Saturday, February 6, 2016

Understanding the Crusades (Pt. II)

As was mentioned in yesterday's post the Crusades were not wars of aggression against innocent Muslim Arabs but rather were reactions against atrocities committed by Muslims against Christians throughout the Middle East. Greg Scandlen, reviewing Rodney Stark's book God's Battalions, writes:
.... what would prompt hundreds of thousand Europeans to leave their homes and travel 2,500 miles to engage an enemy is a desert kingdom—especially after the Muslim conquest of Europe had been turned back?

There had been long-festering concern about the fate of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. After his conversion to Christianity in the early 300s, the Roman Emperor Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of what was believed to be Jesus’ tomb, and other churches in Bethlehem and on the Mount of Olives. These sites prompted a growing number of European pilgrims to visit the Holy Land, including Saint Jerome, who lived in Bethlehem for the last 32 years of his life as he translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. By the late fifth century, Stark reports, more than 300 hostels and monasteries offered lodging to pilgrims in Jerusalem alone.

But in 638 Jerusalem surrendered to Muslim invaders, and mass murders of Christian pilgrims and monks became commonplace. Stark includes a list of select atrocities in the eight and ninth centuries, but none worse than the some 5,000 German Christians slaughtered by Bedouin robbers in the tenth century.

Throughout this period, control of Palestine was contested by several conflicting Muslim groups. Stark writes, “In 878 a new dynasty was established in Egypt and seized control of the Holy Land from the caliph in Baghdad.” One hundred years later, Tariqu al-Hakim became the sixth caliph of Egypt and initiated an unprecedented reign of terror, not just against Christians but against his own people as well. He burned or pillaged some 30,000 churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the tomb beneath it.

Soon enough, newly converted Turkish tribes came out of the north to seize Persia and Baghdad (by 1045) and press on to Armenia, overrunning the city of Ardzen in 1048, where they murdered all the men, raped the women, and enslaved the children. Next they attacked the Egyptians, in part because the Turks were Orthodox Sunnis and the Egyptians were heretical Shiites. While the Turks did not succeed in overthrowing the Egyptians, they did conquer Palestine, entering Jerusalem in 1071. The Turks promised safety to the residents of Jerusalem if they surrendered the city, but broke this promise and slaughtered the population. They did the same in Ramla, Gaza, Tyre, and Jaffa.

Finally, they threatened Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Alexius Comnenus wrote to Pope Urban II in 1095, begging for help to turn back the Turks. This was remarkable given the intense hostility between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Perhaps the pope saw an opportunity to unite or at least reduce tensions between the two Christian churches, but he responded with a call to create an army that would go to the Middle East.
Thus, a series of expeditions known as the Crusades were begun. I hasten to note that one shouldn't have the impression that the Crusaders were all noble soldiers of high moral caliber. They were, in fact, often a mixed lot, and some of them were little more than criminal thugs. A German contingent during the first crusade, enroute to the Middle East from Germany, slaughtered thousands of Jews in European towns along their way, apparently for sport, despite heroic attempts by Christian bishops to protect the Jews and universal opprobrium among Christians for what the Germans were doing. It was thought to be divine retribution that these men were themselves later massacred in a series of hostile encounters with local forces in Hungary.

The point, though, is that, in Stark's telling, the Crusades were fought largely for just reasons, and largely by valiant men with noble motives and were, when supported by their leaders back home and not betrayed by allies or ravaged by disease and starvation, quite successful. Indeed, as Stark puts it, the Crusader knights, "starving, riddled with disease, having eaten most of their horses, and with greatly reduced numbers," not only pushed the Turks back from Constantinople, but, "pushed on to Jerusalem and against all odds stormed over the walls to victory."

I highly recommend God's Battalions to anyone interested in the history of the Crusades and looking for a readable account of that history.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Understanding the Crusades (Pt. I)

Islamic terrorism, it's sometimes alleged, is fueled by resentments fostered by the wars conducted against Muslims in the Holy Land 800 years ago. The Crusades are often claimed to have been wars of imperialism waged against peaceful Muslims who defended themselves heroically against the malevolent Europeans, defeating them time after time in battle. All of that, however, happens to be false, according to Rodney Stark in his excellent book on the Crusades titled God's Battalions.

The Crusades, Stark argues, were defensive wars fought in response to Muslim atrocities against Christian pilgrims. The Crusader armies were technologically superior to their foes and were almost invariably victorious over them, but, after several centuries of occupation, eventually failed to hold their gains because of a lack of will among political leaders back home to spend the money necessary to sustain an army at such a distance. Moreover, so far from going to war to rob Arabs of their wealth, the Crusaders incurred enormous expense to make the arduous journey and few expected to reap any profit from a land that, in any case, offered precious little wealth to plunder. Indeed many Crusaders expected never to return home at all and many did not.

A review by Greg Scandlen in The Federalist of Stark's book helps clear away a lot of the mythological fog about the Crusades. Here are some highlights:
In light of President Obama’s recent remarks comparing the brutality of the Islamic State to the Crusades, it might be time to take a fresh look at those events. Were they really the one-sided Dark Ages barbarism we have been taught? Were they an early manifestation of Western imperialism and global conquest?
Scandlen notes that the Crusades were first of all a reaction against Muslim aggression and atrocities:
[I]n the final years of Mohammed ... a newly united Arab people swept through (Zoroastrian) Persia and the (Orthodox Christian) Byzantine- controlled areas of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa. (Byzantine refers to the Greek-speaking eastern remainder of the Roman Empire.) Eventually Arabs took over control of the Mediterranean islands, most of Spain, and the southern part of Italy, and even reached as far as 150 miles outside of Paris before being turned back by the Franks, or early French.

The Muslims were brutal in their conquered territories. They gave pagans a choice of converting to Islam or being killed or enslaved. Jews and Christians other People of the Book) were usually but not always treated somewhat better, and allowed to retain their beliefs but under conditions of Sharia subjugation....

Not surprisingly, there was intense Christian resistance and determination to take back lost territories. Especially effective were the Normans and the Franks in Spain and Italy.
But that was all prelude. One myth Stark wishes to dispel is that Islamic science and learning was somehow superior to that of Europeans of the period. In fact, he argues, Islamic learning and technology was largely a borrowed commodity:
Stark says the best of the Islamic culture was appropriated from the people Muslims conquered—the Greeks, Jews, Persians, Hindus, and even from heretical Christian sects such as the Copts and Nestorians. He quotes E.D. Hunt as writing, “the earliest scientific book in the language of Islam [was a] treatise on medicine by a Syrian Christian priest in Alexandria translated into Arabic by a Persian Jewish physician.” Stark writes that Muslim naval fleets were built by Egyptian shipwrights, manned by Christian crews, and often captained by Italians. When Baghdad was built, the caliph “entrusted the design of the city to a Zoroastrian and a Jew.” Even the “Arabic” numbering system was Hindu in origin.

And, while it is true that the Arabs embraced the writings of Plato and Aristotle, Stark comments,
However, rather than treat these works as attempts by Greek scholars to answer various questions, Muslin intellectuals quickly read them in the same way they read the Qur’an – as settled truths to be understood without question or contradiction…. Attitudes such as these prevented Islam from taking up where the Greeks had left off in their pursuit of knowledge.
Meanwhile, science and technology were burgeoning in Europe and it was these advances which gave the Europeans enormous advantages over their Muslim opponents in war:
[The] explosion of technology [in Europe] made ordinary people far richer than any people had ever been. It began with the development of collars and harnesses that allowed horses to pull plows and wagons rather than oxen, doubling the speed at which people could till fields. Plows were improved, iron horseshoes invented, wagons given brakes and swivel axles, and larger draft horses were bred. All this along with the new idea of crop rotation led to a massive improvement in agricultural productivity that in turn led to a much healthier, larger, and stronger population.

Technology was also improving warfare with the invention of the crossbow and chain mail. Crossbows were far more accurate and deadly than conventional archery, and could be fired with very little training. Chain mail was almost impervious to the kind of arrows in use throughout the world. Mounted knights were fitted with high-back saddles and stirrups that enabled them to use more force in charging an opponent, and much larger horses were bred as chargers, giving the knights a height advantage over enemies. Better military tactics made European armies much more lethal. Stark writes:
It is axiomatic in military science that cavalry cannot succeed against well-armed and well-disciplined infantry formations unless they greatly outnumber them…. When determined infantry hold their ranks, standing shoulder to shoulder to present a wall of shields from which they project a thicket of long spears butted in the ground, cavalry charges are easily turned away; the horses often rear out of control and refuse to meet the spears.

In contrast, Muslim warriors were almost exclusively light cavalry, riding faster but lighter horses bareback with little armor, few shields, and using swords and axes. Their biggest advantage was their use of camels, which made them much more mobile than foot soldiers and gave them the ability to swoop in and out of the desert areas to attack poorly defended cities.
Another advantage Stark discusses but Scandlen omits is the development of something called Greek fire, a mysterious napalm-like substance that could be sprayed from tubes at enemy ships and other fortifications. Because it was flammable even in water, it was extremely effective in warding off incursions by Muslim fleets in the centuries prior to the Crusades but doesn't seem to have been used much during the Crusades themselves.

Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at what prompted the series of campaigns against the Muslim Arabs that came to known as the Crusades.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Contingency of the World (Pt. II)

Yesterday, we discussed the Argument from Contingency as it has been formulated by philosophers Stephen Davis and William Lane Craig, following the 17th century genius Gottfried Leibniz. Leibniz can rightly be called a genius because he was not only a philosopher and theologian but also a mathematician who invented (simultaneously with, but independently of, Isaac Newton) the mathematics of calculus.

The argument, in outline, runs as follows:
  1. Any entity that exists must have an explanation for its existence, either in itself or in something else.
  2. The universe exists.
  3. Therefore, the universe has an explanation for its existence, either in itself or in something else (from 1 & 2).
  4. If the universe has an explanation, that explanation is God.
  5. Therefore, God exists (from 3 & 4).
We noted yesterday that this argument is valid so that if the premises all turn out to be true then the conclusion must be true. We then inquired as to the truth of the premises noting that premise 2 is obviously true and premise 3 clearly follows from premises 1 and 2. That left us with ascertaining the truth of premises 1 and 4. We discussed 1 yesterday and will look at 4 today.

I closed yesterday's post by saying that 4 is simply a restatement of what most atheists believe. Here's why: Most atheists assert that the universe has no explanation at all. In the words of the famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell, it's just there. Its existence is a brute, inexplicable fact. In other words, if there is no God to have created the universe then there just is no explanation for its existence. Since atheist thinkers believe there is no God to have created the universe then they believe that the universe has no explanation.

But consider that claim: If there is no God then the universe has no explanation for its existence. This is logically equivalent to saying that if the universe does have an explanation then there is a God who created it. In other words, if the universe has an explanation then that explanation is God which is what premise 4 states.

So premises 1, 2, 3, and 4 all seem to be accepted, even by the atheist, as true, which means that 5 is true also.

Now, this conclusion could be avoided by admitting that the universe must have an explanation, but that either a) the explanation is that it's necessarily existent, which we considered yesterday, or b) the explanation is something other than God. We saw yesterday that it's more reasonable to think the universe is a contingent rather than a necessary entity so adopting a) seems to be an unfruitful strategy. What, though, about b)? Could the explanation of the universe be something other than God?

We need first to understand what a cause of the universe would be like. Since the universe is all of space, time, and matter whatever explains it must itself be non-spatial, non-temporal, and immaterial. The only kinds of things which could exist and fit this description would be either abstract objects, like numbers or concepts, or disembodied minds. However, abstract objects, if they exist, don't cause anything. The number 7 doesn't bring anything about, nor does the concept of, say, justice, by itself, have any causal efficacy.

That leaves us with a mind as the ultimate explanation for the universe, and any mind that is a sufficient explanation for the universe must be extraordinarily powerful, intelligent, and purposeful. Moreover, if it's intelligent and purposeful it's also personal.

In other words, the most plausible explanation for the universe is a being that has many of the characteristics traditionally attributed to God.

Here's a short video that might help to make the argument a bit clearer:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Contingency of the World (Pt. I)

One of the classical arguments for the existence of God has experienced something of a renaissance in the last few years. The argument was originally popularized by the great philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) and is sometimes referred to as the Argument from Contingency. Leibniz asks the question why does anything at all exist? Why is there something rather than nothing? His answer to this question ultimately leads to the existence of the God of traditional theism.

Modern advocates of the argument, such as philosophers Stephen Davis and William Lane Craig, outline the argument somewhat like this:
  1. Any entity that exists must have an explanation for its existence, either in itself or in something else.
  2. The universe exists.
  3. Therefore, the universe has an explanation for its existence, either in itself or in something else (from 1 & 2).
  4. If the universe has an explanation, that explanation is God.
  5. Therefore, God exists (from 3 & 4).
At first glance this syllogism, particularly premise 4, may seem highly dubious and contrived, but it is in fact a valid argument. If the premises are all true then the conclusion must be true, but are the premises true, or at least more likely to be true than false? It certainly seems so.

Premise 2 is obviously true, but what about 1 and 4? In the remainder of this post we'll look at premise 1 and then consider premise 4 tomorrow.

What does premise 1 mean? It's simply an expression of what's called the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Existing entities have an explanation of their existence either in the necessity of their own nature or in some external cause.

To say that their explanation is in the necessity of their own nature is to say that it's impossible for the thing to not exist. It's not caused by anything else nor is its existence in any way dependent upon anything else. It has what philosophers call necessary being. Some mathematicians think that numbers and other mathematical "objects" exist in this way.

Almost everything in our experience, however, is explained by some cause outside of itself. These things - like trees, chairs, cars, and people - could possibly not exist and are referred to as contingent beings. They depend upon something outside of themselves for their existence.

So premise 1 is saying that every entity which exists is either a necessary being or a contingent being. This is clearly the case, so the universe, which is of course an existing entity, is either a necessary being or a contingent being. It's possible, however, that the universe not exist. Indeed, there was a state of affairs, apart from the Big Bang, in which it did not exist. Therefore, the universe is contingent, and its explanation must be found outside of itself.

Now, there's much more that could be said about premise 1. There are objections that have been raised, and answered, to the claim that the universe is contingent, but I think it fair to say here that the contingency of the universe is by far the consensus view among philosophers who attend to the matter. It's difficult to imagine that the universe is necessary, i.e. the sort of thing that could not not exist.

Thus we're left to defend premise 4 which certainly seems to commit the fallacy of begging the question. That is, it seems to be stating the very thing the argument strives to conclude. As we'll see the next time, though, so far from begging the question, premise 4 simply affirms what most atheists say all the time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Premoderns, Moderns, and Postmoderns (Pt.III)

This is the third in the series of reflections on Joseph Bottum's essay titled Christians and Postmoderns. Scroll down for the two previous posts on his essay.

Bottum writes that:

[Theists] should not become entangled in the defense of modern times. This is the key - the postmodern attack on modernity is right: without God, essences are the will to power. Without God, every attempt to call something true or beautiful or good is actually an attempt to compel other people to agree.

Of course believers are tempted, when they hear postmodern deconstructions of modernity, to argue in support of modernity. After all, believers share with modern nonbelievers a trust in the reality of truth. They affirm the efficacy of human action, the movement of history towards a goal, the possibility of moral and aesthetic judgments. But believers share with postmoderns the recognition that truth rests on a faith that has itself been the sole subject of the long attack of modern times.

The most foolish thing believers could do is to make concessions now to a modernity that is already bankrupt (and that despises them anyway) and thus to make themselves subject to a second attack - the attack of the postmodern on the modern. Faithful believers are not responsible for the emptiness of modernity. They struggled against it for as long as they could, and they must not give in now. They must not, at this late date, become scientific, bureaucratic, and technological; skeptical, self-conscious, and self-mocking.

A better word in the previous sentence might have been "scientistic" rather than "scientific," scientism being the belief that only science can give us knowledge and that any questions science can't answer, such as metaphysical questions, aren't worth worrying about.

In any case, "premoderns" are torn between modernity and postmodernity precisely because they share so much in common with both. They bristle at the withering assaults of the postmoderns on modernity's belief in objective truth, particularly truth about morals. Yet they are in fundamental agreement with the postmodern critique of the futility of modernity's attempt to ground meaning and truth in the philosophical quicksands of positivism, naturalistic metaphysics, the scientific method, or whatever. They recognize that modernity reduces man to a machine and thus robs him of his dignity and worth and inevitably his human rights.

We live in a tragically empty age, one in which the promises of secular reason to usher in a golden era of enlightenment and knowledge were dashed on the rocks of two world wars and the bloodiest century in human history. Postmoderns rightly ridicule the limitations of reason, it's utter impotence to offer human beings meaning or to lead us into a humanist nirvana, but they offer nothing in its place other than subjectivity and nihilism.

We can't go back to the premodern era, of course, nor would many of us want to. Modernity, despite its failures and shortcomings, has made the physical burdens of life immeasurably easier to bear. Perhaps, though, we could, if we really set our minds to it, import the crucial assumptions of the premodern age about the necessity of a transcendent foundation for knowledge, meaning, morals, and human nature into our present era. Then not only would the physical burdens of life be easier to bear but so, too, would our spiritual and existential burdens.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Premoderns, Moderns, and Postmoderns (Pt. II)

I'd like to continue our look at the First Things essay (Christians and Postmoderns) by Joseph Bottum that I began on Saturday.

Bottum writes that:

[T]he massive scientific advance of modernity reveals how easy it is to discover facts, and modernity's collapse reveals how hard it is to hold knowledge. We have an apparatus for discovery unrivaled by the ages, yet every new fact means less than the previously discovered one, for we lack what turns facts to knowledge: the information of what the facts are for.

Precisely so. Modernity offers us no satisfying interpretive framework for assigning meaning to the facts discovered by science. It attempts to supply the need for such a framework by interpreting everything in terms of evolutionary development, but the view that each of us is just a meaningless cipher in the grand flow of time and evolution fails somehow to quench our deepest longings. According to the modern worldview there really is no purpose for the existence of anything. The facts discovered by science, as important as they may be for the furtherance of our technology, don't really have any metaphysical significance. Like everything else, they're just there.

Bottum continues:

And so "we must learn to live after truth," as a group of European academics wrote in After Truth: A Postmodern Manifesto. "Nothing is certain, not even this . . . The modern age opened with the destruction of God and religion. It is ending with the threatened destruction of all coherent thought." Nietzsche may have been the first to see this clearly .... But, even in the fundamental thinkers of high modernity, hints can be found that knowledge requires God: Descartes uses God in the Meditations in order to escape from the interiority where the cogito has stranded him; Kant uses God as a postulate of pure practical reason in order to hold on to the possibility of morality.

What [theistic] believers have in common with postmoderns is a distrust of modern claims to knowledge. To be a believer, however, is to be subject to an attack that postmoderns, holding truthlessness to themselves like a lover, never have to face. The history of modernity in the West is in many ways nothing more than the effort to destroy medieval faith. It is a three-hundred-year attempt to demolish medieval (especially Catholic) claims to authority, and to substitute a structure of science and ethics based solely on human rationality.

But with the failure to discover any such rational structure - seen by the postmoderns - the only portion of the modern project still available to a modern is the destruction of faith. It should not surprise us that, in very recent times, attacks on what little is left of medieval belief have become more outrageous: resurgent anti-Semitism, anti-Islamic broadsides, vicious mockery of evangelical preaching, desecrations of the Host in Catholic masses. For modern men and women, nothing else remains of the high moral project of modernity: these attacks are the only good thing left to do. The attackers are convinced of the morality of their attack not by the certainty of their aims - who's to say what's right or wrong? - but by opposition from believers.

I take Bottum to be saying here that modernity, in its death throes, wishes only to finish the business of killing off God, or at least belief in God. Modernity has nothing else to offer. It cannot give answers to any of life's most gripping existential questions. Nowhere in the writings of the anti-theists at large today do we find an answer to any of the following: Why is the universe here? How did life come about? Why is the universe so magnificently fine-tuned for life? Where did human consciousness come from? Why do we feel joy when we encounter beauty? How can we prove that our reason is reliable without using reason to prove it? How can we account for our conviction that we have free will? What obligates us to care about others? Why do we feel guilt? Who do I refer to when I refer to myself? What gives human beings worth, dignity, and rights? If death is the end justice is unattainable, so why do we yearn for it? Why do we need meaning and purpose? What is our purpose?

Ask the Richard Dawkins' of the world those questions and all you'll get in reply is a shrug of the shoulders or a recitation of the alleged historical crimes of the Church. They dodge the question because they have no answer. This is a bit ironic: Neither modern nor postmodern atheism has an answer to the most profound questions we can ask. The only possible answer lies in the God of the "premodern," and this is the one solution to man's existential emptiness that the modern and postmodern atheist simply cannot abide.

We'll conclude our look at Bottum's essay tomorrow.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Premoderns, Moderns, and Postmoderns (Pt. I)

Having discussed in my classes this week some philosophical distinctions between premodern, modern, and postmodern metanarratives I thought it might be useful to rerun some posts on the subject from last year. This one is the first in a three-part series:

There are in the West three basic ways to look at the world, three worldviews which serve as lenses through which we interpret the experiences of our lives. Those three worldviews are essentially distinguished by their view of God, truth, and the era in which they were dominant among the cultural elite. We may, with some license, label these the premodern, modern, and postmodern. The premodern, dominating the culture from ancient times until the Enlightenment (17th century), was essentially Christian. The modern, which prevailed at least until the 1970s and is still very influential today, is essentially naturalistic and secular, and the postmodern, which has been with us now for a couple of generations, is hostile to the Enlightenment emphasis on Reason and objective truth.

I recently came across a wonderful treatment of the tension between these three "metanarratives" in an essay written by medieval scholar Joseph Bottum for First Things back in 1994. FT reprinted his article in an anniversary issue, and I thought it would be useful to touch on some of the highlights.

Bear in mind that although the terms premodern, modern and postmodern refer to historical eras there are people who exemplify the qualities of each of these in every era, including our own. Thus, though we today may live in a largely postmodern age due to the dominance of postmodern assumptions among the shapers of contemporary thought, especially in the academy, there are lots of premoderns and moderns around. Indeed, outside our university humanities departments, I suspect most people are either premodern or modern in their outlook.

About a quarter of the way into his essay Bottum, writing on behalf of the Christian (premodern) worldview, says this:

We cannot revert to the premodern, we cannot return to the age of faith, for we were all of us raised as moderns.

And yet, though we cannot revert, we nonetheless have resources that may help us to advance beyond these late times. The modern project that attacked the Middle Ages has itself been under attack for some time. For some time, hyper-modern writers have brought to bear against their modern past the same sort of scarifying analysis that earlier modern writers brought against the premodern past. These later writers, supposing the modern destruction of God to be complete, have turned their postmodern attacks upon the modern project of Enlightenment rationality.

The postmodern project is, as Francois Lyotard put it, a suspicion of all metanarratives based on reason. It rejects the Enlightenment confidence that human reason can lead us to objective truth about the world, particularly truth about the important matters of meaning, religion and morality. Indeed, postmodern thinkers are skeptical of any claims to a "truth" beyond simple empirical facts.

Bottum continues:

In some sense, of course, these words premodern, modern, and postmodern are too slippery to mean much. Taken to refer to the history of ideas, they seem to name the periods before, during, and after the Enlightenment, but taken to refer to the history of events, they seem to name the period from creation to the rise of science, the period from the rise of science until World War II, and the period since the war. It is tempting to define the categories philosophically, rather than historically, around the recognition that knowledge depends upon the existence of God. But the better modern philosophers (e.g., Descartes and Kant, as opposed to, say, Voltaire) recognize that dependence in some way or another.

Perhaps, though definitions based on intent are always weak, the best definition nonetheless involves intent: it is premodern to seek beyond rational knowledge for God; it is modern to desire to hold knowledge in the structures of human rationality (with or without God); it is postmodern to see the impossibility of such knowledge.

In other words, premoderns believe we can have knowledge of God through direct experience apart from reason. As Pascal put it, "The heart has reasons that reason can never know." Moderns, on the other hand, believe that knowledge can only come through the exercise of our reason. Postmoderns hold that moderns are deluding themselves. None of us can separate our reason from our biases, prejudices, experiences and so on, all of which shape our perspective and color the lenses through which we view the world. For the postmodern there is no such thing as objective reason or truth.

Bottum again:

The premoderns said that without God, there would be no knowledge, and the postmoderns say we have no God and have no knowledge. The premoderns said that without the purposefulness of final causation, all things would be equally valueless, and the postmoderns say there is no purpose and no value. The premoderns said that without an identity of reality and the Good, there would be no right and wrong, and the postmoderns say there is neither Good nor right and wrong. Though they disagree on whether God exists, premoderns and postmoderns share the major premise that knowing requires His existence. Only for a brief period in the history of the West-the period of modern times-did anyone seriously suppose that human beings could hold knowledge without God.

Here is an interesting insight. Christians hold in common with at least some modern atheists that there is objective truth, that there is meaning to life, and that there is objective moral right and wrong. At the same time they hold in common with postmodern atheists (not all postmoderns are atheists, it should be stressed) that none of those beliefs can be sustained unless there is a God. Does this, as Bottum alleges, put Christians closer to postmoderns than to moderns?

More on this next time.