Monday, November 22, 2004

Modernity, Post-Modernity and the Church

I found this article about evangelicals challenging the teaching of evolution and Darwinism in the public schools. This group wants to replace the teaching of evolution with the idea of “intelligent design.” This brings up a very interesting point about what we in society believe should be taught in schools. As a teacher, I think everything should be taught. I’m firmly convinced that in a marketplace of ideas, Christ will win every time. In Him is the fullness of God and God is truth. Everything else is a weak or distorted version.

However, the interesting thing about this article is that “intelligent design” proponents are pushing their theory even though it isn’t scientific. I’m not saying there isn’t evidence for the intelligent design theory, but it doesn’t even fall into the scientific realm. Science is about empirical evidence, testable theories and reproducible results. The very nature of the intelligent design theory can’t fulfil any of those criteria. Under the theory, LITERALLY everything is made by the Designer. Therefore it is tough to show empirical evidence because everything is evidence and it becomes useless. Or to say it another way, nothing is not evidence; the theory is self-evident. Additional problems come from the testable thesis and reproducible results. Can we ask the Designer to do it again? Does the failure of the Designer to recreate the universe on our demand show a failure of the theory? If the Designer does honor our request to test this theory, would this world still exist to prove that the Designer has reproduced his first action or can He only do one at a time?

This moves me to my next point. Is the church (or its members) moving into a post-modernity? What does this mean for the church and its involvement with society, government, etc.?

For a quick (and very simplified) review, modernity is a way of thinking where the rational man is exalted as a symbol of perfection. The belief is that rational people in rational institutions would solve all the world’s problems. Modernists put much faith in marriage, families, church, government and government sponsored bodies (armed forces, League of Nations, etc). Science is often held up as the most important pursuit because it was the most rational of areas of study. For Americans, Red Staters are usually said to have a modernist viewpoint (but that falls apart if you think of the Bush administrations rejection of the U.N. because it doesn’t work)

Post-modernity rejects most of that. Post-modernity started to appear after the failure of the League of Nations to stop the completely irrational Second World War. From there, increasing failure by the institutions people trusted (break down of families and marriage, scandal in government and church, irrelevancy of the church, failure of science to cure diseases, etc) has led people to want to reject standard institutions and create their own. This can be seen in the rise of online societies like Everquest, online activist groups like and the move toward “spirituality”, but away from established churches. Humans are encouraged to create their own truths and it isn’t wrong to hold multiple viewpoints on the same subject. For Americans, Blue Staters are usually said to have a more post-modernist viewpoint (but again that doesn’t work because Hispanics vote heavily for Democrats, but go to Roman Catholic Church)

The move to include “Intelligent Design” into the curriculum appeals to the post-modernity in people. They see that science doesn’t supply all the answers and are open to exploring new ways to find the answers they seek. So the question I pose (to my non-commenting audience) is how much should the church embrace this post-modernity, which rejects many of the institutions the Church stands for? Should the church resist this or should they, like the Intelligent Design proponents, begin to seize on this change in American culture to forward the Gospel (and associated concerns)?

In case you are interested, my thoughts on Intelligent Design theory are that even if you accept it, it is a LONG way to get to Jesus. The biggest flaw (beyond the above mentioned ones) is that if this world is intelligently designed then the Designer also designed evil (and possibly to go further and say that the Designer designed evil TO WORK in the world, which doesn’t work with Christian theology). Even if you get around the problem of evil, you can never show that this Designer is loving without appealing to some sort of holy book or Scripture. The Designer doesn’t even have to be personal or even exist anymore. It could be feasible to have an Intelligent Designer force (like gravity on intellectual steroids) or an Intelligent Designer that has since died (like the designer of the Model T, who died many years ago, but Model Ts keep working). The best result you can have is something similar to a computer programmer or aeronautical engineer type of Supreme Being. I think Intelligent Design really only works as a strong critique against Darwinism/evolution and therefore both ideas should be taught.