Carl F Henry, God Revelation and Authority, Philosophy, Plato, Post-Modernism, Pragmatism, Speculation
Chapter Two, “The Clash of Cultural Perspectives”:
Should one assume that the world consists of physical alone, we are left with an unstable, chance environment. Such a view quickly becomes untenable:
The ancient Greek philosophers were quick to see that if nothing endures, as Democritus said, if chance and change permeate all reality, including truth and goodness, so that man himself is simply a crafty animal, then human life loses meaning and purpose and culture is impossible. (1.32).
(Since this view is ultimately untenable, one must play all sorts of tricks and grant all sorts or privileges to make it hold together — a sort of fudge figure added to the equations to make sense of it all. For example, if all is merely matter in motion, then all “epiphenomenon” of thought are in the end, necessary, determined chemical reactions. Indeed, the thought that such things are (or are not) chemical reactions is itself required by the chemical reactions. And since the thoughts are not derived by true thought but rather forced by the system, even that thought is a chemical reaction that has no more independence and choice than water has a choice to freeze. In short it is irrational. Moreover, it’s silly: Ultimately one must propose that primordial plasma (a high energy state of matter) and hydrogen atoms, if left along long enough, will feel compelled a create Symphonie Fantastique for a beautiful actress http://www.hberlioz.com/Scores/sfantastique.htm)
Thus, to address the problem caused by a shifting world, the Greeks, most notably Plato posited a spiritual realm of unchanging ideal:
The more insistently its philosophers had asserted an invisible spiritual world, the greater had been the demand for information about God’s nature and ways. And since the philosophers were abstruse, and often disagreed deeply among themselves, multitudes turned to the mystery religions to satisfy their inner yearnings. The classic philosophers had assumed, moreover, not only that finite man could know the truth apart from special divine revelation, but also that even in his present moral condition he could achieve the good apart from special divine enablement. But both these expectations collapsed through the weaknesses of human unregeneracy. (1.32)
In many ways this is the critique of post-modernism (even in its popular forms): How are you to tell me what is real? Don’t I have just as good a place to make such a determination as you? And thus, the eternal realm collapses in either confusion or a pitched battle on the streets before a presidential palace.
In drawing out this point, Henry seeks to make clear the necessity of revelation:
Among the most objectionable features of classic idealism was its connection of human reason in a privileged way with a supposedly autonomous world of order and meaning. Central to the New Testament is the Christian conviction of a divinely structured creation whereby the transcendent Logos sustains the cosmic order and supplies the direction and universally valid meaning of all things. (1.35)
However, as Henry notes, the medieval philosophical work took on the burden of (or at least the potential burden) of human reason possessing access and understanding which reached beyond revelation. This “attracted speculative doubt” (1.35), and lead to the modern period of philosophy:
Christianity had discounted the Greek emphasis on an immanent rational a priori in mankind; but by synthesizing a revelationally grounded theism with the classic Greek view of Aristotle, medieval scholasticism indirectly hastened a philosophy of the autonomy of man and nature independent of the Logos-structured meaning and law of creation. (1.36)
The modern world then took on both the concept that our sensory view of the physical world and thus bizarrely the physical world becomes the source of rationality:
So the modern mind soon gains a viewpoint all its own. Over against both the classic ancient and the medieval minds it declares that nature is the ultimate reality, man is essentially a time-bound animal, truth and the good are relative and changing. (1.38)
This leads to an irrational world in which there can be no unchangeable norm and yet simultaneously contends for an ordering rationality (“scientific” reasoning). Somehow a changing world seen by a fated mind is capable of objective operation (good luck with that).
In the field of ethics, as Dirk Jellema points out, this assertion of human autonomy expresses itself either as the self’s conformity to the crowd or in the self’s repudiation of society. Truth and the good become merely what the pack or the herd wills, or what the individual prefers on his own in the age of hippiemorality. (1.41)
(I recall Jung making a very similar argument about the “individual” from a pscyhological viewpoint. I don’t have the reference just now.)
This leads to the trouble of pragmatism and tolerance (which is necessarily intolerant):
Pragmatism in any event contains the seeds of its own undoing. It professes to be tolerant of all views, but its concealed intolerance becomes clear when, confronted and seriously challenged by the Christian absolute, it dogmatically refuses to reconsider any return to universally valid truth and objective principle. (1.42)
(D.A. Carson has written much on this. Here is a review by Tim Challies, http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/the-intolerance-of-tolerance)
Christianity stands in the end on a different ground than the modern philosophical ground. Yet the Christian must not seek a backwards move to the medieval position:
The task of Christian leadership is to confront modern man with the Christian world-life view as the revealed conceptuality for understanding reality and experience, and to recall reason once again from the vagabondage of irrationalism and the arrogance of autonomy to the service of true faith. That does not imply modern man’s return to the medieval mind. It implies, rather, a reaching for the eternal mind, for the mind of Christ, for the truth of revelation, for the Logos as transcendent source of the orders and structures of being, for the Logos incarnate in Jesus Christ, for the Logos as divine agent in creation, redemption and judgment, for the Logos who stands invisibly but identifiably as the true center of nature history, ethics, philosophy and religion. (1.43)