“Today’s global secular culture has erected a maze of mental barriers against even considering the biblical message.” (15) Nancy Pearcey writes in the opening pages of Saving Leonardo the fundamental reason for worldview education and analysis. The church must understand that barriers to the gospel are often deeply embedded ideas about metaphysics, epistemology, and the origins of the universe. But breaking through these barriers means seeing how they have developed over the course of history and manifest in areas such as art, music and film. Through these media forms, the academic ideas discussed among the educational elite filter down to the general population, becoming embedded in the minds of people around us. “The lesson is that philosophical ideas do not stay contained in ivory towers. They affect the way people think and live–and even the kind of buildings they construct.” (165)
Saving Leonardo is a great book to include in a college philosophy course or Christian worldview class. It is literally a walk through the history of philosophy with brief introductions to the key thinkers like Kant and Hegel whose ideas were major influences in the world of thought. While part 1 of the book explains the very real threat of global secularism, part 2 discusses how we got here through the two paths of secularism – the Enlightenment and the Romantic periods. The fact/value split epitomizes the wants of these historical periods, placing science or reason to the lower story, seemingly accessible to all, and relegates the categories of values or religion to the upper story, where they can remain and not hinder the world of “facts.”
One of the key features of Saving Leonardo is the overview and analysis of the analytic and continental philosophical schools of thought, discarding neither but emphasizing the strengths and weaknesses of both. As Nancy does so well throughout the book, she shows how the ideas shaped artistic expression – or nonartistry in the name of art – and even architecture. She drives home the point that analytic philosophy has contributed to the perspective that there is no “supernatural order” from which artists can derive inspiration for their work. For many modern artists so influenced, there is no necessity for a work of art to communicate any particular message, the paint and the shapes are sufficient. (169) Under the heading of “Paintings about Nothing,” I anticipated a section on the sitcom Seinfeld to be forthcoming, but it was not to be. Perhaps Nancy will discuss the ‘show about nothing’ in her next landmark bestseller.
Nancy concludes Saving Leonardo with a caution against worldview studies becoming merely another intellectual system instead of a transformational opportunity. Having a Christian worldview means that we avoid the fragmented thinking that leads to living in a way obviously inconsistent with biblical Christianity. Being a Christian is an all-in enterprise and our pursuit of understanding must be in submission to the God of Scripture.