Over the past few decades, I have tried to get a handle on what postmodernism is all about, as that was the buzz for a awhile, and still comes up in religious discussion. As I was reading this article, it was interesting how much of it applies to the YEC movement. Good article on its overall content also, and worth the read.
Some of the statements made can relate directly to YEC, and of course the time it became popular is consistent with the turn away from modernism.
The author states: " No one seems to agree on what’s really real anymore. How did we, supposedly the most technologically and scientifically advanced civilization in history, get to this point? "
Indeed, the discussions here often are more about what is real, rather than what is right.
Basically, the article goes on to discuss how everything is seen in postmodern thought as a social construct, dependent more on beliefs and ideas than objective fact. That oversimplifies, but seems to apply also.
Interestingly, the article goes on to discuss "… social kinds. A social kind is a general category that reflects the contingent ways that humans sort the world into types, such as “refugee” or “nongovernmental organization” or “Aboriginal Canadian.”
Alas, perhaps the “kinds” of AIG have a basis in postmodern thought.
In any case, it is interesting that the postmodern movement that is so often bashed by conservative churches may well have fueled the rise of young earth creationism, and be at the heart of the movement.
I think that their reaction to us old-earth Christians says it all. Their number one accusation is not factual inaccuracy or falsehood, but “compromise.”
Then they go on to tell us that how old we believe the earth to be is simply a matter of one worldview against another. Look at it God’s way, and you’ll see six thousand years; look at it man’s way and you’ll see 4.5 billion years. With complete disregard for the fact that God’s way is honest and accurate weights and measures.
While I agree that from their internal viewpoint, they are very modern, black and white as you say in their view. However, the factors leading up to Morris in the early sixties seems a backlash against secular modernism where science and reason seemed to promise a utopian future, spoiled by yet another world war and the following Cold War with the threat of nuclear destruction looming as a result of science run amok. It seems it was part of the anti-intellectualism that came to infect many in the church.
Or I may be totally off base, as I really have had difficulty with understanding post-modernism, and here we are in the post-postmodern age before I did.
With my limited understanding, it is interesting how the church uses a lot of post-modern ideas (use of story, change in the way missions is done with personal experience trumping formal training in many cases) while at the same time not recognizing the problems inherent in modernism, and criticizing postmodernism.
Hey - don’t feel too bad. I’m still trying to catch up with the enlightenment. I guess I may be a little late to that party. Did it end already?
I remember a story about 3 umpires describing their philosophies regarding balls and strikes. The discussion went as follows (attributed to Os Guinness as found in this Faulkner University syllabus):
(1) The first umpire says, “I call it like it is” (modernism).
(2) The second one says, “I call it like I see it” (mild postmodernism).
(3) The third said, “It ain’t nothing till I call it” (radical postmodernism).
That’s really interesting, I have actually been thinking something quite similar. And then I came across this video the other day that outlines two main types of people in this world in a debate over what is science. The YEC crowd falls firmly on one side along with many of others (a few minutes in they get to the difference between the two groups, no need to see beyond that table):
It is my observation that when we see trends toward extremes it is because we are circling a truth that is some where in the middle and we haven’t found the proper balance yet. So what is the spectrum which has this “post-truth era” at one end of it? Wouldn’t that be one where at the other end we have the idea that there is one fixed objective absolute universal truth. That is the extreme which seems to be coming apart at the seams, producing this reaction leading to the opposite extreme that the only truths are diverse, changing, subjective, and relative to social convention and culture. And thus it might seem the only way to have a tolerant multi-cultural society is to abandon the idea of truth altogether. But that cannot be right either can it? So what is the middle ground reality that these extremes are circling?
Doesn’t logic suggest that truth must be a little of both? It suggests we have some truths which are objective and the same for everyone, while other truths are subjective and depend on our personal nature and choices. It suggest that some truths are unchanging and absolute, while others are relative to social convention changing with society and circumstance. In fact, I think this much of this middle ground is somewhat obvious (except for those most stubborn and willful) and the real battle is over which truths belong to which of these categories. And yet this too is fairly obvious for simple reasons and the fight only continues because of a refusal to accept the irrefutable evidence, though some of the reason for this is a reaction to other extremes.
With a method for successfully determining objective truths independent of personal belief, science is the only contender for objective truth. Since religious truth depends on belief, this is clearly in the category of subjective truth. But I think there is perhaps a key assumption which is making this fairly obvious conclusion harder to accept. It is an assumption which causes us to think that the objective truths define reality and the subjective truths do not – the assumption that reality itself is objective. But while we have excellent evidence that there is an objective aspect to reality, there is no objective evidence whatsoever that reality is exclusively objective.
But what does it mean to say that reality is not exclusively objective, it means that reality is not completely the same for everyone and the fact that there is an objective aspect of reality just means that there is some overlap between them. Discarding the assumption that reality is exclusively objective means that a subjective knowledge of reality does not automatically require you to think that anyone who does not share this same knowledge is therefore out of of touch with reality. But how do we differentiate between the objective and the subjective aspects of reality? That is where objective evidence comes into it, derived from the procedures in science which anyone can follow no matter what they may believe to get the same results. This is what gives us a reasonable expectation that others should agree, and that is what distinguishes it from the subjective truths where without objective evidence such an expectation would not be reasonable.
It certainly a does not fall in the category of postmodern philosophy. And while it is tempting to think of it as a reaction against modernism, the simple fact is that there is a long long history of theologians throughout the middle ages of making calculations from the Bible for the creation of the Earth between 6984 BC and 3616 BC. The only thing you can really attribute to a reaction against modernism is the opposition to evolution because there was no such theory in the middle ages to oppose. Instead we have warnings such as those of Augustine against interpreting the Bible in a way that is opposed to the discoveries of science.
Thank you for posting this. Very interesting article the first time through. I’ve printed it out to look over more carefully. It seems to me like science, religion and post modernism each contain kernel insights of great value. At the same time each one, if taken as ones entire world view in isolation, leads to distortions for which the others provide some correction.
@jpm, Phil do you see postmodernism fueling YEC in the sense of empowering a narrow world view to argue for its respectability by relativizing all world views? It does provide academic justification for looking at the strengths and weaknesses of every world view without agreed upon traditional standards. While that may fly for aesthetics or ethics, when people start promoting alternative schools of science that just seems absurd, doesn’t it?
I suppose the aspect that led each to propose it is that they share the backlash against science and modern thought, though of course YEC has at its core belief the metanarative of Christianity and the Bible. So ultimately, I suppose that while Christy is correct in saying the movement itself lacks postmodern characteristics, I think it was fueled by similar forces uncomfortable with modernism.
Certainly, there are aspects of post-modernism in the way I view scripture, as I tend to see it as allowing multiple layers of interpretation rather than monolithic though I am not as relativistic in most of my views.
I hadn’t made as far as reading the other comments when I read the article between first and second sleep this morning. But I agree with you Christy that the YEC perspective does not incorporate anything at all pluralistic in its perspective. In as much as a post modern society is also a post "T"ruth society it is probably easier for it succeed in such a world in spite of all the obvious discontinuities with the most widely accepted empirical accounts.
The glib acceptance of ignorance as a testament to a higher valuation of faith is what has always struck me as the worst aspect of Christianity, and entirely unnecessary as well. Of course my understanding of Christianity was tilted toward those parts I encountered in my own family but eventually I realized I didn’t need such a broad brush. Kudos to this website for helping to erase the blight of happy ignorance in fundamentalist denominations.
I’m with you. I’ve found it a very slippery topic and anything I think about it has to be qualified with “unless I’m entirely mistaken about what post modernism even means”.
You aren’t the only one. Even the great Wikipedia blows it in the very first line: “Modernism is a philosophical movement …” If you read through much of the article, you’ll notice that precious few philosophers are mentioned, mainly Nietzsche. That’s because modernism was a movement primarily within the arts, literature, and music. To save time, I’m going to borrow a bit from a good, short summary found here:
Modernism was essentially conceived of as a rebellion against 19th Century academic and historicist traditions and against Victorian nationalism and cultural absolutism, on the grounds that the “traditional” forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life (in a modern industrialized world) were becoming outdated.
So, what you saw happening in the arts in the late 19th century was the rejection of old forms – Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, for instance – and experimentation with new forms – Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
It called for the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was “holding back” progress, and replacing it with new, progressive and better ways of reaching the same end. Modernists believed that by rejecting tradition they could discover radically new ways of making art, and at the same time to force the audience to take the trouble to question their own preconceptions. It stressed freedom of expression, experimentation, radicalism and primitivism, and its disregard for conventional expectations often meant startling and alienating audiences with bizarre and unpredictable effects (e.g. surrealism in art, atonality in music, stream-of-consciousness literature).
If you notice, modernism was intimately connected to the idea of progress, and therein lies the connection to late 19th- early 20th-century philosophy, science, and technology. Today, we might label it “scientism.” Bertrand Russell is a good example around the turn of the century, and it culminated with the logical positivists of the 1920s, who insisted that the only things we can call “true” are those that can be objectively verified. In other words, only scientific facts are true; everything else is “just whistling in the dark.”
Notice also that 19th-century modernism challenged European cultural hegemony, and that it already included the idea that preconceptions influenced one’s view of truth. After all, Kierkegaard wrote that “Truth is Subjectivity” in 1846. (Of course, he meant something different by “subjectivity” than what immediately comes to our minds, nevertheless …)
In an important sense, post-modernism is in continuity with modernism in every realm except philosophy, where logical positivism ultimately collapsed, and in this notion that progress, whether scientific or political, could solve society’s problems.
However, I think post-modernism does correctly diagnose the problem that modernism presents. Modernism assumes objectivity. Post-modernism shows that such objectivity is impossible.
So, the problem is correctly identified.
The solutions put forward by the radical post-modernist deconstructionists are incomprehensible. This leads to the entire loss of meaning and coherence. Which, I suspect, may be the purpose.
What is the solution? Well, that seems to be extraordinarily difficult. I’ve come to think that it has something to do with ensuring that you fall somewhere with in the orthodoxy of the 2000 year history of the Church.
That matches what I’ve heard of it too. As one Catholic priest put it: “Postmodernism helped to break the logjam of modernism.”
So as much as we may disavow its radical deconstructivist aspects, we shouldn’t lose sight that it performs (performed) a valuable service too. Perhaps we could think of it as the needed injection of humility into our philosophy. The problem begins when you have so much of the drug in you that you talk yourself out of knowing/trusting/hoping anything.
A YEC may see themselves as honoring God’s written word as an absolute priority over the ever changing positions of science. They would reject their position is postmodern
YEC could point to Biologos as being postmodern because core Biblical doctrine is being reinterpreted by science, statements by Biblical characters are being questioned as being not real and in so doing are undermining the authority of scripture.
Then they would be wrong in their understanding of what “postmodern” means.
They would be right to say that an approach to biblical interpretation that considers the perspective of the author and dominant worldviews of the culture when deciding what the text means is influenced by postmodernism.