TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN IT USED TO BE: WORLD VIEWS IN CONFLICT
We are living in a cultural sea of change. The heart of our postmodern culture is the rejection of a world view that has characterized the West since the mid 1700’s. If world views are in conflict, what are they? What is the nature of the conflict? Is there any possible mitigation between alternative and often contradictory world views?
A people’s world view is their model of reality. Five major functions are: (1) the explanation of how and why things got to be as they are and how and why they continue or change. (2) The world view of a people serves as an evaluation, a judging and validating, function. (3) The world view of a group also provides psychological reinforcement for that group. At points of anxiety or crisis in life it is to one’s conceptual system that one turns for the encouragement to continue or the stimulus to take other action. (4) The world view serves as an integrating function. It systematizes and orders for them their perceptions of reality into an overall design. (5) A group’s world view does not completely determine the perception of all its members at all times.
Developments in Science Essential for Understanding the Modern World View
The developments in science produced a radically different understanding of nature. Nature was no longer a gift from a creator God under His providential control. Nature was now under man’s control and direction. Both knowledge and meaning were now in the hands of autonomous man. Through science man was given skills to control the destiny of nature, history, society and the individual. Nature was no longer perceived as externally controlled and threatening, especially by the Judaeo-Christian religion. Through science, nature was compelled to yield her secrets for human advancement. Nature was now disenchanted. By the 18th and 19th centuries the scientific method now extended from cosmology, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and the social sciences. The Christian God was marginalized, i.e., less important in defining nature, except as a Deistic-clock-maker. Alexander Pope’s Essay On Man became the prophetic voice of a new age—“The proper study of mankind is man.” Early developments in science were derived from Francis Bacon (1561-1626), one of the initiators of the scientific revolution. The crucial issues for Bacon were knowledge and control. The place of the senses (Sentio Ergo Sum) and in imagination (Romanticism and Classical Liberalism) were to enter our cultural maze in another century. These two phenomena were deemed unreliable means for gaining knowledge of nature. The new scientific method for knowledge acquisition was power. Knowledge was soon seen to dominate nature. The new instrumental reason understands nature’s function as serving human development (cf. Root of Liberalism and the Inevitability of Progress).
The sacred structure of knowledge grounded in the order of God began to disintegrate or be marginalized from the human scene. Soon the Cartesian world view (Descartes, 1596-1650) would enter the market place of ideas. Descartes, like Bacon, was concerned with the certainty of knowledge. Descartes divided reality into two parts. Res extensa comprised the material world, all matter in the time-space world which was external to the mind. Res cogitus was the world of reliable and permanent knowledge gained through the categories of the mind (cf. presupposed that the categories were unchanging). The models of such presuppositions were Euclidean Geometry and Classical Logic. The Cartesian dualism produced alienation of man, nature, and culture. Both of these models were called into question in the 18th century. Cartesian dualism (mind and matter, reason and sense perception) became the paradigmatic origin of the emerging scientific methodology. Descartes created analytic geometry, which became a fundamental tool used by Newton (1642-1727) in his scientific study of nature. Newton’s genius produced the massive synthesis of Baconian and Cartesian contribution to the scientific revolution. The Newtonian synthesis was a series of mechanical laws explaining the movements of all objects. Newton’s genius fused mathematics and observation to describe a passive, inert, and mechanical world. After the Newtonian revolution man stood independent of nature and imposed his categories of truth and order upon his own ends. Freud’s three geniuses (Copernicus (1473-1543), Darwin (1809-1882), and Marx (1818-1883) created the postmodern world. Freud also considered himself a genius.
In a span of three and a half centuries Western culture became dominated by philosophical materialism, in which all reality was explained in terms of human rationality and scientific methodology. The breakdown of the “Newtonian World Machine” began much earlier than the twentieth century. The new scientific revolution early in the twentieth century began to dislodge the Enlightenment Model of a mechanical world whose order was made available by scientific research. The cultural developments in the twentieth century produced a growing disenchantment with the Newtonian world machine. The breakdown of the Newtonian world machine began much earlier than the twentieth century. Human alienation became a crucial concern. Each of the above world shapers addressed the demise of a world view based on autonomous instrumental rationality. Science and technology (Toffler’s analysis of three cultural revolutions—agricultural, industrial, and informational) have been the central realities of the modern era. Western civilization developed within a Theonomous world view (cf. seeing everything from God’s viewpoint). Reality was reduced to nature (all that was real was nature).
This left no room for God (cf. Nietszche’s (1844-1900) “weightlessness of God,” i.e., “The Death of God”). Kant (1724-1804) produced a dichotomized process. He described a division between fact and value. Western culture loses its soul! Neither scientific advancements nor technological progress can explain the crisis of human existence in the West. Our pragmatic maze provides no guidance for our present cultural chaos. Western positivistic science generated a potential to destroy both human and non human life. In the West facts are public while values are private (cf. we cannot empirically study “ought to be;” note the implications for ethics, aesthetics, music, art, literature, education, canon of classical works versus Multicultural and Value Clarification). Another crucial loss in Western scientific development is the demise of the supernatural miracles (providence, teleology, revelation, inspiration of scripture, authoritative text.
The Positivistic Model of Science Removes Supernatural Categories
The idea of purpose/design or final end is removed from the equation. Therefore we are lost, living in the world without purpose (Humanism—loss of God; Secularism—loss of shame, sin, guilt, responsibility; Pluralism—lost of true truth; Narcissism—loss of meaning). Post modern man is searching for connectedness or interrelatedness. The politically correct word is wholeness which indicates a need for connectedness in the face of personal and social fragmentation (cf. Pantheistic connectedness in natural foods and New Age monistic Pantheism). The first word in the Hebrew bible which is translated sin is Ra (Genesis 3) which means “a violent rebellion against order.” Sin disordered relationships between God and man, man and self, man and others, and man and creation/nature. Redemption is to recover these broken relationships. “Discontinuity and fragmentation are part of the deep structure of modern culture,” O.B. Hardison says in his book, Disappearing Through a Skyline, Culture and Technology in the 20th Century (NY: Penguin Books, 1989), p. 178). Yoga, New Age Pantheism and Eastern mysticism are seeking non-rational alternative ways of knowing truth. Reconnecting with nature, alternative spiritualities and fresh ways of building community all reflect the postmodern search for truth and meaning when their entire world view precludes the existence of either
Postmodern Cultural Struggle
The greatest postmodern cultural struggle is no longer between Christianity and materialism or the Gospel and Secular Humanism, but between Christianity and spiritualities that are neo pagan, neo gnostic and Eastern. Christianity, according to its postmodern critics, is simply a barren “spiritual subset” of a bankrupt world view Modernity asserted that Christianity belonged to a premodern era of myth and superstition. These assumptions are no match for their expectations of progress toward a “better future.” It is also assumed that Science has disproved Christianity and is therefore not a tenable meaning system. A most crucial error in our cultural maze is the assumption that Christianity is responsible for the crises and failures of modernity. Science attacks the truth claims of Christianity, and our socio-politico, psycho, economic maze attacks its relevance. The full impact of the secularization process (anti-church) is visible in “Seeker-sensitive Churches.” The strength of American Christianity largely remains because it has adapted to the process of secularization. Christianity has been redirected into the private sphere of individualized choice, where inner piety and personal growth becomes the only criteria of religious life. European churches respond to secularization much differently than American do (Reginald Bibby, “Beyond Fragmentation,” a paper presented at McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario in September, 1988).
During the early decades of the 20th century, conflicts in the world of ideas seemed far removed from the daily life of the “average Church member.” Our inattention to these anti-Christian ideas enabled them to gain dominance in American intellectual centers, finally filtering down to many theological seminaries and finally took hold in the religion departments of many Church-related colleges. Unbelief has now reached deep into the pulpit and pew (see especially James Turner’s Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985). Charles E. Norton exposes the earlier origin of unbelief in American culture. In his generation, thousands and eventually millions of Europeans and Americans began to abandon their belief in God. Before about the middle of the 19th century, Atheism and Agnosticism seemed almost palpably absurd; shortly afterwards unbelief emerged as an option fully available within the general contours of Western culture, a plausible alternative to the still dominate theism (trace this phenomena in William A. Clebsch’s book Christianity in European History (NY, 1979, “The full optimality of being religious” that became the case in the 19th century, p. 189).
All Western culture, including America, reveals a conflict of world view. Major elements in all world views are at least five in number: (1) The concept of God; (2) the concept of ultimate reality; (3) the nature and availability of knowledge; (4) the ethical components of world views; (5) the concept of the nature and destiny of man. Perhaps the words of William Halverson may be adequate for our brief study:
At the center of every world view is what might be called the ‘touchstone proposition’ of that world view, a proposition that is held to be the fundamental truth about reality and serves as a criterion to determine which other proposition that is held to be the fundamental truth about reality and serves as a criterion for belief. If a given proposition P is seen to be inconsistent with the touchstone proposition as one’s world view, then so long as one holds that world view proposition P must be regarded as false. (See Halverson’s work, Concise Introduction to Philosophy (NY: Random House), 1976, p. 384, third edition). (Compare these indicators with those on page one.)
The basic presupposition of the Christian world view is the existence of God revealed in scripture. (See Carl F.H. Henry’s, God’s Revelation and Authority (Waco, TX: Word Pub., 1976), 5 volumes). In any ultimate dialogue with the above statements with world view in conflict would entail a history of mathematical modes as the source of the loss of transcendence in postmodern culture and the fact of non-Euclidian geometries and non-classical theories of logic beyond the deductive model of Aristotelian logic (egs., “Inductive Logic,” “probability calculus,” etc.). These developments have crucial implications for any position resembling classical Christianity, if it is to escape the charge that Orthodox Christianity is hopelessly enmeshed in Western thought modes. See the influence of the shift in theories of logic in homiletics, preaching, teaching, media, and the educational revolution.
J.W. Sire suggests seven perimeters of world view: (1) Perceiving the world—Ways of Seeing; (2) Cognitive Processes—Ways of Thinking; (3) Linguistic Forms—Ways of Expressing; (4) Behavioral Patterns—Ways of Acting; (5) Social Structures—Ways of Interacting; (6) Media Influences—Ways of Channeling the Message; (7) Motivational Sources—Ways of Deciding (Discipleship of The Mind: Learning to Love God in the Way We Think (IVP, 1990). Awareness of these areas is essential if Christians are to constructively encounter alternative world views in our witnessing process. (Compare these indicators with the previous two lists)
Creation groans in a postmodern Christian culture. Paul said that creation is “groaning in travail” as it waits to witness God’s redemption (Romans 8.23). Our present cultural dilemma is over world view rejection and the search for new ways to reconnect fragmented man from creation which he has broken by implementing a false view of science and technology in the maze of the global market.
Important books which confront these issues:
R. Chandler, Understanding the New Age, (Word, 1989).
Ronald M. Enroth, The Lure of The Cults and New Religion: What They Attract and What They Do (IVP, 1987).
N.L. Geisler and Wm. D. Watkins, Worlds Apart: A Handbook on World Views (Baker, 1989, 2nd edition).
Donald H. Nash, World Views in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Zondervan, 1992).
D. Noebel, Understanding the Times (Summit Press, 1991), esp. helpful in critiquing classical Marxism and secular humanism).
W.G. Phillip and Wm. E. Brown, Making Sense of Your World from a Biblical Viewpoint (Moody Press, 1991).
Walter Puckett, Bringing the Church Off the Slippery Slope (Brentwood Christian Press, 1991).
Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossways Books, 1995, 16th printing).
James Sire, The Universe Next Door (IVP, 1988, 2nd edition).
R.C. Sproul, Lifeviews (Revell, 1986).
Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge, The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation (Los Angeles, CA: University of California, 1987).
Dr. James Strauss
Lincoln Christian Seminary
Lincoln, IL 62656