P R I N C I P L E # 1
Twilight of the Gods
- Summarize the sociological research on young people who report having doubts or questions. Do you know anyone with doubts who is struggling to find answers? Are you struggling yourself?
The research showed that about a third of those surveyed reported abandoning Christianity because of unanswered questions, feeling as though the questions themselves are out of bounds. I was recently in a dialogue with one young man who seems to be struggling to find answers to his doubts. However, knowing human nature, it occurs to me that it is simplistic to think this is purely a matter of unanswered questions. Often these questions coincide with temptations of this world, sometimes along with new freedom to indulge these temptations. The unanswered questions become a way to justify the ensuing behavior.
Principle #1 Identify the Idol
- How is the biblical word heart often misunderstood? What is its correct meaning?
In contemporary usage, heart is used to refer to emotions. Its biblical meaning is the innermost being, the mind, will, emotions, character, and spiritual commitments.
- “Atheism is not a belief. Atheism is merely the lack of a belief in God or gods.” Because this is a common line among atheists today, you should know how to respond. Based on the text, what could you say?
Based on the text, I would point out that the atheist, like everyone else, holds something to be of ultimate concern. For them, it is not God. However, based on the advice of Greg Koukl, I would ask, “On the proposition ‘God exists,’ what do you say? Is it true, false, or do you withhold judgment?” If they say “true,” they are theists. If they say “false,” they are atheists. If they withhold judgment, they are agnostic. Note that if they are atheists, they have a belief about God. It is that there is no such being. The problem comes from an equivocation on what it means to “believe in God.” Classically understood, this meant more than merely assenting to the fact of his existence. It meant faith, or trust. Now it has come to mean “I acknowledge God exists.” This would be a good place to practice Columbo tactics and ask what they mean when they say they are atheists.
- What are the two advantages of using the biblical term idols for both secular and religious worldviews? (The second one is under the next subhead.)
One advantage is that it levels the playing field by showing that every worldview has to have a self-existent starting point. The other is it shows how even the most secular worldview serves as a religious commitment.
Religion without God
- As you read through the rest of this chapter, fill out the following diagram. On the left side, write the features that most people associate with religion. On the right side, explain why that feature is not a necessary part of the definition of religion. Give examples.
Common Definitions of Religion
Why Isn’t That Definition Adequate?
|Belief in a Deity||Several religions are non-theistic|
|Moral code||Some religions are amoral and even immoral.|
|Worship rituals.||Epicureans and Aristotle thought God took no interest in humans.|
- Why are Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism described as atheistic religions?
They are neither founded by, nor identify any deity.
Religion without Morality
- Give examples of amoral and even immoral religions.
Buddhism and Hinduism are amoral religions, as they deny moral distinctions. The gods of Greco-Roman mythology were given to greed, adultery, etc, and were actually immoral. Moreover, some ancient religions involved human, even child, sacrifice.
Search for the Divine
- What is the one thing that characterizes all religions as well as all secular philosophies? Can you think of any exceptions?
All religions and secular philosophies hold something to have the status of divinity, that is, something that needs no explanation for its existence.
Philosophers and Their Gods
- As you read through the rest of this chapter, fill out the diagram below. On the left side, write the name of each ism discussed. On the right side, identify its idol. Go back and start with the section titled “Search for the Divine.”
What Is Its Idol?
Earth, air, fire, water
|Plato/ Aristotle||Rational form|
- What does the Greek word arché mean? Do you agree that the early Greek philosophies qualify as idols under the definition in Romans 1? Give your reasons.
Arché means the first, or dominant principle. For the Greek philosophies that held that one of the four elements, or form, or number had the status of divinity, and therefore fits the Romans 1 definition of idol.
The Church of Physics: Idol of Matter
- Dialogue: I once had a Facebook discussion with a young fan of Richard Dawkins, who was outraged that I would suggest secularism had anything in common with religion. To this young man, religion represented blind faith while science stood for reason and facts. Imagine yourself in a conversation with a young man like that. Write a dialogue in which you level the playing field by showing that all belief systems share the same basic structure.
YM: “Science stands for reason and facts. Religion represents blind faith.”
M: On your view, what exists that requires no prior cause?
YM: The universe.
M: So on your view, the universe is divine?
- Explain the logical steps that lead from materialism to Marxism’s economic determinism.
If all that exists is matter, and humans are defined by the way they relate to matter, those who control the means of production control political, moral, and religious forces that determine economic conditions, which are the ultimate reality.
Hume Meets the Klingons: Idol of the Senses
- Like Data in Star Trek, atheists often charge that Christianity is “irrational” simply because it accepts the existence of a realm beyond the empirical world. Based on the text, how could you answer that charge?
I would ask what empirical evidence do they have that we can only know what we can test empirically?
Inside the Matrix
- Dialogue: Explain to an empiricist how his or her philosophy involves a divinity belief.
If all that can be known is what can be experienced by the senses, the senses have the status of divinity. It is an epistemology that starts and ends within the mind with the senses. Pressed to its logical conclusion, since we have no access to another’s senses, we are left with solipsism. We can only accept the existence of the world within range of our senses. If we can trust what others tell us they are experiencing by their senses, then we can know things not immediately available to our senses, therefore empiricism is false.
Go Within, Young Man
- One philosopher says that Enlightenment epistemologies set up “the first-person standpoint” as the only path to certainty. They turned the self into “the locus and arbiter of knowledge.” Explain what that means and what the end result was.
The idea is that we can strip away all that we have learned from culture and education and begin from the foundation with the consciousness as the only way to knowledge. Ironically, they expect to accept their attempt to educate us on this and take it on their authority.
- Philosophers like Karl Popper and John Herman Randall point out the “religious character” of Enlightenment epistemologies. Explain what they meant.
The authority of divine revelation is replaced by the authority of the senses, or the intellect.
Kant’s Mental Prison: Idol of the Mind
- What was Kant’s “Copernican revolution”? What was his God substitute? Define solipsism, and explain why philosophies that start within the human mind end in solipsism.
Kant claimed that all we have are sense perceptions on which our minds impose order. He moved our consciousness to the center of the universe. The mind became the God substitute.
Solipsism is the idea that all that you can know is your own mind. When all that can be known is our sense perceptions, or the ideas that derive from them, all that you have is solipsism.
The Artist as God: Idol of the Imagination
- Describe the evidence showing that, for the Romantics, the imagination was their God substitute, and art was their substitute religion.
Describing the imagination as “autonomous, immune, or unchallengeable” shows the view that it is the Romantic’s God substitute. As such, art was their response to that which help the status of divinity.
Cure for Blind Philosophers
- Read “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe on the following pages. How does it illustrate the origin of idols?
“The Blind Men and the Elephant”
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain” quoth he:
“’Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
It shows how idolatrous worldviews see some part of reality as the totality of reality and deny all else.
The Joy of Critical Thinking
- How does Christianity affirm what is good and true in these
Materialism: God created a good material universe and made it discoverable. Therefore, even materialistic scientists can tell us useful things about it.
Rationalism: Since God is a rational being, he made a rational world and gave us rational faculties by which we can understand it.
Empiricism: God created us with sensory faculties, and gave us sense experiences that lead us to truth.
Romanticism: As created in the image of God, we have some creative capabilities that ought to be used for his glory.
“To an Unknown God”
- “Paul was making the astounding claim that Christianity provides the context of meaning for the Greeks to understand their own culture.” Explain what that means. Choose one example from our own day, and explain how the same principle can be applied.
Paul was using the true parts of the Greek understanding to build a bridge, showing how the Christian worldview filled in where their view lacked. In our day, there are people arguing for same-sex marriage on the view that it is only fair. Fairness is a moral category that is best explained by the Christian worldview.