Discussing
Why philosophy should be a priority at Cedarville

David Baggett

Karen Swallow Prior
January 22, 2013

What a powerfully and beautifully written testimony to the call all Christians have to love the Lord our God with our minds. Thank you, David. I'm proud to call you my colleague and friend.

Karen

Marta L.
January 22, 2013

I'm a philosophy doctoral student (Fordham University, dissertating on Anselm's religious epistemology) this is a topic that affects me personally. When I heard about Cedarville's move, I didn't think of it as a particularly Christian challenge - it's hardly the first time schools have tried to cut their philosophy program - but I think you're right. For a Christian school to value utility over deeper value is... distressing, to put it mildly.

That's why I was a little surprised to hear you tie philosophy's value so closely to apologetics. As much as I love good apologetics, it seems to be about something very different from philosophy's goals. Apologetics tries to defend some view you already believe is true, which of course isn't the same thing as figuring out what the truth is, or developing those capacities like wisdom that help us in this goal. This is a kind of utility, too, though probably not the kind the marketplace can assign a dollar-figure to.

That said, I really did appreciate seeing my subject defended so passionately. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

TimF
January 23, 2013

Wonderful defense of philosophy as a major course of study. A university without a philosophy major seems like it leaves itself with a gaping hole in its curricula.

One thing, though, and perhaps it's just a quibble, but I would not say that "wisdom, the Bible makes clear, is not optional for Christians. Wisdom beckons from the marketplace, and our call as Christians is to hear and to heed it." Yes, the Bible teaches the benefits of wisdom, and places high value on it. But our call as Christians is to abide in Christ, who is the Truth. It's not the same as a call to heed wisdom, although heeding wisdom may very well be a way to abide in the Savior.

Cheers,
Tim

Marta L.
January 24, 2013

This is a good point to clear up, TimF. We should not make an idol out of wisdom (or knowledge), and many people do cross over into that, both in philosophy and other disciplines. But I think a certain kind of wisdom is cenral to Christianity, particularly to Greek/Eastern orthodoxy, where the Greek word for Wisdom (Sophia) is often used as a name for the Logos, which is essentially the part of the Godhead that became incarnated in Jesus. It's no accident that one of the biggest cathedrals in Christian history has the name Hagia Sophia. (Wikipedia has more on the way Christian sects have thought about Wisdom here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophia_(wisdom)#Christianity)

That said, we must distinguish between what human thoughts pass for wisdom, and the true Wisdom that comes from God. Philosophy at its best is about understanding this truth more deeply and recognizing its true value, and not just being clever in our own right.

David Baggett
January 24, 2013

Thanks for the various comments. I've enjoyed reading them. I agree with their spirit; even the quibbles make points with which I resonate. The Bible warns against one sort of philosophy, but it's clear the Bible tells us to seek wisdom, pray for it, cultivate reverential awe before God to start the process of acquiring it, and to love God with all our minds--as Karen says above. (By the way, the sentiment is mutual, Dr. Prior!) To say we should cultivate a philosophical mindset, a Christian worldview, and wisdom rooted in truth, goodness, and beauty should only enhance one's walk with Christ--while equipping a subset of the body of Christ to defend its truth claims with sophistication and rigor. There's more to philosophy than that, most surely, but one of the bigger problems of evangelical institutions losing a vision of its value is the loss of such a benefit.

JKana
January 24, 2013

I agree that apologetics and philosophy are two related but not strictly equivalent disciplines. I hate to split hairs or anything, but I've always found that a more satisfying understanding of apologetics involves not just the NEGATIVE aspect (i.e., defending a worldview against its detractors) but also the POSITIVE aspect (i.e., making a strong case for a worldview's explanatory power). I fear that one of the reasons why philosophy is sometimes undervalued in evangelical circles and subject to intense skepticism among those who see it as a nebulous field of intellectual acrobatics is that it DOESN'T start necessarily from a theistic worldview, but rather examines Christianity as one of several competing worldviews. Still--and correct me if I'm wrong, guys--I believe most philosophers who come down on the Christian side of things would argue that the case FOR Christianity (i.e., its explanatory power for making sense of the world around us) is far stronger than the case AGAINST its alternatives.

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