Thomas A. Howe

Some Observations On Postmodernism

Thomas A. Howe | 19 August 2021 | 90 min read

What Is Postmodernism?

In the introduction to his best-selling book, The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom lamented,

“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2 + 2 = 4. These are things you don’t think about. The students’ backgrounds are as various as America can provide. Some are religious, some atheists; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich. They are unified only in their relativism and in their allegiance to equality. And the two are related in a moral intention. The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it.”[1]

Is it the case that Postmodernism can be equated with relativism? There are probably as many definitions, or descriptions, or characterizations of Postmodernism as there are those who write about it. David Harvey, a British Marxist economic geographer and Distinguished Professor of anthropology and geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, described Postmodernism as a condition: “Postmodernism can be regarded, in short, as a historical – geographical condition of a certain sort.”[2]

Jean-François Lyotard (1924–1998), a French philosopher, sociologist, and literary theorist, has been characterized as one of the leading strategists in the development and propagation of Postmodernism. For Lyotard, Postmodernism is the disbelief or rejection of metanarratives:

“To oversimplify, we consider as ‘postmodern’ the disbelief toward meta-narratives. This is undoubtedly an effect of the progress of science; but this progress in its turn presupposes it. To the obsolescence of the metanarrative device of legitimation corresponds in particular the crisis of metaphysical philosophy, and that of the university institution which depended on it. The narrative function loses its functors, the great hero, the great perils, the great perils, the great journeys and the great goal.”[3]

More will be said about metanarratives below. Stephen Hicks describes Postmodernism in  terms of metaphysics and epistemology:

Metaphysically, postmodernism is anti-realist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring objective knowledge of that reality. Having substituted social linguistic constructs for that reality, postmodernism emphasizes the subjectivity, conventionality, and incommensurability of those constructions.”[4]

Stuart Sim describes Postmodernism as a cultural movement:

“Postmodernism is a wide-ranging cultural movement which adopts a sceptical attitude to many of the principles and assumptions that have underpinned Western thought and social life for the last few centuries. Jean-François Lyotard has encouraged us to see postmodernism as a rejection of all-encompassing cultural theories (such as Marxism), and has argued for a much more pragmatic attitude to political life and artistic expression that simply ignores the oppressive rules laid down by grand narrative. Postmodernism is therefore as much an attitude of mind as a specific theoretical position in its own right. In general, postmodernism can be regarded as part of a longer-running philosophical tradition of scepticism, which is intrinsically anti-authoritarian in outlook and negative in tone: more concerned with undermining the pretensions of other theories than putting anything positive in their place.”[5]

In her book titled, How Postmodernism serves (My) Faith, Crystal Downing makes an appeal to her readers about judging Postmodernism.

“The first thing I want to emphasize is that perspectives on life should not be judged by the people who misuse them. After all, thousands have been killed in the name of Christ. When I told a non-Christian English professor that I believe in the resurrected Christ, she snapped back, “What about the Crusades? What about the Inquisition?” I could only respond that an earnest seeker after the truths of existence does not reject an answer because of the fanatical excesses of its followers. In this book I want to say the same thing about postmodernism: it should not be judged by problematic practices carried out in its name. This is not to suggest that Christianity and postmodernism are comparable answers to the meaning of life. The first is based on a certain person — the incarnation of God on earth — while the second is based upon a certain attitude: a suspicion of ready answers, an emphasis on the limitations of language, an awareness of the artifices of tradition. This book will bring the postmodern attitude to bear on following Christ, using my own experience for the argument’s core. In the language of evangelical Christianity, my personal testimony will serve as a witness to my understanding of a life in Christ. In the language of postmodernism, I will acknowledge the positionality of my beliefs.”[6]

There are at least two problems with her argument.

  • First, in judging Postmodernism, we are not judging the actions of anyone who is misusing it. Rather, we are judging the claims and assertions of those who are postmodernists.
  • Second, the claims and assertions are not from those who are misusing Postmodernism. In fact, according to Postmodernism, one cannot misuse it. There cannot be any “postmodern” practices that can be identified as “problematic.” All beliefs and practices are relative to the individual’s context, language, culture, social situatedness, etc. Downing talks about “situatedness” only a few pages later. Because she had never seen fireflies, she did not understand the flashing lights she saw in the night. Because she thought the flashing lights were from some “peeping Tom,” she sought to protect herself from this problematic practice. She goes on to declare, “Postmodernism, in recognition of realities like this [i.e., situatedness], encourages attempts to understand the conflicting ‘truths’ of each group and to acknowledge their ‘situatedness.’ This is not the same as accepting all ‘truths’ as equally valid, which is how many people interpret postmodernism, leading them to accuse it of nihilistic relativism.”[7]

So, Downing has gone from accepting the situatedness of others’ ‘truths’ to rejecting the situatedness of those who argue that Postmodernism is nihilistic relativism. It is this very kind of argumentation that we will be considering.

Three Basic Questions

Before we begin to consider the claims of Postmodernism, we must at the outset deal with three basic questions:

1) Is it possible to know?

2) Is it possible to have certainty?

3) Is it possible to have objectivity?

Is It Possible to Know?

The primary question in modern approaches to epistemology concerns the nature of knowledge and is characterized by the question, “What is knowledge?” This question is often involved with a related question, “Is it possible to know?” Many believe that before one can ask what it is we know, one must first establish the fact that knowledge is possible. It must be asserted at the outset of our study that it is possible to know. To assert that knowledge is not possible is to assert a contradiction. Either one knows that knowledge is not possible, in which case the original assertion is false because at least this knowledge is possible, or one does not know that knowledge is not possible, in which case the original assertion cannot be maintained.

Many have questioned the possibility of knowledge with a question like this: “If you do not understand the nature of human cognition, how and to what extent can you put confidence in what it makes you aware of in other things?” or “How can one be sure of one’s knowledge about anything in particular, if one does not first know what knowledge itself is?”[8] The basic problem with these questions is, if one must know what knowledge is before one can know anything in particular, then how can one ever come to know what knowledge is? One would need both to know and not to know in the same sense. As Joseph Owens puts it, “Here cognition itself is the topic for the inquiry, while it is also the examiner. On that account the charge of circularity might arise, with the reliability of cognition resting on cognition’s own reliability.”[9] Not only is the claim that knowledge is not possible contradictory, but the agnostic form of the question is contradictory. If it is not possible to know anything in particular unless one knows what knowledge is, then one is doomed never to know. Likewise, if we suspend judgement on whether or not we can know, then we are equally doomed never to know, because precisely the same faculty that is doubted is the faculty one must employ to remove doubt.

The fact of the matter is, we do know some things, and the inquiry is to discover how we know, not whether we know. The first question, then, “What is knowledge?” assumes the fact of knowledge and aims at discovering how knowledge is possible and explainable. Therefore, the framing of this basic question will shape how one approaches the task. It cannot be the case that the quest is to discover whether it is possible to know since the very faculty whose reliability is in question is the only faculty we possess to address the question.

Is it Possible to Have Certainty?

The second question concerns epistemic criteria and involves the basic question, “How do we justify claims of knowledge?” This problem is often addressed in terms of the question, “Is it possible to have certainty?” Once again we must affirm, prior to our study, that it is possible to have certainty. To assert that no one can be certain about anything is to assert a contradiction. Either one is certain that there is no certainty, in which case the original assertion is false because at least this is certain, or one is not certain that certainty is not possible, in which case the original assertion cannot be maintained.

Criticisms of this question are similar to the criticisms of the previous question. Views and proposals differ among philosophers about what constitutes certainty, whether certainty is a necessary criterion of knowledge, and whether certainty admits of degrees. Minimally we may employ the definition of certainty provided by The Oxford Companion to Philosophy: “A proposition is said to be certain when it is indubitable. A person is certain of a proposition when he or she cannot doubt it.”[10] If it cannot be doubted that certainty is not possible, then the assertion is self-defeating. If it can be doubted that certainty is not possible, then the original assertion cannot be maintained. Even if we attempt to suspend judgement on the possibility of certainty, we cannot escape the criticism, for either we cannot doubt that judgment ought to be suspended, or we can doubt that it should. The same consequences follow.

There is a sense of circularity in the definition from the Oxford Companion. The same texts provide the following characterization of ‘doubt’: “When we doubt a proposition, we neither believe or disbelieve it: rather, we suspend judgment, regarding it as an open question whether it is true.”[11] Basically it states, “A proposition is certain if it cannot be doubted, that is, if one is not certain that it is certain.”

The fact of the matter is, we can be certain about some things. For example, we can be certain that a proposition cannot be both true and false in the same sense. To deny the law of contradiction, or as some call it, the law of noncontradiction, is to affirm it. It is in fact self-evident and undeniable. Although we may have certainty about a very small number of things, certainty is undoubtedly possible, and in some instance, certain.

Is it Possible to Have Objectivity?

A response to this question necessarily involves how one defines ‘objectivity.’ A good definition of objectivity is the following:

objectivity, n. 1, the conformity of mental representation to the object known; the characteristic of knowledge as measured by the object. 2. the state of critical and impartial reflection in which the mind considers things as they are in their own reality and under their own real conditions, detaching itself from personal tastes, interests, preferences, etc.; as the objectivity of sciences. 3. a general philosophical viewpoint that regards external or extra- mental being as real, independently of the knower, and measures true knowledge by the real.”[12]

For our purposes we will consider objectivity as it is given in definition 2. So, objectivity is the understanding of meaning that is not relative to one’s perspective, world-view, context, culture, social environment, or language.

Objectivity is widely, almost universally, rejected as either possible or even desirable in the interpretation of texts. It is almost universally rejected by Evangelical authors, notibly, N. T. Wright, Anthony Thiselton, Kevin Vanhoozer, Grant Osborne, the late Moisés Silva, as well as Evangelicals who have embraced all or portions of the postmodern ethos; Stanley Grenz, Brian D. McLaren, Crystal L. Downing, John R. Franke, et al. Once objectivity is abandoned, then there is no other alternative than relativity. In other words, once one rejects objectivity, then meaning and truth are relative to one’s world-view, perspective, context, language, social environment, etc.

Stanley Grenz (1950–2005), an Evangelical Baptist theologian, ethicist, and proponent of a postmodern evangelicalism, expresses this relativism as follows: “The Bible is seen, then, not as a finished and static fact or collection of facts to be analyzed by increasingly sophisticated methods, but as a potentiality of meaning which is actualized by succeeding generations in the light of their need…”[13] This he sees as the proper understanding of 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”[14] Grenz misinterprets this as meaning that God breathed into Scripture like He did breathe into Adam. In fact, θεόπνευστος (theopneustos “inspired”)[15] means to breathe out, not to breathe in.

Grenz falls into the self-defeating trap of disclaiming the possibility of objective knowledge of the world or the past. He contends that “we ought to commend the postmodern questioning of the Enlightenment assumption that knowledge is objective and hence dispassionate.”[16] He adds, “We affirm the postmodern discovery that no observer can stand outside the historical process. Nor can we gain universal, culturally neutral knowledge as unconditioned specialists.”[17] Grenz seems blissfully unaware of his self-defeating claim to have objective knowledge of this allegedly subjective condition.

Everyone who speaks and writes assumes that his own words will be understood objectively by his audience.[18] Grenz, who denies objectivity, assumes that his denial will be objectively grasped by those who read his book. Objectivity is possible and undeniable. Truth is a quality predicated of propositions, and propositions are expressed in language. If there is no objective meaning, then there is no objective truth, and there is no word from God.

Postmodernism and Christian Theology

Grenz on Modernism

Due to the efforts of Stanley Grenz to construct a postmodern Christian theology, and his influence in evangelicalism, much of this paper will interact with his claims. Like most who write on the subject, Grenz begins his primer on Postmodernism by observing, “to understand postmodern thinking, we must view it in the context of the modern world that gave it birth and against which it is reacting.”[19] Grenz parrots what has been for many years the standard characterization of Modernism and the Enlightenment. He says, “At the intellectual foundation of the Enlightenment project are certain epistemological assumptions. Specifically, the modern mind assumes that knowledge is certain, objective, and good. Moreover, moderns assume that, in principle, knowledge is accessible to the human mind.”[20] If these are the defining assumptions of Modernism and the Enlightenment, then one wonders how historians have been able to distinguish this epoch from Medievalism or even the ancient mindset. The notion that knowledge is certain, objective, good, and accessible to the human mind goes back at least to the Pre-Socratics and was a characteristic assumption of Plato, Aristotle, and most of the Medieval philosophers. In other words, if these are the characteristics that are supposed to distinguish the Enlightenment and Modernism, then Grenz has identified a distinction without a difference.

If the notion that knowledge is certain, objective, good, and accessible to the human mind are supposed to be motivation for Descartes’ project, then he is not moved by a new set of assumptions, but by the very same assumptions that propelled all previous speculation. Contrary to Grenz’s estimation, Descartes began his project because of a perceived failure on the part of all previous philosophy definitively to establish the certainty of philosophical knowledge for which his predecessors had searched. It was particularly the methodology of mathematico-experimental science as a synthesis of the deductive method of geometry and, as A.C. Crombie puts it, “the experimental habit of the practical arts”[21] that promised, at least in the mind of Descartes, the rational demonstration of certain knowledge. In other words, the Enlightenment is not distinguished by an emphasis on reason and certainty, but on a particular kind of reason that promised to secure certainty. The notion that the character of the Enlightenment is captured by such portrayals as, “The Enlightenment method places the many aspects of reality under the scrutiny of reason and assesses it on the basis of that criterion,”[22] is, as Roy Porter notes, “deeply misleading.”[23] Porter goes on to point out,

“Many of the century’s leading intellectuals themselves dismissed the rationalist, system- building philosophers of the seventeenth century, notably Descartes (with his notion of ‘clear and distinct ideas’ self-evident to reason) and Leibniz. They repudiated them as fiercely as they rejected what they considered the verbal sophistries of rationalist, scholastic theology, developed first by St Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages (Thomism), and further elaborated in the Counter-Reformation. In the light of the triumph of Newtonian science, the men of the Enlightenment argued that experience and experiment, not a priori reason, were the keys to true knowledge. Man himself was no less a feeling than a thinking animal.”[24]

Rather than the picture of monolithic rationalism that Grenz paints, the Enlightenment was characterized by at least as much diversity as is found in Postmodernism. As Porter describes it, “Central to the aspirations of enlightened minds was the search for the true ‘science of man.’”[25] But even this “central aspiration” found different expressions in different thinkers:

“Hartley, La Mettrie and other ‘materialists’ (those who denied the independent existence of ‘mind’, ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’) hoped to develop a medico-scientific physiology of man understood as a delicate piece of machinery, or perhaps as just the most successful of the primates. Some, such as Locke, Helvétius and Condillac, thought it was the mechanisms of man’s thinking processes above all which needed to be investigated. Others, like the Italian Vico, believed man would best be understood by tracing the steps and stages of his emergence from some primitive condition or state of nature – which some envisaged as a golden age and others saw as a level of bestial savagery. Still others, like Montesquieu and Hume, thought the key to a science of man lay in analysing the political and economic laws governing the interactions between the individual and society at large.”[26]

The Enlightenment, at least according to current thinking, was as multifaceted as is Postmodernism. Yet Grenz insists on attributing to Modernism characteristics that were not distinctive in this movement. Grenz asserts, “The Enlightenment perspective assumes that knowledge is not only certain (and hence rational) but also objective.”[27] Yet for Plato, Aristotle, the Hellenistic philosophers, and those who engaged in philosophical thought throughout the Middle Ages, knowledge was held to be objective. Even though their systems differed, each philosopher believed that at least the core assertions of his system were certain.

Additionally, the objectivity or certainty of knowledge did not promote a “dispassionate” approach since the philosophes of the Enlightenment did not themselves advocate a dispassionate approach, at least not across the board. There were those who were rationalists, but there were also Romanticists. Porter points out that many of the philosophes of the Enlightenment asserted that “divorced from experience and sensitivity, reason equally led to error and absurdity,” and “Voltaire delightfully demonstrated [this] in his philosophical novel Candide, in which the stooge, Dr Pangloss, is so blinded by his Leibnizian metaphysical conviction that ‘all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,’ as to become utterly indifferent to the cruelty and suffering going on under his best of all possible noses.”[28]

Grenz also characterizes the Enlightenment with the assumption that knowledge is “inherently good.” (One must wonder if Grenz does not think his own knowledge about Modernism and Postmodernism is good). Grenz attributes this assumption to Enlightenment thinkers as if it had never dawned on anyone in the history of mankind that knowledge is good. Yet in Scholastic philosophy of human nature the goal of man’s intellect was the knowledge of God, which by definition is the ultimate good. Indeed, it was not an assumed inherent goodness of knowledge that issued in the optimism of the Enlightenment. Rather, it was the rapid advancement of the understanding and control of the world effected by the application of the scientific method that fed the optimism. The Philosophes held that, “Reason and science… would make people more humane and happy.”[29] Another force that fostered an air of optimism was the increasing freedom of thought that was expressed in the constant flow of publications on formerly forbidden topics.[30] Contrary to Grenz’s characterization, Spock of the original Star Trek was not the “ideal Enlightenment man, completely rational and without emotion.”[31] Rather, Spock was what the twentieth century public thought of as the ideal scientist, which is precisely the part that he played in the series. Contemporary culture, at least until the 1960’s, thought of the Modern scientist as the dispassionate, objective observer. But, even though this “ideal” may have been part of the Enlightenment ideal, the so-called Modern scientist was not the only kind of “Enlightenment man,” as current scholarship now realizes.

Grenz on Postmodernism

Grenz has misrepresented Modernism and the Enlightenment by touting the popular characterization of the period, a characterization that is almost universally rejected — or at least radically modified — among current historians of the age. Since Grenz claims that an understanding of Modernism is requisite for an understanding of Postmodernism, the reader must suspect that Grenz’s misrepresentation of Modernism may have led him equally to a distorted understanding of Postmodernism.

The problem that arises from misunderstanding Modernism is the tendency to confuse what is actually absolute with what is merely Modern. David Griffin describes Postmodernism as “a diffuse sentiment rather than . . . any common set of doctrines.”[32] Griffin goes on to point out that this sentiment believes “that humanity can and must go beyond the modern.”[33] Consequently, to the degree that someone confuses what constitutes the modern with what is timeless and universal, to that degree there is a tendency to attempt to go beyond what cannot be surpassed. If absolute truth and objectivity are merely the products of Modernism, then they may be subject to criticism by Postmodernism — Postmodernism is supposed to “go beyond” that which is a product of Modernism. But reason, objectivity, certainty, and the accessibility of knowledge are not merely products of the Enlightenment. Absolute truth and objectivity transcend any age or movement. What is distinctively Modern is the notion that mathematico-experimental natural science is the methodology by which one arrives at truth and progress. It is particularly the exclusiveness of the scientific method as constituting the nature of reason that is peculiar to the Enlightenment. It is the confining of reason and objectivity specifically to this particular brand of scientific reason and scientific objectivity that the philosophes supposed would establish the Enlightened world. When scientific reason and scientific objectivity are challenged by such notions as the theory-ladenness of observation, or problem of induction (at least the way Hume and the Nominalists understand induction), then scientific reason and objectivity become suspect. But if it is supposed that the mathematico-experimental reason and objectivity of science are equivalent to reason and objectivity tout court, the rejection of the one is taken to be the rejection of the other. Since by the time the Enlightenment is in full swing, the realistic metaphysics of the Scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages has been rejected, the rejection of scientific reason and objectivity leaves no other place to go to ground truth and knowledge. The only avenue that is left open is a kind of relativism that allows everyone’s truth to be his truth, and to allow conflicting and even contradictory “truths” to coexist. By confusing Modernism’s version of reason and objectivity with reason and objectivity in toto, postmodern theorists believe they can jettison or go beyond these absolutes.

Because the philosophes of the Enlightenment were promoting only one particular brand of these absolutes — mathematico-experimental natural science — as if it were the whole of what reason and objectivity are, when Postmodernism rejects the Enlightenment’s version of reason and objectivity, one concludes that reason and objectivity themselves have been jettisoned — after all, they are merely products of the Enlightenment (at least that is what they think).

Not only has Grenz misunderstood Modernism, but the whole postmodern movement seems to be guilty of misrepresenting the Enlightenment project, perhaps purposefully. Grenz recognizes, at least to some degree, the role of science in Modernism. He says, “Postmodernism likewise entails a rejection of the emphasis on rational discovery through the scientific method, which provided the intellectual foundation for the modern attempt to construct a better world.”[34] But he mistakenly assumes that the scientific method was only one aspect of the broader focus of the Enlightenment on reason and objectivity as absolutes. Because he thinks of reason and objectivity as products of the Enlightenment, when Grenz asserts, “At its foundation, then, the postmodern outlook is antimodern,”[35] he assumes that reason and objectivity per se constitute the sum of the “modern.” Consequently, Postmodernism is a rejection of reason and objectivity per se rather than a rejection of scientific reason and scientific objectivity particularly. By labeling reason and objectivity as “Modern,” it is easy to demonize these absolutes. Anyone, then, who attempts to use reason and objectivity to combat Postmodernism is labeled “modern” and ostracized for reverting to modernism.

Another misunderstanding of the Enlightenment is important to consider. Stephen Hicks points out, “The Enlightenment re-shaped the entire world, and postmodernism hopes to do the same.”[36] However, there seems to be a fundamental difference in the nature of the re-shaping between the two movements. The Enlightenment re-shaped the world in a direction that it was steadily moving. Modern experimental science had already begun to make progress in the 12th and 13th centuries with the work of Robert Grosseteste (1170–1253) at Oxford, long before it became the favored methodology of the Enlightenment.[37] The adoption of a mathematical-scientific methodology was not contrary to the direction culture was moving. The Enlightenment was more a case of the intellectuals coming to realize the methodologies that were already operative, analogous to someone noticing his own eyeball rather than simply using it, and consciously developing and promoting these methodologies perhaps to the detriment of others that may have been operative but whose impact was less obvious.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, is attempting to re-shape culture by pushing it in a direction that it is not naturally moving. The professional scientists by and large are not impacted by the musings of Thomas Kuhn or Paul Feyerabend. The professional scientists continue to conduct experiments and publish findings as they have been since before and during the Enlightenment. Professional historians have not ceased writing histories or investigating the past simply because the postmodernist claims there is no objective history. The discipline least impacted by the postmodern ravings is philosophy. Philosophers seem to have no patience with the blatant relativism and self- contradictory rants of Postmodernism. As far as academia is concerned, the impact of Postmodernism is principally felt in departments of literature and sociology. Hicks makes a similar observation in the form of a question: “Why is it, for example, that [postmodern] skeptical and relativistic arguments . . . have power in the humanities but not in the sciences?”[38] Contrary to Grenz, Postmodernism is not a major force in academia outside the humanities. Unfortunately, many Christians have bought into the rhetoric of Postmodernism and have exaggerated its influence in our culture. As William Lane Craig points out:

“We do not, in fact, live in postmodern times… Indeed, if he [Paul D. Feinberg] is correct in his contention that postmodernism is unlivable – and I think that he is – then there can be no postmodern society. Rather we live in post-Christian times, and what has replaced Christianity is not postmodernism but rather what has been aptly called ‘the new absolutism.’ Today the absolute values of openness and tolerance are cherished and even demanded. Nor do most people, including academics, think that there is no objective truth. No one uses a postmodernist hermeneutic when reading the label of a medicine bottle. Theologians tend to think that postmodern pluralism and relativism are all the rage, when in fact such thinking is largely confined to the literature, social sciences, and religious studies departments at universities.”[39]

Grenz’s comparison between Modern and postmodern architecture provides a good example of the misunderstanding that seems to be so common among so-called postmoderns. Grenz asserts, “Postmodern architecture was born out of a rejection of the principles of the predominate modernist architecture of the twentieth century.”[40] However, a point that seems to escape Grenz and most others who advocate Postmodernism is the fact that in architecture there are some constants that cannot be changed even in Postmodernism’s rejection of modernist architecture, namely, the unchangeable factors of stress, weight, strength of materials, gravitation, forces of nature, etc., that must be taken into consideration in order for a building actually to stand and not kill its inhabitants. So, even though Postmodernism can reject the principles of modernist design, it cannot reject the unchanging factors of good engineering principles. The engineering principles are comparable to the philosophical absolutes of reason and objectivity. Although one may reject certain aspirations and goals and assumptions of Modernism, even the postmodernist cannot ignore the principles of reason and objectivity, without which their own claims would be unintelligible and incommunicable.

Another example that Grenz uses is the postmodern artist:

“Postmodern artists seek to challenge the modernist focus on the stylistic integrity of the individual work and undermine what they see as the modernist “cult” of the individual artist. They seek ways of purposely denying the singleness of works of art. Through methods such as obvious confiscation, quotation, excerption (sic), accumulation, and repetition of already existing images, they attack the “fiction” of the creating subject. An example of this radical postmodern critique can be found in the work of the photographic artist Sherrie Levine. For one exhibition, Levine rephotographed well-known artistic photographs of Walker Evans and Edward Weston and presented them as her own. Her act of art piracy was so obvious that she could not be charged with simple plagiarism. Her goal was not to fool anyone into believing that someone else’s work was her own but rather to call into question the idea of a distinction between an “original work” and its public reproduction.”[41]

Grenz fails to realize that in order to understand the significance of Lavine’s work, one must rely on the supposed outmoded modernist notion of a single artist. It is only with the realization that her’s is a “rephotographing” and not the original work of the individuals that the supposedly “postmodern” rejection becomes communicable. But, if it is necessary to rely on the “individual- artist” notion to make the rejection of this notion intelligible, then how much of a rejection is it?

The Postmodern World View

To respond to the incessant barrage of self-defeating claims of postmoderns, at least the way Grenz presents their claims, would require too much time and space. There is one overarching claim of Postmodernism that underlies all the others, and that is the notion of the world being a “multi-” rather than “uni-verse.”

The End of the “World”

Grenz asserts that Postmodernism signals “the end of the objective world of the Enlightenment project.”[42] Grenz characterizes the Modern perspective as a world view that “assumes that reality is ordered and that human reason is capable of discerning this order as it is manifested in the laws of nature.”[43] By contrast, the postmodern world, Grenz says, “has abandoned the notion of an objective world.”[44]

In its place, the postmodern perspective claims that reality is a multi-verse rather than a uni- verse. This multiverse is the result of what Grenz calls a “constructivist” outlook.[45] Rather than simply encountering a world out there that is intelligible to the human mind and imposing its structure upon the observer, the postmodernist rejects this approach and argues that “we do not simply encounter a world that is ‘out there’ but rather that we construct the world using concepts we bring to it.”[46] The postmodernist contends that we do not have a “fixed vantage point beyond our own structuring of the world from which to gain a purely objective view of whatever reality may be out there.”[47] This constructivist view is predicated on the nature of culture and language. Diverse cultures and diverse language communities constitute diverse ways of knowing the world. According to Grenz, “The Enlightenment realist view also assumes that a simple, one-to-one relationship exists between the bits of language we use to describe the world and the bits of the world we seek to know. Twentieth-century linguists argue that this is a faulty assumption. We do not simply match bits of language to bits of the world, they say, nor does any given language provide an accurate ‘map’ of the world. Languages are human social conventions that map the world in a variety of ways, depending on the context in which we are speaking.”[48]

Grenz enumerates two foundational assumptions of Postmodernism’s notion of knowledge: “(1) postmoderns view all explanations of reality as constructions that are useful but not objectively true, and (2) postmoderns deny that we have the ability to step outside our constructions of reality” (43). As a result of this approach, postmodernists, according to Grenz, “have adopted a pluralistic view of knowledge. Having rejected the notion of a single objective world as such and, indeed, any other single basis on which to judge the validity of thought and knowledge, they have demonstrated a willingness to allow competing and seemingly conflicting constructions to exist side by side.”[49] Instead of there being a single way of knowing, a uni-verse of knowing, so to speak, there is rather a multiverse of knowledges.

That these statements are self-defeating should be obvious. Apparently not. (1) To say that all explanations of reality are constructions that are useful but not objectively true is to construct an explanation of reality that purports to be objectively true about all other constructions of reality. (2) If it is not possible to step outside our constructions of reality, then this statement is simply one construction of reality of that is not objectively true. For postmodernists to claim that we cannot step outside our constructions of reality purports to step outside their constructions of reality in order to know that no one can step outside his construction of reality. Finally, “Having rejected the notion of a single objective world as such and, indeed, any other single basis on which to judge the validity of thought and knowledge” postmodernists have eliminated the possibility of any knowledge and any truth. Consequently, no one can know what postmodernists mean, not even the postmodernist, and no one can know that whether what they are assertion is valid. Also, postmodernists claim to “allow competing and seemingly conflicting constructions to exist side by side,” but they do not allow the construction that conflicting constructions cannot exist side by side to exist side by side with postmodernism. Postmodern notions of knowledge are self-defeating and indefensible.

The End of “Metanarratives”

Lyotard describes a metanarrative as a grand discourse that assumes to provide a universal explanation of reality and having universal validity and authority. He presents this notion by characterizing what he takes to have been the relation between modern science and what science has taken to be myths or fables:

“Science is originally in conflict with narratives. By its own criteria, most of these turn out to be fables. But, insofar as it is not reduced to stating useful regularities and that it seeks the truth, it must legitimize its rules of the game. It is then that it holds a discourse of legitimation on its own statute, which was called philosophy. When this metadiscourse makes explicit use of this or that great narrative, such as the dialectic of the Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the reasonable or working subject, the development of wealth, we decide to call “modern” science which refers to it to legitimize itself.”[50]

Stuart Sim provides a helpful clarifying explanation of the notion of metanarrative, or grand narrative:

“Grand narrative Jean-Francois Lyotard described as grand narratives theories which claim to provide universal explanations and trade on the authority this gives them. An example would be Marxism, which processes all human history and social behaviour through its theory of dialectical materialism. According to dialectical materialism all human history has been the history of class struggle, and it denies the validity of all other explanations, laying sole claim to the truth. The ultimate goal of human history is the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, where class struggle has been eliminated for the common good and individuals are no longer exploited. Most religions offer a similarly all-embracing explanation of human history to fit their particular schemes. Lyotard’s contention is that such schemes are implicitly authoritarian, and that by the late twentieth century they have lost all claim to authority over individual behaviour. It is part of living in a postmodern world that we no longer can rely on such grand narratives (or ‘metanarratives’), but must construct more tactically oriented ‘little narratives’ instead if we wish to stand up against authoritarianism. In Lyotard’s view, we have now seen through grand narratives and realized that their claims to authority are false and unsustainable.”[51]

Grenz characterizes the Modern view as “free of the premodern dependency on myths and stories to explain the world. The moderns believed that they were able to see the world as it really is.”[52] Of course, Grenz claims to see what moderns believed as it really was. By contrast, Grenz characterizes postmoderns as understanding the myths as narratives: [postmodernists] contend that a narrative exercises a force apart from argumentation and proof and, in fact, that it provides the principal means by which every community legitimates itself.”[53] — Is that how it “really is”? — According to Grenz, the modernists claimed to have replaced the premodern myths with a rational explanation of the world. Postmodernists assert that the modernist is merely propagating his own myth/narrative. According to Grenz, “The scientific method that gave birth to modernity, they say, was born out of an interpretation of the Christian narrative, which speaks of a rational God who is the creator of, and sovereign over, the universe. The modern era viewed itself as the embodiment of a narrative of progress — a myth that legitimated technological invention and economic development as the means of creating a better world for all human beings.”[54]

In opposition to this the postmodernist “outlook entails the end of the appeal to any central legitimating myth whatsoever. Not only have all the reigning master narratives lost their credibility, but the idea of a grand narrative is itself no longer credible. The postmodern era is a period in

which everything is ‘delegitimized.’ Consequently, the postmodern outlook demands an attack on any claimant to universality — it demands, in fact, a ‘war on totality.’”[55] Rather than there being a single narrative, a uni-narrative, there is, according to the postmodernist, a multi-verse of conflicting narratives, each having validity in its own community.

Once again the self-defeating is characteristic of postmodern beliefs. For Postmodernism to entail “the end of the appeal to any central legitimating myth whatsoever” is merely to replace the modernist central legitimating myth with their own central legitimating myth. If “everything is ‘delegitimized,’” then so is Postmodernism, in which everything else is delegitimized except Postmodernism. One wonders if the postmodernists are demanding a total war on totality. Of course postmoderns demand a war on everyone else’s totality except their own. Despite the protests that Postmodernism is nihilistic relativism, these kinds of statements show that is in fact is.

We can then take Lyotard’s characterization, and with a few changes, show that Postmodernism is just as much a metanarrative or grand narrative as what it purports to reject:

“Little narratives[56] have originally been in conflict with metanarratives. By their own criteria, most of these turn out to be authoritarian. But, insofar as they are not reduced to stating their own discourses and that they seek the truth, they must legitimize their rules of the game. It is then that they hold a discourse of legitimation on their own statute, which was called postmodernism. When this discourse makes explicit use of this or that little narrative, we decide to call “postmodern” which refers to it to legitimize itself.”

The End of “Science”

Grenz presents the postmodern view of Enlightenment science primarily through the writings of Lyotard. According to Grenz, “Lyotard defines the postmodern condition as the end of the grand narrative. As we have seen, his observation carries important implications for all aspects of human society and for our understanding of knowledge. But Lyotard’s chief concern is with that dimension which has exerted a more significant formative influence than any other in the modern era — the scientific enterprise. Postmodernism, he says, marks the end of science.”[57] According to Grenz, Lyotard has demonstrated that the grand metanarrative of modernist science has splintered into a “cluster of ill-defined and constantly shifting areas of inquiry. Each of these specialities boasts its own ‘language game’ (method or procedure of inquiry) and conducts its work without recourse to a universal scientific ‘metalanguage’ that links the sciences and provides an external court of appeal as well as a set of authoritative methodological principles.”[58]

Lyotard is widely regarded as the definitive postmodern theorist. He defines “Postmodern” as “incredulity toward metanarratives.”[59] A metanarrative would be a second order explanation. The example he uses is the legitimation of the rules of science by an appeal to philosophy. In this instance, philosophy would be the metanarrative designed to legitimate the rules of science. The ultimate metanarrative would be a grand narrative that is designed to legitimate or explain life, the world, and reality. The grand metanarrative has been dispersed into a cacophony of incommensurable narratives after the pattern of language games. According to Lyotard, postmodern knowledge “refines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable.”[60]

In science as in the other areas discussed, the postmodern influence has issued in a multi- verse rather than a uni-verse of scientific inquiry. According to Grenz, there is a constructivist multi- verse world, rather than the uni-verse of an objectively experienced world. There is a multi-verse of equally legitimate narratives, rather than one uni-versal narrative or meta-narrative. And there is no longer one uni-versal science, but a multi-verse of scientific language games. It seems, however, to have escaped Grenz’s notice that each one of these claims is as much a uni-versal claim as the claims they seek to deny. Instead of a universal objective reality, there is only the reality that Postmodernism labels as constructivist. Any non-constructivist notion is eliminated. Only a constructivist view is allowed. But, this is a uni-versal notion that is just as exclusive. Instead of a single narrative or meta- narrative that appeals to a single myth, Postmodernism allows only a multi-verse of equally legitimate narratives. But, a narrative that claims to be the narrative is excluded. So, Postmodernism’s multi-verse is the meta-narrative that explains the existence of all narratives and thereby is just as exclusive as the narrative it attempts to transcend. Only Postmodernism’s view of the world is the legitimate one. The same is true of science. Only Postmodernism’s view of the sciences as separate language games is allowed to be legitimate.

Additionally, Lyotard’s evaluation of science has come under serious attack by Alan Sokal, professor of mathematics at University College London and professor of physics at New York University.[61] Sokal explains how in his discussions of scientific knowledge, Lyotard “mixes together the terminology of . . . distinct branches of physics . . . in a completely arbitrary way.”[62] Sokal critiqued an often quoted passage in Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition, which is included here so as to clarify the abuse of science of which Lyotard and other postmodern intellectuals are guilty.

The bottom line is that Lyotard provides no argument to support his philosophical conclusions:

“The conclusion we can draw from this research (and much more not mentioned here) is that the continuous differentiable function 161 is losing its preeminence as a paradigm of knowledge and prediction. postmodern science-by concerning itself with such things as undecidables, the limits of precise control, conflicts characterized by incomplete information, “fracta,” catastrophes, and pragmatic paradoxes-is theorizing its own evolution as discontinuous, catastrophic, nonrectifiable, and paradoxical. It is changing the meaning of the word knowledge, while expressing how such a change can take place. It is producing not the known, but the unknown. And it suggests a model of legitimation that has nothing to do with maximized performance, but has as its basis difference understood as paralogy.” (Lyotard 1984, p. 60)

Since this paragraph is frequently quoted, let us examine it closely. Lyotard has here thrown together at least six distinct branches of mathematics and physics, which are conceptually quite distant from one another. Moreover, he has confused the introduction of nondifferentiable (or even discontinuous) functions in scientific models with a so-called “discontinuous” or “paradoxical” evolution of science itself. The theories cited by Lyotard of course produce new knowledge, but they do so without changing the meaning of the word. A fortiori, what they produce is known, not unknown (except in the trivial sense that new discoveries open up new problems). Finally, the “model of legitimation” remains the comparison of theories with observations and experiments, not “difference understood as paralogy” (whatever this may mean).[63]

Lyotard’s conception of a scientific revolution, the topic of Grenz’s next chapter, is based on an abuse of science for the purposes of promoting his agenda. The pretensions of Lyotard and other prominent postmodern “intellectuals to offer profound thoughts on complicated subjects that they understand, at best, on the level of popularizations,”[64] have been exposed by Sokal and Bricmont in their book, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science.

The End of “Foundationalism”

Another target of postmodern thinking is foundationalism.

“One of the best ways of describing postmodernism as a philosophical movement would be as a form of scepticism – scepticism about authority, received wisdom, cultural and political norms, etc.– and that puts it into a long-running tradition in Western thought that stretches back to classical Greek philosophy. Scepticism is an essentially negative form of philosophy, which sets out to undermine other philosophical theories claiming to be in possession of ultimate truth, or of criteria for determining what counts as ultimate truth. The technical term to describe such a style of philosophy is ‘antifoundational’ Anti-foundationalists dispute the validity of the foundations of discourse, asking such questions as ‘What guarantees the truth of your foundation (that is, starting point) in its turn?’”[65]

Skepticism is not something new. Aristotle referred to Cratylus who, having rejected the possibility of making true statements, was reduced simply to moving his finger:

“And further, observing that all this indeterminate substance is in motion, and that no true predication can be made of that which changes, they supposed that it is impossible to make any true statement about that which is in all ways and entirely changeable. For it was from this supposition that there blossomed forth the most extreme view of those which we have mentioned, that of the professed followers of Heraclitus, and such as Cratylus held, who ended by thinking that one need not say anything, and only moved his finger; and who criticized Heraclitus for saying that one cannot enter the same river twice, for he himself held that it cannot be done even once.”[66]

Commenting on this passage from Aristotle, Aquinas specifically points out that Cratylus held this position because he believed that the truth of his statement would pass away before he finished saying it:

“For from this assumption or opinion there sprouted “the most serious or extreme” opinoin of the philosophers of whom we have spoken, i.e., the opinion which is found to be the most serious or extreme in this class. And this is the one which he called “Heraclitizing,” i.e., following the opinion of Heraclitus, or the opinion of those who were disciples of Heraclitus, according to another text, or of those who professed to follow the opinion of Heraclitus, who claimed that all things are in motion and consequently that nothing is definitely true. This opinion also was maintained by Cratylus, who finally arrived at such a pitch of madness that he thought that he should not express anything in words, but in order to express what he wanted he would only move his finger. He did this because he believed that the truth of the thing which he wanted to express would pass away before he had finished speaking.”[67]

If Postmodernism can be characterized as antifoundationalist, then one must know what foundationalism is against which postmodernists are “anti.” Foundationalism has been defined in many ways. According to Downing,

“Some people define foundationalism as the existence of indubitable, universal axioms that all intellectually honest individuals — no matter when and where they live — can perceive apart from empirical proof. Derrida called this kind of foundationalism “a metaphysics of presence”: certain foundational truths are so fully apparent, so “present” to the consciousness of any perceiver, that they provide knowledge no thinking person would question. This kind of truth does not need to be transmitted through scientific discovery, philosophic formulation or divine revelation. It is self-evident. In contrast, others define foundationalism as the commitment to foundational beliefs on which people build a worldview that explains reality. They believe their perceptions about the world to be universally true. Unlike the first group, these foundationalists make no claims about “invincible certainty.”[68]

Following these brief observations, Downing makes some remarks about Augustine’s notion of faith seeking understanding, and then she jumps to the early modern philosophers:

“With the demise of medieval assumptions about the centrality of belief, however, early modem philosophers reasserted ancient pagan certainty about autonomous reason. Aristotle’s assumption that “mental experiences . . . are the same for all” was echoed not only in Descartes’s cogito, which eliminated possibilities of doubt, but also in Kant’s coin-machine mind, which posited uniform categories of perception for all.”[69]

Downing’s assertions bear out the problem with individuals who, because they have an advanced degree in some area, believe they have the foundation upon which to pontificate about philosophy. Having completely ignored Aquinas, Downing demonstrates a total lack of understanding of Aristotle’s statement. Aristotle does not use the expression “mental experiences” in the opening words of his Περί Ερμηνείας. Aristotle refers to the “passions of the soul” (πάθηματα της ψυχής, pathēmata tēs psuchēs):

16a 1 First we must establish what a name is and what a verb is; then what negation is and affirmation, and the enunciation and speech.

16a 3 Now those that are in vocal sound are signs of passions in the soul, and those that are written are signs of those in vocal sound.

16a 5 And just as letters are not the same for all men so neither are vocal sounds the same;

16a 6 but the passions of the soul [πάθηματα της ψυχής, pathēmata tēs psuchēs], of which vocal sounds are the first signs, are the same for all; and the things of which passions of the soul are likenesses are also the same.

16a 8 This has been discussed, however, in our study of the soul for it belongs to another subject of inquiry.[70]

The reason the passions of the soul are the same for everyone is because the passions of the soul are the forms of extra-mental reality that have come to exist in the mind of the knower. Aristotle refers to them as ‘passions’ because they are received passively by the mind. Not understanding Aristotle’s metaphysics or his psychology, Downing completely misrepresents Aristotle’s statement and the relation, or lack thereof, to Descartes’ cogito and Kant’s categories. Descartes bifurcated the mind from the world, and Kant declared that the world cannot be known as it is in itself. Both of these were diametrically opposed to Aristotle’s position.

Robert C. Greer, another Christian who, holding a Ph.D. in systematic theology, attempts to do philosophy. He gives the following account of foundationalism:

“In its broadest sense, foundationalism is merely the acknowledgement of the seemingly obvious reality that not all beliefs we hold are on the same level. Rather, some beliefs anchor others. That is, many of our beliefs receive their support from other beliefs that are more basic or foundational. Defined in this manner, nearly every thinker is in some sense a foundationalist. In philosophical circles, however, foundationalism refers to a much stronger epistemological stance than this observation about how beliefs intersect. At the heart of the foundationalist agenda is the desire to overcome the uncertainty generated by our human propensity to error and the inevitable disagreements that follow. Foundationalists are convinced that the only way to solve this problem is to find some means of grounding the entire edifice of human knowledge on invincible certainty. In its quest of invincible certainty, the foundationalist agenda operates on the premise of three maxims. First, foundationalism asserts the existence of two classes of truth: immediate and mediate truths. Immediate truths are self-justifiable, requiring no further justification, while the justification of mediate truths is predicated upon more foundational truths. Second, foundationalism asserts that a finite linear relationship between immediate and mediate truth exists; that is, mediate truths are not part of an infinite linear regression nor a circular regression, but rather are part of a finite linear regression that is anchored in immediate truths. Third, when coupled with the observation that the human mind has been characterized as the “turn to the subject,” foundationalism asserts that the human mind is capable of discerning mediate from immediate truths. Stanley Grenz and John Franke explain that for the foundationalist, immediate truths are “supposedly universal, context-free, and available — at least theoretically — to any rational person.” Being universal and context-free, these truths stand apart from culture and the historical moment and thereby establish the standards from which all cultures, regardless of their historical context, are measured. Moreover, being context-free, these truths can be articulated in the form of abstracted principles.”[71]

As far as his explanation goes, it applies only to Cartesian, deductive foundationalism. Because Greer has an advanced degree in systematic theology, he apparently believes he is equipped to discuss these philosophical issues. However, as with Downing, Greer seems completely unaware of Aquinas’ foundationalism to which not one of Greer’s explanations applies.

Greer’s treatment of foundationalism is taken, almost verbatim, from the book, Beyond Foundationalism, by Stanley Grenz and John Franke. Grenz and Franke make the following observations about foundationalism:

“Actually, there are three primary aspects to the foundationalist picture of knowledge: the basic or immediate beliefs (or first principles), which form the bedrock undergirding everything else we are justified in believing; the mediate or nonbasic beliefs we derived from these; and the basing relation, that is, the connection between our basic beliefs (or first principles) and our nonbasic beliefs that specifies how the epistemic certainty of basic beliefs can be transferred to nonbasic beliefs. Strong foundationalists demand that the foundations of human knowledge be unshakably certain and assert that the only way this certitude can be transferred to nonbasic beliefs is by the ordinary logical relations of either deduction (such as deducing other truths from innate ideas [e.g., Descartes]) or induction (such as deriving truths from sense impressions caused by the material world [e.g., Locke]).”[72]

Neither Grenz nor Franke are philosophers, and their remarks about foundationalism completely ignore Aquinas’ foundationalism. In fact, Grenz and Franke refer to Aquinas in only two places neither of which considers Aquinas’ philosophical foundation.

First, in Aquinas, and what has come to be designated Moderate Realism, first principles are not “basic or immediate beliefs.” First principles are self-evident, undeniable principles of thought and being. For example, one first principle is the law of non-contradiction, or referred to also as the law of contradiction. This law states, a truth-claim cannot be both true and false in the same sense. This first principle of thought is grounded in the first principle of being: A thing cannot both be and not be in the same sense. This is not a ‘belief.’ It is a principle that is self-evident and undeniable. In opposition to those who claimed that God’s existence is self-evident, Aquinas points out that there are two ways in which something is self-evident.

“In part, however, the above opinion comes about because of a failure to distinguish between that which is self-evident in an absolute sense and that which is self-evident in relation to us. For assuredly that God exists is, absolutely speaking, self-evident, since what God is is His own being. Yet, because we are not able to conceive in our minds that which God is, that God exists remains unknown in relation to us. So, too, that every whole is greater than its part is, absolutely speaking, self-evident; but it would necessarily be unknown to one who could not conceive the nature of a whole.”[73]

Some things are self-evident in themselves and also to us. That a whole is greater than any one of its parts is self-evident as soon as we know the meanings of the terms. However, that a whole is greater than any one of its parts is not self-evident to someone who does not understand the meanings of the terms. So, a proposition can be self-evident in itself, but not to a child who does not understand the terms of the proposition.

Second, non-basic beliefs are not necessarily “derived” from first principles. Although some principles are derived deductively from self-evident first principles, such as the principles of geometry that are deduced from the first principles of geometry, beliefs can be known to be true without their being derived from first principles. For example, that God exists is not derived from first principles. It is a conclusion of an argument, or it is a belief based on authority.

Third, foundationalism does not necessarily demand that the only way certitude can be transferred to nonbasic beliefs is by either deduction or induction. Aquinas’ brand of foundationalism is not deductivist. Rather, it is re-ductivist. That is, any proposition must be reducible to first principles. A proposition that contradicts any self-evident first principle of thought or being cannot be true. However, simply because a proposition is not, for example, self-contradictory does not guarantee that it is true. A proposition can be falsified in many ways. But a proposition that violates any self-evident first principle of thought or being cannot be true. So, the arguments against foundationalism apply to the Cartesian deductivist foundationalism, but not to Aquinas’ brand of re- ductivist foundationalism. The end of foundationalism is only the rightful end of deductivist foundationalism.

The End of “Absolute Truth”

It seems characteristic of those who are not trained in philosophy not to be able to recognize their own self-defeating assertions. For example, Crystal Downing asserts, “. . . most postmodernists do not deny the existence of facts behind the doors of perception — facts that are better recognized and understood when one has more background knowledge . . . However, postmodernists would attest that even facts can be affected by ‘positionality’ and ‘discourse’: one’s position or placement in society and the language that society generates.”[74] Downing makes this assertion as if it is a fact that is the same from every position and in every discourse. Even if it were the case that a fact is affected by position and discourse, how could this be known? If one’s perception of a fact is always affected by position and discourse, then it is not possible to make a distinction between a fact qua fact and the positional and discourse perception of it. Additionally, if one’s perception of a fact is affected by his or her positionality and discourse, then it would not be possible to know the fact as it is perceived by others in other positions and discourses. This kind of claim is indefensible, regardless of one’s position or discourse.

Downing, who holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, was at one time Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, and more recently functioned as Co-Director of the Marion E. Wade Center and co-holder of the Marion E. Wade Chair in Christian Thought at Wheaton College. One not trained in philosophy might be excused for not being able to recognize a self-defeating assertion. But then one not trained in philosophy should perhaps not presume to discuss these philosophical issues.

Downing is also not familiar in the history of philosophy:

“As we have seen, Enlightenment modernists assumed that universal truth could be ascertained by anyone, anywhere, through an intelligent exercise of unbiased reason. Because of this assumption, many concluded that people of non-European cultures explained reality oddly because their reasoning abilities were only “primitive.” The modernist remedy, of course, became “the white man’s burden”: to educate primitives in European thought processes so that they could “logically” discover the truth on their own. (And as we have seen, one of the “truths” modernists “discovered” was that Christians perceived reality in primitive ways.) Scholars in the social sciences challenged such Enlightenment assumptions as early as the 1930s. Rather than seeing “primitive” peoples as deficient in their reasoning abilities, anthropologists suggested that natives of non-European cultures both perceived and processed reality differently from Europeans. The mode of reasoning that one culture considered “logical” might be considered “illogical” in another. In 1937, E. E. Evans-Pritchard published his research on the Azande, concluding that these Sudanese people employ a rationality at variance with Western forms of reasoning. Four years later, Benjamin Whorf’s study of Hopi Indians in America argued that the very language in which a native speaks affects the way she reasons. In other words, rather than endorsing an evolutionary view of culture in which so- called primitive tribes have yet to evolve “authentic” rationality, these anthropologists were arguing for relative rationalities — decades before the word poststructuralism pursed the lips of postmodern theorists.”[75]

That universal truth can be ascertained by anyone, anywhere, through an intelligent exercise of unbiased reason has been a commonly defended view of knowledge throughout the history of philosophy. That universal truth can be ascertained by anyone, anywhere, through an intelligent exercise of unbiased reason is not a characteristic that distinguished Enlightenment thinking from previous ages. In fact, as we have discussed above, historians of the Enlightenment have come to discover that there were many conflicting views about truth and reason. There was not one monolithic notion. Not being familiar with philosophy or the history of philosophy, Downing has bought into the popular level characterization.

It is always problematic to respond when someone mixes several notions together as if they are inseparably related. First, it is not the case that universal truth can be obtained only through “unbiased reason.” Universal truth can be obtained simply through the exercise of reason. That a thing cannot both be and not be is not obtained through “unbiased” reason, but simply through reason. The bias enters into at the point of inference and/or interpretation. Additionally, Downing makes this statement as if it is based on her own unbiased reason.

Second, it does not follow that because one’s reasoning abilities are different that this cannot be because their reasoning abilities are deficient. The reasoning abilities of American adolescents are often to some degree deficient, not merely different, else there would be no reason to teach courses in critical thinking or logic. In fact, that Downing cannot recognize the self-defeating nature of some of her arguments indicates that perhaps her own reasoning abilities need enhancement.

Third, the arguments from scholars in the social sciences are also evidence of deficient reasoning abilities. The linguistic relativism of Worf and others has been demonstrated to be false.

As John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, has pointed out;

“Language does not shape thought in the way that one might reasonably suppose, nor do cultural patterns shape the way language is structured in the way that one might reasonably suppose. Rather, the way a language is structured is a fortuitously ingrown capacity. It is a conglomeration of densely interacting subsystems, wielded at great speed below the level of consciousness, endlessly morphing into new sounds and structures due to wear and tear and accreted misinterpretations, such that one day what was once Latin is now French and Portuguese… However, the perception capacity itself is the same regardless of the language. To be sure, a feeler, hooked into a certain patch of perception, enhances the speaker’s sensitivity to the relevant phenomenon, and this book in no way denies the solid evidence for that. Yet the experiments in question have shown us that the enhancement qualifies as a passing flicker, that only painstaking experiment can reveal, in no way creating a different way of seeing the world along the lines that a von Humboldt, von Treitschke, or anyone else would propose.”[76]

As Aristotle said, the passions of the soul are the same for all. What this means is that the reality that is perceived by one individual is the same reality that any other live person, who does not suffer from some disability in his or her apparatus, perceives. In fact, Downing also assumes this fact. She assumes that her own declarations can be objectively known by her readers, and she presents her statements as matters of fact that are the same for everyone regardless of position or discourse.

Again that Downing is not trained in philosophy is exposed by such statements as the following: “Around the same time, philosophers started challenging the logical positivism of high modernism: the philosophy positing that only language about scientifically verifiable facts can be considered ‘true.’”[77] In fact, the verification principle of Logical Positivism was not about verifying “facts” scientifically. It was about propositions that must be empirically verifiable, else they were considered meaningless. Logical positivism was a limited movement that perished on the verification principle, which itself could not be empirically verified.

Downing delves into a discussion of Wittgenstein’s notion of Language Games without being able to see that Wittgenstein presents his notion of language games as if his presentation transcends all language games and is true for all language games tout court. Additionally, Wittgenstein’s notion of language games is arbitrary. He declares that there is no single, universal concept that can apply univocally to all games. He argues that one cannot say all games involve winning and losing since there are some games for which there is no winner or loser. The example he gives is a person throwing a ball against a wall. This is a game for which there is no winner or loser. But this characterization of games is arbitrary. Who declared that throwing a ball against a wall is a game? We may call it a game, but this is only an analogical predication. All games involve winning and losing. Any other activity that resembles a game, but does not involve winning and losing, is considered a game only analogically. And yet there is a sense in which throwing a ball against the wall can involve winning and losing. The thrower is pitting his ability to anticipate the trajectory of the moving ball so that he is able successfully to catch it. If he misses, he loses. If he catches it, he wins.

And, as McWhorter goes on to point out,

“Culture can affect how that language is used and make it label certain things that the culture values most in a fashion none would consider mysterious. However, culture cannot affect anything as integral to the language as how it is built in its details. A language’s structure, and what random aspects of reality it happens to cover or not cover, do not correlate meaningfully with culture. Yes: language structure does not correlate meaningfully with culture. You don’t need to take my word for it. Just as Edward Sapir told us almost a century ago, “When it comes to linguistic form, Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of Assam.” The vocabulary is awkward today, but Sapir meant that the Macedonian language, related to Russian, is bristling with cases and conjugations just like Ancient Greek, while Chinese is built like various small languages spoken in South and Southeast Asia. Culture and language structure — that is, thought and language structure — do not match. That is a message perhaps unexpected from one of the figures who inspired Whorf, but there it is.”[78]

Apparently, Downing is not familiar with the history of her own field. However, Downing is not done yet.

“When one tower of Christian discourse sets itself up as the absolute truth overriding all other Christian denominations, it becomes like the Tower of Babel. What strikes me about the story in Genesis is the arrogance of the builders, who believed that their construction could reach God: [she includes a translation of Gen. 11:1–7] Though many people read this account as a primitive folktale explaining the myriad languages of the world, it gives much more honor to God if read not as divine worry over human power but as God’s response to the presumption that humans can attain a God’s-eye view of things. When Christians persecute Christians, whether through literal or figurative “firing,” they presume that their construction of language is the true one: the tower that reaches into the heavens, the tower that encompasses the mind of God. But in the Babel story God undermines such an effort, causing a plurality of languages, as though to say no one language can capture absolute truth.”[79]

Downing is oblivious to the fact that she is doing precisely what she condemns. She sets up her tower of discourse in order to override all other towers of discourse that are set up to override all other towers of discourse. And her interpretation of the Babel story completely misses the point. It is precisely because God wants us to have a God’s-eye view that he revealed Himself to us. The God’s-eye view that is the point of the Babel account is that man cannot be God. The problem with the efforts of these people was to construct a temple in which they could become gods by making a name for themselves and uniting all of humanity under their name. God wants us to have a God’s- eye view; His view. God wants us to view things His way. God wants us to do things His way.

Robert Greer, another author writing about Postmodernism and Christianity, refers to a radio host who was talking about how Postmodernism was “an enemy to the Christian faith and that was needed in the church was a resolute reaffirmation of absolute truth.” In response, Greer declared, “At no time during her talk did she give any attention to the problems related to absolute truth. She did not comment that absolute truth — as typically understood in Western culture — is a modernist construct and carries within it modernist baggage, much of which stands in opposition to and undermines the Christian faith.”[80] It is telling that Greer does not define or describe this “modernist construct.” In fact, the nature of truth has been defined and/or described in so many different ways throughout the history of the Enlightenment. Even if we consider only its so-called “modernist” instances, it would be impossible to give one single “modernist construct.” In neither The Blackwell Companion to the Enlightenment, nor in the Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment is there an entry on “truth.” The term ‘truth’ or ‘true’ does not even appear in the indexes of either text. Even the Encyclopedia of the Renaissance does not have an entry on truth, nor does the term ‘truth’ or ‘true’ appear in the index. This is either because the understanding of the nature of truth was so obvious during these times that it was not necessary to include a separate entry, or that the notion of truth was so diverse that the concept had to be dealt with as it fit within other topics. Either way, Greer has simply misrepresented the case.

Of course it is not even the case that the notion of absolute truth is a modernist construct. The question of absolute truth and relativism can be read about in the discussion between Protagoras and Socrates in Plato’s Theaetetus. Socrates’ first objection to Protagoras’ notion of the relativity of truth was the incoherence between Protagoras’ words and his actions. As Harvey Siegel explains,

“Protagoras is involved in the project of “overhauling and testing one another’s notions and opinions.” That is, he is engaged in the epistemological task of assessing the warrant and justification of knowledge-claims. However, his thesis undermines that very project, since if his thesis is right, then there is no chance of any thiesis failing a test of adequacy, or being judged unjustified or unwarranted, because the rival theses “of each and every one are right.” If knowledge is relative, then the task of judging claims to knowledge is pointless. If Protagoras’ thesis is right, it cannot be right, for it undermines the very notion of rightness. Protagorean relativism is thus self-defeating – if it is right, it cannot be right – and so is incoherent.”[81]

The dialogue between Protagoras and Socrates leads us into a statement made by Grenze. Grenz asserts, “Nor are postmoderns necessarily concerned to prove themselves ‘right’ and others ‘wrong.’ They believe that beliefs are ultimately a matter of social context, and hence they are likely to conclude, ‘What is right for us might not be right for you,’ and ‘What is wrong in our context might in your context be acceptable or even preferable.’”[82] Does this mean that postmoderns believe what is not right or wrong? Is it right that what is right for us might not be right for you? Is it wrong that what is wrong in our context might in your context be acceptable or even preferable? Grenz presents these notions as if they are the absolutely true notions to characterize Postmodernism, and that is it wrong to think otherwise about what postmoderns believe. What is particularly problematic for this way of thinking is that if it is true for me, then what the postmodernist is saying is that it is absolutely true that it is true for me. If it is true for me, then it is true for everyone that it is true for me. So, the claim that some things are true for me counts on absolute truth; it is absolutely true that it is true for me. Absolute truth is unavoidable.

There are in fact only two options. Either truth is absolute, or it is not. This is a case of the law of excluded middle: Either A or ~A, where ~ means “not” or “non.” If truth is not absolute, it is relative; it is relative to some context, it is relative to some person, some belief system, some perspective, some time, some culture, etc. So, if truth is relative, then it is absolutely true that truth is relative. Is it absolutely true that there is no absolute truth? Relativism is inevitably self-defeating. The skeptic is never skeptical of his skepticism.

The End of “Reason”

Many of those who write about the contrast between Modernism and Postmodernism confuse the Enlightenment’s notion of reason and the nature of truth. The Enlightenment institutionalized reason as the only judge of truth. But reason was not the nature of truth. Reason was the judge of what could be accepted as truth. As has been a leading view throughout the history of Western thought, from the Pre-Socratics to today, truth is a quality predicated of propositions, and a proposition is true if and only if it corresponds to reality. There have been many contenders. Many, especially in modern and postmodern times, have advocated a coherence view of truth.

J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig provide the following account of the coherence view: “According to the coherence theory, a belief (statement, proposition, etc.) is true if and only if it coheres well with the entire set of one’s beliefs, assuming that the set is itself a strongly coherent one. Thus, the truth or falsity of a belief is not a matter of its match with a real, external world. Rather, it is a function of the belief’s relationship with other beliefs within one’s web of beliefs. Key advocates have been Spinoza (1632–1677), Hegel (1770–1831) and Brand Blanshard (1892–1987).”[83] They go on to point out,

“Finally, the coherence theory fails in light of the phenomenological argument for the correspondence theory, as we saw in the case of Joe and Frank. That case, and countless examples of real human experience, teach us that we often bring individual propositions (Swinburne’s “Evolution of the Soul” is in the bookstore) and not entire systems of belief to reality to judge their truth value. We are often able to be directly aware of reality itself due to the intentionality of our mental states, and we are often able to step outside of our thoughts/be- liefs, so to speak, and compare them with their intentional objects in the external world. When this happens, we experience the truth or falsity of our beliefs. The correspondence theory makes sense of all of this, but the coherence theory fails on this score and, accordingly, should be rejected”[84]

So, the coherence theory cannot tell us if something is true. However, it can tell us that something is false. If a proposition coheres with other propositions in the system, this does not tell us that the proposition or the system is true, but it tells us only that it does not contradict other propositions in the system. However, it can alert us to the fact that a proposition is false by virtue of the fact that it is incoherent with other propositions in the system, or it is internally incoherent. It may turn out that these other propositions are in fact false, but their falsehood must ultimately be established by another means. Reason qua reason is not the nature of truth. It has to do with judgment of the truth of propositions.

As is common among postmodernists, Downing attempts to stigmatize reason.

“Enlightenment thinkers, of course, naively assumed that when they ex- ited religious towers they left behind narrow, confining perspectives to freely roam an open cardboard field of reason where truth was immediately accessible to the “freethinking” mind. The word freethinker, in fact, emerged at the beginning of “the Age of Reason” to designate “one who refuses to submit his reason to the control of authority in matters of religious belief; a designation claimed esp. by the deistic and other rejecters of Christianity at the beginning of the 18th c.” (OED). Freethinkers thought that reason enabled them to escape all encircling influences. And many modernists today, assuming they think freely and act autonomously, remain oblivious to ways that the surrounding discourse shapes their perceptions and behavior. In contrast, poststructuralists would point out that upon leaving one encircling construction of language, everyone, including themselves, merely enters into a larger surrounding tower.”[85]

It is interesting that Downing takes her quote about freethinking from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) rather than from the one individual who popularized the term. As Ann Thomson explains: “It was Anthony Collins, in his Discourse of Free Thinking (1713), who popularized the term ‘free-thinker’; according to him, the essential characteristic of free-thinkers was their desire to judge for themselves according to evidence and reason, particularly in the field of religion. The term thus covers a disparate collection of thinkers of varying philosophical leanings and political stances.”[86] Collins’ definition of free-thinking says nothing about refusing to submit reason to religious authority (see Figure 1):

“THAT I may proceed orderly, I will begin with defining the Term. BY Free-Thinking, then I mean, The Use of the Understanding, in endeavouring to find out the Meaning of any Proposition whatsoever, in considering the nature of the Evidence for or against it, and in judging of it according to the seeming Force or Weakness of the Evidence.”[87]

Figure 1: Collins on Free-Thinking

In fact, even as Downing points out, many of these “Free-Thinkers” were Deists. Thomson explains, “Although hostile to superstition, and particularly to the Catholic Church, they were in general Deists rather than atheists. In fact, free- thinking was linked to Protestantism through its connection with Anglican latitudinarianism and with the anti-Catholic propaganda of French Huguenot refugees in Holland.”[88] Not only is Downing not trained in philosophy, apparently she is not trained in history either.

That Downing refuses to submit her Postmodernism to Enlightenment thinkers or to those “who believe their particular tower rises above all others to encompass a universal language of truth” indicates that Downing’s own thinking fits into the definition of free-thinking given by Collins. Of course, Downing believes her thinking about reason rises above all others to encompass a universal language of truth about a universal language of truth

The Postmodern Scientific Revolution

Grenz’s characterization of science is a series of remarks related to isolated theories and proposals. Grenz either exaggerates the implications of these theories and proposals or historically misrepresents them. For example, Grenz’s assertions about Galileo are historically inaccurate. Grenz asserts, “Galileo’s innovation consisted in his attempt to interpret the world from a strictly quantitative point of view. Experimentation that yields quantifiable results (i.e., numbers rather than nonnumerical qualities) became the central technique of the emerging scientific enterprise” (50). In The Assayer, Galileo declared, “Philosophy is written in this great book, which is continually open before our eyes (I say the universe) but it cannot be understood if first, one does not learn to understand the language, and to know the characters in which is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and the characters are triangles, circles, & other geometric figures, without which it is impossible fully to understand a word of them; without these it is a vain wandering through a dark labyrinth.”[89] But A. C. Crombie has demonstrated that Robert Grosseteste, in the latter part of the 1100’s and early 1200’s had already associated mathematics and physics. It was perhaps Galileo that applied this to his astronomical observations, but he was not the innovator of experimental, quantitative science as Grenz supposes.

Why is this a problem? Grenz supposes that Galileo’s “innovation” was part of the reason the Church reacted against his claims. But, the fact that Grosseteste actually developed the mathematico-scientific methodology during the High Middle ages without drawing any adverse criticism from the Church authorities demonstrates that the Church had no problem in principle with this innovation. In fact, there are many factors, political, personal, as well as theological, that lead to the condemnation of Galileo in 1633. But, none of this had to do with the mathematico- experimental scientific method.[90]

Grenz refers to the significance of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for Postmodernism’s estimation of science. The significance of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle for the postmodernist is the claim that quantum physics has, according to the popular characterization of the Copenhagen interpretation, asserted a principle of complementarity in understanding quantum events. Both the velocity and position of a quantum packet of energy cannot both be measured with unlimited precision — one either measures its position with precision and not its velocity, or one measures it velocity with precision and not its position. The problem is, according to the theory — and this is rather a loose translation — because energy travels in quanta exhibiting properties of particles of matter, but travels in a manner that indicates properties of a wave (they sometimes call these wavicles) — the attempt to measure the position of a quantum packet causes the collapse of the wave function and the velocity cannot then be measured with unlimited precision. When one measures the velocity of a quantum packet, its location cannot be measured with unlimited precision. So, there exists, according to the popular interpretation, a complementarity of phenomena that seem, at least on the macro-level, to be incompatible. Nevertheless, they supposedly exist together. There is a complementary co-existence of seemingly incompatible conditions.

Attempting to translate this into the philosophical realm, postmodernists understand this to be the nature of all of reality. So, since there is a complementary co-existence of incompatible conditions at the most basic level of the physical world, there must likewise be such a complementarity co-existence in all of reality, whether corporeal or incorporeal. This seems to provide scientific proof that seemingly contradictory truths can coexist. In a sense, Postmodernism promotes the notion that there can and should be a complementary co-existence of incompatible points of view.

However, Grenz and others fail to indicate the relation of the uncertainty principle to the macrocosmic world where points of view actually exist. From a superficial understanding of the Heisenberg uncertainty principal, postmodernists have hastily concluded that an observer necessarily disrupts and interferes with the observed, and this results, at least in part, in the conflicting points of view. As Grenz puts it, “In observations performed at the subatomic level . . . we cannot neatly separate the observed object from the observing subject. This overturns the modern assumption that ‘facts’ are present in nature independent of some particular observer.”[91] But practicing scientists do not concur with these conclusions. As Henry Schaefer points out, “Whatever philosophers of science may propound, most working scientists remain realists — not only in regard to the ontological status of the quantum world, but also in regard to scientific knowledge.”[92] Also, according to Alan Sokal, “postmodernist musings on quantum mechanics . . . [tend] to confuse the technical meanings of words such as ‘uncertainty’ or ‘discontinuity’ with their everyday meanings.”[93] Schaefer provides a helpful illustration that indicates the difference in the specialized notion of “uncertainty” in quantum mechanics.

“For the benefit of those who are neither physicists nor chemists, let me quickly point out that the effects of the uncertainty principle are so small for macroscopic objects (such as a human body) as to be invisible. Another example from my days of teaching physical chemistry at Berkeley will suffice. Suppose we take a Honda Civic automobile (weight about one ton) and specify its velocity to within one-billionth of a mile per hour (i.e., 0.000000001 mph), obviously much greater precision than currently measurable. Given this uncertainty in the velocity, what is the uncertainty in the position of the vehicle? The Heisenberg principle tells us that the position of the Honda Civic is uncertain by about one-billionth of one-billionth of one-billionth of a meter (i.e., 0.0000000000000000000000000 01 meter).”[94]

The point is that the term “uncertainty” in quantum physics is a term that indicates a lack of unlimited precision, not a general attitude of doubt or lack of knowledge.

“According to quantum mechanics, an observation will, to some degree (an imperceptible degree for macroscopic objects visible to the human eye) disrupt the system. But this does not imply that an observer can obtain whatever result he or she wishes. According to quantum mechanics we cannot predict the results of a particular experiment with absolute certainty. But this does not imply that all results are equally probable. Quantum mechanics tells us precisely how to compute the probability of obtaining a specific result. It is not true that according to quantum mechanics one can obtain any result whatsoever, and quantum mechanics is therefore not consistent with the idea that the experimenter may manipulate the experiment to obtain any desired result. Using the equations of quantum mechanics one may precisely compute the possible values of an observable. Only those values predicted by quantum mechanics are observed. It is not possible using quantum mechanics to argue that observables can take on values dictated by the experimenter. Thus quantum mechanics does not suggest that reality is determined by the experimenter. For the reasons outlined here, very few scientists are sympathetic to the subjective (or postmodern) interpretation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Scientists believe that there is knowledge, not merely a collection of stories; there is a reality not contrived by human beings; and there is truth. These are not merely human constructions.”[95]

Grenz’s references to the musings of Thomas Kuhn or the Quine-Duheim thesis exaggerate the implications of these theses or neglect to point out that these theses have either come under severe criticism or have not been generally accepted by the scientific community. The relativism of Kuhn’s notion of the incommensurability of scientific paradigms has been demonstrated and soundly refuted by Harvey Siegel, James F. Harris, George Couvalis, and others.[96] Misunderstandings of the science and the consistent application of illicit inferences are characteristic of postmodern theory, as Alan Sokal has shown.

Sokal has documented what he calls “the repeated abuse of concepts and terminology coming from mathematics and physics.” The following quote, though lengthy, delineates the specific ways in which postmodern writers have abused science.

“The word ‘abuse’ here denotes one or more of the following characteristics: 1) Holding forth at length on scientific theories about which one has, at best, an exceedingly hazy idea. The most common tactic is to use scientific (or pseudo-scientific) terminology without bothering much about what the words actually mean. 2) Importing concepts from the natural sciences into the humanities or social sciences without giving the slightest conceptual or empirical justification. If a biologist wanted to apply, in her research, elementary notions of mathematical topology, set theory or differential geometry, she would be asked to give some explanation. A vague analogy would not be taken very seriously by her colleagues. Here, by contrast, we learn from Lacan that the structure of the neurotic subject is exactly the torus (it is no less than reality itself, cf. p. 20), from Kristeva that poetic language can be theorized in terms of the cardinality of the continuum (p. 40), and from Baudrillard that modern war takes place in a non-Euclidean space (p. 147) — all without explanation. 3) Displaying a superficial erudition by shamelessly throwing around technical terms in a context where they are completely irrelevant. The goal is, no doubt, to impress and, above all, to intimidate the non-scientist reader. Even some academic and media commentators fall into the trap: Roland Barthes is impressed by the precision of Julia Kristeva’s work (p. 38) and Le Monde admires the erudition of Paul Virilio (p. 169). 4) Manipulating phrases and sentences that are, in fact, meaningless. Some of these authors exhibit a veritable intoxication with words, combined with a superb indifference to their meaning. These authors speak with a self-assurance that far outstrips their scientific competence: Lacan boasts of using ‘the most recent development in topology’ (pp. 21-22) and Latour asks whether he has taught anything to Einstein (p. 131). They imagine, perhaps, that they can exploit the prestige of the natural sciences in order to give their own discourse a veneer of rigor. And they seem confident that no one will notice their misuse of scientific concepts. No one is going to cry out that the king is naked.”[97]

As we have observed, the popular notion that the Enlightenment was the “age of reason” is inadequate as a characterization of the age and is also misleading. Grenz parrots the popular notion, and in his effort to demonstrate the central role of reason in the Enlightenment, Grenz asserts, “In the premodern era, divine revelation functioned as the final arbiter of truth.”[98] But this assumption is refuted by the assertions of two prominent figures in Medieval philosophy, Augustine and Aquinas. Augustine declared, “One does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: I will send to you the Paraclete who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon. For He willed to make them Christians, not mathematicians.”[99] In other words, the Gospel is not designed to answer questions or to teach matters of mathematics. Aquinas likewise asserted, “First, hold the truth of Scripture without wavering. Second, since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it proved with certainty to be false; lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers and obstacles to their believing.”[100] What Aquinas is saying is that in those places where the Scripture can be interpreted differently, and a definitive explanation is presently out of reach, one should hold his interpretation tentatively lest, if science, or some other discipline, should discover truths that contradict our interpretations, we would not bring disrepute upon the Scriptures by making it appear to assert errors.

And again he said, “When philosophers are agreed upon a point, and it is not contrary to our faith, it is safer, in my opinion, neither to lay down such a point as a dogma of faith, even though it is so presented by philosophers, not to reject it as against faith, lest we thus give to the wise of this world an occasion of despising our faith.”[101] In other words, if assertions are not assertions of faith or morals, they can be held as true apart from the dogmas of Scripture. In each of these above assertions, the Scripture is not held to be the final arbiter of truth in those areas to which Scripture does not speak. Although the Word of God does not err in anything that it affirms to be true, whether that be faith, morals, science, philosophy, history, mathematics, etc., the Word of God is not a science text nor a dissertation on quantum physics. Contrary to Grenz, the Scriptures were not held to be the final arbiters of all truth in all areas. This is nowhere more evident than in the Galileo incident in which even Cardinal Bellarmine, (Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino, 1542–1621), an Italian Jesuit and a cardinal of the Catholic Church, professor of theology and later rector of the Roman College, Archbishop of Capua, and a major player in the Galileo affair, wrote,

“3. I say that if there was a true demonstration that the sun stands against the world and the earth in heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth, but the earth circles the sun, then it is necessary to go with much consideration in explaining the Scriptures which seem contrary, and rather to say that we do not understand it [l’intendiamo], than to say that what is shown is false.”[102]

Apparent conflicts between the Bible and natural science were not seen as errors of the text, but as errors of our understanding of the text. In the case of the heliocentric solar system, Cardinal Bellarmine acknowledged that if Galileo could demonstrate with sufficient evidence the Copernican model, the church would have to alter its interpretation of Scripture. The fact of the matter was, Galileo simply did not have sufficient physical proof of the heliocentric view. Even though there were problems in the Ptolemaic view that could be resolved in a Copernican model, Tycho Brahe had proposed an alternative model that at the same time resolved the anomalies of the Ptolemaic model but kept the earth as the center of the solar system. These proposals and counter proposals serve to show that Grenz’s characterization of the premodern perspective misrepresents the Medieval point of view.

With comments like, “[Enlightenment] Human beings managed to stop thinking of themselves as creatures subservient to God…”[103] Grenz also exaggerates the anti-religious zeal of Enlightenment philosophes. Contrary to Grenz’s characterization, Porter points out,

“It is important, however, to insist upon the range of complexity of Enlightenment attitudes towards faith. Very few intellectuals wanted to replace religion with out-and-out unbelief. For one thing, most believed that science and philosophy, though casting doubt upon the existence of the specifically Christian, Biblical, anthropomorphic ‘God of miracles,’ nevertheless pointed to some sort of presiding Deity, as supernatural Creator, Designer, and Mind. Even the sceptic Hume thought that it was improbable that the orderliness of the cosmos had come about by accident of chance from the purely random movements of material atoms… Furthermore, many philosophes, while hostile to ‘priestcraft’ and high church ecclesiastical pomp, nevertheless felt a personal piety. Swiss Protestant philosophes were notable for their own rational faith.”[104]

There certainly were Enlightenment thinkers who were anti-religious, but the more common sentiment was anti-clerical or anti-institutional. Most Enlightenment thinkers rebelled against the Church as an institution, not against religion in general or Christianity in particular.[105]

Grenz’s characterization of philosophy in the Enlightenment is also inaccurate, and his depiction of Descartes’ starting point indicates that, not being trained in philosophy, he does not grasp the subtleties of philosophy. Grenz claims that Descartes’ employment of systematic doubt led him to the “conclusion that there is at least one thing that no thinking subject can doubt — namely, the subject’s own existence.”[106] But, this was not Descartes’ conclusion, and this is evidenced by the cogito itself: “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes’ undoubtable conclusion was not his existence. As the cogito asserts, his existence is an inference from his doubting/thinking: “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes’ undoubted conclusion was his doubting, not his existing. His existing was an inference drawn from the fact that he could not doubt that he was doubting. Since as long as he was doubting, he could not doubt the fact that he was doubting, and since in order to doubt, one must exist, the conclusion is, “I exist”: “Since I am undoubtedly doubting, I must exist.” This may seem to be an overly subtle distinction, but it is a critical distinction and one that engendered immediate and abundant criticism from Descartes’ contemporaries, criticism that is repeated even in contemporary evaluations of Descartes’ system.[107]

Grenz characterizes the Cartesian legacy as a rationalism that exerted “immense influence on all subsequent thinkers.”[108] He goes so far as to assert, “in the Enlightenment climate, the only alternative to such rationalism entailed a denial that reason by itself is able to yield knowledge of eternal realities.”[109] But surely this ignores the whole tradition of Empiricism that was diametrically opposed to the Rationalism of the day. As we have already observed, Voltaire ridiculed the rationalism of Leibniz in Candide. There is no question that Descartes exerted a tremendous influence on modern philosophy, but his influence was not what Grenz thinks it was. Descartes’ influence was principally in three ways: 1) Descartes set the pattern of modern philosophy as a methodology of “starting over.” Almost every subsequent philosopher followed Descartes’ pattern of starting over to build his own system from the bottom up. 2) Descartes’ assumption that philosophy must begin with epistemology set the stage for all modern philosophy from his day. All subsequent philosophers, whether empiricists or rationalists, began their systems by first attempting to explain knowledge. 3) All philosophers, whether overtly or covertly, accepted Descartes’ assumption that extra-mental reality is constituted of bodies extended in space. This bifurcation of mind and body necessarily dictated that whatever epistemological explanation a philosopher might devise, his system was of necessity some form of representationalism — that is, the system was necessarily built upon the assumption that what existed in the mind was some kind of representation of the extra-mental world. Nevertheless, there were many ways of addressing philosophical issues that did not fall under the rubric of rationalism, as Grenz would have it.

Grenz claims, “Enlightenment theorists assumed that a correspondence between the structure of the world and the structure of the human mind enables the mind to discern the structure inherent in the external world.”[110] But this was not even the basis of Descartes’ method. For Descartes, the world was intelligible because of the innate ideas that God placed in the mind, not because of some isomorphism between the mind and the world. For Locke, the world was intelligible because the mind made a mental copy of whatever was sensibly perceived. He distinguished between primary and secondary qualities, the latter not actually existing in the thing. Grenz seems to be reading back into Enlightenment philosophy a form of Russellian logical atomism.

The problems that arise from such misunderstandings of the Enlightenment and Modernism involve a confusion of what is in fact universal and absolute with that which is simply a product of the period. This is evident in such statements as, “The modern, post-Enlightenment mind assumes that knowledge is certain, objective, and good. It presupposes that the rational, dispassionate self can obtain such knowledge. It presupposes that the knowing self peers at the mechanistic world as a neutral observer armed with the scientific method. The modern knower engages in the knowing process believing that knowledge inevitably leads to progress and that science coupled with education will free humankind from our vulnerability to nature and all forms of social bondage.”[111] In this quote, Grenz has lumped together assertions that are the result of modernism with assertions that are universally true for all times. But, by not discriminating between these, Grenz will jettison the universally true along with that which is in fact a product the Enlightenment and Modernism. Because he does not make the distinction when considering the Enlightenment and Modernism, he tends equally to neglect such distinctions when seeking to expound Postmodernism. By equating rationalism with rationality, and enlightenment arrogance with objectivity, he capitulates to Postmodernism, the results being a capitulation to relativism.

The Gospel and the Postmodern Context

The real failure of Grenz’s Primer is his final chapter in which he attempts to situate the Gospel in the postmodern context. Grenz has bought into the claims of Postmodernism because he has misunderstood history and thereby failed to distinguish between that which is universal and absolute and that which is particular and relative. By confusing the universals of absolute truth and objectivity with the Enlightenment project, he has accepted the postmodern claim to have gone beyond these absolutes. He fails to realize that the very tools, absolute truth and objectivity, which Postmodernism supposedly undermines or transcends are the very tools that both he and the postmodernists must use in order to propagate their views. For example, Grenz is apparently totally unaware that the scientific method was not in fact a product of the Enlightenment. Although it was developed during the Enlightenment and was used by Enlightenment philosophes, it was not a product of the Enlightenment. But, since Grenz mistakenly associates what the Enlightenment uses with what the Enlightenment creates, he believes it is possible to “jettison the Enlightenment principals”[112] when in fact he must use these very principles in order to reject them.

Grenz declares, “Postmodern thinkers rightly alert us to the naïveté of the Enlightenment attempt to discover universal truth by appeal to reason alone.”[113] It completely escapes Grenz that these postmodernists are using the very reason they claim to jettison to assert a universal truth that we cannot discover universal truth by appeal to reason alone. Grenz says, “Ultimately the metanarrative we proclaim lies beyond the pale of reason either to discover or to evaluate.”[114] But this very claim applies the very judgment of reason he claims does not apply. The claim that “all interpretations are in some sense invalid”[115] is nonsensical unless there is some known standard of validity. But, if all interpretations are in some sense invalid, then there is no way of knowing, as Grenz claims, “they cannot all be equally invalid.”[116] Grenz claims that the gospel is “the truth of and for all humankind.”[117] If he believes this, then how can he on the same page agree that all interpretations are in a sense invalid? Is Grenz’s interpretation that the Gospel is the truth of and for all humankind in some sense invalid?

It is certainly true, as Grenz asserts, that, as Christians, we should indeed reject the “Enlightenment epistemology.”[118] However, the Enlightenment epistemology is not what Grenz thinks it is. Because of his basic misunderstanding of the Enlightenment and the resulting Modernism, Grenz confuses the notions of absolute truth, certainty, and objectivity with Enlightenment epistemology. Both absolute truth and objectivity have been an integral part of every epistemology since Plato, and are not products of the Enlightenment. Grenz asserts, “the Christian faith entails a denial that the rational, scientific method is the sole measure of truth.”[119] It is unfortunate that Grenz and postmodernists were not around to be influenced by such Christian scientists as Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), Robert Boyle (1627–1691), Nicolas Steno (1638–1686), Isaac Newton (1643–1727), Antoine Lavoisier (1743–1794), Leonhard Euler (1707–1783), Albrecht von Haller (1708–1777), Alessandro Volta (1745–1827), John Dalton (1766–1844), Carl Fnednch Gauss (1777–1855), Humphry Davy (1778–1829), Michael Faraday (1791–1867), Charles Babbage (1791–1871), Samuel Morse (1791–1872), Mary Anning (1799–1847), James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879), Gregor Mendel (1822–1884), Bernhard Riemann (1826–1866), to mention a few.

But a “rational, scientific method” is not the only kind of certainty there is, and it is not necessary to jettison certainty when modifying one’s notion of the scientific method. To claim that “certain aspects of truth lie beyond reason” is no reason to reject certainty. Besides, is Grenz certain that certain aspects of truth lie beyond reason? And, if this is true, then from where did Grenz get this knowledge? Grenz uses his own reason to claim that Christians should take a “cautious, even distrustful stance toward human reason.”[120] Since Grenz gives this caution on the basis of his own reason, should we then be distrustful of Grenz’s stance toward reason? According to this principle, as Christians we should be distrustful of Grenz’s claim that Christians should be distrustful of reason. If, as Grenz asserts, “we realize that following the intellect can sometimes lead us away from God and truth,” Grenz’s reasoning provides the perfect example. But to realize that this sometimes may happen is no reason to jettison the intellect. In fact, Grenz must, at least to some degree, employ his own intellect to make these claims. If we must jettison reason because “sometimes” it leads us away from God, what shall we then use — feelings, intuitions, taste, preference? Apparently, Grenz’s intellect is not capable of recognizing the self-referential problems of his own claims. Indeed, how can Grenz, or anyone for that matter, know that the intellect “sometimes” leads us astray unless there are those times when it leads us to truth. Unless we know, intellectually, the truth, we have no basis upon which to identify the “sometimes” errors.

Grenz asserts that we should “commend the postmodern questioning of the Enlightenment assumption that knowledge is objective and hence dispassionate.”[121] Is this an objective, dispassionate commendation by Grenz? Grenz declares, “we affirm the postmodern discovery that no observer can stand outside the historical process.”[122] The self-defeating nature of this assertion ought to be obvious, even to Grenz. Grenz is proposing his and the postmodernist’s claim as if they are standing outside their own historical process. If “no observer stands outside the historical process, then neither does Grenz, in which case his assertion is only his own historical perspective. But, if his assertion is only his own historical perspective, then it is not universally true. But Grenz presents it as if it is universally true. This is nothing but a regurgitation of age-old relativism. Grenz says, “Nor can we gain universal, culturally neutral knowledge as unconditioned specialists. On the contrary, we are participants in our historical cultural context, and all our intellectual endeavors are unavoidably conditioned by that participation.”[123] But, are Grenz and the postmodernists somehow exempt from these strictures on knowledge? If not, how can they assume that they have the capacity to tell everyone else that their knowledge is “culturally conditioned,” as if their own knowledge somehow transcends this problem and rises up to be able to assert that which is universally true of everyone — else? To associate postmodernist relativism with Augustine, as Grenz does,[124] is to misrepresent Augustine. Augustine believed it was possible to transcend any “coloring” and obtain objective truth by God’s illumination. But for Augustine this illumination was not anti-rational as Grenz implies.

Grenz’s rejection of the notion that knowledge is inherently good is misleading. If one understands knowledge to be knowledge of truth, then truth and therefore knowledge are inherently good. This is a necessary corollary since Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Grenz confuses knowledge with what people do with it. There is no doubt that knowledge and even truth can be used by evil people for bad ends. But it is entirely wrong to claim that knowledge is not good in itself just because people misuse it. Grenz says, “Technological advances bring not only the possibility of good but also the possibility of evil.”[125] But the same can be said for the creation of the heavens and the earth and man. When God created man He created the possibility of good and evil. But, because man did evil does not make God’s creative activity bad. According to Grenz’s principles, both Christianity and Postmodernism are bad since both have brought about the possibility of good and evil. Additionally, it is not a doctrine of Christianity that the dispelling of ignorance with knowledge brings about goodness. Christianity does not teach that to know the good is to do the good. This is in fact an intrusion into the minds of some Christians of a Socratic/Platonic notion.

Contours of a Postmodern Gospel

In his description of a “Post-Individualistic Gospel,” Grenz makes some valuable observations. Christians do need to avoid a radical individualism that may tend to separate them from the community. But Grenz goes too far in accepting the notion that, “Individuals come to knowledge only by way of a cognitive framework mediated by the community in which they participate.”[126] First of all, if Grenz is right, then he is wrong. Did Grenz come to this knowledge by way of a cognitive framework mediated by his community? If so, then this is only a mediated knowledge, not a universally true knowledge since others get other knowledge from their communities. If what Grenz asserts is true, then there is no unmediated knowledge of good, virtue, and meaning by which to condemn the actions of the Nazis. After all, their knowledge was simply knowledge mediated through their community. If what Grenz says is true, there would be no way to account for the rise of Postmodernism since the postmodernists themselves were raised as part of a modernist community within the modernist cognitive framework. Where did they get their Postmodernism? There is no question that the community “mediates to its members a transcendent story that includes traditions of virtue, common good, and ultimate meaning,”[127] but some virtue, good, and meaning must come from outside the community or else the story of Michael Foucault’s own rejection of the virtues, good, and meaning of his community cannot be accounted for. It is certainly true that Christians should “live out the gospel in wholesome, authentic, and healing relationships,”[128] but once the “members of the next generation”[129] respond to the lives of Christians, the Christian must have a message of universal and absolute truth to present. Jettisoning the truth, objectivity, and certainty of the truth of the Gospel will only leave the next generation with a supposedly ideal community in this life, yet no hope for the future life.

Grenz’s characterizations of a “Post-Rationalistic Gospel” are more in line with the truth of the Gospel. Christians do indeed need to understand that, “We are intellectual beings, but we amount to more than just Aristotle’s ‘rational animal.’”[130] And it is certainly true that “intellectual reflection and the scientific enterprise alone cannot put us in touch with every dimension of reality or lead us to discover every aspect of God’s truth.”[131] But again Grenz nullifies his good advise by imbibing postmodern relativism. He says, “We can gain assistance in this task from postmodern social theorists. These thinkers are attempting to replace the individualistic foundational rationalism of modern Western thinking with an understanding of knowledge and belief that views them as socially and linguistically constituted.”[132] But, the fact is, knowledge is not socially and linguistically constituted. If that were so, there would be no way of knowing this. Also, if knowledge is socially and linguistically constituted, then the notion that knowledge is socially and linguistically constituted is merely socially and linguistically constituted and not universally true. How does Grenz propose to present a notion of the Christian God as a non-socially and non-linguistically constituted knowledge? To rely on a “personal encounter with God in Christ”[133] relegates the Gospel to the personal construct of each individual’s own socially and linguistically constituted perspective. The Gospel can no longer transcend cultures or languages. Encounters are not self-interpreting. Many people from many different religious perspectives have comparable experiences. Unless there is some non-socially and linguistically constituted knowledge, there is no way of knowing whether my personal encounter is with God or Buddha. If doctrinal propositions find their importance only within the context of a personal encounter, then any personal encounter can redefine meaning to fit the experience. Grenz is right that “our goal in proclaiming the gospel should not merely be to bring others to affirm a list of correct propositions,”[134] but it should certainly not be less than this. In order to believe in, that is, have a personal encounter, a person must first believe that, as Hebrews 11:6 asserts: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who acomes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”[135] In order to believe in God one  must first believe the absolute truth that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Perhaps a postmodern articulation of the Gospel should not “focus on propositions as the central content of the Christian faith,”[136] but neither should it eliminate these as an important and defining aspect of the truth of the Gospel. Without the propositional nature of the Gospel, we cannot tell others what it is they should believe. Additionally, Grenz’s rejection of Cartesian foundationalism does not entail a rejection of every kind of foundationalism. Grenz’s misunderstanding of the history of philosophy has led him to confuse every kind of foundationalism with only one brand — the Cartesian brand.

Grenz’s confusion of dualism with a specifically Cartesian brand of dualism leads him to misunderstand its significance. Simply because some misuse and misinterpret dualism is not the fault of dualism per se. It is no doubt true that many Christians have neglected the application of the Gospel to the whole person by concentrating on the soul. But this error of emphasis is not the fault of dualism. It is the fault of some dualists. Many so-called Christians have misapplied the teachings of Christianity, for example, in attempting to defend slavery, but this is not the fault of Christianity. Rather, it is the failure of some who call themselves Christians. Also, not every dualism is a Cartesian dualism. Augustine held to a dualism of body and soul, and most theologians throughout the history of the church held some form of dualism. Christians ought to applaud Grenz’s call to reintegrate the Gospel and the whole person. But this reintegration should not involve abandoning truth, and it may be the case that some form of dualism is true.

Grenz’s reference to 1 Cor. 8:1 as support for his claim that “knowledge is good only when it facilitates a good result” is simply wrong. In this verse, Paul is chiding the Corinthian Christians for being prideful. Paul never says that the knowledge is not good. Knowledge puffs up or makes one prideful, but this is not the fault of the knowledge. This is a fault of the persons who become prideful because they think they know. Certainly, a faith that is faithful to the Lord will not allow itself to “remain merely an intellectual endeavor, a matter solely of assent to orthodox position.”[137] But, once again, it certainly cannot be less than this. We cannot jettison knowledge or declare it “bad” simply because some fail to move beyond knowledge to wisdom.

Postmodernism as Hermeneutic

Contrary to those who claim that there is no all-inclusive definition of Postmodernism, or that there is no single theory, or that Postmodernism is a term that principally applies to a period of time rather than a distinct ideology, I would submit to you that Postmodernism is principally and primarily a hermeneutic. Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, and Grant Lovejoy articulated this point much more succinctly: “One never starts with some nonhermeneutical objectivity and then proceeds from that foundation to knowledge; instead, one always starts wherever and whenever one is, with whatever perspectives one has been given by history and language.”[138] These Christian authors have, perhaps unwittingly, articulated an excellent definition of the postmodern perspective. It is an approach to life and reality that is interpretive in nature. Only for the purposes of this discussion, I use the two terms ‘life’ and ‘reality’ to divide everything into two basic categories. I will use the term ‘life’ to refer to all experiences that any individual my have in the course of his earthly existence. It will include personal experiences, educational experiences, linguistic experiences, daily life experiences, personal thought experiences — any kind of experience that a person may experience. In fact, Edgar McKnight points out basically the same thing with reference to postmodern interpretation. He says, “A reader-oriented approach [which he equates with a postmodern approach] results from the assumption that knowledge (epistemology) is always related to life (ontology) and that the only sort of knowledge that really counts is knowledge grounded in life.”[139]

I will use the term ‘reality’ to refer to anything that can be experienced at any time. Briefly, these two terms will be used to refer to the experiences of life and to that which is experienced in life. This is not to say that experiences are not real, or that what is experienced is real. Rather, we are simply using these terms to distinguish between what goes on in one’s experience, and whatever one experiences. John Sims makes a similar observation when he says, “At the heart of the postmodern geist is a shifting sense of how to think about reality and how it can be known and/or experienced.”[140] In a word, life is the experience, and reality is what is experienced. These terms are not beyond challenge, but they will be useful for our purposes.

What is most important to remember about these terms, however, is that, from a postmodern perspective, they cannot be assumed to refer to really distinct categories. By that I mean, just because we are going to use the word ‘reality’ to refer to that which can be experienced, we cannot assume that for the postmodernist this means that there is any actual realty outside the mind, or that reality in any way imposes its character on the mind so that the mind must perceive reality as it is. As Joyce Appleby points out, “Postmodernists often put the word ‘reality’ in quotation marks to problematize the ‘there’ out there. In this line of argument, Westerners are particularly prone to the conceit that

reality is fixed and knowable.”[141] In other words, we cannot instill in the terms ‘life’ and ‘reality’ what we would normally associate with these terms. These are only terms of convenience by which we might distinguish the one who experiences from that which he experiences. What he experiences may not actually be real in the traditional sense of that term. One may be experiencing what he or she thinks is a chair. But, we cannot assume that our experience is of any really existing chair. It may in fact be a really existing chair, but we cannot assume that to be the case. In Postmodernism, one cannot automatically assume a subject-object dichotomy. The subject-object dichotomy, according to postmodernists, is part of the residual epistemological system of modernism against which the postmodernist is rebelling.

Also, one cannot assume that one’s life experience of “reality” necessarily provides any basis upon which to be able to talk knowingly about anyone else’s experience. As Laura Downs has pointed out, much of Postmodernism rests on the epistemological assumption of the “inaccessibility of one’s experience. Only those who share the group identity and have lived its experience, whether seen as biologically given or socially constructed can know what it means to be black, a woman, blue-collar, or ethnic…”[142] Ultimately, no one can know anything about anyone else’s experience

because everyone’s experience is inaccessible to everyone else. In much of Postmodernism, as Richard Evans observes, “Experience is the sole arbiter of truth,” and since there is no “universal experience,” there can be no universal truth; “there are only truths particular to specific groups of people.”[143] This is perhaps popularly expressed by Tom Petty in a recent song titled, “You Don’t Know How It Feels To Be Me.”

This fact is particularly relevant in two recurring themes in all discussions on Postmodernism. The first theme is that all of life entails the interpretation of reality, or the interpretation of what is experienced. Remember, reality may not actually be thought of as something that really exists outside the mind, or that what is presumed to exist outside the mind is in fact knowable. Reality may be, in a sense, the projection of my subjective experience. Now, the fact that life is essentially interpretive involves the assumption that reality, that which can be experienced, does not interpret itself. The interpreter must interpret everything that is experienced. In other words, meaning is not provided by reality, but is supplied by the one having the experience. This interpretive approach is applied to all experiences — political, social, personal, linguistic, recreational, architectural, religious, philosophical, and even physical experiences. Every experience of reality, that which can be experienced, is interpretive in nature. Reality has no meaning that it provides or imposes upon the perceiver. All meaning is supplied by the perceiver. Life entails hermeneutics.

Another basic theme of Postmodernism is relativism. Relativism is as important an assumption as the notion that all of life entails interpretation. As John Cooper put it, “At the heart of the new mood [of post-modernism, as Cooper identifies it] are principled pluralism and radical relativism.”[144] Postmodern relativism is the anti-Modernist assumption that truth is not objective or absolute. Sims points out that postmodern relativism “denies that any overarching theory can be ‘true’ or any practice ‘good’ for everyone.”[145]

Since reality does not provide a meaning, there can be no objective meaning. That is, meaning cannot be found in anything outside one’s own interpretive experience, but everyone’s experience is inaccessible to another. Therefore, there can be no objective meaning. But, if there is no objective meaning, there can be no objective truth. Objective truth is predicated on objective meaning. If truth is a quality predicated of propositions, then we cannot know objective truth because we cannot know objectively what any proposition means. A proposition, like any other reality to be experienced, does not provide its own meaning and does not impose a meaning upon the perceiver. The perceiver must interpret the proposition, and interpretation means providing the meaning. That meaning is the result of the sum total of who and what I am as an interpreter. My culture, my history, my training, my disposition, my tastes, my worldview — everything that has gone into making me what I am sets the context and the framework for my interpretation of reality, including any proposition. And, since my interpretation is the result of who and what I am according to my historical situatedness,[146] my interpretation is uniquely mine, and may be completely different from everyone else’s. But, it is just as legitimate, because there can be no objective truth, so there can be no objective measure of right and wrong interpretation. So, at the heart of postmodern geist is the assumption that it’s all a matter of how you interpret it; values are relative to the interpreter, meaning is relative to the interpreter, there is no objectivity, there is no absolute truth, there is no such thing as “the” meaning.

Let me give you an example. A basic tenet of postmodern relativism is that one’s culture and language form one’s perception of reality. One linguist puts it this way: “Each culture develops its language to communicate its particular perception of reality.”[147] Jonathan Culler uses the example of the difference between two English words and two French words. The two English words, “river” and “stream,” distinguish bodies of flowing water “solely in terms of size,” whereas the one French word differs from the other French word “not because it is necessarily larger” but because it signifies a body of flowing water that “flows into the sea,” while the other word signifies a body of flowing water that does not flow into the sea.[148] From this fact Culler concludes that the different languages “represent a different articulation of the conceptual plane.”[149] Because the English and French use their terms to refer to different ways of organizing reality, Culler, and postmodernists generally, conclude that this is the result of perceiving reality differently. So, if you grow up in France, and the language of your culture is French, you will be reared to perceive reality differently than someone who grows up in America. Your culture and language will determine how you perceive reality. There can be no universal standard because there is no universal culture or language –therefore, there can be no universal or objective truth or meaning.

The problem with this characterization is that both the English and the French words refer to bodies of flowing water. Neither the English nor the French words are use to refer to the Eiffel Tower, or the Rocky mountains. In fact, unless these words talk about real bodies of flowing water Culler could not use this illustration. As we have seen, language simply does not shape thought. If language shaped thought, and different language groups shape the thought of those in that language group, the no one from another language group could come to understand meaning expressed by another language group.

Unfortunately, postmodernists are not the only one’s who reject the possibility of objective meaning. The vast majority of Evangelical authors reject objectivity although they do not claim to be postmodernists. The reason for this is that Evangelicals have imbibed the basic principles of critical philosophy from Ockham, through Descartes, to Kant, to Heidegger and Gadamer. Predicated on Ockahm’s nominalism and transmitted through Descartes’ bifurcation of the mind from the world, critical philosophy from Kant institutionalized critical epistemology that declared that it is not possible to know the world as it is in itself. As a consequence, knowledge is almost universally held to be perspectival. This perspectivalism has become one of the foundational principles of Postmodern relativism.


Many of the suggestions that Grenz and others make are true and good. But, none of these is particularly “postmodern.” The more wise among us have always warned against being too caught up in knowledge only, or not ministering to the whole person. By misunderstanding the history of philosophy, particularly the Enlightenment and Modernism, Grenz has confused universal truth, objectivity, and certainty with the Enlightenment version of scientific rationalism. As a result Grenz buys into the relativism of Postmodernism and its rejection of truth as simply a rejection of Modernism, all the while employing the very tools of reason, objectivity, and certainty to propagate his views. Grenz engages in exaggeration, misrepresentation, and self-contradiction about truth, objectivity, and certainty. The many helpful and timely recommendations are then lost in the confusion. Grenz talks as if to be able to present the Gospel, one must reject knowledge, objectivity, and certainty. Basically, Grenz encourages his readers to become postmodern relativists.

There are a couple of things I have observed in my brief study of Postmodernism. One thing is how many persons who write about Postmodernism, whether fer it or agin it, are not trained in philosophy. We have already referred to William Lane Craig’s observation that we do not live in a postmodern age. Postmodernism was never taken seriously in philosophy departments. It has always been seen to be simply another instance of relativism and skepticism, approaches that have been around since there were approaches.

Another thing I have observed is that the basic claims of postmoderns seem always to engage is the self-defeating. We have already pointed out how Lyotard’s rejection of metanarratives simply involves replacing other metanarratives with his own. Walter Truett Anderston, an American political scientist, social psychologist, is an individual who is at once not a philosopher and a purveyor of another self-defeating assertion:

“Seeing truth as made, not found — seeing reality as socially constructed — doesn’t mean deciding there is nothing “out there.” It means understanding that all our stories about what’s out there — all our scientific facts, our religious teachings, our society’s beliefs, even our personal perceptions — are the products of a highly creative interaction between human minds and the cosmos. The cosmos may be found; but the ideas we form about it, and the things we say about it, are made. One of the main themes of postmodern thought is that language is deeply involved in the social construction of reality.”[150]

If it is the case that “all our stories about what’s out there” are “the products of a highly creative interaction between human minds and the cosmos,” then Anderson’s own statement is simply the product of the interaction of his mind and the cosmos and does not merit universal validity. But Anderson presents his notion as of it is absolutely true about all our stories.

In his book, Mapping Postmodernism, Robert Greer characterizes the relation between Modernism and Postmodernism: “Roughly stated, modernism affirms the existence of absolute truths. Postmodernism affirms the opposite: the nonexistence of absolute truths.”[151] One wonders if it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.

[1] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 25.

[2] David Harvey, “The Condition of Postmodernity. An Enquiry into the Origins of Social Change,” in Modernism/Postmodernism, Edited by Peter Brooker (London: Longman Group, 1992), 182.

[3] Jean-François Lyotard, La Condition Postmoderne: Rapport Sur Le Savoir (Paris: Les Éditions De Minuit, 1979), 7–8. “En simplifiant à l’extrême, on tient pour « postmoderne » l’incrédulité à l’égard des métarécits. Celleci est sans doute un effet du progrès des sciences; mais ce progrès à son tour la suppose. À la désuétude du dispositif métanarratif de légitimation correspond notamment la crise de la philosophie métaphysique, et celle de l’institution universitaire qui dépendait d’elle. La fonction narrative perd ses foncteurs, le grand héros, les grands périls, les grands périls, les grands périples et le grand but.”

[4] Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Tempe, Arizona: Scholargy Publishing, 2004), 6.

[5] Stuart Sim, “Postmodernism,” in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 2001), 339–40.

[6] Crystal L. Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith: Questioning Truth in Language, Philosophy and Art (Downers Grove, Illinios: IVP Academic, 2006), 18.

[7] Ibid., p. 23-24.

[8] Both of these questions are posed in Joseph Owens, Cognition: An Epistemological Inquiry (Houston, Texas: The Center for Thomistic Studies, 1992), 16.

[9] Ibid., p. 20.

[10] C. J. Hookway, “certainty,” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 129.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Bernard Wuellner, Dictionary of Scholastic Philosophy (Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 2012), s.v. “objectivity.”

[13] Stanley Grenz, Revising Evangelical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1993), 120.

[14] “πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος καὶ ὠφέλιμος πρὸς διδασκαλίαν, πρὸς ἐλεγμόν, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν, πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ,ἵνα ἄρτιος ᾖ ὁ τοῦ θεοῦ ἄνθρωπος, πρὸς πᾶν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐξηρτισμένος” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

[15] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. “θεόπνευστος.”

[16] Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 166.

[17] Ibid.

[18] In this paper I will use the masculine, personal pronoun as a generic reference. Get over it!

[19] Grenz, Primer, 2.

[20] Ibid., p. 4.

[21] A. C. Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100-1700 (Oxford: At The Clarendon Press, 1953), 10.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Roy Porter, The Enlightenment, 2d ed. (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 2.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., p. 11.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Grenz, Primer, 4.

[28] Porter, The Enlightenment, 3.

[29] Ibid., p. 7.

[30] See Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 2001).

[31] Grenz, Primer, 5.

[32] David Ray Griffin, “Series Introduction,” in The Tacit Mode: Michael Polanyi’s Postmodern Philosophy,

by Jerry H. Gill (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2000), x.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Grenz, Primer, 12.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Tempe, Arizona: Scholargy Publishing 2004), 21.

[37] See A. C. Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100–1700 (Oxford: At The Clarendon Press, 1953).

[38] Ibid.

[39] William Lane Craig, “A Classical Apologist’s Response,” in Five Views on Apologetics, ed. Steven B. Cowan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 181.

[40] Grenz, Primer, 24.

[41] Ibid., p.26.

[42] Ibid., p. 40.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid., p. 41.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., p. 41-42. Grenz is actually behind the times on this point. The linguistic relativism, or what George Yule calls “linguistic determinism,” has been generally abandoned by twenty-first century linguists: “While many linguists have recognized the extent to which languages are subject to variation, they have also noted the extent to which all languages have certain common properties. Those common properties [are] called language universals…” George Yule, The Study of Language: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 198.

[49] Ibid., p. 43.

[50] Lyotard, Condition Postmoderne, p. 7. “La science est d’origine en conflit avec les récits. À l’aune de ses propres critères, la plupart de ceux-ci se révèlent des fables. Mais, pour autant qu’elle ne se réduit pas à énoncer des régularités utiles et qu’elle cherche le vrai, elle se doit de légitimer ses règles de jeu. C’est alors qu’elle tient sur son propre statut un discours de légitimation, qui s’est appelé philosophie. Quand ce métadiscours recourt explicitement à tel ou tel grand récit, comme la dialectique de l’Esprit, l’herméneutique du sens, l’émancipation du sujet raisonnable ou travailleur, le développement de la richesse, on décide d’appeler « moderne » la science qui s’y réfère pour se légitimer.”

[51] Sim, “Grand Narrative,” in Companion to Postmodernism, p. 261–62.

[52] Grenz, Primer, 44.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid., p. 45.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Lyotard uses the term ‘little narrative’ to refer to the small or local discourses that replace the grand narrative: Lyotard, Postmoderne, 97. “Let us decide here that the data of the problem of legitimation of knowledge today are sufficiently clear for our purpose. Recourse to grand narratives is excluded; one cannot therefore resort either to the dialectic of the Spirit or even to the emancipation of humanity as validation of postmodern scientific discourse. But, as we have just seen, the “little story” remains the form par excellence that imaginative invention takes, and first of all in science.” “Décidons ici que les données du problème de la légitimation du savoir aujourd’hui sont suffisamment dégagées pour notre propos. Le recours aux grands récits est exclu; on ne saurait donc recourir ni à la dialectique de l’Esprit ni même à l’émancipation de l’humanité comme validation du discours scientifique postmoderne. Mais, on vient de le voir, le « petit récit » reste la forme par excellence que prend l’invention imaginative, et tout d’abord dans la science.”

[57] Grenz, Primer, 47.

[58] Ibid., p. 48.

[59] Lyotard, Postmoderne, p. 7. “En simplifiant à l’extrême, on tient pour « postmoderne » l’incrédulité à l’égard des métarécits.”

[60] Ibid., p. xxv. “Il raffine notre sensibilité aux différences et renforce notre capacité de supporter l’incommensurable.”

[61] In 1996, Alan Sokal submitted a paper titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” The article was published in the “Science Wars” of the journal Social Text. Later, in the journal Lingua Franca, Sokal revealed that the article was a hoax. He had shown that the left and social science would be better served by intellectual underpinnings based on reason. What has come to be known as the Sokal Hoax was front-page news in The New York Times on May 18, 1996.

[62] Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (New York: Pidacor, 1998), 262. The passage from Lyotard is, “L’idée que l’on tire de ces recherches (et de bien d’autres) est que la pré-éminence de la fonction continue à dérivée comme paradigme de la connaissance et de la prévision est en train de disparaître. En s’intéressant aux indécidables, aux limites de la précision du contrôle, aux quanta, aux conflits à information non complète, aux « fracta », aux catastrophes, aux paradoxes pragmatiques, la science postmoderne fait la théorie de sa propre évolution comme discontinue, catastrophique, non rectifiable, paradoxale. Elle change le sens du mot savoir, et elle dit comment ce changement peut avoir lieu. Elle produit non pas du connu, mais de l’inconnu. Et elle suggère un modèle de légitimation qui n’est nullement celui de la meilleure performance, mais celui de la différence comprise comme paralogie.” Lyotard, Postmoderne, 95–96.

[63] Ibid., p. 136-138.

[64] Ibid., p. 6.

[65] Sim, “Postmodernism and Philosophy,” in The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism, 3.

[66] Aristotelis, Metaphysics, Volumen Secundum, Opera Omnia Græce et Latine (Parisiis: Editore Ambrosio Firmin-Didot, 1927), 1010a.7–15. “ἔτι δὲ πᾶσαν ὁρῶντες ταύτην κινουμένην τὴν φύσιν, κατὰ δὲ τοῦ μεταβάλλοντος οὐθὲν ἀληθευόμενον, περί γε τὸ πάντῃ πάντως μεταβάλλον οὐκ ἐνδέχεσθαι ἀληθεύειν. ἐκ γὰρ ταύτης τῆς ὑπολήψεως ἐξήνθησεν ἡ ἀκροτάτη δόξα τῶν εἰρημένων, ἡ τῶν φασκόντων ἡρακλειτίζειν καὶ οἵαν Κρατύλος εἶχεν, ὃς τὸ τελευταῖον οὐθὲν ᾤετο δεῖν λέγειν ἀλλὰ τὸν δάκτυλον ἐκίνει μόνον, καὶ Ἡρακλείτῳ ἐπετίμα εἰπόντι ὅτι δὶς τῷ αὐτῷ ποταμῷ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμβῆναι: αὐτὸς γὰρ ᾤετο οὐδ᾽ ἅπαξ.”

[67] Sancti Thomæ Aquinatis, In Metaphysicam Aristotelis: Commentaria (Taurini: Marietti, 1820), §684.228. “Nam ex hac susceptione sive opinione pullulavit opinio dictorum philosophorum « summa vel extrema, » idest quæ invenit quid summum vel extremum hujus sententiæ, quæ dicebat « heraclizare, » idest sequi opinionem Heracliti, vel sequentium Heraclitum secundum aliam literam, idest qui dicebant se opinionem Heracliti sequi qui posuit omnia moveri, et per hoc nihil esse verum determinate. Et hanc opinionem habuit Cratylus, qui ad ultimum ad hanc dementiam devenit, quod opinatus est quod non oportebat aliquid verbo dicere, sed ad exprimendum quod volebat, movebat solum digitum. Et hoc ideo, quia credebat quod veritas rei quam volebat enuntiare, primo transibat, quam oratio finiretur.”

[68] Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, 100–1.

[69] Ibid., p. 101.

[70] Aristotelis, Περί Ερμηνείας, in Opera Omnia Graece et Latine (Parisiis: Firmin-Didot et Sociis, 1927), 16a

[71] Robert C. Greer, Mapping Postmodernism: A Survey of Christian Options (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 236–37.

[72] Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 30.

[73] Sancti Thomae Aquinatis, Summa Contra Gentiles, Tomus Decimus Tertius, Opera Omnia (Romae: Typis Riccardi Garroni, 1918), I.11. “Partim vero contingit ex eo quod non distinuitur quod est notum per se simpliciter, et quod est quoad nos per se notum. Nam simpliciter quidem Deum esse per se notum est: cum hoc ipsum quod Deus est, sit suum esse. Sed quia hoc ipsum quod Deus est mente concipere non possumus, remanet ignotum quoad nos. Sicut omne totum ssua parte maius esse, per se notum est simpliciter: ei autem qui rationem totius mente non conciperet, oporteret esse ignotum.”

[74] Downing, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, 182.

[75] Ibid., p. 149-150.

[76] John H. McWhorter, The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 148–49.

[77] Downing, Postmodernism, 150.

[78] McWhorter, Language Hoax, 150.

[79] Downing, Postmodernism, 150.

[80] Robert C. Greer, Mapping Postmodernism: A Survey of Christian Options (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 1.

[81] Harvey Siegel, “Relativism, Truth, and Incoherence,” Synthese 68 (1986), 226.

[82] Grenz, Primer, 15.

[83] J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 142.

[84] Ibid., p. 143-144.

[85] Downing, Postmodernism, p. 164.

[86] Ann Thomson, “free-thinkers,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Enlightenment, ed. John W. Yolton (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995), 176.

[87] Anthony Collins, A Discourse of Free-Thinking Ocassion’d by the Rise and Growth of the Sect call’d FREETHINKERS (London: n.p., 1713), 5.

[88] Thomson, “free-thinkers,” p. 176.

[89] Galileo Galilei, Il Saggiatore Del Sig · Galileo Galilei (Roma: Appresso Giacomo Mascardi, 1623), 25. “La Filosofia è scritta in questo grandissimo libro, che continuamente ci st à aperto innanzi à gli occhi (io dico l’uniuerso) ma non si può intendere se prima, non s’impara à intender la lingua, e conoscer i caratteri, ne’quali è scritto. Egli è scritto in lingua matematica, e i caratteri son triangloi, cerchi, & altre figure Geometriche, senza i quali mezi è impossibile à intenderne vmanamente parola; senza questi è un’aggirarsi vanamente per un’oscuro laberinto.”

[90] See Jerome J. Langford, Galileo, Science and the Church (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998).

[91] Grenz, Primer, 52–53.

[92] Henry F. Schaefer, III, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? (Watkinsville, Georgia: The Apollos Trust, 2003), 116. Dr. Henry F. Schaefer is a five time nominee for the Nobel Prize. Dr. Schaefer is currently the Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. For the most up to date material released from the Vatican on the Galileo affair, see Ernan McMullin, ed. The Church and Galileo (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press 2005).

[93] Sokal and Bricmont, Fashionable Nonsense, 261.

[94] Schaefer, Science and Christianity, 112-13.

[95] Ibid., p. 119.

[96] Harvey Siegel, Relativism Refuted: A Critique of Contemporary Epistemological Relativism (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1987). James F. Harris, Against Relativism: A Philosophical Defense of Method (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1992). George Couvalis, The Philosophy of Science: Science and Objectivity (London: SAGE Publications, 1997).

[97] Sokal, Fashionable Nonsense, 4-5.

[98] Grenz, Primer, 62.

[99] S. Aurelii Augustini, De Actis cum Felice Manichæo, vol. 42, Patrologiae cursus completus: Series Latina (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1865), I.X. “non legitur in Evangelio Dominum dixisse, Mitto vobis Paracletum qui vos doceat de cursu solis et lumæ. Christianos enim facere volebat, non mathematicos.”

[100] Sancti Thomae Aquinatis, Pars Prima Summae Theologiae, Tomus Quintus, Opera Omnia (Romae: Ex Typographia Polyglotta, 1889), I.68.1. “Primo quidem, ut veritas Scripturae inconcusse teneatur. Secundo, cum Scriptura divina multipliciter exponi possit, quod nulli expositioni aliquis ita praecise inhaereat quod, si certa ratione constiterit hoc esse falsum, quod aliquis sensum Scripturae esse asserere praesumat: ne Scriptura ex hoc ab infidelibus derideatur, et ne eis via credendi praecludatur.”

[101] Sancti Thomae Aquinatis, Opusculum IX: Responsio ad Matistrum Joannem de Vercellis, de Articulis XLII, Tomus XVI, Opera Omnia (Parmae: Typis Petri Fiaccadori, 1865), 163. “Unde mihi videtur tutius esse ut haec quae philosophi communius senserunt, et nostrae fidei non repugnant, neque sic esse asserenda ut dogmata fidei, licet aluquando sub nomine philosophorum introdueantur; neque sic esse neganda tamquam fidei contraria; ne sapientibus hujus mundi contemnendi doctrinam fidei, occasio praebeatur.”

[102] Roberto Bellarmino, “Roberto Bellarmino a Paolo Antonio Foscarini [in Roma]. Roma, 12 aprile 1615,” vol. 12, Le Opere Di Galileo Galilei (Firenze: Tipografia Di G. Barbera, 1902), 172. “3°. Dico che quando ci fusse vera demonstratione che il sole stia nel contro del mondo e la terra nes 3° cielo, e che il sole non circonda la terra, ma la terra circonda il solo, allhora bisogneria andar con molta consideratione in esplicare le Scritture che paiono contrarie, e più tosto dire che non l’intendiamo, che dire che sia falso quello che si dimostra.”

[103] Grenz, Primer, 63.

[104] Porter, Enlightenment, p. 31-32.

[105] See Jonathan Israel, Radical Enlightenment.

[106] Grenz, Primer, p. 64.

[107] For a critique of Descartes’ methodology, see Jacques Maritain, Distinguish to Unite: The Degrees of Knowledge, trans. Gerald B. Phelan (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1959), 78ff, n3.

[108] Grenz, Primer, p. 65.

[109] Ibid., p. 66.

[110] Ibid., p. 68.

[111] Ibid., p. 81.

[112] Ibid., p. 162.

[113] Ibid., p. 164.

[114] Ibid., p. 164-165.

[115] Ibid., p. 165

[116] Ibid.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Ibid., p. 166.

[120] Ibid.

[121] Ibid.

[122] Ibid.

[123] Ibid.

[124] Ibid.

[125] Ibid.

[126] Ibid., p. 168.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Ibid., p. 169.

[129] Ibid.

[130] Ibid.

[131] Ibid.

[132] Ibid.

[133] Ibid.

[134] Ibid., p. 171.

[135] “χωρὶς δὲ πίστεως ἀδύνατον εὐαρεστῆσαι· πιστεῦσαι γὰρ δεῖ τὸν προσερχόμενον τῷ θεῷ ὅτι ἔστιν καὶ τοῖς ἐκζητοῦσιν αὐτὸν μισθαποδότης γίνεται” (Heb. 11:6).

[136] Grenz, Primer, p. 171.

[137] Ibid., p. 173.

[138] Bruce Corley, Steve Lemke, and Grant Lovejoy, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), 206.

[139] Edgar V. McKnight, Postmodern Use of the Bible: The Emergence of Reader-Oriented Criticism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988), 18-19.

[140] John A. Sims, “Postmodernism: The Apologetic Imperative,” in The Challenge of Postmodernism: An Evangelical Engagement, ed. David S. Dockery (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1995), 324.

[141] Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1994), 204.

[142] Laura Lee Downs, “If ‘Woman’ Is Just an Empty Category, Then Why Am I Afraid to Walk Alone at Night? Identity Politics Meets the Postmodern Subject,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 35 (1993), 416.

[143] Richard J. Evans, In Defense of History (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 182.

[144] John W. Cooper, “Reformed Apologetics and the Challenge of Post-Modern Relativism,” Calvin Theological Journal 28 (April 1993): 109.

[145] Sims, “Postmodernism: The Apologetic Imperative,” 326.

[146] The term “historical situatedness” is a “short-hand” way of referring to the historical circumstances in which human beings live and think. Each person is located in a specific place, at a specific time, in a specific culture, with certain social, political, philosophical, theological, etc., perspectives through which he or she perceives and interacts with the world around and within. All of those aspects of the life of a human being in this world can be subsumed under the notion of one’s historical situatedness. This is not to capitulate to historicism, but simply to acknowledge the finitude of the human being.

[147] Cynthia D. Buchanan, A Programed Introduction to Linguistics (Lexington, Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1963), 9.

[148] Jonathan Culler, Ferdinand de Saussure (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1976), 15. The French words to which Culler refers are “fleuve” and “rivieÌre.”

[149] Ibid., p. 16.

[150] Walter Truett Anderson.

[151] Greer, Mapping Postmodernism, p. 13.



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