Essay / Education

The Three Essentials for Education: Part II

John Mark Reynolds, 2005.

Read Part I here, and Part III here.

Part II — Right Questions

Find an educational enthusiast and you will meet someone with more faith than a fighting fundamentalist at a tent meeting. Whatever his system, he believes it contains the answers to all of life’s problems. Just do what he says and his version of educational Cortaslim will solve your problems. Find the cure, the right way of doing education, and problems will be done. To the contrary, my own experience suggests that having the right questions is more important than having the right answers. My answers must always be tentative. I try to have faith seeking understanding and not understanding seeking faith.

Dogma, if by dogma one means certainty, should have no place in my life. There are things I think are true based on best reason and best experience. They seem good, true, and beautiful. However, I must always acknowledge that I could be wrong. Certainty is not ever present this side of Paradise. I hold all my answers loosely, but keep to my questions passionately.

This does not make for a lack of zeal or boldness. To the contrary, I have great zeal for the quest for truth. I grow excited by open thought and can enjoy reading blogs and books with ideas contrary to my own. If my ideas are the correct ones, they will be strengthened. When I was younger anti-creationist work (before ID and the internet) provoked me. It challenged my certainty. What could I say to some of the arguments?

Over time, I allowed good arguments “from the other side” to change me. I became a theistic evolutionist. This was a good process. Sadly for my skeptical friends, I continued the process. I became skeptical about organized skepticism and began to be appalled by the group think demanded. The process went full circle and now I have returned, due to my questioning, to a skeptical approach to Darwinism. It is possible, though I think it unlikely, that the process will keep going. I still read anti-ID books more often than ID ones. The road is long! In the meantime, I can argue for my point of view and for an open discussion.

The fact that I may be wrong does not mean that I must assume I am. Until sight is better, I must walk in the light I have and uncover darkness boldly. It is easy to be sure where darkness is even when tentative about knowing the final source of light. [1] As a result of loving questions, I think analytic philosophy has some valuable ways of looking the world and at intellectual problems. People who ignore those tools (like logic) usually get into trouble in the real world. Philosophy has my great respect because I have never experienced any censorship in it. Ideas are all welcome if argued for well.

Plantinga can attack evolutionary reasoning in philosophy. His ideas receive fierce criticism, but there is no censorship and few attacks on his professional ability. This is the part of the analytic tradition I respect: learning to ask clear questions and follow them to the end wherever it leads.Oddly, this dry and very disciplined discipline has come under attack. It has become popular to attack “foundationalism” in epistemology and analytic philosophy in general. I think this is a mistake. Foundationalism is not dead in philosophy and there are few viable alternatives that are that different (at least in the ways people think matter in the popular discussion).

However, I have found that the attack on philosophy or certain theories of knowledge is generally not really about philosophy. It is often lead by people who do not want imperial philosophy to claim everything for itself or certainty about things they know to be uncertain. They believe a more “post-modern” understanding will set them free from so-called “reason” which would deny any place to the arts as a knowledge tradition. Modern philosophy often seems to elevate “science” as the only way of “knowing.” Sensible folk don’t want to be that exclusive. Philosophy, as the discipline most associated with the rise of this imperial science, is blamed for cutting us off from the human things.

Some philosophers are guilty of this. We all sometimes act as if everything could be cleared up if put in proper logical order. Some modern philosophy has gone all the way and restricted all truth to science and its handmaiden analytic philosophy. (At least, some claim that this has been done.) This need not be the case.

No classical philosophy, such as my own Platonism, has done such a thing. Plato was the consummate writer and poet. He believed in Divine Revelation and in philosophy. Each had its place. It is not philosophy (or science) that is the problem, but people who claim too much for both. You can be analytic without putting the universe into a tiny box.

Every human should be able to learn from a poet. No person should be deaf to the deep truth, every bit as important as that of science, in Bach. Of course, the way to escape imperial science is not to denigrate science or pretend it is not effective and beautiful in its own sphere. It is simply to push it back to its limits. Analytic philosophy (in the popular sense) and science are two ways to truth. They work, but they have limits.

To give but one example, for an old Platonist like myself, music must always remain the highest means of communication. Much of it is almost mathematical in its intellectual rigor. The best of it is full of passion, but it requires great physical labor to play it or listen to it well. It combines every part of a human, the soul and the body. Of course, good science can at moments do the same, but only at times. A good philosophical discussion sometimes approaches music in this wholeness, but not as often as music. No human can ever play music well or hear it played well without experiencing this sublime “wholeness.” There is much, therefore, to be learned from music.

If you read internet skeptic sites you are often reading the last gasp of the “closed” view of knowledge. You have heard the rant: science is a knowledge tradition and religion is a belief. The humanities are rarely praised, but made marginal. Science is everything.

Christianity does better or it should. Since it believes in Divine Revelation, told first in a story, it cannot close itself off from Mystery. It cannot limit the quest for knowledge to philosophy or science, however it might praise them. We helped create modern science and philosophy. We believe in reason, but we cannot close reason off into mere propositions and facts. The world is higher and more mysterious. There are indeed more things in heaven and earth than can ever be dreamed of in any philosophy or system. We are therefore always expectant, always excited. We never are sure and so our eagerness never abates. We believe in order to understand and this sets us free to doubt and question everything.

The truth is that knowledge comes to us from poetry, music, Divine Revelation, analytic philosophy, and science. All are good tools in the appropriate place. I am no scientist, but I love science. The beauty of what it can do and the tentative steps toward truths science makes demand my respect. I am no musician, but I married one. She has slowly taught me the beauty that can come to hearing the questions, and tentative answers, found in the giants of her field. At times, for very short periods, she has taught me to enter into the music and find the wisdom there.

In some rare, but wonderful days, I can combine many quests for truth. I lead a class in asking hard questions about a great work of literature and then go home and work on a logical problem for my book on Plato. The evening may contain a concert and then end in prayers. When my soul is in good order, all of it becomes one. Mystery is not destroyed by proper philosophy, science, or art. Instead, I am lead from the propositional truths each suggests ever more mystery.

Truth is not merely propositional, but it contains propositions. Each truth leads to another and also to experience. Propositional truth and experiential truth can never war in a classical philosophy of life. Traditional Christians are neither modern nor post-modern. We are classical, pre-dating and enfolding the best of both.

This give hope that a resolution can come between those who love the humanities and those who love science. Both need to hear the wisdom of the other. Both can learn to do so without plunging into non-reason or ugliness. Both can do so by asking human questions and listening. I think I have experienced, a Divine Answer to those questions. This does not end my yearning, but merely spurs me to reason even more with the Divine Logos who under girds the world.

[1]: I use Darwinism to refer to the philosophical assumptions first made plain by the genius Charles Darwin. Evolutionary biology as science has moved on from Darwin, but still maintains the important philosophical assumptions. For example, Darwin helped banish divine agency from Biology. This is still an assumption of mainstream evolutionary biology today whatever mechanism they believe gets the job done. Evolutionary biologists argue about mechanism, but they don’t argue about divine teleology as a part of Biology. In that sense, they are Darwinists. I favor an open philosophy of science and not the Darwinian closed one.

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