Where Did Western Philosophy Begin?

Artist Frank Wu’s interpretation of Job 1:20-21. (click to go to the artist’s website)

In my sophomore year at university, my roommate was Frank Wu. He was a fun, energetic guy, and we had a great time together. We remained friends throughout our time at university. I got married after my junior year, and Frank gave me and my wife an original painting, which is pictured above. It represents his artistic interpretation of my favorite passage in Scripture: Job 1:20-21. I have treasured the painting ever since he gave it to us. It hangs in my office where I can see it while I work. Now that he is an award-winning artist, it is probably worth some money, but that couldn’t possibly compare to the value it holds in my heart.

Because the book of Job contains my favorite passage in Scripture, I have probably read it more than any other book in the Bible, along with many commentaries. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across an interpretation of the book that I had never considered. It comes from Dr. Susan Neiman, director of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany.

Dr. Neiman says this about the book of Job:

I am a philosopher who believes that Western philosophy begins not with Plato, but elsewhere, and earlier, with the Book of Job. That is because I believe that the problem of evil is the central point where philosophy begins, and threatens to stop.

The problem of evil, of course, is the apparently contradictory situation in which God is all-good and all-powerful, but there is suffering in the world. How could an all-good, all-powerful God allow that to happen? For centuries, Christians have written excellent answers to that question, so I don’t consider it a problem. See, for example, Chapter 14 in Warranted Christian Belief by Dr. Alvin Plantinga. However, it is a good question that every person who believes in an all-good, all-powerful God must consider.

Thus, I encourage you to read Dr. Neiman’s essay when you have time to consider it. I don’t agree with everything she says, especially when it comes to God’s omnipotence. However, the way she describes the roles of Job, his friends, and God is very interesting. I will spend more time considering her interpretation and perhaps write a follow-up article.

8 Comments

  1. John D. says:

    Interesting! I remember when I first read Walden Two as a young agnostic I was struck with how incredible the idea of positivism was. What I now find strange is that it tends to be a theme in both Utopian AND Dystopian novels.

    In many of these books the societies have a practice of weening out evil, sin, socially unacceptable behavior, greed, lust, jealousy, etc. They do this though breeding, positive reinforcement, psychological manipulations, etc. These societies are erasing the impulses starting from birth.

    The Dystopian novels always seem successful on the face of things but slowly you learn the populace still feel many of the impulses but have become masters of suppression and/or masking. However, in the Utopian novels, the outcomes tend to be more successful. The inhabitants of Walden Two (a perfect commune) are described as no longer experiencing the urge to sin or, if sin has been relabeled as sanctimony, they experience no internal conflict in it’s manifestations.

    I see the latter as foolhardy (though I once thought it possible). However my mistakes have given me some clarity and ability to see into the thinking of philosophical / societal idealogues. I think idealistic atheists, agnostics, perfect socialists, communists, reformers, really do think Utopia can be achieved one day. Sin and suffering are seen as obstacles presented by an indifferent cosmos – but something we can eradicate with enough science and evolution. There is no Heaven but we can make one here on Earth. We just have to become of one mind.

    I think this is where a lot of intolerance towards people of faith comes from. Christians are seen as holding back the progress towards this Utopia because we hold fast to archaic ideas and outdated ideals. Because we don’t feel the same way about evil. If only the others could hear (REALLY hear) the story of Job they’d realize there is a purpose and a plan.

  2. Victor Da Silva says:

    It’s… funny. Because, in those days, I’m with trouble to answer the question about the problem of evil in this world. And now, one of my favorite bloggers post something about it. Only a random casuality? I doubt…

    Thank you Dr. Jay.

  3. Charles Holloway says:

    Lots of good reading. Thanks Dr. Jay. The Warranted Christian Belief is some good stuff. I think you make a good point by making a reference that hopefully most people realize there are many acceptable answers to the problem of evil if they only look. In fact, I vaguely remember first coming across an atheist talking about it and I was only a Christian for about a year and in that time I had already realized that for Christians the problem of evil is answered in so many ways. Obviously, I was nowhere near as complex as Chapter 14 and all I had was my own understanding of scripture. I just felt like the Christian faith explained evil from beginning to end and I was given other answers from sermons from Andy Stanley that I felt reinforced my limited understanding. Then, I saw Ravi Zacharias talk about why Christianity is considered the one true religion and everything made more sense. He said Christianity is true because it is the only one that maintains corresponding truths and coherence answers to the 4 major questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. So, it can be believed that a topic like evil maintains coherence as well even through interpretations of Job.

    I then looked more into it and saw that the problem of evil has been around a long time and so now I just chuckle inside when I see an atheist bring it up.

  4. Evan says:

    Hello mr.wile I was thing the other day and could aliens and Christianity coexist or not because it plagued my mind one night. Hopefully you can respond to my question god bless and have a good day .

    1. Jay Wile says:

      The existence of alien life doesn’t contradict Christianity in any way. After all, God could create life wherever He chooses. If there is are fish swimming in some alien sea, there is nothing unScriptural about that. Now, if that alien life was rational and possessed consciousness, that might be a problem. The Bible says that Christ died once for sin (Romans 6:10, 1 Peter 3:18), and that death redeemed the entire creation (Romans 8:21, Colossians 1:20). Those verses would seem to rule out any alien life that has the image of God. Now, of course, the Bible is written to humans, not to aliens, so it might be that these references refer only to what happened on earth and in its solar system. If such aliens exist, I would want to know what their views on God and a Savior are. That would probably determine whether or not rational alien life is consistent with Christianity.

      This shouldn’t keep you up late at night! I tend to look at the evidence, and right now, there is absolutely no evidence for alien life that is rational and has consciousness. This is in spite of a lot of effort to find such life! Thus, while I cannot rule out alien life that is rational and has consciousness, I can say that right now, the most reasonable conclusion is that it doesn’t exist.

      1. Evan says:

        Thank you Mr Wile my views of Christianity are very strong because I’m a very faithful person but I just started thinking about that. Thank you for taking time out of your day to respond!

  5. Brian says:

    Since you like Job so much, perhaps you would enjoy these short videos on Job by the Bible Project.

    Here is their basic informational one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQwnH8th_fs&index=26&list=PLH0Szn1yYNeeVFodkI9J_WEATHQCwRZ0u

    And here is their specially animated one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GswSg2ohqmA

    Both are well worth watching.

    1. Jay Wile says:

      Thank you, Brian!

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