This is a critique of L. Russ Bush’s The Advancement. In order to properly ascertain the individual components as well as the overall success of Bush’s work, this article deploys the use of a general summary, followed by a section of critical interaction, and finally a conclusion. In the end, elements of Bush’s argument prove invaluable, while others miss their target.
Chapter 1 begins with an historical review of the modern worldview formation. This includes first the secular worldview, inspired by the focus on freedom inherent in the Enlightenment. Bush then begins to explore the details of the Christian alternative. This discussion reaches a climax as he notes the contrast of the new and old worldviews. “In the earlier view there is a natural stability in both history and in nature. Progress or decline are products of a person’s relationship or lack of relationship to God, and neither is inevitable historically (15).” Ultimately Bush concludes, “The older worldview is not true (just) because it’s old, and it too may be in need of refinement in light of better understandings of the Bible, but authentic Christianity is the best antidote for a culture that is dying from the venom of the Advancement (17).”
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Chapter 2 begins to unveil the components of the overall worldview, that which Bush calls The Advancement. Here, again, Bush delves deeper into the historical relationships¬¬ among science, secularism, and Christianity. He addresses the historic belief, “God operates outside of the cause-and-effect pattern discernable in the Universe (20)”. Bush notes that while cause-and-effect reasoning was originally limited to certain areas of study, modernity and postmodernity have witnessed cause-and-effect spreading into countless fields (21).
In addition, Bush explores the origins of modern materialism, uniformitarian thought, and evolution. From here he displays the historic influence of these philosophies on modern ethics. The most critical issue of ethics is the loss of humanness at the hands of the animal origins suggested in evolutionary theory. “Humans are no longer human. They are simply naked apes (35).”
Chapter 3 explores The Advancement and Theory of Knowledge. The core of this address deals with the epistemological battle between conflicting philosophies of objective and subjective truth. Bush notes that naturalism demands that the human mind is merely an effect of the system that created it. Therefore, he believes that this, in turn, places scientific study, amongst other things, at the mercy of subjective relativism (40).
Bush compares this to multiple epistemological views based on a theistic foundation. After several theories, he ultimately concludes that naturalism
has reclassified biblical ideas as culturally, rather than divinely, inspired (52). The collective result of secular modernism is a “loss of political freedom” and “moral accountability” (50).
Chapter 4 explores Modern Theistic Alternatives. Bush points to various groups of non-biblical philosophies such as process theology and open theology, which recognize the potentiality, and even perhaps the need for God. However, he concludes that these beliefs are incomplete at best and through these beliefs, “Ultimately, God is naturalized, and the modern worldview prevails (64). “
The following two chapters investigate naturalistic evolution. Bush spends Chapters 5 and 6 addressing the seven assumptions of evolutionary biology (65-72), ten axioms of modern scientific thought (72-76), and four basic beliefs of modern thinkers (77-78). He follows this groundwork with five simple objections to naturalistic evolution (80-83).
Overall, Bush’s outline follows a semi-logical progression. However, in spite of the overall congruency, certain elements are lacking the necessary ingredients for a successful dissertation. Ultimately, Bush’s massive undertaking becomes his downfall. The very concept of the Advancement is a hodgepodge of component worldviews. In his attempt to attack this umbrella concept, Bush ends up falling victim to the same weakness as postmodernism. Ambiguity and muddled worldviews become self-contradictory. The book gives the impression of a single soldier fighting a multitude of swarming enemies. In his worthy attempt at defeating the collective Advancement, Bush ends up using the wrong ammunition on the wrong enemy. This happens in two ways. First, though he has the foresight to break down the overall concept into its respective components, he often reverts back to addressing the overall mentality, which does not technically exist on a broad scale. The postmodern beast is like a series of viruses that morph in their formation from host to host. The only way to attack it is piece by piece. The combination of postmodern beliefs never takes the same form from person to person. Therefore, addressing it as a collective whole ultimately fails. Second, he frequently attributes relativist beliefs to naturalism and vice versa. Bush’s, lack of clarity is pervasive throughout the book. He bounces back and forth between this multitude of worldviews and theories, often with little description of how he intends to relate them one to another.
Bush tends to make broad, sweeping statements that render worldview differentiation difficult to assess. “To the modern mind… progress is inevitable (15).” In context, It is difficult to discern whether Bush is referencing secular minds, Christian minds, or the all-inclusive popular opinion of modernity, irrespective of religious foundation. As Bush acknowledges, chronological limits are not always clear and ideas surface gradually (7). Phrases such as “modern mind” become increasingly ambiguous in the midst of paragraphs and subsections, which themselves are bouncing between religion, secularism, time periods, and keystone philosophies that transcend designated periods or belief structures. The end result is a dizzying series of statements that present more frustration and confusion than clarity and conclusion.
Specific statements that lack citation further confound Bush’s message. In Chapter Two, he claims that there are three ideas that make up the longstanding alternative worldview of Christianity: “stability in nature, spiritual warfare, and historical change initiated by divine intervention (9).” Bush gives no indication about where he has derived these three ideas. He does this multiple times throughout the book. Chapters 5 and 6, as mentioned in the summary, are made up of lists of apparent assumptions, axioms, and beliefs that represent the foundations of multiple worldviews. However, again, Bush neglects to cite his reasoning for calling upon these specific elements of each worldview. This may leave readers questioning the authenticity of the claims, and if it doesn’t, perhaps it should. These lists are especially important to the overall purpose of the book as they represent the summation of alternative worldviews, which Bush is seeking to critique. Without clarification of source and accuracy, readers should be cautious in adopting his overall strategy, though individual responses still have value.
In addition to issues of clarity and viability, Bush has a tendency to evaluate secular worldviews from the subjectivity of a Christian understanding. This is most evident in his repeated portrayal of naturalism as ethically unviable. While this may certainly be true, and while it may provide a valuable argument in some light, Bush confuses the need for morality with the need for truth.
His response to the loss of humanness associated with natural evolution is, “It is not an optimistic picture (78).” While this is certainly a viable proclamation, it ultimately does little to answer the question of truthfulness. Morality is contingent upon truth and not the other way around. “The truth of moral and logical principles does not correspond to reality in the same way as do statements about observable empirical facts.” Assuming that God’s truth is correct, then a lack of morality is a viable argument. However, the argument relies upon the presupposition that God’s truth is, in fact, correct.
Bush continually fails to fully consider the worldview he addresses. One example of this is found in his discussion of “Why Modern Thought Fails”(59-61). Again, he seems to confuse the ultimate reality of objective truth, with the anthropomorphic limitations of subjective truth. “Truth, as it has been traditionally defined, does not exist necessarily in this modern scientific worldview. There is only momentary correctness, warranted assertions, and majority opinions (60).” This is not an accurate assessment. Bush is simply acknowledging that human subjectivity and limitation keeps humanity from discovering ultimate truth. That does not mean that this truth does not exist.
The true divergence in the two worldviews lies where the ultimate truth is found. For science, ultimate truth is in natural law. That does not change based on our momentary correctness, assertions, or opinions. Likewise, biblically speaking, humanity operates similarly, but God is the ultimate source of truth rather than natural law. Human subjectivity exists in both models, and this momentary understanding may be accurate or inaccurate.
However, the point is simply that human subjectivity fails to influence ultimate truth in either model. Bush misses this in his conclusion, “The relativism of modern thought is… self-defeating (80).” This is simply not true. Relativism only acknowledges the finite nature of human understanding.
Like an under trained spy in the enemy’s camp, Bush’s Christian worldview and reliance upon morality remains overly influential in his assault on the mixed set of hypotheses that make up The Advancement. His inability to remain focused on a single worldview sucks the reader into a tornadic war against a constantly shifting, ever-growing enemy. In the end Bush may succeed in refuting the validity of the umbrella view of The Advancement, on the basis of self-refutation, but fails to win the individual battles that truly matter.
Bush, L. Russ. The Advancement. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003.
Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011.