Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bad Science

Marilynne Robinson is an important writer. She is a pulitzer award winning novelist ( check out her novels: Gilead and Home). She is a penetrating thinker, as well, on issues of contemporary culture. Her latest book is Absence of Mind. It is not a novel but a serious critique of modern popular science writers who "tend to reduce the person to brains, explaining away the strangeness and mystery of human experience." She calls it bad science, reducing the question of existence to the merely material. In her pointed criticisms of the genre of popular science writers ( ie, Wilson, Dennett, Pinker, Dawkins, etc) she expresses some concerns for people of Christian faith, as well. She says a Christian definition of the mind should be an openness to whatever the individual and collective mind reveals to us. And then this, " we don't know what we are. Nothing humanly wonderful could have been anticipated by us. Our own best moments or achievements surprise us. We know that, individually and collectively, we have never lived up to ourselves. And we know that, at moments, we have surpassed any hope we had of ourselves." She goes on to say, " I think the mind should inspire religious awe in Christians .... for human beings, as such. It saddens me that Christians need to be reminded of the awe that is owed to those who disagree with them, ... I am afraid this hardening toward "enemies", toward those images of God some of them are so ready to view as enemies, indicates the worst aspects of a body of thought they actually think they reject. Consequences follow for all of us when the individual is trivialized."

"Christianity has abandoned its intellectual traditions, ceding that ground to anybody in a white coat. ...we fear science... the more people know we think the less they are inclined toward belief... this is a central assumption of atheism."

"among my estimable students there is no way to distinguish those with a religious background from those whose experiences have been entirely secular, in terms of their sensitivity to allusion, or their familiarity with essential narrative, or with the basic terms in which the faith is articulated and pondered. In the great majority of cases they have been taught little or nothing."
"the assumption seems to be ascendant now that Christians in general have no interest in history or theology... unless they seek them out on their own they are unlikely to have had enough exposure to them to know whether they would find them meaningful..."

"Christians have not remembered our own strength over against the arguments that test it. It has not equipped people to realize that it has been the sponsor of a great intellectual culture. Where have the sciences flourished? where has freedom of thought and inquiry developed so powerfully, as in Christian civilization? These things are not new to us, not alien, not threatening, ... and we should honor and preserve them ... beginning with the local church."

"Christianity should be itself. Christians acting like Christians is the best response to the popular science writers, the new atheists. Living out the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 25 - these hard teachings that run against the impulses to judgmentalism and exclusivism which assert themselves so strongly when Christians feel threatened. If Christians believe what they claim to believe, that the church is the body of Christ, how can they think any "culture wars" are necessary to its survival? Its wars, past and present, are the most telling charge against it".

"Human beings tend to be religious. We must take care to protect the beauty, dignity, and integrity of Christianity so that people are not turned away by experience that makes it seem corrupt, hypocritical, subject to manipulation by other interests, or simply crude."

I will add my two cents. Amen and Amen