Craig Vick's Scattered Thoughts

Adventures in Virtual Community


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A New Blog

More than a few of my readers have gently teased me over the somewhat heavy philosophical nature of some of my posts. Though the teasing is meant in jest, I have taken it to heart because I don’t like anyone feeling unwelcome on my blog. I’m especially grieved when I suspect that one of my visitors feels stupid or ignorant because of what’s read here. I believe the real barrier is vocabulary and has nothing to do with intelligence. Learning the vocabulary connected with a specific philosophical problem is a challenge for almost all of us. When reading the books I most love, I usually have to read passages over and over, several times, before I’m confidant that I’m beginning to understand.

In order to make this blog a little friendlier while at the same time providing a space for my readers who enjoy philosophy as much as I do, I’ve decided to create a new blog, Craig Vick’s Virtual Book Club. I will scratch my philosophical itches on the new blog. Using a book club format, we’ll be able to walk through books at a leisurely pace picking up the needed vocabulary as we go. Posts on this blog will, hopefully, be more accessible and of more general interest. Let me know what you think.

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Worldview Moratorium

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I’m advocating a two year moratorium on all worldview talk. This is not because such talk is meaningless or even unhelpful. It’s because such talk is overly used in a way that shuts down conversation. My moratorium will cover talk of presuppositions as well.

The value of worldview talk is that it can open or give direction to a conversation that appears to be stuck. Suppose a mom and a daughter have an argument about chores. Mom states that her daughter didn’t do her chores. Daughter insists that she did.The normal way to solve such a dispute is to look and see whether or not the chores were done. Mom will see, when she looks, that the chores were done or Daughter will discover that contrary to her intentions and what she thought she did, she in fact left a chore undone.
So far so good. What happens, however, if both mom and daughter look at the evidence and still disagree? Perhaps one of the chores goes by the name ‘clean your room’. Mother and daughter both look at the room. Daughter says, “See, I cleaned it!” Mom says, “It’s a mess. You haven’t cleaned it at all.” Here’s where looking at presuppositions and examining worldviews can be helpful. In terms of presuppositions, Mom and Daughter can talk about what constitutes a clean room. In terms of worldviews, Mom might point out that she’s not a tyrant, trying to ruin her daughter’s life with meaningless chores. Daughter might show that she’s not just being rebellious and has made efforts to please Mom. So worldview talk and looking at presuppositions deepens the conversation. The conversation becomes more difficult, however. Mom and Daughter are called to a form of self examination, but the fruit promised is worth the effort.

How then can it all go wrong? Why would I push for my moratorium? It all goes horribly wrong when Mom or Daughter or both get locked into their worldview and presuppositions. There’s no self examination. The conflict quickly devolves into a shouting match. Worldviews and presuppositions become iron clad defenses against any presumed attacks. Daughter says, “You hate me.” Mom says, “You’re lazy and rebellious.” At this point the conversation can’t move forward unless both Mom and Daughter show a genuine willingness to unlock themselves from their views.
In some of the Christian circles that I call home, this is what has taken place. Worldview talk is being used to build an unassailable defense against questions and doubts. It doesn’t open conversations, it ends them. There’s no place for self examination, just worldview assertion. We need to live without this tool for awhile. After a couple of years we will hopefully find ways to use it more wisely.


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Let’s Get Radical

While in college I, like many, read with great excitement Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn gives a compelling account of how science works. He slays the myth that changes in scientific thought are primarily the result of new discoveries. He argues that most scientific work consists of filling in the holes of currently accepted theory. This is the day to day work of science. As that process continues, problems with current theory can emerge. When these problems increase, current theory is stretched. It becomes clumsy and less elegant as it’s adjusted to accommodate dissonance. This opens the door to new theories. Such a new theory is not so much a development of current understandings as it is a break. It’s a paradigm shift. At first the new theory has as many problems, if not more than the old.  A battle takes place between scientists committed to the old theory and those committed to the new. Good arguments exist on both sides. Eventually, the explanatory power of the new theory convinces a majority of scientists, and the shift is complete.

After reading this little book it seemed to me that my world had changed. I was not alone. The book created a new discipline and its language began to permeate other academic fields. In particular, it became common to read of paradigm shifts even in Theology and Biblical Studies. Paradigm shifts have become daily occurrences in these fields. I find this trend to be a bit disturbing. Kuhn seems to suggest that paradigm shifts are rare (the Copernican revolution and Einstein’s theory of relativity), and that most scientists are involved not in creating new theories but in confirming the reigning ones. I suspect that work seemed a little too mundane in other disciplines. The desire for the fame and glory of making intellectual history with a paradigm shift proved far greater than the desire to contribute to the working out of current theories. An unfruitful pattern began to multiply. New theories were announced. When criticism followed, the new theories were defended as paradigm shifts. Critics were not only accused of not understanding the new theories but of being incapable of understanding the new theories. The critics, it seems, were mired in the old paradigms and so unable to grasp the new. Sadly, these debates raged even outside of academia. When churches split over the latest paradigm shift, as a pastor I need to call for change. I suggest the following:
First, we need to limit the number of permitted paradigm shifts. Perhaps each academic discipline should be allowed only one paradigm shift every twenty years. That seems more than reasonable given the time between Copernicus and Einstein. Since Theology has had far more than its fair share of late, we should have a moratorium on theological paradigm shifts for the next fifty years.
Next, I suggest we get radical. I don’t mean ‘radical’ in the sense of being way out there, but ‘radical’ in the sense of focusing our criticism at the root. This is the kind of radical criticism that Tillich recommends in his Systematic Theology. I’ll leave it to the reader to judge Tillich’s success. We need to look for the hot points in our various fields, the places where debates don’t seem to make any progress. Rather than joining in these seemingly fruitless debates and using all of our intellectual skills to gain victory for one side or the other, we need to look for the root. What thinking and assumptions do both sides share? Our guess is that at the root there are structures which practically mandate the intellectual parties we see. Focusing on the root has the potential to dissolve the debate.
Finally, we need to reject any paradigm shift proposals that aren’t proceeded by a thorough going radical criticism. Let us be quick to listen and slow to speak.