Posts Tagged ‘ philosophy of science ’

Live and Let Live is Not Good Enough

“We are all called not to reduce the Kingdom of God to the confines of our ‘little churches,’ but to dilate the Church to the dimensions of the Kingdom of God.”

–Pope Francis, 10/12/2014 Weekly Angelus Address

Call me a heretic, but I would pick a slight battle with Pope Francis here.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the Church expanding itself and getting outside of itself and turning to the needs of the periphery as he describes.  And it’s his job to help us keep that in mind.  But first we need to get our own house in order, as it were, before we can effectively “dilate to the dimensions.”  What Pope Francis is calling “little churches,” I think, is remaining complacent in our small groups, essentially patting each other on our backs and saying how holy we all are.  I agree with the Pope in emphasizing more outreach and focus on the marginalized.  But I do think we need to get our house in order, in a different way.

Another connotation for “little church” is the family.  The family is the little church, the amazing cenacle where grace meets grace, and begets new life.  To borrow another metaphor, the family is a place where the ground for growth is tilled, weeded, and cured–where growth is cautiously guarded, and masterfully, indifferently, and meticulously tended.  I want to spend a moment with that metaphor.

As a father, I have learned a lot about myself and my personality through this process of tending and guarding.  I(1) have a vision for my(1) family and it is my responsibility to do everything I can to grow towards that vision.

God is the master gardener–he gives the seed and makes the seed grow.  His goodness and grace are the sunlight, water, and nutrients.  Comparatively, the good things that help us grow are good and glorious gifts from Him.  God entrusted this local garden to me.  Now, there are many ways to go about gardening.  One extreme is to have careful control of every part of the gardening enterprise, such as the temperature, air pressure, humidity, pH content of the soil, etc.  The other extreme would be to let the garden grow as it will without much or any interference.

There are two extremes–complete control and complete autonomy.  If my vision for my garden–say, of vegetables–was to harvest the vegetables when ripe, it would probably make sense to have some control over the environment.  Is it necessary to have complete control?  What if that tomato sags too much into the broccoli, which is getting in the way of the spinach’s sunlight, which is crowding out the basil.  Complete control is a myth–it’s a fantasy.  I can never completely control what is going on, my garden, my environment, etc.

But the other extreme of letting the garden grow naturally without any cultivation is equally inadequate, and is an affront to justice.  I have been given this great and amazing responsibility, along with my knowledge, skills, and ability (been reading too many clinical psychology competency-based supervision articles…).  I have this vision of the garden.  And I daresay that I have discerned this vision to in line with the will of God.  God ordains this vision of our garden, I have the ability and knowledge to tend the garden like this.

So it is with my family.  What does this have to do with anything, much less Pope Francis’s comments?  While Pope Francis was talking about a different concept of the “little church,” I think there is too little emphasis on taking care of in-house matters, and there is too much emphasis on being mindful of outside factors.  One perspective on parenting suggests for parents to let their children live and let live.  This hands-off approach is very important when the garden is grown a bit, is hardy, and can withstand the heat of the environment.  But I would never want my little chick-pea to be exposed to the harshness of the frost or the desert–after she has developed enough to stand firm while withstanding the heat.  But as the chick-pea is still developing its characteristic heartiness, the gardener needs to guard, protect, and nurture it, so that it can, when it is mature, fully withstand the glorious yet harshly tumultuous and whimsical environment.

Our little church, our family will grow, expanding the dimensions of the Kingdom of God, in due time.  Our little chick-peas and florets will know the sting of the first frost before they know it.  It’s my job to make sure they have enough warmth in them to withstand it.

(1) I use the pronouns “I” and “me” here and throughout this post, which imperfectly reflects reality.  It’s a glorious job to be a parent–even more glorious when the job is done together, with the spouse who helped beget the child(ren).  That is, a lot of what I am talking about, the responsibility, the gardening, etc., happens together with my wife.  But I am thinking a little existential here, acknowledging my ultimate aloneness.  Fully united with my spouse makes me fully alive; and yet, I am here, ultimately alone.  It’s a paradox/mystery I’d like to explore, preferably over a glass of wine or two!

Real-life Quotes From Adherents to Scientism

I’m baffled by the logical consistency and rational prowess of the flock of scientism-followers.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  I read that in a book Dawkins wrote and Bill Maher talked about, and he’s cool, so yeah.  That’s what I believe.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  ‘Cause faith doesn’t feel right to me.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  Because religious believers are just sheep following blindly.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  I couldn’t refute the logic of my philosophy 101 teacher, so that’s what makes the most sense to me.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  The Catholic Church did mean things to people 500 years ago, so science and logic and reason make more sense to me.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  Catholics are bigots, and I’m afraid of being called a bigot, so I’m all for science and reason.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  Faith is really hard.  So science and reason and logic are more my cup of tea.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  All the so-called gods are pretty much the same according to some anthropologist I read in Popular Science, so if they all sound the same, why would I believe in any one of them?

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.   Christmas is basically based on pagan ideas.  So science and logic and reason make more sense to me.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  My girlfriend is an atheist so I’m joining her.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  Religion is just opium, and I was basically chosen as the D.A.R.E. class representative, so I’m staying away from that junk.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  Didn’t people just invent religion because they didn’t have science yet?  Religion doesn’t exist because science explains things better.  Science can answer every possible question.  So religion doesn’t exist.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  99% of religious people are dumber while scientism-followers are smarter.  So there.

Science and logic and reason are the only ways to access knowledge and wisdom in the universe.  Look–it hurts non-believers’ feelings when you say that religion may have some explanatory power.  Maybe for you, God exists, but for me, God doesn’t.

That is to say, there are some legitimate arguments against faith, using actual reason and logic instead of fallacious reasoning.  And there are some legitimately fallacious arguments for faith, to be sure.

Most of us value reason and logic.  Most of us want to live consistently with our values–but what a difficult journey for believers and non-believers alike!  How prone we all are to believing lies and false reasoning.

P-values: Destroying the Barrier Between Scientific and Creative Writing

English: Illustration of the difference betwee...

If you recall from your stats 101 class p-values represent the probability that a quantitative finding reflects actual reality, such as some sort of difference between groups.  Statisticians use arbitrary cutoffs to define “statistical significance.”  P < 0.05 is a very common cutoff, meaning that if your result achieves a p-value of 0.05 or less, then the finding is said to be “statistically” significant, or, there is a 95% chance that your groups are different (or your therapy made a difference, or there was a change in functioning, ect.).  There is great controversy between statisticians and researchers regarding statistical significance.  I read a paper recently titled, “The Difference Between Statistically Significant or Not Is Not, Itself, Statistically Significant.”  Best.  Title.  Ever.  Basically, if p = 0.05 is significant, then what to say about p = 0.08?  Is there a dichotomy, in reality, between a finding which is statistically significant versus one which is not?  What about p = .05000000000001?  And so the debate rages.

I have only a limited understanding of statistics and of probability theory in general and am not necessarily interested in commenting on the debate itself.  However, interested as I am in epistomology especially with regards to political philosophy, and philosophy of science, I found this article fascinating.

It lists multitudes of ways of describing findings which are p > 0.05.  Many of them express something along the lines of “pretty much significant, but not really.”  For example,

approached near significance (p=0.06)
approached our criterion of significance (p>0.08)
approached significant (p=0.11)
approached the borderline of significance (p=0.07)
approached the level of significance (p=0.09)
approached trend levels of significance (p0.05)
approached, but did reach, significance (p=0.065)
approaches but fails to achieve a customary level of statistical significance (p=0.154)
approaches statistical significance (p>0.06)
approaching a level of significance (p=0.089)
approaching an acceptable significance level (p=0.056)
approaching borderline significance (p=0.08)

From the standpoint of argument, it is interesting that there are so many creative ways to nudge a reader toward believing your point of view.  This perspective informs my skepticism toward grandiose public policy based on “science.”  In practice within social and political spheres, “facts” proclaimed by “science” [especially neuroscience] reflect essential and unquestionable reality.  In theory, “science” can only suggest tentative hypotheses, not infrequently supported by evidence “approaching a level of statistical significance.”

Science sure has its place.  There are definitely ways to qualify and quantify statistical and scientific findings.  Science is a powerful tool to investigate the natural world.  Science and technology enrich our lives and can be forces for good.  But science has its limits.  Any competent scientist will readily admit that scientific findings are tentative and that science, in general, while very powerful for studying natural phenomena, is ultimately limited in its quest for truth.  A scientist who fails to acknowledge as much is either ignorant or a charlatan.  And no, that’s not a false dichotomy.