...

Tagthinking

Karl Barth to his critics

Wesley Hill posted this recently. It’s a brilliant letter, and below I am going to put in bold the most important passages — and the ones that are most relevant to an age of social-media boundary-policing.

Dear Dr. Bromiley,

Please excuse me and please try to understand that I cannot and will not answer the questions these people put.

To do so in the time requested would in any case be impossible for me. The claims of work in my last semester as an academic teacher (preparation of lectures and seminars, doctoral dissertations, etc.) are too great. But even if I had the time and strength I would not enter into a discussion of the questions proposed.

Such a discussion would have to rest on the primary presupposition that those who ask the questions have read, learned, and pondered the many things I have already said and written about these matters. They have obviously not done this, but have ignored the many hundreds of pages in the Church Dogmatics where they might at least have found out—not necessarily under the headings of history, universalism, etc. —where I really stand and do not stand. From that point they could have gone on to pose further questions.

I sincerely respect the seriousness with which a man like [G.C.] Berkouwer studies me and then makes his criticisms. I can then answer him in detail. But I cannot respect the questions of these people from Christianity Today, for they do not focus on the reasons for my statements but on certain foolishly drawn deductions from them. Their questions are thus superficial.

The decisive point, however, is this. The second presupposition of a fruitful discussion between them and me would have to be that we are able to talk on a common plane. But these people have already had their so-called orthodoxy for a long time. They are closed to anything else, they will cling to it at all costs, and they can adopt toward me only the role of prosecuting attorneys, trying to establish whether what I represent agrees or disagrees with their orthodoxy, in which I for my part have no interest! None of their questions leaves me with the impression that they want to seek with me the truth that is greater than us all. They take the stance of those who happily possess it already and who hope to enhance their happiness by succeeding in proving to themselves and the world that I do not share this happiness. Indeed they have long since decided and publicly proclaimed that I am a heretic, possibly (van Til) the worst heretic of all time. So be it! But they should not expect me to take the trouble to give them the satisfaction of offering explanations which they will simply use to confirm the judgment they have already passed on me.

Dear Dr. Bromiley, you will no doubt remember what I said in the preface to Church Dogmatics IV/2 in the words of an eighteenth-century poem on those who eat up men. The continuation of the poem is as follows: “… for there is no true love where one man eats another.” These fundamentalists want to eat me up. They have not yet come to a “better mind and attitude” as I once hoped. I can thus give them neither an angry nor a gentle answer but instead no answer at all.

With friendly greetings,

Yours,

KARL BARTH

P.S. I ask you to convey what I have said in a suitable manner to the people at Christianity Today

It seems to me that far, far too many disputes among Christians — especially (God help us) on social media — resemble the approach American fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals took to Barth. What seem to be questions are usually veiled accusations (though often enough the accusations are explicit); the questioners have not worked to discover what the person they suspect really thinks; they (therefore) neglect actual quotation in favor of tendentious and inaccurate summaries in the form of what I call “in-other-wordsing”; and they show no signs of “seeking the truth that is greater than us all,” but rather seem merely to want to declare other people wrong in the name of doctrinal boundary-policing. There is no way to have a conversation under such terms, and no one should even try.

addressing biases

Nick Phillips:

Intellectual diversity addresses a fundamental problem in human cognition: we seek out information that confirms the views we already have. As Jonathan Haidt has argued, this instinct is well-adapted to creating intra-group solidarity, which is useful when competing for power with other groups. But if the goal is to seek the truth, it’s poison. If everyone in your group shares the same biases, that group will block new information that doesn’t conform to those biases. Since no one is right 100 percent of the time, this dynamic guarantees that falsehoods will persist. 

One solution is to attempt to purge individuals of their biases. But cognitive psychologists don’t yet understand how to do this. The only method that reliably solves the confirmation bias problem is to create groups made up of individuals with different biases. In such an environment, countervailing biases checks one another, prodding at weak points and raising questions a colleague didn’t think to ask. This dynamic is highly adapted to truth-seeking, because it forces every person to justify their biases on grounds other than tribalism.

(See also this 2009 article on “debiasing.”

studies prove

Kevin Williamson:

Studies have a way of ceasing to be studies once they are taken up by politicians-in-print like Ezra Klein. They become dueling implements. Mary Branham of the Council of State Governments: “Evidence Shows Raising Minimum Wage Hasn’t Cost Jobs” vs. Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post: “‘Very Credible’ New Study on Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Has Bad News for Liberals” vs. Arindrajit Dube of the New York Times: “Minimum Wage and Job Loss: One Alarming Seattle Study Is Not the Last Word.” Much of this is predictable partisan pabulum. The study that confirms my priors is science. The study that challenges my preferences is … just one study. Our friends among the global-warming alarmists, embarrassed by the fact that every time Al Gore shows up to give a speech it turns out to be the coldest March day in 30 years, are forever lecturing us that weather doesn’t tell us anything useful about climate — except when it’s hot in the summer, or there’s a drought in California, or there’s a hurricane in Florida.

I am a registered “global-warming alarmist,” but Williamson is absolutely right about all this. 

productive smudging

“Another thing he talked about that’s actually useful, and this is my favorite one, he said that blackboards smudge productively, which is just a great line. You know, you’re writing on a blackboard and oops, you make a mistake, you can rub it out with your hand, or you rub it out with an eraser. And it’s really easy to do. But it’s really hard to do it completely; you can’t get rid of it entirely. There’s always a little bit of a smudge and you write over it. And I’ve always thought that was a bad thing. And he argues that for mathematics, and particularly mathematics research, it’s a good thing because a lot of math research involves taking existing concepts and applying them in new ways. And so if you’ve written an existing equation everybody’s familiar with and then rubbed out a part of it and written something new over it, there is a visual sign that you have taken an existing concept and tweaked it, which is sort of like a reminder to the people in the audience that this is how you approach it. This is not some new thing you’ve brought down from on high, it’s an alteration of an existing one.”

Why Do Mathematicians Love Blackboards So Much?

“poisoning your mind with novels”

People talk of keeping au courant, and no doubt an intellectual cannot ignore the human race, nor be indifferent to what is written in his special field; but take care lest the current should carry away with it all your capacity for work, and, instead of bearing you onwards, prevent you from making any headway against it….

What you must principally cut down is the less solid and serious kind of reading. There must be no question at all of poisoning your mind with novels. One from time to time, if you like, as a recreation and not to neglect some literary glory, but that is a concession; for the greater number of novels upset the mind without refreshing it; they disturb and confuse one’s thoughts.

As to newspapers, defend yourself against them with the energy that the continuity and the indiscretion of their assault make indispensable. You must know what the papers contain, but they contain so little; and it would be easy to learn it all without settling down to interminable lazy sittings!…

A serious worker should be content, one would think, with the weekly or bi-monthly chronicle in a review; and for the rest, with keeping his ears open, and turning to the daily papers only when a remarkable article or a grave event is brought to his notice.

— A. G. Sertillanges, O.P., from The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods (first published in 1921)

I took some apples out of a paper bag where they had been lying for a long time; I had to cut off and throw away half of many of them. Afterwards as I was copying out a sentence of mine the second half of which was bad, I at once saw it as a half-rotten apple. And that’s how it always is with me. Everything that comes my way becomes for me a picture of what I am thinking about.

It is the nature of an hypothesis, when once a man has conceived it, that it assimilates every thing to itself, as proper nourishment; and, from the first moment of your begetting it, it generally grows the stronger by every thing you see, hear, read, or understand. This is of great use.

© 2018 Snakes and Ladders

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑

css.php