Yesterday I found myself thinking I might share this book I’ve just finished with someone. I thought it might help. I was immediately confused because my first impressions of Through the River weren’t good.
The book is Through the River: Understanding your assumptions about the truth. It is my latest read for review for the Viral Bloggers Network.
The book is about “truth lenses,” Which is a shorthand term Jon and Mindy Hirst use for epistemology. There are, in River Town (a mythical community metaphor used throughout the book), three truth lenses: Positivist, Instrumentalist, and Critical Realist. The Hirsts take the reader through the history of Western Philosophy to describe the progression that has brought us these three truth lenses.
The Positivists represent, generally, conservatives and fundamentalists, and the Instrumentalists represent (again, generally) liberals and progressives. Both these truth lenses are described in detail yet are found lacking.
Like anyone who tries to figure out where a story is going before he gets there, I had the positivists and instrumentalists pegged early in the story as positions the authors do not respect very much. Characters from either of these perspectives are, in the book’s portrayal, hopeless; they are stuck in their epistemology. It is only the Critical Realists who have hope, life, and healthy relationships. I was, at points, surprised not to find the Critical Realists described as wearing capes, masks, and tights.
This methodology strikes me as both counterproductive and typical for evangelicals. Setting up the opposition, or alternative, points of views as straw men, then knocking them down with one’s superior point of view is, truthfully, neither fair nor generous.
But, alas, for a primer on the history of the development of Western Philosophy, the Hirsts are more generous with what is left out than they are with the sadly lacking “truth lenses” they hope to present.
Case in point: the explanation of philosophy in the West jumps from Plato to Copernicus to Einstein, only the first of whom was actually a philosopher. For the Hirsts, philosophy is a progressive, building development through history. However, their only source for citing Copernicus as a significant player is Thomas Kuhn, who is perhaps best known for his role in dismantling the progressive, building development way of understanding history, philosophy, and science.
So, in other words, Jon and Mindy cite Thomas Kuhn (a philosopher) as their only source on Copernicus (not a philosopher) to support their use of Copernicus as playing a major role in modern philosophy. In doing so, they show that they don’t understand Kuhn.
What the Hirsts want is for people, especially Christians, I think, to consider two things: first, that though there is objective, real truth, you don’t have a monopoly on it; and second, through communication and community we can all better come to know the truth and life that God offers us.