Thursday, August 27, 2020

Review of Nancy Pearcey’s Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning

 Saving Leonardo is an extremely well written, heavily documented and illustrated exploration of how the dominant Christian, Western worldview of the Middle Ages evolved into contemporary Postmodernism. Pearcey’s thesis is that worldview drives culture and the artistic expressions of culture.

One of the foundational concepts of the book is the historical splintering of the concept of truth. The Western worldview for centuries viewed truth as unified; in other words, the material truths of the natural world pointed to equally certain spiritual truths. The design of nature revealed the moral intent of the Creator. The book of nature and the book of Scripture pointed to the same unified truths. But the Enlightenment began splitting the concept of truth: empirical, material facts versus religious/moral opinions and values. Facts are certain and objective; religious/moral values are subjective and therefore relative.

Pearcey demonstrates the beginning, widening, and final bifurcation of the fact/value split with numerous quotations from the preeminent philosophers of each age (Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism, Postmodernism). She then illustrates how the shifting worldviews were represented in art, providing examples of architecture, paintings, musical compositions, etc., and quotations from both the artists themselves and art critics.

In a word, Saving Leonardo is a virtual instruction manual for identifying the links between the spirit of the age, art (in all its forms) and the artist’s worldview. The book is heavily documented, which will be useful for researchers wishing for further exploration. Nancy Pearcey is one of the premier modern writers on the the philosophical concepts truth, worldview, and how they intersect with and drive culture. I’ve read Total Truth and Finding Truth and now Saving Leonardo, and found them all fascinating and instructive.

Note to the reader: if you are not already familiar with philosophical systems (materialism, existentialism, positivism, and a host of others), something that will greatly help as you read Saving Leonardo is to make a brief list of the various philosophical systems and their meanings when she initially defines them, because she will be referring back to them frequently throughout the book. There are so many it is easy to forget the salient points of each.

Saving Leonardo reminds me of Francis Schaeffer’s How ShouldWe Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Pearcey has been greatly influenced by Schaeffer’s thought, but she does a good job of moving the ball forward (I recommend both books highly).

Five stars—highly recommended.