The Washington Times
September 23, 2004

Facts and Values at Odds


By Amy Doolittle

Religious views are unfairly excluded from public discussion in contemporary American culture, Nancy Pearcey argues in her new book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity.

Mrs. Pearcey, the Francis A. Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute, has co-authored several books, including How Now Shall We Live?with Chuck Colson and Harold Fickett.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Mrs. Pearcey.

Q: You talk about how our society applies a "fact/value split" to the concept of truth. Can you explain what that means?
A: Every group that wants to have an impact on society talks about how to strategize ways to get past the gatekeepers. But what most people don't realize is that the most powerful gatekeeper is in the realm of ideas: It's the dominant definition of truth. Whatever position you are trying to advance, if it doesn't fit the definition of a genuine truth claim, it will be filtered out before any real consideration of its merits.

And what is the dominant definition of truth today? It is what philosophers call the fact/value split. This is the idea that certain things that were traditionally thought to be a matter of truth — like religion and morality and ethics — are actually only personal "values," and that real truth comes only from scientific and empirical investigation. This explains why, when religious conservatives try to advance a position in the public square, it is dismissed out of hand.

Q: Do we see this split in American politics and the current presidential campaign?
A: It lies at the heart of much of the campaign rhetoric we're hearing. For example, at the Democratic National Convention, Ron Reagan, son of the former president, said that people who oppose embryonic stem-cell research are "well-meaning and sincere" and they "are entitled to" their belief. But, he said, they have to realize that it is nothing more than that — "an article of faith" — and that their "theology" must not be allowed to stand in the way of science. In other words, religion is treated as an illusory belief that can be tolerated so long as it is strictly contained in the private sphere.

The actor Christopher Reeve put it even more bluntly. He told a Yale student group, "When matters of public policy are debated, no religions should have a seat at the table." Notice he's not arguing that any particular religious views are wrong. He's saying they don't belong at the table of public debate in the first place. Why not? Because public policy should not be based on anyone's private feelings, and that's how religion has been cast in the political arena.

Q: How does the split dictate the way we approach homosexual "marriage"?
A: The split is not just a matter of ideas. It is played out in the way societies are actually organized. Modern societies are divided into a public sphere — government, academia, large corporations, and so on — which claim to operate by principles that are scientific and "value-free." What that means, though, is that values have been relegated to the private sphere — the realm of family, church and personal relationships. There are "private beliefs and "public truths." Once something is a value in terms of its epistemological status, it "belongs" in the private sphere.

And personal relationships are being recast in terms of the social-contract theory of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Social-contract theory says we all start out in a "state of nature" as separate, disconnected individuals — no marriage, no families, no civil society. Today we would speak of "the autonomous self." In that case, how do relationships originate, like marriage? Individuals create them by choice. And if marriage was created by choice, then we can re-create it by choice. We can redefine it any way we want. As [Vice President] Dick Cheney said recently, "People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to."

This is the unspoken assumption behind the drive for homosexual "marriage."
The logic of social-contract theory is to reduce all relationships to contracts. They are deals that we strike with other people for the exchange of goods and services. Unless we understand this underlying shift in worldview, we will be treating symptoms instead of causes.

Q: Is this split a recent development?
A: It has deep roots, but the turning point was the rise of Darwinism. You see, if nature has the power to do all the creating, then the Creator is out of a job. And if God's existence doesn't perform any explanatory or cognitive function, then the only function left is an emotional one. Daniel Dennett, a prolific defender of Darwinism, recently wrote in the New York Times that belief in God is on the same level as belief in the Easter Bunny. The most important aspect of the evolution debate today is the way it supports the two-level division of truth.

Q: Does this split view of truth change how religious claims are addressed in society?
A: A new book climbing the charts right now, called "The End of Faith," argues that all religions are harmful to society. When the author appeared on a PBS show with Tucker Carlson, he said the problem with religion is that it's a "conversation stopper." That's silly, of course. Claims based on religion can be rationally discussed just like any other claim.

To understand the two-level split, suppose you present your position on some issue and someone responds, "Oh, that's just science, that's just facts, don't impose it on me." No one says that, of course. But people do say, "Oh, that's just your religious belief."

Why the difference? Because religion is not thought to give genuine knowledge about the world. To get past the cultural gatekeeper, religious conservatives need to directly challenge this divided concept of truth — and "Total Truth" is a manifesto on how to do that.