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Warranted Christian Belief
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A. Is Postmodernism Inconsistent with Christian Belief?

Now many of these claims are not sensible candidates for the post of being defeaters of Christian belief, and indeed some of them are entirely congenial to it. For example, postmoderns typically reject classical foundationalism, which has also been rejected by such doughty spokespersons for Christian belief as Abraham Kuyper, William Alston, and Nicholas Wolterstorff and, for that matter, in anticipatory fashion by Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Edwards. (Its rejection is also a central motif of this book.) Many other themes of postmodernism can elicit only enthusiastic applause from a Christian perspective: one thinks of sympathy and compassion for the poor and oppressed, the strong sense of outrage at some of the injustices our world displays, celebration of diversity, and the ‘unmasking’ of prejudice, oppression, and power-seeking masquerading as self-evident moral principle and the dictates of sweet reason. Another theme on which Christian and postmodern can heartily agree is the way in which, even in the best of us, our vision of what is right and wrong, true or false, is often clouded and covered over by self-interest. True, postmoderns tend to see these beams in the eyes of others, not in their own; but in this they don’t differ from the rest of us including Christians.

Other postmodern claims, however, do appear to be incompatible with Christian belief: for example, the claims that God is dead, that there are no ‘objective’ moral standards, and perhaps also the claim that there isn’t any such thing as truth, at least as commonsensically thought of. With respect to rejection of truth, there is an initial problem: what, precisely, is it to reject truth? To do that, must you assert that there simply isn’t any such thing as truth, or is it sufficient to say that there is such a thing, all right, but it is very different from what we thought (and there is nothing else at all like what we thought truth was)?542542   Compare the claim (a) there are no elephants, with the claim (b) there are elephants, but they are really a variety of prime numbers (and there is nothing at all like what we thought elephants were like). Compare the claim (a) that there are no universals with the claim (b) that there are some, but as it turns out they are merely names, nomina. According to Aristotle’s marvelously monosyllabic account of truth quoted in the epigraph, “To say of what is that it is, or of what is not that it is not, is true,” if someone claims there is no such thing as truth, is he committed to denying, for example, that snow is white is true if and only if snow is white? Do postmoderns propose to deny that? These are tough questions. Still, there is one common postmodern sort of view of truth according to which what is true depends on what we human beings say or think, and that does seem incompatible with Christian belief. At any rate it does if we accept the plausible proposition that

(1) Necessarily, there is such a person as God if and only if it is true that there is such a person as God.

For the postmodern claim about truth implies that whether it is true that there is such a person as God depends upon us and what we do or think. But if the truth of this proposition depends on us, then, given (1) so does the very existence of God. According to (1) there is such a person as God if and only if it is true that there is; hence if its being true that there is such a person as God depends on us and what we do and think, then so does there being such a person as God; God depends on us for his existence. From a Christian perspective, that is wholly absurd. This way of thinking about truth, therefore, is incompatible given (1) with Christian belief.

The same goes for the idea that there simply is no such thing as truth. One of our most fundamental and basic ideas is that there is such a thing as the way things are. Things could have been very different from the way they are; there are many ways things could have been, but among them is the way they actually are. There actually are horses; there aren’t any unicorns, although (perhaps) there could have been; there being horses, then, is part of the way things are. Now the existence of truth is intimately connected with there being a way things really are, a way the world is. For it is true that there are horses if and only if there being horses is part of the way things are. Of course a postmodernist might reply, “Well, obviously there is such a thing as the way things are—who could deny that? But when I say there is no such thing as truth, I don’t mean to deny that at all. I only mean to say that there is no such thing as truth understood a certain way. There is no such thing as truth understood, for example, as requiring a sort of detailed structural correspondence between the way the world is and English (or German or Swahili or Chinese) sentences.” This latter would be harmless enough; it would also be uninteresting. Postmoderns sometimes seem to oscillate between a momentous but clearly false claim (there simply is no such thing as truth at all) and a sensible but rather boring claim (there is no such thing as truth, conceived in some particular and implausible way). Taken the strong way, however, as the suggestion there really is no such thing as the way the world is, and hence no such thing as truth, the postmodern claim is incompatible with Christian belief. For it is certainly crucial to Christian belief to suppose that there is a way things are, and that it includes the great things of the gospel; it is crucial to Christian belief to suppose that such propositions as God created the world and Christ’s suffering and death are an atonement for human sin are true.


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