What is the definition of idealism?Question: "What is the definition of idealism?"
Answer: In popular culture, an idealist is generally defined as “a person who sees the world as it could be rather than as it currently exists.” An idealist is full of hope, even to the point of impracticality; Don Quixote was an idealist. However, that definition has little to do with idealism as a philosophy. Idealism, for the purpose of this article, is the belief that reality is fundamentally a mental concept. In this worldview, everything knowable is composed of the mind or spirit and reality is defined by one’s self-consciousness. Various philosophers have taught idealism throughout history, including Plato.
The major biblical concern regarding idealism is the emphasis it places on the mind. We should note here that some idealists are also theists—they believe that God’s mind is what defines reality. However, according to atheistic idealism, the human mind is the sole authority and basis for all reality. There is no universe for our minds to discover; rather, our minds determine what is real. Awareness creates existence. This contradicts the opening words of Scripture: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). There was a reality before the human mind was there to be conscious of it.
A second biblical concern is that idealism downplays the importance of God’s revelation to humanity. If reality is what our mind creates, what role does God’s revealed Word play? Is the Bible simply the reality of someone’s mind in a past generation that helps shape the reality of our minds today? If so, then Scripture’s importance and impact are negligible.
Scripture is perfect and true. Psalm 18:30 teaches, “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” Both God and His words are true. This is why Paul wrote that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). God and His Word are real and distinct from the human mind; they are not constructs of the human intellect.
A third biblical concern is that atheistic idealism conflicts with God’s transcendence. If God is Creator of all, above all, and knows all, then reality is much more than our minds can comprehend or conceive. God exists, whether or not we are aware of Him. The idealistic view that the human mind conceives reality puts a human limitation on truth and denies the fact of a supernatural God.
Ultimately, our reality is not based on what our mind produces but on what God has made. He has created us, sustains us, and gives us life and strength. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Our goal is not to create our own reality but to better understand the reality that God has made.
Recommended Resource: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland
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Questions about Apologetics and Worldview
What is the definition of idealism?