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Janie B. Cheaney: Truth and consequence

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WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: Truth and consequence

No one is equipped to make up meaning for themselves


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NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, August 17th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Truth and consequence. Your truth, my truth. It matters. WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney now on the nature of our culture’s delusional thinking.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: George Berkeley, Anglican Bishop of Cloyne, is credited with developing philosophical idealism. This is the notion that, since humans can only comprehend reality through immaterial reason and the senses, the material world doesn’t exist in any meaningful way.

Idealism was the talk of 18th-century European coffee shops and salons. In his biography of Samuel Johnson, England’s best-known public intellectual, James
Boswell, recalled a conversation on the topic. Boswell knew idealism couldn’t be true but didn’t know how to refute it. Johnson immediately kicked a rock so hard his foot bounced off, saying, "I refute it thus."

Sore toes can make a point, but not destroy a doctrine. After retreating from the 19th century materialism that brought us Darwin and Freud, idealism sneaked into the university in the 1960s dressed up as Constructivism. Think of the word “construct” and you have the gist: knowledge is constructed by individuals reacting to information they receive. Information means nothing in itself.

As a good Anglican, Berkeley believed in the ultimate Mind of God, to which all human minds should conform. Constructivism believes not in Mind but in minds: millions of them, all busily creating knowledge for themselves. What was once considered objectively true, constructivism calls a social construct–especially if it doesn’t fit into your individual worldview.

It’s easy to see the short-term advantages here. Imagine yourself back in algebra class, struggling with quadratic equations. Objectively, you’re earning a C. But if your teacher is a constructivist, your solutions are as valid as those of the aspiring engineer next to you, especially if you belong to some marginalized minority. You just have a different way of knowing.

If your education continues along this path, neither you nor the future engineer are likely to acquire deep knowledge of anything, because constructivism makes knowledge all about you.

No one is equipped to make up meaning for themselves. By definition, meaning is found outside the self. If people don’t find it in tradition and faith, they “construct” a grab bag of the latest sociological fads. And because societies don’t function well without some prevailing notion of virtue, fads become dogma, such as the current obsession with gender ideology.

We’re hearing how instructors in medical school are dodging the use of terms like “man” and “woman.” And how anthropology professors have called for archaeologists to stop labeling human remains as male and female, because we don’t know how our hunting-and-gathering ancestors identified. This isn’t just silly; it’s delusional.

There will always be a conflict between objective reality and subjective perception. But like Samuel Johnson, all of us will kick the rock of truth--in death, if not before. Individually, if not culturally. The only alternative to kicking the rock is standing on it. “And the rock,” said Paul in I Corinthians 10, “is Christ”: He knows the truth–inside us and out–and gives wisdom to those who ask.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, August 17th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Truth and consequence. Your truth, my truth. It matters. WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney now on the nature of our culture’s delusional thinking.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: George Berkeley, Anglican Bishop of Cloyne, is credited with developing philosophical idealism. This is the notion that, since humans can only comprehend reality through immaterial reason and the senses, the material world doesn’t exist in any meaningful way.

Idealism was the talk of 18th-century European coffee shops and salons. In his biography of Samuel Johnson, England’s best-known public intellectual, James
Boswell, recalled a conversation on the topic. Boswell knew idealism couldn’t be true but didn’t know how to refute it. Johnson immediately kicked a rock so hard his foot bounced off, saying, "I refute it thus."

Sore toes can make a point, but not destroy a doctrine. After retreating from the 19th century materialism that brought us Darwin and Freud, idealism sneaked into the university in the 1960s dressed up as Constructivism. Think of the word “construct” and you have the gist: knowledge is constructed by individuals reacting to information they receive. Information means nothing in itself.

As a good Anglican, Berkeley believed in the ultimate Mind of God, to which all human minds should conform. Constructivism believes not in Mind but in minds: millions of them, all busily creating knowledge for themselves. What was once considered objectively true, constructivism calls a social construct–especially if it doesn’t fit into your individual worldview.

It’s easy to see the short-term advantages here. Imagine yourself back in algebra class, struggling with quadratic equations. Objectively, you’re earning a C. But if your teacher is a constructivist, your solutions are as valid as those of the aspiring engineer next to you, especially if you belong to some marginalized minority. You just have a different way of knowing.

If your education continues along this path, neither you nor the future engineer are likely to acquire deep knowledge of anything, because constructivism makes knowledge all about you.

No one is equipped to make up meaning for themselves. By definition, meaning is found outside the self. If people don’t find it in tradition and faith, they “construct” a grab bag of the latest sociological fads. And because societies don’t function well without some prevailing notion of virtue, fads become dogma, such as the current obsession with gender ideology.

We’re hearing how instructors in medical school are dodging the use of terms like “man” and “woman.” And how anthropology professors have called for archaeologists to stop labeling human remains as male and female, because we don’t know how our hunting-and-gathering ancestors identified. This isn’t just silly; it’s delusional.

There will always be a conflict between objective reality and subjective perception. But like Samuel Johnson, all of us will kick the rock of truth--in death, if not before. Individually, if not culturally. The only alternative to kicking the rock is standing on it. “And the rock,” said Paul in I Corinthians 10, “is Christ”: He knows the truth–inside us and out–and gives wisdom to those who ask.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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