The 4 Horsemen of the Philosophical Apocalypse

I saw this title at the Intellectual Takeout website, and was instantly curious. Two of the first three chapters of my book are on truth and epistemology, so I’m a big believer that philosophy is not exactly tangential to keeping our kids Christian. Most Americans, Christians included, think philosophy is only relevant to pointy headed intellectuals, with no bearing on everyday life. These people would be wrong.

Everyone has a philosophy, whether they know it or not, or think through it or not. Most Americans, Christians included, uncritically swallow the philosophical assumptions of our secular culture, and live out their implications in their daily lives. How and what we think about things could not be more profound or practical, which makes the average Christian’s ignorance of these four scary horsemen lamentable. They were originally given this designation by a philosopher of education named Robert Maynard Hutchins in 1951, and they’ve only become more entrenched in the culture since. The brief descriptions from the piece relate to their consequences for education:

1) Relativism:

The idea that notions of true and false, right and wrong, are purely subjective. Generally speaking, you can see its impact on education today through the exaltation of “tolerance” as the highest virtue, in addition to the changing of the purpose of education from helping students to pursue truth to the pragmatic goal of making them “college- and career-ready.”

2) Scientism:

The idea that the only true or meaningful knowledge is that gained through science. This has contributed to the significant weakening of the humanities curriculum and the decline of basic reading and writing skills at the expense of STEM education.

3) Skepticism:

For Hutchins, skepticism (related to relativism) referred to the idea that our beliefs are nothing more than “our own moods and humours, or, at the utmost, the local prejudices of our own country.” Therefore, according to this way of thinking, schools in Western countries such as America should not attempt to convince students of the truth of Western principles, or even worse, argue that some of these principles are superior to those of other cultures. Rather, they should simply teach students to “appreciate” other cultures.

4) Anti-Intellectualism:

As Isaac Asimov noted, “The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Hutchins saw anti-intellectualism in the increasing resort to sentimentality in Western culture. Today, one sees it particularly manifested in schools in which students are encouraged to have opinions on matters of which they have little to no knowledge, and that the teacher’s job is merely to “affirm” these opinions.

The 4 Horseman have implications well beyond education, but the first casualty is truth. Because these ideas have so been so embedded our secular culture now for decades, most people don’t believe there is even such a thing as objective truth, and that it can be known.

Western culture affirms these four ism’s (along with a fifth, postmodernism) in ways large and small, so it is up to us as Christian parents to educate our children in a biblically rooted epistemology. I bet you haven’t heard this at your church lately, or ever, but you should. In a previous post I addressed such an epistemology, or what the Bible tells us about how we come to know what we know, and why we can know it. It’s relatively easy to slay these four evil horseman, even if they are a bit scary.