Thursday, February 28, 2008

more on faith and knowledge...

Browsing through blog entries on religion and philosophy (which I am prone to do from time to time :-D), I came across the following question: Is faith preferable to genuine, well-grounded knowledge? The writer suggested that although faith may be shown to be preferable to doubt, it cannot be shown to be preferable to knowledge. I found one person's response quite intriguing (he argued that faith is preferable to knowledge, because genuine knowledge is deterministic and cannot be rejected by anyone, and faith offers the opportunity for free choice, and hence contains a value that knowledge lacks), but I am not going to discuss that particular hypothesis here.

So, which is better - faith or knowledge? Is it even possible to say? Of course, as one who appreciates Kierkegaard, my interest was piqued, and so I've decided to ponder this a bit. My own response stems from my understanding of SK's description of faith as having its value in "the strength of the absurd." What I mean is this:

I would suggest that faith and knowledge are not two competing epistemological categories, but rather are complementary categories, which together provide a more complete picture of the limitless array of experience available in the universe. It is also important to note that faith is NOT necessarily better than knowledge, since faith is dependent entirely upon that in which the faith has been placed. Faith in something that is unreliable is worse than no faith at all. However, it is precisely the nature of faith that this paradox will exist: We are at a loss to rationally resolve whether or not our faith has been placed in a reliable source of faithfulness. This is why SK speaks of faith being grounded in the strength of the absurd. But what is this strength? How can we call it strength? Isn't relying upon the absurd a weakness? And doesn't that make knowledge better?

At the very least we can say that faith which is placed in a reliable source would be better than knowledge, since it would provide us with a connection to information/experience (revelation, as it is called) that is beyond the human capacity for knowledge. This would certainly be of great value, and presents the potential strength of faith. But how can we determine whether such a connection is even possible, for surely if it is not, then there is no need for, or strength in, faith?

There is an assumption here that must be dealt with first. The assumption is that there is nothing beyond the human capacity for knowledge. In other words, the modern presupposition underlying many epistemologies is that knowledge is the ONLY viable category for experience. Once you've experienced something (or rationally verified it), you know it. The assumption is that there is no other way to relate to reality. But those of us who rely upon faith claim that this modern assumption is false.

We must also deal with two competing assertions: the first is that all the possible information/experience in the universe is knowable, and will eventually be known by human beings (assuming the race isn't destroyed first). the second is that some information/experience is not and will never be knowable by human beings. This is not viewed as a negative necessarily, but rather as a self-evident truth which is grounded in human finitude. Note that neither of these views is exclusive to theism. However, it seems that in most cases, theists tend toward the latter view (since they hold some things to be only knowable by God), while non-theists tend toward the former view (spurred on by the ever-widening vast quantity of knowledge already available to humans). So which one is right? More to come...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Does being conservative make you less likely to pursue a Ph.D?

Conservatives Just Aren't Into Academe, Study Finds

Divergent life choices may explain the dearth of right-wing scholars

Harrisburg, Pa.

On Thursday mornings, a half-dozen faculty members from Pennsylvania State University's campus here gather at Kuppy's Diner to talk politics. Like most professors, all of those in the Kuppy's gang are Democrats — all except Matthew Woessner, an assistant professor of public policy.

During a recent Thursday-morning get-together over scrambled eggs and toast, the conversation at Kuppy's focused on the U.S. presidential election. As usual, Mr. Woessner's colleagues were taking shots at him. Why did he originally favor Rudy Giuliani? one of his colleagues wanted to know. "I really want to make sure I have a president who is going to bomb more countries," Mr. Woessner quipped.

It is the kind of over-the-top statement Mr. Woessner is famous for. The young professor relishes the role of conservative contrarian inside the liberal academy, a role that puts him in a distinct minority not only here but in higher education generally. But Mr. Woessner's candid conservatism also sets him squarely at odds with the findings of his own research, which suggests conservatives may just not be well suited to careers in academe.

That research — which Mr. Woessner completed with his wife, April Kelly-Woessner, an associate professor of political science at nearby Elizabethtown College — is some of the first to take a hard, scientific look at the politics of the professoriate. The topic has excited fervent discussion and argument by anecdote, but very little empirical research.

"The idea that professors are liberal has been known since the 50s," says Solon J. Simmons, an assistant professor of conflict analysis and sociology at George Mason University, whose own recent study found that 90 percent of professors called themselves liberal or moderate. "But the Woessners actually have something new here. I think they are some of the first to do this kind of work."

The Woessners have peered into the psyche of conservative undergraduates to find out why so few of them want to earn Ph.D.'s and become professors. Their paper on the topic, "Left Pipeline: Why Conservatives Don't Get Doctorates," is available online and will be published as part of a book published in August by the American Enterprise Institute.

The Woessners found that liberal students have values and interests that point them to careers in academe, while most conservative students do not.

"The personal priorities of those on the left," the Woessners conclude, "are more compatible with pursuing a Ph.D."

Read the rest of this article

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

thoughts on Christianity and history...

It's been a couple weeks since I've posted anything... been working on ideas for essays and what not. Here are some thoughts I've been milling around lately:

Perhaps history can be viewed like a body of water, moving away from a horizon. History is not static, history "flows," and as we move forward in history, the past moves away from us, toward the horizon, until it is finally out of view. This flow is constant and rapid. Once the past is out of view, we can obviously never see it again. The only things we have to remind us are our memories of the events, the memories of others, and the artifacts/effects of those events that we carry with us, whether tangible or intangible. The past will continue to fade out of view, becoming less and less accessible to us, as even our artifacts decay and memories become clouded. This is unsettling for every one of us.

However, there is for Christians, I think, a very specific fear of losing that which connects us to our past. This is because we recognize that if we lose our connection to the historical events claimed by the Christian faith, we may eventually lose our faith as well. The fear is understandable: We hear every day of individuals who reject or walk away from the Christian faith, because of their inability to believe in the actual resurrection of Jesus Christ or the miracles attested to in Scripture. But I wonder what the proper response ought to be to this situation?

It is my contention that much of modern Christian scholarship is rife with the fear of losing its "historicity." The result has been a continual attempt to re-discover, re-capture and re-package the Christian faith so that it does not lose its immediacy. We want our faith to be "real," in the same way that everything else we experience is "real." (But do we really even know what makes our faith "real"? How do we define "real"?) And while this is not a bad thing in itself, I think we must carefully examine our motivations.

If our goal is to maintain our historical connection to the events of the faith for fear of what may happen once the connection to those events is lost, then, I suggest, we are not in fact living as people of faith at all. Rather, we have capitulated to history, and forgotten that Christ, who (Christians believe) is greater than history, makes "all things new."

I have been asking myself a question: Is it possible, theologically, to affirm that the Spirit of Christ can affect someone’s life so that they respond in faith – even if that person has never experienced ANY part of the historical "stream" of Christianity as it has flowed through the last 2,000 years?

If that is so, then we can also say that Christ may affect our lives so that we respond in faith, regardless of whether or not we have a complete or accurate view of the historical events we claim for Christianity. Might the hope of Christ in us, renewing us, restoring us, supplant our desire to restore historicity out of fear? The Christian faith is certainly a historical faith, connected to historical events which mark its existence. But the proper context for history ought to be (like all events/things) in its relation to Christ/God, through which history functions. When Christ centers our existence, I would argue that historical accuracy becomes secondary. Making historical accuracy primary for faith is, I believe, the cause of many unnecessary woes among Christians today.

Just some things I've been pondering...