Bertrand Russell’s Pointless Universe versus John Calvin’s Purposeful Providence

 

Bertrand Russell: Unyielding Grimace Against a Pointless Universe
Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no provision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built (p. 39). Continue reading “Bertrand Russell’s Pointless Universe versus John Calvin’s Purposeful Providence”

Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude 1872-1921. Book Review

 

Remember those sixth-form days when some of us were first thrilled by newly awakened intellectual abilities? We were quick to challenge traditional beliefs and the status quo, and eager to show off our acquaintance with the works of Bertrand Russell. The name Bertrand Russell was whispered with hush awe and quiet reverence. Russell represented to us the ideal of a socially engaged intellectual. Never mind that we couldn’t really understand his more technical papers on mathematical logic. His more popular written books such as Why I Am Not a Christian, Principles of Social Reconstruction and A Free Man’s Worship were sufficient to persuade us to adopt him as an inspiring icon for rebellion. His status as a Nobel Prize laureate decisively clinched an unquestioned hearing from skeptical students.

However, when I actually got down to read Russell for myself, particularly his book Why I Am Not a Christian, I found myself in for a great disappointment. Russell, who was arguably the most outstanding mathematical logician of his day, turned out to be illogical in his analysis of Christianity. He relied on a shoddy knowledge of Christianity. His analysis was full of non-sequitur and question-begging arguments with much scorn and rhetoric thrown in. I concluded that a more fitting title for the book would be Why I am too Prejudiced to Become a Stereotyped Christian. Continue reading “Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude 1872-1921. Book Review”

Christian Annexation and Transformation of Pagan Learning: From Augustine and Boethius to John Calvin

I. Augustine: Putting Pagan* Learning to Right Use

CHAP. 40. Whatever has been rightly said by the heathen, we must appropriate to our uses

60. Moreover, if those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it. For, as the Egyptians had not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to themselves, designing them for a better use, not doing this on their own authority, but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves were not making a good use of [Exod. 3:21, 22; 12:35, 36]; in the same way all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Continue reading “Christian Annexation and Transformation of Pagan Learning: From Augustine and Boethius to John Calvin”

Kairos Seminar on Greek Philosophy and Christian Thought (2022)

Lecturer: Dr. Ng Kam Weng

Seminar Description: Students (1) will be introduced to influential theories found in some key texts of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy that have been significant for Christian theology and apologetics, and (2) will critically analyze how seminal Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas integrated the philosophical insights from Greek philosophy to construct a Christian philosophical tradition which can assist Christian witness and practice today.

Module I (a). Plato (2 weeks)
Nature of Knowledge and Reality: Doctrine of Forms, Allegory of the Cave and the Sun (The Republic VI-VII), and Theaetetus
Immortality of the Soul (Republic, Phaedo & Phaedrus)
God and cosmology (Timaeus) Continue reading “Kairos Seminar on Greek Philosophy and Christian Thought (2022)”

Philosophy and Theology Reading 3/3

Theology Uses Philosophy on its own Terms

[157] Though Christian dogma cannot be explained in terms of Greek philosophy, it also did not come into being apart from it. There is as yet no dogma and theology, strictly speaking, in Scripture. As long as revelation itself was still in progress, it could not become the object of scientific reflection. Inspiration had to be complete before reflection could begin…

Gradually a need arose to think through the ideas of revelation, to link it with other knowledge and to defend it against various forms of attack. For this purpose people needed philosophy. Scientific theology was born with its help. This did not, however, happen accidentally. The church was not the victim of deception. In the formation and development of the dogmas, the church fathers made generous use of philosophy. They did that, however, in the full awareness of and with clear insight into the dangers connected with that enterprise; they were conscious of the grounds on which they did it, and they did it with express recognition of the word of the apostles as the only rule of faith and conduct. For that reason also they did not utilize the whole of Greek philosophy but made a choice; they only utilized the philosophy that was most suited to help them think through and defend the truth of God. They went to work eclectically and did not take over any single philosophical system, be it either from Plato or from Aristotle, but with the aid of Greek philosophy produced a Christian philosophy of their own. Furthermore, they only used that philosophy as a means… Continue reading “Philosophy and Theology Reading 3/3”

Philosophy and Theology Reading 2/3

Theology Judges the Conclusions of Philosophy

As the superior science, theology judges philosophy in the same sense that philosophy judges the sciences. It therefore exercises in respect of the latter a function of guidance or government, though a negative government, which consists in rejecting as false any philosophic affirmation which contradicts a theological truth. In this sense theology controls and exercises jurisdiction over the conclusions maintained by philosophers.

The premisses of philosophy, however, are independent of theology, being those primary truths which are self-evident to the understanding, whereas the premisses of theology are the truths revealed by God…[philosophy] develops its principles autonomously within its own spheres, though subject to the external control and negative regulation of theology.

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Theology can turn the investigations of philosophy in one direction rather than in another, in which case it may be said to regulate philosophy positively by accident (per accidens). But absolutely speaking theology can regulate philosophy only negatively, as has been explained above. Positively it does not regulate it either directly, by furnishing its proofs (as faith for apologetics), or indirectly, by classifying its divisions (as philosophy itself classifies the sciences).
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Continue reading “Philosophy and Theology Reading 2/3”

Philosophy and Theology Reading 1/3

Philosophy and Religion– Seeking and Finding Truth

Religion is instituted by and continues to draw its life from the initial certainties arising from the experiences of its founders and heroes. Consequently, to proceed from the religious side means not so much the seeking after a truth yet undiscovered as the proclaiming of the meaning and importance of a truth already found. Philosophy, on the other hand, is born from wonder and from the quest of reason to find a pattern, a wisdom in things which is still to be disclosed. One side sets out from certainties; the other seeks to arrive at them. Viewed immediately, each side has its own distinctive and dominant character. This character, however, is not exhaustive; each side has within itself, as a kind of recessive element, the distinctive characteristic of the other, a similarity that becomes fully realized only when the two encounter each other; genuine encounter means that each enterprise is forced to a new level of self-consciousness. Religion discovers that its life is not exclusively a matter of certainties which exclude doubt and the rational quest; philosophy discovers that its life is not exclusively a search, because the rational quest itself must be carried out against a background of truths taken for granted and never fully justified in the course of any inquiry. Philosophy, moreover, comes to its own certainties when it comes to express its constructive results. Continue reading “Philosophy and Theology Reading 1/3”

Michael Polanyi on Science as Personal Knowledge

Conventional wisdom would like us to believe that science has triumphed over Christianity because science relies on objective knowledge while Christianity relies on blind faith based on ecclesiastical authority. In solving the recalcitrant problems of life, educated people should rely on the cool and dispassionate judgment of the scientist based on careful research in the laboratory instead of the authoritative pontification of the priest from the pulpit. As Bertrand Russell wrote, “The triumphs of science are due to the substitution of observance and inference for authority. Every attempt to revive authority in intellectual matters is a retrograde step.”

According to critics, Christianity relies on myths without factual foundations to impress emotionally vulnerable believers who accept myths according to the shifting impulses of the heart. In contrast, science relies on rigorous and detached analysis to offer reliable and objective knowledge of reality. The proponents of “strong scientism” argue that something is true, rationally justified, or known if and only if it is a scientific claim that has been successfully tested with a proper application of scientific methodology. To be sure, the confidence of scientism has recently become more tempered as a result of scientists themselves failing to gain consensus on the fundamental theories of physics and cosmology. What has emerged is a more modest “weak scientism” which acknowledges that there could be truths known through other means. Nevertheless, “weak scientism” continues to insist that knowledge gained outside of science is certainly less robust and that science remains the ultimate authority in the quest for knowledge. Continue reading “Michael Polanyi on Science as Personal Knowledge”

Knowing God With the Heart of Love

𝕾𝖔𝖒𝖊 𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖔𝖗𝖎𝖊𝖘 𝖆𝖗𝖊 𝖘𝖕𝖑𝖊𝖓𝖉𝖎𝖉 𝖆𝖓𝖉 𝖘𝖔𝖕𝖍𝖎𝖘𝖙𝖎𝖈𝖆𝖙𝖊𝖉 𝖇𝖚𝖙 𝖘𝖔 𝖔𝖇𝖛𝖎𝖔𝖚𝖘𝖑𝖞 𝖔𝖚𝖙 𝖔𝖋 𝖙𝖔𝖚𝖈𝖍 𝖜𝖎𝖙𝖍 𝖗𝖊𝖆𝖑𝖎𝖙𝖞 𝖙𝖍𝖆𝖙 𝖔𝖓𝖑𝖞 𝖈𝖑𝖊𝖛𝖊𝖗 𝖕𝖊𝖔𝖕𝖑𝖊 𝖈𝖆𝖓 𝖇𝖊𝖑𝖎𝖊𝖛𝖊 𝖎𝖓 𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖒. “𝕿𝖍𝖊 𝖊𝖞𝖊 𝖔𝖋 𝖙𝖍𝖊 𝖜𝖎𝖘𝖊 𝖒𝖆𝖓 𝖘𝖊𝖊𝖘 𝖜𝖍𝖆𝖙 𝖎𝖘 𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖗𝖊, 𝖇𝖚𝖙 𝖙𝖍𝖊 𝖒𝖎𝖓𝖉 𝖔𝖋 𝖙𝖍𝖊 𝖈𝖔𝖓𝖈𝖊𝖎𝖙𝖊𝖉 𝖈𝖔𝖒𝖕𝖔𝖘𝖊𝖘 𝖍𝖞𝖕𝖔𝖙𝖍𝖊𝖘𝖊𝖘.” 𝕵𝖔𝖍𝖆𝖓𝖓 𝕿𝖔𝖇𝖎𝖆𝖘 𝕭𝖊𝖈𝖐 (𝟏𝟖𝟎𝟒-𝟏𝟖𝟕𝟖)

“Love must first open the door of the heart so that it may be persuaded of the truth of God’s grace and glory.”

Mine is just a feeble echo of a much wiser, spirited & courageous man – “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑳𝒊𝒕𝒕𝒍𝒆 𝑷𝒓𝒊𝒏𝒄𝒆 Continue reading “Knowing God With the Heart of Love”

A Solution to the Logical Problem (Alleged Contradiction) of Evil

The Claim of Contradiction According to John Mackie (The Miracle of Theism. OUP 1982) the theist accepts a group or set of three propositions; this set is inconsistent. The propositions are (1) God is omnipotent (2) God is wholly good and (3) Evil exists. Call this set A; the claim is that A is an … Continue reading “A Solution to the Logical Problem (Alleged Contradiction) of Evil”

The Claim of Contradiction
According to John Mackie (The Miracle of Theism. OUP 1982) the theist accepts a group or set of three propositions; this set is inconsistent. The propositions are

(1) God is omnipotent
(2) God is wholly good
and
(3) Evil exists.

Call this set A; the claim is that A is an inconsistent set. But what is it for a set to be inconsistent or contradictory? Continue reading “A Solution to the Logical Problem (Alleged Contradiction) of Evil”