Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Dualism: Yes and No

Derek Melleby has rightly advised me that the questions listed in my last post do not strictly relate to Neo-Calvinism, and that Walsh and Middleton's book, The Transforming Vision, is not the best example of Neo-Calvinist thought. Fair enough. Yet they remain questions raised by my reading of a nearly-Neo-Calvinist book that is widely referenced by N.C. writers. The listing was random...essentially a brain-dump after reading through the book, preparatory to a more organized consideration of its ideas. And this brings me to one of the Big Ideas.


A lot of blame for secularism and the weakness of the church is laid upon Dualism, by Kuyper and others. Kuyper sees it coming from faulty theology, as explained in his second Stone Lecture. In the Second Lecture, on Calvinism and Religion, he traces dualism back to the view that true religion (Kuyper’s phrase) is not direct from God to Man but is mediated by man through the Church (an essentially Catholic error not fully repudiated by Lutherans.) Since the church can hardly mediate in every detail of life, this leads to the idea that there are aspects of life that are not in the domain of religion, and hence “secular”. All of life, all activities of man in the world are hence separable into two realms, the sacred and the secular.

I agree that Dualism, so conceived, is a great problem in the world today. It has been many years since I read Francis Schaeffer, but I recall his making much the same point. Whether the etiologies they propose are correct or not, their diagnosis of the current condition is appropriate. The church today, and our western culture, are both suffering the effects of a worldview that considers some of life to be Religious in nature, and most of the rest of it to be “morally neutral”, or “secular”, meaning that God has no specific designs or desires or claims upon it.

But dualism is a tricky thing. The term has been applied to all manner of viewpoints, whenever a subject is divided into two mutually exclusive components or aspects. “Dualism” can be, and has been, applied to separating the soul from the body, Good from Evil, God from Satan, and Science from Religion. It is too simple an accusation; it can be applied to too many situations. A diagnosis that includes too many conditions is not useful because not specific enough. It misleads because it allows us to think we have discovered something when we may have discovered nothing.

Furthermore, dualistic thinking can be incredibly fruitful, and is a major tool in the analysis of almost any complex subject. In fact, both Kuyper and Walsh/Middleton use types of dualistic thinking within their works. All careful analytic thinkers do. I hope to elucidate this further in a subsequent post.

For now, let me say only that the separation of life into sacred and secular compartments is definitely not Biblical, and a problem in the world today. If we wish to call this Dualism, that is perhaps OK, but we should not think it is a new phenomenon, or that it says very much about either the underlying problem or its solution. It seems to me that Amos' indictment of Judah and Israel was for a type of dualism, and that all sin from Adam and Eve down is a matter of locally-applied dualism. On the other hand, the dualism of Bacon (Revelation vs. Observation/Induction), while condemned by Kuyper, Schaeffer, Walsh and Middleton, has been incredibly fruitful and has allowed precisely the kind of understanding and control of nature that Bacon predicted it would in his New Organon. As a scientist, I do not think one can blame this type of dualism for the situation we find in the church today. I also do not think one can even do science without this type of intellectual dualism, and find it interesting that it is actually the scientists today who seem to be writing about the necessity of God!

More on this later.

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