Saturday, 2 July 2016

Francis Schaeffer - Volume 1: Philosophy and Culture

This year I have decided to read Schaeffer on my Sunday nights instead of Ryle. The main reason I picked Schaeffer is because I was given his complete works, and it would be unbecoming of a complete set like this if they were never read. I thought it would take a year to get through each volume, but it seems Schaeffer is easier to read than I though, so the first volume only took me six months (and only reading one night a week- inconsistently at that).

This first volume contains The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, He Is There and He Is Not Silent and Back to Freedom and Dignity. The first two books were quite similar and in the forward Schaeffer commented that he tried to join to two together for this volume, but decided to let them stand on their own. The last book, Back to Freedom and Dignity, was rather short and probably should be considered more of an essay.

In The God Who Is There and Escape From Reason, Schaeffer traces the history of philosophy from about Aquinas to today (around the 1980's) and how the consequences of these ideas have impacted how people see themselves and the world around them. Any student philosophy should read one of these books. Schaeffer traces the philosophy lines of thinking so that the reader understands their own times and hopefully it would explain the postmodern setting they find themselves in. Due to the delay in ideas trickling down into popular culture, Schaeffer  also looked at how philosophy has influenced art, music, literature and finally the church (who is always last to adapt).

The main problem Schaeffer saw in non Christian philosophies was that they couldn't account for a whole consistent system of thought. Some of the old thinkers after Aquinas struggled with this quest. Leonardo da Vinci knew this problem well, but never came up with an adequate solution, but also saw the effects of thinking if this problem wasn't solved. This is where we are today, with only particulars and not universals and everything (including people) eventually becomes a machine. Without God we are only products of Nature and either our culture, environment or biology determines who we are. Regardless of how you choose your mix of these you end up removing freedom, morals, universals and aesthetics, if you are consistent.

After Hegel people stopped trying to find the one unified filed of knowledge and then started drawing two circles. They didn't hold to the opposite of a thesis being an antithesis but instead adopted synthesis thinking. This made everything relative. Schaeffer calls this the line of despair. On one level there is the cold rationalistic world, and then above the line on another level there is some sort of optimistic hope, that actually can not be accounted for from the lower level. We see this everyday. Science tells us we are just biologically cousins to all other animals. Humans are not special, they are part of Nature. Science should also give us hope because the latest breakthroughs are going to save the planet because we are creative and smarter than all the other animals.

Schaeffer saw that everyone lives in both these lower and upper rooms, but only Christianity, because it is true, aligns with reality and can account for both the upper and lower thinking consistently. Schaeffer's goal sometimes, is to press an unbelievers thinking consistently to show how their ideas do not match reality, and bring them to this line of despair, to show them the solution to their hope is a rational belief in the God who is there.

While the first two books in this volume gives a bit of history of how things were and are, He Is There and He Is Not Silent puts the Christian view on the attack and shows how logical it is and how it alone can account for the world. Some systems of thought can account for some parts of reality but in other areas of life they have nothing to say. By looking at metaphysics, morals and epistemology Schaeffer had me more convinced that Christianity is intellectually robust. This book would well be worth a second read. (There is more in the book than my summary below, consider it a loose sketch that may not join all the links together.)

If we don't begin the world with a personal being, then either nothing, or some sort of physical law brought the universe into existence. If we go with the latter, then there is only individual things and there is no accounting for the particulars having any meaning. These systems of thought can not account for man being finite and yet personal. But with a personal, trinitarian God, there is an account for unity and diversity, how man is personal and separate form the animals and still part of creation. As Schaeffer points out, its not that Christianity has the best answer for existence, its that it has the only answer. This was quite a powerful point.

When it comes to morals, Schaeffer looks at the rational and Eastern pantheism answers to show that words like "right" and "wrong" do not really mean anything, but everyone still lives with moral motions, even if they can't account for them. Like the metaphysical question, it is only Christianity that has a final answer to morals. If we are all animals and do what our instincts tell us to do and we see man being cruel how can we have hope that the man will change? We may try and domesticate this man to be a little less cruel, despite his biology, but we do not have hope for some sort of real restoration. But, if man was made by God, in God's image and yet we observe the cruelty of man, either God is a monster, or man being free has fallen from what was intended. By God's grace we can be restored to how it should be. Non Christian philosophers say that man is normal now (but needs to be governed and restrained) but the Christian says man is abnormal now, but there is hope for improvement.

On Epistemology, Schaeffer summaries the first two books in this volume. When nature eats up grace, man becomes a machine, part of the system and ultimately a particular with no meaning. Christianity allows a system of thought for accuracy of knowledge and language, without going to relativity where words only have meaning from past experience or to every word having an exact exhaustive meaning common to both speaker and hearer. In reality there is an overlap of both. Same with knowledge. We can truly know something without knowing exhaustively as long as we are in correlation with that thing. With this thinking the Christian has certainty that there is external world. Science was in fact build on this, which is why science didn't start in the East as they never had certainty in the objective world. Another aspect of the Christian epistemology is it's account for imagination and making a certain distinction between reality and fantasy. Schaeffer contented that modern man can not have day dreams without his thinking and worldview being threatened.

Back to Freedom and Dignity is probably the most dated of the books. It deals with article clippings from the 1970's and 1980's about new scientific discoveries and their challenges that the modern Christian will face. These discoveries were around things like origin of life, drugs for adjusting the chemicals in the brain and test tube babies. The main point of this short book was a fitting end, as it echoed some of the main ideas in the previous books. We need to get back to a positive doctrine of man. Yes we are fallen, but we are made in the image of God and loved by Him. We are created and capable of our own creation in life and art. It is only in our rebellion that we think man is just a machine produced by nature.


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