Philosophy

Finding Truth: How Critical Thinking Saves Faith

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 05/22/2015

This week, we’re discussing the final chapter in Nancy Pearcey’s Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes: “How Critical Thinking Saves Faith” (see links to the previous posts below).

In this last chapter of Finding Truth, Nancy Pearcey stresses the necessity of learning how to examine worldviews:

Some Christians seem to think the way to avoid being “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2) is by avoiding “worldly” ideas. A better strategy is to learn the skills to critically evaluate them. (p. 254)

Why is evaluating them a better strategy than avoiding them? Partly because we can’t avoid them. We’re all exposed to popular culture all the time, and without the ability to recognize the source of the ideas we’re surrounded by, it’s easy to unthinkingly absorb bits of other worldviews:

[M]ost people pick up their ideas about life [through popular culture]... Worldviews do not typically come with a warning label attached to tell us what we’re getting. They do not ask permission before invading our mental space. Instead there is what we might call a “stealth” secularism that uses images and stories to bypass people’s critical grid and hook them emotionally, sometimes without their even knowing it. That’s why it is imperative to learn the skill of deciphering worldviews when they come to us not in words, where they are easier to recognize, but in the idiom of picture, composition, plot line, and characterization. (p. 258)

I loved Pearcey’s examples of how worldview ideas have been expressed through art (see her book Saving Leonardo for an in-depth discussion of how the development of philosophy is reflected in literature, art, music, architecture, etc.).

Impressionist art was inspired by empiricism:

Everyone knows what an impressionist painting looks like, with its little dabs and dashes of color. But why did impressionists decide to break up images that way? Because they were influenced by the philosophy of empiricism, which claims that the ultimate foundation of knowledge is sensations. To reach that foundation, empiricism says, we must reach down to the level of sheer sensory input. We must not even interpret sensations in terms of discrete objects standing in three-dimensional space, but only as patches of color filling our field of vision.

That’s why the great impressionist Claude Monet wrote, “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field, or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow.” His goal was to cut through to the level of raw, immediate sense data. Spots. Streaks. Patches of color. (pp. 260-261)

Deconstructionist art came out of postmodernism:

Recall that postmodernism is the claim that there is no “metanarrative” or universal story line valid for all people at all times. Each community has its own story line for making sense of the world. How would an artist give that idea visual expression?

By refusing to give a work of art any coherent overall design. This explains why deconstructionist artists favor the pastiche or collage—a patchwork of disconnected images that defy any attempt at interpretation. For example, the famous collages by Robert Rauschenberg, says one art historian, “juxtaposed images in ways to suggest random incoherence, to which the artist—and viewer—can bring no meaningful order.” What was Rauschenberg saying with these disconnected images? That “life’s random occurrences... cannot be made to fit in any inherent hierarchy of meaning.” (pp. 264-265)

Abstract art was an expression of pantheism:

Why did some artists stop painting objects at all? Because they were influenced by pantheism. The first abstract painter was Kandinsky, who embraced a blend of Eastern and Western mysticism. He argued that the way to oppose philosophical materialism was to get rid of material objects. In his words, abstract art would liberate the mind from “the harsh tyranny of the materialistic philosophy,” becoming “one of the most powerful agents of the spiritual life.”

The purpose of an abstract painting, then, is to free the mind from its preoccupation with material objects and draw the viewer up to the spiritual realm. (pp. 263-264)

If you haven’t yet read Pearcey’s Total Truth and Saving Leonardo, I strongly recommend you do—these three books are best read together. We need to be able to recognize these ideas and where they come from when we see them in our culture. If we don’t carefully develop our own worldview, the culture will develop it for us.

But this doesn’t just matter for our sake. We need to understand the worldviews of our neighbors if we’re going to anticipate their questions and respond in a way that’s meaningful to them.

Thanks for reading with me! What did you think of the book overall? Would you like to do this again with another book? If you didn’t read the book, did you still read and enjoy these posts? I’d love to have your feedback on this book study in the comments below.

Posts in this series:

Twitter: #STRread, #FindingTruth

Articles mentioned in this chapter:

  • Nancy Pearcey: How to Respond to Doubt: “The researchers uncovered the single most significant factor in whether young people stand firm in their Christian convictions or leave them behind... [T]he most decisive factor is whether students had a safe place to work through their doubts and questions before leaving home... The study indicates that students actually grow more confident in their Christian commitment when the adults in their life—parents, pastors, teachers—guide them in grappling with the challenges posed by prevailing secular worldviews. In short, the only way teens become truly ’prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks’ (1 Pet. 3:15) is by wrestling honestly and personally with the questions.”
  • “We Engage Culture for Jesus”: An Interview of Christian Artist Lecrae: “What we need to realize is that Christianity is total truth not just religious truth. Because it is total truth, it is relevant and applicable to all areas of life. When we don’t know how to navigate through culture, we miss out on Jesus’ power to shape and transform society. We, as Christians, have the unique privilege of being able to expose how things that this world has taken and intended for evil can be redeemed for their intended purpose, the glory of God.”