It has come to my attention that you are about to start a new school in your city. Ah yes, you’ve shown me the great need for a rigorous liberal arts institution in your area. Education, indeed, is the path to a better future. You were right in insisting this to be the case. In your description you also mentioned the importance of critical thinking, free thought and the need to develop a creative mind. I am thrilled to hear about your convictions – and to see such urgency in the tone of your past few letters! At the same time, I’m saddened to hear that many refuse to invest in your idea, and I want you to know that I support you in this. However I do have a few questions concerning your overall project. I believe that, with some deconstruction, you will find a few things to be deeply unsettling about your vision.
I have noticed, in your letters and your description of this new project not a single mention of God. Yes, I do mean, the biblical God. And of course, this should be of no surprise to us since we both know that you do not believe that such a God exists. You will tell me, the notion of the divine is a matter of faith, and faith has nothing to do with what you are trying to do. God is for the churches, and the schools for the sciences. Ah, but here is where you are wrong. God has everything to do with it, and leave him out of the picture, and I think, you shall see that your project would be left empty, and even meaningless. I must ask you, what is the foundation of your argument? And on whose authority are you making these value-laden statements – such as the need for a sound education, the goodness of critical thought and, say, creativity?
A ‘rational mind’ in an ‘irrational universe’
At this point, you might say, that the value is to be self-evident from the claims of human reason. But what is human reasoning? In your naturalistic worldview, human reasoning is merely the chemical movements in your brain. A single thought, or, an idea (take whatever value-laden idea you have) – in an naturalistic framework, is a mere chemical moving around in your brain the same way a can of coke fizzles when you open it. It has no bearing on reality. What, after all, can one separate material entity have anything to do with another independent material entity? Thus, in your worldview, human speech is merely expressing sounds that are supposed to communicate nothing more than chemical motion. We have no reason to suppose that our speech or philosophizing have any transcendent or law-like nature about them.
Not to mention you believe that the world is the product of irrational chance. Yet you believe that you have the rational capacity to comprehend the world. You have sought to understand the world, and you have concluded that the world is, at basic, irrational. But notice here, the contradiction. Chance cannot produce sustained order or meaning. Irrationalism cannot produce the rational. The moment you try to make sense of the world you are imposing your rational categories onto a supposedly irrational universe – and you too are a product of irrationality! You are left in a self-defeating enterprise. In your worldview, human reasoning cannot be trusted. You are left with skepticism.
Logic and Common Sense
Ah, but you say, what about the laws of logic? Are they not law-like in character? Well, sure. In my worldview, they are, and I’ll get to that later. And even if I grant that they are also law-like in your worldview, you cannot get very far with the mere laws of non-contradiction or identity. Logic and much of human reasoning are mere tools. The conclusion of our reasoning completely depends upon where we start. Our presuppositions determine our conclusions. But let’s not get on a rabbit trail here, because I can’t even grant to you the laws of logic, for you are a naturalist, and therefore you are committed to materialism – the view that all that exists is material. On this presupposition, it is necessarily implied that you must also believe that the laws of logic are merely material entities. Mere movements in your brain too, perhaps? We have seen where that would lead us. Now, if you say that the laws of logic are a consensus among men, then I fear this will only take you to the path of the relativist. For, whose laws of logic are we talking about here? Why stop anybody from creating new laws of logic? Just get two or three more others to agree with you and voila, you can write a new book on logic. Not to mention that metaphysicians and logicians can’t agree about what sort of reasoning is best (epistemologists can’t even agree on a cogent definition of knowledge!), do we simply just choose a group and argue that this is the best form of reasoning to support? The empiricists argued that knowledge is to be contained by our experience. The rationalists argued that knowledge is to be begun by the a priori. On your worldview, who’s to say who’s right or wrong?
Perhaps you will simply say “we simply can reason. It’s just the way it is. It seems obvious to me. Reason rests upon itself.” Your worldview simply makes no case for this conclusion, and neither does it provide the necessary foundations for this to be the case. If you keep banging the table and say “it just is!” then I’m afraid your view is no better than the worst forms of blind faith.
Human Authorities in Conflict – Might Makes Right?
Indeed, I fear that is all you could resort to. You will say that this is how most people will think. Little do you know that you have borrowed ideas from Hobbes, Kant and even the venerable John Locke. You say you value education, and you will find hundreds of different people and communities who would define education differently. Even if you agree with one of those particular groups, you will find that even within that group there are even more disagreements about what makes a good education. The Confucian will argue that the best form of education is the one that doesn’t waste their time on metaphysical or epistemological criterion. He will say that these resemble only vain speculation. The most rigorous education would be that which bases itself on ethical conduct – how to be a good citizen, which is only achievable by knowing and living out what it means to be a good son. For him, family comes first. The Chinese Confucian will disagree the moment he looks at what you are intending to do. And what will you say to him? Will you argue for the intrinsic value of, say, creative thought? What determines its intrinsic value? The sort of consequences it brings? Why think those are the sort of consequences we ought to strife for? Alas! Where will you agree? The moment you argue without God, you are really arguing on your own authority, or someone else’s authority.
The moment you discuss anything without God, everything becomes a mere human opinion. And all you are doing is propelling one human opinion over another. But what about this notion of “common sense”? The history of philosophy has shown us, even if we limit our observations to Western philosophy, that it is almost impossible to establish some sort of a common consensus. Each philosopher claims to start with an indubitable premise that will create an agreed upon airtight system. Yet we know that no such consensus have been arrived at. We know that each philosopher disagrees with the other and no two philosophers can agree at almost any point except that philosophy is still somehow worth pursuing. So what is the value of “common sense” when there is, in reality, hardly an established agreement on what is a matter of common sense? Common sense, it seems to me, cannot do so. And this is of no surprise, from the Christian worldview, for we know that sin has had its effects on the mind, and what was supposed to be common – belief in an absolute morality and the existence of God – is no longer professed by most. But, again, in your worldview, you cannot establish any assumed foundation whatsoever. Which one should be right? The danger here is that, in practice, our preferences become our principles. The truth of the matter becomes totally dependent on who happens to be the highest authority in the most “prestigious” universities today. Is this not simply a form of the Nietzschean principle that might makes right? The stronger should oppress the weak? In the absence of correct presuppositions, power inevitably becomes the dominant force. Put a western-minded individual as the chair professor of the top universities today and the whole nation will soon become western-oriented. Put the Confucians there and the whole nation will soon follow. But neither group has any right to claim the other group wrong or right. They are just two conflicting philosophies. In your worldview, we are just the products of our philosophical forefathers. A mere effect in a materialistic world of causal chains.
Progress and History
Perhaps you can talk to us about the notion of progress. You say, the sciences and the liberal arts have made the world a better place. Now we live in a world filled with laptops, skyscrapers and satellite technology. We have gone past the times of the ancient and barbaric. Surely this is progress, no? Well, again, here, who will be the judge of this idea called progress? By what standard shall we judge the ebb and flow of the world? Consumerism has us working for things that we don’t need with money that we don’t have. Its emphasis on instant self-gratification has caused us to trivialize love, relationships and even the marketplace. Our educational institutions have prized the philosophy of pragmatism to the point that it actually undermines education itself. Who needs a rigorous education, when you can easily get your way just by knowing the right people and cut a few corners? Long gone are the days where the pursuit of truth and the development of character were the aim for our educational institutions. Yet, will you call this progress? Or, is there such a thing as progress at all according to your worldview? In your worldview, we are all mere animals. The products of chance. The development of our society will look no different than comparing that of an ant-maze or the hive of a bee. The Asians look down on the westerners for their rampant individualism and rights-based ethics. The westerners look down on the Asians for their insistence on the value of the community and their prizing of cultural honor. Will we say that we have reached progress when one side has started to embrace the individualism of the others (or vise-versa)? The romanticist will argue that there is no point to technological advancement without the cultivation of the affections anyway. Who will get the final say? All you get are cultural shifts. The Strong imposing himself onto the Weak. Movements of nature. The motions of existence. Nothing more.
Your worldview, it seems to me, thus also destroys the enterprise of historical study. History depends upon the assumption that there is such a thing as human nature – something that binds all of humanity together that transcends language, culture, and time. Without this understanding, this unity that binds our diversity, historical analysis becomes impossible, because we can never assume that each human being is at all the same as us – each meeting with a person or text in the past that is new to us is an altogether “new” encounter. How, then, can we assume to understand the people of a distant past? It seems then, we cannot. And the fact that we do, shows the falsity of the basic presupposition that human reality is an irreducible diversity separated by culture and language without any unity. Your philosophy of brute chance, of course, also renders history impossible. History is the telling of human stories in the form of narratives. People have intensions, motives, and desires, and thus story-telling is possible. But if all is material, and there are no transcendent unities that unite events, concepts, and humanity together, then no such story is possible. Your assumptions lead to the destruction of all human understanding.
A Firm Foundation – A Necessary Principium
Of course, I anticipate one last objection from you. Don’t I fall into the same trap? I am a Christian. Aren’t I just one other view among the many? Here, I think, we have come to the crux of the matter. In my worldview, there is such a thing as progress. The Scriptures are the word of God, and it is the standard by which I will judge everything else. Once we know and presuppose its divinity, then we do not judge or follow along by the words or might of mere men, but by the very Creator Himself. He is the law and He is the standard for He has made all things, and all things were made for Him. We are not just products of a materialistic chain of cause and effects because the Divine Story-teller governs all of history, and He has no loose ends. All events have a purpose because they were planned by Him, and therefore there is a way to construct a coherent view of history. The goodness of a society depends upon its conformity to the Biblical standards. I can argue that education is of intrinsic value, and agree with much of what you are saying about what makes an education good only because I believe that we are made in God’s image and he has made us to flourish in this world. I can argue that the community is important for we exist to serve within the family of the church, yet still insist that our individual identity is to be found in Christ. God is both Trinitarian and One, after all. I can insist that there is a right way to reason because the laws of logic are immaterial – they are transcendent because they reflect the thought of our logical God. Both experience and reason are valid authorities for knowledge because God’s revelation is to be found both in nature and in our reasoning, as the Spirit sanctifies our reasoning and our interpretation of our experiences. See, Christian theism becomes the necessary presupposition. His Lordship is the very reason why reasoning and the ability to function become possible. Take that away and you find nothing else will do.
Now, I realize that you will point out the many disagreements and differences that we Christians have had in biblical interpretation and its implications. Yes, I will concede to that, and I will admit that some matters are genuinely hard to figure out and we are trying our best – but at least we have a foundation from which to start. We know that the Divine has spoken. And His word is Law – and because He is omniscient we can trust that his commands are of great wisdom, verifiable both intuitively and consequentially.
Deconstruction and Reconstruction
I have learned from Van Til the necessity of deconstruction. All our secularistic talk – whether it be a love for some cultural assumptions, political ideal or humanistic consequence – could sound pretty and cute at first. But deconstruct what’s on the surface and get to the bottom and we will find that, really, there is nothing there holding it together. Its all wishful thinking and an ensnaring claptrap. A vain attempt at some secular redemption that is never to be found. In the modern day, we have more divorces, more poverty and more suicides occurring every day. Sex trafficking, pornography and the like still show that we have made no progress morally. This is, really, just another implication of rampant consumerism. All things become a means to our own self-gratification. We continue to treat humans as objects rather than people who are made in God’s image. We continue to see moral degradation wherever we go, and secular education has only created individuals who are proud of their own alleged self-sufficiency and autonomy. Has not God made foolish the so-called wisdom of this world? The problem is not intellectual, social, anthropological or economical. The problem is profoundly theological. It is sin and all of its ramifications. Thus, take away God, and you have taken away the only solution to the fundamental problem – a problem that you have failed to recognize in the first place. At the end of the day, my agreement with you is only formal and surface-level. We can both talk about a sound education and use the same words in the English language, but at the presuppositional level, we mean two totally different things. There is no common ground between you and me. At bottom, we are living on diametrically opposed foundations – an epistemological antithesis. There are those who embrace their creator, and his revelation as the reference point for all predication, and those who deny or ignore him. I’m afraid, as good as your project sounds, it is doomed to be unintelligible – and the fact that we know it to be intelligible in some way, is showing the truth of the Christian worldview. At its core, you are living in borrowed capital, and you live in sinful rebellion against your God.
The Only Possible Path to Meaning
Therefore, my friend, let me urge you. Believe, repent, and put your trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Recognize that He is Lord over all. Put His word as the foundation and presupposition of your life and your educational endeavors. Free yourself from the snares of skepticism and relativism. Avoid the mistake of merely conditioning your students with human opinions and cultural prejudices. The world may go around in a flux, but His Word will remain the same. Anchor yourself in His truth. Educate with the Truth – and therefore with Christ. I so desire that you will live for that which is truly meaningful. But, I’m afraid, without this, you have thrown away the very possibility of your work to have any value.
Looking forward to hearing from you again.
Yours Truly…A Christian,
(Nathaniel Gray Sutanto)