Conflict-Action-Growth vs. Rest in God
An Appraisal of John Dewey
from the Biblical Creation Perspective (Part II)
by Ellen Myers
Part I (contained in the Winter 1980 issue; Vol. 3, no. 2)
Dewey's Organizational Involvement
Dewey and Communism
Dewey's Religion: Pietism, Liberal Protestantism, Atheism
A. Dealing with Truth
The thesis of the remarkable monograph by Remkes Kooistra, The University and Its Abolitions, is that when antecedent absolute truth in Christ is denied, then the concept of a university as an institution of higher learning is also denied, because students can no longer be taught how to distinguish between the true and the false. Thought and inquiry wither in an epistemological vacuum. This in turn leads to "abolitions" in area after area of knowledge by and in the university. Kooistra often refers to statements by Dewey as best representing the denial of antecedent absolute truth in Christ.
Pontius Pilate let Christ be crucified though finding no fault in Him, shrugging, "What is truth?" As with Pilate and Christ, the choice between truth and error is unavoidable and always ultimately involves life or death. We can easily see this when asking whether it is true or false that these mushrooms are poisonous. For the Biblical creation believer, truth is what the God-Creator of the Bible says is so, and Christ in Whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily is Himself the Truth in Person (Colossians 1:15,2:9; John 14:6). God told Adam not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or he would surely die in the day he ate of it (Genesis 2:17). God's clear revelation to Adam thus was that the fruit of that Tree was deadly poison. The serpent-tempter began to hide God's clear revelation by turning it subtly from "antecedent truth" into a "problem to be solved" by questioning whether it had been given: "Yea, hath God said,...?" (Genesis 3:1) If you will, the serpent-tempter turned God's absolute Nay "Do not eat of the tree" and Yea "thou shalt surely die" into a dialectical thesis, to which he opposed his antithesis: "Ye shall not surely die," resulting in the supposed synthesis: "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4) Instead of abiding by God's clear revelation,
Adam listened to the serpent-tempter and died, and all his progeny in him (Romans 5:12). He and we all died as human beings created in God's image and likeness, because God "cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man" (James 1:13). In our loss of our identity as bearing our Creator's perfect image and likeness we are no longer the true and perfect gods He created us to be (Psalms 82:6: John 10:34-36), but false and fallen gods in the likeness of our father the devil, the false and fallen angel, murderer and liar.
Dewey defines truth as follows:
Truth is that concordance of an abstract statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief, which concordance the abstract statement may possess by virtue of the confession of its inaccuracy and one sidedness, and this confession is an essential ingredient of truth. Logic, 345, quoted in Kooistra, 89)
The abstract statement of truth must always be followed by the confession of its untruth.
It is for this reason that Dewey taught ...:"... it is better to travel than to arrive, . . . because travelling is a constant arriving, while arrival that precludes further travelling is most easily attained by going to sleep or dying." (Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct, 282, quoted ibid.) Kooistra tersely adds: "you see: there is no sabbath in Dewey's Baedeker (a travel guide)." He is right. Dewey's "truth" contains both Yes and No or mutually contradictory statements as "essential ingredients." Since no one can ever be certain that the "ideal limit" of scientific belief has been reached or even that investigation is proceeding in the proper direction (which is actually a meaningless concept in a philosophy wherein all "directions" are "proper"), inquiry/investigation must of necessity be endless, and "inaccuracy and one-sidedness" must of necessity forever inhere in and help formulate "truth."
Gordon Clark points out that the denial of the law of contradiction (i.e., a term must mean at most a finite number of things, and if it is defined to mean an infinite number of things, then it also means nothing at all) is involved in Dewey's philosophy. This being the case,
"Dewey is a philosopher" means "Southern California is a null class," for Dewey means California, and philosopher is a null class." But these two sentences of identical meaning also signify that Caesar was Socrates and that instrumentalism is nonsense. (Clark, 68)
Clark goes onto imagine a defense of Dewey stating that Dewey did not actually discard the law of contradiction. I believe on the grounds of Dewey's definition of truth" as necessarily composed of mutually contradictory statements that such a defense of Dewey is not an option. In any case, Clark rightly points out that
Professor Dewey would not be overjoyed by this defense. A philosophy of universal flux cannot be happy with any exception. Even one fixed truth would be one too many. (Ibid.)
Beneath the law of contradiction of logic lurks the law of identity in concrete experience. Our minds boggle at Dewey's definition of "truth" because we cannot imagine how it can work out concretely. Can a mushroom be poisonous and also non-poisonous at one and the same time? Can we say truthfully that 2 + 2 = 4, if as Dewey asserts a confession of inaccuracy and onesidedness is an essential ingredient of "truth?" Must we not rather say that according to current scientific belief resulting from investigation to date it appears that 2 + 2 may amount to 4, pending further inquiry? Or else, we might choose to decree a new arbitrary arithmetic, like O'Brien in 7984. which would make 2 + 2 equal 5, or 3, or whatever we assert it to be for our own pragmatic reasons at the time. This choice, however, "truth" by man's decree, is potentially deadly, even as was Adam's choice about eating of the forbidden Tree which constituted Adam's decree in opposition to God's. If there is nothing in itself fixed about adding two plus two, then what about counting sleeping pills or drops of anaesthetic does their number matter or not? The Biblical creation perspective can only say: We told you so. There is something fixed about numbers, and that fixity does correspond to something in actual reality.
We live in a "digital universe" in which everything can be counted one by one exactly, but measured only imprecisely because comparison based on some yardstick or measuring device always introduces error. This digital or countable or discrete quality of all things whatever accounts for our using digital computers rather than analog computers today. This digital quality of all things, based on the fact that the individual separation and distinction between all things makes them identifiable, does not fit the naturalist evolutionist world of universal flux and the notion of "truth" as a combination of mutually contradictory assertions proposed by Dewey. But this quality does predictably and literally fit the Biblical creation account. (cf. Tippetts)
In this connection it is of particular relevance that Dewey attempted to define numbers as metrical, and hence counting as measuring, in his book The Psychology of Number written with J.A McLellan in 1895. Tnis was the first instance of Dewey's applying the evolutionary method of seeking out origins on a large scale. It was also Dewey's first attempt to deal with a formal concept. The theme of the book is that "Number is to be traced to measurement, and measurement back to adjustment of activity." (Dewey, Psychology of Number, 53, quoted in White, 128) H.D. Fine, professor of mathematics at Princeton University, argued in opposition to Dewey that a number is not a metrical but a logical concept, and one which exactly reflects concrete reality. Fine expresses this logic-reality correspondence with admirable simplicity and clarity:
No one ever did or ever will count a group of horses, for instance, by first conceiving of an artificial unit horse and then matching it with each actual horse in turn which measuring' the group of horses must mean if it means anything. (White, 131)
Dewey sidestepped this argument and never came to grips with it. It is deadly to naturalist evolutionism's basic principles of (a) universal and constant flux; (b) processes based on inexact gradation; (c) all-is-one monism; (d) that whatever is, is "right"; and (e) denial of the laws of contradiction and identity.
Of course the entire formulability of physical laws in mathematical terms is tied to the correspondence in concrete observed reality of numbers to "digits" or countable discrete identifiable units. Any scientist accepts this correspondence, in Ernest P. Wigner's words, as "an article of faith" and a "miracle. which we neither understand nor deserve." (quoted in North, 174) Albert Einstein makes a similar statement:
To this (sphere of religion) there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is comprehensible to reason, I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. (quoted ibid)
The Biblical creation perspective, of course, describes all created reality as reflecting the Creator's immutable, either-or character in Whom is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17) and Whom His Word in Person by Whom He created all things, Christ, perfectly and immutably reflects (John 1:1-3, Hebrews 13:8). Verse after verse of the Bible's first chapter describing Creation Week tells us of the identity of created things. God's division of light from darkness, creation of the firmament between heaven and earth, separation of waters from dry land and waters from waters, creation of all living things to propagate after their own Kind, dividing day from night and season from season all speak of His being "not yea and nay" (2 Corinthians 1:18-20) expressed in His creation and creative decree by which each thing is what it is, and is not what it is not, and will not become what it is not in defiance of God-decreed identity.
B. Activity versus Rest
Let us now refer again to Dewey's statement about "truth" as containing mutually contradictory assertions, and about it being better to travel than to arrive which we have quoted earlier. Dewey's philosophy may thus be called travelling for traveling's sake. He gives us a more detailed explanation of what this is like in his book A Common Faith:
The aims and ideals that move us are generated through imagination * . Imagination seized hold upon the idea of a rearrangement of existing things that would evolve new objects. The new vision does not arise out of nothing, but emerges through seeing... old things in new relations serving a new end which the new end aids in creating.
Moreover the process of creation is experimental and continuous. Ideals change as they are applied in existent conditions. The process endures and advances with the life of humanity... When the vital factors in this natural process are generally acknowledged in emotion, thought and action, the process will be both accelerated and purified through elimination of that irrelevant element that culminates in the idea of the supernatural. When the vital factors attain the religious force that has been drafted into supernatural religions, the resulting reinforcement will be incalculable.
These considerations may be applied to the idea of God, or, to avoid misleading conceptions, to the idea of the divine . . We are in the presence neither of ideals completely embodied in existence nor yet of ideals that are mere rootless ideals, fantasies, utopias. For there are forces in nature and society that generate and support the ideals. They are further unified by the action that gives them coherence and solidity. It is this active relation between ideal and actual to which I would give the name "God." I would not insist that the name must be given. (49, 50,51)
Dewey here deities the actualization of man's ideals generated by "forces in nature and society." We might picture his "idea of divine," which is an upward process, on a graph as follows:
Actually the graph should run downhill because of the accumulative weight or input of all previous states of nature/society in the course of infinite time postulated by evolutionism. (cf. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 67-72.) Perhaps it ought to be a circle or spiral if eternal recurrence in the manner of Nietzche be allowed for. The downhill slant seems indicated in view of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics according to which the very thing Dewey postulates, a "process (which) endures and advances with the life of humanity . . . accelerated and purified" simply does not and cannot exist. (These laws do, however, neatly fit the Biblical creation account positing a universe created perfect at the beginning of time ex nihilo, and due to sin doomed to deterioration and eventual extinction as an ageing garment about to be folded up and discarded Hebrews 1:10-12.)
Dewey speaks of this process or our "travelling" as "constantly arriving." But of course travelling may just as well be spoken of as "constantly departing." What is excluded by Dewey as Kooistra notes is not so much "sleep" or "dying" as rather rest. There is indeed no sabbath in Dewey's Saedeker. Now this deification of constant arriving/departing and repudiation of rest is not unique with Dewey. It is, for example, the core motif of Goethe's Faust which was first published in 1832, twenty-seven years before Dewey's birth. The parallel is striking and worth demonstrating.
Early in the play we see the philosopher Dr. Faust in his study working on a new translation of the Gospel of John:
It is written: "In the beginning was the Word!"
Here I halt already. Who will help me go on?
I cannot possibly esteem the Word so highly.
I must translate it differently
If I am rightly enlightened by the spirit.
It is written: In the beginning was Meaning.
Reflect well on the first line
Lest your pen be overly hasty!
Is it Meaning which works and creates all things?
It ought to read: In the beginning was Strength.
Yet even as I am writing this down
Something warns me not to stay with it.
The spirit helps me! Suddenly I see counsel
And write assuredly: In the beginning was the Act
(Faust, Part1, lines 1224-1237, my translation, intentionally very literal)
On the simplest level we see in this scene Faust as a proud and unethical translator substituting his own idea of what the original text should say for what the text actually says. You might say he denies "antecedent reality" so he may master and reconstruct rather than serve and reflect it.
On a deeper level, which Goethe wishes to show us through the play, we see Faust choosing 'the Act" action as his highest good. In this Faust is like Dewey. And of course if action is the highest good, then its opposite, non-action or rest, is the lowest evil or temptation. Goethe makes this explicit soon afterwards when he has Faust say:
Cursed be the healing juice of grapes!
Cursed be that highest grace of love!
Cursed be hope! Cursed be faith!
And above all, cursed be patience!
(Faust, Part 1, lines 1603-1606, my translation)
Faust is now ready to receive Mephistopheles, Goethe's suave, urbane devil-tempter who appears to propose a wager with Faust's soul as the prize.
The temptation is rest
Mephistopheles: But, good friend, the time also comes Where we like to eat something good while at rest. Faust: If I ever lie down restfully upon a bed of laziness Then may I perish instantly! . Should I say to the moment: Please linger! You are so beautiful! Then you may put me in shackles, Then I will gladly perish! (Faust, Part!, lines 1690-1693 and 1699-1702, my translation)
To both Goethe's Faust and to Dewey's constant traveller rest is the deadly and damning temptation. Again this makes consistent sense within the naturalist evolutionist world whose inherent motion, change or dynamism is its life Suppose motion, change or dynamism "rested?" Then the life of the process the process itself would be suspended. Such a possibility must be abhorrent to one who like Dewey acknowledges it "in emotion, thought and action (with) religious force (formerly) drafted into supernatural religions."
When we remember that Goethe was an exact contemporary of Hegel (d. 1831) whose philosophy exercised such strong influence upon Dewey, the tenor of the play appears even more significant. We should also keep in mind that what C.S. Lewis calls the Myth of popular Evolutionism arose decades before the Origin of Species was published, as he describes in his devastating (to evolutionists) essay first published four years after his death, "The Funeral of a Great Myth" (Christian Reflections. 82-93), which ought to be required reading for Biblical creationists. Dewey's evolutionist "idea of the divine" comes at the tail end of the age first heralded by Shelley, Keats and Byron along with the Continental Romantics, followed by Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Spencer, then the "creative" Bergsonian evolutionism with its "élan vital" and also Nietzschean "will to power" in an evolutionist world of eternal recurrence. This was also the time of spectacular scientific breakthroughs promising a Golden Age ushered in by man's inventive and managerial genius as much as by man's supposed natural goodness. Through his "Faust" the great poetical genius of Goethe captured and expressed all this in advance. His Faust actually has a glimpse of the Golden Age just ahead toward the end of the play. The joyful anticipation makes him desire that this moment might linger, and thus he forfeits his soul.
But "travelling without arriving" can also be defined as "going nowhere." This, too, Goethe must have sensed (and Nietzsche, the consistent evolutionist and prophet of things to come, expressed in his "eternal recurrence" concept). Therefore Goethe's devil is made to philosophize at Faust's burial:
"It's over now!" What may be read in this?
It is as good as if it had never been,
And yet drives itself around in a circle as if it were.
As for me, I prefer instead the Eternally-Void.
(Faust Part II, Line 11600-11603, my translation)
Faust is snatched from the devil by God and his legions of angels just in time, supposedly because "all who persevere in valiant effort can be saved" (and I recognize the unbiblical implications of this statement and of Goethe's play in general).
Seen from the Biblical creation perspective, unceasing action or "constant travelling" in our own strength, or perpetual unrest apart from God is the fate of the wicked or damned. "The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." (Isaiah 57:20-21)
Goethe's Faust and Dewey thus call evil that which the God of the Bible calls Good, and vice versa. Even the atheist, Bertrand Russell, has caught a glimpse of what is involved in Dewey's pitting perpetual action without rest per seas "good" against action directed toward an end, and rest in that end:
We act... in order to achieve ends which... have in them some element... of rest and peace not the rest and peace of mere quiescence, but the kind that, in the most intense form, becomes ecstasy... Ultimately, the controversy between those who base logic upon (antecedent) "truth" and those who base it upon "inquiry" (like Dewey) arises from a difference of values. (Schilpp, 156)
Rest our rest in God, and also God's rest in us is the purpose and goal of all God's creation. We who hold to the Biblical creation perspective begin with perfect creation ex nihilo by God's Word. He finished all His works of creation in six days and rested from them on the seventh day. He hallowed this day and blessed it because He rested in it from all His works (Genesis 2:1-3). This is why we are to remember the sabbath day to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). All things are created for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11), which means to be in perfect accordance with his Word and Will and hence in no need of "remodeling" (one reason why theistic "trial-and-error" evolution does not accord with the perfect and good God of the Bible).
Man is to rest in God, and God in man. Let us list but a few of the many Scripture passages proclaiming this mutual rest as the goal and blessing originally purposed by God and in Christ's atonement and redemption restored for His people. For example, Christ promises rest and His peace to those coming to Him (Matthew 11:28, John 14:27, 16:33). God promises rest to Moses on the way to the promised land: "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest" (Exodus 33:14). Hebrews 3 and 4 and James 4:11 speak of the necessity for man to enter into the rest of God rather than doing his own works in unbelief/disobedience, Salvation is "in returning and rest" (Isaiah 30:15). Rest is promised God's people at the end of their journey in both the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 3:20) and when Christ is revealed in glory at His Coming Again (2 Thessalonians 1:7).
God Himself longs for and expects to rest in His perfectly restored work and its crowning glory and joy, His people restored-perfected in His own image and likeness in His dear Son Christ: "This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it" (Psalm 132:14). Our God will "rest in His love" and "rejoice over His people with singing" the glorious anticipation of Zephaniah 3:1?. The account of man's temptation and fall in Genesis 3 involved rest versus action. Rest and abiding in God's Word and Will are set over against man's stepping out of that rest and out of God and acting in his own word and will.
The tempter said, "Eat" act, and you will be gods, you will be other than what you are now, you will effect a change. God said, "Do not eat" do not act, rest in My word. If only Adam and Eve had rested in God! For they were already as gods because they had been created by God in His own image and likeness. But they wished to be as gods not by God's given way as their "antecedent reality," beholden to Him, but by their own act. Like Faust the unethical translator they denied "antecedent reality" of the Word so they might be its masters rather than servants.
Our rest in God and God's rest in us is not inactivity or passivity but so to speak godly leisure. It is but another name for fending paradise, Adam's original task. It is to reflect, or manifest, or reveal, His perfection and thus to celebrate with Him His sabbath moment-by-moment eternally. We are His workmanship, created in Christ unto good works, which He ordained before the foundation of the world for us to walk in, holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4, 2:10).
(to be concluded in the next issue)