Archive for the ‘modernism’ Tag

Unreasonable Reason   Leave a comment

  • What is knowledge?
  • How do we know?
  • How can we be sure that what we think we know is accurate?

Throughout the Modern Age, our society’s pervading philosophy has been humanism, which answers the questions about knowledge by appealing to human reason. Man starts from himself and works outward for all answers.

“Reason appears in possession of the throne, prescribing laws and imposing maxims, with an absolute sway and authority.” (David Hume)

This belief in the power of reason is the foundation of modern western society.  Post-modernism acknowledges that the value of reason can never be demonstrated because it starts with man alone, relying on the accuracy of our sense perceptions. We can never have certain knowledge of even our physical existence, let alone the objective existence of the material world around us. Hume acknowledged the potential pitfall of relying on something that is not wholly adequate, but he refused to despair or abandon his reliance on humanism.

Should it be asked me whether I sincerely assent to this argument which I have been to such pains to inculcate, whether I be really one of those skeptics who hold that all is uncertain, I should reply…that neither I nor any other person was ever sincerely and constantly of that opinion …I dine, I play backgammon, I converse and am merry with my friends, and when, after three or four hours’ amusement. I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold and strained and ridiculous that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any further. Thus, the skeptic still continues to reason and believe, though he asserts that he cannot defend his reason by reason, and by the same rule, he must assent to the principle concerning the existence of body, though he cannot pretend by any argument of philosophy to maintain its veracity.

 

In the 20th century, many thinkers began to despair from trying to ignore the contradictions. Reason had become modern man’s god, but it was becoming a rotting corpse reminding him of the decay of meaning and the death of value in human existence.

The problem was simple enough. Man is finite. Our grasp of reality is limited — too limited to generate sufficient knowledge to answer all the questions or to understand the whole of reality. Reality is huge, but we (even collectively) are small; how can we ever be sure that our knowledge is accurate? Might it not all be a projection of our innermost hopes and fears and not anything real at all?

Christians don’t concern themselves much with our finiteness. We freely acknowledge that our understanding is limited. No problem! God exists and His knowledge is complete. He knows the universe in a way we cannot. God has revealed Himself to us in His word, the Bible, and though this word does not tell us everything, it tells us truly. Our foundation of knowledge is secure in God’s word. We have been created in God’s image to understand the world in which we live, so our perception is accurate. When reason is made the master, it is a tyrant that leads us into the blackest night of ignorance and confusion, but when reason stands under God’s revelation, it becomes a servant of great value, to explore and reflect upon the world in which we live.

The Christian need not fear anything we may learn about the universe.

The God Who is There (Introduction)   Leave a comment

My hope is not built on Francis Schaeffer’s writings, but The God Who Is There was my signpost to God. So I thought I’d take a bit looking at what this book means.

Schaeffer was all about the presuppositions, which is probably why he appealed to me in the first place. Growing up in an issues-oriented state, raised by parents who were political opposites, I had been trained early to question my political presuppositions. That I hadn’t questioned my spiritual presuppositions was probably because my parents largely agreed with the Alaskan culture that spiritual things weren’t all that important.

Schaeffer primarily wrote in the period of upheaval during the 1960s and 70s when Christians were coming to L’Abri in Switzerland to sort out their confusion. He was not writing in a vacuum. He was dealing every day with the confusion Christians were experiencing as we entered the post-modern age.

“The present chasm between the generations has been brought about almost entirely by a change in the concept of truth. … The consensus about us is almost monolithic, whether you review the arts, literature or simply read the newspapers and magazines…. On every side you can feel the stranglehold of this new methodology … the way we approach truth and knowing. … And just as fog cannot be kept out by walls or doors, so this consensus comes in around us, til the room we live in is no longer distinct, and yet we hardly realize what has happened ….

Schaeffer recognized way back in the 1950s that modernism was taking a dark turn. He never used the term “post-modernism” but he understood that modernism was headed that way. To him what we term “post-modernism” was really just the logical continuation of modernism’s failure to fulfill its promises.

“If you lived in … the United States before about 1935, you would not have had to spend much time, in practice, in thinking about your presuppositions. … What were these presuppositions? The basic one was that there really are such things as absolutes. They accepted the possibility of an absolute in the area of Being (or knowledge), and in the area of morals. Therefore, because they accepted the possibility of absolutes, though men might disagree as to what these were, nevertheless they could reason together…. “

That was lost and Schaeffer recognized that. Modernism had promised to answer all the questions of man through the sciences and to find agreement in all spheres. It had failed in doing that because science is the study of the material world and there is more to the human experience than the material world. When modernism failed to deliver on that promise, philosophers (who tend to speak for society) despaired and began to find other ways to answer those great questions.

Human societies have a tendency to seek a uniform culture where people can agree on the major issues, but Christians must always stand for God because God is truth. Martin Luther wrote”

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefields besides, is mere fight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Schaeffer did not flinch from the battlefield and he sought to explain to 20th century Christians how their culture had drifted so far from Christianity, but also why their children were and remain at risk of being sucked down with it.

Although I grew up in a non-believing home, I was one of those youth that Schaeffer hoped to wake up to the reality around them, so that they would be free to follow God with their eyes wide open.

That Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There would be in an Alaskan cabin in the middle of nowhere so that I would have reading materials when I (a non-Christian) was bored enough to read a book on Christian apologetics could be deemed a statistical improbability, but I choose to see it as a miracle. God wanted me to read the book. He made sure we were both in the right place at the right time under the right conditions.

Coincidence?

Perception Changes Everything   Leave a comment

If we want to reach our culture with conservative political/economic principles and/or Christianity (I recognize that not everyone believes as I do), we need to understand the thought processes of the culture around us. That can be sort of hard when the world view of our culture is in flux.

Politically, Modernism strongly influenced the United States. “We hold these truths to be self-evident” is a modernist statement. The following clause “endowed by Our Creator” is evidence that early modernists did not reject faith as having a place in reality. There is truth, our Founders said, and we can know truth if we are open to it.

Unfortunately, Modernism took a nasty turn. It became dictatorial. It increasingly focused on scientific studies as the only way to see the world. Metaphysics were shunted aside in favor of that which could be understood by the slide-rule and microscope.

Postmodernism reacted against Modernism, recognizing that scientists are often wrong and that our understanding of reality is influenced by our perceptual apparatus.

Here’s an example.

To my husband’s sister, it is a verifiable truth that the world is overcrowded. She looks outside her window in a East Coast state and sees a mass of people living in houses that are squeezed together on tiny little lots. She drives crowded highways and shops in crowded malls. She sees television shows that show the throngs of people in Mumbai and Singapore. Clearly, the world is overcrowded.

To me, the world is not all that overcrowded. I look outside my window in Alaska and I see houses on larger lots with just a few people living inside each. My brother can’t even see his neighbors from his deck. I drive on highways that are only briefly crowded during rush hour. I go hiking in the woods and see nobody for days. I wonder why people in Mumbai choose to live on top of one another. I know, because I’ve studied, that the entire human population could fit in the state of Texas standing up with elbow room, and that only about 25% of American land is even lightly used. Clearly, the world is not so overcrowded.

We both are educated people who have access to the same evidence, but our different perspectives color how we view the world. That acknowledgment is a gift of Postmodernism. It’s often stated as “truth is relative”, but in reality, the perception of truth is subjective.

An atheist can look at the evidence of the natural world and say there is no god and there is no necessity for god because the natural world is sufficient in and of itself to create and sustain itself.

A person of faith can look at the exact same evidence of the natural world and praise God for creating and sustaining it.

Perspective changes everything. And, we owe Postmodernism a debt of gratitude for teaching us that. Had we stuck with Modernism, Christianity would have been doomed by the constant insistence that only scientists are qualified to make truth statements. Postmodernism allows for freedom of thought, for divergent opinion. That’s a good thing because in that evironment, if it actually existed, Christianity would just be another point of view with equal validity.

Unfortunately, that’s not really the world we live in, which is why we do not owe Postmodernism our souls and we should be relieved that the postmodern era is slowly giving way to the next.

For once, it might be a good idea for Christians to decide our reaction to this cultural movement early on rather than coming late to the party and looking foolish. This warning also operates for political conservatives. There’s a sea change coming. Are we ready for it?

Posted September 30, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense, philosophy

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Subjective Reality and the 20-Story Fall   4 comments

                Post-modernism is really a reaction to the failure of modernism. Modernism promised that thinkers could develop a theory of reality that would encompass all of reality without leaving out anything. Throughout the Modern era, groups of thinkers would espouse a theory that was meant to be the Explanation of Everything. A few years or decades later, new information would be discovered that put that theory into doubt or completely debunked it. Then some other group of thinkers would espouse another theory that would be the Explanation of Everything and ….

                Eventually, someone pointed out that this wasn’t really working out. The first post-modernists were right to suggest that reality has subjective elements. My view of the world is constrained and influenced by my view of the world. Where I stand, how I live, my preconceptions influence how I view reality. Modernists fought this conclusion and the resulting reaction from post-modernists was to conclude that we really can’t know reality at all. Many current post-modernists believe that reality is a construct of our wishes and that even when two or more of us try to agree on reality, it is really just linguistic tricks. If a large group of us agree on a reality, then that’s only because those in power have tricked us into believing it.

                Yes, I painted with a broad brush. There were modernists who were also men and women of faith. There are also post-modernists who are not that heavy-handed, but truly, the idea that reality is completed constructed inside our minds is pretty ridiculous – on the level with the Matrix, actually. There are realities we all must recognize. If you step off the ledge of a 20-story building, gravity takes over and reality becomes the ground rushing up to claim your life. That is truth in any language, in any power structure, in any civilization. Those in power can attempt to trick me into believing I’ll float when I step off that ledge, but reality will prove them wrong. It is delusional to believe that there are no truths in a world where there are truths.

                On the other hand, the history of Modernism shows that you cannot explain Everything  by a single theory. To the extent that modernists attempt to continue to find that all-encompassing theory, they are delusional. Hmm, maybe its extremism that is the problem ….

                To a certain extent, the Modernists were right. You can draw a circle around a field of knowledge and state some truths that operate within that field of knowledge, but the post-modernists are also right in that reality is influenced by perspective and so most truths are not as solid as gravity and the 20-story fall.

                And, that leaves people of faith in a great place. Yeah, I know, that’s not what most people say. Christianity looks like its on the ropes, beaten by the twin brutalizers of Modernism and Post-Modernism. Christianity makes some rock-solid truth statements, but Modernism says that only scientists are qualified to make truth statements and Post-Modernism says that only tyrants and then insane attempt to make truth statements. If we accept that both of these philosophies are extremist views that ignore certain realities, then that means that other views may have validity and the right, in certain circumstances, to make truth claims.

If we can just learn how to articulate truth so that those around us who are suspicious of truth statements can understand it, Christianity can solve the problems that modernists and post-modernists have created.

Posted September 24, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Postmodernism Sets Us Free   2 comments

There was a time (and not that long ago) when American culture was almost universally regarded as based on Christianity. I am not saying that everyone in the country was Christian in the Antioch sense of the word. I seriously doubt if even a wide plurality of Americans have ever been Antioch Christians, which was a spiritual condition that motivated a missionary movement I’m saying that our culture was widely viewed as based on Christian ethics. Americans are not, as a nation, a New Testament Christian nation. However, most American leaders prior to the early 1960s not only accepted that American culture was based on a Christian cultural foundation, but they almost universally firmly agreed that things out to be that way.

Education especially exemplified this understanding. Even in state-run schools, the speeches of university presidents could often have passed for Christian sermons. Chaplains delivered prayers before the student bodies that were noticeably Christian prayers addressed to the Savior-God. Yes, sometimes these prayers were met by some individuals with skepticism, boredom or even resentment, but the cultural prerogative of Christianity was generally accepted.

Wow, have times changed!

The majority of secular universities no longer have a chaplaincy. The few that still do are chaired by men and women who would never mention the name of Jesus Christ in a public prayer, but might work in some Taoism or Islam or invoke “the Goddess”. Christians ideas and motivations have few public expressions these days.

Today, the Christian is often viewed as big, bad bullies who must be punished for past misdeeds. Postmodernism holds an irrational dislike of all things Christian.

There is very little Christians can do about that right now. Pitching fits, manipulating the political process, whining — these behaviors only work against the cause of Christianity in the larger culture. We need to recognize it and be prepared to stand in the midst of that icy-cold stream. It might help if we realized that it’s really not all that bad.

Pluralism teaches that individuals have a right to be who they are, so long as what they are does not cause harm to others. In a pluralistic society, social and/or political force may not be used to suppress the freedom of thought and expression of any citizen, or even the practice that flows from it, insofar as that practice is not morally wrong. It does not mean that everyone can do whatever they want. It does not mean we must agree with the views or adopt the practices of those of other persuasions. It does not mean we must like those views or practices. It does not mean we cannot appropriately express our disagreement or dislike for other viewpoints.

In AD 49, the early Christian Church, not more than 15 years old, gathered to settle their first big question on how to be in the world, but not of the world. The first Christians were all Jews. Even Jesus was a Jew. There were Gentiles who became believers, but most were what were known as God-fearers – Gentiles who had adopted Judaism — and then they became believers and continued as Jewish flavored Christians. Paul and Barnabas and the missionary project out of the church at Antioch changed all that. Now hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Gentiles were becoming Christians and most of them did not want to be circumcised.

Imagine that! Adults didn’t want to submit to that in order to be “true” Christians. If every guy reading this doesn’t say “Oh, yeah!” I’d be puzzled. It’s a simple procedure for a baby, but it’s not something an adult male wants to go through.

The Jerusalem Council decided that pluralism was a good arrangement for the Christian churches.  Gentiles could become Christians without joining Jewish culture and Jews who become Christians were not required to remain cultural Jews (Scripture doesn’t record that part in Acts, but Paul’s writing in Galatians suggests that was part of the decision). Being a Jew didn’t make one a Christian. We all come to Christ by faith. Our culture has zip to do with that. The Jerusalem decision in a nutshell.

The Christian gospel does not require cultural privilege or even social recognition to flourish. History shows that God’s work is most definitely NOT disadvantaged by persecution or death, so how could it be damaged by a mere philosophy? The God Who holds Christians in His hands will not be diminished by mere human folly.

Modernism taught that Christians should shut up because we are either stupid or delusional if we believe there is any reality outside of what science says there is. We could argue against it, but it was hard to maintain credibility arguing against the seers of the Modern Age. Postmodernism sets us free from that prison. Pluralism in American society means that the Christian has just as much right to be an out-of-the-closet follower of Jesus or a Christian cultural traditionalist as any non-Christian has a right to be what they are. We need to claim that.

Current cultural metanarrative teaches that non-Christians were victims of past Christian domination of the social order. This empowers non-Christians to insist that they may be assertive in ways that Christians cannot. Christians are “fair game” for attacks and abuse that would quickly be branded discriminatory  if directed toward other groups. It’s tempting to feel sorry for ourselves as a group and allow that to become our focus.

Don’t do it!

Scripture teaches that the metanarrative of the 21st century is far from accurate. Jesus treated women with respect. Paul wrote that God didn’t distinguish between racial groups. Human beings acting like the “bent” people that we are didn’t always follow Scripture, but that does not invalidate the teaching. We need to own up to what people did in God’s name and move on to what WE want to do in Jesus’ name.

This doesn’t mean that the world won’t hate us or say wrong things about us. Jesus warned us that those who followed Him would be hated by the world because the world hated Him before it hated us. Why do we act surprised that things aren’t easy now? Weren’t we listening when we read the Gospel of John? Yes, Christians in many venues have legal recourse against discrimination and I am not saying they shouldn’t use it. We live in a pluralistic society, after all, and we are one of the many groups that have a right to exist.

Pluralism secures a social context in which full and free interchange of different views on life and reality can be conducted to the greatest advantage of all. Thin-skinned and narrow-minded people may not enjoy a pluralistic society, but their discomfort is vastly outweighed by the benefits of open and free exchange of information and ideas.

Christians in the 21st century, far from being wrapped and gagged in cultural chains, have a powerful opportunity to speak into our culture with love and respect about the actual foundation of reality … if we will do it.

Posted September 14, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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No Inherent Conflict   2 comments

In Modernism, science and faith are in two separate and distinct camps. Francis Schaeffer described it well – science occupies the lower story, the nuts and bolts of material reality, while faith has been relegated to an upper story that is not subject to reality’s rules. Both these systems are “blind” – they impose rules on thought and behavior that do not require ordinary people to understand, verify or prove their validity, but we are required to accept those rules because some expert says we must.

For example, we take for granted that the resurrection of Christ is inconsistent with the laws of physics.

How do you prove that?

If you’re not a physicist, you lack the skills to prove it from physics and if you’re not a theologian, you lack the skills to prove it from theology. Just think about that for a moment before you react.

                …Thinking…

If you are not skilled in both subjects, you cannot prove that the resurrection of Jesus is inconsistent with the laws of physics because you do not have sufficient understanding of both subjects.

So, where do we get the idea that the resurrection is inconsistent with the laws of physics?

Presuppositions based upon worldview! In this, we actually owe a debt to post-modernism, because this philosophy helps us to understand that our perspective influences our perception. It’s not the facts that change, but our interpretation of the facts that change, depending on our point of view and the beliefs we bring to the party.

Fact — We’re constantly surrounded by items and events for which no physical explanation yet exists.

Example — Physicists have not explained the existence of the physical universe itself, let alone life and human consciousness. That’s a rock-solid fact and you can take theories like the multiverse, punctuated equilibrium, and huge spans of time that violate Newtonian laws as signs that the scientists don’t even have a decent theory other than “God did it” (which most of them won’t accept). Chance plus time is not something that can produce or explain anything, but it is invoked precisely where there is no known explanation or cause. The universe exists, but why and how elude the scientists. We who are not scientists should not accept a discussion of “anything is possible given enough time” until we’ve seen a verifiable demonstration of, for example, life emerging from the inorganic. Nobody has yet successfully documented such an example. By referring to a failed 1960s experiment and other loosely-connected minutia that has not proven anything, scientists who really want it to be true create a “scientific” evasion so complicated and culturally protected that most people do not realize the theories are inconsistent with the laws of physics.

Sadly, many religionists invoke similar non-explanations for our own pet theories. We attempt to hold our ground by referencing God’s great power as if that were an explanation requiring no further thought or inquiry. That was the mistake of the Roman Catholic Church when Galilleo confronted their presuppositions concerning the structure of the solar system. Rather than accept that he was observing the physical world and their interpretation of evidence might need revision, they treated his observations as an attack against God when nothing could be further from the truth. Science and religion were not in direct conflict with one another when Galilleo presented his theory, nor are they in direct conflict in the 21st century. They are simply inquiry into fields of knowledge that are distinct. While either can make suggestions concerning the other, neither is qualified to make proofs in the other’s arena of knowledge. Science deals with knowledge of the physical world, while theology deals with knowledge of the metaphysical world. These realms interact, but understanding both to the degree where you can form them into an integrated field of knowledge is unlikely and probably impossible.

God’s personality is a source of energy and causation that produced an intelligible structure that is simply not a physical structure. Science deals with the physical world, but not all knowledge is physical. The problem comes when “authorities” on either side of the issue insist that they have all the answers and exclusive claim to the “right views”. Francis Collins, late of the Human Genome Project, but more recently of the National Institutes of Health, speaks eloquently of a “middle position” in the Language of God. He is an evangelical Christian who is also a world-renowned biochemist. While, I do not wholly agree with every statement Dr. Collins makes, I do see such a middle position as affording us an escape from the cultural deadlock that exists in universities, churches and around the water cooler. This deadlock currently requires people of faith to sequester their faith into an upper story slum where only “irrational” thought is allowed separate from their knowledge of the physical world.

Such sequestration is unacceptable to faithful intellectuals like Dr. Collins and others. It should be unacceptable to every thinking Christian. The world would like us to step back into the shadows and accept the role of superstitious irrational fools society ascribes to the faithful, but it is within our power to reject that dhimmitude. Reconciliation between faith and science is possible, if devoted and qualified Christians will engage with society to bring the Spirit and power of Christ into the authority structures that insist the intellectual professions must be in conflict with genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

They needn’t be in conflict if only we can begin a thoughtful dialogue that allows each credibility within its own field of knowledge.

Posted September 13, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity, Uncategorized

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Does Reality Exist?   Leave a comment

I’ve been reading this book on postmodernism and the Christian church. I’ll spare you reading this book. It’s really a hard slog, written by an intellectual theologian who can’t seem to get to the point, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some useful knowledge to impart. I also keep hoping he’ll break out into practicality by the end of the book.

So what is postmodernism and what should the Church (as in the broad collection of congregations across the face of the planet) do in response to it? Maybe we need to first define what postmodernism is.

Unlike some writers, I do not view postmodernism as a cancer that will inevitably destroy the Body of Christ. I actually view it as an antibody reaction to another disease that did as much or more harm than postmodernism.  Consider a fever. It is your immune system’s response to an infection, so it’s a good thing … unless it climbs too high and then it kills you.

Postmodernism did not spring up all by itself in the middle of a cow field. It arose in response to the culturally paralyzing empiricist variant of modernism espoused by the like of David Hume, John Stuart Mill and the logical positivism movement of the mid-20th century that taught that knowledge must needs be restricted to “science” and “science theory” and interpreted with a bias toward the sense-perceptible world. You could sum up their philosophy as: There is one reality which is the natural world and physics is its prophet.

Christians rejected this new philosophical paradigm and found ourselves accused of being idiots and hating science, believing in fairy tales rather than fact. Scientists who held to the Christian worldview were marginalized not because their science was found to be wrong, but because they were politically incorrect. Christian students were told that they need not apply to science programs unless they rejected their faith. Worse, from my perspective, Christians were told to leave their faith at home when going to the ballot box … that their beliefs were not germane to the areas of public policy.

For entirely different reasons, postmoderns didn’t agree with this narrative anymore than Christians did. While Christians refused to ignore the metaphysical reality of the universe because God has opened our eyes to it, postmoderns refused to let moderns get away with saying they alone define truth.

To the modernist assurance that only science knows the truth, postmoderns say “Yeah, well, your truth is culturally and personally defined and therefore no more valid than my truth.” Reality, to the postmodern, does not actually exist except as a construct of the human mind, therefore “truth” is defined by the individual and cannot be too strongly believed because the human perception is too subject to cultural and personal points of view.

The postmodernist philosophers (Rorty, Toulman, MacIntyre, Lyotard) cannot come to any reasonable definite conclusions about anything, because they do not believe you can have solid knowledge of anything.

Still, it’s danged hard to live your life that way, so they make some definite statements:

Christians must abandon all truth claims because truth is culturally determined.

The problem for the postmoderns is that I disagree because I believe their assumption that truth is relative is wrong and they can’t say I’m wrong because they don’t believe anyone is wholly wrong. Note, they still think they can dictate to Christians what to belief and they want that belief to encompass a rejection of the God of the Bible.

Modernists are a lot easier to argue with and also much easier to take seriously. They can affirm a solid belief on what knowledge really is, even if evidence later proves them wrong. The postmodernist cannot officially deal with objective reality. They are left with the rather weak argument that “society works best for us if we talk about knowledge our way.”

In its insistence that truth is a not mandated by science, postmodernism does the Body of Christ a great favor. It is the fever that has been weakening the virus of modernism for more than a half century. That’s good.

As is so often the case, however, the fever is not without its risks because our children are raised in this culture with two messages that are like saltwater to the roots of Christianity.

Modernism says only science can define true knowledge, so the Christian claim that Jesus Christ is the Truth and the Truth will set you free is obviously wrong, since Jesus Christ refuses to submit to the standard scientific tests. Then postmodernism teaches them that no truth is certain, so therefore, even if you really believe that God exists and that Jesus is God, you can’t say it with confidence.

Like a body with a virus that is experiencing a high fever, the Body of Christ in this generation is struggling not to succumb to the twin disease. One is the antidote to the other, but the antidote has potentially fatal side effects.

So how do we bulwark our children so that Christ remains central in their lives as they live in this world, but are not of it?

Now there’s the most important question!

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