Tag Archives: Niebuhr

Who Is Our Neighbor? Andromeda !

Today’s featured APOD stunner is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.  At a mere 2 million light years away from our own Milky Way, it is our nearest major galactic neighbor. (See Luke 10:29; “And who is my neighbor?”)

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

It is a cliché to express a sense of human littleness in the face of the unthinkably enormous scope of the universe.  But here, as in all things, one must retain a sense of perspective. For this unimaginable immensity is just the grown-up phase of a creation that once was small enough to fit in its creator’s hand (or yours, for that matter.) And we are fashioned in the image of that same creator.

A cliché that is both true and more useful: Biblical religion both humbles us (in the face of the majesty of God) and elevates us (for we are created in the image of that majestic God).  This balance of our smallness and our greatness is mirrored in face of our universe, so huge and yet once so small.

By contrast, as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “Both the majesty and the tragedy of human life exceed the dimension within which modern culture seeks to comprehend human existence.”




Burke, PABGoo-ism, and Sophistry

Front Porch Republic has an excellent essay by Mark A. Signorelli entitled “A Burke For Our Times.”   It is worth a read.   Edmund Burke’s politics were based on an unblinking understanding of the reality of human nature, an understanding now sadly in decline.

It is generally assumed that a recognition of the dark side of human nature gives to conservatives a sour, gloomy, negative view of human society.   Even the briefest reading of Burke makes it clear that the truth is the opposite.  As Reinhold Niebuhr put it,   “Both the majesty and the tragedy of human life exceed the dimensions within which modern culture seeks to comprehend human existence.”  Rawls is certainly a case in point.

In contrasting the Rawlsian concept of human nature as unimportant on the one hand, and multiculturalism on the other, Signorelli fails to note the shallowly-thought but deeply-ingrained underpinning of multiculti thought.

This is, of course, the cheery world view which believes that “People Are Basically Good” (hence “PABGoo”; see below). PABGoos believe that all our problems are caused by bad political or economic systems, or not enough social science grants or psychotherapy or public education or whatever. The fact that it is publicly refuted countless times a day in every city on the globe has not stopped PABGoo-ism from becoming the default feel-good philosophy of our age.

Niebuhr:  “No accumulation of contrary evidence seems to disturb modern man’s good opinion of himself...The question therefore arises how modern man arrived at, and by what means he maintains, an estimate of his virtue in such pathetic contradiction with the obvious facts of his history.  One possible and plausible answer is that the great achievement of modern culture, the understanding of nature, is also the cause of the great confusion of modern man: the misunderstanding of human nature.”

In other words, our respect for the accomplishments of science has led us into the false worship of the sophistry that goes by the name of “social science”.

Signorelli skillfully posits the difference between a “principle-based” philosopher like Rawls and a reality-based philosopical citizen like Burke.  Rawls’ belief in the eventual promise of science explaining man to himself is an unacknowledged act of charming, childlike faith.  But the effects on society are not so charming.

“Social science” is in fact a uniquely modern form of sophistry.  It takes the forms, language, and prestige of science, and puts it to use in the service of any political, economic, or social movement willing to pay the “research” bill.  Plato’s Republic describes the Athenian sophists in terms that make clear their kinship with the modern social-scientific advocate.

The role of “social science” in overthrowing all the accumulated understanding of human nature is clearest in our modern judicial lawmaking.   When a social element wishes to overthrow an institution firmly established throughout human history, it does so on the basis of “social science.”  When the Iowa Supreme Court decided that marriage is not an institution between man and woman and that society has no interest in the traditional family, it cited

“”an abundance of evidence and research, confirmed by our independent research, supporting the proposition that the interests of children are served equally by same-sex parents and opposite-sex parents.  On the other hand, we acknowledge the existence of reasoned opinions that dual-gender parenting is the optimal environment for children.  These opinions, while thoughtful and sincere, were largely unsupported by reliable scientific studies.  The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.”   (April 3, 2009, p.54; my emphasis)

Burke would have known what to say about such social-scientific nonsense put forth by sophistic advocates whose major goal is the destruction of all natural law and inherited wisdom.  In fact, he did say it.  Reflections on the Revolution in France is a truly great work.


As if to drive home the point about the convenience of “social science” and its ability to prove whatever you need it to prove, read this from yesterday’s Science Daily.

College professors and students are in an arms race over cheating. Students find new sources for pre-written term papers; professors find new ways to check the texts they get for plagiarized material. But why are all these young people cheating? A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests one reason: income inequality, which decreases the general trust people have toward each other.

Got it?  Schoolkids cheat because of rich people!  Thanks, social scientists.