My argument will be in five stages:
(1) First, I will explain my basic epistemology, which is the foundation of my worldview.
(2) Next, I will explain why my epistemology is more viable than other alternatives.
(3) Then I will explain how the proposed epistemology might lead one to Christianity. This will be a brief component.
(4) I will then suggest three broad philosophical categories which I believe only Trinitarian theism can explain within my proposed framework. This is reason for me to continue in my worldview.
(5) The fourth argument will require me to demonstrate that the three categories in question are, in fact, not resolved by the secular alternative (which is the main alternative in question here).
Argument 1: Epistemology
I propose that there are two broad types of epistemology. First, we might have an evidentialist epistemology. This epistemology can go by several other names: inductive, scientific, a posteriori
, etc. Though each of these words does have nuanced distinctive aspects, as a whole they point to the fact that this type of knowing is based on evidence. Someone who wishes to know something must begin by collecting data, information, evidence, etc. and from there proceed to draw conclusions from the evidence. Therefore, if someone wants to disprove a position (insofar as disproof is possible, which it isn't in a strong sense), that person must point to evidence in favor of an alternative, evidence against the rejected position, or an overall lack of evidence in support of the rejected position.
Let's take an example: An evidentialist approach to the question of Christianity probably would take the following two forms. Some Christian apologists would argue that there is overwhelming evidence in support of the resurrection (Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, etc.), that the textual evidence in support of the NT's historical tradition is strong (Richard Bauckham, Daniel Wallace) and perhaps put forward arguments for the existence of God (Thomas Aquinas and subsequent apologists). Against this position, certain atheists would suggest that the NT is historically very suspect (John Dominic Crossan, David Freidrich Strauss) that the resurrection and all miracles are impossible (David Hume), and that the NT is filled with textual contradictions, late additions, and blatant lies (Bart Ehrman). Arguments will also be given against God's existence or showing why the classical arguments for the existence of God fail (Bertrand Russell). The very brief list of names that I have included here should indicate that this has been the dominant approach to apologetics and to the question of Christianity in general across history.
However, it need not be the only approach, and it will not be the approach that I will take here. There is a second broad type of category which we might call the presuppositionalist. It is also known as the a priori
, the postmodern, or the subjectivist approach, though again each of these terms do have nuanced differences in meaning. For the presuppositionalist, evidence matters, but all evidence is interpreted within a broad intellectual framework called a "worldview" or a "paradigm" or a "set of presuppositions." Our initial presuppositions will affect how we interpret our evidence.
If someone taking this second epistemological approach wants to determine whether a perspective is valid, he has several options. First, he can show how the conclusions of a set of presuppositions undermine the presuppositions themselves. This is called a reductio ad absurdam
(a reduction to absurdity). On the popular level, there are two common arguments that roughly take this form. So, the Christian apologist might argue: The atheist presupposes that there is no God and believes that good and evil exist, but good and evil can only exist in an absolute/objective sense if they have an objective/absolute reference point, in other words God. Therefore, the atheist's belief in good and evil undermines the atheist's presuppositions. On the other hand, atheists might argue: The Christian presupposes a good, omnipotent God, but the Christian acknowledges evil, suffering, and pain all throughout the world. If there really was a good, omnipotent God there would be no suffering, therefore the conclusions undermine the presupposition of a good omnipotent God. Please note that I do not intend to use either of these arguments in this debate, and I also recognize that these arguments are often put forward and defended in a way differently from a presuppositionalist fashion. I merely intend to show them as easy examples of a method that I will shortly use in a more difficult fashion.
Second, someone using a presuppositionalist approach may appeal to a presupposition's explanatory scope. Suppose that there are several worldviews which are not self-defeating via a reductio ad absurdam
? One way we could distinguish one from the other is through examining the explanatory scope of each option. By this I mean, how much can the presupposition do for us? Can it provide numerous answers to the things we encounter in the world? Can it really provide us with a way of life? By way of illustration, consider Rene Descartes' famous thought experiment. Descartes began by assuming extreme skepticism: he cannot really trust any of his experiences as true. However, even though he cannot trust the content of the experiences and thoughts, he cannot avoid the conclusion that he is thinking. And so he concluded: "I think therefore I am." Descartes went further than this, but let's suppose that he did not. Descartes has presupposed extreme skepticism, that all his senses could be wrong. But he has concluded that he exists. This is not self-defeating, as far as I see it. But it also doesn't get us very far. All Descartes' presuppositions allow for is his existence. It can't explain or validate anything else he experiences, and it doesn't seem to provide him with anything in terms of a way of life. Therefore, if we had another internally consistent worldview that could explain much more, it would make more sense to adopt the one with more explanatory scope.
Third, and finally (for present purposes at least), the presuppositionalist recognizes that non-logical factors play a role. If our assumptions shape the way that we reason, it is often difficult to choose our assumptions through the use of reason. Much of what we believe is as a result of experience, emotion, our culture, our family, history, etc. For example, it is no surprise that many people who are Christian were born in a Christian family, or in a culture where Christianity is common. Likewise, it is no surprise that many atheists were hurt by Christians or by the church. Does this automatically mean that Christians who were born in a Christian culture are wrong, or atheists who reject God partly as a result of their disgust towards the church are wrong? Hardly. It is quite possible to have clear logical reasons for a belief and still have emotional factors play a role in our initially choosing it. However, two problems can arise. First, someone may believe something that is contrary to their emotions or their experience. If a worldview cannot make sense of certain fundamental experiences, it is problematic for that individual, even if not for everyone. Second, if someone has an emotional reason for choosing a path but then does nothing to determine whether the intellectual claims that go along with that emotionally-based presupposition are valid, then there is a problem. For the presuppositionalist, the ideal is to acknowledge where an emotional experience impacted a conversion into a religion or deconversion out of a religion, to ask whether the experiences associated with and resulting from that conversion or deconversion fit with the resulting worldview, and then to ask whether the worldview is self-defeating and sufficient in explanatory scope.
Argument 2: Defense of Presuppositional Epistemology
Do we have any reason to believe that the presuppositional approach to epistemology is true? To answer this question, I will present five broad arguments and recent theoretical frameworks which support my claims.
(1) Thomas Kuhn's idea of the paradigm
Philosopher Thomas Kuhn
developed a philosophy of science around the idea of a paradigm. According to Kuhn, scientists have a specific paradigm, or system of study, which shapes their entire scientific endeavor. For example, each paradigm has specific unresolved problems that set the research program of the paradigm, which in turn results in a specific set of possible research outcomes. In other words, my basic paradigm has specific questions that it is concerned about, and I will only look for answers to questions of which I am aware. No one in the fifth century was looking for evidence of stellar red-shfting because no one was asking whether the universe was expanding (red-shift is evidence of this process). Furthermore, until the paradigm reaches a crisis, all evidence found as a result of experimentation will be interpreted in light of the commonly held paradigm. If I'm not even looking to explain whether the big bang is a one time event or whether there is an oscillating universe, then even if I do
discover the red shift, I won't think to use that discovery to answer the question about whether the universe is expanding at a speed that will eventually require it to collapse on itself into another big bang. In other words, according to Kuhn and many subsequent (and even a few prior) philosophers of science, one's paradigm (we might think of our concept of worldview as analogous) will influence which questions that individual explores as well as how that individual interprets the data and incorporates it into other knowledge. The fact that our worldview determines the very questions we ask and the possible ways in which we can interpret the answers suggests that our proposed persuppositional epistemology is, in fact, viable. Presuppositions shape rational conclusions.
(2) Herman Dooyeweerd's argument of the archimedian point
Kuhn's ideas of the paradigm get us just far enough to determine that our commitments to a worldview can shape what questions we ask and how we interpret the answers to these questions. But one could somewhat easily pick a new scientific paradigm. Herman Dooyeweerd
develops an argument which explains the difference between choosing a paradigm and a worldview. A worldview is the comprehensive epistemological framework within which reasoning occurs. It is much bigger than just a scientific paradigm because it encompasses every single thing that we think. Dooyeweerd argues that there is no such thing as an archimedian point for rationality. Archimedes was a Greek geometrician who famously said of a lever: "give me a place to stand on and I can move the earth." The problem, of course, is that there is nothing to stand on. Similarly, Dooyeweerd argues that we cannot choose a worldview rationally because the process of reasoning itself depends upon a worldview. There is just no archimedian point. When trying to reason in determining a worldview, we are already reasoning according to a worldview and our selection will be biased as a result. For example, consider the following questions: Is empirical evidence superior to deductive logic?Can I trust my experiences as a basis of my worldview? Do the things I experience actually exist? Must my arguments be falsifiable? Is there such a thing as a supernatural event? Are there moral and immoral conclusions as to the best worldview? If we are picking a world view, each of these questions must be answered prior to rational analysis, but which answers we give for each of these questions will determine the resulting outcome of our use of reason. Therefore, Dooyeweerd teaches that one cannot change a worldview based on reason alone, thereby distinguishing between Kuhn's paradigm and our concept of worldview. It seems our presuppositional empistemology is again viable
(3) Michel Foucault's archaeology
I'd like to reinforce my claims initially made with reference to Kuhn through the examination of an influential postmodern thinker: Michel Foucault
. This French thinker developed what he called "Archaeologies" which sought to uncover the episteme
behind cultural epochs. Foucault argued that certain conditions of rationality, certain possibilities of thought characterized various cultures at various times. Only certain things can be counted as discourse, those things within these conditions of rationality. In other words, certain epochal works, ideas, and modes of thought end up defining discourse for a generation. These ideas or modes of discourse often become buried within a worldview such that they are not recognizable, but they in fact shape what can be counted as legitimate/rational thought. For example, consider the field of economics. Initially, economics lacked a clear theoretical framework to allow for academic/scientific discourse. Adam Smith and David Ricardo developed early theories that focused on distribution of money/capital between landholders, workers, and capitalists (i.e. investors). This framework allowed initial economic analysis to take the shape of discussions on distribution. Karl Marx later took this distributionist analysis and mixed it with Hegelian dialectics, creating a model of class conflict which allowed for economic discourses of Marxism. Later, the Austrians/Neoclassical economists developed the idea of marginalism, which allowed economic analysis to focus on utility, marginal benefit (i.e. the benefit gained from an additional unit of something) and marginal cost. This allowed for an entirely new mode of discourse on economics. So if you ask someone today to analyze an economic question, the answer is shaped by a long accretion of archeological ideas. The answer will likely be offered based on the trichotomy of land/labor/capital, focusing on utility (which itself depends upon utilitarian ethics) and marginalism (which depends on particular kinds of calculus) and perhaps with reference to class conflict, which depends upon a Hegelian view of history. Foucault would go a step further to say that the academic discourse in answering these questions also and more importantly hides certain power dynamics. Thus, any analysis today within any worldview will have certain hidden, presupposed ideas, power dynamics, theories, tools etc. that shape the discourse of that worldview. Insofar as these ideas are buried beneath our worldviews, they function to shape our worldviews in a systemic fashion as described by the proposed presuppositional epistemology, again giving it credibility
(4) Charles' Taylor's views on the rise of secularism.
Charles Taylor's tome A Secular Age
is probably the most thorough analysis of the rise of secularism yet written. Taylor's work is particularly relevant here because he analyzes how various cultural and intellectual developments modify the way that people relate to the world. One might say that specific "capacities" develop in individuals as a result of the cultural and intellectual milieu in which they live. In this way, Western culture once had faith as a default stance where it took great intellectual effort to not believe, but now many Western cultures (but not all!) have developed such that secularism is the default and it takes great personal effort to believe. In short, Taylor suggests that such latent factors as the development of capitalism, manners, and timetelling devices are as much behind the shift to secularism as specific intellectual movements because these cultural developments changed the way that we relate to the world around us, shaping the very capacities which determine what we can and cannot accept as plausible. This is important because it extends our analysis beyond Kuhn's research paradigm, and beyond Foucault's episteme
, both of which were primarily evidence of how rational presuppositions shape conclusions. Taylor indicates that the pre-rational factors which shape worldviews may not even be presuppositions, but may be fundamental capacities within us which are tangentially related to these presuppositions. Taylor's analysis of history suggests that there are indeed certain pre-rational aspects of our worldviews that do shape our conclusions about the world and our way of being in the world, which again supports the proposed presuppositional epistemology
(5) Stanley Fish and the reading community
Finally, I would like to draw attention to the views of Stanley Fish
. Fish suggests, and quite compellingly, that our ability to interpret texts and any specific writing is influenced by the community which we are a part of. Everything from our interests (what we look for in a text), to the connotation of certain words, to our senses of humor, to our broad cultural commitments shape the meaning of texts in certain ways. Intertextuality is also important: each book we read will have levels of allusion where one books refers implicitly to other literary ideas. Thus, the broad scope of books that our culture reads will affect the way that we interpret each new book. Rhetorical patterns can also have their affects. For example (my example, not Fish's), students of Biblical studies have to attempt to learn to read as ancient near eastern readers would. The most common Semitic writing patterns involve repetition. In many Old Testament stories, God will command one thing and then two sentences later we will see a prophet repeating God's command to a third person. To the modern reader, this is a sign that ancient people were unimaginative and wrote in a boring fashion. To the history-conscious German scholar of the 1900s, this was a sign that someone had edited together several versions of the same story, leaving much repetition behind. However, Robert Alter has famously argued that the ancient Semetic reader would see this as a common and important literary tool. The second speaker would often change God's words in slight or subtle ways, and the key was to watch for these changes as the main way to develop characters and the plot. The specific changes the person made could reveal pride, sin, doubt, or any number of other things. In other words, the repetition which, culturally, was the main locus of meaning in the ancient world, has become something irrelevant or boring to the modern reader. Our interpretation of texts is determined by our reading community. Fish demonstrates that, even in something as simple as reading (and we do get much of our knowledge from reading) is not an objective practice, but can be shaped by commitments which we did not even know that we had
Taken as a whole, these thinkers indicate that we can plausibly defend a presuppositionalist epistemology. Presuppositions shape our research programs, the way we read texts, which philosophical options are before us, and even what we are mentally capable of doing. Furthermore, it seems impossible to objectively choose a worldview; we are always automatically within one even during the act of choosing.
Argument 3: Why Christianity Might Initially be Accepted in Presuppositional Epistemology
If presuppositional epistemology is correct, there is no choosing a worldview or paradigm without already occupying that paradigm. With this in mind, one might choose Christianity for several reasons:
(1) One might be raised a Christian, and inherit the Christian worldview as the default.
(2) One might have an experience which is so fundamental as to be considered essential to that person's identity, and which that individual interprets as an encounter with the Christian God.
(3) One might have another worldview, but then find a major problem with that worldview, which would cause one to adopt a new one, perhaps Christianity.
For my part, I have been a Christian partly because of all three of these. I was not raised a Christian, but I converted when I began to read some theology and it began to call into question many of the things that I believed (thus #3). Because I was raised in America, Christianity was sort of the obvious cultural choice, even though I wasn't raised in it (hence #1). Shortly after accepting the intellectual aspects of Christianity, I had a conversion experience that fundamentally defines my self-understanding and identity, and which appears to be continually repeated in my life, not as conversion but through spiritual disciplines (thus #2).
What should a Christian do once she finds herself within the Christian worldview? Like anyone, she should strive to test her worldview for explanatory scope and internal coherence, while continuing to examine alternative views to see if they are superior, or whether they fall subject to a reductio ad absurdam
. As she examines evidence, she will do so from a biased perspective. But, if her worldview can no longer make sense of the evidence, it will have insufficient explanatory scope. She will also likely consider whether her worldview can continue to explain certain fundamental experiences, and whether it can help her to grow morally, intellectually, emotionally, and interpersonally.
Argument 4: Three Broad Philosophical Reasons for Maintaining Trinitarian Christian Faith
It is now time to discuss some of the arguments that I find persuasive in favor of Christian Trinitarian theism. As I have tested and examined my presuppositional worldview, I have found many arguments that I find compellingly in favor of Christianity. At present, I am only going to focus on three arguments. Each of the three are arguments that can be resolved by either trinitarianism or the incarnation alone, which explains why I prefer my particular variety of theism. Granted, there are other problems that several varieties of theism can solve.
(1) The One and the Many: Contingency and Truth
Broadly speaking, we can divide all of human knowledge into two types. The first is positivistic, which attempts to derive knowledge from data, whether sensory or statistical, in order to arrive at truth. The second for our purposes I'll just call non-positivistic. This type of knowledge can be derived from logic and/or philosophy, from semantic meaning, or from a broader system of knowledge. However, it is considered truth based on abstract reasoning, and not based on positivistic data.
It has long been widely agreed that many aspects of non-positivistic knowledge are historically contingent. That is to say, the are derived from particular historical circumstances. So, for example, particular terminological distinctions arise in history and continue to play a role in the future ideas of future thinkers. Likewise, particular ideas persist in various forms throughout history (for example, Hegel's dialectic, Marx's dialectical materialism, Adorno's negative dialectic, etc). Particular methodological positions are taken in response to prior tendencies in philosophy (Husserl's phenomenology in response to perceived failings of idealism, Kant's transcendentalism in response to the perceived failures of empiricism, etc.). These aspects and more are all historically contingent. If Boethius had not defined a person as a rational thinking substance, or particular individual, Descartes would not have posited the cogito ergo sum
, focusing instead perhaps on "I act, therefore I am" for example. Foucault then wouldn't have posited the "death of man" were man defined terminologically differently. Hegel wouldn't have imagined the divine subject as the process of spirit coming to self-knowledge in dialectical history. Feuerbach wouldn't have then explained that Spirit itself was a projection of human potential. Marx wouldn't have critiqued Feuerbach for not changing the world, and so on. Without a terminological distinction between "mind" and "body," mind/body dualism of the Cartesian sort wouldn't have been possible. This has just been a brief survey of philosophy, but similar surveys are possible in most non-positivistic areas of knowledge.
I bring this up to point to "Lessing's ditch." A necessary truth cannot be depend upon a contingent truth. A necessary truth is something that is true at all times and places regardless. A contingent truth is something that could have been otherwise. If a necessary truth is only "True" as a result of a contingent truth, it is by definition not "necessary." Most non-positivistic claims for necessary truth incorporate into themselves dozens of contingent truths, based on terminological distinctions used, historical precedent, philosophical method, and so forth. However, non-positivistic approaches to knowledge do not claim to be presenting us with truth for a particular culture
, but with truth itself.
How can we overcome this problem such that we can obtain valid truth through non-positivistic methods? I am assuming here that we must have non-positivistic methods, if only because positivism itself rests upon non-positivistic methods (I've discussed the problems with scientism at length here
. The solution is found in the incarnation. Christianity is unique insofar as it links a particular with the universal, one of the many with the One. In Christ, the Truth itself, the transcendent which we are trying to grasp through our historically contingent acts of knowing, entered into history itself. This is a metaphysical connection between a particular set of contingent truths and necessary truth itself. In the historical Christ, we encounter one whose teachings within contingent history are themselves a product of his knowledge of necessary truths. In other words, through the incarnation a particular trajectory of historical, contingent truths conform to necessary truth, and they must
do so because Christ must be true to himself. We see the incarnation as a way to bridge the problem of contingency and necessity because historically conditioned claims about reality aren't the result of purposeless historical processes, but of ones guided by Providence, and connected with the absolute itself.
This is not proof that Christ is himself God, nor that Christianity is true. However, to one who (according to our presuppositional methodology) already knows Christ as God and Christianity as truth, it opens the possibility of obtaining non-positivistic knowledge. To turn from Christ already known as God is thus to turn from that possibility, and so, due to explanatory scope, a Christian is justified to retain faith until that faith reaches a point of intellectual crisis, rather than turning from that faith, and in so doing, turning from the possibility of knowledge.
(2) Trinitarian Communication and Deconstruction
One formidable challenge to recent modern secularism has come from the concept of deconstruction, and from various associated challenges to the possibility of real communication. (I'm taking much of this from Kevin Vanhoozer). These challenges can be reduced to three basic dimensions. First, there are challenges to the author. The author is not actually present in the text, does not actually control what the text means, and is not encountered in the text. Instead, the reader discerns meaning according to the reader's ability, predispositions, and effort. In a sense, when you read you are making meaning from the text yourself, say the postmodernists.
What of the reader? Isn't the reader equipped to uncover meaning in the text? Postmodern thought actually challenges this process of "equipping" the reader, suggesting that it is reducible to "constructing the reader" as part of a cultural construct. The reader encountering the text finds particular things in the text as a result of the particular things that are relevant to his cultural framework. Thus, when individuals from a similar culture and epoch read a text together, we appear to all come to the same conclusions about the text, and therefore decide that we have legitimate hermeneutic abilities. However, we really have simply discovered that we are part of the same body of readers, respond the postmodernists. The reader himself is nothing but a product of the culture, and meaning is not "uncovered" by the reader through exegesis
, but read into the text through eisegesis
What of the text? Is not meaning actually located within the words of the text itself? The postmodern movement also challenges this as a result of "intertextuality" and the ambiguitiy of all meaning. Words are defined in relation to other words, and those to yet other words, and so forth. There is no solid foundation. The text is merely ink on paper, but any meaning we encounter in the text is not a result of the text itself, but of the connotations that we are able to bring to
the text as a result of our personal and cultural use of
In short, postmodernism suggests that the reader is not meaningfully connected to the text or the author as other, but only projects the self into the text and onto the author. The reader herself is also reduced to a cultural construct, to the extent that a real possibility of communication is challenged. Communication beyond superficialities from one person to another is only possible by a cultural imperialism that must change the other into our own likeness.
I admit that postmodernism has not yet won the day, with atheists like John Searle and others fighting against it. They are having a difficult struggle. Christian trinitarian theism offers an easier solution to the problem through the Trinity. In the Trinity, Jesus as the Word is the self-communication of God, the Spirit is at work in the believer so that the Word can be recognized, and the Word is sent by the Father to signify him and point us to Him. Yet, Father, Son, and Spirit have an ontological connection. Postmodernism suggests there is no real connection between author, text, and reader, but the Trinity provides Christianity a resource for connecting all three on a fundamental ontological level, guaranteeing the possibility of revelation.
(3) The Person/Being Distinction
The modern conception of the person is in many ways dependent upon the development of Christian theology. In ancient thought prosopon
meant a mask, and referred to the role that an actor would assume during a play. Particularly in tragedies, this can be seen as a temporary role in attempting to overcome fate and determinism. Ultimately, the prosopon
is subject to determinism, and the identity assumed is only momentary. In the debates surrounding the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries, Christian theologians developed prosopon
in a new way, connecting it with the word hypostasis
, "subsistence", and differentiating it from the word ousia
, or "being." In terms of the Trinity, it was posited that there was a "personal" aspect of the Godhead which was not determined by the "being" deterministically, and which was the basis of divine "subsistence" or "existence." For the first time in Western history, personal freedom became the fundamental ontological and philosophical principle instead of deterministic being.
The Trinity continues to be important in distinguishing between person and nature. Only in Christian theology is the basis of ontology a differentiation which states that one being can simultaneously be three persons. This is only possible if personhood is irreducible to being. Likewise, the doctrine of the hypostatic union suggests that one person can have two natures. The person in Christian ontology is an immaterial principle that is sustained by relation to God (or in the case of the Trinity, through God's relation to Himself).
Apart from this trinitarian ontology, it seems that there is nothing except nature. A "person" is fundamentally a body, and ontological monism is inescapable. This seems to necessitate determinism, as any "personal" action simply arises from and within the mechanistic processes of the body.
Argument 5: Why Secularism Falls Short
I will note a few short arguments as to why secularism fails in the above areas and elsewhere:
(1) The Relativism of the Contingent
Above I argued that the only way to obtain necessary truth from contingent historical events is to connect one or more of those historical events with the universal itself, with necessary truth itself. In Christianity, the incarnation accomplishes this. On the other hand, noteworthy scholars in secularism are increasingly arguing that such a connection does not exist, and that non-positivistic truth cannot be obtained. This is a common experience even on this site. However, I'd rather focus on Neitzsche, who probably can be credited with the origin of these views. In Genealogy of Morals
, Neitzsche proposes a theory of how morality developed. What is important here is not the specific discussion of how this occurred, as subsequent theories continuously explain the evolution of morals in different ways. Rather, it is the fact that things that we believe are "necessary moral truths" are in fact products of historical social relations and ideas, and could have just as easily have been otherwise. "Good" and "Evil" are the product of the contingent events of the past, but there is nothing necessary about one or the other. Likewise, throughout his work Neitzsche argues for something which he terms "perspectivism," which claims that there are many possible perspectives on metaphysics and that most are a result of the personal preferences of the individual, and of the cultural surrounding of that individual. In other words, our attempts to understand "truth" are a product of our contingent history and psyche, and cannot be trusted to produce anything other than our own perspective. More often than not, this "perspectivism" has been supported by key thinkers in the secular academic world.
(2) Persons and Humanism
Secular humanism is one major branch of secularism, claiming to put humans as the central element of morality, culture, and progress. Unfortunately, I am convinced that a robust view of the Trinity and the incarnation are necessary to maintain the view of the person. After all, these two doctrines were the philosophical milieu in which the concept of the "person" first arose in any form recognizable to us today. If we eliminate the person/being distinction, which we have no reason to maintain apart from theology and some form of mind/body dualism, we wind up with an ontological monism. The human being is the body, and what makes us human is simply a property of matter. Why is this relevant? Besides the problems noted above, it means that being a human isn't rooted in personhood, in an intrinsic quality of humanity. Rather, it is rooted in some attribute which humans develop as they mature, and which can be shared with other animals. Typically, this is a human capacity such as consciousness. One notable thinker, Peter Singer, locates the basic capacity which can justify human morality and identity in the ability to hold preferences. However, some animals can hold preferences, and therefore they should have rights. On the other hand, unborn babies, infants, and senile adults may not have the ability to do so, and therefore lack rights. Singer's conclusions are logical from his premises. If we assume that some capacity is the locus of individual value, then some animals will meet the criteria and some human beings will not. In short, humanism seems impossible to maintain in a robust form apart from a notion of the person.
(3) Communication and Nihilism
According to Derrida, one of the leading postmodernists challenging the possibility of real communication, to define something clearly is to do violence to it by imposing one's own heuristic into it. Since there is no real communication, since my understanding of a thing linguistically cannot be the restatement of that thing's (or person's) definition of itself because my understanding is of necessity an imposition of my own culture, to speak is to constrain another. Our task, claims Derrida, is to overcome this through a constant project of deconstruction, constantly trying to undo the "precise" meaning of a thing and to show the alternative interpretations. This is becoming a widespread phenomena, not just in academia, but in popular culture. So you have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
trying to undo the meaning of the classic text and open it to new possibilities, for example. On the other hand, many people are actively working to undo meaning and repackage it for the sake of profit. Traditional cultural motiffs are being forced into new contexts to destroy any meaning that they traditionally had. So the cross is a typical decoration in rap videos, Chinese, Mexican, and Cajun culture are strewn about the food court devoid of all but a shell of their traditional meaning, all to make a profit. Secular alternatives to Christianity are actively working to undo and destroy meaning. Christianity is seeking to maintain it with a sense of the transcendent, and stands as a viable counter-universal to globalization.
(4) Transcendence and an Ontology of Violence
John Milbank has pointed out that most Western secular metanarratives are grounded in an "ontology of violence." That is to say, the way that they think metaphysically is fundamentally rooted in certain types of difference-as-violence. In ancient philosophy, difference in being must have arisen from violence to the divine monad. In Hobbesian (and subsequent) political theory, the state of nature is a state of war. In evolutionary theory, all of biological reality is rooted in the violent competition of survival of the fittest. And so forth and so on. I don't have the time to reconstruct the entire western history of thought, nor likely the aptitude.
Christianity offers an alternative, claims Milbank, In the Trinity, difference is a result of creative love for the other, and difference is meant to be perpetually sustained, not eliminated through the triumphal victory of one over another.
To conclude: Presuppositional methodology suggests that one must decide one's stance toward God (or if not decide, possess this stance) prior to analyzing the data. I find no data which sufficiently compel me to abandon belief, and I find numerous metaphysical arguments for the superiority of Christianity over secular alternatives. This has been a very cursory overview: I have lumped secularism together, where I would truly need to go through thinker by thinker and determine whether they are superior. In practice, that has been more what has happened. But rather than have a debate on Sartre, or on neitzsche, or on Zizek, this gives a general overview of key issues. To these might be added questions of morals, epistemology, and objectivity. But those issues we have already debated elsewhere. At present, I thank you again for the chance to debate, and yield you the floor.