Berkeley universities

Janie B. Cheaney: Truth and Consequence

HOST NICK EICHER: Today is Wednesday August 17th. Good morning! This is The world and all in it of WORLD Radio supported by listeners. I am 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 talks about the nature of our culture’s delusional thinking.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: George Berkeley, Anglican Bishop of Cloyne, is credited with developing philosophical idealism. It is the notion that since humans can only understand reality through immaterial reason and the senses, the material world does not meaningfully exist.

Idealism was the topic of conversation in 18th-century European cafes and salons. In his biography of Samuel Johnson, England’s best-known public intellectual, James
Boswell, recalled a conversation on the subject. Boswell knew that idealism could not be true but did not know how to refute it. Johnson immediately kicked a rock so hard his foot bounced off, saying, “I refute it so.”

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 snuck into academia in the 1960s disguised as constructivism. Think of the word “build” and you get the gist: knowledge is built by individuals reacting to the 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 does not believe in minds but in minds: millions of them, all actively creating knowledge for themselves. What was once considered objectively true constructivism calls a social construct, especially if it doesn’t fit your individual worldview.

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

If your training continues in this way, neither you nor the future engineer are likely to gain deep knowledge of anything, because constructivism makes knowledge everything about you.

No one is equipped to make sense of it. By definition, meaning is outside of oneself. If people don’t find it in tradition and faith, they “build” a catch-all of the latest sociological trends. And because societies don’t function well without an overriding notion of virtue, fads become dogmas, like the current obsession with gender ideology.

We hear how medical school instructors avoid using terms like “man” and “woman.” And how anthropology professors have called on archaeologists to stop labeling human remains as male and female, because we don’t know how our hunter-gatherer ancestors identified themselves. It’s not just silly; it’s delusional.

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

I am Janie B. Cheaney.

HOST NICK EICHER: Today is Wednesday August 17th. Good morning! This is The world and all in it of WORLD Radio supported by the listeners. I am 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 talks about the nature of our culture’s delusional thinking.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: George Berkeley, Anglican Bishop of Cloyne, is credited with developing philosophical idealism. It is the notion that since humans can only understand reality through immaterial reason and the senses, the material world does not meaningfully exist.

Idealism was the topic of conversation in 18th-century European cafes and salons. In his biography of Samuel Johnson, England’s best-known public intellectual, James
Boswell, recalled a conversation on the subject. Boswell knew that idealism could not be true but did not know how to refute it. Johnson immediately kicked a rock so hard his foot bounced off, saying, “I refute it so.”

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 snuck into academia in the 1960s disguised as constructivism. Think of the word “build” and you get the gist: knowledge is built by individuals reacting to the 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 does not believe in minds but in minds: millions of them, all actively creating knowledge for themselves. What was once considered objectively true constructivism calls a social construct, especially if it doesn’t fit your individual worldview.

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

If your training continues in this way, neither you nor the future engineer are likely to gain deep knowledge of anything, because constructivism makes knowledge everything about you.

No one is equipped to make sense of it. By definition, meaning is outside of oneself. If people don’t find it in tradition and faith, they “build” a catch-all of the latest sociological trends. And because societies don’t function well without an overriding notion of virtue, fads become dogmas, like the current obsession with gender ideology.

We hear how medical school instructors avoid using terms like “man” and “woman.” And how anthropology professors have called on archaeologists to stop labeling human remains as male and female, because we don’t know how our hunter-gatherer ancestors identified themselves. It’s not just silly; it’s delusional.

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

I am Janie B. Cheaney.


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