For a variety of historical reasons American Presbyterians throughout the nineteenth century were fully committed to the Enlightenment and scientific methods as the surest means for arriving at truth. Though still believing in the authority of Scripture, the best—or at least the most widely accepted—way of demonstrating the truth of the Bible was by appealing to reason and Scripture’s harmony with nature and the self-evident truths of human experience.
It’s Christmas time and that means it’s time for the History channel and a variety of other media outlets to play all of their best “the truth behind the Star of Bethlehem” “Jesus never existed and he was a very nice man” documentaries.
Inevitably you will hear or be involved in arguments about the virgin birth of Christ. Usually, on the internet, this means you’ll also be introduced to a myriad of sex jokes about Mary and Joseph.
In the spirit of holiday cheer, here are a couple of things to keep in mind, and perhaps share with those well-meaning jokesters intent on taking all the fun out of celebrating Christ’s birth.
Recently I was directed to a short video of Joseph Campbell giving an interview to give comment and know what my thoughts were. This is the video in question.
I found there to be a few issues with the kind of philosophy that was being proposed, certainly from that proposed in the video, and other aspects given elsewhere.
Mr Campbell proposes that the mind is a secondary organ, and that it must not be in control, lest it fall victim to following a particular kind of ‘system’. One could only speculate how he knows this is the case – is it the case that he has come to this conclusion by aligning himself to his ‘true nature’, or did he deduce this by using his mind? If he deduced it by using his mind, how can he be sure that the deduction he has made is not a part of that kind of system that he is critiquing?
What he fails to seem to note is that, if it is the former, saying that someone will fall pray to a particular kind of system by having their mind ‘in control’ is just as much of a system as identifying that there are other systems out there that he is critiquing, thus his alignment to the true nature is just another system out there. The question then becomes, since he seems to be placing particular sociological systems in a negative light, ‘what then is the correct system?’. Furthermore, how does one determine what system is the right/true/good system? By what standard? Which then is to simply beg the question of how did one determine that the ‘standard by which you judge standards’ is correct?
Later, he says that what we should be doing is resisting the systems impersonal claims – which doesn’t seem to harmonise well with the rest of the impersonal claims that he has made.
Further, he states “if the person doesn’t listen to the demands of its own spiritual and heart life and insists on a certain program you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack up….”. This of course would seem odd if he was insisting on his own certain program? The fallacy of neutrality strikes again…
Where does all of this appear to come from? A quick look into Mr Campbells philosophical bent tends him towards a panentheistic view it seems. Panentheists suffer from some of the similar criticisms that Pantheists are subject to, not least being an amusing quote from CS Lewis:
“Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God … [Christians] think God invented and made the universe-like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed … If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course … some of the things we see in [the world] are contrary to [God’s] will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 36-37. ( a further discussion to be found here : http://truthbygrace.org/are-we-bound-in-the-universe-by-a-supernatural-force/)
How does this relate to the Christian worldview? Well, from the get go it denies the Creator-creature distinction in almost every way – it pulls man up from where he is and places him inside God, and pulls God down from His transcendence and places him at the level of man (with little exception). This blurring of the lines leads to severe problems when it comes to moral issues as Lewis notes above – which then causes issues for Mr Campbell futher, since if all is really in deity, then where are the distinctions? Saying we need to get away from subscribing to particular systems, is utterly nonsensical, as those systems imply some level of distinction that is simply unsupported by the presupposition of a panentheistic bent, as all of those systems are in the divine. To paraphrase Bahnsen, “What exactly would ‘divine revelation’ look like? Me talking to myself?”
From a Christian perspective, good and evil have very real criteria – either the fulfilment of the law of God, or it’s violation. God’s law is based on His own unchanging nature, therefore we have an objective unchanging basis for what determines what is morally right and morally wrong, however, without any defined boundaries as mentioned above, there is simply divine action, action, action, without any ability to ascribe moral value, because those values are not transcendant, they are all immanent, ergo a defining mantra for this kind of morality would be essentially “Whatever feels good, do it” (to steal from the Christian worldview to use the word ‘good’).
How would this be a problem from the Christian perspective?
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
It would seem that the bible has a dim view on the moral ability of the human heart to act upon what is right – therefore the idea of ‘Whatever feels good, do it’ will end in utter ruin, and one need only look at the results all around us today in al the suffering that we see.
The cure is to turn to Christ and be saved resulting in the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to change our evil God-hating, sin loving hearts to love God and desire to do that which is objectively good and knowable – His Law.
In 1971 John Rawls wrote his famous A Theory of Justice in which he presented what is known as ‘The Original Position.’ The OP is a hypothetical state of affairs in which an individual operates from behind a ‘Veil of Ignorance’ in order to establish principles of justice for society apart from considerations of ethnicity, class, gender, and the like. This thought experiment stems from the radical autonomy present in Immanuel Kant’s work.
Enough about Rawls. Cornelius Van Til was a Christian apologist who likewise drew from Kant’s work, taking the transcendental method developed by Kant (and many others before him) and more broadly applying it to the entire Christian worldview. Van Til proposed the Christian worldview as the only worldview capable of rendering human experience intelligible.
Now, sharper non-Christians, and even some Christians who ultimately oppose Van Til’s method, point out the possibility of some worldview X which might render human experience intelligible. The problem with that move is the need to simultaneously establish some platform with which to posit said possibility. Let’s refer to this hypothetical platform from which we might posit a hypothetical worldview X as the OP.
The OP in this instance is very loosely analogous to the Original OP above, or to put it another way, the OOP, which is rather confusing…I leave it to those more familiar with Rawls to decide how close OP and OOP (I did it again) are to one another, and even if objections to OOP are likewise analogous to OP, given that I am at all right about the possible (there’s that word again) similarities between OOP and OP anyway.
In any event, the purpose of the OP is to avoid hypothesizing from a Christian or (specific) non-Christian worldview. But the epistemology of modality for the Christian is worldview specific, even ethically obligatory at points, whereas the non-Christian functions, or attempts to function, within her own epistemology of modality. Strangely though, when speaking of the supposed necessity of the Christian worldview in virtue of transcendental argumentation, both Christian and non-Christian often attempt to think about philosophical objections posed by the possibility of X from something like an OP.
A non-Christian cannot posit that anyone (even a Californian), might propose a worldview that has not yet been refuted by the presuppositional apologist. They can’t do that when their own worldview is demonstrably insufficient for rendering human experience intelligible. Nobody actually operates in accord with OP, nor should we, which says a great deal about our epistemology of modality. Frankly, assuming OP against one’s own particular non-Christian worldview in order to claim the possibility of some worldview X whereby the necessity of the Christian worldview for intelligible experience is undermined is not terribly persuasive, to say the least. To say more, it’s not a move that’s even available to the non-Christian. And it’s certainly not available to the Christian.
The concept of possibility itself does not function in virtue of OP, no epistemology of modality ‘exists’ in a ‘void.’ Possibility is tied to respective worldviews. Yes, so is truth, so is transcendental argumentation, and so on and so forth. I see no difficulty here. Epistemological (not logical) circularity is a necessary feature of a rational worldview. So I’m proposing a radical commitment to Christian presuppositions in Christian apologetics, and the use of radical retortion against any view which is opposed to the Christian worldview. But that’s nothing new, either in my proposing it, or in your reading about it, if you understand the fact of it having been proposed already in the works of Van Til.
The concept of possibility is itself worldview specific, not neutral. A non-Christian with ‘no place to stand’ isn’t within her epistemological rights in telling others where others might stand; that’s an unintelligible epistemology of modality.