Reductionism is the practice of breaking everything into its component parts, until an irreducible form has been reached.
For example, a bullet fired from a gun is reduced to a chemical reaction, a velocity vector, explosive forces acting on the small mass of the bullet, against the mass of the chamber, gun frame, hand and ultimately the body of the person firing. The fact that the body is standing firm upon the earth, held by gravity, keeps the shooter from flinging off in the opposite direction from the bullet (although it does sometimes happen, to hilarious effect).
The forces in that scenario are further reduced to gravity, covalent bonds of the atoms in the combusting material, and the laws of physics governing force, mass and acceleration (F = ma, or Newton’s second law). Although there may be further reduction in the complexity of the mathematical descriptions of those forces and how they interact, no further reduction is available for the cause/effect of the laws governing those forces.
In other words, nobody can explain the forces that created or led to what we call the laws of physics which govern everything in our universe, from time/space, to matter, to energy. We can describe in ever-greater detail how those forces interact to produce expected, and explain unexpected, results, but we can’t go back before the laws existed because the laws themselves govern our ability to observe.
Progressivism is the belief that ever more and continual advancements in science, technology, economic development, and social organization are necessary to improve the human condition. That, without these advances, the human condition is doomed to regression. In its most basic terms, if human society is not moving forward in particular areas of study, endeavor and application of new principles, then it will inevitably move backwards.
Unfortunately, these two -isms, reductionism and progressivism, are in conflict and produce irreconcilable logical contradictions. More unfortunately, proponents of progressivism typically use reductionism to attempt to disprove the theories and logical world views of those who oppose them, namely Christians.
To the Christian, reductionism always ends up at God, who created the universe, everything in it, and the laws which govern it. To the progressive, that end of reductionism causes great angst and anger.
As if we could somehow disprove the laws of physics, or get around them, or take control and remake them in our own image, that’s a much better outcome than living with a lawgiver who also makes moral demands upon us. Better to make society in our own image than God’s, even if God is the first cause of those things we hold to be irreducible in themselves (e.g. the laws of physics).
The progressive holds that morals are not the cause of human society, but one of many outcomes. The Christian holds that morals are one of many causes of human society, but those causes are unbreakably linked to one lawgiver, with the outcome of poor moral agency as inevitable as worldwide fresh water pollution, hunting food species to extinction, or nuclear war.
Many who call themselves Christian are really progressives masquerading as Christians. They recognize God as the creator of all things, but they do not recognize the implications of denying his laws in moral agency. In other words, these Christians accept the forgiveness, love, and sovereignty of God, but get a bit (or a lot) loose on sin.
The Bible gives us succor, rather than reason to fear. If God were not the ultimate lawgiver, both in physical laws of the universe, and in moral laws governing our own lives, we would be in quite a pickle–a more fearful situation.
Jesus said three times in the book of Revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Jesus said he is “the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” and “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:8, 21:6, 22:13.) The “End” means that God is in control of the outcome of justice, mercy, and morality. We control only our own destinies–God made the laws. We get to roll our ball down the lane; we control the force, vector, and mass of the ball. But God made the laws of motion. There will be an accounting.
Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Forever is from before the beginning of time past the end of the same. When all the energy, mass, and ability to do “work” in the universe has passed (and the laws of physics do make this a very real thing, although irrelevant to any individual life), Jesus Christ will remain. In the heart of a black hole, where we cannot observe, and the laws of physics are meaningless, Jesus Christ is sovereign.
We cannot reduce God to a moral agent. He is, in fact, not, anymore than the weak nuclear force describes a star. A star is a physical manifestation of radiation, heat, energy, and mass; the weak nuclear force is a force of nature only visible through its manifestation. God is manifested through moral agency, but He Himself is the moral lawgiver.
God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.
(1 Samuel 15:29)
God’s mind is the same mind that made everything. He is not subject to coercion. When God hears our prayers, he is hearing us in the same way the laws of physics allow light to change frequency based on the observer’s motion relative to the light source. God made a law of relativity based on our movement relative to His unchanging absolute. Prayer is simply a blue-shift (accelerating toward). Sin is a red-shift in the other direction.
It is not God who is changed by our changing morals, or our progressivism. Just like progressives can’t decide that gravity is in disuse and passé, or that radiation should be deprecated, they also cannot decide that God’s conception of marriage, sacrifice, mercy, or justice are no longer useful or fashionable. We can be sure that God will not change, only we (and society) will suffer or gain blessing by our choices.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
because they have no fear of God.
The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
A priest is one who is authorized to perform sacred rites of a religion, as a mediatory agent between humans and God. Jesus Christ is the God-Man, a priest and the one mediator between man and God. Christians (and this is the definition, not the self-identification) are all priests in Christ, those of us who have been changed by Him.
In our hearts, in this life, Christians are changed by confessing and believing in Jesus Christ as their Lord (lawgiver, judge) and Savior (mediator, advocate, friend). Romans 10:13: “for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” Everyone means every human: Jew, Gentile, all creeds, races, colors, rich, poor, powerful and powerless. But those who are not saved will face the same judgment as those who are–for judgment is as inevitable as entropy. God made both laws inviolable.
World leaders only think they have power. Those who have wisdom realize they don’t have any more than any other person. King David, who really did live, passed his kingdom to his son Solomon (who also really did live). But Adonijah claimed the kingdom for himself; as a son of David, older than Solomon, his claim was valid. God had different plans.
“As you know,” he said, “the kingdom was mine. All Israel looked to me as their king. But things changed, and the kingdom has gone to my brother; for it has come to him from the Lord.
(1 Kings 2:15)
Five hundred years later, from exile and captivity, Daniel wrote:
He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
How does one know if one is truly a Christian? Those who do not have the peace of God rail against the coming judgment. They may not fear death, but they fear what comes in this life–but most fear death. Consider this statement:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed
(1 Corinthians 15:51)
Either it brings comfort, or it brings confusion. The Christian looks forward to the change brought by the moral lawgiver. Jesus Christ has promised us immortal, undefiled bodies that do not age, with a personal spirit and will untainted by sin, corruption, or temptation. He has promised eternal life with no pain, no suffering, no sadness, no sickness and no tears. We may not all die (although most of us will, unless Jesus returns in our lifetime), but we will all–who are saved–be changed.
Those who are not transformed and given the assurance of new life find the prospect confusing and unnatural. Those who are perishing react to what the Christian sees as assurance the same as they would if scientists suddenly announced that the sun was about to burn out, in our lifetime or some knowable time frame the future (not 3 or 4 billion years from now). Resignation, moral decay, rebellion, self-indulgence.
The true progressive is the Christian, who betters society through God’s transformation, God’s promises, and reduction of all things to God’s unchanging law and character. It is these things that improve the lot of human society upon the earth. Even Isaac Newton, who “discovered” the laws of motion, believed this.
Yet one thing secures us what ever betide, the scriptures assures us that the Lord will provide.