Dec 12 2008

Are modernism and Christianity incompatible?

John Loftus claims that modernity is the Achilles’ Heel of Christianity, something I’ve discussed before, and addressed again in my “teacup” analogy.  Could he be right?

Of course, Loftus believes that modernism (the operative Western worldview which is based on rationalism, a belief in progress, and which depends heavily on the scientific method) is good. He would believe this, because he is as modern as can be, and this is what modernism teaches. It is all very circular: Modernism presumes that progress is inherently good. We as a species know more today than we did yesterday (but not as much as tomorrow).  Evolution is progressive, not regressive. Every day, in every way, we get better and better. It’s all a load of hooey, but even though you realize this, if you take time to really think through what you believe about a great many things, you will find that you, too, think this way. It’s in the water, it’s in the air – every day of our lives we eat and breathe modernism. Even what is being passed around as postmodernism is 90% basic modernism.  As Loftus once pointed out to me, even I’m modern.

However, I am aware of it.

I don’t think that everything about modernism is bad; for example, reason and logic are good, in its place. The scientific method, as a tool, is also good. However, what modernism did was to shrink the worldview around these elements, and added a belief in the inevitability of progress and a disdain for anything pre-modern, other than as an object of study. Progress says that the worldview enlarged; however, in reality, by dismissing everything it didn’t want to deal with, in actuality the worldview shrunk. (See the aforementioned Teacup Analogy).

As I have expressed in my Teacup Analogy, it is my current hypothesis that if you try to shrink Christianity to fit within the constraints of modernism, you’re in trouble, because in order to do so, the terms of modernism require you to not just shrink Christianity, but rather to chop off the corners of Christianity to fit within modernism’s round hole (sorry for switching metaphors). The problem, as I see it, is that modernism is an inadequate and defective worldview, and in order to address Christianity completely within modernism as Loftus does is to render Christianity inadequate and defective as well.

I am not sure, however, that the great apologists would agree with me.  I would be very interested to hear what someone like William Lane Craig (who I would tend to place at the top of that list) would say about my hypothesis.  Loftus, in the post I linked to above, has challenged Craig (and any other Christian apologist) to debate him on the issue of Christianity vs Modernism, which I think would be very interesting. Are Christianity and modernism incompatible, or can a complete Christianity survive entirely within the confince of modernism?


Jun 15 2008

Clashing Culture

My friend Mike has become involved in a new co-op blog entitled Clashing Culture. It is an interesting concept, as the authors consist of 2 people who identify themselves as atheists, and 2 people who identify as Christians. Their logo is especially catchy, featuring both the new Atheist scarlet “A” in Clashing and a cross for the “t” in Culture.

However, as I read through some of the posts and the authors’ bios, it seems that they may have more culture in common – and therefore less “clash” – than they think. Certainly the question of God is a big issue; however, in this case it may simply be a disagreement within a culture than the clash of different cultures. Before I explain what I mean, let me say that there are some very interesting posts so far, and I don’t in any way mean to speak negatively about any of the authors or the blog. If you’ll notice, I’ve even added it to my blogroll and (possibly to their dismay) will likely be a regular reader and commenter. It will indeed be interesting to see where this blog goes, and I wish them well as it is a very clever concept.

So, here’s what I mean by “culture in common:” Two of the authors, my friend Mike and Anastasia (whose own blog is Genetic Maize) are by their own admission atheists (not that they need to be ashamed of this, it’s just that I want to clarify that I’m not putting words in their mouths); both were raised Catholic, and down the road decided that there was no empirical evidence of God and the supernatural. I presume they would both be okay with the descriptor “philosophical materialist,” meaning someone who has a worldview where all that exists is the material world, which can be seen, tested, prodded, and so on. Both are rationalists and committed to the scientific approach to knowledge. Both of them are also modernists, the predominant worldview of the 20th Century Western world.

The other 2 individuals are perhaps harder to categorize (and I do apologize, I am being very modernist in my analysis, but it’s just a tool, albeit a flawed one). Thomas Robey is a well-known blogger at Hope For Pandora and a MD/PhD student at the U of Washington. He is a professing Christian of the Presbyterian persuasion, who says he believes in the “basics of Christianity” but admits having trouble with the concepts of eternal life and miracles. He is an evolutionist, not believing in either young Earth creationism or intelligent design. He states, “When it comes to interpreting the Bible, I see scientific understanding as trumping metaphorical stories – particularly in the Old Testament.”

Steve Matheson is a developmental cell biologist who blogs at Quintessence of Dust. He teaches at Calvin College, attends a Reformed church, which I presume makes him a Calvinist. From his own blog, I gather that he is an evolutionist who believes in common descent. I haven’t read enough of him to know where he stands with regard to Intelligent Design except that he’s critical of some aspects of at least some aspects of it. (I have to say that I have a hard time seeing how a Calvinist could not believe in ID!) In any event, his states that the main theme of his blog is scientific explanation.

My intent is not to misrepresent or even criticize anyone, and if I have misunderstood anyone’s position, I apologize. My point here is this: While the 4 authors are split 50/50 on belief in God, they are all modernists. That’s not such a big surprise, as most Americans are, including most evangelical Christians. In looking at the blogs of Matheson and Robey, it appears that in keeping with modernist philosophy they are rationalists, approaching things – even religion – from a scientific culture and viewpoint (if anyone, Matheson would seem the most likely to clash with the others). This now places all four authors within a smaller subculture (which at least borders on scientism), as a large percentage of Western Christians – especially among evangelicals, Pentecostals and fundamentalists – would part ways in holding science to that level of authority (which tends to result in fractured worldviews on both sides of that fence). So, it would seem that at best, what we have is a clash between sub-cultures, if not sub-sub-cultures.

Again (and I want to make this abundantly clear), it is not my intention to be critical of the Clashing Culture site or its intent. As I mentioned recently I’ve been thinking lately about epistemology and worldview so this site just prompted more thinking. Congratulations to the CC crew on a great-looking blog. I have high hopes for you, so don’t disappoint me!