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6/26/08

Have Christian's Misdiagnosed Society?

A little shameless plug. I was listening to William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith podcast today, and he mentioned something that shook me. Now, this particular podcast is generally fairly simple; Craig discusses his recent article in Christianity Today about the renaissance of academic Christianity. The host brings up a few questions aimed at the current attitude of the world's laymen, and lobs a few remarks about postmodernism. Craig's answer surprised me. Contrary to popular opinion (especially in Christian circles) the world is not postmodern. To him, we are so incredibly modernistic as to recycle a very old demon (more on that below).

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Now, if you are an atheist this may not be of much interest to you. However, it is a current fad (dare I say, an orthodox fad) for Christians to talk about combating the evils of postmodernism that is so pervasive in our society. Whatever postmodernism means (there could be a whole blog dedicated to that), in the context of conservative Christianity postmodernism implies a dislike of truth or objectivity. See these relatively late, popular works that have such a focus:

*Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism

*Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype and Spin

*Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times

*The Gagging of God

*The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement

*Christian Apologetics in the Postmodern World

In fact, the more I think of it, the majority of so-called postmodernists either reside in France or in the pulpit, not in society. Let's take atheists for example. How many atheists do you know that would claim that evolution is "true for them but not for you"? I can't think of any. When do we hear this statement? As Craig points out, it is always in the context of ethics or religion. Now, if you haven't listened to his podcast yet, what position allows matters of fact in science but not in areas of values or religion?

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Give up?

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For those not in the know, that handsome man is Alfred Ayer, popularizer of the verificationist philosophy. Now, while logical postivism has long passed into the nether regions of rejected ideas in intellectual circles, it has been passed down into society. And this isn't really surprising, considering that there really is a trickle down effect in intellegenista down towards the bulk of a social group. It goes from visionaries to teachers to students and out of the ivory towers into the herd. But back to the point.

According to Craig, postmodernism remains a (waning?) force in religion, art and literature departments but has made no real inroads to philosophy, history or science. I'm curious as to what the AiD community thinks about Craig's claims about the failures of postmodernism to impact even though so many people claim that it does. In any case, after listening to Craig repeat those words for the dozenth time, I think I'm ready to agree with him- we are generally verificationists, not postmodernists. A quick jog over to the Rational Response Squad or Richard Dawkins's website strengthens this thesis with the further stipulation that atheists tend towards a kind of hardline logical positivism. (As an aside, the Secular Web does not appear to succumb to those problems.)

What do y'all say? Is the postmodern onslaught a fanciful fiction of "youth pastors"? Do we tend towards verificationism?

6 comments:

  1. I personally believe that the epidemic of Post-Modern thought has finally been eradicated in formal philosophical circles, but that it was a little too late.

    Post-Modernism has taken it's toll on Western Society; it has infected previous generations and made them less intellectual, more narrow minded, purposefully ignorant, and less tolerant.

    When you are conditioned from a young age to believe that certain people and their ideas are similar in value to your own you have no reason to objectively look into other people's ideas or consider what makes you different. In addition, this justifies a sort of willful ignorance that not only helps to create division, but destroys the very concept of tolerance itself.

    Tolerance, these days, is still viewed as "acceptance", whereas disagreement in many forms is viewed as "intolerance". This is the common reaction from most lay persons to even the highest academics. This pseudo-philosophy has almost completely destroyed how Western minds think and has replaced much of what they commonly held to be true and absolute as mere preference, which is no good foundation for rational discourse and education. Now, when people go to school they learn to memorize rather than memorize to learn.


    Looking at it from this perspective, we can also attribute the new wave of interests in former Modernists ideas, especially in view of Empiricism and earlier forms of Pragmatism that gave rise to Post-Modernists ideas.

    People cannot act subjectively towards everything anymore...that fad went out in a few decades because everyone started to realize that there was something to argue about, so they began arguing. The problem is, not many people in the west are trained to think critically or examine the other side, so we get extremists and bigots on both ends (whether you be Atheist, Theist, Democrat, Republican, etc.).

    Further, no one really wants to learn how to think this way or gain intellectual integrity, because for the most part, they are still conditioned to think things like Philosophy or Religion as mere subjective enterprises with the goal of making you "feel good inside".



    Right now, the West is in "fear" and "zealot" stage, opposing all disagreements and fighting a black and white war. It's going to take some time (hopefully within the next generation) to start getting people within a balanced mindset.

    Also, note, that the success of a nation in technology and medicine doesn't really mean much and does not necessary mean "educated". Education also includes understanding and being able to think ahead.

    Most people in the West lack that, which is why we are being surpassed by other cultures and nations now. And this is not simply due to birth rate...it's due to the fact that other cultures actually have something to offer rather than individualistic materialists ideologies of the "here and now".

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  2. I think postmodernism is a lot more suitable to a Christian intellectual than one would imagine. Christians who talk about "O ant it awful how Postmodernism is everywhere" are usually confusing postmodernism with good old fashioned hedonism.

    I went into a Ph.D program in history of ideas, from seminary specifically because I thought postmodernism would be he next great challenge for the church. I came out four years latter thinking postmodernism is actually a pretty good tool the church could use. Modernism is the real problem. I agree with Craig's statement because I observed the same thing way back in the 90s.

    One caveat. Derridian deconstruction would make a dandy basis for atheism, but atheists don't appreciate it. Since it also forms the basis of a dandy critique of scientiism and reductionism, the atheists hate Derrida, when they are exposed to him.

    Postmodernism is a good tool for Christianity, but you have to know when to draw the line and quite taking it seriously.

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  3. Actually all antitheists and probably all strong atheists are also anti postmodernist. We hate it as much as you guys- if you read Dawkins or Harris they blast moderate believers and all but accuse them of following post modernism.

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  4. The recently released Pew Poll indicates that 92% of Americans believe in God or a deity of some sort. This includes 21% of Atheists (!) and indicates to me that even strict Modernism is not in full sway. However the small percentage of non-believers is much more active politically.

    I agree with M about the education vacuum. When over 50% of high school freshmen drop out and do not graduate, they leave with no ability to perform rational discernment. College grads are not much better off.

    Good post, Josh; and good comment, M.

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  5. Thanks for the comments, guys.

    I remember that recent Pew report and being fairly confused about the results. Certainly in my experience the percentage of Christians comes nowhere near 90 percent.

    But this tends to confirm Craig's thesis that we are incredibly modernistic. Nearly all American's regard science in a decidedly un-postmodernistic way, which is good news as far as I can tell. But for some reason there is a complete eschewing of objectivity in matters ethical and religious. That sounds much more like old scientism than postmodernism.

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  6. My feeling is that Craig is probably right. Postmodernism would be awful, if it were really prevalent, but it is not (of course it is still theoretically awful, but lots of things that are theoretically awful don't merit much time or effort in confrontation).

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