Consequences of a Postmodern Epistemology – Part 2

Just read an article by Pat Buchanan that really got me thinking. It didn’t convey much that isn’t already apparent but it presented it in such a way that it really hit me and made me think about how it relates to our epistemological cultural transition from a modernistic to a postmodern worldview.

It seems the so called “balkanization” of our society is continuing despite the desires of president Obama to unify. I don’t want to be partisan in these observations. I think no matter how you divide the palette of opinion in the USA at the moment all sides are exhibiting a similar behavior. To the political left the right are compared to Nazi’s and to the right the left are compared to communists. The right is accused of taking away rights and the left is accused of taking away freedoms. There are greedy capitalists and inane socialists. One could go on and on. The mudslinging seems to be increasing.

This may be a distorted view on my part due to the media coverage but I do think these are symptoms of something that is taking place below the surface. Namely, a transition of worldviews and an indication of a negative side of postmodernism.

As I see it three things are at work:

  • A mixture of modern and postmodern elements:As I described in part one a postmodern view lacks the ability to provide order and consensus since it cannot claim any epistemological certainty about the knowledge claims that it makes. Yet at the same time it appears to me that we are still acting from the modern mind set that such certainty is possible. We have the goals of modernism but now lack the means to achieve them. This results in the next observation.
  • Argumentation based on character and not on facts:When factual arguments are absent all that is left is the tactic of demonizing the opposing view. Instead of discussing the issues now we see that the character and motivation of the proponent of opposing views are called into question. Yes, this has likely always been a part of American culture and politics (think of the scopes trial or the civil war just to name a few) but my sense is that we again are witnessing an intensification of this phenomenon. Were we not able in previous generations to go about things in a more civil manner? Perhaps one of you historians could fill us in.
  • An incomplete picture of our true anthropological nature:The popular articulation of the postmodern paradigm as I know it assumes a positive anthropology. If we all just live and let live, do not attempt to take power by declaring things right or wrong, then everyone will get along just fine. This, of course, runs contrary to a Christian view of anthropology, which has a unique view of how human beings tick. Namely, there is the positive side capable of love, harmony, courage, beauty and a host of other things. But the Christian view also posits that humans have a depraved side which produces war, greed, hatred and selfishness etc. If the negative side is truly present in our nature, then we have major problems if we ignore it. I am of the opinion that most of the evil in the world is not solely the result of political or religious systems but an outworking of the true nature of mankind. This I believe is missing in the popular worldview.

Maybe I’m overreacting. This is not the first crisis that the USA has had to deal with and not yet the most serious. I hope that we can successfully overcome this one like in time past but that is not guaranteed. Maybe with some effort we can return to a degree of unity and civility which is sorely missing at the moment.


A fatal blow to Christianity ?

This article about an Artificial Mind caught my eye. It touches on a core theological tenant of Christianity, namely the makeup of the human being or anthropology.

With the advance of scientific discovery over the centuries more and more people have discarded Christianity and the Bible as a viable source of truth and have instead placed them alongside other legends, mythologies and religions. I believe this is a mistake. I would assert that the world of modern discovery and technology has not made it necessary to discard the Bible. There are challenges, yes, but I have not yet found them to be insurmountable.

What event or discovery would it take to shake your belief in the Bible? Life on other planets? This would be a monumental discovery but for me it wouldn’t necessarily disprove Christianity (this reminds me of a Larry Norman song). How about proof that Jesus was not raised from the dead? Yes, this would be troubling indeed. Even the Apostle Paul would have given up if that were the case.

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” – 1 Corinthians 15:32

Another topic which is central to Christian teaching is the dualistic makeup of the human being. On one side there is the physical body and on the other side the metaphysical, soul, spirit. And then there are things which are difficult to categorize like the mind. If it could be shown that these dualistic and quasi dualistic views are false and that in reality a materialistic view is true, namely everything can be explained by the interaction of the neurons, then this for me would pose a serious blow to Christianity if not a fatal one. If all the talk of spirit, soul and mind is simply an attempt to explain something which is so complex that it is otherwise not understandable, then it follows that all the metaphysical claims of the Bible should also be discarded as mythical products of human imagination.

The article reports on efforts to create an artificial mind. Not just a computer but a mind. It should have the ability to go beyond computing and actually think. Here is an excerpt.

Computer Brain

This is a question that has troubled scientists and philosophers for centuries. The traditional answer was to assume that some sort of ‘soul’ pervades the brain, a mysterious ‘ghost in the machine’ which gives rise to the feeling of self and consciousness. If this is the case, then computers, being machines not flesh and blood, will never think. We will never be able to build a robot that will feel pain or get angry, and the Blue Brain project will fail. But very few scientists still subscribe to this traditional ‘dualist’ view – ‘dualist’ because it assumes ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ are two separate things. Instead, most neuroscientists believe that our feelings of self-awareness, pain, love and so on are simply the result of the countless billions of electrical and chemical impulses that flit between its equally countless billions of neurons. So if you build something that works exactly like a brain, consciousness, at least in theory, will follow.

Will they succeed? Personally, I’m not to worried. They have big ambitions and have allocated themselves a convenient timespan of ten years but the implications of this are staggering, so I will be keeping my eyes open.