Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Stephen Fry on people who think they can't do academics

This is not the entire truth, but it is the lion's share of it:
There are young men and women up and down the land who happily (or unhappily) tell anyone who will listen that they don't have an academic turn of mind, or that they aren't lucky enough to have been blessed with a good memory, and yet can recite hundreds of pop lyrics and reel off any amount of information about footballers, cars and celebrities. Why? Because they are interested in those things. They are curious. If you are hungry for food you hunt high and low for it. If you are hungry for information it is the same. Information is all around us, now more than ever before in human history. You barely have to stir or incommode yourself to find things out. The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know. They are incurious. Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.
— Stephen Fry, The Fry Chronicles (New York: Overlook Press, 2012), Kindle Edition, location 1260.

Monday, March 2, 2015

G. A. Wells on empty verbiage in theology (and elsewhere)

The fourth chapter of G. A. Wells's Can We Trust the New Testament? (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 2004) is brilliant. The whole book may be brilliant for all I know, but most of it discusses details of NT criticism that I am not competent judge. The fourth chapter, however, comments on various modern and postmodern interpretations of Christianity, and here Wells seems to hit the nail on the head. As he concludes:
We no longer have an ecclesiastical organization able to impose assent to its ideas on the whole population. Instead there is intellectual anarchy in which the conflict of ideas and principles is often replaced by rival forms of make-believe. Freedom of ideas and of expression is degraded into licence to talk at random and make phrases. The resulting fantastic 'explanations' may persist because of their tranquilizing value and the absence of ready means of disproof. In the concrete branches of science, words and phrases are kept in constant touch with real things, so that nonsense is excluded or easily detected. But in theology—as also in literary criticism, and indeed in the humanities generally—what is propounded all too often has no contact with reality except to be verbally repeated in various combinations. (177)
One runs into this kind of thing quite often in certain philosophical circles, but at least philosophy has the analytic camps as well. It seems, however, that every time I pick up a book on theology—well, modern theology, at least—it will without fail consist of a pastiche of nebulous but evocative statements, all very confidently declared with hardly a nod to evidence: the kind of things for which Daniel Dennett's daughter has coined the wonderful term "deepities."