Thursday, December 29, 2011

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 3)

[Series explanation and index here.]

Postmodernism and Christianity

a talk by R.C. Sproul Jr.

Postmodernism again? Thankfully, no. Despite the name of this talk, it's really about adding modernism to the list of anti-Christian philosophies.

This would make sense because Christians don't typically believe science and technology will automatically bring about a golden age for the human condition. Unfortunately, Sproul goes one step farther by treating science itself as part of modernism, and discarding them both.

I will hold my responses for a bit.

Satan's R&D

In Screwtape Letters style, Sproul pictures Satan as an infernal bureaucrat sitting in his office when two labcoat-wearing demons from research and development arrive and pitch their new idea.
"We've been working in our lab now for centuries and we have come up with an alternate explanation of how people came about." 
The Serpent says, "You mean without God?"
The scientist said, "Yes, without God."
He said, "Let's hear it."

He said, "Well, we've come up with this theory where there was time and there was space and there was energy and they crashed together and out popped an amoeba."
The Serpent said, "Go on."

"Well, the amoeba went to school and studied really really hard and it grew and it progressed and it evolved and eventually it became a fish."
The Serpent said, "Uh huh and then what?"

"Well the fish, it took its little fins and crawled and clawed its way out of the water onto the dry ground and it turned into a bird. And then it changed into this and changed into that. And then this happened and then that happened. And then billions of years later...there stood man."

[...] "You interrupted my paper shuffling to give me that?! What kind of an idiot do you think would fall for that ridiculous story, that something came out of nothing and grew itself into people?"
Of course, Satan was only feigning annoyance. He knew plenty of idiots would fall for it.

The Great Distraction

Sproul goes on to claim that Satan's real goal is not to convince unbelievers to accept "Darwinism," but to distract Christians who are reading Genesis into thinking it's only a source of ammunition against Darwinism. That crafty Serpent!

And it's not just evolution. Sproul condemns general scientific method as "flip-flopping" and modernist optimism as foolish because we die.

The Idol of Education

What is the newest, grandest, cleanest building in a small city? According to Sproul, it's usually either the one belonging to the Board of Education or the teachers union.
"For the Modernist, the greatest sacrament, the greatest technology, the greatest tool, the greatest engine of education."
You see, Modernists believe that the way to earthly paradise is to get everyone else to be Postmodernists, which is why academic postmodernism is really a modernist plot.

The Gay Factor

At this point, Sproul seems to realize that his audience may think education and rational argument have some evangelical value. Time to fix that!

It's a misconception that "the lost" are lost because they don't have some vital information or because they haven't understood a sound theological argument. Actually, Christians know from Romans 1 that people like Michel Foucault first fall into homosexual sin, and then invent a worldview to excuse their behavior.

Nor is intellectual growth important within Christianity. Sproul points out that "smart" is not a fruit of the Spirit.1

Science, Destroyer of Beauty
"Ask a modernist how they understand a rose. You take a rose and if you slice it and you dice it and you stick it in your electron microscope, are you going to understand the rose? We lose a lot when we reduce reality down to the periodic table."
Where to Begin?

Perhaps with a confession. I had quite similar views from childhood right up through my first four years of college. I know how hard it is to give scientific evidence a fair shake when you are already certain of a very different answer. Reasoning backwards from science arriving at the "wrong" answers, it makes sense to believe science must have started out wrong. I still sympathize with Christians like Sproul because I do think taking the Bible seriously as revelation entails some form of Young Earth Creationism.

On the other hand, I understand that many Christians have come to terms with modern science. Plus, I'm more interested in seeing greater scientific literacy than I am in seeing fewer Christians. Why? Because even though it's false, modern Christianity seems to be beneficial to a lot of people. Scientific illiteracy has less, if any, redeeming value (excuse the pun).

The Nature of Science

Science isn't like divine revelation or a "big story" metanarrative. Science is a method of inquiry, not a conclusion.

Science starts close at hand. Working together, what can we figure out about the part of reality that we can all — regardless of worldview differences — see or touch or measure? In this way, we build up a common store of understanding.

In a sense, the very abundance of hard-won scientific knowledge is a problem. There is simply too much for any single person to absorb. It can also be difficult to trace a product of scientific method all the way back to the original level of human hands and eyes. But we must be able to do this, or science will seem disconnected from everyday experience. For this reason, I believe science popularizers are just as vital in the long term as cutting edge researchers.

Science and the Rose

The Feynman Series — Beauty


I was taught that evolution was invented as an atheistic alternative which, in turn, required the invention of a timescale measured in millions and billions of years. So it was a surprise to discover that there are very good reasons to accept the older timescale; reasons which are entirely independent of evolutionary theory. 

Tree rings, along with yearly ice and sediment layers convinced me that the Earth has been around at least twice as long as the six thousand years implied by a literal reading of Genesis. But why go from tens of thousands to billions of years? The single best explanation I've found is given by G. Brent Dalrymple in his appropriately named book The Age of The Earth. Can't recommend that highly enough. Also, he's put out a more recent and less technical version which I haven't read yet: Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies.

There are plenty of other books on evolution, geology, astronomy, physics, etc. which would be relevant here, but I'm just focusing on what positively convinced me. The important thing is having the simple desire to find out what's really true, by digging into the reasons in support of whatever you already believe and doing the same for opposing positions.

Creationism and Postmodernism

Though Sproul avoids doing this, it's helpful to know that postmodernism is — oddly enough — widespread in the Intelligent Design movement, at least as a political tactic.2 I talked to one non-academic Christian who told me, "Science just is a religion too." He was willing to kamikaze the validity of his own religious beliefs so long as he could take down science in the bargain. I hope we can all agree it's a bad idea to jettison the idea of truth, even if we disagree about what is true.

1. See Galatians 5:22-23. 
2. See Pennock's paper "The Postmodern Sin of Intelligent Design Creationism," freely available here.

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