Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Education for Human Flourishing: Interview with Paul Spears and Steve Loomis (part two)

We continue our interview with Biola's Paul Spears and Wheaton's Steve Loomis about their book Education for Human Flourishing. You can read part one of the interview here.

You say in the book that “To have an understanding of what it means to be human is necessarily at the core of the educational project” (36). Thus, in chapter 1 you make a case for substance dualism as “the most effective way by which we can best explain fundamental issues in human ontology” (44). How does a Christian substance dualism, compared to say a Christian physicalism, impact educational commitments, especially commitment to an educational vision that is for human flourishing?

Spears: This question is worth a book length answer all by itself. While it is true that I believe that substance dualism gives the best account for the human condition, what I really want to do is begin a discussion about how our philosophical beliefs should be driving the way in which we go about the educational project. So, as a substance dualist and, more importantly, a Christian I should be able to give a fully orbed account of the educational project that is derived from those fundamental views of reality. What I wanted to point out in the book is that most individuals and, even most educators, cannot give a salient account of where the educational theory is derived. My hope is that this book encourages people to closely scrutinize their fundamental beliefs about education, and, thereby, adopt better curricular and pedagogical methodologies because of their more critical knowledge of human persons.  

What does it mean to flourish as a human being?

Spears: Basically, it means to live as is proper to your being. We are to understand how we are a part of God’s created order, and that understanding should enable us to pursue right living in accordance to God’s purpose or end for humanity.  It is when we pursue God’s purpose that we are flourishing. Conversely, if we pursue some other end like physical pleasure it may momentarily be satisfying, but it will never lead to true flourishing. 

Why is education for human flourishing? (in contrast to education for merely skill training, employment, social status, etc)?

Spears: Skill training only teaches the “how” of an action, not the reasons for why you do the action or behavior. Education for human flourishing is concerned with doing the right thing for its own sake, and not for pragmatic reasons. It may result in some pragmatic good, but that is secondary to the right reason.
What is Christian worldview integration? 

Spears: Christian anthropological commitments are not just concerned with human persons flourishing for their own sake, but they flourish as active participants in God ‘s kingdom purposes.  So a proper education does not stop with our own self understanding and flourishing, but continues as we participate as servants of God in his economic kingdom. Christian anthropology is not narcissistic, but theocentric. As we integrate our Christian worldview into our intellectual endeavors, we come to gain a more complete understand of how we are to live.

How can we engage in integration?

Spears: We need to realize that there are multiple ways to understand how the world works. Just as God gave us our 5 senses so that we can investigate the physical world, we should see the different academic disciplines as bringing unique insights to the way in which we understand our world and the human condition. 

How have the professionalization and the specialization of knowledge and expertise impacted education and attempts at integration?

Spears: Again, a question fit for a book… Specialization of knowledge came about because of the Enlightenment turn and the establishment of “research universities” (e.g. the University of Berlin and later in the U.S., Johns Hopkins) where modern empirical scientific methods were the primary method of inquiry. Theology, previously, had been “queen of the sciences,” and it was through the lens of theology that all science was understood. In the new research university, theology, for example, had no claim of absolute or ultimate authority on truth because it could not be investigated by the means of the 5 senses. This radical restructuring of truth called all of the “humanities” into account.  This is due to the fact that the idea of what constitutes truth within the humanities would not fit within the new scientific research paradigm. This led to a new professional view of academia as much of the new science was driven by a more economic model of academic work, which was much more focused on what universities could bring to a nation in terms of its how university research could through the scientific research enhance a nations economic viability. Education became increasingly focused on empirical research rather than continuing the classical model of education which was committed to training students in the fundamentals of intellectual discourse and virtue. This commitment to research of course also deeply affected both teachers and students. In universities, professors no longer saw their task as shepherding students into mastery of ideas, but in terms of their own personal research agenda. The modern research agenda within universities puts students and faculty in more of an adversarial role, as students demand time from faculty members who need that time to produce “scholarship” which is the coin of the realm within the university. I am glad that Biola sees both faculty scholarship and mentoring as fundamental for a good university professor. 

What difference does it make for education if scripture is viewed as a source of knowledge about reality vs. scripture as merely a source of one’s religious beliefs?

Spears: This is a common problem. Much of our world does not think of scripture as being “true,” that is a means by which we have access to reality. The epistemological marginalization of the scriptures makes relative the claims of the Christian faith. This allows for people to have personal Christian commitments, but does not allow for scripture to be a source by which you can determine the rightness or wrongness of an action. To remove this fundamental source of reality is akin to taking away our sight and expecting us to have a cogent discussion of the paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum.  Scripture, to paraphrase Dallas Willard, “…Is the most important book about the most important thing.” To ignore scripture as a source of reality hamstrings humanity in terms of our ability to truly flourish.  Scripture is the true story about God’s creation of this universe and the fall and redemption of humanity. If we believe that scripture is true, it necessitates our mastery of and comportment to it.

Loomis: It makes every difference.  Scripture as special revelation is a key that unlocks the ontology of life’s ends and means.  It brings coherence and understanding to an otherwise incoherent and misunderstood world.  We can begin to understand human performance in terms of proper function.  To think Christianly is to think more broadly and liberally about any given field of knowledge, the opposite from what some screed-slinging critics have supposed.  Understanding Jesus’ vision as best we can is seeing a little more deeply and clearly about a matter than we would or could otherwise.  Education as the locus of learning, the locus of revealing and uncovering, as a process of moving from ignorance to truth and understanding, is itself only made possible by the reality tokened by Scripture: if we are reading the claims of the Bible accurately, there is literally no education anywhere but for the ontological reality of God.

Part three of our interview with Spears and Loomis can be found here

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