Skip to main content

Critical Realism and Objectivity

Roger Olson, theologian and author has some timely and trenchant words on objectivity, critical realism, and the world we live in.  Here are a few quotes from his blog piece:

"Unlike many of my contemporaries, whether religious or irreligious, I always assume a very real distinction between what is objectively real and true and what is merely subjectively felt and perceived. I do not claim that the line between them is clearly visible; it often is not. And the “objectively real and true” is often inaccessible to me and to everyone. I admit that there is no “view from nowhere”—a basic axiom of postmodernity. I am a perspectivalist; we all, without exception, observe and interpret reality through a “blik” or “worldview lens.” However, that does not mean there is no objective reality “out there” and that we have no access to it and cannot talk about it.

Let’s take an example from Christian theology: atonement doctrine. I don’t have a dogma about the atonement, but when I think and talk about atonement I always assume Christ’s death on the cross “fixed a problem” outside of me—alienation from God. And I always assume that alienation is more than a feeling of being alienated. A very real situation existed between God and humanity (me) that Christ’s death “fixed.” That’s called “objective atonement” in classical theology. I find that most modern/contemporary Christians, even evangelicals, tend to think of atonement as affecting my inner states, not an objective situation “in the cosmos,” so to speak, between me and God.

I am increasingly coming to the belief that there are two incommensurable modes of consciousness: subjectivism and objectivism. Both have many varieties and adaptations. One does not have to be a sheer Platonist, for example, to be an objectivist. Nor does one have to be a nihilist or sheer anti-realist to operate mostly out of a subjectivist mode of consciousness.

I often wonder about “failures to communicate” between equally bright and educated people. They often use the same words but mean entirely different things by them (as in the example above of “guilt”). The two modes of consciousness described above might be the two most basic “bliks,” perspectives on reality, separating modern/contemporary people from each other. People who come to my blog ought to know, need to know, that I operate out of an objectivist “blik.” Namely, I always assume that many words point to objective realities that exist outside of any human mind—such as truth, beauty and goodness. To be sure, as a critical realist, I deny that any human mind has direct, unmediated and perfect access to these realities. And I am not a language essentialist. But these realities are not just concepts but are “out there” (not spatially but dimensionally), independent of our minds and inner states (whether individually or collectively). And I think that attempting to “do Christian theology” without objectivism of that kind (including critical realism) makes it something else than Christian theology. Christian theology in any classical sense requires realism, objectivism, even if tempered with a degree of perspectivalism (as in critical realism)."


Popular posts from this blog

the great spiritual migration

The Great Spiritual Migration by Brian D McLaren

Brian McLaren and his own pithy way brings to the foreground and emphasis on a new kind of Christianity. The kind of faith that Brian envisions is a kind of migration not been set in the bedrock of beliefs that is unmoving but rather shifting with both culture and with faith. His new book the great spiritual migration is exactly that, a pointed work that encapsulates a vision towards the future where Christianity is changing and its peoples lives are changed as well.

Brian states in the introduction, "but we also know that for a lot of people Christianity is malfunctioning, seriously so, and it's not pretty. This kind of frustration with conventional Christianity is what McLaren gets gets to at the heart of this message is concerned with a number of different clusters unbelief. One, namely that Christianity has been stuck in a set of propositions or beliefs that has controlled churches in the faith, rather then a spirit of love t…

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
Misperceptions, misconnections, and missed observations are just some of the issues that Timothy Snyder raises in his book, Black Earth, concerning the Holocaust.  Snyder, no stranger to the frontlines of scholarship on the Holocaust, with his previous book Bloodlands, that concerns the land from Hitler to Stalin, takes a look at the Holocaust from new sources and new avenues of thought.  How did some nation-states survive relatively unscathed from Nazi persecution while others, notably Jewish populations, succumb to a wave of killings?  Also, what was the role of the Soviet Union in the war and how did Stalin effect changes in the Final Solution?  These questions are only two of the many that Snyder answers in his detailed account of the Holocaust.
One of the best chapters was entitled The Auschwitz Paradox.  Generally when the public thinks about the Holocaust, we think of Auschwitz first or at the top of our mental m…

The Paraclete Poetry Anthology, Edited by Mark S. Burrows

Bringing words to life on a page is hard work, and no work is harder than poetry.  Poets take the visceral, the mundane, and the disjointed and frayed things of life and put them on their head.  This new anthology of poetry put out by Paraclete Press and edited by Mark S. Burrows, takes the best poetry of today and brings together old and new poems from these gifted creators.  You find poems from Scott Cairs, SAID, Phyllis Tickle, and others.  The collection stems the span of 2005-2016 and includes both religious poems and themes, as well as themes covering a broad swath of topics.

One of the beauties of this collection is the array of poems that the anthology includes in its pages.  One poem in particular stuck with me as read through the collection.  Anna Kamienska is a wonderful Polish poet who interacts with the wider lens of faith while looking carefully at the world we live in.  She says in her poem named Gratitude, (44)

A tempest threw a rainbow in my face
so that I wanted to…