How Should We Then Live? Chapter 8: The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science, Part 1


Plato & Aristotle
According to Schaeffer, the breakdown of philosophy and science is a twofold breakdown.  Many of his chapters carry duality in them.  Chapter 8 is no different.  There are several duos to consider.  The first is the ongoing discussion of universals and particulars.  The other duos I noticed were optimism/pessimism, reason/emotion, Christianity/materialism, and science/philosophy.

To review, universals are absolutes existing in reality that give meaning to life and bind particulars into a common purpose.  Particulars are the material things of everyday life.  In common speech, they are things made out of stuff.  In the picture above Plato points up emphasizing his world of forms where universals exist outside of normal life.  Aristotle points down, teaching that these forms or universals exist within particular objects.  Both gave important views on the basis of existence.  Both embraced the interrelation of universal and particular.  Both used logic, more or less, alone to construct their ideas.  Their ideas laying on the bedrock of reason, guided science and philosophy for many centuries.  Until they didn't.  Chapter 8 is the story of how that happened.  Schaeffer calls it the Breakdown.

Universals Give Meaning To Particulars
Schaeffer quotes Alfred North Whitehead in chapter 7.  He uses him again to assert that Western philosophy is a continuing discussion on Plato.  One of Plato's important contributions is the observation that with no universals (also stated as absolutes) then particulars don't have meaning.  It makes sense when you really think about what particulars are.

                        "The individual stones on a beach are particulars.  The molecules that
                        make up the stones are particulars.  The total beach is a particular. I am
                        made up of molecules and the molecules are particulars.  And I as an
                        individual and you as an individual are particulars."

For any of that to makes sense there must be something that brings unity to the particulars or a framework which shows how they all relate to each other.  That is what a universal is broadly.

Using morality as an example of the importance of universals.  Schaeffer explains that for morality to be practical and reliable there must be an absolute standard (universal) which acts as a type of referee or umpire.

                        "If there is no absolute beyond man's ideas, then there is no final appeal
                        to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict.
                        We are merely left with conflicting opinions."

The need for universals extends past morality into the meaning or purpose of life and also as a sturdy basis for building knowledge and understanding upon.

                        "How can we be sure that what we think we know of the world outside
                        ourselves really corresponds to what is there?  And in all these layers,
                        each more profound than the other, unless there is an absolute these
                        things are lost to us: morals, values, meaning of existence (including
                        the meaning of man), and a basis for knowing."

Pre-Modern Non-Christian Philosophy
Philosophers starting before the time of Plato shared three elements.  First, they were rationalists.  They attempted to build universals up out of a multitude of particulars.  Their process started with themselves alone rejecting anything coming from outside of human senses, like divine revelation.  Second, they used reason to formulate their ideas.  They believed the mind thinks in terms of antithesis (this will be important to remember in part 2).  This means that some things are true and other things are not true.

                        "The first lessons in classical logic were: A is A and A is not non-A."

Third, these non-Christian philosophers were optimistic.  They thought they would figure out reality in a true way and a unified way (brought together by universals).

                            "satisfying explanations would be on hand for everything people
                            encountered in the universe and for all that people are and all
                            that they think."

Then just before the modern age started, three shifts changed the course of intellectual pursuit.  Shifts in science, philosophy, and theology turned human society away from the previous blueprint into what we call Modernity.

The Shift In Science
In chapter 7, Schaeffer shows clearly that the Scientific Revolution in the very early modern age was based on a Christian worldview, at least a thin version of it.

                        "The early modern scientists believed in the concept of the uniformity
                        of natural causes in an open system."

The open system meant that God and men stood outside the mindless cause and effect chain of the physical universe.  According to Schaeffer this meant that God or men could influence the "machine" which operates according to physical laws.

I would add two things to this understanding of an open system.  God obviously stands outside of the universe.  He can enter into it or make changes to it whenever He wants.  In an absolute way He is separate.  This is actually the technical meaning of the word, holy.  It means to be separate.  Another aspect of God which helps understand an open system is that He is an intelligent observer of the system.  He stands outside and watches.

Humans are similar but they are not absolutely outside the system.  As created beings we are a part of the machine.  Our bodies and brains operate according to the physical laws of the universe.  As we are made in the image of God we also in some ways exist outside the system.  We can observe the system as an outsider like God.  We can manipulate the material world in a creative way or to bring order into it.  Therefore we can examine and test the physical world in a way that makes it an open system.  Our choices aren't merely effects caused by a previous event.  We can decide to act outside of natural appetites.  We also understand through Scripture that there is a supernatural reality which interacts with nature.  The universe is an open system in those regards.  But, we are still very much a part of nature.

The shift came when scientists started to believe that there was a uniformity of natural causes within a closed system.  That means nothing exists which is not physical, a part of the universe, a part of the machine.
                        "Scientists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries continued to 
                        use the word God, but pushed God more and more to the edges of 
                        their systems.  Finally scientists... moved to the idea of a completely
                        closed system."

Scientists closed God out of the system, What they didn't realize at the time is that man as previously understood was removed from the system as well.  All that remained were creatures existing completely within the machine.  This moved the study of humanity like psychology and sociology into the realm of cause and effect.  Mankind was studied exactly in the same way as physics, chemistry, or astronomy.

A significant milestone in this development came from Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919).  He wrote "The Riddle of the Universe at the Close of the 19th Century" in 1899.

                        "Haeckel posited that matter and energy are eternal and also assumed
                        that the human mind or soul is to be explained on the basis of materialism.
                        He saw where this would lead and accepted that people have no
                        freedom of will."

Without the ability to make choices.  Man is no longer man as biblically understood.  Morality doesn't exist.  Not even love exists.  All that exists is biological machinery.

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) took the idea of eternal matter and applied it to the field of geology.  Geologists still follow his framework of uniformitarianism today.  The term uniformitarianism means that geological processes of the past are the same today occurring at the same rates.  He also introduced the idea of there being untold eons of existence of the earth.  He needed large time spans to explain geological development, since all the geological processes he observed were very gradual.  Previous to Lyell, geologists followed catastrophism, which taught that the world's geology was shaped through cataclysmic events in the past or at least different processes or faster processes than could be observed in the present.  The primary event in mind being the flood in Genesis 6.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) applied the same uniformitarian idea to biology.  The result was his theory of evolution to explain the origin of all life.  Lyell's long time spans facilitated Darwin's theories, since they operated in a similar gradual way.  Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) came up with the phrase "survival of the fittest."  Then he applied the idea to ethics and the development of human society, which is called social Darwinism.  He did this to attempt to make "survival of the fittest" to be the unifying principle of everything.  Then Walter Bagehot (1826-1877) went a step further and applied the idea to human groups.

Now there was a scientific basis for racism, and it was used for just that purpose by those defending the institution of slavery in the US and removing undesirable races from society in Europe.  Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), the Nazi leader, used it to justify murdering Jewish people in gas chambers.  Hitler didn't like the idea of Christian charity.  He preferred an "ethic of strength over weakness."  How was this possible in the country where the Reformation started?  Where the theology of Martin Luther had made such an impact?

                        "Christian consensus had largely been lost by the undermining from
                        a rationalistic philosophy and a romantic pantheism on the secular
                        side, and a liberal theology... in the universities and many of the
                        churches.  Thus biblical Christianity was no longer giving the
                        consensus for German society."

The same thinking pervades the leaders of every Western country today.  Schaeffer gives the example of the direction of genetic engineering in 1976.  I recommend watching the video which corresponds to this chapter in the book.  He discusses the concerning direction science and politics can take in more detail.  He also makes the comment that with this new materialistic worldview, governments will all become authoritarian and arbitrary.  They will then use scientific experts to manipulate society to do what they want.  Sound familiar?  Two weeks to flatten the curve!  Now, stay home until the virus is gone!

This a long chapter that is turning into a long article, so I will break it up.  The second part will pick up from here.


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