One of the Nagging Problems with Worldviewism

I should start out by saying that I, just like many of you, came into the Reformed faith during college. I was introduced to the concept and language of “worldview” through a number of sources, but almost all of them had some connection to Dutch neo-Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper, and then Francis Schaeffer. And a lot of this was very good. It helped me to see the ways in which my faith impacted the rest of life, and it helped me see the ways in which religion and core philosophy really matter for every other deeply-held conviction. The language of “worldview” also energized me to study more and ask critical questions about where an idea was coming from and what implications it would have on others. The title of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences says it all.

For most of my young education, and yes I was educated in public schools, I had been content to live in a two-tier universe. My religion was true, somehow, but also the things which contradicted my religion were also true, somehow. One set of ideas worked in church environments. The other set worked in school. In Church Adam and Eve were the first humans, and in school there were millions- now billions- of years of pre-humanoid development with neanderthals and cro-magnons and all sorts of other “cavemen” in the story. The cultural-social events which were neither church nor school were always a riddle. Which truths were true there? The language of worldview was a breath of fresh air in such a context.

But worldview also has a problematic side. Continue reading

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I Don’t Have All of the Answers, or Even All of the Questions

mr-clever-Hype-SU36-LgThose of you who know me know that I have a certain kind of spark. I feel passionately about a number of things, and I feel called to do something about that. This means I end up trying to teach, which also means that I end up talking a lot. This has good and bad effects, one of the bad ones being that I can come across as arrogant. Now, I’ve always realized this perception while also resenting its existence. “But I’m not!” I would always say. I don’t think I’m always right. I don’t think I have all of the answers.

But I have thought in the past that I had all of the questions. Continue reading

Objectifying Phineas Gage

From time to time in my cultural and apologetic writings I will criticize scientism, the belief that the physical sciences provide all of the meaningful knowledge in the world (a variation of positivism), as well as the parasciences and pseudosciences known by various “social science” names. Often the dismissal is quick and witty, perhaps to a fault, and so it is worthwhile occasionally to spell out the problems with such a method. The first thing that we should say is that it is in no one’s interest to dismiss the true findings of science or to deny that science is a powerful means of acquiring knowledge. To do so would simply be stubborn and superstitious. The point, rather, is to demonstrate that science is necessarily limited. It makes observations and predictions, though the predictions often leave the realm of the strictly scientific. This is all well and good on its own, a valuable means of learning and of forming the mind. And this really is what the best scientists all admit. Science operates within these boundaries by design.

What science should not do is attempt to construct metanarratives. Or rather, as soon as science begins to construct metanarratives it ceases to be “science” in the modern sense of the term. It becomes philosophy, literature, or religion. And as anyone who has met me well knows, I am a big fan of philosophy, literature, and religion. I think they are fundamental to all true wisdom. So I don’t say that science shouldn’t do this work because I don’t think such work should be done. I most emphatically do! It’s just that in doing this work, science invariably cheats. It ceases to operate on a strictly observational and test-confirmation methodology, and it begins to add in other considerations which are outside its strict bounds. It does so, however, all while still using the nomenclature of “science” to claim an objective point of view and the rhetorical authority which is currently granted to such.

It is also the case that when science attempts to engage in the humanities it does a much poorer job than the humanities can do. Continue reading

Christian Classicists

Wilson discusses his views of “antithetical classicism” over and against North’s more straight-laced and scowling Van Tillianism here.  The contrast between these two men is instructive for the overall landscape of Reformed theology’s relationship to history and the rest of the world.

Van Tillianism has always had a tendency to simply lend a rocket booster to fundamentalism.  I think this is why it became so popular.  It met the masses where they were and told them that they had been right all along, but they simply didn’t know how to say that in smart-people language.  Now they can, with three easy steps…

You can see this in a lot of Rushdoony’s work.  I really like Rush, and I owe a good deal in my own theological development to him, but any honest reader will note that he gets about 50% of his facts wrong.  He loves to show that older Christians were really pagans and/or heretics, and if you were in a position of a civil leadership, you were definitely a bad guy.  With a few exceptions, of course, that’s how a Rushdoony view of history works.  Tweak a few things here and there as is appropriate, and that’s how the basic Christian Reconstruction view of everything works.  Mostly bad, until us.  You’re welcome.

Wilson has always been a different flavor of CR though, and this is mostly because he douses the whole project in C. S. Lewis.  Wilson started with Lewis and then moved to Van Til, but he’s always tried to be a kinder, gentler Van Tillian.  If CRs were fundies with rocket boosters, then Wilson is a fundie with a top-hat, pipe, and monocle.

As I’ve begun working at a “Classical Christian High School,” I have noticed myself enriched by the material we cover.  I am reading Lewis, Socrates (via. secondary sources), and studying in some detail figures like Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, King Richard I and Saladin.  Basically, I’m being forced out of my little box.  I’m being pushed out of even my “Reformed Van Tillian” box, simply by the facts of history (even interpreted facts!), and this is a profoundly good thing.

Now the CRs wandered out of the box from time to time, but usually this was only to grab something that looked like it could prop-up the box, and then they’d run back to the box in hopes of taking over the world through the box.  The problem, ironically of course, is that they never adequately questioned the presuppositions that formed the box.  They just assumed the box was “Bible Christianity” and that it was obviously so.  In truth, CRs were often classical liberals (ie. libertarians), who truly believed in the early American republic/empire, and wanted to promote this vision through some form of Reaganonomics.  I’m generalizing horribly here, but you get the picture.

Now, the Wilson version is already head and shoulders above this, as his project goes further back in history, seeking to sculpt a “medieval Protestantism” out of the stones of time.  This has the benefit of being pre-Enlightenment, something that Van Til and the CRs never really accomplished (Van Til was indebted to Hegel and Kant.  Bahnsen was indebted to Wittgenstein.), however it runs the same risk of remaking history into its own already much-influenced and culturally-conditioned image if it doesn’t give its classicism an authentic presentation.  If “antithetical classicism” means simply accenting the popular views of the classical and medieval periods with 20th and 21st century Calvinist commentary, then we won’t have made much improvement.

What we need are true classicists who maintain their Reformed Christian principles, but do not allow those principles to hijack their scholarship.  We need flexible classicists who take into account the varied influences of history: religious, political, economic, and military.  We do not need folks looking for the magic “culture.”

We need a Lewis view of creation; namely, that it is good and given by God.  We need a Jim Jordan doctrine of the Holy Spirit working among the Gentiles (or even the non-Christians!).  We need a mature disposition that understands that there are very few uniform movements, and we need to be able to admit that even our favorite heroes, whether they be political or religious, were capable of being scoundrels at any given point in time.  We also have to be willing to accept that scoundrels can give us genuinely good things that we wouldn’t want to do without.