This week we will be covering the 2nd principle of analyzing worldviews in Nancy Pearcy’s book Finding Truth. Last time we talked about identifying the idol within a person’s worldview. So now that you’ve identified the idol, the next step Pearcey talks about is identifying the idol’s reductionism.
Identifying the Idol’s Reductionism
In the first principle, we covered the idea that if someone is going to deny the God who is there, then they will have to put something/someone in His place. This being the case, they will always have things out of order. Some things will be raised to the status of deity, while others will be lowered (reduced) to less than where they should be. In Romans 1, we see that the people made idols for themselves, and Paul lists a few of the consequences of doing this.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – 1:28-32
This is a pretty strong list of things, and so for the purpose of our discussion, how do idols lead to this? They do this by having a reduced view of what humans are supposed to be, Pearcey writes.
The link is that idols always lead to a lower view of human life. The Bible teaches that humans are made in the image of God. When a worldview exchanges the creator for something in creation, it will also exchange a high view of humans made in God’s image for a lower view of humans made in the image of something made in creation.
This principle uses the philosophical word reductionism, and it’s important to flesh out what that term means in order to understand how idols lead necessarily to a reduction of humanity. “Reductionism means reducing a phenomenon from a higher or more complex level of reality to a lower, simpler, less complex level–usually in order to debunk or discredit it.” Pearcey explains. Some common examples of statements which are reductionistic would be that our thoughts are nothing but some sort of electro-chemical reactions in our brains, or that everything can ultimately be explained by physics and chemistry.
Pearcey uses a helpful illustration when trying to pin down what sort of reductionism is going on within a worldview. She talks about how idols can’t account for all of creation, due to their being a part of creation, and therefore you need to be on the lookout for things which don’t fit into their box. Some possible statements which serve as signal flares for things which don’t fit in the box would be labeling certain things as illusions, or having to function as if certain things were true, even though they know that they aren’t. Using the example of the materialistic worldview, Pearcey illustrates this concept in action.
Recall that in materialism, the idol is matter. Everything else is reduced to material objects produced by material forces. Anything that does not fit in the materialist box is dismissed as an illusion, including spirit, soul, will, mind, and consciousness. We could say that humans are redefined in the image of matter. They are robbed of their uniquely human qualities and reduced to biochemical machines, without free will, determined by natural forces.
This is a bleak outlook, but it is a view which is necessary, in order for their idol-based worldview to work. In contrast, Pearcey points to the Christian alternative.
By contrast, a biblical worldview begins with a transcendent God, so it is not reductionistic. It does not try to stuff everything into a box defined by one part of creation. Indeed Christianity offers a high view of the human person, created in the image of a transcendent Person. It affirms all the features that make us fully human.
In my own experience, the only people who are conscious of the implications of their worldview in the terms we’re talking about are academics, however most people are able to follow trains of reasoning back to how they know what they are saying is true easily enough, if asked the right questions. Next week, we’ll talk about how you ask questions to test worldviews, to see if they are true or not.