Russell and Duenes

Francis Schaeffer, Epistemology, Nature & Grace

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schaefferIn his chapter, The Epistemological Necessity: The Problem, Schaeffer explains that, in the Middle Ages, “there was a growing tension between nature and grace.” “Nature,” according to Schaeffer, is where you have “men, and natural cause and effect influencing the world.” By contrast, “in grace you have the heavenly forces, and how these unseen forces can affect the world. In nature you have the body; in grace you have the soul. But eventually we always come down to the problem of particulars and universals. In nature you have the particulars; in grace you have the universal.” A “particular” might be the chair you have sitting around your kitchen table. The “universal” would be the general notion of “chair” under which your particular kitchen chair fits.

Schaeffer says that nature had been neglected in Europe during the Middle Ages, but at the dawn of the Renaissance, men began to emphasize nature. Schaeffer finds this a good development, “but there was a problem.” The problem was that men “were making the particulars autonomous and thus losing the universal that gave the particulars meaning.” This was a problem for Schaeffer because “if nature or the particulars are autonomous from God, then nature begins to eat up grace. Or we could put it this way: all we are left with are particulars, and universals are lost . . . in the area of knowing.”

Schaeffer then explains what this problem means: “Here you can see the drift toward modern man and his cynicism. It was born back there. We are left with masses of particulars but no way to get them together. So we find that by this time nature is eating up grace in the area of . . . epistemology.” But what’s wrong with being left with masses of particulars only? More on that in a second.

The greatness of Schaeffer is that he does not think our current epistemological lostness sprung up in the 60s. He sees that these things take centuries to work themselves like leaven through a civilization, but they do eventually get here, and bring devastation and brokenness in their train, as they are doing to western men and women right now.

So what’s one area where the problem of this autonomy of the particulars (“nature”) from universals (“grace”) cashes out in modern life? Schaeffer points to the area of “rationalistic science,” that is, science understood as having man, not God, as its starting point, science where only “nature,” (i.e., the physical) and no “grace” (i.e., the metaphysical) is allowed. This is the form of “science” that is taught from elementary school on up to the university in our country. But science built on the basis of “rationalism – that is, man beginning only from himself, and not having any outside knowledge” means that “you would have only mathematics and particulars would end up with only mechanics.” In other words, “everything was going to end up only as a machine, and there were not going to be any universals or meaning at all. The universals were going to be crossed out.”

Man as machine. Is this not where our current Darwinian “science” leaves us? And what then follows, in the areas of knowledge and our treatment of each other, if man is a machine? One thing that follows is that there can be no “universal” about all people, namely, that they are God’s image-bearers. All we can have are particular human beings, evolved from the primordial ooze, with nothing at all to bind them together or to allow them to really know each other. And if this is all that each particular man is, then should each man be accorded the same dignity and value in our treatment of him or her? Are some particular people more valuable than others? How does one know?

This is devastating, when one considers all of its out-workings in daily lives. Just take our current race issues as one particularly relevant example.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

December 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm

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