Tag Archives: Postmodern

The psychological motivation of those who embrace postmodernism

Can a person be postmodern and a Christian? Not for long
Can a person be postmodern and a Christian? Not for long

Famous analytical philosopher John Searle has written a book “Mind, Language And Society: Philosophy In The Real World”, explaining what’s factually wrong with postmodernism. In the introduction, he explains what postmodernism is, and what motivates people to accept postmodernism.

He writes:

[…][W]hen we act or think or talk in the following sorts of ways we take a lot for granted: when we hammer a nail, or order a takeout meal from a restaurant, or conduct a lab experiment, or wonder where to go on vacation, we take the following for granted: there exists a real world that is totally independent of human beings and of what they think or say about it, and statements about objects and states of affairs in that world are true or false depending on whether things in the world really are the way we say they are. So, for example, if in pondering my vacation plans I wonder whether Greece is hotter in the summer than Italy, I simply take it for granted that there exists a real world containing places like Greece and Italy and that they have various temperatures. Furthermore, if I read in a travel book that the average summer temperature in Greece is hotter than in Italy, I know that what the book says will be true if and only if it really is hotter on average in the summer in Greece than in Italy. This is because I take it for granted that such statements are true only if there is something independent of the statement in virtue of which, or because of which, it is true.

[…]These two Background presuppositions have long histories and various famous names. The first, that there is a real world existing independently of us, I like to call “external realism.” “Realism,” because it asserts the existence of the real world, and “external” to distinguish it from other sorts of realism-for example, realism about mathematical objects (mathematical realism) or realism about ethical facts (ethical realism). The second view, that a statement is true if things in the world are the way the statement says they are, and false otherwise, is called “the correspondence theory of truth.” This theory comes in a lot of different versions, but the basic idea is that statements are true if they correspond to, or describe, or fit, how things really are in the world, and false if they do not.

The “correspondence theory of truth” is the view of truth assumed in books of the Bible whose genre is such that that they were intended by the authors to be taken literally, (with allowances for symbolism, figures of speech, metaphors, hyperbole, etc.).

But what about the postmodernists, who seek to deny the objectivity of external reality?

More Searle:

Thinkers who wish to deny the correspondence theory of truth or the referential theory of thought and language typically find it embarrassing to have to concede external realism. Often they would rather not talk about it at all, or they have some more or less subtle reason for rejecting it. In fact, very few thinkers come right out and say that there is no such thing as a real world existing absolutely, objectively, and totally independently of us. Some do. Some come right out and say that the so-called real world is a “social construct.”

What is behind the denial of objective reality, and statements about external reality that are warranted by evidence?

It is not easy to get a fix on what drives contemporary antirealism, but if we had to pick out a thread that runs through the wide variety of arguments, it would be what is sometimes called “perspectivism.” Perspectivism is the idea that our knowledge of reality is never “unmediated,” that it is always mediated by a point of view, by a particular set of predilections, or, worse yet by sinister political motives, such as an allegiance to a political group or ideology. And because we can never have unmediated knowledge of the world, then perhaps there is no real world, or perhaps it is useless to even talk about it, or perhaps it is not even interesting.

Searle is going to refute anti-realism in the rest of the book, but here is his guess at what is motivating the anti-realists:

I have to confess, however, that I think there is a much deeper reason for the persistent appeal of all forms of antirealism, and this has become obvious in the twentieth century: it satisfies a basic urge to power. It just seems too disgusting, somehow, that we should have to be at the mercy of the “real world.” It seems too awful that our representations should have to be answerable to anything but us. This is why people who hold contemporary versions of antirealism and reject the correspondence theory of truth typically sneer at the opposing view. 

[…]I don’t think it is the argument that is actually driving the impulse to deny realism. I think that as a matter of contemporary cultural and intellectual history, the attacks on realism are not driven by arguments, because the arguments are more or less obviously feeble, for reasons I will explain in detail in a moment. Rather, as I suggested earlier, the motivation for denying realism is a kind of will to power, and it manifests itself in a number of ways. In universities, most notably in various humanities disciplines, it is assumed that, if there is no real world, then science is on the same footing as the humanities. They both deal with social constructs, not with independent realities. From this assumption, forms of postmodernism, deconstruction, and so on, are easily developed, having been completely turned loose from the tiresome moorings and constraints of having to confront the real world. If the real world is just an invention-a social construct designed to oppress the marginalized elements of society-then let’s get rid of the real world and construct the world we want. That, I think, is the real driving psychological force behind antirealism at the end of the twentieth century.

Now, I’ll go one step further than Searle.

People, from the Fall, have had the desire to step into the place of God. It’s true that we creatures exist in a universe created and designed by God. But, there is a way to work around the fact that God made the universe and the laws that the universe runs on, including logic, mathematics and natural laws. And that way is to deny logic, mathematics and natural laws. Postmodernists simply deny that there is any way to construct rational arguments and support the premises with evidence from the real world. That way, they imagine, they are free to escape a God-designed world, including a God-designed specification for how they ought to live. The postmoderns deny the reliable methods of knowing about the God-created reality because logic and evidence can be used to point to God’s existence, God’s character, and God’s actions in history.

And that’s why there is this effort to make reality “optional” and perspectival. Everyone can be their own God, and escape any accountability to the real God – the God who is easily discovered through the use of logic and evidence. I believe that this is also behind the rise of atheists, who feign allegiance to logic and science, but then express “skepticism” about the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, objective morality, the minimal facts concerning the historical Jesus, and other undeniables.

The psychological motivation of those who embrace postmodernism

Can a person be postmodern and a Christian? Not for long
Can a person be postmodern and a Christian? Not for long

Famous analytical philosopher John Searle has written a book “Mind, Language And Society: Philosophy In The Real World”, explaining what’s factually wrong with postmodernism. In the introduction, he explains what postmodernism is, and what motivates people to accept postmodernism.

He writes:

[…][W]hen we act or think or talk in the following sorts of ways we take a lot for granted: when we hammer a nail, or order a takeout meal from a restaurant, or conduct a lab experiment, or wonder where to go on vacation, we take the following for granted: there exists a real world that is totally independent of human beings and of what they think or say about it, and statements about objects and states of affairs in that world are true or false depending on whether things in the world really are the way we say they are. So, for example, if in pondering my vacation plans I wonder whether Greece is hotter in the summer than Italy, I simply take it for granted that there exists a real world containing places like Greece and Italy and that they have various temperatures. Furthermore, if I read in a travel book that the average summer temperature in Greece is hotter than in Italy, I know that what the book says will be true if and only if it really is hotter on average in the summer in Greece than in Italy. This is because I take it for granted that such statements are true only if there is something independent of the statement in virtue of which, or because of which, it is true.

[…]These two Background presuppositions have long histories and various famous names. The first, that there is a real world existing independently of us, I like to call “external realism.” “Realism,” because it asserts the existence of the real world, and “external” to distinguish it from other sorts of realism-for example, realism about mathematical objects (mathematical realism) or realism about ethical facts (ethical realism). The second view, that a statement is true if things in the world are the way the statement says they are, and false otherwise, is called “the correspondence theory of truth.” This theory comes in a lot of different versions, but the basic idea is that statements are true if they correspond to, or describe, or fit, how things really are in the world, and false if they do not.

The “correspondence theory of truth” is the view of truth assumed in books of the Bible whose genre is such that that they were intended by the authors to be taken literally, (with allowances for symbolism, figures of speech, metaphors, hyperbole, etc.).

But what about the postmodernists, who seek to deny the objectivity of external reality?

More Searle:

Thinkers who wish to deny the correspondence theory of truth or the referential theory of thought and language typically find it embarrassing to have to concede external realism. Often they would rather not talk about it at all, or they have some more or less subtle reason for rejecting it. In fact, very few thinkers come right out and say that there is no such thing as a real world existing absolutely, objectively, and totally independently of us. Some do. Some come right out and say that the so-called real world is a “social construct.”

What is behind the denial of objective reality, and statements about external reality that are warranted by evidence?

It is not easy to get a fix on what drives contemporary antirealism, but if we had to pick out a thread that runs through the wide variety of arguments, it would be what is sometimes called “perspectivism.” Perspectivism is the idea that our knowledge of reality is never “unmediated,” that it is always mediated by a point of view, by a particular set of predilections, or, worse yet by sinister political motives, such as an allegiance to a political group or ideology. And because we can never have unmediated knowledge of the world, then perhaps there is no real world, or perhaps it is useless to even talk about it, or perhaps it is not even interesting.

Searle is going to refute anti-realism in the rest of the book, but here is his guess at what is motivating the anti-realists:

I have to confess, however, that I think there is a much deeper reason for the persistent appeal of all forms of antirealism, and this has become obvious in the twentieth century: it satisfies a basic urge to power. It just seems too disgusting, somehow, that we should have to be at the mercy of the “real world.” It seems too awful that our representations should have to be answerable to anything but us. This is why people who hold contemporary versions of antirealism and reject the correspondence theory of truth typically sneer at the opposing view. 

[…]I don’t think it is the argument that is actually driving the impulse to deny realism. I think that as a matter of contemporary cultural and intellectual history, the attacks on realism are not driven by arguments, because the arguments are more or less obviously feeble, for reasons I will explain in detail in a moment. Rather, as I suggested earlier, the motivation for denying realism is a kind of will to power, and it manifests itself in a number of ways. In universities, most notably in various humanities disciplines, it is assumed that, if there is no real world, then science is on the same footing as the humanities. They both deal with social constructs, not with independent realities. From this assumption, forms of postmodernism, deconstruction, and so on, are easily developed, having been completely turned loose from the tiresome moorings and constraints of having to confront the real world. If the real world is just an invention-a social construct designed to oppress the marginalized elements of society-then let’s get rid of the real world and construct the world we want. That, I think, is the real driving psychological force behind antirealism at the end of the twentieth century.

Now, I’ll go one step further than Searle.

People, from the Fall, have had the desire to step into the place of God. It’s true that we creatures exist in a universe created and designed by God. But, there is a way to work around the fact that God made the universe and the laws that the universe runs on, including logic, mathematics and natural laws. And that way is to deny logic, mathematics and natural laws. Postmodernists simply deny that there is any way to construct rational arguments and support the premises with evidence from the real world. That way, they imagine, they are free to escape a God-designed world, including a God-designed specification for how they ought to live. The postmoderns deny the reliable methods of knowing about the God-created reality because logic and evidence can be used to point to God’s existence, God’s character, and God’s actions in history.

And that’s why there is this effort to make reality “optional” and perspectival. Everyone can be their own God, and escape any accountability to the real God – the God who is easily discovered through the use of logic and evidence. I believe that this is also behind the rise of atheists, who feign allegiance to logic and science, but then express “skepticism” about the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, objective morality, the minimal facts concerning the historical Jesus, and other undeniables.

William Lane Craig asks: should Christians embrace postmodernism?

Here’s a short clip:

Dr. Craig thinks that Christianity does a lot better when it is commended to others using logic and evidence. He thinks that postmodernism undermines logic and evidence.

Sean McDowell has more on what this means for Christians:

In Postmodern Youth Ministry, for example, Tony Jones argues that postmodernity is the most important culture shift of the past 500 years, upending our theology, philosophy, epistemology (how we know things), and church practice. It is an “earthquake that has changed the landscape of academia and is currently rocking Western culture.” (p. 11). Thus, to be relevant in ministry today, according to Jones and other postmodernists, we must shed our modern tendencies and embrace the postmodern shift.

For the longest time I simply accepted that we inhabit a postmodern world and that we must completely transform our approach to ministry to be effective today. But that all changed when I had the opportunity of hearing philosopher William Lane Craig speak at an apologetics conference not too long ago. “This sort of [postmodern] thinking,” says Craig, “is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture.” (“God is Not Dead Yet,” Christianity Today, July 2008, p. 26). He argues that the idea that we live in a postmodern world is a myth. This may strike you as awfully bold. How can he make such a claim?

For one thing, says Craig, postmodernism is unlivable and contradictory: “Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning!” (Reasonable Faith, 2008, p. 18) Craig speaks to tens of thousands of (mostly non-Christian) college students around the world every year and his conclusion is that we live in a cultural milieu that is deeply modernist. Reason, logic, and evidence are as important today as ever (although he’s careful not to overstate their importance, too).

Postmodernism and Apologetics

But this is not all Craig has to say! In the introduction to Reasonable Faith, Craig provocatively claims, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” (p. 18). Accordingly, we ought to stop emphasizing argumentation and apologetics and just share our narrative. Craig develops this idea further:

And so Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us. If we adopt this suicidal course of action, the consequences for the church in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality, while scientific naturalism shapes our culture’s view of how the world really is (p. 18-19).

In a personal email, Craig relayed to me that he believes postmodernism is largely being propagated in our church by misguided youth pastors. While he meant the comment more to elicit a smile than to be taken as a stab in the back, I can’t help but wonder if he is right.

If our culture were so profoundly postmodernist, why have the “New Atheists,” as Wired magazine dubbed them, been so influential? Popular writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have recently written bestselling books attacking the scientific, historic, and philosophical credibility of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their writings have wreaked havoc on many unprepared Christians. If our culture were postmodern their challenges should have fallen on deaf ears.

This is my experience as well. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended IVCF and the woman running it (Jill) was a feminist who pushed postmodernism and feminism hard. Every week brought another testimony emphasizing love and forgiveness while minimizing or denying theology, science, history and logic. She turned down all the efforts of the men to bring in professors to speak about the cosmological argument or the resurrection, etc.. It was testimonies and prayer walks and praise hymns every week. When I questioned the people she chose to give their testimonies (mostly women), I found that none had any reasons for thinking that what they were talking about really was true. As a consequence of that, they were soft on doctrine – regularly throwing out Bible verses that did “resonate” with their “intuitions”. The same thing happened to me again with Campus Crusade as a graduate student. Personal testimonies of changed lives, divorced from any search for truth, every week.

One girl in particular that I knew at that time named Kerry was fond of bashing the laws of logic and the use of evidence. When I questioned her about it, she cited the influence of a charismatic youth pastor named Drew. A little more probing revealed that she denied the reality of Hell, and was a universalist. She eventually married a friend of mine and to this day has never read a single book on apologetics all the way through. Her beliefs are very much focused on the here and now, making friends and feeling good about herself. She never shook the habit of dismissing any argument, no matter how well-supported, that contradicted her intuitions.

Poll: More people believe in an afterlife than believe in God

J. Warner Wallace tweeted this study from the Institute of Education at the University of London.

Excerpt:

More people may believe in an afterlife than believe in God, according to a nation-wide survey of Britons born in 1970.

Almost half – 49 per cent – of those surveyed earlier this year by the Institute of Education, University of London believe that there is ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ life after death. Only 31 per cent have said that they believe in God, either without doubts (13 per cent) or with some doubts (18 per cent).

Researchers at the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies are canvassing more than 9,000 members of the 1970 British Cohort Study. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, is following a group of people born in England, Scotland and Wales in spring 1970. It collects detailed information on many aspects of people’s lives including health, wellbeing, and financial circumstances. The latest survey, at age 42, is being carried out between May and December.

While members of the 1970 cohort have been asked about religion at earlier points in their lives, the current survey is the first to make the important distinction between religious upbringing, affiliation, practice and belief.

An analysis of the first 2,197 responses shows that 32 per cent of interviewees were not brought up in any particular religion, and an equal number said they were raised in the Church of England. Fourteen per cent said they grew up as Christian (no denomination) and ten per cent as Roman Catholic.

However, when asked if they currently see themselves as belonging to a particular religion, 47 per cent said no, followed by 21 per cent who said the Church of England. Fifteen per cent felt they were Christian (no denomination) and seven per cent said they were Roman Catholic.

Seventy-four per cent of respondents reported never or rarely attending religious services, followed by 16 per cent who attend services less than once a month. Seven per cent attend services once a week or more.

I’m pretty sure that you need to have a God there if there is an afterlife, because if there is no God, then there is no grounding for souls that can survive the death of the body. I think that what’s going on here is that people like the idea of having an afterlife, but they don’t like the idea of being accountable to God. That’s why they hold two mutually incompatible beliefs.

I think that this study tells us a very important thing about how people view religion. Somehow, people have gotten the mistaken impression that religion is like choosing what to eat or what to wear. You choose what you like. You choose what makes your family and friends like you. But imagine if doctors, engineers and scientists operated like that. It strikes me as psychotic to choose a religion based on your feelings. Religion, at the minimum, is a set of propositions about the way the world is. To believe in a religion is to accept it as true, and to take on the epistemic and moral obligations – to know true things and to do right things. To anyone who denies that religion is like any other form of knowledge, then you need to prove that. In my own religion, we have testable claims that can be evaluated using the methods of logic, history and science.

You know this study reminds me of a formative experience I had when I was younger. I remember talking to a project manager when I was a brand new software engineer, and her telling me that she had grown up Baptist but it was “too strict” so she became an atheist. Also, God had allowed her to fall off her bicycle when she was young and she chipped her teeth. So she knew there couldn’t possibly be a loving God. But anyway, she asked me if I believed in souls for animals. I surveyed a few philosophers and concluded with J.P. Moreland’s view, that animals don’t have souls. She said that her dog was going to Heaven when she died. I told her, look I would like it if my cockatiel went to Heaven (he is was about 8 then, and is 24 now) but I have to accept what is true. She looked at me like I was crazy to say such a mean thing. I will never forget that conversation. Back then, I had limited exposure to church and didn’t realize that most Christians are exactly like her. We really need to stop with the postmodern, relativism, universalism and get back to reason and evidence.

William Lane Craig asks: should Christians embrace postmodernism?

Here’s a short clip:

Dr. Craig thinks that Christianity does a lot better when it is commended to others using logic and evidence. He thinks that postmodernism undermines logic and evidence.

Sean McDowell has more on what this means for Christians:

In Postmodern Youth Ministry, for example, Tony Jones argues that postmodernity is the most important culture shift of the past 500 years, upending our theology, philosophy, epistemology (how we know things), and church practice. It is an “earthquake that has changed the landscape of academia and is currently rocking Western culture.” (p. 11). Thus, to be relevant in ministry today, according to Jones and other postmodernists, we must shed our modern tendencies and embrace the postmodern shift.

For the longest time I simply accepted that we inhabit a postmodern world and that we must completely transform our approach to ministry to be effective today. But that all changed when I had the opportunity of hearing philosopher William Lane Craig speak at an apologetics conference not too long ago. “This sort of [postmodern] thinking,” says Craig, “is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture.” (“God is Not Dead Yet,” Christianity Today, July 2008, p. 26). He argues that the idea that we live in a postmodern world is a myth. This may strike you as awfully bold. How can he make such a claim?

For one thing, says Craig, postmodernism is unlivable and contradictory: “Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning!” (Reasonable Faith, 2008, p. 18) Craig speaks to tens of thousands of (mostly non-Christian) college students around the world every year and his conclusion is that we live in a cultural milieu that is deeply modernist. Reason, logic, and evidence are as important today as ever (although he’s careful not to overstate their importance, too).

Postmodernism and Apologetics

But this is not all Craig has to say! In the introduction to Reasonable Faith, Craig provocatively claims, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” (p. 18). Accordingly, we ought to stop emphasizing argumentation and apologetics and just share our narrative. Craig develops this idea further:

And so Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us. If we adopt this suicidal course of action, the consequences for the church in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality, while scientific naturalism shapes our culture’s view of how the world really is (p. 18-19).

In a personal email, Craig relayed to me that he believes postmodernism is largely being propagated in our church by misguided youth pastors. While he meant the comment more to elicit a smile than to be taken as a stab in the back, I can’t help but wonder if he is right.

If our culture were so profoundly postmodernist, why have the “New Atheists,” as Wired magazine dubbed them, been so influential? Popular writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have recently written bestselling books attacking the scientific, historic, and philosophical credibility of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their writings have wreaked havoc on many unprepared Christians. If our culture were postmodern their challenges should have fallen on deaf ears.

This is my experience as well. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended IVCF and the woman running it (Jill) was a feminist who pushed postmodernism and feminism hard. Every week brought another testimony emphasizing love and forgiveness while minimizing or denying theology, science, history and logic. She turned down all the efforts of the men to bring in professors to speak about the cosmological argument or the resurrection, etc.. It was testimonies and prayer walks and praise hymns every week. When I questioned the people she chose to give their testimonies (mostly women), I found that none had any reasons for thinking that what they were talking about really was true. As a consequence of that, they were soft on doctrine – regularly throwing out Bible verses that did “resonate” with their “intuitions”. The same thing happened to me again with Campus Crusade as a graduate student. Personal testimonies of changed lives, divorced from any search for truth, every week.

One girl in particular that I knew at that time named Kerry was fond of bashing the laws of logic and the use of evidence. When I questioned her about it, she cited the influence of a charismatic youth pastor named Drew. A little more probing revealed that she denied the reality of Hell, and was a universalist. She eventually married a friend of mine and to this day has never read a single book on apologetics all the way through. Her beliefs are very much focused on the here and now, making friends and feeling good about herself. She never shook the habit of dismissing any argument, no matter how well-supported, that contradicted her intuitions.