- Worldview Discernment: mapping the pluralistic landscape of the various spiritual journeys we are likely to encounter in today’s society. Posture: refuse to be overwhelmed by difference and diversity of convictions. Charles Taylor calls this the ‘Nova Effect’.
- Investigative Journalism: employing fruitful human questions to make deeper connections and find points of spiritual contact. Posture: that of a detective or reporter with a curious mind and a sensitive heart.
- Establish Common Ground, a Platform for Dialogue: finding the best in people as a point of non-defensive and non-offensive conversational entry. What are the assumptions we can make from our common aspirations, our creaturehood and our will to the common good, or key markers of human flourishing? Without a level playing field, you will not have a just discussion.
- Reckoning with Cultural Barriers to Faith: understanding and mobilizing idolatries, roadblocks, closed world systems, atheism, loss of transcendence as leverage in conversation. Every posture is vulnerable under critical scrutiny, whether the hegemony is scientific materialism, nihilistic skepticism, or a dogmatic fundamentalist religious perspective. This involves mapping the modern and postmodern perception worlds (social imaginaries) that people inhabit. There are also moral ideologies that prevent people from hearing what you are saying; one’s moral and intellectual bent are more interconnected than many people realize. Dialogue invites people to enter an open field or round table of discussion, rather than fighting like a trapped fox, who has been cornered. We can waste a lot of time if we are not in touch with these barriers.
- Communicative Potential of the Poetic/Prophetic Imagination: especially in the aesthetic oriented Postmodern/Late Modern Condition. Here we explore the language of epiphany, agape love and transcendence. Scientific rationality does not work here; Modernism has been called into question. Hermeneutics is more the game (Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic). C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein and the other Inklings were geniuses at this trade. Malcolm Guite is a fresh poet among others. Jens Zimmermann’s new book, Hermeneutics: a very short introduction, is very helpful. Certain literary forms can act subversively to get past a seeker’s defenses (Joseph Laconte, The Searchers). Poets like T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins,
- Biblical Narrative and the Jesus Story: always a fresh opportunity to commend Jesus in context of issues, aspirations and questions of one’s interlocutor. This pillar celebrates a robust Jesus story and kingdom teaching for today’s complex world. How indeed is Jesus the Yes and Amen to our fundamental human questions and our existential concerns? Be articulate, creative, intriguing, relevant, provocative, opening gates to insight and discovery. The video series Gospel of John has a fresh approach to depicting Jesus. We all must become creative storytellers; the Gospels give plenty of examples of various styles of capturing a person’s imagination. What kind of God does Jesus reveal to us?
Michael Polanyi is one the best critics of scientific/logical positivism, a caricature of science and its cultural impact (aka Scientism as ideology). He is well-known for showing that science is not pure objectivism, but a personal knowledge, an invested knowledge. Stereotypes of both science and religion/theology are harmful to all concerned. They are a barrier to true dialogue, progressive thinking and good understanding. We long to recover the full heritage and context of science and not to dumb it down. Polanyi was one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century, both a brilliant scientist and a brilliant philosopher, a polymath.
Scientism is the notion that natural science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or form of human knowledge, and that it is superior to all other interpretations of life. It assumes an immanent, Closed World System, which rejects the validity of any transcendent elements: there exists a strong attraction to the idea that we are in an order of nature and do not and cannot transcend it. In scientism, the study and methods of natural science have risen to the level of an ideology, and so have morphed into an oppressive and stifling methodological imperialism. Scientism also indicates the improper usage of science or scientific claims in contexts where science might not properly apply, such as when the topic is perceived to be beyond the scope of scientific inquiry (e.g. to determine a worldview such as scientific humanism or final purpose of life). The stance of scientism thus may indicate in an overconfident fashion a scientific certainty in realms where this is actually impossible, overreaching its proper limits in a process which can thereby ironically discredit science itself. See my paper at the bottom of this post.
Polanyi’s story of science is about the role of unspecifiable, tacit knowledge in expertise. His elaboration of personal commitment at the core of intellectual inquiry is understood as a craft skill. He demonstrates that scientific competence is transmitted through apprenticeship to authoritative teachers (supervisors). So it is not just about the grant money. In the university, the survival of our traditions of intellectual apprenticeship should not be taken for granted. According to Polanyi, a scientist relies on a lot of knowledge that can’t be rendered explicit, and an inherent feature of this kind of knowledge is that it is “personal.” One has to receive it through a person’s influence and mentorship. He also believed that faith is involved at every level of scientific discovery. I wrote a paper on this a few years ago and was absolutely amazed at his insight.
Scientific inquiry is above all about practice, best understood as a kind of craft. Polanyi writes, “I regard knowing as an active comprehension of things known, an action that requires skill.” Polanyi’s point is that to have science, you must have scientists. Scientists are formed and mentored. They cannot be conjured out of thin air. “To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust in his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyze and account in detail for its effectiveness.” Through submission to authority, in the context of the lab, one develops certain skills, the exercise of which constitutes a form of inquiry in which the element of personal involvement is ineliminable. This includes trust, which is a moral relationship between teacher and student, that is at the heart of the educational process. Scientific inquiry is a mode of personal knowledge that is socially incubated, beginning with imitation.
Bestselling author Matthew Crawford applies the Polanyi critique of received modernity to modern agency and epistemology in The World Beyond Your Head: on becoming an individual in an age of distraction. See also Jens Zimmermann’s critique of positivism (employing Polanyi) in Hermeneutics: a very short introduction. (pp. 121-23) Read More…
Prof Tom McLeish, FInstP, FRS
Professor McLeish takes a fresh approach to the ‘science and religion’ debate, taking a scientist’s reading of the enigmatic and beautiful Book of Job as a centrepiece, and asking what science might ultimately be for. Rather than conflicting with faith, science can be seen as a deeply religious activity, and the current form of a deep and continuous thread in human culture.
Tom McLeish is Professor of Physics at Durham University and also chairs the Royal Society’s education committee. After a first degree in physics and PhD (1987) in polymer physics at Cambridge University, a lectureship at Sheffield University, in complex fluid physics, lead to a chair at Leeds University from 1993.
He has since won several awards both in Europe (Weissenberg Medal) and the USA (Bingham Medal) for his work on molecular rheology of polymers, and ran a large collaborative and multidisciplinary research programme in this field from 1999-2009 co-funded by EPSRC and industry.
His research interests include: (i) molecular rheology of polymeric fluids); (ii) macromolecular biological physics; (iii) issues of theology, ethics and history of science. He has published over 180 scientific papers and reviews, and is in addition regularly involved in science-communication with the public, including lectures and workshops on science and faith. In 2014 OUP published his book Faith and Wisdom in Science. He has been a Reader in the Anglican Church since 1993, in the dioceses of Ripon and York.
From 2008-2014 he served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University. In 2011 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 2012 he was made Vice-President of Science by the Institute of Physics (IoP).
Our understanding of the secular has evolved in significant ways over the past century, and this can often lead to confusion. Within modernity, how do those who most strongly identify as religious and secular discover their common cause? In this talk, Professor Heilke will drill down into that language and its surprising history. He will sharpen our understanding and propose creative ways of engaging with one another fruitfully across different visions of societal life. Vital issues of justice, public morality, civic and religious liberties are at stake as we seek sustainable ways forward for human flourishing and the common good. Rejecting the ideological culture wars, Dr. Heilke holds out hope to find a symbiotic interface between the secular and the religious voice. We all see from a limited perspective, and we can all discover our identity and public responsibility afresh through constructive dialogue and artful cooperation.
See also posts on Charles Taylor and the Immanent Frame.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,500 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
We see so little, stayed on surfaces,
We calculate the outsides of all things,
Preoccupied with our own purposes
We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,
They coruscate around us in their joy
A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,
They guard the good we purpose to destroy,
A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.
But on this day a young girl stopped to see
With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;
The promise of His glory yet to be,
As time stood still for her to make a choice;
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,
The Word himself was waiting on her word.
Christmas Holidays are a great time to expand our reading horizons. The mind needs refreshment and inspiration to keep it healthy. Below are some titles from Regent College Bookstore to set your mind on a cutting edge. All the best of the season as you travel and visit with family and friends.
The World Beyond Your Head: on becoming an individual in an age of distraction. by Matthew Crawford
Is God Happy? Selected Essays by Lesek Kolakowski
The Resurrection of Nature: Political Theory and the Human Character. by J. Budziszewski
Why Jesus? Rediscovering his truth in an age of mass marketed spirituality. by Ravi Zacharias
Take and Read, Spiritual Reading: an annotated list. by Eugene Peterson
Birds on an Ethical Wire: battles about values in the culture wars. by Margaret Somerville
For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian vision for creation care (engaging culture). by Steven Bouma-Prediger
Letters to Doubting Thomas: a case for the existence of God. by C. Stephen Layman
My Name is Asher Lev. by Chaim Potok
Daring Greatly. by Brené Brown
The Romance of the Word: one man’s love affair with theology. by Robert Farrar Capon
The Happiness Advantage. by Shawn Achor
An Advent Examination
Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide and where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place.
Daily we can make an Advent examination. Are there any feelings of discrimination toward race, sex, or religion? Is there a lingering resentment, an unforgiven injury living in our hearts? Do we look down upon others of lesser social standing or educational achievement? Are we generous with the gifts that have been given to us, seeing ourselves as their stewards and not their owners? Are we reverent of others, their ideas and needs, and of creation? These and other questions become Advent lights by which we may search the deep, dark corners of our hearts.
Charles Taylor, Christmas and an Epiphany of Transcendence
Mary pondering the immensity of it all
Epiphanies are suggestive of transcendence. Michael Morgan (1994, pp. 56f)) points out that Charles Taylor sees a parallel between the epiphanies of art and poetry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the I-Thou epiphany of religious encounter with the divine. Taylor elaborates the idea of epiphanies (1989, pp. 419f, especially 490-93). He sees Post-Romantic and modernist art as oriented to epiphanies, episodes of realization, revelation, or disclosure. Epiphanies and epiphanic art are about a kind of transcendence, about the self coming in touch with that which lies beyond it, a ground or qualitative pre-eminence. One might call it a gift of the imagination or a re-enchantment.
Taylor reviews various ways of articulating epiphany in Sources of the Self (1989, pp. 419-93). He articulates how God, inserted into this idea of epiphany, fits as a moral source (Sources of the Self, pp. 449-52). Epiphanies can be a way of connecting with spiritual and moral sources through the exercise of the creative imagination: sources may be divine (Taylor), or in the world or nature (Romantics like Thoreau), or in the powers of the imaginative, expressive self (Michel Foucault).
These epiphanies are a paradigm case of what Taylor calls recovering contact with moral sources. A special case of this renewal of relationship between the self and the moral source is religion and the relation to God, which he sees in the work of Dostoyevski. The relationship to art parallels the relationship to religion. The self is oriented in the presence of the inaccessible or sublime, that which captures one’s amazement or awe, for example, when one’s eyes are riveted to a certain painting like Monet’s Lillies, and one’s inner emotions are deeply moved by a poem. One is taken beyond oneself, in an experience of transcendence; the experience involves both elements of encounter and revelation. It can come in a discovery such as finding out the chemicals in our bodies were once part of the death of a star; we are stardust, embedded in creation itself; we owe the stars our very life.
When Mary hears from an angel that she is to become the vessel of a most profound turn of events in history, she is in awe, overwhelmed. It is truly an epiphany, an encounter with radical alterity. Heaven and earth reach out to each other at this juncture and something dramatic occurs, like lightning. Time stands still in this kairos moment. She allows transcendence and immanence to come together in her body and in her life. Her story is punctuated by the incursion of the eternal into the temporal, informed by the descent of transcendence into a historical teenager’s life. This encounter changed everything. We know it as the incarnation.
Mary Considers Her Situation by Luci Shaw Read More…
Who Are We Late Moderns?
The following is an inquest into the possibilities for dialogue among us moderns, people with divergent philosophical positions and postures. Who indeed are we? Where are our roots? What do we have to say to each other? How can we live and work together in a fruitful way amidst intense plurality and difference? In his 2007 award winnng tome, A Secular Age, top Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor offers a deep reflection on the history and current state of modernity in the West. He documents a major change in the social imaginary, the way things seem or make sense to us. This change is a shift in ethos, involving people’s basic sensibilities, their assumptions and perceptions about the way things really are. Taylor notes that human flourishing has become the main focus of life in a period of unbelief in the transcendent or divine. We have moved from a transcendent to an immanent worldview over the past five centuries, from a world picture where God was the ultimate good for the majority of citizens, to one where human flourishing in itself is the ultimate good and prime goal of human existence.
Taylor is post-Durkheimian in his view of our secular age; religion has not been replaced by science. He claims that we are in pursuit of more, rather than less, spirituality today. This reveals what he coins as the “Nova Effect” of multiple spiritual journeys in this pursuit of human flourishing, where the individual’s search is the main focus. Think Eat, Pray, Love. Western modernities are the fruit of new inventions, newly constructed self-understanding, rooted in new consciousness and blends of consciousness, a new sense of self. Self, identity is a many splendored thing in late modernity.
He articulates in much detail here, and in his 1989 Sources of the Self, three contemporary Western spiritualities: exclusive/scientific humanism, Christian humanism and neo-Nietzschean anti-humanism. These three hypergoods (cultural drivers) vie for our attention, each with a radically different message to deliver. Taylor feels that this is where the greatest increase in understanding of our modern identity is available for our study and reflection, critique and dialogue. This insight is deeply profound and needs to be taken very seriously.
Amidst this documentation of our modern spiritual journeys, Taylor willingly raises the provocative question for our reflection: Does the best life involve our seeking or acknowledging or serving a good which is beyond (independent/transcendent of) mere human flourishing? Is human flourishing in itself the best prime directive, the one that leads to the best results for human experience? He adjures us to move beyond naïve to reflective and self-critical positions.
In this pursuit, he suggests the need for a recovery of the thickness of language; he wonders whether we have flattened or depreciated our language within the ethos of exclusive humanism and Analytical Philosophy. Have we given science and descriptive language too much purchase on our identity? More on this issue of the flatness of language in a later post. It is the first time in history, notes our top Canadian philosopher, that a purely self-sufficient humanism came to be a widely-available option (one where human flourishing remained the ultimate goal, and where there was an eclipse of all goals beyond this).
He mirrors this dimension of Modernity to us, and puts it under critical scrutiny. Many of our current most famous spiritual journeys (even though they start within the immanent frame), do not end in immanence, atheism or secularity, but end in belief in God with robust results for human insight (e.g. T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G.K. Chesterton, Theresa of Lisieux, as well as many contemporary leading intellectuals). This journey entails a transcendent turn towards agape love, a love which God has for us and in which we moderns can participate and engage through his power, one which can transform and mobilize us beyond mere human perfection, pushing out the edges of human possibility and ironically, human flourishing and the pursuit of the good life.
There is much to ponder and grapple with in Taylor’s A Secular Age, a seminal work which reframes the discussion of religion in a secular society, challenging moderns to think again about who they are, where they are, and what are their possibilities in the early twenty-first century.
Dr. Gordon Carkner
See also John Milbank, Theology & Social Theory: beyond secular reason. and David Brooks, The Road to Character.
CBC Ideas Series called “The Myth of the Secular”.
Come to the GFCF forum on the Future of Higher Education.
See also Jens Zimmermann, Incarantional Humanism (IVP, 2012)
Osborne.GFCF talk Some key questions from November 17 Higher Education Panelist Emily Osborne
Critical Questions to Ponder about the Self in Late Modernity
How does the pursuit of wisdom relate to developing job skills and work fitness? What are the sources of such wisdom?
What does it mean to become a cultured individual? What does it mean to become robustly personal and relational?
What is the relationship between knowledge and deeper understanding of life? What is the role of contemplation?
Does one’s development have anything to do with a consciousness of social benefit and the common good?
Are there key questions, human questions, that science cannot even begin to ask? Can science provide an adequate worldview? How do we discern between good science and the ideology of scientism?
What does personal formation have to do with education: fostering curiosity, wise judgment, humility and openness?
What cardinal intellectual and social virtues should we be pursuing and where are they sourced? Where are the models or exemplars for such virtues?
What role do universities have in shaping leaders for society? How do students develop into good citizens and learn to negotiate key issues on the international stage?
What is our responsibility to preserve the long history of the academic heritage?
What is the rich content of the good life we are pursuing through education? What is a thick definition of education?
How do we learn to use technology wisely as a tool towards good ends, without being consumed by the ideology of technologism?
Is there a place for religious and theological reflection in shaping the future task of the university? How does this contribute to the knowledge and life skills we need to live well?