Blurred Lines: A Critique of Trans-Everything-Ism [Part 3 of 3]

crud[Continued from pts. 1 & 2]

The Incoherence of Materialistic Monism

If the only substance is matter, then it follows from this that minds are merely modifications, in some way, of matter. As the monist philosopher Galen Strawson notes, “every concrete phenomenon in the universe is physical, according to materialists. So all mental phenomena, including experiential phenomena, are physical phenomena…”.[11] Not all materialist philosophers have followed their philosophical commitment to its logical conclusions, as Strawson also notes.[12] The contemporary embracing of materialistic monism, due to its presence and influence in the slowly decaying corpus of postmodern popular culture, nevertheless, is undeniable. Whereas the postmodern emphasis on difference and variety has been largely lost, the underlying metaphysical belief is still the same: From Deleuze’s equation of the plural with the monad, and vice versa, through reassessments of Friedrich Nietzsche’s ontological and value monism,[13] the contemporary culture is given to the belief that matter is the only individual thing there is.[14] But is it any more tenable than the postmodernism it gave foundational support to? No.

The logical impossibility of materialism is something I’ve covered in other articles,[15] as is the logical impossibility of monism.[16] Philosopher Peter van Inwagen, however, very succinctly addresses the main problem I have (somewhat clumsily) pointed out elsewhere. van Inwagen:

The word ‘monism’ comes from a Greek word that means ‘alone’ or ‘single’. As we have said, Monism is the thesis that there is only one individual thing. But this statement of Monism raises an interesting question. If there is only one individual thing, what is meant by calling it an individual thing? We have seen that an individual thing is a thing that is in some not-too-well-defined sense a separate thing. But if there is only one individual thing, what is it “separate” from? t can’t be its own parts it is separate from, for, if it had parts, those parts would themselves be individual things: an individual thing with parts would “automatically” not be the only individual thing. (For example, if the World consisted of a single chair, there would be many individual things. There would be the legs of the chair, the back of the chair, various carbon and oxygen atoms that were parts of the chair, and so on.)

[…]

Let us therefore understand Monism as the thesis that there is a single individual thing and that, moreover, this thing could not possibly have coexisted with any other individual thing. And let us say that it is a part of the thesis of Monism that that is the way the World has to be: the World must consist of a single individual thing that could not possibly coexist with any other individual thing.When Monism is so stated, it is indeed difficult to see what the Monist could mean by saying that there is only one individual thing, for it is difficult to see in what sense the word ‘separate’ could be applied to a thing that not only does not but could not coexist with other individual things, and it is therefore difficult to see what is meant by applying the word ‘individual’ to the thing that is supposed to be the one individual thing.[17]

Materialistic monism is counterintuitive and logically incoherent.

Yet the contemporary emphasis on trans-everything-ism reveals that fallen man is ultimately not concerned with truth but with finding justification for continuing in unbelief, licentiousness, and self-righteousness. Pragmatism has come to replace the revelation, commands, and promises of God.[18] Consequently, salvation is no longer the act of God for us; rather, salvation is by us for us. How is that salvation achieved? By changing one’s standards, one’s ethical commitments, one’s “truths” in order to better suit one’s needs. The pangs of conscience are suppressed by this continual shifting of epistemological and ethical commitments and standards, but this is precisely where Christians can reintroduce the reality of sin, judgment, and the Gospel.

Try as he may, fallen man cannot wholly (i.e. consistently) embrace a worldview where no concept is irrational. Rather than properly assessing non-Christian worldview as irrational, however, he identifies the biblical worldview as irrational. Paul the apostle, speaking tongue in cheek, calls the Gospel “the foolishness of God,”[19] setting it in contrast with “the wisdom of the world,”[20] and consequently revealing that the pragmatism resulting in a variety of moral and epistemological standards is reducible to a unified assault on the biblical worldview. Gordon H. Clark, commenting on 1st Corinthians 1, explains:

Secular science never brought anyone to God. God regards it as foolishness and will destroy it. Divine wisdom centers in the doctrine of the Atonement.

[…]

Since these people [i.e. the so-called “wise men of this age”] are dead in sin, they regard the Gospel as nonsense.

[…]

Note that God foreordained pagan philosophy…for the purpose of blinding their eyes and hardening their hearts. The course of secular culture was no haphazard development. It was by the wisdom of God in controlling history that…the Greek philosophers [and, by extension, their successors/devotees] could not know God.[21]

Hence, the pragmatism/irrationalism of our time is foolishness to God; and God’s Wisdom is foolishness to fallen man in all eras. And this is where we may continually hammer home, as it were, the fact that even antiessentialism and antifoundationalism are either wisdom or foolishness, or the Gospel is Wisdom or foolishness. There is no escape from this antithesis.

The world’s desire is to throw the sands of multiple worldviews into the eyes of its Christian opponents. Let us, then, guard ourselves against the claims of pragmatism/irrationalism/relativism by reinforcing the antithesis. Either man or God is wise or a fool, even the foolish can see that.

-h.


[11] Real Materialism and Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 21.

[12] Strawson (54):

It follows that real physicalism can have nothing to do with physicsalism, the view — the faith — that the nature or essence of all concrete reality can in principle be fully captured in the terms of physics. Real physicalism cannot have anything to do with physicsalism unless it is supposed — obviously falsely — that the terms of physics can fully capture the nature or essence of experience. […] Real physicalism, then, must accept that experiential phenomena are physical phenomena. But how can experiential phenomena be physical phenomena? Many take this claim to be profoundly problematic (this is the ‘mind – body problem’).

[…]

A very large mistake. It is perhaps Descartes’s, or perhaps rather ‘Descartes’s’, greatest mistake, and it is funny that in the past fifty years it has been the most fervent revilers of the great Descartes, the true father of modern materialism, who have made the mistake with most intensity. Some of them… are so in thrall to the fundamental intuition of dualism, the intuition that the experiential and the physical are utterly and irreconcilably different, that they are prepared to deny the existence of experience, more or less (c)overtly, because they are committed to ‘physicalism’, that is, physicsalism.

[13] See Nietzsche on Mind & Nature, eds. Dries, Manuel & P.J.E. Kail. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[14]See Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy: Peirce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne, David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb Jr., et al. (New York: SUNY Press, 1993); Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); Badiou, Alan. Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham (New York: Continuum, 2007);

[17] Metaphysics (Boulder: Westview Press, 2009), 34-35. For a more thoroughgoing critique of the position, as articulated by Spinoza and F. H. Bradley, see pp. 38-46 of the same work.

[18] This is unsurprising given that pragmatism originated with Charles Sanders Peirce, himself a materialistic monist. See Ochs, Peter. “Charles Sanders Peirce,” in See Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy: Peirce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne, 43-87.

[19] 1st Cor 1:25.

[20] 1st Cor 1:20-21 & 3:19.

[21] First Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary (Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1975), 21ff.

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3 thoughts on “Blurred Lines: A Critique of Trans-Everything-Ism [Part 3 of 3]

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