The objectives of this brief introduction to metaphysics are as follows:
- Provide a brief definition of the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics
- Understand the basic theological issues related to metaphysics
- Distinguish between a Christian view of reality and a non-Christian view of reality
- Recognize the importance of developing a basic understanding of metaphysics
Metaphysics is probably the most abstract branch of philosophy. It is a highly complex field. For that reason, I am going to commit the philosophical sin of over-simplification. Metaphysicians will just have to show mercy and tolerance. When we are talking about metaphysics we are talking about the nature of reality. What is this thing we call reality? Metaphysics then is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being. The critical task of philosophy is to ask questions about the nature of being, or ultimate reality. The constructive task of philosophy is to erect a cohesive view of reality that reflects the truth about the nature of being, or ultimate reality.
As one might imagine, how one understands the nature of ultimate reality is critical to their overall understanding of human experience. There are numerous non-Christian theories expressed by philosophers that seek to explain the nature of ultimate reality. The most basic question for the Christian and the most significant theological issue is how one defines reality. What is being? What am I? What does it mean to exist? Why does something exist instead of nothing? These questions assume that human beings are capable of knowing something about the nature of reality. But if there is no creator God, then we must ask how we can know anything about reality. How could we ever trust ourselves enough to inform ourselves on these complex questions? If humans evolved from primitive life-forms which somehow came into existence from non-life forms, as one popular theory claims, how is knowledge of anything truly possible? If these theories are true, how do we account for or explain abstract concepts like value, meaning, and morality? What are we to say about the relationship between particulars and universals? The implications are sweeping.
William Lane Craig writes, “General ontology is the most basic aspect of metaphysics, and there are three main tasks that make up this branch of metaphysical study: 1) The nature of existence itself; 2) General principles of being, general features that are true of all things whatsoever (transcendentals); 3) Categorical analysis – which involves classifying broad types of things we experience in reality. This would include things like dogs, color, etc. These categories of things share common properties with one another. This brings us to the problem of the one and the many. That subject requires more space than I can devote to it given the basic aim of this short article.
The Distinctiveness of the Christian Metaphysic
Only the Christian view of reality provides the necessary foundation for the intelligibility of human experience in the world. For it is only a distinctly Christian metaphysic that understands the nature of reality and of the human beings existing within that reality. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Christian theism claims that the world as we know it, as we see it, as we experience is the product of divine creation. And God created man in his image and in his likeness. Moreover, Christian theism claims that God created man. All of reality is what it is because God created it to be precisely what it is. The state of affairs that has obtained in the world has obtained only because God has decreed it.
According to Christianity, God created the universe and all that is in it. This means there is a sharp distinction between God, who is uncreated, eternal, and absolute personal being, and man who is created, temporal, and dependent. Man depends on God for all that he is, including his existence, his knowledge, and his very reason for being. According to Christianity, God controls every aspect of the universe in accordance with his plan and for his own glory. As one might expect, this view of reality has far-reaching implications.
The Importance of Developing a Basic Understanding of Metaphysics
The most basic idea running through the various systems of fallen humanity is the idea of autonomy. When Adam rebelled in the garden so many years ago, that rebellion was a rebellion against dependence. It was Adam’s declaration of independence. Unless a person’s view of reality corresponds to the truth about reality, it can and does lead to a variety of errors elsewhere in their thinking. First and foremost, the refusal to acknowledge our complete and total dependence on God is the root of sin and the source of all manner suffering in the world. Man was created by God, in God’s image, for God, to reflect God’s image in creation and back to God. Second, the failure to anchor one’s view of reality on the teachings of Christianity leads us away from the biblical teaching of an absolute personal Triune God of Scripture who controls the most minute details of the universe. In other words, only a distinctly Christian metaphysic can honor God in the way that God ought to be honored. Third, a non-Christian view of reality always elevates man. It makes more of man than ought to made of him. The consequences of a non-Christian metaphysic is simply this: And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Rom. 1:28)
 Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003, pgs. 175-176.