December 6, 2008

Reductionism / Empiricism: "Why I can't be Pente", Part VI

Reductionism / Empiricism
The fourth and final characteristic of Protestantism that I want to highlight is its reductionism, and its rationalistic and Empiricists assumptions.

Protestantism is reductionist in a number of ways. It has always sought to get back to the "primitive" NT Church, to discard any aspect of the faith that cannot be proven to have been in place in the NT. Protestants use the truncated OT canon of the Jews -- in fact if Luther had his way, he would have truncated the NT as well discarding James especially, along with a few other books that he didn't like.

Protestants have also sought to define the Christian Faith in terms of "essentials" -- i.e. what is the bare minimum that one must believe or do to be a Christian.

In essence, Protestants have always been marked by rationalism, and western rationalists have always sought to boil reality down to that which could serve as the firmest foundation upon which to build a sound rationalistic structure.

For example Descarte, using methodological doubt, found that he could doubt everything in the universe except his own existence --thus the famous line: I think, therefore I am. Upon this one sure basis -- his own existence -- he then proceeded to build his philosophical system.

The Reformers were at first content to view the Bible as the irreducible basis for their rationalism to be built upon, but later Protestants, like Descarte, using methodological doubt and the criterion of suspicion, began to examine the Bible to see what could be certainly known in it. Eventually, using their critical tools, there foundation of Sola Scriptura poured out of their hand like a handful of dust. Taken from its context within Holy Tradition, the Bible was a Castle built on thin air -- it didn't take long for it to come crashing down.

Modernists, in their arrogance have presumed to critically analyze the assumptions of all previous writers and philosophers -- but they have failed to critically assess their own underlying assumptions.

When I was a ministerial student, I was given the assignment of writing on the relationship between Empiricism and Biblical studies -- this turned out to be one of the most revelational studies I had ever conducted. The first amazing discovery I made was that there was almost nothing written on the subject. It became very clear that Empiricist and Positivist thought was a basic underlying assumption in Protestant Biblical studies, but I found nothing that directly examined the relationship between the two. Another discovery, which came as quite a shock to me at the time, was that the extreme rationalism and modernism that I personally rejected when I encountered it in the field of Biblical studies, was actually very much kin to the Humanistic assumptions that had always been present in Protestantism. What I came to realize was that the liberals were simply more consistently Protestant than I was as a conservative trying to hand on to some absolute truths.

Empiricism is based upon the assumption that the ultimate basis of knowledge is experience, or sense perception. Empiricism, as the term is most commonly used, does not refer to a specific philosophy, but rather to the most fundamental assumptions of the Modern Western worldview. Empiricism seeks to know what can be known with "certainty" and can be "verified" "scientifically."

The biggest assumption of the empirical worldview is that one can have a scientific method that operates without assumptions. That sounds ridiculous, but remember a worldview is a set of assumptions that we are usually unaware of. A further extension of the assumption that all knowledge is derived from experience is that reality is determined by what we can observe with our senses and can empirically test. The result of this belief [!] is that one must deny the possibility that one could know anything transcendent or supernatural--thus the reality of the transcendent and supernatural is denied. Empiricists do not produce evidence that falsifies transcendent reality, or miracles; rather their presuppositions, from the very outset, deny the possibility of such things.

Most conservative Protestants would object that they do not think this way at all. They believe in the Bible, and believe in the miracles of the Bible. Of course, if you are a Christian, then you could never accept all the conclusions of empiricism, but most Western Christians have adopted many of its assumptions -- to varying degrees. For example, a Christian could not have a worldview which denied the transcendent, but many hold a radical dualism in which the transcendent and the empirical realms are radically separate, seldom come into contact, and when they do, only on very limited scale.

A pure Empiricist sees only the empirical level as knowable or real.

A Christian cannot deny the transcendent level, because to be a Christian one must believe in God; but a Christian who operates with empirical assumptions is blinded to the middle level. It is primarily on the level of the supernatural that the transcendent and the empirical come into contact; but a Christian empiricist cannot have the transcendent messing up the empirical realm, and so he sees God as having little to do with everyday life in the real world. This worldview is largely responsible for the compartmentalization of religion in the life of so many Western Christians.

An Animist, on the other hand, is culturally blind to empirical reality.

If someone is sick, then it is an evil spirit at work. Everything is connected with the supernatural. By the same token, a Christian empiricist immediately credits the sickness to natural causes, and so is blind to any supernatural factors at work. An Orthodox worldview, on the other hand, takes both factors into account -- all sickness is not spirit related, but neither is all sickness caused by natural factors alone.

Despite the obvious problems of using Empirical assumptions in the presumably theological field of Biblical studies, Protestants have embraced methodologies grounded in Empiricist thinking without examining the inconsistency of doing so because they were in search of some air of scientific objectivity in what would be otherwise a subjective and individualistic endeavor -- which clearly lacked any claim to consistency.

The great fallacy in the this so called "scientific" approach to the Scriptures lies in the fallacious application of empirical assumptions to the study of history, Scripture, and theology. Empirical methods work reasonably well when they are correctly applied to natural sciences, but when they are applied where they cannot possibly work, such as in history (which cannot be repeated or experimented upon) they cannot produce either consistent or accurate results.

Scientist have yet to invent a telescope capable of peering into the spirit world, and yet many Protestant scholars assert that in the light of science the idea of the existence of demons or of the Devil has been disproved -- where is the scientific study that has proven this? Were the Devil to appear before an Empiricist with pitch fork in hand and clad in bright red underwear, it would be explained neatly in some manner that would easily comport to his worldview, for although such Empiricists pride themselves on their openness to the truth, they are blinded by their assumptions to such an extent that they cannot see anything that does not fit their version of reality.

If the methods of empiricism were consistently applied it would discredit all knowledge (including itself), but empiricism is permitted to be inconsistent by those who hold to it because "its ruthless mutilation of human experience lends it such a high reputation for scientific severity, that its prestige overrides the defectiveness of its own foundations." [Rev. Robert T. Osborn, "Faith as Personal Knowledge," Scottish Journal of Theology 28 (February 1975): 101-126.]

Conservative Protestants have happily been much less consistent in their rationalistic approach, and thus have preserved among themselves a reverence for the Scriptures and a belief in their inspiration -- never-the-less their approach (even among the most dogged Fundamentalists) is still essentially rooted in the same spirit of rationalism as the Liberals.

A prime example of this is to be found among Dispensational Fundamentalists, who hold to an elaborate theory which posits that at various stages in history God has dealt with man according to different "dispensations," such as the "Adamic dispensation," the "Noaic dispensation," the "Mosaic dispensation," the "Davidic dispensation," and so on it goes. Thus far, one can see that there is a degree of truth in this theory, but beyond these Old Testament dispensations they teach that currently we are under a different dispensation than were the Christians of the first Century, and so though miracles continued through the New Testament period, they now longer occur today.

Now this is very interesting, because (in addition to lacking any Scriptural basis) this theory allows Fundamentalists to affirm the miracles of the Bible, while at the same time allowing them to be Empiricists in their every day life. Thus, though the discussion of this approach may at first glance seem to be only of academic interest and far removed from the reality of dealing with the average Protestant, in fact even the average piously conservative Protestant laymen is not unaffected by this sort of rationalism.

The connections between the extreme conclusions that modern liberal Protestant scholars have come to, and the more conservative or Fundamentalist Protestants will not seem clear to many -- least of all to conservative Fundamentalists! Though these conservatives see themselves as being in almost complete opposition to Protestant liberalism, they none the less use essentially the same kinds of methods in their study of the Scriptures as do the liberals, and along with these methodologies come their underlying philosophical assumptions which the conservatives have unwittingly bought into.

Thus the difference between the liberals and the conservatives is not in reality a difference of basic assumptions, but rather a difference in how far they have taken them to their logical conclusions. Like the Gadarene swine, together they are rushing headlong toward the edge of a precipice -- though the liberals may have already gone over the edge, the conservatives are heading in the same direction, they just haven't gone as far. The Protestant denominations that today are ordaining homosexuals as ministers were just as conservative a hundred years ago, and the more conservative denominations are following the same path.

If Protestant exegesis were truly scientific, as it presents itself, its results would show consistency. If its methods were merely unbiased "technologies" (as many view them) then it would not matter who used them, they would work the same for everyone; but what do we find when we examine current status of Protestant biblical studies? In the estimation of the "experts" themselves, Protestant biblical scholarship is in a crisis. In fact this crisis is perhaps best illustrated by the admission of a recognized Protestant Old Testament scholar, Gerhad Hasel [in his survey of the history and current status of the discipline of Old Testament theology, Old Testament Theology: Issues in the Current Debate], that during the 1970's five new Old Testament theologies had been produced "but not one agrees in approach and method with any of the others." In fact it is amazing, considering the self proclaimed high standard of scholarship in Protestant biblical studies, that you can take your pick of limitless conclusions on almost any issue and find good scholarship to back it up. In other words, you can just about come to any conclusion that suits you on a particular issue, and you can find a Ph.D. who will advocate it. This is certainly not science in the same sense as mathematics or chemistry! What we are dealing with is a field of learning that presents itself as objective science, but which in fact is a pseudo- science, concealing a variety of competing philosophical and theological perspectives. It is pseudo-science because until scientist develop instruments capable of examining and understanding God, objective scientific theology or biblical interpretation is an impossibility. This is not to say that there is nothing that is genuinely scholarly or useful within it; but this is to say that camouflaged with these legitimate aspects of historical and linguistic learning, and hidden by the fog machines and mirrors of pseudo-science, we discover in reality that Protestant methods of biblical interpretation are both the product and the servant of Protestant theological and philosophical assumptions -- and like hoses they simply spew forth whatever is pumped into them.

With subjectivity that surpasses the most speculative Freudian psychoanalysts, Protestant scholars selectively choose the facts and evidence that suits their agenda and then proceed (with their conclusions essentially predetermined by their basic assumptions) to ply their methods to the Holy Scriptures; all the while thinking themselves dispassionate scientists. And since modern universities do not give out Ph.D.'s to those who merely pass on the unadulterated Truth, these scholars seek to out do each other by coming up with new outlandish theories. This is the very essence of heresy: novelty, arrogant personal opinion, and self deception.

Rather than discrediting ancient Patristic Christianity or Tradition, Protestantism has become the most vivid vindication of Tradition that the Church could have hoped for. Protestantism itself now stands thoroughly discredited. Twenty Three Thousand denominations after the Reformation, Protestants are becoming aware of the spiritual bankruptcy that constitutes denominational Christianity. I think that this is one of the biggest reasons for the influx of Protestants into the Church.

Orthodoxy on the other hand .....

Maximalism / Full Worldview
Rather than the minimalism of Protestantism, which asks questions like "What are the essentials? What is the minimum requirements to be a Christian?" The Orthodox ask what is the most I can do as a Christian?

The Orthodox Faith is a lifestyle, rather than a weekend hobby. We affirm the Inspiration of the Scriptures as firmly as any Protestant, but we also affirm the Apostolic Tradition that St. Paul told us included both written Scripture and oral Tradition -- both of which we are to hold fast to. Christianity is not reduced to a book, we have received our worship, as well as our theology from the Apostles.

Rather than the Empiricism of Western Rationalism, that makes Christ and the Apostles out to be primitive thinking men who were foolish enough to believe in such phenomena as Demonization and miracles, the Orthodox Church affirms Christ as maker of all things visible and invisible -- both of the empirical and of the supernatural. We pray for healing and call on physicians -- because God is not limited to either to natural or to supernatural means to accomplish his purposes. God can heal through the wisdom and skill of a doctor, and through the anointing of oil from St. John Maximovitch's tomb.

In the Orthodox Church, we affirm that there are demons that influence people and that people are responsible for their own actions. Our worldview can allow that a man could be driven insane by demons, and that a man could be insane because of a physical disease. We see no contradiction between the Empirical and the Supernatural -- and so we are not blind to either reality. Miracles are in fact such an accepted fact of life in the Church, that we do not go ga ga just because a miracle takes place -- because we realize that it is not just God that works miracles, but demons as well. Our society in general has been so closed to the supernatural, that when they are confronted with an undeniable supernatural happening -- they automatically assume it to be divine, and so many have fallen into demonic deception in our times.

1 comment:

Thoughts said...

Just a small point, Descartes was a catholic: "He had a deep religious faith as a Catholic, which he retained to his dying day".(From "Religious Affiliation of History's 100 Most Influential People" based on Michael H. Hart's book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.

I wonder if you are not combining Empiricism, Rationalism and Platonism under the heading "Empiricism". It seems to me that empiricism supports rather than denies spirituality. See The nature of the soul

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