Wondering About What There Is: A Brief Introduction to Metaphysics

What is metaphysics? Metaphysics investigates those questions for which science cannot give definitive answers. Here’s some thought provoking clips and resources from Tim O’Connor, one of our speakers at the upcoming BioLogos19 Conference.

There is a story — probably apocryphal — that the word ‘metaphysics’ came from the librarians who were trying to catalogue the works of Aristotle. They put his books about ethics, logic, and physics on the shelf, and then weren’t sure what to call the rest, so they just called them ta meta ta physica (the ones after physics).

The topics included in these books by Aristotle are among the most general questions we can ask, like what does it mean for something to exist? Think about that very long and it will make your brain hurt!

When I was teaching philosophy to undergraduates, often who didn’t have much of an idea what they had signed up for, I’d explain metaphysics by saying it tries to answer the question, What kinds of things are there, and what are those things like? Obviously there is some overlap with science in framing the question that way, but metaphysics investigates those for which science cannot give definitive answers. For example, the study of metaphysics includes:

  • Is there a God, and what is God like?
  • Do humans have souls or minds? What are those like?
  • Is free will an illusion?

There are some great bite-sized videos of Tim O’Connor discussing these questions (and others) on the Closer to Truth website. At his profile page, you can see twenty-six of these videos. Some are part of a bigger series, and you have to pay for the whole episode, but some stand alone and can be viewed for free.

I’d recommend starting with these:

Of course not all philosophers — not even all Christian philosophers — answer these questions the same way. But it is readily apparent that Tim has thought long and hard about them, and his answers are worth listening to. 

Jim Stump
About the Author

Jim Stump

Jim Stump is Senior Editor at BioLogos. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates existing content for the website and print materials. Jim has a PhD in philosophy from Boston University and was formerly a philosophy professor and academic administrator. He has authored Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017) and edited Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Zondervan 2017). Other books he has co-authored or co-edited include: Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010, 2016), The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity, 2016), and Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (InterVarsity, 2017). You can email Jim Stump at james.stump@biologos.org.