Tuesday, June 23, 2015

No academic discipline is free of contexts, values, and faith

In 10 days I am giving a talk/workshop to a group of Christian academics on "How might I move towards a Christian perspective on my academic discipline?"

Some might consider this a non-starter to begin with. Shouldn't academic disciplines, whether physics or economics or literature, be "objective", "rational", "neutral", "secular", "value free", and not involve "faith"?
Isn't E=mc^2 an absolute truth?
Yes. But, there is a lot more to physics; particularly, when you look at current research.
Furthermore, what is the manner in which the discipline is conducted?

Claims of complete neutrality and objectivity in any human endeavour, whether journalism or science, are naive.
All research is done by humans; fallible people who are prone to biases and mishaps.

Every discipline has a context: historical, social, political, economic, and religious. This context does shape assumptions, motivations, questions asked, funding, practises, ....

In Whose Justice? Whose Rationality?, the distinguished philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre [according to Wikipedia]
``defends three ... theses: first, that all rational human inquiry is conducted whether knowingly or not from within a tradition; second, that the incommensurable conceptual schemes of rival traditions do not entail either relativism or perspectivism; third, that although the arguments of the book are themselves attempts at universally valid insights they are nevertheless given from within a particular tradition (that of Thomist Aristotelianism) and that this need not imply any philosophical inconsistency.''
Previously I posted how science involves faith and so the notion of "science versus faith" is a false dichotomy.

So, an important question is, "What are the presuppositions of a specific academic discipline?"

Monday, June 22, 2015

Are you in the top 1 per cent?

The Occupy Wall Street movement promoted the slogan "We are the 99%" to highlight economic, political, and social inequality in the USA.

It is interesting to consider what it takes to be in the top 1% or 10% globally.

According to The Economist 
Wealth is so unevenly distributed, that you need just $3,650 (less debts) to count yourself among the richest half of the world’s population. A mere $77,000 brings you among the wealthiest 10%. And just $798,000 puts you into the ranks of the 1%—within the reach of many white-collar urban professionals in the West. Hence, more than 35m people carry such a plump purse. Among the three billion adults at the bottom with less than $10,000 in wealth, 90% reside in developing countries. Yet 15% of millionaires live in developing countries too.
Note that this wealth is not necessarily cash in a bank account but includes home equity and investments in superannuation (retirement) funds.

I recently encountered this video when it was shown by Cathy Delaney during a talk she gave at Theology on Tap.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Publishers love The not A

In 1954 Bernard Ramm published "The Christian View of Science and Scripture". This became a highly influential book, both for good and ill. It liberated a generation of evangelicals who liked science. It also stimulated a significant pushback from ultra-conservative Americans, ultimately bolstering the growth of Young Earth Creationism. 

What about the title? It is interesting to hear what Ramm said in an interview in 1979:
The original [title] was 'The Evangelical Faith and Modern Science' but the publishers wanted a title similar to Professor Orr's book of a previous generation, The Christian View of God and the World. One day I walked through library stacks looking at titles and it's embarrassing how many books start out with the word The. Eventually I found out that many titles of books are determined by the publicity or sales department of a publishing house.
What is my point?
I think on many complex issues such as science, politics, and economics, it is hard to come up with a definitive and singular Christian view.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Conflating science, atheism, and political liberalism

There is an excellent long article in The Guardian, What scares the new atheists, by the atheist philosopher, John Gray. The main point of the article is the following.
"For 21st century atheist missionaries, being liberal and scientific in outlook are one and the same.It’s a reassuringly simple equation. In fact there are no reliable connections – whether in logic or history – between atheism, science and liberal values."
Science produces reliable knowledge. It brings credibility. We would all like our religious (or non-religious) views and political views to be "scientific". This has been the claim and dream of many since the beginnings of science. However, as Gray nicely argues using significant historical examples, science can't be used to justify atheism or any particular political system.

Monday, June 1, 2015

By their fruits you shall know them

What is the distinct about the graduates of Christian colleges and universities in the USA?
Here is the assessment of a Professor at one such institution.
"In too many cases, a Christian perspective doesn't seem to challenge the very configuration of these careers and vocations. To be blunt, our Christian colleges and universities generate an army of alumni who look pretty much like all the rest of their suburban neighbors, except that our graduates drive SUVs, inhabit their executive homes, and pursue the frenetic life of the middle class and the corporate ladder 'from a Christian perspective'…Such an approach reduces Christianity to a denuded intellectual framework that has diminished bite because such an intellectualized rendition of the faith doesn't touch our core passions." (p. 219)
James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom