Fudging Aristotle: A Digression (Part 2): “’Not Informed by God’s Revelation”

Ever since Tertullian famously asked “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” the relationship between theology and philosophy has been full of ups and downs. And while Christianity emerged from Old Testament Judaism, in Palestine, Christianity itself entered a world that was largely Greek-speaking and “Hellenistic” – that is, one that was shaped by Greek religion and philosophy.

And so, some writers, thought more-or-less, that it was important to speak to the Greek-speaking world in its own language. Conscientious Christians, however, were more or less successful at keeping the concept of “the Gospel” undiluted, while making this attempt.

From a Christian perspective, we should acknowledge the gift of the ancient Greeks but insist on contextualizing the emergence of philosophy in the context of the metanarrative of creation-fall-redemption. Philosophy is a good gift of God, and we should see it as a development of the creative potentials built into God’s creation. In his providence God chose to have philosophy emerge from the ancient, pagan Greeks; a good gift but one they often misdirected, uninformed as they were about God’s revelation to Israel and in Christ. Thus we will continually need to ask, given their worldviews, what are they seeing truly about God’s world and what are they distorting? This indeed is the hard work of Christian philosophy (Craig G. Bartholomew, Michael W. Goheen, “Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction”, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, ©2013, pgs 32-33).

Among the Greek philosophers, there were two, Plato and Aristotle, whose thinking directly intersected with Christianity (and at different times, with different influences). Both posited a form of a “god”, but neither Plato nor Aristotle came close to affirming the Christian God, or the Christian order of things.

… it is important to note that Plato’s forms are very different from the biblical view of creation order. In Genesis God orders the creation by his Word, and he continues to actively sustain his creation in existence. Creation order stems from the true and living God and calls for a joyful response of obedience. Plato’s forms are impersonal and transcend everything so that even the “god” who brought creation into existence is subject to them. The only adequate response to the forms is rational, theoretical contemplation (“Christian Philosophy”, 46).

And Aristotle:

While Plato distrusted the senses, Aristotle believed that true knowledge begins with our sensory perception. However, knowledge comes not simply through sensory experience but as we use our reason to clarify, categorize, and analyze the world. Thus for Aristotle knowledge involved empirical knowledge and logical analysis.

Aristotle developed a host of analytical and logical tools to perform this task of analysis. He was the first to analyze the processes of logic, or formally correct reasoning. He distinguished between inductive logic which draws general conclusions from a collection of specific observations, and deductive logic, which demonstrates a conclusion with a compelling argument. He saw the value in both kinds reasoning for understanding the world, but his embrace of inductive logic shows a far deeper confidence in the senses and the visible world than that of Plato (“Christian Philosophy”, 51).

But Aristotle didn’t hold to the Christian conception of God either:

Aristotle’s rigorous logic drove him to posit a Supreme Being, and Unmoved Mover. This Supreme Being is nothing like the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a pure abstraction created to make sense of the world. Aristotle’s god is pure Reason and does not have any kind of material component like all other things. Like Plato, Aristotle is finally compelled to create an idol out of reason. Humanity shares in Divine Reason (“Christian Philosophy”, 53).

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