Posts

laptop

The Age of the Expert

Where would we be without the Internet? This Network of networks, the Internet has empowered mankind with infinite information, an avenue for democracy and a foundation for building relationships across geographical barriers. It has started revolutions and graciously given you the name of the song stuck in your head all day.

A cursory glance through the history of technological development will notice that the Internet wasn’t the only leap forward that had titanic impacts on how we live. The wheel and automobile helped us get from A to B in much shorter time, while the alphabet and book were game changers in how common man viewed language and the accessibility of knowledge. In a similar way, the Internet’s advance has empowered people to learn more and more, because it is so easy to find information. Don’t know the names of Jupiter’s moons? Google it. Nobody got time for the library.

Who’s the boss?

Just like the hammer in the shed, we believe that the Internet is just another tool we harness for our benefit. We assume that we are masters of self and are immune to any sort of external trickery, especially by machines. But as the foremost philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan, suggested, media aren’t just channels of information. They do supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. In words for today –  the Internet is changing our brains. It is naive to think otherwise.

Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember, describes our consumption of knowledge before and after the internet:

“Whether I am online or not, my mind now expects to take in information they way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving steam of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Furthermore:

“Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators, and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.”

Have you ever been in a Facebook comment thread debate? Then this will feel painfully familiar. Shallow thinking spawns shallow engagement with others. The common courtesies you learnt as a child or in debating class to understand, listen to, and respect other viewpoints are thrown out the window. People feel free to hurl abuse and ridicule not just at each other’s arguments but at each other. The social network becomes antisocial. Alanis Morissette, eat your heart out.

How does this effect us?

Wading in the shallows of knowledge the Internet offers is not something that affects a particular demographic: it affects anyone who uses it for an extended period of time. That means all of us. For some strange reason, we assign ourselves expert status after watching a few YouTube videos. You would think that with the proliferation of information on virtually very topic, the most outspoken among us would do their due diligence to understand the view they espouse or oppose. This is not the case. Straw men abound.

Take, for example, how we talk about religion and God on the internet. All too often the norm is to belittle and dismiss our opponent’s arguments without seeking to engage or understand them. We settle for memes or parodies that build the faithful but antagonise everyone else. Perhaps we believe that by repeating, reposting and retweeting caricatures over and over again they might spontaneously come into existence.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the Internet and the capability it puts at our fingertips. However, any medium that encourages short and pithy truth statements is not conducive to deep understanding.

While the Internet has contributed greatly to knowledge, democracy, and communication, there is a darker side to this technology. It has made us think we know what we are talking about with minimal effort. My encouragement to everyone is this – study hard and know what you believe and why you believe it. Not only your views, but those you oppose. This is true intellectual satisfaction and honesty. For in the deep things of life, the shallows just aren’t good enough.

Thinking matters

The world is changing. I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes.

Anti-intellectualism is sweeping through Western civilization and there is no high ground, no safe haven from the rushing tides. Constant technological advance is making modern life easier and more convenient every day, and while there are definite benefits to this, there is also a clear downside.

Shaking the lucky-8 ball of Google whenever a question arises has taken the effort out of thinking, and the ease with which modern people can get the answers has actually been demonstrated to have a negative impact on intellectual health. Even universities, the institutions of knowledge and learning are not free from this unstoppable force, albeit in a different way. While culture at large falls prey to not thinking hard about much at all, many academics have fallen prey to only thinking one way, blind and deaf to the cogent and coherent alternatives of opponents.

As with most cultural contagions that ravish the Western mind, the Church also falls victim, despite our allegiance to Another Land. I have seen this most notably in the following ways:

  • A separation between theology and piety (what you believe and how you live)
  • Redefining childlike faith as childish faith
  • A disdain for the past and the history of the Church
  • An over-emphasis on being led subjectively and directly by the Holy Spirit, to the neglect of his promised means of grace (the Word preached)
  • The belief that doctrine divides (an example being the existence of denominations)

I don’t sound the alarm as a concerned scholar, sitting in my ivory tower and nodding at all your indiscretions, but rather, as Mark Noll put it, a “wounded lover” of the intellectual gold mine that is Christianity. Apart from missing out on having your mind absolutely blown by the truths that the Bible teaches, an aversion to thinking in the Christian life is actually a sin. The command to love the Lord our God with all our hearts does not stop there, but is a call to devote every fibre of our beings to the pursuit of grace and knowledge, given to us through Jesus Christ. Attempting to love God without knowledge of Him is tantamount to attempting to love your partner or spouse while avoiding learning any of their hobbies, joys or deepest fears.

The way I see it, anti-intellectualism in Christians will result in three things:

  1. Stunted spiritual growth
  2. A hollow worldview
  3. Robbing God of glory that is all His.

I pray that you will join me as over my following few articles, I attempt to delve into these consequences, demonstrating not only the harm they are causing us, but also the joy and satisfaction that we are missing out on.

Is Certainty Necessary for Knowledge?

Adam Omelianchuk offers a simple illustration from Jason Stanley to show why the answer is no.

Doubt as Defense Mechanism

Paul Copan:

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center” text_align=”left”] “Knowledge can be defined as warranted true belief, but one can have knowledge without having 100% certainty. For those who question that “knowledge” does not always equal “100% certainty,” we ask: “How can one know with 100% certainty that knowledge requires 100% certainty?” Indeed, we can know various true things that rise to the level of “very plausible” or “highly probable” in our minds. (Isn’t it logically possible that my typing right now is just an illusion? It doesn’t follow from being logically possible, however, that this illusion is therefore likely true—far from it.)

One doubter with whom I’ve recently engaged acknowledged that his “100% certainty requirement” was really a defense mechanism that enabled him to feel comfortable in a state of neutrality—to justify his insecurity and lack of persisting in the hard work of committed belief. He confessed to his own insecurity about relationships and his own inability to commit to anything. He pointed to something from my book How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? that helped him: “Skepticism—like relativism—tends to eliminate personal or moral responsibility since truth (which is crucial to knowledge) is systematically being ignored or evaded….We should consider the personal, motivational questions which, while not being an argument against skepticism, raise important issues that may be driving the skeptical enterprise. Blanket skepticism is an affliction of the mind that needs curing” (pp. 28-29). I rejoice that God has been very evidently at work in this young man’s life.” [/pk_box]

Dallas Willard On the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge

The Evangelical Philosophical Society blog has a posted video from a lecture by Dallas Willard at the Psychiatry and Spirituality Forum at UC-Irvine. In the talk, entitled “On the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge: How it Happened and What it Means”, Willard explores the possibility of moral knowledge in a world that elevates the intellect over the affective faculties and that is much more skeptical about non-empirical claims.

Dallas Willard is a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He has written in the areas of epistemology, the philosophy of mind and of logic, and on the philosophy of Edmund Husserl. This lecture is based on themes from Willard’s forthcoming book, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/11949401[/vimeo]

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/11922137[/vimeo]

Are Faith and knowledge functionally opposite?

Greg Koukl of apologetics ministry Stand to Reason writes,

In an odd sort of way, Christians have abetted atheists in their efforts to cast doubt and even derision on believers. Here’s how.

Atheists have tremendous confidence that science will continue its record of silencing superstition. As knowledge waxes, foolishness wanes. Consequently, there’s no need for sticking God in the so-called “gaps.” Science will fill them soon enough.

Atheists are buoyed in their confidence by what they consider an inverse relationship between knowledge and faith. The more you have of the first, the less you need of the second.

Faith is merely a filler for ignorance. As knowledge increases, silly superstitious beliefs are discarded. As science marches forward, ignorance will eventually disappear and faith will simply dry up.

Simply put, faith and knowledge are functional opposites. The only place for faith, then, is in the shadows of ignorance.

Ironically, this same perspective has been promoted by Christians themselves. “If I know that God exists,” they challenge, “or that Jesus rose from the dead, or that Heaven is real, then where is room for faith?” Note the same inverse relationship between knowledge and faith held by atheists: Faith and knowledge are functional opposites.

This view is obviously false if you pause to think about it. The opposite of knowledge is not faith, but ignorance. And the opposite of faith is not knowledge, but unbelief. It’s certainly possible to have knowledgeable faith and ignorant unbelief.

More importantly, the knowledge vs. faith equation is not what the Bible teaches. In fact, Scripture affirms just the opposite. In this month’s Solid Ground, I lay out the case that biblical faith is based on knowledge, not contrary to it. Once you see the textual evidence, I think you’ll agree that faith and knowledge are compatible, shoring up our confidence in the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

With confidence in Christ,

Greg Koukl

(Greg recently has recently interviewed author David Berlinski about his book, The Devil’s Delusion that has just been released on paperback. This was very interesting discussion and recommended. Listen Here.)

No barriers to knowing Him

“It is certainly true that our knowledge is finite. The agnostic has recognized that in some measure, though he illegitimately uses it for his own purposes. But the limitations of human knowledge are, we will see, very different from the kinds of limitations supposed by Hume, Kant and the positivists. For now, however, we should simply remind ourselves who the Lord is. Because He controls all things, God enters His world – our world – without being relativized by it, without losing His divinity. Thus in knowing our world, we know God. Because God is the supreme  authority, the author of all the criteria by which we make judgments or come to conclusions, we know Him more certainly than we know any other fact about the world. And because God is the supremely present one, He is inescapable. God is not shut out by the world; He is not rendered incapable of revealing himself because of the finitude of the human mind. On the contrary, all reality reveals God. The agnostic argument, then, presupposes a nonbiblical concept of God. If God is who Scripture says He is, there are no barriers to knowing Him.”

John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, pp 19-20.