Kreeft on academics

To the question:

If Christianity is intellectual, why aren’t more academics Christians?

(and presumably mentions something about being practical, logical, and scientific), Peter Kreeft answers (transcribed from here):

“Because academics are not practical, and not logical, and not scientific. In fact, if I were to list the 100 most absurd, illogical, impractical ideas in the history of the world, the one thing common to most of them is: you have to have a Ph.D. to believe them. […] To be rational is to think about reality. Reason is an instrument, like light, for bumping off of things. But academics are notoriously […] in-bred, self-referential, thinking about thinking, thinking about each other, thinking about theories. […] Academics are also very intelligent and very clever, and therefore they’re much better at hiding from themselves than ordinary people, because you can invent all sorts of little tables in your mental laboratory to do your little experiments on and hide your mind from the fact[s].”

There is another reason why academics tend to get things wrong: they tend to live separated from most of human society, and therefore are largely in the dark about a large swath of human experience, psychology, and social realities. Because they are unfamiliar with these sorts of things, it is easy for them to make mistaken inferences that are based on how things are occurring around them or what people around them think.

Even in the best of cases, reason is a fragile instrument. Put another way, a chain made by reason easily breaks, and sometimes it is difficult to even see what could be wrong about one’s given chain of thought. Coding offers a limited test-field for this: working within an environment made explicitly for human logic, it is still extremely easy to overlook mistakes in that logic. One can look at a piece of code several times, and be certain that there are no mistakes. Then try to compile or run it and – there’s a mistake! With coding, however, there is a fairly close relationship between the logic (the code) and reality (does the code do what it’s supposed to do when it’s run?). Most beliefs academics have are not tested in a similar sort of way.

2 thoughts on “Kreeft on academics

  1. Bruce Charlton

    A lot of academic discourse is a type of ‘bait and switch’ in which one kind of fairly-hard-to-understand discourse is engaged-in – then when the opposition has been distracted, the subject matter is swapped and substituted.

    A famous biologist gave us a seminar once in which he outlined a ‘model’ of human behavior – when this model was critcized for being grossly unrealistic he retorted that it was just a model. But later in the talk he was treating teh results of this modelling as having proved something about human behavior. He had switched ‘real life’ for ‘model’ when nobody was looking.

    Or, in old style medical research the investigator used to do (or aim to do) small studies on a group of patients that were identical in all significant respects – same disease, same severity, same treatment in same dose etc. Studies were necessarily small becuase it was har to get this level of control. But medicine made major discoveries every few months.

    Now, studies *must* contain large numbers of patients, so they include patients with a variety of diseases, various severities, differening drugs at (often) different doses, and analyzed by ‘intention to treat’ randomization – not by what actually happened to the patients.

    Common sense would ask how averageing the results of a variety of pateints on a variety of treatments is supposed to tell you anything about the propsect for specific patient being considered for a specific treatment. The simple answer is that it doesn’t – but people are so distracted by only-marginally-relevant statistical considerations that they don’t notice that the average for a massive and heterogeneous group has been switched with a spcific decision for a specific patient.

    This business seems otbe a consequence of specialization – with the limitation of each discourse to certain types of evidence, standardization of methods and inferential procedures etc.

    In a sense, modern intellectual discourse is all about ‘modelling’ – but the inferred relationship between models and reality is purely asserted, only very seldom tested.

    Then again the data is only as good as the honesty of those who generate it – and that’s another story.

  2. Pingback: On reasoning | Anthony Burgoyne

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