Saturday, November 08, 2014

Christian Social Science - How Do I Get at What Students Really Want to Know?

I am giving a talk next week at Hendrix College on "Being a Christian and a Social Scientist".  At the moment it ends this way:

Christianity also makes for a better social science than materialism can, precisely because people do act for reasons.  People act for reasons, they believe they act for reasons, and they believe their existence is meaningful because their reasoned action leads to meaningful ends. I can’t prove that people are right in these beliefs.  But I can prove that most people do have these beliefs (even people who profess materialism).  And I assert that the universal fact that people act as if they act for a meaningful reason is evidence that they are right.  Not proof, but strong evidence.

I think this is true, but doesn't really get to the core of what undergraduates are likely to be concerned about.

I would welcome suggestions for how to bridge this gap.


Thomas said...

Sounds very similar to some arguments C.S. Lewis made, which I don't find convincing. Seems it makes much more sense to conclude that people believe their actions are meaningful because people who believe their actions are meaningful are better at surviving - that this attribute has been selected for. That seems the much simpler and more obvious answer.

Gruntled said...

But doesn't your belief undermine the belief that survival is meaningful - and therefore the supposed survival value of meaningfulness?

Thomas said...

Not really. There are many things I believe are true that don't influence me much at the affective level. That I and everything I know is an accident condemned to oblivion does not obviate the need to decide what to eat for breakfast, where to live and who to marry. Sensory experience and my experience of myself are real enough - and all those decisions have definitive consequences for both. Plus I only have the ability to focus my attention on so many things at once - and reminding myself of my own ultimate meaninglessness is not on the top of my list. Not everyone can or wants to live like E.M. Cioran.

Also, meaning is a relative term - just because I believe that my life doesn't have a cosmic judeo-christian meaningfulness does not mean I don't believe it isn't meaningful in the smaller sense of contributing or detracting from my own and my fellow beings well-being.

Finally, I doubt this belief will ever be widespread - people are naturally confident and self-serious about what they believe in and have difficulty enough even considering alternate points of view, much less accepting them. People will continue believing, as they always have, that they know the truth to this and that and the other thing regardless of the evidence or their familiarity with the topic. It's human nature.