Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sudoku is Puzzling in More Ways Than One

My good friend Jerry sent me the following email:

I was sitting here tonight working on a Sudoku puzzle, when a question occurred to me. I thought you would be the one to answer it:

How can the Sudoku craze flourish in a post-modern culture? Aren't nearly all the tenets of post-modernism repudiated by this game? Does this reflect an inner hunger for logic, for the law of noncontradiction, and for one "truth" for all?

When you get an answer, post it on your blog.

I'm honored that Jerry has so much confidence in my ability to provide an answer but, beyond knowing that Al Mohler has confessed to being addicted to them, my knowledge of Sudoku puzzles is limited. My daughter had brought some home but I dismissed them as children's math games. How wrong I was! I soon became aware of their ubiquitous presence. There they were in bookstores, newspapers, and online. In fact, this past Sunday I entertained the idea of trying my first puzzle upon coming across one in the Chicago Tribune. But I fled from the temptation. Actually, it wasn't all that enticing. The temptations I would have had to resist if I had started would have been those of getting impatient, irritable and angry when I couldn't complete it.

I think Jerry's right to note that the assumptions of the game are antithetical to those of postmodernism. However, we have to remember that, at least in the U.S., our culture is an admixture of postmodernism and modernism (sometimes in the same person). I was reminded of this fact recently while reading an article Tim Keller wrote for the Journal of Biblical Counseling (Fall, 1995) called "Preaching to the Secular Mind." Those who found his article on deconstructing defeater beliefs helpful will want to get hold of this one.

After tracing the development of the secular mind, Keller notes that there are two kinds of popular secularism though most secularists are neither conscious nor consistent in their secularism. This makes it necessary for the Christian communicator to "keep in mind a number of continuums between the newer and older secularism. Any individual non-Christian will be a mixture of positions along these continuums." He then gives the following list:

1. Personal God vs. impersonal God
2. Human perfectability vs. human superficiality
3. Universalism vs. particularism
4. Law vs. chance
5. Conceptual vs. concrete-relational
6. Individualist vs. communitarian
7. Essentialist vs. existentialist
8. Rationalism vs. mysticism

Points 4 and 8 are most relevant to Jerry's question. Concerning the fourth point Keller says:
Modern secularists believed in laws--laws of nature and logic. They also believed that through science, the experts could tell a country (through its civil laws) how to live in a rational, happy, "developed," well-ordered society. Post-modern people hate that kind of intellectual imperialism. They reject the whole idea of an orderly universe. (They point to quantum physics for evidence.) They enjoy play and chance and revel in randomness and the spontaneous.
Does Sudoku appeal to a hunger for logic, antithesis, and truth? Perhaps. At least, it illustrates that, try as we might to deny such things, we can't help but think in terms of them.

How would you answer Jerry's question?

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