Monday, August 03, 2009

Here We Go Round Again: The Heart/Head Dualism

Look here on Uncommon Descent for a very interesting post by sociologist Steve Fuller. He links to his review of Karen Armstrong’s book “The Case for God”. Below I have paraphrased some comments from Fuller’s review. I have never read Armstrong, so the following will have to serve as an account of her position on religion.

Armstrong according to Fuller
* Armstrong sharply distinguishes the status of religion as either logos and mythos – that is, as an account of how the world really is and how we make sense of our place in the world.
* Armstrong seeks an end to arguments for and against God’s existence, arguments which obscure the divine.
* The divine is beyond words.
* Religion works best when mythos has the upper hand over logos.
* Intelligent Design theory is logos driven
* Science’s quest for certainty is hubris.
* Humanity’s logos mania has led to untold cruelty, misery and harm to other humans and nature.
* ID supporters are the target of Armstrong’s anti enlightenment harangue.
* Core religious experience is silence before the ineffability of being; the apophatic response.
* There has been a decline in modern religious authenticity as it becomes bound up with science.
* Armstrong calls for Stephen Jay Gould’s magisterial segregation of religion and science.
* ID is too enamored with science as opposed to religions ultimate basis in the ineffable.

My Comments
Firstly, I don’t think it does justice to describe the logos vs. mythos dichotomy by portraying it as a distinction between how the world really is and how we make sense of our place in the world. For many an atheist evolution has the character of a structure that makes sense of our place in the world; or at least as far as the materialist can make sense of that place. Moreover, evolution is a hugely complex object tying together a very tiny sample of direct experience and thus evolution is less the world as it really is than what we think it is. So, what Armstrong really means here is that "logos" grounded theories like evolution (and ID!) make little sense of the human predicament in terms of axiomatic human predicates such as value, purpose, meaning, sensibility and feeling.

Therefore my reading of Armstrong (according to Fuller) is that she is in actual fact manifesting yet a another version of the tension found in a very common duality, a duality that I have expressed time and again on my blogs and elsewhere; words versus feelings, analysis versus intuition, knowledge versus gnosis, H. G. Wells’ Morlocks vs. Eloi, etc; in short the head versus heart dualism (See here, here and here). This dualism may actually have a grounding in the left/right physiology of the brain, although I apply this picture tentatively because the scientific account may need modification. However, the left/right brain division at least serves as an excellent metaphor for Armstrong's head vs. heart religious dualism.

Armstrong, needless to say, is a religious liberal and yet in her valuing of mythos over and against logos she has much in common with the skew in EPC Christian culture (EPC = Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic) toward the Holy Spirit; or as many New Agers would contend, a shift from the age of pisces (Icthus, the fish) to the age of aquarius (the water carrier). It is surely an irony that Armstrong’s disaffection toward logos religion closely mirrors the EPC Christian's oft expressed disdain for reasoning, thinking, and language. Unlike Armstrong the EPC Christian may espouse fundamentalist doctrines, but those doctrines have more the character of a hard shell or husk that encases what to the EPC is the heart of the matter; a faith of mythos mush, an intimate and unspeakably sublime connection with the Divine. For how many times have I heard in my unfortunate association with EPC of the 18 inch separation between head and heart? How many times have I been told that faith is not in the head but in the heart? How many times have I heard expressed EPC diffidence toward “enlightenment” thinking? How many times have I had the misfortune to sit under preachers, even strict and particular evangelicals, who deride the products of reason and promulgate a fideist gospel? How many times have I heard that true faith is in the heart and not in the head? How many times have preachers expressed a dislike of science and compared "man’s knowledge" unfavourably with Divine knowledge? Just like Armstrong, EPC yearns for mythos over and against logos.

The following quote taken from a charismatic fundamentalist (whom I have on video) typifies so much that I have heard in EPC:

“If you always process salvation through your mind you will never enter the fuller things in your walk. You must move from a place of cognitive reasoning ability to a place where faith and belief flows through your spirit and not your head … God is beyond your logic.”

Another manifestation of the head vs. heart dualism with a bias toward the former is surely found amongst some emerging church Christians. See, for example, this exchange on Network Norwich where a commentator by the name of Paul expresses diffidence toward James Knight 's highly intellectual and cognitive apologetics and he echoes what is the equivalent of Armstrong's disdain of ID theory. Paul says:

In dissecting the wager as you (James Knight) have done you have put forward the modernist construction that one believes first - it is about thought, will and logic. You've basically said it's about competing truth claims (eg propositions that can be debated, arguments clinched). Surely all that does is narrow and confine the God you are attempting to expose to as "more than" that. In essence then the place to encounter God is in certainty and the mind. Interesting that Kraft said the evangelical church was the child of modernity. Not sure your arguments hold in a postmodern, postchristian, postchristendom and postwhatever society.

Making a guess I identified Paul as a post-evangelical, emerging church Christian and I went on to hazard that he appeared again in this thread on Network Norwich, but without a name, and so I gave him the acronym PAUL which I said stood for "Postmodern Antifoundationalism Undermines Logocentricity", or "Postmodern Ambiguity Undermines Language".

Anyway, here was my reply to Paul:

In the tension between the Institutional and the Celtic, between the analytical and the intuitive, between science and art, between the informational and the heartfelt, between ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’, I’m for a synthesis rather a competitive spiritual hegemony by partisans who place all their eggs in one basket, whether that basket be just the formal or of the intuitive.

It is surely ironic that today’s charismatically oriented mainstream evangelical, who often derides the ‘head’ knowledge of propositional doctrine, thus finds himself on a similar quest to the emerging church and the liberal theologians. In their own ways they are all reacting to the apparent epistemological and ontological hegemony of analytical science by finding spiritual refuge in that last bastion of sacredness and humanity: the mysteries of inner life. I would be the last to deny the important role that sublime experience may play in the spiritual life of some people but it’s gone too far when the ecstatic is set over and against the analytical.

God can, I believe, can be found in the modernist and the abstract (in thought, will and logic) as in any other domain of human experience. But human knowledge is inherently probabilistic and probabilities soften the sharp outlines of binary logic saving the analytical from human hubris.

Pascal is a very significant figure in this connection. In him we see the tension between the analytical and the intuitive worked out, in his case resolved in favour of the mystical and the fideist. But he had also become aware of the probabilistic nature of human knowledge. He appealed to the analytically inclined by suggesting that their knowledge had blurred edges. (The exact space of possibilities in which Pascal offered the choices of his wager were the options the culture of his day thought to be nigh on exhaustive)

Evangelicalism the child of modernity? No! No! No! Evangelicalism has been and continues to be as much the embodiment of tensions between “right and left brain” expressions as many other parts of society.

The escape from science into gnosis or mythos seems to be a very general phenomenon, a phenomenon that goes wider than religious liberals and EPC . At its root is a thirst for mystery that science finds hard to satiate:

Do not all charms fly at the mere touch of cold philosophy? Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings, conquer all mysteries by rule and line, empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine – unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made the tender-person’d lamia melt into the shade. (Keats)


Jo said...

the pictures draws you in
good job

Kirk said...

Mr Reeves,

Your argument that God exists in the first place is based on a faulty premise.

Think about this: the chance of God not existing = X/Y"

Following your logic, which in this case is actually quite reasonable then this should read the chance of a God existing = X/Y; the same could be said of any object or entity: the probability of existence can be represented as a fractional value X/Y where X is less than or equal to Y (which is a way of rephrasing your constraints on the values.) For such a fraction the constraints do very little to constrain the probabilities as the resulting value of X/Y can be anything from infinitesimally small to one (one = certainty).

Your belief is I assume that the likelihood of God existing is X/Y, then you conclude that X/Y = 1 (certainty) which it most certainly does not. See below:


It seems YOU did not remember that. If that capitalised assertion is true then X/Y is a fantastically small proportion. So your conclusion should be not that one must believe a God must exists but rather that there is a fantastically small probability that a God might exist somewhere in some universe. I know of no one who would claim otherwise - so yours is a completely moot point.

Best regards


Timothy V Reeves said...

You can't be serious Kirk!

So what if I just enjoy playing the long odds.

Timothy V Reeves said...

NOTE: Just in case I haven't made it clear enough: The post by "Kirk" may well be gobbledegook that is not meant to be taken seriously; either that or someone who hasn't a clue about reasoning.