Finding Truth: Why Worldviews Commit Suicide

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Author Amy K. Hall Published on 05/08/2015

This week, we’re discussing the chapter “Why Worldviews Commit Suicide” in Nancy Pearcey’s Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes, which covers the fourth of five principles for evaluating worldviews: “Test the Idol: Does It Contradict Itself?” (see links to the previous posts below).

So far, we’ve learned how to identify the idol in a worldview (i.e., its understanding of the nature of ultimate reality), to find where it reduces the view of the human person to something less than human, and to see where that reductionism fails to match reality. This week, Nancy Pearcey explains how to find where a worldview contradicts itself:

[V]irtually all idol-based worldviews are self-refuting. Why? Because they are reductionistic. When reductionism is applied to the human mind, it reduces reason to something less than reason. It says the ideas in our minds are products of natural selection (Darwinism) or economic conditions (Marxism) or electrochemical responses in the brain (contemporary neuroscience). Yet the only way a worldview can build its own case is by using reason. Thus when it discredits reason, it undercuts its own case. It is self-defeating. (pp. 182-183)

Worldviews cause problems for themselves when they say that there’s no real self, that our ideas are the results of physical processes (or products of culture, or mere power plays), that “reason” is really an illusion. You can see the problem: If a person’s worldview states that reason itself isn’t to be trusted, then we ought not take seriously any reason that person gives for his own worldview. When it comes to reductionistic worldviews (other than rationalism, which doesn’t defeat itself in this particular way), Pearcey says “this one fundamental flaw is predictable.” It’s a bad sign if you can’t make a legitimate case for your worldview from within your own worldview:

[O]nce a theory makes the claim that our ideas are not the product of rational thought, that claim must be applied to all ideas—including the theory itself. (p. 187)

In order to trust that human beings can discover truth, one needs to know 1) “a rational God created the world with an intelligible structure,” and 2) we were created in the image of that rational being, which enables us to discover that structure. So what are proponents of reductionistic worldviews (who deny these two things) doing every time they make a case for their view?

The upshot is that all worldviews have to borrow a Christian epistemology—at least at the moment they are making their claims. They must tacitly assume the reliability of reason and rationality, which only a biblical worldview supports. They have to function as if Christianity is true, even as they reject it. (p. 190)

In our culture, we’ve been seeing the results of a postmodern loss of confidence in the legitimacy of reason and our ability to find truth. If there’s no truth we can find together—if our reality is merely created for us by our “tribes” through a common use of language, not reason—then there’s no use attempting to “reason” others towards our particular view, which means pressure or force will eventually become the persuasion method of choice. What other option is there? Indeed, we are starting to see power moves take the place of reasoned dialogue (as an antidote, I recommend watching this). As I wrote years ago:

[W]hat is left when separate communities come into conflict and the members believe rational communication and persuasion is impossible? Only the international language of power remains.

As always, Pearcey ends the chapter with a discussion of how Christianity grounds what other worldviews fail to ground. For example, where modernism exalted the individual (at the expense of community) and postmodernism exalted the community (at the expense of individuality), the Trinity provides the basis for both individuality and community in Christianity:

The perfect balance of unity and diversity within the Trinity offers a model for human social life—and a solution to the opposing poles of postmodernism and modernism. Against postmodernism’s dissolution of the self, the Trinity implies the dignity of the individual self. Just as each Person within the Trinity is distinct and plays a unique role in the drama of salvation, so each individual person has a unique identity and purpose.

Yet against modernism and its radical individualism, the Trinity implies that we are not disconnected and autonomous but were created for relationship. Sociality is built into the very essence of human nature. (pp. 209-210)

We’ve had some interesting discussions in the comments so far, so join in! Tell us what you thought about this chapter.

Next week, we’ll cover the fifth principle: “Make the Case for Christianity.” Pearcey has been doing a bit of this in every chapter (see the Trinity example above) as she shows us how Christianity, unlike other worldviews, has the ability to ground every aspect of the reality we experience and depend upon daily. I love her emphasis on the idea that Christianity is appealing—that our job is to reveal it to others in all its intellectual and emotional beauty, so I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

Posts in this series:

Twitter: #STRread, #FindingTruth

Articles mentioned in this chapter:

  • The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins—“Well over a century ago, Balfour identified a problem with the evolutionary thinking that was gaining ascendancy at the time. If the human mind has evolved in obedience to the imperatives of survival, what reason is there for thinking that it can acquire knowledge of reality, when all that is required in order to reproduce the species is that its errors and illusions are not fatal? A purely naturalistic philosophy cannot account for the knowledge that we believe we possess... Again, one does not need to accept Balfour’s theistic solution to see the force of his argument. A rigorously naturalistic account of the human mind entails a much more skeptical view of human knowledge than is commonly acknowledged.”
  • Big Bang: Is There Room for God?—“John Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, is also a self-declared Christian. He thinks the very fact that human beings can do science is evidence for God. ’If the atheists are right the mind that does science... is the end product of a mindless unguided process. Now, if you knew your computer was the product of a mindless unguided process, you wouldn’t trust it. So, to me atheism undermines the rationality I need to do science.’”