As I continue my kibbitzing about postmodernism, using Stanley Grenz’s primer on the subject for my launching points, I want to reiterate that I am not yet directly critiquing Grenz. There are some indirect critiques of how he represents the pomos, but we won’t see until later in the book how much distance he (successfully or not) puts between himself and postmodernism. But it can be said that there are any number of places where his recitation of pomo teaching falters. Either Grenz is too gullible with some of the implicit claims of the postmodernists, or he is doing his level best to represent an incoherent position as though it were coherent. In either case, for the most part and for the time being, I will be hooting at postmodernism as Grenz represents it, and not yet at Grenz himself.
Reading secular philosphers (from all periods in history) is like driving a car with a great engine, high performance, high rpm, great handling, zero to eighty in six seconds, and with absolutely no comprehension of what road you are on, or where you are supposed to be going. Big thinkers can go really fast, but there is still a problem.
The apostle Paul has a long sustained argument with Aristotle in 1 Corinthians, although he does not mention him by name. But in the course of his dispute, he does describe the characteristic antics of philosophers and others among the “wise” — and these characteristics are by no means limited to the Aristotelians. God catches out the wise in their craftiness, Paul says (1 Cor. 3:19). Notice that the assemption is that what the world likes to call wise, God calls crafty. And God knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile (v. 20). Let us render that word futile (mataioi) some other ways. What does God think of the thoughts of really smart people? Useless. Futile. Worthless. This is because the worldly thinkers for all their thinking and knowing and wisdom, could not know God (1:21).
And, as the Bible shows elsewhere, the longer you go without the knowledge, the less you are able to know anything else. “In a sense, postmoderns have no worldview. A denial of the reality of a unified world as the object of our perception is at the heart of postmodernism” (p. 40). Part and parcel with this is the fact that postmoderns have “abandoned the notion of an objective world” (p. 40). Postmodern thinkers reject the realist “correspondence theory of truth.” They reject the “fundamental assumption on which it is based” (p. 41). Of course, they are assuming there is some kind of correspondence between the fundamental assumption which they are rejecting and the fundamental assumption that actually supports the correspondence theory of truth. When the postmodernists reject the fundamental assumptions of the correspondence theory of truth, what they are actually rejecting is the two for one special at Applebys. At least this time. No telling what they will actually be rejecting next time. Deeper thought is so slippery.
Following Wittgenstein through the fog, postmodernists agree that “languages are human social conventions that map the world in a variety of ways” (p. 42). But of coures language is not something man created, it is something God created when He made us. The deep structures of language are no more a social convention of man than is the fact that we all have two nostrils. Why do we speak? God created us to commune with Him, and the gifts He gave us to enable that communion are not deficient or inadequate gifts.
Postmodernists “contend that what we call the ‘real world’ is actually an ever-changing social creation” (p. 42). “Ye shall be as God,” whispered the serpent. “You too can be the Creator.”
What was the problem with modernism? “Moderns simply assumed that all of humankind would eventually come to appreciate and strive to attain the benefits of the Western ideal, In the postmodern era, however, this dream is no longer credible: it has fallen victim to the phenomenon that many observers call ‘globalization’ . . . Our globalized, pluralistic situation has subverted the Enlightenment vision” (p. 42). Now I have to admit that Grenz lost me here. He may be just repeating an argument he read something, but for the life of me I cannot make any sense out of it. Moderns used to assume that all humankind would eventually come to see things the same way? And now we know this is false because of the process of globalization, a process that describes how all humankind is coming to see things the same way? When the world is just a million isolated villages, nobody is epistically threatened by the sages in the other villages. And when the globe shrinks to the point where all the villages become aware of each other, and they realize that the other villages have other gods, and other paths, and all that, it can be a rattling experience. But that happened in the nineteenth century. Now we are into the process of globalization, which is the Hard Rock Cafe in Bangkok deal. How the process of everybody becoming more alike is the cause of us realizing the unbridgeable differences between us is an argument that I confess is beyond me.
“Postmoderns have adopted a pluralistic view of knowledge” (p. 43). Grenz says that this has even affected the domain of science. “The point at issue for them [postmoderns] is not ‘Is the proposition or theory correct?’ but rather ‘What does it do?’ or ‘What is its outcome?'” (p. 43). This might account for the South Korean scientist who was discovered to be a stem cell research fraud — rather than asking whether his research was correct, he wanted to know what it would do. And what it would do, had he not been caught, was make him famous. “Their goal is now ‘performativity’ rather than the ‘truth.’ The scientist no longer asks whether his research is true, but rather whether it “performs.” Of course, it might “perform” scientifically (raw pragmatism), or it might “perform” if the fraud works, and the fame rolls in and the money piles up (p. 48). You cannot detach truth from questions like this and have anything resembling integrity at the end of the day. But as Grenz reports it, the old kind of science, the kind concerned with what was true, is dead. “Postmodernism, he says, marks the end of science” (p. 46).
“The postmodern outlook entails the end of the appeal to any central legitimating myth [metanarrative] whatsoever . . . Consequently, the postmodern outlook demands an attack on any claimant to universality — it demands, in fact, a ‘war on totality'” (p. 45). Okay, we come now to a big deal for the postmoderns. No universals, no universality, no universalism. No sweeping generalizing, excepting of course, present company.
But this is a theme that is hard to stick with, and the following emphases are mine. “Postmoderns are inclined to prize difference over uniformity and to respect the local and particular more than the universal” (p. 49). Two questions. What universal? And secondly, what does it mean to prize “the” local and particular more than the universal? Isn’t the local and particular a generalization? Wouldn’t we have to say something like, “Postmodernist prize white people over all other kinds, rather than abstract universals?
“Like relativity theory, quantum physics reveals some startling features of the universe . . .’ (p. 51). One question. What universe? I thought we got rid of the universe a few paragraphs back. What is it doing here again? The universe is not lurking outside my chamber door again, trying to correspond with thoughts in my head, is it?
“The modern scientific enterprise is built on the assumption that the scientist approaches the universe as a neutral observer” (p. 52). What universe? Why is the implication here that we are to give up the neutrality as we approach the universe? I thought we had to give up the universe itself.
“When Heisenberg formulated his Uncertainty Principle in 1927, however, he established that there is an essential indeterminacy about all phenomena that no kind or amount of observation can overcome” (p. 53). Now, that’s uncertainty for you! It established that there is an essential indeterminacy about all phenomena that no kind or amount of observation can overcome. I could get used to this epistemic humility. Of course, the only place this was established was on old Heisenberg’s blackboard, and the chair arranged in front of it to make sort of a local community. As for the rest of the universe, it isn’t there any more, and for all we know, the other local communities throughout what used to be the universe operate on different principles entirely. Heisenberg established nothing whatever about all phenomena. And, for his information, God knows not only the position and velocity of every electron (without bouncing anything off it), He also knows the number of hairs on its head. Except for the bald ones.
“Developments in physics since the advent of relativity theory and quantum physics have come at an overwhelming rate. The list of identified subatomic particles has grown. Black holes have been discovered. The Big Bang has been plotted in minute detail. And physicists tell us we live on the curved surface of an expanding universe” (p. 53). Two things. First, all together now, what universe? And secondly, how can people write and read this stuff without laughing out loud? The Big Bang has been plotted in minute detail? I don’t know if my laptop is actually there under my fingertips (corresponding to them the way I think they are and all), but — good news! — we have plotted the Big Bang in minute detail? And we live on the surface of an expanding universe, the one that isn’t there? And the fact that it isn’t there means that we don’t have to contend with any pesky limitations that might hinder it from being blown up like a balloon, with all these deep postmodern thinkers, standing on the surface of it, ether streaming through their hair. Not that the ether is there either.
“And the universe is not an existing entity that has a history; rather, it is a history” (p. 53). Whoa. This is right out of a Cheech and Chong movie, and I think I can smell what is causing all these insights. And if you don’t see process theology leering at us all, you aren’t really paying attention. But since the universe is not an existing entity here, we cannot ask our question. But since it is a history, we can just shift our stance, and ask, “What history?”
But we needn’t have panicked. The Big Bang was not really mapped out. That was just a local research tradition. You see, “according to the new understanding, scientific knowledge is not a compilation of objective universal truths but a collection of research traditions borne by particular communities of inquirers” (p. 56). I belong to a committee of research inquirers who have a research tradition that the earth is a saucer, resting on the backs of seventeen turtles. As for what the lowest turtle is standing on, I will have to defer to another research tradition, perhaps one a little closer.
One last thing, a key implication of postmodernism that has been much neglected. Although “they have divested themselves of any metanarrative, postmoderns are still left with local narratives” (p. 45). You bet they are, and once postmodernists lose the vestigial modernist assumption that all men are universally connected to one another, they can go back to what local communities have always loved to do — hate and despise other local communities. Postmodernism is a profound justification for racist enclaves. Given what the Bible teaches about the nature of man, it will not be long before the justification is employed — if it is not being employed this way already.