While each of these perspectives offers somewhat convincing explanations prima facie, it is perhaps most likely that the justification for the rise in philosophy is not an either/or proposition exclusively, but that instead each of the elements discussed worked cooperatively in providing a context in which philosophic inquiry could thrive uniquely as it had not had opportunity to do in previous cultures and eras. It does however seem that if there is to be a primary causation that it should be linked to a naturalistic drive, as this seems a most internal element of motive, implying greater force in causation over the other factors which must be reckoned as external – albeit no less than magnificently important to setting the conditions – to the pursuit itself. In short, the naturalistic drive seems a moral principle whereas the others are in greater part descriptive.
If this be an accurate assessment, then what of interconnectedness? Jean Grandin speaks of a “new proximity between theology and philosophy,” appealing to the previous desirability of interactions between the two as a model for future sharing of inquiry.[i]
Tillich’s view on the possibility of synthesis seems to counter Grandin’s hopeful assessment, causing one to wonder if indeed naturalistic drive as primary cause of philosophic origin eliminates the possibility of a theological impact on philosophy. Yet this writer is not willing to concede that the initial (and in many senses, ongoing) motivating factors which contributed in large part to the genesis of a particular class of thought (philosophy) also require a grounding of methodology untouchable by theology and theological perspective. Naturalistic drive has inarguably given impetus in the development (or to some, the debasement) of inquiry, yet it needs not necessarily find within itself the resolution. In short, despite divergence in origin and motivation, there is an interconnectedness to be seen between philosophy and theology, as can be illustrated by question and answer. Questions may be provided in one context and may be answered in yet another. If the conflict between philosophy and theology then arises from disparate foundations, is interaction between the two impossible? Is that which is philosophical non-theological, and is that which is theological non-philosophical? No, on all counts.
First, it seems there should be sharp distinction between causation and content – between motivation and result. If indeed the motivation for philosophy historically is grounded purely in the naturalistic, the content of philosophic inquiry need not necessarily be. Second, both philosophical and theological can be enhanced by the process of testing at the hands of the other. Both pursuits ought to avoid prejudice and fear of interaction. As philosophy’s naturalism – chance and necessity, resultant cosmogonies and ethical systems – should be unafraid in the face of theological critiques, so theology’s metaphysical groundings should fear no challenge from philosophy’s sometimes rationalistic and sometimes empirical critiques. Theology can learn much from critiques offered from philosophy. Perhaps much error is maintained on both sides by an unwillingness to suffer such criticism. Third, too many intersections have historically been unearthed than can be ignored. It is not coincidence that most philosophy compendiums and readers will consider theological texts, and that epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics, at least, inextricably connect the two disciplines. This interconnectedness has historically been so strong that to some degree it is difficult to calculate where theology ends and philosophy begins and where, if at all, each discipline restricts the other.
Finally, it seems that philosophy and theology are of the same kind – not in presupposition or conclusion, but rather in that the legitimacy of both are tied to previous faith commitments, as is evidenced by the respective handling of that which seems (at least) beyond human capacity for understanding – either by the rational or the empirical. Thomas Aquinas, illustrates from a theological perspective this kind of presuppositional commitment, saying,
…although things which are beyond human knowledge are not to be sought by man through reason, such things are revealed by God, and are to be accepted by faith.[ii]
Harvard Research Professor Richard Lewontin, from perhaps an extreme naturalistic perspective illustrates the same kind of commitment, yet with a dramatically different conclusion:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenological world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.[iii]
Lewontin’s commentary here brings to mind the Presocratic attempts at explaining the cosmos. Initially they were grounded at least to some degree in mythos, and swiftly became almost exclusively naturalistic. Assuming the commitment is based on an appropriate grounding it would be expected that progress resultant from increased abilities in the science (and art) of inquiry would draw us closer to better understanding not just the world around us but also existence itself. However, if that condition of prior commitment (materialism) is not reliable, then interpretations not shared by philosophy, science, and theology can be called into question, and hence arrives the importance of the interconnectedness between philosophy and theology. The debate perhaps should not be primarily about method, but rather about the legitimacy of prior commitments and presuppositions.
An excerpt from Life Beyond the Sun: An Introduction to Worldview and Philosophy Through the Lens of Ecclesiastes.
[i] Paru dans A. Wiercinski (Dir.), Between the Human and the Divine. Philosophical and Theological Hermeneutics (Toronto, CA: The Hermeneutic Press, 2002), 97-101.
[ii] Thomas Aquinas, On Nature and Grace, ed. A.M. Fairweather (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1954), 36.
[iii] Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons”, New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997.