Embracing the Tension: Education against Monomania

Embracing the Tension: Education against Monomania February 20, 2020

We have souls in bodies. This duality is difficult to live. Our bodies and our minds should work synergistically, but sometimes the harmony is broken. In philosophy this dualism has fallen out of fashion. While the idea of body and soul has had recent defenders, lthere is a materialist prejudice inside Anglo-American philosophy out of proportion to the evidence. As committed atheist and materialist philosopher William G. Lycan notes:

“The dialectical upshot is that, on points, and going just by actual arguments as opposed to appeals to decency and what the good guys believe, materialism is not significantly better supported than dualism.”*

A Christian educator shoulld embrace the historic truths taught by the Church that people have souls and bodies**. Both body and soul count: giving us experiences in our minds and through our senses. This duality can create tensions in a broken world where what “is” is not always what it “should be.” Our body says one thing and our mind another: dissonance. The truth requires that we listen to both, refusing to erase either the body or the soul.

Metaphysical materialism strives to reduce all ideas, all works of art, all human experience, the very quality of our feelings, to the objects of physics. Our first experience, our own consciousness, is the seat of our experience of the material world. This consciousness seems nothing like the world we can measure: what is the unit of consciousness? The materialist metaphysics has a bad cultural track record showing an ability to sustain science, which is good, but not a high culture. Materialism hears organ music and tries to reduce the organist to the organ.

Metaphysical idealism turns all into a set of ideas usually in a Mind. This reduction of everything to ideas, a vast simulation made real in God’s Mind, allows for high culture and science, but seem implausible. While Samuel Johnson did not actually refute the idealist Bishop Berkeley merely by kicking a rock, Johnson was noting that our initial impulse is that the rock is real in a way different than mathematical objects, ideas, mind, or consciousness. Idealism hears organ music and stares at the organist, forgetting the organ.

Instead, the material and the ideal, body and mind, harmonize creating the music of the spheres: organ and Organist. This wholistic truth helped Christianity birth science and develop a diversity of cultures all composing beauty around the same themes. The tension sparks creativity and so as educators we must not hasten to a sterile monism.

More vitally is the need to teach all the truths, those that come from theology and those that originate in science. These often appear to conflict, sometimes for centuries. Some Greek thought suggested that women were not fully human, while Christian theology affirmed the full humanity of womankind. Christian education wobbled, but in the main refused a false consensus and a overly hasty harmonization with the spirit of that age. We taught the controversy, continuing to read Aristotle and Genesis. Eventually, Genesis and the full humanity of all God’s children, male and female, was affirmed by better philosophy.

The easy answer is to either make one discipline or another foundation and resolve all tensions by an appeal to this master, guiding discipline. Such monomania causes us to forget that theologians are human, scientists are human, artists are human. Human theologians can misunderstand revelation, misapply the creeds. Human scientists introduce their own bias and so theorizing too often reflects the prejudices of the times. The arts can be corrupted by pandering to power and politics. Over the years God, the cosmos, the community, and will do peer review on our theological, scientific, and artistic interpretations and applications.

Parents and our students, sometimes even those with power, will demand hasty harmonizations or easy answers that end debate, dialogue, and our wondering. If we stifle the controversy, killing the tension, creativity will die. Over time the school and the Church have produced answers and potential resolutions to problems. Old irresolvable tensions give way naturally to new solutions generating new tensions about which we can wonder!

A rejection of reducing truth or the avenues of truth will lead to a classical Christian education embracing every form of truth finding. The very best ideas in any subject area will be examined in the search for truth and virtue. This will undoubtably lead to tension as communities of knowledge and culture disagree.

The classical Christian school will tell the truth about the tension and refuse hasty resolutions. We will go to the liturgy, work in the lab, and create art best we can so help us God.

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Loose, Mengue, Moreland (Editors) The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism Wiley-Blackwell, 2018.

* Quote from: Lycan, Willaim G. Redressing Substance Dualism in The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism Wiley-Blackwell, 2018

**Obviously not in haste! We should follow the arguments and teach the controversy here as well!

For an application of this idea to one contemporary issue see Professor Nancy Pearcey in Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. Baker Book House, 2018.

See John Losee A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Oxford University Press, 2001.


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