Pearcey, Nancy. 2015. Finding truth: 5 principles for unmasking atheism, secularism, and other God substitutes. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.
Nancy Pearcey is an American evangelical author who writes about the Christian worldview. She co-authored several books with Charles Colson (for example, How now shall we live? and The Christian in today’s culture) as well as one with Charles B. Thaxton (The soul of science: Christian faith and natural philosophy). She also wrote Total truth (2004) and Saving Leonardo (2010).
Her husband is Rick Pearcey, editor and publisher of the Pearcey Report, a website of news, comment, information, and worldview (see www.pearceyreport.com).
The book is divided into three parts: 1) “I lost my faith at an evangelical college”, a story of a young man who had professors who could discuss secular opinions but did not have Christian viewpoints to counteract their arguments. However, he found his faith again through reasoning and the Bible; 2) the five principles, which we will summarize; 3) how critical thinking saves faith.
There is also a comprehensive set of notes, an appendix on Romans 1:1-2:16, acknowledgments, a study guide and an index.
Principle #1 is called “Twilight of the Gods” and deals with Darwinism and how to identify and counteract it as an idol. Pearcey discusses “Religion without morality”, “Philosophers and their gods”, “The church of physics: idol of matter”, as well as thoughts on Hume, Descartes, Kant and others, commenting on their views of materialism, rationalism, empiricism and romanticism. Her summary is “The biblical worldview is so rich and multi-dimensional that Christians can learn and benefit from what is true in all philosophies of life, while at the same time criticizing their flaws and transcending their limitations” (91).
Pearcey notes that idols invariably lead to destructive behavior, so Principle #2 is to identify the manner that idols do this. One method is to “dehumanize the neighbor” by reducing them to a utilitarian function. Another way is to cheat: exerting our free will to rationalize behavior. Still another is to suppress our beliefs on the non-material world and instead focus on the material world. After all, as some atheists like Crick claim, “we are nothing but a pack of neurons” (106). Philosophy, on the other hand, divides itself into two families: romanticism and enlightenment . Philosophers who hold sway here are Emerson with neo-Platonism and Hegel with his evolution of consciousness. Although postmodernism has failed, a form of pantheism, such as Islam in its extreme form, has prevailed. We should keep in mind, however, that “being attractive does not mean a worldview is true” (139).
Principle #3 speaks to “secular leaps of faith” and asks “Does it [the idol] contradict what we know about the world?” This chapter furthers Pearcey’s analysis of worldview: identify the idol and its reductionism and they see if it has a worldview that fits the real world. We must remember “that the purpose of a worldview is to explain what we know about the world” (143, emphasis hers) and to do this we must be concerned with facts. The secularists find it difficult to deal with reality, cultivating both free agents and robots. The evidence of our personal being and freedom of the will contrasts with the “scientific” view of Marvin Minsky of MIT who says that the human brain is “a three pound computer made of meat” (154). However, even scientists like Einstein had to act “as if” they were free and that God existed (159). Pearcey points out the mysticism that is present in secular sources, including Darwin and others, and contrasts this with Chesterton’s view that atheists often reject Christianity because it is “too good to be true” (165). Indeed, it regards human nature with “a much higher view of human life than any competing system” (176).
Pearcey’s title relating to principle #4 is “why worldviews commit suicide” and is summed up by stating that the patterns and changes in gene populations do “not even remotely support the claim that chance and necessity fully account for the appearance of complex design in living things” (180, quoting Michael Egnor, a leading brain surgeon). With principle #4 we must test the idol to see if it contradicts itself. We read that “The key to identifying where a worldview commits suicide is to uncover its particular form of reductionism” (185) because “a Christian worldview is not reductionistic. It does not reduce reason to something less than reason, and therefore it does not self-destruct” (188). Pearcey makes the case that evolution cannot survive itself and should be considered a miracle (197). There are several arguments the reader needs to dealt with: empiricism, rationalism and postmodernism. It turns out that “Christianity is so attractive that atheists keep reaching over and borrowing from it” (217).
Principle #5 takes this observation further and deals with “free-loading atheists” (219); in such cases the Christian should “replace the idol: Make the case for Christianity” (220). We can ask for example how a relativist can oppose racism because they claim humans can be sure of nothing. Pearcey examines the writings and “confessions” of a number of atheists: Richard Rorty, Luc Ferry, Friedrich Nietsche, John Gray, Raymond Tallis, Bertrand Russel, and Thomas Nagel among them. Gray, for example writes, “Science hasn’t enabled us to dispense with myths. Instead it has become a vehicle for myths—chief among them, the myth of salvation through science” (237). Pearcey’s conclusion is that “Churches have an obligation to equip their congregations to answer the questions that inevitably arise from living in a post-Christian society” (248).
Part three of the book is called “how critical thinking saves faith” because, as the author reminds us, “Today the need for critical thinking is greater than ever”, challenged as it is by technology, “the media, politics, education, entertainment, and yes, churches” (254). And it is not only books that can be helpful to be the challenged student”, but also impressionistic visual arts, which has been greatly influenced by modern philosophy, as has cubism (paintings of little squares and rectangles), abstract art (influenced by pantheism and, of course, postmodernism.
Pearcey encourages the reader: “If you master the strategic principles of this book, they will equip you to identify and engage critically with the ideas that have shaped the Western world in every subject area” (265). The strategic principles she outlines “can help you live an unashamed life, whether at work, at school, or with your family and friends” (275-6), in short providing tools to deal with any worldview.
I have given only a rough summary of the wealth of topics covered in the book, but there are also copious notes that will help the reader probe more deeply into the ideas expressed in each chapter.
Following the appendix of Romans 1:1-2:16 there is a study guide for those who want to examine the ideas found in Finding Truth more closely. Each chapter has suggested questions. For example, on Principle #1 “Identify the idol”: “The text says that every nonbiblical religion or worldview starts with an diol. It must locate an eternal, uncaused cause within the created order. Explain why, and list some examples. Can you think of any exceptions to this principle?” (335).
The “cure for blind philosophers” is a suggestion to read “The blind men and the elephant” by John Godfrey, It is a well known poem that deals with worldviews.
Concluding the book is a “Sample Test” where the readers are asked to write short paragraph answers to a number of questions.
This is without doubt a useful book and ideal for college or university students who face challenges to their Christian faith by secular views of humanistic and evolutionary philosophies. I highly recommend the book.
Karl J Franklin, PhD (Linguistics)