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J. P. Moreland, in an article he wrote in 2005 titled, “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn,” argues that postmodernism “is an immoral, coward’s way out that is not worthy of a movement born out of the martyrs’ blood.” You can find Moreland’s full article here. I’ve included a summary of the article below, followed by my response.
J. P. Moreland is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in La Mirada, California. He has four earned degrees: a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Missouri, a Th.M. in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, an M. A. in philosophy from the University of California-Riverside, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California.
Moreland, J. P. “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 1 (2005), 77-88.
Postmodernism has changed previous “self-evident truths” to “socially constructed truths within a linguistic community.” Postmodernists have rejected that human knowledge can correspond with creation. J. P. Moreland, on the other hand, believes man’s interpretation of the world is accurate concerning how the world really is. The purpose of this article is to present the correspondence theory and the postmodern rejection, and then to identify five confusions of which Moreland believes postmodern revisionists are guilty.
The correspondence theory of truth basically argues that truth is obtained when a truth bearer stands in appropriate correspondence relation to a truth maker. Furthermore, propositions are either true or false, and are expressed in sentence(s). Facts inform these truth claims. Facts, that is, relevant facts, make propositions true. Thus, correspondence is a two-placed relation between a proposition and a relevant fact that matches, conforms to, and corresponds with the proposition. As individuals are placed within this correspondence relationship, they experience truth.
Postmodernism, on the other hand, argues for cultural relativism concerning reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, the self, etc. Everything that each human “knows” is a result of his or her social constructions instead of due to objective truth. The postmodern concern is that those who claim to have objective truth victimize those who do not have this objective truth.
Moreland believes there are five confusions that plague postmodernism. First, correspondence theory is a realist metaphysical thesis, not a result of Cartesian anxiety and the pursuit of absolute truth, as purported by Postmodernists. Truth only needs as much epistemic strength as the subject matter demands. Second, there are two forms of objectivity: psychological objectivity and rational objectivity. With psychological objectivity, neutrality is possible; while with rational objectivity, neutrality is impossible, but one can still make a rational decision based on reasonable evidence. Third, most postmodernists do not consider modest foundationalism—the dominant foundationalist position today—when critiquing foundationalism. This is significant since modest foundationalism answers the same concerns postmodernists raise against classic foundationalism without inevitably leading to the cultural relativism of postmodernism. Fourth, language only corresponds to truth. It does not make something true. Therefore, the postmodernist attacks a straw man when he or she eliminates truth on the basis of the inadequacy of language to communicate truth. Fifth, the notion that humans are trapped behind a framework that makes direct seeing impossible is self-refuting. If humans are trapped behind their communities, languages, etc. concerning their perception of the world, then all human thinking tells humans nothing.
In conclusion, postmodernism is a form of intellectual apathy. It is an easy, cowardly way to remove the Christian responsibility to stand up for truth in a world of error. Postmodernism is irresponsible, and it concedes defeat before the first shot is fired in the Christian war for truth. It “is an immoral, coward’s way out that is not worthy of a movement born out of the martyrs’ blood.”
I think that J. P. Moreland’s critiques of postmodernism are very helpful. First, I appreciate his point that if all knowledge is reduced to perspectival assumptions as postmodernists claim, then all knowledge is neither right nor wrong since knowledge only expresses one’s social-historical context. The inevitable result of such postmodern thinking is relativism and a moral free-for-all. If postmodernists protest, readers must ask, “Why?” If there are no metanarratives, then there are no metanarratives that can be used to justify oppression, but there are also no metanarratives that can be used to save the oppressed.
Second, I appreciate Moreland’s point that postmodernists mistakenly conflate all forms of foundationalism into the most extreme Cartesian foundationalism or classic foundationalism. Postmodernists do not even consider modest foundationalism in their critiques, which is unfortunate, since modest foundationalism answers most postmodernists’ concerns without succumbing to cultural relativism or nominal doctrines. Among contemporary epistemologists, modest foundationalism in some form is the dominant position today. Modest foundationalism holds that the ground of belief is devoid of Cartesian anxiety; nevertheless, it is properly basic, truth-conducive, and subject to being shown as false by subsequent evidence.
Third, I appreciate Moreland’s point about postmodernists building up and tearing down a straw man when they argue that there is no objective truth due to language being inadequate. Language corresponds to truth and communicates truth, but language is not truth. Language is only as true as its relation to truth. Since the Scriptures are divinely inspired, and since Christians are divinely illuminated, the Bible possesses objective truth, and we may understand this truth objectively.