Aristotle. “All men by nature desire to know.”
Doug: Right. This is from his book Metaphysics, and he’s trying to get to the essence of who are human beings and he’s making a statement not just about some humans, but all humans, and a propensity that we have. Some might say this is too rosy and romantic because it seems like we have a will to deceive ourselves also. In fact, T.S. Eliot, the poet, said that humankind cannot stand very much reality so those two elements play off against each other in the human person, but certainly, you think of children growing up. They’re curious. They want to know how things work. They learn how to speak. They want to speak well to get what they want and so on. Knowledge is not immediately available to us about everything. We have to work to attain knowledge of many things. You know, if you feel cold or hot or if you’re hungry or something like that, but what about whether or not God created the world. There’s evidence of that in creation and you can intuit that very easily or combination of simple observation and rational intuition. Paul speaks of that in Romans 1, but let’s say you want to philosophically investigate that. You have to deal with some of the historical arguments. I spend about 200 pages on arguments for God’s existence in my book, Christian Apologetics, so we do have this impetus to get to the bottom of things, however, within us we also find a contradicting impulse to manage reality for our own good, and here I think also of this post-truth concern that we see in politics especially where you can even say that we have alternative facts as if you could own a fact or cobble it together to make your own reality, but the post-truth idea is very anti-Aristotelian, because it claims that truth doesn’t really matter, exalting the virtues of knowledge doesn’t matter, what you need is propaganda, so you emphasize some facts perhaps and you disavow anything else and you keep repeating these facts to the expense of other significant facts or you might even try to make up your own facts in order to, not persuade, but in order to propagandize, in order to condition people to have a particular view on politics or some other issue. I think Aristotle has a good tonic for that, all men by nature desire to know, and if that is true then how do we go about knowing? We certainly use the Law of Noncontradiction. We want to follow truth wherever it leads. That takes a certain amount of courage.
Kurt: You mentioned children and their curiosity and it was just the other day, let’s see, yes. It was last weekend, I was watching playoff football which is probably some of the best football to be watched, if someone were to even watch the sport which I become weary of it given how much violence and injuries that result from that sport, but she was asking about the rules of the game and how it’s to be played. It was kind of a situation where I just wanted to sit back and watch, but there she was, my almost five year-old, just asking the questions. “What does that mean and why do they do that?” “Who’s winning?” She was very curious and she did want to know about how all of it worked and so certainly in other areas of life we want to know these things and explore them, explore, and like you said, go wherever the truth leads, and that can be the challenge is in relating ourselves properly to reality. That’s not just a challenge for non-believers, but certainly believers alike in becoming more like Christ.
Doug: Right. The apostle John at the end of 1 John says “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” If we fixate our attention and place our money on pursuits or interests that are not godly, then we have idols. We can have intellectual idols, let’s say an idol of materialism over the Christian ethic of giving and sacrificial service to others. We have to keep ourselves accountable before God and have others that we trust speak into our lives, iron sharpens iron, and realize that some things are not worth knowing, because we have a limited ability to know things and to use the knowledge we have. It’s finite. Some things ought not to be known because they’re simply immoral, like the realm of pornography. Other things are not edifying, they’re not fruitful, so if someone, let’s say, spends fifteen hours a week in a fantasy football league, they’re not serving their church, they’re not reading the Bible, they’re not praying, they’re not memorizing Scripture, they’re not spending time with their children or their dog or their cat or their horse, and we have to ask if that is time worth spending or are the skills of fantasy football worth even knowing? I’d say no.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s very good. I was speaking to someone a couple of weeks ago who mentioned that he was in I think he said six different fantasy football leagues. I playfully, I guess jokingly, but at the same time, I was serious. I got on to him. Is that really a good use of time? Certainly. The challenge of Christians to align themselves with reality, to become more Christlike, that challenge is something that Saint Augustine wrote about as well didn’t he.
Doug: Right. The sentence that I used there was at the beginning of the Confessions is “You have made us for yourselves and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.” That’s a prayer, the whole book is, in fact, a prayer. He uses that mode to go through his life autobiographically and to reflect on the great issues of the existence of God, vice, virtue, the nature of time, so many things, and what he’s saying there is that there is a lack, there is a need within the human person that can only be fulfilled when we come to rest in our creator so this is a deep existential kind of argument for God. The things of this world offer some satisfactions, but they are temporary. They’re Hebrew[NP1] word we see in Ecclesiastes over and over again, they’re transitory. They pass away. We need something more solid and Augustine says you can never be truly happy unless your happiness, your contentment, is found in what cannot be taken away. That, in fact, is the great I AM, God, the creator and redeemer of the world. Our own faculties, our own capacities, are at their best when we have been forgiven of our sins, we’ve been justified, we have been given the Holy Spirit, and we are wanting to walk in His steps. That can also lead to troubles, suffering, persecution, but it’s certainly to be persecuted for the truth than to be happy in a lie. Finding our peace and our contentment in the Lord does not mean a boring life, by no means, but it means that you find your deepest satisfaction and greatest joy in knowing that you are redeemed through the Lord Jesus Christ and knowing His love for us, that we are His beloved, and it’s one thing to assert that and believe, but it’s another thing to bring it into your heart and have it be at the radiating core of your being. It’s still, even for Christians, easy to try to find final satisfaction in something that is not of God. We can enjoy so many things in the world, and these things don’t have to have Bible verses on them. I love much of Jazz. I love reading some non-Christian writers, but anything good that comes through that is still a gift from God, but that’s not the same as reading and meditating on Scripture and it’s not the same as the joy one receives by simply meditating or contemplating the being of God and the fact that we are in Christ and that the sufferings of this present world are not to be compared to the glory that will be revealed. This year, or last year actually in July, I lost my wife, Rebecca Groothuis to dementia. It’s a long sad journey, she passed away. Despite the suffering, and I wrote a book about this called Walking Through Twilight, there was still meaning and I could look ahead and Rebecca could look ahead with hope and as Paul said, this hope does not disappoint us. So there was a restlessness or a discontent with having to manage decline and seeing a brilliant person lose her ability to speak and think and do much of anything, but we still have a kind of rest in the Lord. We both worked hard for our philosophies of life, for our view of the world, and we were convinced that there is a blessed afterlife for those who follow Christ because of Christ’s death and resurrection and ascension. I would comfort Becky often from words of Scripture from Revelation 21, 22, Romans 8, and many other places. There is a deep rest, but that rest is not laziness. That rest is not inactivity. It’s rather being rightly related to God and your neighbor, through the work of Christ. Paul can say “Don’t be anxious for anything, but rather in everything let your concerns, your requests, be made known to God and then the peace of Christ which goes beyond understanding will guard your heart and mind.” That’s not just something you recite and memorize. It’s something you try to live in to and from on an ongoing basis. When we have this peace, which is not being stupified. It’s not simply being oblivious to everything so you have a glazed over expression on your face. People tend to note that. If you are a serene person, you are not troubled about petty things, but you are concerned about large things, consequential things, by the grace of God you’ll stand out. You’ll be salt and light and a city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Kurt: That’s certainly right. There are people in my life, non-believers, that have even asked “How is that you can have that peace? I don’t have that peace.” For them, it’s sort of they’re asking these intellectual questions, these deep philosophical questions. Moving along to Descartes, he sort of dealt with this crisis of knowledge in his era and so why don’t you tell us a little bit about his famous statement?
Doug: Yes. His statement that is so well known is “I think, therefore I am.” It has parodies and there are jokes about it and so on, but it is a philosophical achievement, because Descartes was troubled by all the skepticism and the challenges to traditional authority in the world in the 16th and 17th century in France and Europe in general. He was trying to find a place to stand, find something that was indubitable, from which he could build a philosophy and he said, “No matter what is happening to me, even if everything I’m experiencing is not a hallucination, I am experiencing it. That is, I am there, so if I’m thinking, then I exist. Even if I am deceived about everything else, I can’t be deceived about the fact that I think and if I think there has to be a thinker.” Descartes was not the first person to come up with this. In fact, St. Augustine raised this when he was dealing with the skeptics of his day. Descartes is pilloried, he is rejected in a very cavalier way by many people. People blame everything on Descartes supposedly. Not valuing the body. Valuing the body too much. Being a rationalist. Putting the self ahead of God and so on. I think Descartes, in fact, is instructive to us, because first of all he sought certainty in more than just opinion. That’s worth doing. He surveyed the possible options. He was very orderly and careful in his expositions of thoughts, let’s say in the Meditation and Discourse on Method. I deal with those two sources mostly in my chapter and he was a theist. In fact, in my chapter, I present a version of his argument for God’s existence. He had several. I deal with one that is seldom addressed and that is roughly that we find in our mind an idea of an unlimited perfect being. Where could that idea come from? When I’m limited, when I’m imperfect, and I’ve never directly encountered anything that has those qualities of being all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, and so on. Descartes goes through the possibilities and he says the only adequate explanation for my having this thought of this superlative being is that this being gave me that thought because I can’t derive it from anything in the world and I can’t somehow reach it by adding up finite things. This argument has been typically ignored or as one of the referees from my chapter said when I turned it into Intervarsity, he said, “Philosophers don’t believe this anymore.” I thought, “Well, what does that tell you?” It means it’s out of fashion. I’m going to run it up the philosophical flagpole and see if a few miscreants, a few rebels for the cause might salute it. I think it’s a very suggestive argument and perhaps it can be rehabilitated.
Kurt: It sounds similar in principle to the ontological argument, but it is distinct for sure. We’ve got only about seven minutes left here and let’s see if we can touch on these last two. Pascal. He’s known for his famous or as some people might say his infamous wager, but he was really a prolific thinker, not just a famous mathematician, but had much really to offer Christians.
Doug: I think so. I think he was the most brilliant man in 17th century Europe because he was a master mathematician, precocious in math. He designed experiments that were successful. He wrote on theology, philosophy. He was at the very center, the very heart of reasoning about probabilities, probability theory, but what I key off in my chapter is his statement that the heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing. This statement often is taken to mean that if you have a deep feeling about it, then that feeling justifies the thought. It’s taken to mean the heart is irrational, so reason cannot touch it. That is precisely what he didn’t mean. He wasn’t that dumb. What he meant was that we know some things through acts of reasoning, if P, therefore Q. P, therefore Q. That’s called Modus Ponens. We can give inductive arguments. We see ABC and D and we conclude E is probably true, but there’s certain first principles that we know, to use a philosophical term he didn’t use, through what’s called rational intuition. We can’t prove them on the basis of anything more certain than they are themselves, but without this knowledge of the heart of first principles. He doesn’t includes this, but I would include the Law of Noncontradiction and knowing that we’re not dreaming and so on, we can proceed in our reasoning. The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing. That means there are certain givens in our knowledge that are a priori, they’re apart from experience, and we reason upon them. We reason with these principles and my chapter explores a particular fragment in the Pensees, or the thoughts of Pascal. It’s numbered 110 in the Penguin edition, and there’s so much there to reflect on and one reason I chose this is that many influential intellectuals think that knowledge only comes through the senses. In fact, knowledge only comes through scientific investigation. That’s simply not true. That idea is called scientism and it would eliminate lots of knowledge, our knowledge of moral propositions for example, and also that statement is self-refuting because the claim that science is the only way you can know is not a conclusion you can derive from any scientific activity. It’s an assumption, and a bad one, that you bring to your understanding of science. A theme through the book actually is that there is such a thing as a priori knowledge. There is such a thing as a first principle in the human mind and from a theistic Christian viewpoint we’re made in God’s image and likeness so God has made us in such a way that we can know the world and know ourselves and know God to some extent, but we are not limited to the deliverances of the senses and we’re not limited to reasoning upon the deliverance of the senses. We have some a priori or you might say innate knowledge that God has given us in order to know the world and to know Him and to know each other.
Kurt: Now, another figure who liked to consider human psychology, reflecting upon what humans know and can know and know is foundational and how we should line ourselves with reality, one of those was a famous Dane, Soren Kierkegaard, and he wrote prolificly on human psychology and you have here as this last chapter, “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world as if it were nothing at all.” Tell me about that statement from him.
Doug: Right. It’s a rather long convoluted sentence. It’s not as well known as the others, but the reason I chose it is that it gives an insight into the human condition that we can comport ourselves in such a way that we lose touch with ourselves, we lose touch of reality, and we start to define ourselves apart from God. We don’t take our moral failings seriously. We don’t take our deep frustrations seriously and we adopt a rather lighthearted unserious approach to life. Kierkegaard was not against humor. In fact, he could be quite humorous, but he wanted people to develop what he called inwardness, that is take your subjective life seriously. He was not Protagoras. He didn’t say man is the measure of all things, by no means. He believed that God was the measure of all things, but by attending to one’s self in relation to God, you can begin to open up to the reality of God and what I say in this chapter, it’s kind of a complex chapter, maybe the toughest one in the book, is that I read the book from which this sentence comes. The book is called The Sickness Unto Death, when I was a freshman in college and God spoke to me through his writing because he describes the kind of despair that sets itself against God. He called it defiant despair. Through my attempts to be an atheist having read Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, and others, I realized that that was me. I couldn’t really refute God, but I wanted to live my own life in my own way and if that meant being miserable and denying the gift that God would give me, well that’s what I would do. Reading this account of myself was like the book reading me and God putting a finger on this sinful self and not longer after I read that, through a number of circumstances, all orchestrated by God, I became a Christian. That sentence in that book has a profound meaning to me and I think to anybody who takes it seriously.
Kurt: Wonderful. For those that are following along, we will be sure to put a link to the book at our website. Again, Philosophy In Seven Sentences, A Small Introduction To A Vast Topic, and a vast topic it is again. Dr. Groothuis, thank you so much for joining us on our program today and if you’ll stay on the line, I’ll chat with you here after I sign off.
Doug: Thank you very much.
Kurt: Yes. Thank you. If you want to learn more about Dr. Groothuis, he teaches at Denver Seminary and you can go to the website there, DenverSeminary.edu, and there’s a wonderful Master’s degree in Christian apologetics, if you want to learn more about what it means to defend your faith. Wonderful program there. Different courses, there’s a certificate program, if you’re not quite ready to jump into the Master’s level course. Great professors there as well. Dr. Groothuis and there’s Craig Blomberg, a number of great wonderful professors, thinkers and writers there at Denver Seminary. Check them out. DenverSeminary.edu.
That does it for the program today. Next week we have on tap, we’ve got Dr. Tyler McNabb I think. We’re going over religious epistemology and how we can know that God exists. I think he’ll talk about different models and probably defend his own view on that. Very much looking forward to that. I want to again say how grateful I am for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. They are Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, and Fox Restoration. I want to thank our technical producer today, Chris, and our guest today, Dr. Doug Groothuis, and last but not least, of course, and always, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.