Friday, October 29, 2010

A cry of liberation

I eagerly follow what is going on in the States from my Roman home place – the place, I mean, where is my home, but where I don't feel entirely at home. I side, in fact, with those people in the States who use the name Europe in a derogatory fashion, to mean a lost land. Luckily, beyond the Tiber river from where I stay, there is a man in white who gives me hope.

I follow, then, American things on internet, and on a little Italian opinion newspaper, Il Foglio, run by a man married to an Italian-American women, used to spend at least part of the year in New York. He had a very good correspondent there, capable of speaking of American things as from inside, but unfortunately he recently left, having received a better offer from another newspaper. His place has been taken from another guy whom I don't like: however well informed, he sounds like an external observer, in particular as an European observer, incapable as such of grasping what is peculiarly American.

I take as example an article published yesterday, by the title (I translate) "Clash of elites – the fake plain folks of Tea Party versus Obama the snob". Nothing wrong with it, save the general tone. Wherefrom did he get this image of the Tea Party folks as plain countrymen in flannel shirts over against the slick and haughty city men in Washington? Perhaps from an old movie with Gary Cooper, Cowboy and the lady?

It wasn't so that an American friend of mine spoke about them, describing them rather as "middle class, educated, concerned people". Things don't change if some of them are rich people, in the rank of hundreds of millions.

Does this make them an elite opposed to another elite? Even if it were so, it's not this that counts. What counts (I said it already, but repetita iuvant) is that we have here two ideas of America in competition. And, with them, two ideas of Europe.

One is that of the official Europe of today, utterly liberal, with no other notion of human relations than the one of which unsurpassed teacher remains Thomas Hobbes, who thought and taught that only the State, through the king as in his time, or through elected representatives as today, can restrain individual egoism, making norms for people to obey – to which we should add today its providing for the redistribution of riches. This Europe is no less hobbesian for its preoccupation of guaranteeing to all individuals the freest possible range for their whim (I don't say the greatest "freedom" or "liberty", which are too noble words). It's the Europe the present administration and Congress are trying to make the American people swallow.

There is though also the other Europe, that today seems to find its strongest representation in the America that refuses the europeanizing of the present administration. Hair of the Christian tradition, it knows that there is an inherent rule of justice in human relations, and it is therefore made of people who think to have no need for Government and Congress to teach them how to behave, people who actually see in them the responsibility for unleashing the egoism of human rights without duties that after they want to keep in check by correcting the economic evils of capitalism.

What the Italian observer does not notice is the appeal from the Tea Party folks to the Constitution, in which they see sanctioned their right to be left alone by Government and Congress. To pay less taxes, be free to enterprise and, why not, make money, is certainly a large part of their demand, but it is not the whole thing. To understand it, it is necessary to look at the name they gave themselves, taken from the first action of American rebellion to the British oppressor.

I might be wrong in my interpretation of what is now happening in America, but whatever the case be I see in it something archetypical: a cry of liberation for Europe.


Monday, October 25, 2010


Hat tip: Rorate

The folks at Rorate Caeli called my attention to a piece by Sandro Magister, in which the words of a Lebanese bishop and Middle East Synod Father, spoken in criticism of Islam, were not included in the published version of his remarks.

A snippet of some of the redacted remarks:

The Koran gives the Muslim the right to judge Christians and to kill them for the Jihad (the holy war). It commands the imposition of religion through force, with the sword. The history of invasions bears witness to this.

For the full story, click here.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quod Erat Demostrandum

The whole exchange I have been having in "comments" was born from a statement of mine, that I perceive very little science in our society, and that this is because of the disjunction of faith and reason.

The main objection I can be moved is: how can you say such a thing, considering that it is only our society that has achieved with science a knowledge that can be shared by everybody, just through reasoning on the evidence of experience, not bound by the impediment of faith?

Are we sure? But let's grant for a moment that such is the case, what we call "science" covers very little of our ordinarily life.

Nobody doubts that physics chemistry and biology are sciences, and some of their findings drip to the general public without any of the discussions that led to them or still surround them in the scientific world. Besides them, also psychology enjoys a little of their prestige, and some of its notions have equally dripped to the general public, however controversial they may still be in the scientific world. Still less can be said of the other human sciences, concerning the life of men in society and everything it has been passed over to us in fact of art, literature, and models of human excellence. All things considered outside the realm of science.

Thus, the greatest part of our ordinary life is left to the realm of sentiment and emotion, utterly out of any possibility of rational discourse, but just a question of taste.

However, to allow me a QED: there is very little science in our society, I would need to demonstrate that there can be more science than this. Which, unless we adopted a concept of science non in line with the one current in our mainstream culture, cannot be done.

That it can be done, because the current notion of science responds to an unreal concept of experience, and hence or reasoning, is the claim I make. And I already made, trying to explain in a previous post the true sense of "faith", based on the etymology of the word that brought it back to the context of human interchange that makes our common ordinary experience.

To this we need to pay attention.


I was brought to do it in my youth by the disturbance caused to me by the alleged collision between the teaching of the Church and the findings of science. There seemed to be no way out: neither could be true at the same time. And though, I didn't want to give up either: I didn't want to hold to my faith making a sacrifice of reason, and I didn't want to give up faith to keep on reasoning.

The way out of the dilemma came from faith: I mean, by trust in those who had educated me, as being reasonable people, who must have had good reasons for what they taught me. This prompted me to study, i.e. to face the challenge coming from science. It was a dangerous path, because it could have led me to naught, with religion necessarily yielding to science.

I know, some would say that this wouldn't have been naught, but the real conquest. However, such was not the case. I discovered that where science seemed to go against Church teaching, it was because it was faulty, not really scientific. I want to be clear: it is not the teaching of the Church that decides what is really scientific, but reasoned reflection on the evidence represented by the witness of theories accredited as scientific.

This at the same time required a deepening in the understanding of Church teaching, to see why and how it agrees with what is really scientific in science. The trouble in our society is that usually we receive an infantile version of that teaching, together with the infantile versions of all the notions making up our knowledge of the world. Then, while we grow, we come to learn the scientific version of these notions, at least as physics chemistry and biology is concerned; but our notions of Church teaching remain infantile. So we come to compare a mature adult knowledge with an infantile one, and of course we find it ridiculous. I can't say of having found a critic of theological teachings coming from the world of the accredited sciences showing more than a raw knowledge of it, fettered to those infantile notions.

More in general, it is rare for someone who is an expert of his discipline, with a sophisticated knowledge of its procedures and findings, to have an equally sophisticated knowledge outside of it. For other specialized fields we can't but trust those who are qualified for their expertise in them, while, when it comes to the ordinary affairs of life we tend to rely just on ourselves, confiding in some kind of common sense.

For what I am concerned, are precisely the ordinary affairs of life that intrigue me: being what makes the realm of experience to which also experts of whatever discipline qualified as scientific resort.

We appeal thus to it for immediate common sense experience, but overlook the fact that whatever we perceive bear traces of all the ideas we have been exposed to since our early days, and with which we had to confront ourselves in our growth: such exposure and confrontation being then an integral part of experience, that bear traces therefore also of our trusts and mistrusts.

Do I need to add more? Well, an invitation, perhaps the hardest to accept in our culture: to watch at babies, and think that we have been like them. We see them learning to speak, and by this way to recognize people and things, and to identify themselves in relation to them, and so on and so forth. We know that we have been like them, but we can't absolutely remember it. A gap is there between what we observe babies do and our self-conscious adult experience, that nothing can bridge; nothing, except the stories we have been told as children to account for our coming to the world, that we can't but take on faith (of course, I am not speaking specifically of Christian faith, but I use the word in the generic anthropological meaning of the Latin fides).

Here it is the intriguing thing on which to measure the adherence of our discourses to experience: we don't remember out birth; hence, on the other side, we can't imagine our death.

Instead, the mainstream Euro-American culture, settled in our world of adult speakers, by negating faith hides the existence of that gap.

I was led from here to the realization that the opposition we currently maintain between science and religion is faulty, because actually science and religion aren't but conceptual words with which we are used to classify human ideas and actions, whose definition finds no correspondence in what people do that we claim to classify with them.


I tried to explain it already in a previous post by the analysis of the meaning of belief (whose connection with trust in fide I discussed before). What we call "religion" is for the people who hold it simply their understanding of reality, that which they are persuaded to know: in a word, we can call it equally their "belief" or their "science".

To say "science", in fact, means nothing else than a belief redoubled in reflection. If belief in fact means
the persuasion of the truth of something, science means to be persuaded that one's own persuasion constitutes truly knowledge. So we can equally say, in English, "I believe in evolution", or "I believe in creationism", even though one is ascribed to science, the other to religion (also staying to the sentence by a judge in Pittsburg based on faith in the scientific community).

You are not telling us anything new, I could be objected, but overlook that with science this redoubling of persuasions is sustained by reasons. Agreed, I answer, it remains however the question of which reasons are able to make a belief into science.

Reasoning means many interconnected things. One of them is counting. The other is accounting for things in a way that is public, repeatable and communicable. This, I am told, is what the "scientific method" does. But does it?

Of course it does it, I am told, because the "scientific method" takes us on the only common ground we have, that of "awake" sensory perception: it fills in this way the gap you spoke about, that, you say, makes faith unavoidable.

On this regard would have been right the thinkers, self-styled as logical positivists, who in the early decades of the 1900 asked that all statements be put to the test of sensory verification. They were wrong only in not realizing that actual verification is impossible, because it would require an overview of all possible cases of the same thing, which is impossible. The version of the "scientific method" that has gained the way is then that of Karl Popper, who required subjecting theories to a crucial test, but remarked that this cannot verify the right ones, but only show the falseness of those that don't pass it, so letting stand, at least for the time being, the one that passed it. Accordingly he defines scientific only those theories for which it can be envisaged a test of falsification: otherwise we would have to do with "metaphysics" or "religion".

The trouble with this theory of science is that it doesn't hold up to what it requires from any theory to be scientific. It is not just that it is actually falsified by all evidence of how people ordinarily act, and even of what scientist do; but, if it were to be denied the relevance of this evidence, I don't see to what test of falsification it could be put.

A test, in fact, has to be prepared and described in a way to make it communicable: this means that it implies a shared language, and a language already involves a vision of things. Even within the strict realm of accredited science, then, setting a test delimits the scope of things that can be found in it. Things get worse if we observe that the language thus involved isn't but an aspect of the ordinary language. By speaking we account publicly for our experience, setting our sensory perceptions into a contest of meaning. But languages are a multifold, each informing the capability of perceiving things and accounting for them of those who speak any given one.

This means that an explanation of what science is falls into the sphere of ordinary experience, not made of men who test theories with facts, but of man in conversation who compare their respective views of things. Methods can work in the routine of an activity, be that of science, but don't exempt from the intelligence that sparkles when, from such a comparison, comes the right idea of how to account for things.

It follows that the gap I spoke about cannot be bridged by the alleged "scientific method". Sensory perception doesn't put us in the immediacy of an adult experience that can overlook education: the education we watch babies undergo, with the required recognition of having undergone it ourselves.

Now I can make a claim of QED. There is very little science in our society, I say, because there are many disciplines that don't filter to the mainstream culture dominated by the authority of "science" based on an alleged "scientific method". Trough the study of language, storytelling, art, social institutions of all kind, etcetera, they are devoted to a reasoned account of the way an educated animal such as man tests received ideas in ordinary experience, applying to this a reasoning as sophisticated as that employed by the accredited sciences in their special field of research, but which is often lacking when their practitioners turn to it.


I could close here, but I still deem convenient some further considerations.

The trouble with many "scientific" authors who have been able to reach the general public is that there is truth in what they found within their partial field of research, where it has an explanatory value for them of general import, because they take it as the whole.

Now, the whole of human knowledge concerned me, in dealing with the question of "faith" and "reason". Which is: what makes people able to reach an agreement in their understanding of things?

On this have more to say the old Plato and Aristotle then modern theoreticians of science. In their discourses on method these hide their advancing a claim of reason, which would put them in question with regard to others with similar claims, to state purely and simply that reason is on their side. Not so with Plato and Aristotle: when they first raised the question of what makes opinions or beliefs into science, their aim was precisely that of giving an answer to my question, by finding criteria to judge among different claims. They deserve therefore a privileged mention in the story of the differentiation of rationality which, with gains and losses, reaches all the way to Einstein and other contemporary authors outside of the physical sciences.

Discarded, for the reasons I showed, the alleged "scientific method" as a way of accounting for what is scientific, the validation moment cannot be kept separated in assessing science from its genetic moment, as it is claimed. Therefore history of science is not irrelevant to the understanding and evaluation of discourses with claim to be scientific, i.e. rationally and experientially well grounded. And history of science has to embrace, for the reasons I said, not just what has been accredited as such in the last four centuries, but what people thought of their world in any place and time.

This means that by telling a story we account for whatever we know of the world, be it the story of how at a certain pointy in history we discovered a previously unknown "scientific method". Now stories can only be validated by comparison with other stories, to see which better agrees with our experience of the world as educated animals, by taking into account both terms: our rootedness, as animals, in non human nature, and our participation, by education, to society.

Always men, like us, accounted by telling stories for the world they know. Always, therefore, they have been rational. With this difference: that the reasons, represented in the old exemplary stories we call "myths" by way of images, have been afterwards recognized in their more abstract forms, thanks to mathematics and logic. The meaning of these, therefore, cannot be referred simply to the selected experience of today science, but has to be tracked down in the more unified, ordinary experience accounted for by myth.

I give just a short example, without developing it, of the problems I am talking about.

I ask myself, and others: how does the theory of evolution squares with Einstein's theory of relativity? If I were to be asked in turn about the why of such question, I would answer that the theory of evolution involves a linear sequence of time, in which things get transformed one into the other; while Einstein's theory of relativity integrates time into space. Now, this involves not sequence but recurrence. So it evokes the pre-modern understanding of the world once upon a time couched in storytelling.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A Tale of Two Doctors

Briefly, my consideration for the Nobel Committee is this: if Dr. Edwards' in vitro technique is medicine, then so were the experiments of Dr. Mengele.

Just sayin'.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

No such a thing as scientific method

I don't think it exists any such thing as a scientific method. Unless we mean by it the ordinary exercise of intelligence, wherever and whenever testified by men in their dealing with what concerns them. With this of course I don't say that doesn't exist science: either those which mostly go under this name (physics, chemistry, biology in all their scope), or others that encompass the aspects of experience (like the sense of beauty and goodness) from which those abstract.

Most of all I don't think that such a thing as a scientific method had its beginning (invented or discovered?) with Galileo Galilei.

I first find it introduced by 20th century philosophers of science: strange creatures, these, who in their love of science behave like voyeurs, who appreciate making love as something to look at rather than engage in, but, after having watched, turn to the lovers to instruct them on the best way to do it.

Why is it so, it needs to be seen.

Many people are convinced by them, including my present interlocutor; I think they are hacks, who understand very little of science, and still less of life. Where does this difference comes from? I could answer, being pretty sure to be misunderstood, that it is a question of faith: that aspect of experience that makes us trust some people rather than other, as better communicating to us a sense of human belonging that makes us feel attuned with humanity at large.

To be clear, and repeat myself because my interlocutor doesn't seem to get the point: there aren't people who live by reason and others who live by faith, or, to stress the thing still strongly, there aren't people who have faith and others who don't. All people have faith, in the sense I tried to explain in the last two posts, even the dear friend who is prompting me with questions; and all people have exercised and exercise their reason; so all people live by reason and faith.

Should I say that people make love without need to be instructed by voyeurs? But can only be instructed by lovers?


Back to the point: at the outset I could have equally said, instead of "I don't think", "I don't believe". As for all belief, even of my persuasion of the non existence of a scientific method could be asked on what is grounded. Excluded sheer faith, that doesn't exist, and granted that I trusted other people's teaching, the answer con only be: on reasons tested in reality.

I take, for a start, the second point: the attribution to Galilei of the paternity of the scientific method. This is a turning history of science into mythology: meaning, to find a cultural here to justify one's own positions. As a matter of fact the Galilei cultural hero of the promoters of the scientific method is just a caricature of the real Galilei.

I exemplify with bits of my conversation with Andrea.

To his opposing rationality and irrationality, I replied with mathematics:

Rational are the numbers we can divide; irrational are therefore the zero and the infinite, which cannot be devided; and yet algebra requires both: take zero and infinite away from it, and algebra collapses. So algebra embraces the rational and the irrational.

To which Andrea retorted:

Well the meaning of rationality in math hasn't much to do with that of rationality as intended when we mean the ability to exercise reason. In the first case rational means simply: capable of being expressed as a quotient of integers (or as a fraction if you prefer). Any parallelism between the two definitions is founded on mere assonance.

Strange conclusion, for one who just made an appeal to Galilei as the founder of science based on method. For Galilei in fact math was the language in which nature is written (by the creator), so, by way of it, it should be possible to reach an apodictic reading of how things are in nature. He appears therefore to be rather in agreement with to me, or better, I with him.

Totally opposite is the view of the power of science defended by my interlocutor according to the alleged scientific method:

Some of the truths that had been previously stated as absolute have fallen miserably under the progress of our ability to exercise reason, therefore we have an experimental proof about the need to be very careful with what we say is absolute at one point in time. The only so called absolute truths that have survived in the minds of some of us are those against which no confuting proof has yet emerged, most of the times unfortunately it is not because of the power or the essentiality they express but because of the generalness (and, allow me, sometimes vaporness) of their statement that makes them intrinsically unfalsifiable.

Very nice, very pretty, but it doesn't have anything to do with Galilei, nor with Newton, or for that matter with Einstein. This popperianism doesn't have anything to do with the practice of science, but a lot with politics.

The great question is: is it possible a science of politics?


Saturday, October 02, 2010

“Apples” and “wheels”

Comparing faith and reason is like comparing apples and wheels. Thus said Andrea in the comment reported in the previous post. In the meantime our conversation has been going on in "comments", with me recalling that the name science (from Latin scientia, translating Greek episteme) expresses the philosophical concern already of Plato and Aristotle, and him retorting that the pre-Galilean use of the word doesn't have anything to do with the post-Galilean one, when it acquired a whole new meaning thanks to the discovery of "scientific method". So in his last comment Andrea returned to his, should I say rather desperate, conclusion that "the problem of bringing rationality and faith together" is a problem that "has currently no solution whatsoever".

Well, of course, I feel like saying, if we pretend to compare them forgetting that they actually are like "apples" and "wheels".

That they are so, was implicit in my erudite dissertation about faith, fides, pistis. To which I should add that in Catholic theology it was usual to distinguish between fides quae (creditur) and fides qua (creditur), in a sense somewhat equivalent to the two meanings of pistis on which I called attention: that of which one is persuaded, let's call it belief, and the personal relation by which that persuasion comes. Today we tend to equate faith essentially with the fides quae, i.e. with belief, a persuasion of some sort, to distinguish then between different kinds of beliefs according to the ground on which they rest: some would rest on the "irrational" ground of authority, others on the ground of reasoning methodically. But this would not be like comparing "apples" and "wheels", it would rather be like comparing "apples" and "pears", being both different kinds of fruits.

By the way, "resting on a solid ground" was the etymological meaning of the Greek word for science: episteme. So the question of science was whether we can reach such a ground in our knowledge of things, and how, by what "method". Whatever the answer given, it always implied an explicit or implicit reference to experience, with the demand addressed to an interlocutor to recognize himself in it. It already means, in terms of the so called scientific method, the demand to put our ideas to the test of experience. But…

Which experience? what actually makes an experience? This is the question underlying the conversation with Andrea. A scientific proposition must be such to account for experience. But experience is multifaceted, and consequently there are different levels of science, lower or higher according to the aspects of experience they are able to encompass.

This brings me back to faith and reason as "apples" and "wheels". They cannot be compared because they aren't just different kinds of beliefs, but are different aspects of our ordinary experience. Different, and though inseparable.

A "scientific method" that doesn't allow to account for both makes for a very poor science.


To be continued, because many are the arguments of Andrea that deserve an answer.