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Vol. III • 1980

Conflict-Action-Growth vs. Rest in God
An Appraisal of John Dewey
from the Biblical Creation Perspective (Part Ill)
by Ellen Myers

Part I (contained in the Winter 1980 issue; vol. 3, no.2)
Dewey's Life
Dewey's Organizational Involvement
Dewey and Communism
Dewey's Religion: Pietism, Liberal Protestantism, Atheism

Part II (contained in the Spring 1981 issue; vol. 3, no.3)
Dewey's Philosophy
A. Dealing with Truth
B. Activity versus Rest

Part III (contained in the present issue)
"The Quest for Uncertainty"
A. Evolutionist, Lawless, Monistic Continuity and Process Philosophy
B. Can You "Just Lie Back On It"?
C. "The Quest for Uncertainty"
Summary and Conclusion


    A. Evolutionist Lawless Monistic Continuity and Process Philosophy

Dewey's ostensible trouble with most classical philosophies was that they postulated a separation between the knower and the known, and thus inserted a subject-object, or on a deeper level a "being-becoming" dualism into their concept of reality. For Dewey, on the other hand "the object of knowledge in its strict sense is its objective: and this objective is not constituted till it is reached." (Logic, The Theory of Inquiry, 8) Much of his mature thought is given over to attack what he termed (first, I think, in his Quest for Certainty, page 23) the "spectator theory of knowledge." Rushdoony in his scathing demolition of Dewey as the father of "progressive education" also demolishes the idea that thinkers who deny immutable truth in the God of the Bible and His self-revelation have no fixed assumptions of their own. He points out that

This need not mean, of course, that for Dewey or pragmatists-empiricists at large monistic, self-existing and self-evolving naturalist reality need "hang together" so to speak in an all-embracing system or order such as cause and effect. Remember, randomness (and not teleology) is the hallmark of Darwinian evolution which inspired Dewey. Krikorian, who greatly admires Dewey and all modern philosophical process thinkers, points out that for them

For Dewey, a process philosopher par excellence, Krikorian says, quoting Dewey, "growing, or continuous reconstruction of experience is the only end to life." (Krikorian, 4). Elsewhere Dewey repeats this thought, "Growth itself is the only moral end.," (Reconstruction in Philosophy. NY: Henry Holt & Co., 1926, 177; quoted in Krikorian, 10). Krikorian expresses the attractiveness of this monistic all-is-one but yet also free-wheeling, randomly put-together and hence essentially lawless world conceived by the process philosopher:

Krikorian cites a most significant statement written by Dewey at the age of thirty-five:

Krikorian concludes:

It was about that time that (Hegelian) "idealist theories were disappearing from (Dewey's) writings" (White, xiv) and we "find him calling himself an 'experimental idealist' in 1894" (ibid.)

Dykhuizen in discussing Dewey's essay "From Absolutism to Experimentalism" in which Dewey himself describes his philosophical transition, sums up Dewey's underlying thought as follows: "Dewey sensed that a valid metaphysics would picture reality as unified, its several parts interdependent and functionally related. The model he had in mind was the biological (human) organism (suggested by Huxley's Elements of Physiology)." (Dykhuizen, 17). Hendrik Hart, the Christian scholar ranking Dewey with "Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Kant" (Hart, 8) has traced the genesis of Dewey's expressed evolutionary monist thought with patient scholarship to an essay by Dewey, "The Logic of Verification" which appeared in the April24, 1880 issue of The Open Court Hart quotes Dewey as follows:

Both idea and ‘facts' are flexible, and verification is the process of mutual adjustment, of organic interaction.

And there is no other test of a theory than this, its ability to work (The Open Court, "The Logic of Verification", 2227) (Hart, 15).

"Here," Hart continues, "suddenly and unannounced... there is a presentation in a nutshell of the well-known later Dewey. Here is first of all the doctrine of test through operational consequences, the 'ability to work' of Pragmatism which can not be found in any previous publication. Secondly, here we find the beginning of the organic interaction. . . the transaction approach .,." (ibid.)

While Hart may have ranked Dewey too highly, he gives him credit where credit is due, namely, for Dewey's consistency with evolutionism in his monism. This is a point which must be emphasized in the present paper written from the biblical creation perspective. Hart states, and I wholeheartedly agree:

Copleston shows how Dewey's concept of knowledge fits into this monistic world view: "According to Dewey, primary or immediate experience . contains `no division between act and material, subject and object, but contains them both in an unanalyzed totality,' (Experience and Nature, p. 8). . knowledge is represented as being itself a doing or making rather than, as in the so-called spectator theory, a `seeing.' " (Copleston, 115, 116)  

B, Can You "Just Lie Back On It"?

The foregoing descriptions of Dewey's thought were given to substantiate the following points:

All these points depend upon the non-existence of the supernatural, sovereign, personal, all-knowing, all-sustaining and all-ruling God of the Bible and the denial of the world's origin by His creation ex nihilo. If this God exists, then

(1) there is of necessity discontinuity between God and creation, between man as the creature sui generis specifically made in God's image and likeness and all other creatures, and between all identifiable entities/creatures. There is

(2) no randomness whatever in the world, because whatever happens can and does happen only by God's directive or permissive will. In particular, the timing the beginning and the end of all things is His prerogative because He knows, sustains and rules all things, being "beginning and end" Himself. (Rev. 22:131

(3) Biblical creation is the opposite of evolutionist emergence of anything from anything else including, of course, the emergence of mind from matter by naturalistic processes. But the Biblical creation perspective also disagrees with the "spectator theory of knowledge" in its various formulations implicitly or explicitly starting not with the Creator-God of the Bible, but with man himself and his mind/thought. I behave that if the God of Biblical Creation ex nihilo is denied as "the only true God" (John 17:3), and hence the Creator creature discontinuity is blurred or obliterated, the singling out of man as a "knowing" subject somehow separate' discontinuous from the "known" object is, as Dewey asserts, tenable for reflection but not ultimately. I believe that post-Darwinian evolutionism in general, and Dewey in particular, have dealt the "spectator theory of knowledge" a blow from which It cannot recover, This in turn means that

(a) the presence of human reason/reality correspondence underlying applied science and unthinkable without identifiable entities in concrete actual reality presents a problem to emergent evolutionist thought at its very root, namely, explanation of origins;

(b) the "spectator theory of knowledge" is untenable if "God/Being" and "nature/becoming" are held to be an ontological continuum, and hence again the root problem is with explanation of origins;

(c) monist evolutionism in general, and Dewey's "instrumentalism" in particular, is simply a forthright and explicit as well as consistent formulation of a world which "simply exists" as a continuous whole by itself. Its selfexistence is so to speak its "antecedent reality", and in this sense I think Georges Dicker is right in his conclusion of an intriguing monograph: "I suggest, neither Dewey's tendency to lapse into idealistic language nor his special use of `the object of knowledge' to signify the goal of activities in which knowledge is applied should prevent us from regarding him as fundamentally a realist." (Dicker, 54).

Given the above, the ultimate conflict, then, lies between the Biblical creation perspective seeing the origin of all things in God and His creative law word, over against the monist-evolutionist perspective seeing the world as simply self-existent and reality as ongoing in continuous emergence. Unless the supernatural other-than-this-world God and Creator ex nihilo of the Bible exists, there is no consistent alternative to the evolutionist position espoused by Dewey.

Dewey is quite right in tracing his position via Darwin to Descartes and summing up its power as follows

Immutable "being" as an a priori postulate originating in or dependent upon man's own mind and thought cannot be rescued. One argument against it lies precisely in its being man's own postulate or assertion. How can that assertion be independently confirmed? If all is one if "being" and "becoming" are a continuum then man's mind, being part of that continuum, has no independence to confirm its own assertions about anything. The most that can be expected is probabilistic assertion or just what Dewey said, "warranted" assertion, "truth" always asserting with its own Yea its own possible Nay. This is so of necessity because (a) the world is in constant flux in the monistic emergent evolutionist scheme and hence what is so now is not so the next moment; (b) confirmation of man's assertions by an at least equal intelligence independent of man is excluded since there is no world other than this present monistic continuous one, and hence no such independent intelligence. So then, in the words of Dewey about his "mystic experience", "What the hell are you worrying about, anyway? Something that's here is here, and you can just lie back on it."

But can you?

"Just lying back on" that which "is here" would seem to make man the patient, not the agent, of the naturalistic evolutionist processes by which he and his intelligence emerged. Moreover, if it be true that "the object of knowledge is its objective, which is not constituted till it is reached", then of course there is strictly speaking no possibility for man to "just lie back on" anything whatever. "In final analysis, man's own action, his own life movement, is the only organ he has for receiving and appropriating truth." (Dewey, "Christianity and Democracy," quoted in Dykhuizen, 70). Continuity and flux in the random evolutionist universe demand unceasing "mutual adjustment" and "organic interaction" from man. Neither any theory nor man himself are "tested" or "validated" except by their "ability to work", both in the sense of solving problems as in the science lab, as well as in the sense of incessant activity.

In addition, you cannot "just lie back on" what's here because as Dewey tells us "both idea and ‘facts' are flexible." "There is no belief so settled," he tells us (Logic, 8) "as not to be exposed to further inquiry." As in the science lab, you judge the experiment by its consequences; and, further experiments considering the consequences are possible in principle ad infinitum as Dewey points out about "water as an object of science, as H20 (which) is, because of experimental operations, an added instrumentality of multiplied controls and uses of the real things of everyday experience ..."(Quest, 106)

Russell compares this instrumentalist-style inquiry to what hunger may lead you to do to an animal, "kill (it), skin it, and cook it so that ... it is very different when it becomes food from what it was to begin with." (Schilpp, 14?). This means that since all action is evaluated and hence directed by its consequence in terms of "multiplied controls and uses", then no action is done, and no entity is related to, for their own sake. Russell is quite aware of this, and so, he tells us, was Dewey:

Russell adds:

Never to do anything for its own sake never to think except, according to instrumentalist credo, as "an organic adjustment to get something done" (Clark, 51) here I think is a glimpse of hell, that everlasting restlessness of the damned. Indeed it is "more natural" to man to desire ends-in-themselves! Remember it next time you watch a glorious sunset hug and kiss your child, long for the company of your beloved or your dear friend, or on a humbler level taste the first sip of cold water on a sweltering summer day. All these joys are but pictures or reflections of our end for which we are made, rest in and enjoyment of God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

I do not feel respect for Dewey's "asceticism" as much as pity. He esteemed H20 bener than water, and H20 the instrumentalist tool left him thirsty. Thus he literally fulfills the Scripture spoken of men forsaking God: "They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." (Jeremiah 2:13).

When his "mystic experience", following upon his crisis involving acquaintance with Darwinian evolution, stripped him of his last vestige of caring about God, concern about his own sincerity in prayer, it freed him, he said, from all worry and all belief. But the voice promising him that he could "just lie back on" that which "is here" lied. On the contrary, he was compelled by the inner logic of his monist evolutionist premises to look forever beyond each act to its consequence, and then to the next act integrating that consequence with other flexible "facts" within enlarged flexible ideas or "reconstruction of experience, the only end to life." It was a journey without rest and without destination, as is the existence of the entire world on monist evolutionist premises.  

C. "The Quest for Uncertainty"

We will now examine more closely the undoubtedly enthusiastic welcome accorded Dewey and his fellow process philosophers. As we stated in B (4) above, the felt effect of these concepts was that they provided for man an adventurous progress towards ideal possibilities "exhilaratingly free from extra-empirical or super-natural dogmas" where he can freely live "life as it is." The question must arise just what "life as it is" is. Evolutionist process philosophies have not totally eliminated all order from "life as it is" because God is the Author of identity and order. He permits the sun to shine and the rain to fall on just and unjust (Matthew 5:45), thus graciously and patiently making possible the very lives of His enemies. The entire cornucopia of applied science is based on that "miracle we neither understand nor deserve" (Wigner), identity and order of a universe whose reality corresponds to man's reason so he can tell poisonous mushrooms from edible ones, count drops of anesthetic during surgery, and build the sophisticated digital computers launching his space probes.

What this means is that man increasingly participates, not in emergent random evolution of a self-existing universe, but in increasing revelation of God's orderly creation. We have almost ceased to be amazed at the revelation of previously unknown extensions and details of the world under the microscope and through the telescope, all exhibiting the same features of identity and order. To the Biblical creation believer, there is less reason than ever to doubt that

"Negative" evidence falsifying the Darwinian and post-Darwinian evolution from primeval soup-to-man hypotheses are now also increasingly available and publicized. The Biblical creation believer might paraphrase Krikorian by stating that we are today in a period of reassessment "exhilaratingly free from evolutionist dogmas" where we can freely take our stand on the Bible "as it Is.

This of course would not please Krikorian, Dewey or atheist process philosophers standing on monist evolutionist premises. And they would counter that after all, we cannot be sure. They would take refuge in the impossibility of absolute certainty to man on `the basis of empirical evidences. Further research might always invalidate present "knowledge;" it has done so again and again. And this, they would assert is in line with a self-existing monist evolutionist concept of the world. No, we can never be sure; the quest for certainty, while it might have "enabled (ancient, primitive man) to carry the burdens of life more successfully" (Dewey. Quest, 33) is and must be superseded by ascertaining the most probable temporary answers through the modern scientific method applied across the board. The results of experimentation testing out theories by action/consequences is the royal road to more knowledge (but never knowledge per se established once and for all).

Russell counters that judging by consequences "involves an endless regress (Schilpp, 153), for the consequences can then be evaluated only in terms of then consequences, and so on. Dewey might answer that consequences once removed would also be the result of other lines of action/experimentation and hence need not count as "endless regress.". But this in turn readmits "endless regress" by that interconnected maze, monistic continuity of the self-existing naturalistic evolutionist world. Sooner or later any attempted evaluation in such a world turns out to be circular, relative, and of course tentative.

One may hence renounce all attempts at evaluation altogether and say with Karl Marx: "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, but the real task is to alter it." proceeding with alteration jobs regardless of consequences. This is the hidden premise under Dewey's conflict-action growth recipe for human "progress." Another alternative is withdrawal from the maze of this monistic evolutionist world. It is not surprising that this "drop-out" option is chosen by increasing numbers today. Both alternatives partake of that "freedom" whose other name is lawlessness, that is, seen from the Biblical creation perspective whose starting point is God and His creative decree as the norm for all things.

Those who share Dewey's monist evolutionist premises with informed consent prize these premises most of all because they invited and perpetuate the quest for uncertainty sanctioning man's lawlessness. The price paid for this lawlessness sanctioned by uncertainty is the absence of rest and peace. Because the possibility of absolute certainty in the Immutable God-Creator of the Bible jeopardizes man's lawlessness (based upon supposedly inevitable uncertainty in a supposedly self-existing world), this possibility is under greatest and subtlest attack by would-be autonomous man.

The quest for uncertainty produces one result which its academic adherents may not have foreseen. It is that "academic freedom" the freedom to pursue and teach relevant knowledge and to discuss it freely without restriction from school or public officials or from other source of influence loses its justification if knowledge is conceived as instrumental action to be evaluated in terms of its consequences. If all teaching and learning is thus experimentation, then no objection in principle can be raised against co-determining participation by society at large in the experimental process. If knowledge is instrumental action and teaching and learning are experimentation, then the separation between academicians as professional pursuers and purveyors of knowledge and "laypersons" breaks down. Not academicians and "subject matter" but rather "people" take the key role in the process, analogous to "child-centered" Dewey-pioneered progressive education in grade and high school. If Yea or Nay, true/false knowledge as the professional domain of highly educated academicians goes, so does their "academic freedom" based upon such knowledge.

We argued earlier that it "being" is conceptualized on a continuum with the phenomenal, changing, or "becoming", world, then the existence of "being" cannot be independently verified. Since such "being" is an abstract concept, it cannot reveal itself by itself either,

But of course this argument does not hold against the Immutable Personal God and Creator of the Bible. He is a Person, not an abstract concept, and is therefore able to reveal Himself. Further, he is not on a continuum with this present world because He created it ex nihilo.

Let us consider again that there can be no independent valuation for the self-existence and emergent evolution of this present world. "Intelligent beings from outer space" cannot independently confirm it, for the following reasons. Either they were not informed about this earth, or not in contact with it, throughout the earth's existence in time; or else, they were informed about it and/or in contact with it, because they too belong to the monistic naturalist universe and then they neither were nor are independent of it. Since they are inhabitants of space and time, as they must be as entities visiting us here and in the past or now, they are of course not "supernatural" in the same sense that the God-Creator ex nihilo of the Bible is supernatural, but on the same spatio-temporal continuum with us.

Since man's assertion of a self-existing monistic universe cannot be independently validated, it is in principle weaker than assertion of Biblical creation. For this assertion can be independently confirmed, namely, by the supernatural God-Creator of the Bible Himself.

The fatal flaw in man's own "intelligent inquiry" is precisely that on evolutionist premises it proceeds from man himself, who is but part of the monistic continuum of this present world, and hence, for this very reason, cannot independently validate any assertion about other pans of the universe. For this same reason no one man's inquiry can independently validate another man's. Dewey-type process philosophies are condemned to perpetual uncertainty even about their own correctness, because their view of the universe allows no "outside witness." But we who believe in Biblical creation, like Jesus Christ Himself can answer our adversaries as did He:


We have studied Dewey as a monist evolutionist process philosopher par excellence. Particular attention was given to his long and extremely active life including his many travels and great influence abroad; his heavy involvement with many organizations and organized endeavors of what we might call a "left-liberal" orientation today; and the affinity of his philosophy with that of Communism or Marxism due to their shared evolutionist premises.

We dealt in depth with Dewey's religious transition, from his mother's modified pietism to his church's liberal protestantism, and on to full fledged atheist religious humanism by way of his "crisis" encounter with Darwinian evolutionism, his "mystic experience" stripping him of the last vestige of concern about God, and a heavy dose of Hegelian idealism. Within Dewey's philosophy we centered on his concept of truth, and also on his underlying compulsion to incessant activity pitting his instrumentalism against rest in God.

Finally we discussed Dewey's "quest for uncertainty" as a means of casting off God's law, and as an unnatural spur to activity for the sake of yet further activity disallowing ends-in-themselves. This "quest for uncertainty" is also a corollary of the monist evolutionist premises of Dewey's process philosophy. We have also very briefly outlined reasons why human reasoning seeing "being" on a continuum with "becoming" cannot overcome Dewey-type philosophies. We argued that only the witness of the God-Creator of the Bible, Who is independent of man and of the creation, can absolutely and independently validate assertions of truth.

We have sought to provide glimpses of the climate of thought in which instrumentalism flourished - the long-entrenched myth of upward, optimistic evolutionism of the entire nineteenth century. In conclusion, this paper was written to show that we who rest our faith in the God of the Bible need not fear the onslaught of any philosophy of man. "Greater is He that is in us than he who is in the world" (I John 4:4). The supernatural God Himself is our shield and our exceeding great reward (Genesis 15:1).


The Bible, Authorized (King James) Version
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Arthur F Bentley: A Philosophical Correspondence. 1932-7951. New Brunswick. NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1964.
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"Conflict-Action-Growth vs. Rest in God - An Appraisal of John Dewey, Part III"
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