Weekend Broadcast

God of the Bible vs. God of Philosophy

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Writing long before the New Testament was written, the ancient Greek philosopher Plato described something he called “The Supreme Good.”  This notion has had a powerful influence on Christians ever since.  Is it conceivable that the early philosophers caught a glimpse of the Creator?  In this lesson, Dr. Sproul explores the possibility that the God of the Bible is also the God that philosophy discovered in reason and logic.

From the series: Defending Your Faith

Get R.C. Sproul's book God's Love in Paperback for a Gift of Any Amount

Further Study On This Topic

  1. blog-post

    Thinking Deeply in the Ocean of Revelation

  2. devotional

    Human Philosophies

  3. article

    All Truth Is God’s Truth

Thinking Deeply in the Ocean of Revelation

Tim Challies

Last week R.C. Sproul was one of the speakers at the 2010 Desiring God National Conference: The Life of the Mind & the Love of God. Dr. Sproul's topic was "Thinking Deeply in the Ocean of Revelation: The Bible and the Life of the Mind." Here is the video of the message he gave:

The following are notes taken during the session.

Acts 17:22-28

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”

Introduction: The Primary Philosophical Questions

In May of 585 B.C., the first ever predicted solar eclipse was recorded. It had been predicted by Thales of Miletus, who is considered to be the father of Western philosophy and science. He was captivated by a pressing problem: How can I make sense of all of the diversity of my experience in this world? This gave rise to the concept of a universe and a university (unity + diversity).

The answer Thales found to his question was that the singular principle that makes sense out of everything else in this world is water. Why? He noticed that everything he saw in the world appeared either as a solid, liquid, or gas. Water manifested itself in each of these forms. Water also sustained life, which is most important.

Another problem that faced philosophers was the problem of motion. We typically assume that something in motion has been moved by another object. Thales looked for something that had the capacity for hylozoism, something that could move by itself. He came to the conclusion that water was this thing. Those that followed after Thales suggested other substances.

Parmenides, a prominent pre-Socratic philosopher, said, “Whatever is, is.” This may seem to be a transparent observation, but it is very profound. If something is real, it can’t not be. Non-being is nothingness. For everything to exist, there must be an unchangeable, fully actualized being.

Over against the thinking of Parmenides came the challenge of Heraclitus. He made the assertion that whatever is, is changing. We experience this in the process of aging. The operative word, then, is change or flux. He was famous for saying, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” The distinction was made between pure being, which can’t change, and our existence, which is constantly changing.

Who is right? This is what awakened Plato from his dogmatic slumber. By his time, philosophy had become dominated by skepticism. Socrates, Plato’s teacher, had begun asking the Stoics penetrating questions. He said that you can’t have a coherent science without both university and diversity. This eventually gave rise to Plato’s theory of ideas. Aristotle, Plato’s student, sought to resolve some of the problems Plato was left with. He postulated his idea of God: the Unmoved Mover, one who is the source of all motion and not the result of someone else’s motion.

After Plato and Aristotle a whole wave of skepticism arose. Two prominent schools of thought in this era were Stoicism and Epicureanism. They both abandoned the quest for ultimate reality and turned their attention to things they could learn and use right now. The Epicureans advocated refined hedonism: the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. The Stoics came up with a calculus, as it were, of pleasure, in the effort to avoid excess in either consumption or abstention.

Paul in Athens

When Paul arrived in Athens, Luke tells us that he was “deeply moved.” His soul was provoked within him because he saw that the city was given totally to idolatry. The best that Athens could produce, in the final analysis, was to be a center of factories devoted to the making of pagan idols. Paul went to the synagogues and marketplace preaching Christ. He then went up to the Areopagus and encountered these philosophers whose practice was to meet every day and discuss what’s new.

He began to teach the philosophers: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” He noticed that they were filled with religion because their city was filled with idols. They even had one dedicated “To the Unknown God.” Paul said, “The one whom you are worshiping in ignorance, I want to declare to you this day. He is the one who is the creator of all. He is the one who does not need your prayers, your gifts, your worship, your idols. In fact, he doesn’t need anything.”

Paul urged them to seek God and then gave what I believe to be the most profound philosophical statement in the whole New Testament: “In him we live, we move, and we have our being.” Ultimate reality is found in God who is the creator of everything. God is absolute, pure being. He reveals himself to Moses as “I am who I am.” He is the supreme monarch of heaven and earth. God alone has pure actuality. There is no room for improvement with him.

I’m a human being. More accurately, to use Plato’s language, I am a human becoming. I still have potential that hasn’t been realized. I’m still changing. But God doesn’t change. My being is not found in me independently. It is found not in water or air but in God, who brings something out of nothing.


Let this be a brief introduction to the way the biblical witness gives answers to the questions that have plagued theoretical thought as long as there have been people. We will never find an answer to being if we try to find it outside the being and the character of God.

Human Philosophies

Despite the fact that the Christians in Colossae were standing in the truth when Paul wrote his letter to them (Col. 2:5), there was still a need to be vigilant about the error that was being proclaimed in their city under the auspices of Christianity. So, having exhorted them to keep on walking in Christ, believing in Him as the express image of God and submitting to His lordship as the way to resist error and grow in the faith, the apostle warns the Colossians to beware of “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” in today’s passage (v. 8).

The apostle is not disparaging philosophy as such, and the tools this discipline gives us can be immensely helpful in formulating summaries of biblical doctrine. What he is condemning is philosophy that is based on human reason alone, apart from divine revelation. Moreover, the term philosophy in the first century had a broader connotation than it does in our day—it could be used to describe nearly any kind of belief and not just the systemized thinking of the Greek philosophers. In Colossians 2:8, Paul is referring to false religious instruction, specifically the erroneous teaching being proclaimed in Colossae. Because this “instruction” did not exalt Christ (as God did), it was empty and worthless. Like the emperor in the old story, those promoting such lies had no clothes—the superior Christian life that they claimed to be wearing was nonexistent, made of that which is unreal, making promises it could not keep.

Today’s passage describes the errors taught in Colossae as according to “elemental spirits of the world,” a translation of the Greek word stoicheia, which had several meanings in the ancient world. Paul seems to use it here for the “gods” of the nations, the patron protectors of particular geographical locales. As believers, we know that such “gods” are nothing more than demons who enslave those whom they are supposed to liberate (1 Cor. 10:1–22). Colossians 2:16–23 indicates that the false teachers in Colossae advocated, among other things, keeping food laws and following a specific calendar as the key to holiness. These teachings were according to the “elemental spirits”—demons—because evil powers used such things to excite sin in people, not because ritual calendars and dietary regulations are inherently evil. Traditions like these are sinful only if we think salvation is in them or if we impose them on others.

All Truth Is God’s Truth

R.C. Sproul

Few books I have read have made a lasting impression on my mind and thought. One of them I read over fifty years ago. The title of the book was The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, and it made a lasting impression upon me because it clearly set forth the importance of understanding that all scientific theories presuppose certain philosophical premises. The philosophical premises that are the underpinning of scientific inquiry are often taken for granted and never given even a cursory exploration. But in a time when fierce debate rages between science and theology, it is important that we step back and ask questions about the pre-scientific theoretical foundations for the whole enterprise of knowledge.

The word science means “knowledge.” We tend to have a restricted view of the word as if knowledge only applies to the realm of empirical investigation. Besides material knowledge, we also have to take into account formal truth. In this regard we must consider mathematics as a genuine science, because math in its formal dimension yields real knowledge. In fact, if we look at the history of scientific progress, we see that the engine that has driven new breakthroughs and brought to bear new paradigms has more often than not been the engine of formal mathematics. But it is astonishing to see how frequently people engaged in material scientific research glibly pass over the philosophical presuppositions of their own work.

In Carl Sagan’s famous book entitled Cosmos, based on his television series of the same title, he makes the following statement: “Cosmos is a Greek word for the order of the universe. It is, in a way, the opposite of chaos. It implies the deep interconnectedness of all things.” In this seemingly harmless definition of the entire structure of Sagan’s work, he assumes that the universe under investigation by science is a cosmos rather than a chaos. He speaks of cosmos “implying a deep interconnectedness of all things.” This is the grand presupposition of scientific inquiry, namely, that the universe we are seeking to know is coherent. There is an implied deep and profound interconnectedness of all things. The alternative to cosmos, as Sagan has indicated, is chaos. If the universe is at root chaotic, then the whole scientific enterprise collapses. If the universe is chaotic and disconnected, then no knowledge is possible at all. Even discreet bits of atomic data cannot be understood within the framework of utter chaos, so the presupposition of a coherent, rational order of all things is the screaming presupposition of scientists.

This idea of an assumed coherency has its roots in ancient philosophical inquiry. Ancient Greeks, for example, sought ultimate reality. They sought a foundational principle for unity that would make sense out of diversity. This ultimate unity is what the science of theology provides. The science of theology provides the necessary presupposition for modern science. This is precisely the point that led prominent philosopher Antony Flew to his conversion from atheism to deism — namely, the essential necessity of a coherent foundation to reality to make any knowledge possible. This ultimate coherency cannot be provided by the contingency of this world. It requires a transcendent order.

In the Middle Ages, a crisis ensued in the realm of philosophy with the revival of what Muslim thinkers called “integral Aristotelianism.” In their attempt to achieve a synthesis between Aristotelian philosophy and Muslim theology, these thinkers produced a concept called the “double-truth theory.” The double-truth theory argued that what was true in religion could be false in science, and what was true in science could at the same time be false in religion. To translate that into contemporary categories, it would go something like this: As a Christian, one could believe that the universe came into being through the purposive act of a divine Creator while at the same time believing that the universe emerged gratuitously as a cosmic accident. These two truths examined by logic would appear to be contradictory. Nevertheless, the double-truth theory would say that truth is contradictory, and one could hold these contradictory ideas at the same time. This kind of intellectual schizophrenia rules the day in our own time where people think that God had nothing to do with the formation of the cosmos from Monday to Saturday only to become creationists on Sunday, failing to see that the two concepts are utterly irreconcilable.

At this point, the question is raised, “Well, does logic really count in our attempt to understand reality?” Again, if we’re going to assume coherency and cosmos, logic has to count not just for something but for everything. Thomas Aquinas responded to the Aristotelianism of the medieval Muslim philosophers by replacing double truths with the concept of mixed articles, distinguishing nature and grace (not dividing them, as many of his critics allege). Aquinas said that there are certain truths that can be known through special revelation that are not discerned from investigation of the natural world, while at the same time there are certain truths learned from the study of nature that are not found, for example, in the Bible. One does not find the circulatory system of the human body clearly set forth in Scripture. What Aquinas was saying was that there are certain truths that are mixed articles, truths that can be known either from the Bible or by a study of nature. Among those mixed articles, he included the knowledge of the existence of a Creator.

The fundamental point, of course, that Aquinas was arguing, in agreement with his famous predecessor, Augustine, was that all truth is God’s truth, and that all truth meets at the top. If science contradicts religion, or if religion contradicts science, at least one of them must be wrong. There have been times in history where the scientific community has corrected not the Bible but poor interpretations of the Bible, as we saw in the Galileo scandal. On the other hand, biblical revelation can act as intellectual brakes upon scientific theories that are groundless. In any case, if knowledge is possible, what Sagan assumed must continue to be assumed — namely, that for truth to be known, for science to be possible, there must be a coherent reality that we are seeking to know.

Since the beginning,

our aim has been to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it, and how to live it…

More about Renewing Your Mind