The Advancement is a work of Christian apologetics by the professor of philosophy of religion L. Russ Bush. Its author seeks to promote the philosophical positions of authentic historical Christianity over those of the seemingly dominant modern naturalistic worldview. He argues that naturalism suffers from debilitating internal contradictions, upholding rational inquiry and freedom while undermining both concepts through its embrace of relativism. Conversely, Christianity insists on the existence of an objective reality centered on God, which is much more satisfying for human purposes. The book offers a thorough overview of the conflict between the two worldviews from the Christian perspective. While Bush offers many compelling arguments against naturalist modernism and compromise theology, he is less successful in addressing non-modernist naturalist positions or outlining a meaningful Christian alternative.
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Throughout the book, Bush counterposes Christianity’s theistic worldview to naturalism, by which he means scientific materialism. He asserts that those positions cannot coexist in society’s mainstream because of their irreconcilable differences. Whereas Christianity maintains that nature is divinely created and static, naturalism sees it as a product of random evolution (11). Christians regard humanity as a unique and imperfectible creation secondary to God, while naturalists believe that humans are the pinnacle of evolution and subject to constant improvement. The author refers to this belief in ceaseless progress as “the Advancement” (85). With the rise of modern science, particularly the theories of Darwin and his followers, naturalism has entered the mainstream, gradually displacing theocentric beliefs. However, naturalism is already under strain due to its internal contradictions and failed promises. The rise of post-modernism reflects the subtle yet inexorable crumbling of dominant naturalistic values (5). Bush believes that as the materialistic consensus dissolves, a Christian resurgence may restore the dominance of ethnocentrism.
The author maintains that only authentic Christianity can provide the necessary philosophical basis for sound morality and science. He argues that God alone provides a transcendent reference point that is necessary for any objective knowledge about the world (118). By depreciating objective truth and reducing human thinking to chemical reactions, naturalism undermines free will and rational inquiry (39). If all knowledge is subjective, then science and society cannot insist on any truth with certainty, resulting in the emergence of relativism. Bush criticizes naturalistic notions of evolution and progress, pointing out that the former lacks sufficient evidence. He does not deny technological progress but points out that it is accompanied by social and moral deterioration, while human nature remains unchanged. In his view, Christianity is necessary more than ever because it justifies rational inquiry and can enable ethical scientific development. However, it needs to be authentic Christianity, rather than modern theology that compromises with naturalism and inherits its flaws.
Bush’s critical dissection of the naturalist worldview arguably forms the strongest part of the book. He exposes its contradictions, starting with its absolute insistence that there are no moral or epistemological absolutes (31). Although it emerges from rational inquiry, naturalism devalues rationality by reducing it to a purely natural process (38). If the human mind is just another part of nature, it cannot hope to examine nature with scientific objectivity. Likewise, naturalism logically leads to determinism, which renders the concept of freedom meaningless (7). Bush demonstrates the centrality of the flawed theory of evolution to naturalism beyond biology, with similar ideas entering other sciences and social thought (65). Social Darwinism and Marxism, which inspired harmful political movements, are logical continuations of the Darwinist concept of advancement through struggle. In the present day, naturalism contributes to widespread alienation and social malaise. The author shows that human history is not a story of constant progress, as technological advancements are accompanied by cultural regression (86). Those arguments may not automatically overthrow the materialistic mainstream, but they expose its weaknesses and allow Bush to argue that it is inadequate for human needs.
The author is unambiguous and consistent in arguing for authentic, traditional Christianity as the superior philosophical alternative. He frames it as the only solid foundation for optimism in the modern world (78). By providing a source for objective truth in God, Christianity proves to be not only compatible with science but also the best philosophical foundation for scientific inquiry. This stance is supported by historical evidence, which shows that theistic civilization was uniquely qualified to foster scientific progress (104). Divine will offer an objective ethical standard that is indispensable for moral absolutism (41). Bush criticizes modern theology for dispensing with the critical element of Christianity: an absolute God who can serve as an objective reference point (64). By seeking God in nature or denying God’s omniscience, process theology and open theism effectively embrace naturalism with its limitations. Together with his criticism of naturalism, this apologetics line allows Bush to credibly assert that Christianity is a more reliable foundation for civilization.
Although Bush argues successfully against a specific form of naturalism that may still be mainstream, his arguments are not universally applicable. He exposes the contradictions of anthropocentric naturalism that aspires to moral absolutism while effectively encouraging relativism. However, naturalistic relativism is a reasonably common worldview that is free of those contradictions. The apologist mentions postmodernists and existentialists at various points in his book but fails to confront them (5, 85). The absurdity and negative consequences of relativism are mostly taken as read. Bush asserts that existentialism, while compatible with effective functioning in everyday life, inevitably leads to despair and loss of love for humanity (118). While most Christians and many secularists would accept this stance, other parts of the audience may remain unconvinced without closer examination. As a result, Bush’s argument against the naturalist worldview remains incomplete.
Similarly, while Bush’s outline of the Christian philosophical position is sufficient to prove its advantage over anthropocentric naturalism, his overall arguments in its favor are not fully developed. He asserts the Christian alternative as the only source for an absolute viewpoint but does not convincingly argue for the necessity of such a position. It appears that people can function, and technology can develop without it (40). While Bush points out the dangers of depreciating objective truth, his examples are mostly speculative. Even if the need for moral absolutism, despite the failure of naturalism, is taken for granted, he offers a little rational basis for accepting the Christian position he describes. Although this weakness is probably dictated by Bush’s focus on confronting the mainstream materialistic ideology, it limits the book’s effectiveness as an apologetics work.
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The Advancement contains many fascinating and useful insights into the discrepancies between Christian and naturalist viewpoints. Although Bush does not conclusively refute the latter, he reveals numerous contradictions in the mainstream modernist worldview. This critique allows him to assert that the traditional Christian worldview is irreplaceable for objective morality and science, though he does not fully develop this argument. Perhaps inevitably given his focus on objective truth and rationality, the author is less thorough and successful in confronting consistent relativism. Despite its weaknesses, this book is an invaluable contribution to Christian apologetics thanks to its broad sweep. It integrates the debate between Christianity and naturalism into a broader historical, philosophical, and cultural context, enriching the conversation around concepts such as progress and objective truth.
Bush, L. Russ. The Advancement: Keeping the Faith in an Evolutionary Age. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003.