Book Review: The Advancement by L. Russ Bush

Bush, L. Russ. The advancement: keeping the faith in an evolutionary age. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.

In this philosophical work, L. Russ Bush sets out to identify and define the major ideological platform that undergirds all of the secular worldviews existent since the turn of the turn of the 20th century, in which he terms “the advancement.” Wholly devoted to evolutionary naturalism and the notion of inevitable progress, the advancement has replaced the theistic arguments of old and become the de facto worldview in western society. But, Bush argues, advancement thinking is empirically deficient and logically incoherent, in contrast with biblical Christianity, the only satisfactory worldview for the modern era. While primarily a deconstructive apologetic against advancement thinking, Bush’s book is presented from an unabashedly Christian perspective, in which the reader is urged to embrace Christianity’s truth claims. For his effort, Bush successfully deconstructs advancement thinking and adequately promotes the rationality of the Christian narrative, albeit with some room for clarification. Any open-minded reader should leave this work at least healthily skeptical of the naturalistic worldview that dominates the day.

Summary

To make his case, Bush begins in chapter one by tracing the historical origins of modern thought from the 19th century to now, focusing in on the teachings of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Hegel. The onslaught of scientific and technological advance combined with philosophical humanism introduced the idea of historical progress. In short, this “nineteenth-century secularization of science and history set the agenda for modern thought” (8).

In chapter two, Bush moved on from the philosophical roots to discuss the scientific roots of advancement thinking. In the premodern era, the approach to scientific study generally centered on an acceptance of a divine creator that existed outside the cause-and-effect pattern of nature. But, with the rise of Darwinian naturalism, scientists began theorizing a universe without any outside “mover.” Since then, Bush argues, naturalism has cemented its hold on scientific study; the theory of anything but a self-sustaining universe brought about by evolutionary biogenesis is unpermitted.

In chapter three, Bush explores one of the most oft-overlooked areas of study involving modern thought, which is its epistemology. In a striking blow to the naturalistic theory of knowledge Bush notes that “if the rational mind is merely a biological product … then [it] is not an independent observer … therefore not truly free to explore or examine reality” (39). In contrast the biblical worldview argues that God made man in his image, with a capacity to think rationally.

A brief survey and critique of modern theistic alternatives (to the traditional biblical worldview) is followed by a more detailed summary of “What is Naturalistic Evolution” in chapter five. Bush identifies and examines seven assumptions of evolutionary biology, and ten axioms of modern scientific thought. Following, in chapter six, Bush responds to the claims of naturalistic evolution from a philosophical standpoint in attempt to disprove them. Bush does this by undercutting the four basic beliefs of modern thinkers: mankind evolved from animals, the human mind and human behavior are directly influenced by their animal ancestry, all reality is subject to naturalistic scientific investigation, truth is discoverable or at least confirmable by and only by the naturalistic scientific method of research (78).

In chapter 7, Bush comes to the climax of his deconstructive apologetic in his explanation of “Why not Advancement?” Here Bush challenges the claims of advancement thinking as logically incoherent and attempts to disprove the notion of inevitable human progress. Bush endeavors in the former by demonstrating the leap from theistic to secular thinking was not so much a result of new evidence but of new philosophical presuppositions, and he endeavors in the latter by demonstrating down-to-earth reasons why the reader ought to be skeptical of historical development. New technological advance brings both positive and negative possibilities (e.g. nuclear energy, destructive force), humans live longer and in greater luxury but are less satisfied and remain killers (e.g. new diseases, abortion) (88-89).

In chapter 8, Bush concludes his work with a call to accept Christianity as empirically evident, rationally true, and emotionally satisfying. To further prove such, Bush highlights three foundational truths which describe reality: God exists, the world exists, and Jesus is Lord.

Critique

Overall, The Advancement is a deeply thoughtful book that explains a clear rationale for accepting the Christian narrative as opposed to advancing secular worldviews. So often, today’s Christians are parroted as science-deniers, nonacademic, those who prefer their safe religious bubble rather than to engage in rational thinking. But, by deconstructing naturalistic advancement thinking, Bush has given reason for unbelievers to both see Christians in a new light and become skeptical of their own worldviews. Bush’s weighty philosophical approach is not only necessary but immensely helpful. For, as he states in chapter seven, “the shift from [theism] to modern naturalism did not result from a shift in the nature of the evidence … but how logic and reasoning are used to interpret the evidence” (92). Later specifying that, under naturalism’s own standards, even “science is condemned to opinion rather than truth” (93).

One particularly strong section of the book is Bush’s critique of the advancement’s epistemology—an argument not often levied, or at least one that I have not heard frequently. Bush, by explaining the implications of a strict naturalism, pins advancement thinking into a corner. He asserts, “if naturalism is a proper description of reality, man’s mind could not be truly free to look at biological facts objectively … the mind and biological facts would be products of the same underlying, nonrational, nonpurposive, chemically describable, ultimate reality” (40). Thus, he asks, “if rational thought is determined by unthinking, unknowing, physical processes … why should it be trusted?” (41). Second, the book takes stride as Bush takes on naturalistic evolution in chapters 5 and 6, and these chapters form its strongest section. When the whole of the theory is strung together and accordingly attacked piece by piece, it collapses. In shocking brevity, Bush is able to apply a masterful apologetic against naturalistic evolution (see “Five Simple Objections to Naturalistic Evolution,” 80). Thirdly, Bush rounds out his work with a call to embrace three foundational truths: God exists, the world exists, and Jesus is Lord. To the unbelieving reader, these claims at the beginning of the book might seem preposterous. But by the finish, the philosophical backing has been bolstered to make these abstract claims seem entirely reasonable.

Where the book is found wanting is in its beginning and its perhaps unpersuasive argument against historical progress. First, while the first two chapters lay the foundation for the rest of the book, they seem muddled and somewhat vague. The book’s opening leaves the reader feeling as if the origins of advancement thinking is either too big of a topic hastily explained or an introduction dragged out for too long. Likewise, chapter 4 is an important topic but feels misplaced in the book. As stated above, the book is at its best in chapters 3, 5, and 6 when Bush is directly deconstructing the assertions and implications of naturalistic worldviews.

Secondly, chapter 7, which ought to be the climax of Bush’s argument, falls somewhat flat. While I agree with Bush that “progress does not characterize every technological or historical advance,” (87) if he is to persuade the naturalist there must be a greater explanation of what progress actually is. Bush lists several examples of how the modern idea of progress is distorted—new science breeds new disease, new technology breeds new danger, etc. I appreciate the distinction he is making but it may be a hard sell, especially to the unbeliever. There are several outliers but, in general, at least since the turn of the millennia, life expectancy is up, infant mortality is down, political freedom and economic opportunity have increased, and so on. “Progress” as it were can be tracked accordingly. Likewise, the naturalist sees history as a “rising curve” and not a “straight line” (88). The temptation, as Christians may be to see history as wholly cyclical (e.g. Ecclesiastes) and forget that it is also linear and going somewhere (e.g. Revelation). Bush suggests this but should spend more time explaining. A better approach would be to attack the advancement thinker’s assumption about progress rather than their premise. In other words, sure, society may be advancing but to what end? And, yes, history is going somewhere but not where you might think. In fact, the very notion of progress invites the idea of an “ought,” and naturalism has no real answer for such.

Conclusion

The Advancement is an effective philosophical argument against the dominating secular ideology of the day, and an inspiring defense of the Christian worldview. While there remains some room for improvement, Bush’s apologetic is unique and influential in its approach. Remarkably Concise and narratively written, the book serves as a perfect primer for any college class on apologetics or competing modern worldviews. In fact, it should be required reading at the university level for classes dealing with worldviews and philosophy. Although, having such occur at secular institutions is no more than a pipe dream! Nonetheless, at Christian institutions, professors would be well served to have their students read it in order to be able to argue intelligibly for their faith as they go out into the world.

Phil Shiver

A seminary student living in Greenville, SC.

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