An Cuiltheann / the Cuillin, Skye
An Cuiltheann le currac ceò / The Cuillin with a cap of cloud

Why bother with philosophy?

In a previous blog I looked briefly at aspects of Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy as explained by Dr J. Glenn Friesen. But why bother with Dooyeweerd’s philosophy? Why bother with philosophy at all? Haven’t we, as Christians, got the Bible, God’s word, and is that not enough? Sadly, in our own day the Bible has been rejected by many. It is not part of the general culture, as it used to be. Many people just don’t understand where Christians are coming from. In philosophical terms, that is, at the deepest level possible for the human mind, Dooyeweerd analyses why the Christian worldview is true and necessary. Understanding his philosophy will lead to an understanding of the thinking behind secular humanism, modernism and postmodernism and where these philosophies have gone wrong.

Francis A. Schaeffer

As a philosopher, Dooyeweerd worked at the deepest level, but there is another writer of the 20th century, Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) who, although himself a philosopher, was perhaps more important as an historian of ideas. In his book How Should We Then Live? which is sub-titled ‘The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture’ he paints a graphic and clear picture of how the culture of the west changed from being a Christian culture to being more or less Godless. The story that he paints starts in ancient Rome and ends in the 20th century. Some of his chapter headings will indicate the scope of his work: The Renaissance; The Reformation; The Enlightenment; The Rise of Modern Science; The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science; Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology; Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films.

Storr from the south
Stòrr from the south


Schaeffer understood better than most the culture of the 20th century (and the 21st century is an extension of the same way of thinking). Man has ended up with no absolutes. He is merely the outcome of time and chance. Schaeffer discusses Francis Crick who discovered the DNA code with James D. Watson and Maurice Wilkins. He says of Crick: ‘A crucial view of life that he expounds … is the idea that man can be reduced to the chemical and physical properties that go to make up the DNA template. Philosophically, therefore, Francis Crick is a reductionist, that is, one who would reduce man to an electrochemical machine.’ Who does this remind us of in the 21st century? Richard Dawkins, of course, and the new atheists. Science indeed, as Dooyeweerd saw, has been secularized and affects the way people look at life and other people. Man has become autonomous and makes up his morals as he goes along.

The belief in a lawgiver made science possible

How different things were, says Shaeffer, with the earlier scientists. Many of the great founders of science in the 17th and 18th centuries were Christian. Francis Bacon, ‘the major prophet of the Scientific Revolution’ said ‘Man by the Fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over creation. Both of these losses, however, can even in this life be in some parts be repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences.’ Similarly with Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). ‘Throughout his lifetime’, says Shaeffer, ‘Newton tried to be loyal to what he believed the Bible teaches.’ Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was ‘ an outstanding Christian’ and an outstanding mathematician and scientist. There were many more early scientists and thinkers who were Christian such as Descartes, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday (1791-1897). Indeed, Shaeffer is firm in the belief that it was ‘the Christian base’ that ‘made modern science possible.

Stòrr with snow in May
Stòrr with snow in May


But the dissociation of science from religion, and the split between values and ‘facts’, which is so evident nowadays, started happening long before the 17th century. When Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) relied on Aristotle’s philosophy it put the emphasis on particulars. ‘Thomas Aquinas brought this individual emphasis on individual things – the particulars – into the philosophy of the Middle Ages, and this set the stage for the humanistic elements of the Renaissance and the basic problem they created.’

The problem and the solution

From this time there was a split between Nature and Grace. Nature was the lower world of created things, the cause-and-effect world of which we are part. Grace was the higher realm of God, ‘the unseen and its influence on the earth’. The problem was ‘how to find any ultimate and adequate meaning for the individual things’ including man himself. Shaeffer says: ‘Beginning from man alone, Renaissance humanism – and humanisn ever since – has found no way to arrive at universals or absolutes which give meaning to existence and morals. It is this kind of dualism that Dooyeweerd’s philosophy addresses. We can begin to see why he rejects the form-matter dualism of the Greeks. I’ll end with two Dooyeweerd quotes from Dr Friesen’s theses: 48. ‘God alone is being’ and from 49. ‘Nothing in creation is being or substance; created reality exists only as meaning, restlessly referring back towards God as Arché or Origin.’