Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A little Advent thought

When I want to talk about politics, I am pulled to talk about science. When I talk about science, I am pulled to talk about politics.

And, one way or another I always end by talking about theology.

Let's see why.

I was rather elated by the results of November 2 elections.

Of course, I could be said, you are a damn hothead conservative, with no understanding of the progressive agenda. In one word, you are democratophobic.

Well, I confess that I don't particularly like to days democrats. As so many other people. But do democrats ever stop asking why? See these interesting lines by a well known "conservative" author and commentator:

"I grew up in a Democratic household. The talk at the family dinner table in the early sixties, to the degree it touched on politics, concerned the minimum wage, 40-hour work week, overtime pay, civil rights, disability insurance, or bond money for school construction and teacher training. In other words, it was a sort of "level the playing field" to ensure equality of opportunity.

I don't recall discussions about the evils of American foreign policy, racial quotas, drug legalization, open borders and amnesty, the need for gay marriage, or abortion on demand. I do remember the national spokesmen whom we were supposed to admire — Pat Brown, Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey — did not look or act like John Edwards or John Kerry.

Now one can argue that the seeds of the present Democratic desire for an imposed equality of result, embraced by a Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi [not to speak, I add, of present POTUS], is but the logical evolution from the old Democratic square deal."

I say, definitely, no: there is no following from those old democrats to the new ones.


Because in the early sixties there was still a shared understanding of man's nature.

If this meaning of the word were known to my reader, I'd say that they all shared a "liberal" view of man, in the continental sense of the word, that, in stressing the primacy of the individual person, is of Christian origin.

Afterwards the current Anglo-American understanding of "liberalism", already strongly denounced by the blessed John Henry Newman during the Nineteenth Century, won the way: people are not for it individual persons, but just individuals of the homo sapiens sapiens species. It follows that whatever they otherwise think of themselves – we call it culture and religion – is nothing more than opinion, so that only the state can keep in check their individual or group egoisms.

Here we are at: opinion is opposed to science.

Assumed that we know what science is.

I was involved during the month of October, in a long spawn dialogue with another blogger, ended because at a certain point I dropped my arms in despair.

He claimed to be speaking for pure science, by making a primary appeal to biology and scientific method. I made the same claim, and my primary appeal went to mathematics and Einsteinian physics. By his way science leads to stark atheism, by my way it leads to see the world as an epiphany of God's glory.

So, who is right? Let's recognize it: what is science is a matter of opinion, not distinguishable therefore from culture and religion.

I know that people working in disciplines like biology as well as their sympathizers, holding a very definite opinion about what science is, will never grant it.

Neither do I think that opinion and science are the same thing, but, by qualifying as opinion the meaning of the word science, I ask to recognize that it is open to discussion.

Which leads me back to politics: i.e., to raise the question of what motivates people to hold the opinions they hold.

To clear things out, I have my good doubts that it could be our genes. In this case, given the difference of opinions concerning science, it should be proved the existence of a gene whose presence or absence would make us bend one way or another. But, should it be provable and proved the existence of such a genetic difference, it wouldn't prove anything, because it would remain to be argued why it is one bent or the other that deserves to be qualified as scientific. Neither it would work an appeal to evolution, to explain how we have become what we are by selecting certain ideas and rejecting others, because it doesn't overcome the fact that in this dispute nobody will accept to view himself, with the ideas he holds, as having been selected out rather than selected in. So we would be back to the starting point.

I look for it then in the cultural bias people show in connection with their sense of societal belonging. This means that I prefer to look at what people do, recurring in the evidence of all times and places, rather than letting some self declared scientist, with his naïve ideas about the ordinary life of men, instruct me about them.

We need a science of science, or, if you prefer, a political science. Conservatives might be naïve in the view they hold, but so are liberals, with all their apparent sophistication. I side with the first because their naïvité is richer than that of the others, whose sophistication consists in not allowing them to look at what people really do: their being always engaged in communication, for all kind of purposes, not last that of stating how things really are, so to instruct each other what to do about it

Science is the name for a claim, made for what one thinks to know. To grant this should enable us to dispute on the concept of science: otherwise there is no science but only the opposing claims, with each party convinced to be in the right while pitying the insipience of the other.

Old Aristotle indicated in the fourth century BC how to find the way out of such sterile opposition: like that, today, between conservatives, whose claim is in knowing the truth, and liberals, who thing there is no truth to be known.

To the skeptic – said Aristotle – I can't reply anything, as long as he remains in silence. But, if he just speaks, I can pin him down, finding him in contradiction with himself. Not so much because he says things that can't be true at once, but because what he says runs against what he does by saying it. Like in this classical example:

"The Cretan Epimenides said: all Cretans are liars." Question: true or false? If you say true, then it is false, if you say false, then it is true.

This means that the criterion for discussing claims is the logical consistency between what one says and what he does in the very act of saying it.

Of course, the skeptic has to speak. Unfortunately there are many ways of not speaking: not only by remaining silent, but also by the use made of language. The one made by today intellos strangely resembles such a contradictory speaking: more a sort of subtle violence on the listener than saying anything.

Funny business is logic, when it is applied to human affairs, like people talking to each other. But then it points to the way out of the dilemma: the truth to which I claim must be such, as in mathematics, to transcend you and me.

It must be theological.

Take all this as a little Advent thought.


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