Philosophical Reflections…

February 3, 2009

I am currently reading through David K. Clark’s To Know and Love God, which is an excellent primer on Theological Method (an area too much neglected in Evangelicalism).   Besides being one of the best books I have read in quite a long time, it also has tons of great quotes, one of which I share with you now:

Total relativism is incoherent.  Once it is judged impossible to assert anything as true, nothing, not even relativism, can be stated in language….The only honest alternative to accepting the notion of objective truth is silence” (pg 148 Clark).

This quote brings out a crucial point for anyone involved in the debate between those who hold that (a) Truth is knowable (to some degree), or (b) Truth (defined broadly as the connection between statements and reality) does not exist or is totally relative.  The point is that language is necessarily connected to something other than its utterance.  The minute I say that “I ate double chocolate fudge ice cream yesterday,” I have stated something which is either true or not.  Either, it is true that I did eat this delectable dairy treat, or it is not.  One might say something which does not initially seem to make any contact with reality, such as, “I rode a unicorn yesterday.”  Indeed, presumably noone has ever ridden a unicorn.  Thus, it would seem reasonable to assert that the statement does not connect to anything in reality.  This state of affairs, then, is precisely what would allow us to conclude that it is a false statement. 

One might object to the quote above, which would cause me to ask a few questions:

1) Why is it not true that silence is the consistent option for the relativist?

2) What is it that you are proving if you demonstrate that the above statement is false?

3) How is it that you are able to communicate to me through written words which communicate something fixed to me?

On another note, I greatly appreciate the tempered commitment to modernistic principles.  By tempered I mean that Clark is willing to agree that Modernism has its real problems.  Postmodernism has brought some needed and helpful criticisms of modernism to the table. 

Consider the following quote from the book:

The real consquence of the Elightenment, ” wrote Hans-Georg Gadamer, was ” the subjection of all authority to reason.”  The Enlightenment gospel went like this: the human individual, liberated from external authority, appealing to autonomous human reason, can discover absolute truth which, implemented through rational planning emphasizing standardization and science, leads to social progress.

Yet, as the modernistic project unfolded we saw that, while we had many technological advances, the human condition didn’t seem to improve, and in many ways it only got worse.  The modernist project was guilty of intellectual pelagianism.  Yet, Postmodernism isn’t the best alternative. 

Don Carson summarized pointedly, “Postmodernism gently applied rightly questions the arrogance of modernism; postmodernism ruthlessly applied nurtures a new hubris and deifies agnosticism.”

So, what are we to do in our theological projects?  I, like Clark, think we need a via media.  And since he says it much better than I ever will, I will quote him:

In building a theology faithful to the gospel for all peopls, we cannot hitch our wagon to the Englightenment and its cultural trappings.  But neither can we make peace with deconstructive versions of postmodernity that recognize “truth” only within intellectual ghettoes. 

More thoughts coming soon.