Two contrasting worldviews

In this blog I try to look at the emergence of the atheistic and pantheistic viewpoints in the 18th century, what this has led to, and contrast this with what the Christian philosopher Dooyeweerd would put in its place. One is a worldview which sees man as the autonomous centre, with God pushed to one side, indeed displaced completely. The second is a worldview which sees God as the origin of all things, man as part of a fallen world and Christ as the new root of humanity. He is the revelation of God to man.

Optimism to pessimism

I continue with looking at how Francis Shaeffer saw the seminal changes in how people saw the world in the 18th century and how these changes affect us today. This was a change from being optimistic about a unity of human knowledge to a deep-seated pessimism that such was not possible at all. People began to have basic beliefs, or presuppositions, that everything could be explained in naturalistic and materialistic terms.

The materialistic hypothesis

Among thinkers and scientists who thought along these lines were Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) and the biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). For scientists like Haeckel matter and energy were eternal and man was part of the closed system of cause and effect. There was no freedom of the will and psychology and the social sciences were seen as part of the same closed system. God was dead and so was man as a spiritual being. This way of thinking was strengthened by Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-33) and by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) with his The Origin of Species … (1859) which made man to appear to be a part of the machinary of nature.


Four important figures

What was happening in philosophy was just as important, if not more so. Schaeffer identifies four key figures who had a major impact on thinking then and thinking today. They are Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Immanuael Kant (1724-1804), Wilhelm H. Hegel (1770-1831) and Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).


Rousseau had his own dualism. In the ‘upper storey’ he put autonomous freedom and in the lower autonomous nature. He talked about ‘the noble savage.’ He ‘saw the primitive as innocent and autonomous freedom as the final good.’ Individual freedom was the new absolute. This led to the idea of the Bohemian ideal. It was the individual ‘hero’ against society’s restraints. It reminds us of the Hippie world of the 1960s.

The rise of romanticism

It was the rise of Romanticism. David Hume (1711-1776) questioned reason as a ‘method of knowing truth and defended the centrality of human experience and feeling.’ Goethe (1749-1832) ‘equated nature with truth’ and for him ‘nature was God’. For Schiller (1759-1805) and Lessing (1729-1781) ‘emotion became the hero of romanticism’. In England, Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Coleridge (1772-1834) were part of the same movement. The artist Gauguin (1848-1903) followed through Rousseau’s ideal of freedom to the extent of deserting his family and going off to Tahiti to seek out the world of the noble savage. He never found it, but disillusion and despair, as his great painting Whence Come We? What Are We? Whither Do We Go? (1897/8) shows only all too clearly.


Kant is often spoken of as possibly the greatest philosopher of the modern times. He had his own dualism, the noumenal world with concepts of meaning and value and the phenomenal world of particulars, or the world that science deals with, and he didn’t succeed in bringing these two worlds together. Reason when it tried to deal with the concepts of God and time and eternity only resulted in paradoxes or contradictions. We could never get beyond the contraints of our own categories of perception and understanding. Yet because of our human freedom to choose between right and wrong we could postulate a noumenal realm, although we could never prove it by theoretical reason.


To understand why truth is often now looked on as relative, we have to understand Hegel. He changed completely the ground on which logic and reason traditionally stood. Instead of A is A and A is not non-A we have the shifting sands of the dialectical methed. Shaeffer quotes from F. Copleston’s A History of Philosophy (1963) and is a neat summary of key elements in Hegel’s thinking:

‘According to Hegel, the universe is steadily unfolding and so is man’s understanding of it. No single proposition about reality can truly reflect what is the case. Rather, in the heart of the truth of a given proposition one finds its opposite. This, where recognized, unfolds and stands in opposition to the thesis.Yet there is truth in both thesis and antithesis, and when this is perceived a synthesis is formed and a new proposition states the truth of the newly recognized situation. But this turn is found to contain its own contradiction and the process goes on ad infinitum. Thus the universe and man’s understanding of it unfolds dialectically. In short the universe with its consciousness – man – evolves.’
Schaeffer concludes: ‘… our generation sees solutions in terms of synthesis and not absolutes. When this happens, truth, as people had always thought of truth, has died.’


Kierkegaard knew Hegel’s philosophy and understood it well and rejected it. He must also have been familiar with Kant. Unlike Hegel, it wasn’t the wide sweep of history and the unfolding of the Spirit in history that Kierkegaard was concerned with but the individual’s responsibility before God. But one could only know God by a leap of faith. In Schaeffer’s terms Kierkegaard had placed reason in the lower storey – reason led to pessimism. Non-reason was in the upper storey leading to faith and optimism. This was Kierkegaard’s dualism.

According to Schaeffer the ‘mark of modern man’ is this complete break, this ‘total separation, between the area of meaning and values, and the area of reason.’

Schaeffer’s conclusion

Having reviewed all these philosophies, Schaeffer concludes: ‘Man beginning with his proud, proud humanism, tried to make himself autonomous, but rather than becoming great, he found himself ending up as only a collection of molecules – and nothing more.’ Schaeffer had heard George Wald, a chemistry professor from Harvard, at a lecture saying that all things, including man, are the product of time and chance. He quotes Wald: ‘Four hundred years ago there was a collection of molecules named Shakespeare which produced Hamlet.’

The religious centre of our existence

As we saw, Schaeffer was influenced by Dooyeweerd’s philosophical analyses and, for those who have followed earlier blogs, it should be clearer now why Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is so important. He rejects all forms of dualism and instead illustrates how cosmic time was created by God, the origin of all things, including reason. Dr Friesen in his 95 Theses quotes Dooyeweerd:

‘In an indissoluble connection with this self-revelation as Creator, God has revealed man to Himself. Man was created in the image of God. Just as God is the absolute origin of all that exists outside of Himself, so He created man as a being in whom the entire diversity of aspects and faculties of the temporal world is concentrated within the religious centre of his existence which we call our I, and which Holy Scripture calls our heart, in a pregnant, religious sense.’
In the next blog I’ll look more closely at what Dooyeweerd means by Creation, Fall and Redemption.