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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Total Truth” by Nancy Pearcey

Total-TruthNancy Pearcey’s Total Truth is dedicated to bringing Christianity into every realm of knowledge rather than relegating it to the outskirts. That is, Christianity is to be seen as “total truth,” applicable to every aspect of reality. It’s a lengthy book so any review of this size is going to leave things out by necessity. I’ll first provide a brief overview. Then, I’ll emphasize some areas I found helpful and areas I questioned.

Overview

The first section of the book is a call for Christians to integrate their worldview into every aspect of reality rather than bifurcating it and only living in different spheres of reality at different times. Next, Pearcey frames the debate over worldviews in terms of a battle for beginnings as she argues Darwinism fails and Intelligent Design is more plausible. Integrated into this section is the notion that Darwinism is a way of looking at reality and a worldview-level belief which is being used to displace Christianity.

The third part traces a brief history of Christianity in America with an eye towards showing that Americans have tended to privatize their religion and use the fact/value split to relegate religion to the area of values. The last chapter addresses how we might live out the Christian worldview in every aspect of our lives.

There is a series of appendices which address topics like Islam, materialism, apologetic method, and politics. Finally, a study guide is included in the edition I was provided, which gives summaries, additional stories, and some questions for each chapter.

Helpful Areas

Pearcey’s emphasis on integrating Christianity into all aspects of our lives is commendable. She accurately describes the plight of many when she speaks of how Christians approach their lives as though church is religion and the rest is something else. Instead, she advocates an integration of the Christian worldview into every aspect of life.

The historical background Pearcey provides into various areas of thought is enlightening and encourages further study into several important areas, including the first and second Awakening.

The stories Pearcey shares throughout the book are great at grabbing and holding attention. They make for good illustrations of many of her points, and also make the book more readable.

The outline of the Fact/Value split and the damage it has done to intellectual and faithful life was much appreciated. Pearcey demonstrated that this alleged split is generally a construct which is used by various worldview systems to try to relegate certain beliefs into the “value” sphere and outside of factual claims. Her incisive critique of this method was both on-point and helpful. The appendices covered interesting topics, and the one on apologetic method, in particular, was worth reading and considering.

Areas I Questioned

At many points throughout the book there is a somewhat conspiratorial tone. That is, it seems to be alleged that somehow all the skeptics (particularly Darwinists) banded together in order to try to overthrow Christianity and American values. It is continually alleged that Darwin was explicitly trying to overthrow religion or at least the possibility of taking religion seriously in the “fact” domain. Many sources were cited in order to justify these claims, but I’m still not convinced that there is some kind of grand conspiracy, nor am I convinced that this is the best way to approach claims about knowledge.

In the section on how Christians can integrate their faith into all aspects of life, Pearcey shares a story about a young man with a marketing degree who was hired to raise funds for a Christian ministry. He “immediately set about implementing the standard techniques he had learned… including a sharp increase in the number of fundraising letters sent out…” (7597).* He defended this choice by saying that statistical analysis showed this would lead to more funds raised. Pearcey’s analysis is as follows:

[I]f any secular organization can achieve the same results using the same “guaranteed” methods, where is the witness to God’s existence? How does relying on statistically reliable patterns persuade a watching world that God is at work? (7610)

I was surprised by this comment. Are we to assume that Christians should ignore statistical analysis? Could not such statistical regularities be part of God’s providential plan (something, in fact, argued by Poythress)? It seems that Pearcey is discounting the possibility of “secular” methods working. But God has ordered the universe in such a way that statistical regularities will occur, and to suggest that we as Christians must reject such regularities and do something else so that we can “persuade a watching world that God is at work” may lead to disaster. I’m not saying we should not trust in God to provide, but when God has revealed a way that things work to us, that’s just as providential as a miraculous windfall of donations [to go off the fundraising example]. Perhaps by following trusted methods, we can prove to a watching world that Christians don’t reject facts or reality.

Pearcey, unfortunately, clings to a view of gender-essentialism: the notion that certain aspects of gendered persons are essential to their nature. For example, after talking about the relegation in modern society of Christianity to the “upper shelf” (the values shelf) of the fact-value split, she laments over the “feminization of the church.” Now the so-called feminization of Christianity has many problems (see my linked post), but Pearcey’s work seems determined to really drag out all stops to present a seeming bogey-woman of femininity:

The underlying dynamic is that the church was adopting a defense strategy vis-a-vis the culture at large. Many churchmen simply retreated from making cognitive claims for religion that could be defended in the public square. Instead, they transferred faith to the private sphere of experience and feelings–which put it squarely into the domain of women. (6978)

I found this, and many statements like it, to be utterly shocking. It seems to be patently absurd to say that “experience” and “feelings” are “squarely… the domain of women.” Really? According to this view, men somehow devoid of all feeling or reliance upon experience and instead manly men spend the day making all sorts of cognitive claims (devoid of experience, mind you, so presumably about Platonic forms or somesuch). I find this to be clearly false. Men have feelings, and that doesn’t make them womanly. Men also have experience (!?). Unfortunately, claims like this persist throughout the book.

Perhaps most importantly, the book doesn’t seem to adequately address the main topic of the book: the need to integrate Christianity into every aspect of life. The final chapter does ask Christians to be godly in their business dealings, to avoid lying and cheating and the like. Moreover, Christians are called to trust in God in their endeavors and view their lives as providentially governed by God. However, I was left wanting much more. After having around 25% of the total length of the book (the beginning chapters, 120ish pages in the print version) dedicated to how Christians seem to not know how to integrate their worldview into their lives, it seemed like having so little space dedicated (about 30 pages in the print version) to how this might actually work in practice was a letdown.  It seems like the even the direction offered was pretty straightforward, as Christians at least should know that they are to avoid lying, cheating, etc. in their day-to-day lives and careers.

But how does the Christian go beyond these bite-sized bits like “Moment by moment, we must learn to say no to sin and worldly motivations” (7414) or “[we are to follow] biblical principles in the personal and practical spheres of life” (7516)  and get to a position of total integration of Christianity in our lives? Maybe I hope for too much, but I think there ought to be more to it than that. I don’t pretend to say I can do better outlining it, but I do think that there is much more that could have been said here. What readers are left with is essentially a call to be Christians in all their lives, but I think they’ll largely be left asking “how?”

Links

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Source

Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

*All references are to kindle locations.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Book Review: “Total Truth” by Nancy Pearcey

  1. JW, you note that Pearcey frames the debate over worldviews in terms of a battle for beginnings as she argues Darwinism fails and Intelligent Design is more plausible. Integrated into this section is the notion that Darwinism is a way of looking at reality and a worldview-level belief which is being used to displace Christianity.

    I don’t really know what people mean when they talk about ‘Darwinism’ and more than if people talked about ‘Newtonism’ or ‘Einsteinism’. What I do know is that biology generally and evolution specifically provides us with an explanatory model to life and how life works. The model allows to understand that human beings function along entirely natural processes. We have built a very great deal of knowledge from utilizing this model. We really have developed therapies, applications, and technologies that work for everyone everywhere all the time. This is a pretty good indication that the model accurately describes how life works. Nowhere in any of this knowledge do we find evidence for some kind of interventionist and causal agency of Oogity Boogityism!

    Rather than deal with this explanatory model directly and honestly and with intellectual integrity, it seems to me many people of religious motivation cannot undermine it with compelling evidence for such an agency. That includes claims for design. The evolution model itself stands unscathed by religiously motivated criticism.

    That’s an insurmountable problem for those who want to claim the evolution model doesn’t work because there really are UNnatural or SUPERnatural causal agencies involved in the natural processes identified by the model. Such claims are without equivalent evidence. In fact, such claims have almost no evidence other than personal claims of revelation.

    What’s a creationist to do?

    Well, what we typically find is a tactic used by the religiously motivated people to try to discredit the character of those who dare accept the explanatory model called ‘evolution’ to be sufficient enough to disregard these unsupported claims about some divine interventionist causal agent. To mask this underhanded deception that relies on ad hominem attacks falsely presented as if it criticized the model, it seems to me such religiously motivated authors as Pearcey reframe the so-called ‘debate’ into something it’s not: contrary ‘worldviews’.

    For this framework to stand, it requires a global conspiracy of dubious characters teaching evolution by hook and by crook to supplant some version of a piously held belief in a divine interventionist agency… and be taught to the next generation by force (creating ‘victims’ of those who only wish the next generation to also believe in a divine interventionist agency to explain how life works).

    What’s completely ignored, of course, is what’s true: evolution really does explain how life works to a degree of accuracy that allows these therapies, applications, and technologies to operate reliably and consistently for everyone… including the religiously motivated who feel compelled to vilify the model!

    Hello? Antibiotics anyone? Efficacy of vaccination? Genetics? Animal husbandry? Crop science? Is there anyone still at home who believes in the creationist model based on evidence from reality?

    No.

    Such belief requires religious motivation because there is no evidence from reality to empower the model for a divine interventionist agency.And that motivation – not any legitimate criticism of evolution – is why the next generation is moving away from trusting the religiously motivated, to the same degree as this generation, to support the divine interventionist model: it requires religion… a model of the world that can be demonstrated to produce not one jot or tittle of equivalent knowledge.

    Fix that problem and perhaps future generations won’t look upon the credulity and gullibility of so many religiously motivated people with such contempt and disdain for refusing to accept reality as it is.

    Posted by tildeb | August 20, 2014, 10:25 AM
    • Tildeb,

      >>I don’t really know what people mean when they talk about ‘Darwinism’ and more than if people talked about ‘Newtonism’ or ‘Einsteinism’.<>What I do know is that biology generally and evolution specifically provides us with an explanatory model to life and how life works. The model allows to understand that human beings function along entirely natural processes.<>That’s an insurmountable problem for those who want to claim the evolution model doesn’t work…<>…because there really are UNnatural or SUPERnatural causal agencies involved in the natural processes identified by the model.<<

      The ID position doesn't try to argue that there are "UNnatural" or "SUPERnatural" causal agencies involved.

      The rest of your post continues to make a string of unsupported assertions that attempt to dismiss ID as character assassination (which seems to be what you are in fact doing, instead of addressing ID *arguments* you attempt to psychologize them away) and with genetic fallacies (as though IDers motivations is relevant to their case). And relies on such a broad concept of "evolution" that it doesn't even manage to target what it is that ID theorists are arguing against. For instance, you claim evolution explains vaccinations and act as though ID theorists are attacking whatever it is in evolution that explains vaccinations. Of course, anyone familiar with, for example, The Edge of Evolution would know this is a joke.

      Posted by Remington | August 21, 2014, 10:46 AM
      • BLAH! It did it again… Here is one more time: (J.W., if this is just some glitch on my end and the whole post went through fine the first time then you can delete these attempts to fix whatever glitch I’m experiencing.)

        Tildeb,

        I don’t really know what people mean when they talk about ‘Darwinism’ and more than if people talked about ‘Newtonism’ or ‘Einsteinism’.

        You must be in a near constant state of confusion when reading Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, since they use this term all the time.

        What I do know is that biology generally and evolution specifically provides us with an explanatory model to life and how life works. The model allows to understand that human beings function along entirely natural processes.

        Can you show me the evolutionary argument that entails humans function along entirely natural processes? Or is that just an oogity boogity claim?

        That’s an insurmountable problem for those who want to claim the evolution model doesn’t work…

        But you don’t bother to provide any support, whatsoever, for your long string of assertions. You assert evolution is the victor over ID and then claim this is an insurmountable problem for critics of evolution (never mind that “evolution” is a term that can be even more ambiguous than Darwinism!).

        Posted by Remington | August 21, 2014, 10:50 AM
      • Remington, I said “Rather than deal with this explanatory model directly (the modern synthesis known as ‘evolution’) and honestly and with intellectual integrity, it seems to me many people of religious motivation cannot undermine it with compelling evidence for such an agency. That includes claims for design.

        Claims for design require a designer (blessed be His name). This is contrary to the evolutionary model and there isn’t a single bit of evidence from the biosphere of the planet to support an intervention at any point for a designer. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

        The ID argument (thinly veiled creationism according to judgements of Kitzmiller v Dover, and determined to be illegal to teach it as science in Selman v. Cobb, LeVake v Independent School District 656, Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, Peloza v. Capistrano School District, Webster v. New Lenox School District, Edwards v. Aguillard, McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, Segraves v. State of California, and Epperson v. Arkansas) is a combination of the god-of-the-gaps and the watchmaker analogy. Boiled down to its central thesis, ID (and its mothership religious creationism) presents the notion that if it looks designed, it is designed. This has been demonstrated time and again to be a failed scientific hypothesis. To go outside of this natural process is to suggest an UNnatural process (such as the intervention of Designer (blessed be His name)). The appearance of design does not indicate a designer; it indicates natural processes of local units obeying local rules. Complexity is an emergent property of these natural processes. No Oogity Boogity is required to complete the explanatory model.

        My comment is not a string of unsupported assertions but a general overview of the fundamental pillars of modern and now basic biology and a deep familiarity with the ongoing, never-ending, constant religiously motivated attacks against it by creationists/IDers without supporting scientific evidence… which is exactly what Pearcey is adding to… and the underhanded, illegal, and yet oh-so-pious attempts by legislators and educators to smuggle it into the science classroom and pretend it’s a legitimate scientific alternative. It’s not. It’s a failed hypothesis that has no scientific merit. In contrast, the model of evolution has produced and shall continue to produce applications, therapies, and technologies (some of which I listed) that work regardless of belief in some version of an interventionist external and much hoped for divine agency.

        Posted by tildeb | August 21, 2014, 6:04 PM
      • Tildeb,

        Claims for design require a designer (blessed be His name). This is contrary to the evolutionary model and there isn’t a single bit of evidence from the biosphere of the planet to support an intervention at any point for a designer. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

        Again, you rely upon assertions in lieu of any actual argument. I could make similar assertions from my own vantage point such as “there isn’t a single bit of evidence from the biosphere of the planet to support evolution at any point. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.”

        If you can fathom how underwhelmed you would be at such assertions, perhaps you can appreciate how underwhelmed I feel at your own assertions.

        The ID argument […] is a combination of the god-of-the-gaps and the watchmaker analogy.

        You repeat old talking points that have been answered a million times. You clearly aren’t familiar with the issue at all or else you’re content to repeat claims that have been refuted time and time again.

        1. You said ID is “thinkly veiled creationism.” So what is your definition of “creationism”? All your citation of the courts is irrelevant. What matters is the quality of the arguments given for the assertions. It may be that you can come up with a definition of “creationism” that captures ID theory, but so what? Such a definition may also be irrelevant to whether it is good science. So let’s hear your definition of creationism.

        2. ID theory is not a GoG form of argument. It doesn’t argue “we don’t know what caused this, therefore God did it.” Rather, it argues (roughly) that we can detect agency and that when we look at some biological features we see that (a) Darwinism seems incapable of accounting for this and (b) it fits shows signs of intelligent agency at work.

        Boiled down to its central thesis, ID (and its mothership religious creationism) presents the notion that if it looks designed, it is designed.

        No, that’s a straw-man. ID theory has laid out criterion for when we might reasonably infer intelligent agency. See, for instance, Behe’s The Edge of Evolution or Dembski’s The Design Revolution.

        This has been demonstrated time and again to be a failed scientific hypothesis.

        Since that’s not the ID hypothesis, who cares?

        To go outside of this natural process is to suggest an UNnatural process (such as the intervention of Designer (blessed be His name)).

        ID doesn’t go outside the natural process. It’s a shame you can’t bring yourself to interact with the position with any intellectual honesty.

        The appearance of design does not indicate a designer; it indicates natural processes of local units obeying local rules.

        That’s a question-begging assertion before the evidence has been examined. Do you consider it scientific to assume your conclusion before you start?

        No Oogity Boogity is required to complete the explanatory model.

        Yes it is: any design you come across is, by your magical Oogity Boogity, already known to be the result of non-intelligent processes before we begin the investigation. I suppose you know that your computer is the result of a wholly naturalistic process because, Oogity Boogity, we know that any appearance of design “indicates natural processes of local units obeying local rules.” Oogity Boogity!

        My comment is not a string of unsupported assertions but a general overview of the fundamental pillars of modern and now basic biology and a deep familiarity with the ongoing, never-ending, constant religiously motivated attacks against it by creationists/IDers without supporting scientific evidence…

        You provide zero evidence for your “general overview” and thus it is, infact, a string of unsupported assertions. I guess you have a magical Oogity Boogity machine that is supposed to turn bare assertions such as “here isn’t a single bit of evidence from the biosphere of the planet to support an intervention at any point for a designer. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.” into a coherent argument??? Sorry, your Oogity Boogity machine seems to be broke.

        And you end your “reply” to me with another string of question-begging assertions… Hey, at least your consistent.

        Posted by Remington | August 21, 2014, 7:21 PM
  2. Remington, it’s easy enough to show all of us the error of the evolutionary model: provide a single piece of scientific evidence for Intelligent Design that doesn’t fit the evolutionary model, please.

    Definition of creationism? The easy answer is: POOF!ism.

    Definition of Intelligent Design: cdesign proponentsists

    You have access to the internet. Why not check out NCSE and see why ID is considered creationism by the scientific community in general and almost all working biologists if my words are simply assertions without compelling evidence. After all, it’s not my job to educate you; go forth and learn why.

    Posted by tildeb | August 21, 2014, 10:06 PM
  3. Tildeb,

    How can you expect to be taken seriously when offering definitions like “POOF!ism” and “design proponentsists”?

    What a joke. If this is your level engagement, why are you even trying?

    Posted by Remington | August 22, 2014, 11:49 AM
    • If you can’t be bothered to learn why evolution is probably the finest scientific theory ever adduced by our species, and think your puerile criticisms of its supposed shortcomings suffices, then it’s not my job to explain why POOF!ism is as accurate a definition as you will find for creationism, and why “cdesign proponentsists” is such damning evidence against the argument that ID is some kind of alternate scientific model to evolution.

      It’s not., And that’s the scientific consensus and consistent legal ruling. This isn’t about me and my apparent shortcomings in your biased eyes.

      Anyone… and I mean anyone… who thinks ID is a legitimate alternative model (the Wedge document, anyone?) does so for reasons other than compelling science. The usual suspect – and the one most often cited by over 80% of the American public who refuse to recognize the scientific model of evolution to be accurate – is some kind of religious belief in creationism with zero scientific evidence to support it. You questioned this assertion earlier and so I suggested you provide but a single bit of scientific evidence. I note you have been unable to amass this solitary piece. Why am I the only one in this conversation not surprised?

      Posted by tildeb | August 22, 2014, 1:17 PM

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