Summary

Kronman describes science through the research ideal, then draws a comparison to technology. He argues we use technology to increase out power and defy fate, but that it ultimately obscures understanding of the world. Social science is likewise dominated by the research ideal, with Economics leading the charge.

However, the humanities have no such guide, and Kronman paints that field as lost and weak, especially since the field’s instructors have PhDs from large research universities. This, he says, has led to the rise of fundamentalism, which currently has no counter in the world. Kronman hopes that Secular Humanism will enjoy a resurgence in humanities departments, again providing instruction in the meaning of life.

Commentary

I agree with Kronman on the strength of the sciences. That field now has clear methods of both discovering and disseminating new discoveries of the natural world. Technology has likewise grown into and around our lives like a parasite – I was born before the internet really came into being, yet I cannot imagine it’s non-existence. Yet to me, technology is more of an interface, especially the laptop I write this post on.

Technology does have a function in defying fate – we have prosthetics, and Stephen Hawking can still communicate with an artificial voice. But I think Kronman ignores the role of technology in facilitating our fates – we can form new communities and if we discover our purpose in living, technology can help us achieve that purpose. While it marches toward the “Death of God,” it also spreads sermons via podcast.

While reading the section on the social sciences, I was struck by how much progress we make in that field in improving advertising. Some of the best progress in any field is driven by the money available.

It’s also true that the humanities have lost some self definition. I took Religion 101 this past semester, and instead of studying the words of Mohammad, we took to Freud. The class was still useful, but in the field of social science.

I agree that Fundamentalism does not have a clear opponent in science (though it does in Richard Dawkins), because each side if fighting a different battle. Faith is specifically without logic, while Science is built around a logical progression of knowledge. I also refer you to the latest book from Jim Wallis, The Great Awakening, where he describes a shift taking place among evangelicals to go beyond a battle with science, something he spoke on during a visit to Williams this fall.

Not having taken a course in Philosophy yet, I can’t render any verdict on Kronman’s hopes for Secular Humanism, except to say that they make sense within the context of the book. Kronman’s political correctness, which I call Relativism, has fatal flaws, which cannot be clearly defined, though they can be identified. I once spent a solid weekend playing a computer game during high school, and came away with a definite emptiness from not having human contact. I felt an inherit wrongness in Swift’s “A modest proposal.” We need real people and relationships in our lives. Technology cannot replace that which truly makes us human, though it can (and will) come close.

Only by personally exploring what makes us human will we be able to resist the temptation to believe the first person selling answers.

Questions

1. What other vehicles can be used to explore the meaning of life?

2. Does education in hard science prepare us for the real world, or does it simply push us up the mountain of scientific knowledge without regard for real-life applicability?

3. Will technology become a primary social system, instead of the secondary system it is now?

4. The internet has a segregating effect – it is easy to surround ourselves with ideas and people similar. How can technology encourage diversity of thought, if it can at all?

5. We have set some moral limits on science (i. e. Cloning). Should there be similar limits in new technology?

6. Do you like Kronman’s hope for the future of the humanities?

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