Chapter Eleven - Christian Philosophy
PHILOSOPHY may be defined as an orderly account of the universe in the light of all our available knowledge. On this basis, every person has some sort of philosophy, -- he has some sort of explanation of the great facts of existence. The evolutionist has his philosophy, and the Christian has his; and necessarily the two are quite different from each other.
If we come to grips immediately with the chief point on which these two systems differ from each other, we may begin by saying that the essential idea of the evolution doctrine is uniformity. It says that the present is the measure of the past, and the measure of all the past. It says that life in all its various forms and with all its characteristics must have come into being by causes similar to or identical with those forces and processes which now prevail around us. As H. E. Compton expresses it, evolution "teaches that natural processes have gone on in the earlier ages of the world as they do today, and that natural forces have ordered the production of all things about which we know." -- "The Doctrine of Evolution" (1911), p. 1.
Two thousand years ago a writer of the early Church predicted the prevalence of just such a doctrine, and very neatly and very accurately described its advocates as saying that, "since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." (2 Peter 3:4.) The reader will note that the words are, not "from the close of the creation," but "from the beginning of the creation." In other words, creation itself is included in the scheme of uniformity here expressed, just what we have found is the characteristic doctrine of modern evolutionists. And the reader should also note from the context that the people here spoken of and described are said to mock at the suggestion of the second coming of Christ, because of their cherished philosophy of uniformity, as already expressed; and that they have arrived at their philosophy of uniformity because they have already grown accustomed to denying the fact of a universal Deluge. All of which, we must own, sounds very modern indeed.
Creation a Completed Work
|In contrast with this doctrine of uniformity, as held by all evolutionists, the doctrine of creation, as held by believers in the Bible, says that, back at a period in the past called the "beginning," something took place which is not now taking place. In other words, the doctrine of creation is that the beginning of things was in some way different from the way in which the things of nature are now being sustained or perpetuated. Time is in no way an essential factor in the matter; neither the length of time spent in the creation, nor how long ago it took place, makes any difference in this connection.||
The essential idea is that creation is a completed work and is not now going on. And the Bible expressly says that the Sabbath was given to the race as a memorial of this completed work of creation, and as a reminder that the origin of things was somehow different from the present order of things, which we call the reign of natural law.
In a former work ["Q. E. D., or New Light on the Doctrine of Creation" (1917)], I have shown how the failure of modern evolutionary science to account for the origin of matter, energy, life, and "species," or the more distinct kinds of life, constitutes a proof, a Q. E. D., that there must have been a real creation "in the beginning." I need not repeat the argument here. It may suffice for us now to pass along to discuss in a very brief way the three great problems of philosophy; namely, God, personal freedom or free will, and the future life. Many other questions are of course involved, but these are the three pivotal points about which all philosophical discussions have turned, ever since the time of the ancient Greeks.
The Way to Find out God
|The Christian idea of God, as a personal Being, not a mere abstraction
or another term for the forces of nature, but One who loves and sympathizes
with all His creatures, -- this idea is the most sublime concept ever attained
by the mind of man. Not that man by his own efforts of thinking or by his
discoveries has worked out this idea; it has really come to us through
the Bible, God's revelation of Himself.
In modern times many writers have essayed to elaborate and discuss this idea of God, and to develop the proofs that we now possess not only of His existence but also of His character an His relations to His universe. Many of these works are useful and valuable. To these works the reader is referred for a further consideration of this idea. Here it must suffice to point out that we must not expect to be able to demonstrate the character and existence of God in the same crass way in which we can prove the existence of London or the nature of electricity. God has wisely ordained that His relations with His creatures are at present to be conducted from behind a veil. Were He to manifest Himself to mankind directly, His majesty and grandeur would so overpower our senses and our every faculty that real freedom of action would be obliterated. He is not willing to coerce the will of man in any such fashion. He must at present keep behind the veil; but the promise is that to those who now accept His love and His fellowship by faith, the future will open up the blessed privilege of seeing Him face to face. "Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
A Running-down Process
The scientific view of the universe is that the stuff of which
man himself and the objects around him consist, must have a real existence.
Chemistry tells us that there are some ninety-two kinds of matter composing
the earth and the things upon it, these ninety-two kinds of stuff being
called the chemical elements. The recently developed science of
physical chemistry, by means of the phenomena of radioactivity, has shown
that these elements are running down or disintegrating; the heavier elements,
by loss of electrons, constantly changing into some of the lighter ones.
But it has found no hint of anything like the reverse process anywhere
throughout the universe. A very reasonable Inference from these facts is
that this stuff called matter must have been created by God at some definite
time in the past. These ninety-two kinds of elements could not have existed
from all eternity; for this running-down process would all have been over
Thus we seem to have a scientific proof that the stuff of which the world is composed must have been created. But by a little careful reasoning also, we can arrive at the conviction that it must be so. For if we assume that this stuff, matter, has existed from all past eternity, we are thus making matter independent of God. That is, matter must have certain properties -- or all its properties -- which God did not give it; and therefore it may well be supposed that in some respects matter is quite unmanageable and God cannot always do with it quite as He likes.
A Finite God
Now many philosophers both ancient and modern have adopted this very position. William James was one of these; and he has had many followers. By this doctrine of a finite God, one who is not in full and complete control of the universe, these authors have sought to account for the physical and moral evil in the universe. This view does seem to account for the evil in the universe as being due to something inherently wrong or unmanageable in matter itself. But it degrades God to a mere finite being, much like ourselves, who may be doing the best he can under the circumstances, but one who is in no respect the Creator of all things.
The evolution theory is quite sympathetic with this theory of a finite God. Physical and moral evil looms up hugely in the theory of organic evolution; and few theistic evolutionists have had the hardihood to say that an infinite, all-wise, all-powerful Creator, who had already created matter itself, deliberately made man by the long-drawn-out agony of organic evolution. They have usually dodged the difficulty by claiming that matter is itself eternal, and that, as Le Conte expresses it, evil "must be a great fact pervading all nature and a part of its very constitution." -- "Evolution and Religious Thought" (1899), p. 865. But this is not Christianity; it is paganism stark and unadorned. Exactly the same view of matter as being inherently evil, and also as having existed from all eternity, was taught by all the ancient pagan philosophers. In our day this old foe has reappeared with a new face; but its revival here in modern times only serves to show how many essentially pagan notions are being taught all around us even under the guise of Christianity. The Bible teaches that evil is not eternal, either past or future. It had a beginning; and it will also have an end.
Freedom to Choose
||This brings us to the subject of freedom or free will. In making intelligent beings with genuine free will or moral freedom, God must run the risk of having some of these created beings (whether angels or men makes no difference in the principle involved) choose something wrong, something quite out of harmony with God's plan for the universe. I do not mean that some of His beings might make an intellectual error, a mistake of judgment; this is not a sin, and never involves moral evil. But real free choice implies always the ability to abuse this freedom of choice by choosing something utterly different from God's way, something contrary to God's plan for the moral conduct of His created beings. This would be sin, rebellion; and the Bible teaches that this is what has happened. This is the prime cause of evil.|
At present God is allowing sin to work itself out into full development,
to show the universe what a horrible thing it really is. The cross on Mount
Golgotha is an everlasting testimony to the universe that sin is a horrible
thing; that when allowed to run its course it will turn angels into demons
and men into mere tools of demons.
|But the cross also proves that God really loves His creatures. It proves that evil and sin are not due to any fault on God's part; and it shows how much God himself is willing to give up in order to make His children happy. Evil men and evil angels have constantly charged God with being a tyrant; the cross refutes this, and also shows how God handles this great rebellion. And while neither the Bible nor a rational philosophy gives us any promise that all of God's creatures can be won back by such an exhibition of limitless love, the former does testify that by this method of God in dealing with rebellion, the universe will ultimately be more secure, more happy, and more completely loyal to their Creator than if this horrible nightmare of sin had never occurred. This final outcome is the ultimate justification for God's running the risk of such a condition as the present, by originally creating beings with moral freedom, with the power to serve God or not to serve Him.||
A Nightmare of Despair
We have now considered two of the three great problems of philosophy. The one remaining is the problem of a future life.
"If a man die, shall he live again?" cried the afflicted patriarch; and for the many thousands of years since then this question has been asked by multitudes of the children of men, who could not see beyond the portals of the tomb.
Listen to the despairing wail of one of our cleverest modern writers,
one born to little less than royal luxury and culture, but who has rejected
the Christian hope for the despair of evolution as a world-process:
"Brief and powerless is man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. . . . The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death." -- Bertrand Russell, "Mysticism and Logic," p.56.
Thank God, the Christian is not haunted by any such nightmare of despair. He knows in Whom he has believed, and is persuaded that He is able to keep that which has been intrusted to Him against that day.
|And yet, it seems to me that we are in danger of losing sight of the
central idea of that blessed future life; for throughout the New Testament
this future immortality is always centered in the resurrection.
There are two or three texts in the New Testament that, if taken by themselves, might seem to teach the immediate reward of the saints at death. On the other hand, scores of passages far more plain and clear dwell upon the resurrection of the body as the key to the future life. It is at the resurrection that we become immortal; it is then that this mortal puts on immortality; it is then that we meet with the loved of all the past ages; it is then that we become like our blessed Lord, for we shall see Him as He is. And I cannot think that it is safe to dwell so intently on two or three (confessedly ambiguous) passages that seem to speak of the reward of the saints as taking place immediately after death, when such a view of the case seems to dislocate the great fact of a resurrection of the body, and seems to render a real, final judgment meaningless.
||At any rate, if man is a unit, as modern biology and psychology
both testify, then it certainly follows that the resurrection of the body
is the only scientific way in which we can understand the doctrine of a
future life. And it is worthy of especial attention in this connection,
that this hope of the resurrection of the body looms very large in the
entire literature of the Bible, but especially in the New Testament.
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