Posted by: gcarkner | March 25, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?… 3

Recovery of Humanity Involves Recovery of Language and Perspective

More on wisdom and scientific reason: Poetry, the language genre in which wisdom often appears to us, proceeds from the totality of human sense, imagination, intellect, love, desire, instinct, blood and spirit together.The metaphors of wisdom are equally important to the inductive scrutiny of science. Prudence, courage, justice, self-control, honesty and other virtues are deeply relevant to both one’s daily life and the entire scientific enterprise. Wisdom calls out to all humans and is relevant to all human endeavours; it is a stabilizing and sustainable influence.

It is clear to major decision-makers that technological, statistical and scientific expertise is always helpful, but nevertheless incomplete for adjudicating many issues that they face. It is necessary but not sufficient. Science, while it is a good method for investigating and manipulating the material world, is of much less value for deciding what to do with its knowledge–stewardship of the power of this knowledge. This requires ethics and a philosophy of what serves the common good. In light of this, twentieth century physicist, philosopher and historian of science, Pierre Duhem provocatively argues for the priority of metaphysics and religion over physics. He has the highest regard for physics but circumspectly realizes that it is only part of the picture of existence and only one part of the available human knowledge base. Psalm 90 to 103 gives a phenomenal range of wisdom, richness of insight about God and his world, and a tremendous motivation to study it in all its varied aspects. There is a holism of perspective which covers the various layers of meaning, and the extent of human curiosity.

Brilliant philosopher Calvin Schrag (The Self After Postmodernity) urges respect for the significance of all four culture spheres: aesthetics, ethics, science and religion.[1] Scientific reason, successful as it is, is only part of the human knowledge economy and it should not dominate, oppress or eliminate the other culture spheres. It should interact with them in balance and even tension, and benefit from their checks and balances, as well as their creative questions. Scientific insight is good but only one type of good. Can we find a balance in the relationship of these culture spheres in late modernity? Many top scholars such as Schrag and Alvin Plantinga believe that we can. Much wisdom is required by our best minds to strike the balance.

Science in its study of the cosmos is master of one important theme in the story of life, but not the whole story. Some of the most important issues and decisions we struggle with are relational, moral, issues of beauty and our religious nature (identity), our purpose. Many scientists now realize the importance of value judgments in the economy of scientific reason because of the groundbreaking work of Michael Polanyi (Personal Knowledge). There are stunning resources available in the world’s great wisdom literature, such as the Western Classics (Plato, Aristotle, etc.), the biblical Book of Proverbs, Psalms, ancient literature that has stood the test of time. This is part of our heritage and we ought not to disrespect it’s value.

In fact, there is also a striking revival of interest in virtue ethics applied to academic work, as in Linda Zagzebski’s Virtues of the Mind.[2] A good scientist is guided by a genuine search for truth, a humble willingness to change one’s theory when new evidence challenges it significantly. Good scientists operate with humility in view of the limits of scientific knowledge, honesty in reporting and interpreting data and reports of who did the actual work, respect and care for the subject or object under study. They value collegiality and share rather than hoard information, show respect for the larger scientific community. There is generosity and benevolence for the good human use of the research, gratitude for the opportunity to be in this field of discovery. Mathematicians and physicists talk about the beauty in their work. It is human beings who do science and live within a larger context. Swedish intellectual Mikael Stenmark, winner of the Templeton book prize (Rationality in Science, Religion and Everyday Life: Four Models of Rationality), notes that there are different kinds of important knowledge and he is hopeful that they can complement each other.

Many excellent scientists[3] will agree that we would also add gratitude to the God who created the wondrously beautiful and complex world, this cosmic gift we hold under study: for the ability to “think God’s thoughts after him” as Einstein might say. There is a way of wisdom for the scientist as well as the sage. Perhaps we should resurrect our wise sages once again to inform our science and bring new humility, servanthood and good stewardship to the various fields, and wise employment of scientific resources and discovery. This is why dialogue between the fields of science and religious studies is so vital; it should not be the hobby of the few to look at the historical and philosophical roots of science (Mikael Stenmark, How to Relate Science and Religion: a multidimensional model). Many are saying today, “We want our humanity back!”

~Gordon Carkner

[1] Calvin Schrag, The Self After Postmodernity. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), Chapter 4, “The Self in Transcendence”, especially pp. 133-35. He believes that Immanuel Kant is responsible for splitting these culture spheres from each other in Western thought.

[2] Linda Zagzebski’s Virtues of the Mind. Steven Bouma-Prediger has a brilliant statement on the virtues of creation care in For the Beauty of the Earth.

[3] Some would argue that 40% of scientists are people of faith. (Dr. Edward J. Larson, University Professor of History and holds the Hugh & Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University) Mikael Stenmark on Scientism  Alasdair MacIntyre Grand Advocate of Virtue Ethics

Quotes on Wisdom

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
~Nelson Mandela

Wisdom begins in wonder.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is only one way to wisdom: awe. Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish you ability to revere, and the universe becomes a marketplace for you. The loss of awe is the great block to insight…. The greatest insights happen to us in moments of awe.

We cannot restrain our bitter yearning to know whether life is nothing but a series of momentary physiological and mental processes, actions, and forms of behaviour, a flow of vicissitudes, desires, and sensations, running like grains through an hourglass, marking time only once and always vanishing … Is life nothing but an agglomeration of facts, unrelated to one another–chaos camouflaged by illusion?

~Abraham Heschel

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
~William Shakespeare



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