Sunday, August 16, 2009

Critque of Francis Schaefer’s Article "He is There and He is not Silent" from Bibliotheca Sacra

Primary Strengths
Dr. Schaeffer looks beyond the failure of Rationalism, because its failure does not require us to abandon the hope it failed to justify. It masqueraded as a foundation for the hope of improving the human condition but has been exposed by philosophy as groundless. In contrast, the nemesis to despair is an ancient epistemology that Rationalism rose up to challenge some three hundred years ago. Schaeffer argues convincingly that this framework for knowledge and reason is true; it has withstood the test of free inquiry by skeptics.

This is important in all realms of human life and Schaeffer uses early science as an illustration. Early science, that of Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and the others was based on the ancient epistemology, while modern science is based on Rationalism. The fall of Rationalism has taken modern science down with it.

The implications for the failure of modern science are profound. Schaeffer says science will die, becoming only technology. By this he means that it is no longer a process for discovery but merely a mechanism to record evidence. He further asserts that science has become a game of splintering its body of findings into ever more finite categories. Science is disappearing.

Kaplan (2001, pp 172-3, 183) notes that this splintering produces “grave deformities” and “vicious forms of human existence.” He recounts the 1929 work of Jose Ortega y Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses.
Mass man knows expertly his small island but is ignorant of the rest of the world and has no bridge to reach it. So it is with the splinters of modern science. There has supposedly been a rapid expansion of knowledge but how much is useful, how much is even usable? Gasset finds an inverse relation between wisdom and specialization. Schaeffer’s anticipation of this is impressive.

The failure of Rationalism has infected other realms with its despair. Spanos (2003, p. 148) informs us that the underlying motif in Postmodern literature, dread, has its source in the rejection of Logical Positivism, an ineffectual last stand of Rationalism. Dread is defined as anxiety with no specific object, distinct from fear that does have a specific object. This manifests itself in Postmodern literature as a rejection of the ending as a solution to the narrative (p. 152), and a refusal to “fulfill causally oriented expectations” (p. 148). In other words, it is a rejection (p. 154) of the “detective story,” which has a rational solution “generated by the scientific analysis of the man-in-the-world.” Consumer behavior and marketing communications form a detective story in an ad campaign. Postmodern literature rejects this format.

Worse comes. Schaeffer effectively argues that a failure of Rationalism was its inability to establish reasonable principles or universals, something that has always been possible from the Judeo-Christian position. This inability may lead to the disappearance of principle-based policy in the postmodern world. Consensus, the compromise of principles (that we are unsure of anyway) becomes the guiding principle. Kaplan (2001, pp 169-185) sees a danger in peace as a primary goal because this “implies that you will [compromise] any principle for the sake of it.”
Why did Rationalism fail? Taleb (2007, pp 52-3,55,65,69,101,220) recounts numerous points of failure such as round-trip fallacies, domain specificity, naïve empiricism, post hoc rationalization, the narrative fallacy, silent evidence and others. While he uses sound reasoning, Taleb is hesitant to generalize to find a root cause.

On the other hand, Schaeffer is willing to propose the root cause that explains all the others. The presupposition of Rationalism did not explain mankind or our world; it is impossible to derive a uniformity of natural causes in a closed system. Today it’s more intellectual to say there are no answers – Schaeffer says that is exactly the point of Christ. Man starting from himself is lost. Schaeffer finds the worst failure of Rationalism is its inability to understand mankind – our self-concept, our communications, and our free will. We are not a machine to be manipulated in a closed system. Nor are we entirely subject to the whims of randomness.

Problems with the Article “He is There and He is not Silent”
As noted above, the political activism of the Christian Right, especially with George W. Bush, has accelerated an increasing polarization. Schaeffer was conciliatory in reaching out to people but introduced a strident and defensive attitude to the Rationalistic and Humanistic attacks on Christianity. He researched and counter-attacked these viewpoints, and his stridence is evident in this article. The modern Christian Right has not been conciliatory in its dealings with people. Ann Coulter is a prime example. She has been outspoken in her attack on Humanism and its stepchild, liberalism. Gelles (2007, p1) quotes her

"I'm a Christian first and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don't you ever forget it."

“Christianity fuels everything I write. Being a Christian means that I am called upon to do battle against lies, injustice, cruelty, hypocrisy - you know, all the virtues in the church of liberalism."

She is attractive and eloquent but I would fear being in a casual conversation with her.

Another problem with Schaeffer’s article is it presumes knowledge of theological and philosophical terms and concepts. It starts with the knowledge that Rationalism is dead, but many are not so aware of its demise, even scientists. In addition to its philosophic death, leading intellects such as Einstein attacked it as biased and false, such as in his article “Physics and Reality” in the March 1936 edition of the Journal of the Franklin Institute. The eminent scientist Michael Polanyi demolished Rationalism and the positivism of the scientific method in his epic work Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (1958). A bibliography of articles on the failure of Rationalism that led to postmodernism, linguistic analysis and other replacement epistemologies would be helpful. It is presumed the reader already has such knowledge.

How to Improve He is There and He is not Silent
This article attempted to cover substantial ground in a short 19 pages. A major improvement is to provide more canvas to fully develop the ideas in this article. This is what happened after the 1972 lecture at Dallas Theological Seminary and the Bibliotheca Sacra article. Schaeffer authored a book by the same name, which was published after the article.

Was the Study Biased
Yes. Schaeffer was an evangelical Christian and that is clear throughout all his writings. The article itself was published in a theological journal. Not all critics of Rationalism share Schaeffer’s optimism. Most notably to my knowledge, Nassim Taleb who is not a Christian and I will review his Book, The Black Swan next week. While the Schaeffer article is biased, it is transparent. He does not try to persuade the reader of the correctness of the Christian position while hiding the fact that he is a Christian.

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