5 reasons I studied philosophy

March 23, 2016

Philosophy, my graduate field of study, has taken hits in recent months. Who knew philosophers would be pitted against welders and subjected to assault from pop culture personalities? I chose philosophy well before such hubbub, but now seems as good a time as any to revisit why I did such a thing. Why did I, having been in the employ of a Southern Baptist entity for over a decade, choose to study philosophy?

1. Worldview reconnaissance

At the time I was considering graduate programs, I sought counsel from a host of people I trust. My interest was to continue work at the intersection of Christianity and the public square, with the nuance that I have particular interest in doing so directly among people who don’t necessarily share a Christian worldview. American culture continues to become more diverse in every way imaginable: religiously, ethnically, ideologically, politically. It is clear, then, that American Christians will increasingly interact with people who have no Christian memory. This is true whether you coach little league or petition Congress.

Most of the ideas the ERLC contends with in the public policy realm emanate from some kind of philosophy. This is true whether elected officials, government staff and advocacy groups are aware of it or not. Some of those ideas harmonize with Christian ethics while others—many others—do not. Thus, I decided I wanted a glimpse “behind the curtain” to see where these policy ideas come from. Consider it a kind of “worldview reconnaissance.”

2. Professional skills

Once I had some clarity about the theme of my professional interests, Barrett Duke suggested I consider philosophy. He said it would give me access to the ideas that become worldviews and would help me develop the inherent skill set necessary for worldview engagement, like argumentation and writing. He was correct. (And wow, was there writing.) As a bonus, the program forced me to write more precisely. (Yes, I’m a work in progress.) Further, the task of philosophy made me comfortable discussing both big, oversimplified concepts and nuanced specifics. Mainly, it helped recognize the difference between the two and learn to communicate appropriately.

3. Appreciation for original sources

During my particular track of study, I spent a good deal of time reading the likes of David Hume, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant and John Rawls. I was also exposed to Jewish and Islamic scholars, along with some Christian authors I’d not previously read. The writings of all of the above influence our current public policy debates in one way or another, though well “upstream” from legislation and political pundits. I learned that a philosopher’s popular reputation is often different than the actual text. This led to a greater particular appreciation for engaging original sources.

For example, David Hume supposedly dispelled with rational belief in miracles. But a reading of On Miracles reveals he didn’t accomplish that task, at least not in that essay. Immanuel Kant supposedly disproved the existence of God. Yet a reading of Critique of Pure Reason shows that he too still believed, with “certainty,” in a deity. But I didn’t learn any of that from a wiki entry. I had to read the original texts.

I have since found that requesting a fair reading of original texts resonates in debates over ethics and policy. Whether responding to questions about the Bible, an SBC resolution or an ERLC policy position, I find it immensely useful to simply say, “Let’s look at the original source.” This cools what otherwise might be a contentious conversation and often corrects the record.

4. Confidence in my faith

In my program of study I was a minority with regard to worldview, and that was OK. Given a firm foundation in Scripture in advance, having your beliefs challenged can be a fruitful exercise. It helped me refine how I communicate about my faith. It provided confidence that the historic, orthodox Christian faith can withstand philosophical scrutiny. A familiarity with the likes of C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and R.C. Sproul helped in recognizing presuppositions in philosophical arguments. (However, while such familiarity with Christian thinkers helps, it does not exempt a student from the deep-in-the-weeds work of academic philosophy.)

It became evident that secular philosophies have no substantial refutation of religious belief in general, nor Christianity in particular. No philosopher to date has found any silver bullet that takes down all religious belief, though many assume they have. I found many fellow students hadn’t actually read much of the Bible, and few approach it with even a neutral academic posture they would other ancient texts. There just isn’t anything I’ve seen that provides the materialist worldview a one-two punch against Christianity.

5. A focus on Christ

However logical, creative or absurd a philosophy, even a philosopher must do something with the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth. C.S. Lewis’ trilemma has been accused by some philosophers of failing to “prove” Jesus is God. But that is to misunderstand the task of the trilemma. The only thing the trilemma accomplishes is to remove the fourth option, the claim that Jesus was merely a “great moral teacher.” In this philosophical exercise, He might still be a lunatic or liar. But if we affirm the existence of the man called Jesus (a question of history, not science or philosophy), and we read the Bible (the most original source we have about him), then only three options remain: He is either who he says he is (Lord), or he is a liar or lunatic.

Studying philosophy focused me on the person of Christ because I quickly saw how human efforts are, still, “striving after wind,” and “if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (Eccl. 1:17, 1 Cor. 15:14). And by God’s grace, I still call him Lord, even after a philosophy degree.

Matthew T. Hawkins

Matthew T. Hawkins is a former policy director of the  ERLC. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in public theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and serves as chair of The One America Movement, a nonprofit that desires to build a united American society by eliminating toxic polarization. More information … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24