Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Knowledge is a Gift.

The larger point is that the purpose of education is to prepare the student for his place in the world.

By convention, I tend to use the masculine gender so as to avoid the literary clutter of having to write "his or her" all the time.  And, for the record, "their" is not a suitable substitute in that is fails the singular vs. plural test.

Technical training as an element of education is valid and important, but it should not be the sole purpose of instruction.  Children, and especially young adults in the typical College Years, are going through basic biological development that must be encouraged, maintained, cultivated, supported.  The human brain continues to develop until around the age of 25.  At that time, sadly, it immediately begins deteriorating and so begins the long downward spiral into senility.  Some people get there more quickly than others.

Focusing exclusively on technical training, or even societal dogma, during college produces people who will not be well equipped to interface with the rest of the adult world.  Even if a college has a point of view, it is important to prepare the students for a world where that point of view is not going to be prevalent.

This links to my Short List of Things Believe item that includes the phrase, "Make your case."  A student ill prepared to confront differing opinions will not be able to make their case other than the intellectual equivalent of "It's so because my Mom said it is." 

I'm all for carrying on tradition, for cultivating faith, for developing a world view that conforms to the norms of a particular society.  But, I'm also for developing generations of new thinkers who will enter that society, will observe the traditions, and evaluate the norms with new eyes.  Each generation must go through the process of evaluation.  Each generation must ask themselves if we have progressed towards the things that we hold most dear. 

Of course, that opens a huge question about what are the things we hold most dear?  A significant population holds dear the belief that same-sex love is anathema.  This is, obviously, a problem.

Let me use the allegory of Genesis for a thought experiment.  God created the Universe in some manner and created humans (allowed humans to come to be) in that Universe.  Humans were given a choice: remain ignorant of the ways of the universe, and as such the Mind of God, and live a life of bliss and stagnation.  Or, God said, choose Knowledge and enter into a life of hardship, where the rewards are few and hard won.  But, that knowledge allows humans to develop, to challenge themselves, to seek truth.  It was only by choosing Knowledge that God gave humans the path to know His mind and purpose. 

Three and a half billion years after the first amino acids bumped into each other in a puddle of goo to make the first proteins, and, say, a million years after our first nearly human ancestors started to develop a cerebral cortex, and about ten thousand years after the last ice age, humans as we know ourselves today look at our place in the universe and question our relationship to God.

God gave us Knowledge, and gave us Science as the tool to discover the intricacies of that Knowledge.  It is not by accident that we are curious creatures.  It is built in to us.  We tell each other stories as part of our DNA.  We cannot avoid it.  Without it we would become food for some other animal that does have the ability and willingness to question his surroundings and to improve on his existence.

Today, we are children of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.  I know that those periods of history are long past, and perhaps it's time for a New Enlightenment.  But, the point is that we, as a species, came out of the Dark Ages and made a deal with ourselves: Science and Reason are the tools we must use in order to move into the future.  Faith is a part of society, and is indeed a part of Humanity, but it is not the only thing.  Faith will not cure disease.  Faith will not bind atoms into molecules.  Faith will not supplant an imperfect Mankind with some sort of demi-god. 

Science and Reason are the gifts of God in the same way that Faith and Culture are.  To place one above the others, to deny one at the expense of any other, is to tear down the whole of what God gave Man in the original choice.  Christians often interpret the Garden of Eden story as Original Sin.  Perhaps it is better viewed as God's way of showing us the path to Him.

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