Professor Paul Brockelman
Recently there has been a trend in our culture toward the melting of the science versus philosophy and religion debate. Prof. Brockelman suggests that religion and the humanities are not dogmas or doctrines. Just as science changes, our view of religion and cosmology also changes. Everything is a process. And within this process we search for matters of meaning or "reason", not "fact". Cosmology can not be seen as a set of scientific hypothesis or mathematical deductions leading to set conclusions. In the past, hard "knowledge" was not found in nonscientific realms such as philosophy or poetry and novels. But Prof. Brockelman suggests a different form of knowledge is emerging where a science/religion discussion will happen. This will have significant effects on modern forms of education and our environment in general. The boundary between the two is dissolving.
The idea of mystery was then introduced as a "boundary situation" where thought stops and you feel an overwhelming sense of this mystery. Socrates introduced mystery to his students to push them to want to find things out. If you don't feel this sense of mystery, you won't try to find anything out. Then the question arose of the Theory of Everything. Will there be this final answer someday where we will know everything? Mystery is said to be the beginning of all intellectual thought including philosophy and science. But if you knew everything, there'd be nothing to do. Mystery is also fundamental to religious life. It could be considered another way of knowing besides scientific observation. But as said before, science and religion is moving and changing, and a new scientific cosmology incorporating mystery may also be a new Creation Myth.
We were then introduced to the important concept of Hermeneutics or Interpretive Understanding. The word is of Greek origin and basically is the principle of interpretation. For example, the Bible was interpreted differently by different readers and it wasn't ever obvious what the Testaments "meant". Christianity was never understood in black and white. Later in the 19th Century in Europe, Hermeneutics was generalized to all texts, including novels. The question always being WHAT DOES IT MEAN? This is asked when interpreting any text or idea. Today in the 20th Century, Hermeneutics is applied to our own lives. The best part of our human condition is that our life is bigger than scientific understanding. We find ourselves asking questions such as:
We search for the meaning of Being and realize that these questions can not be answered in the laboratory. Hermeneutics now has a broader application and can influence our attitudes towards life - an attitude that predates a philosophy. This includes cultural attitudes and practices. We become nature observing itself when we are aware of what it means. An example of science providing a form of Hermeneutics can be seen in many cultures all over the globe in the new form of cosmology developing. It is bringing the two parts of ourselves together providing a new Creation Myth.
Examples of Hermeneutics given in class include God's creation of the Universe in 7 days, the appearance of Halley's Comet in the tapestry of Bayeux and Christianity in general. These are all stories, which can not be logically deduced. These stories are how human culture can be shaped with meaning. During the Enlightenment the Europeans were obsessed with power. Descartes thought you could gain security if you could learn how to "know". Knowledge was reduced to mathematical deduction, so religious believers were thought to be dreamers. This set up the foundation for Modernity and the Humanities and Philosophy were reduced to ornaments. But this whole conception had an underlying story. Humans wanted to know how to know, having power over things such as the weather, the military, bodies(genetics) etc.. But in the 20th Century science came to realization that some issues aren't all scientific. For example, after the atomic bomb was developed we wonder if we should have it. And then spiritual issues emerged and we recognized Hermeneutics.
We can recognize a story in everything. The Bible is made up of stories, and our own life is an ongoing story. Stories become important only because we ARE stories. Our culture is a story. Even though there are conflicts within cultures what the story is, they bring together isolated events in a meaningful way(like a melody brings together the notes and lyrics in a song). A myth is stories through which cultures discover meaning. Although Greek myths may not mean anything to you, we are mythmaking creatures. Certain myth carries meaning for certain people, disclosing ultimate meaning. Creation myths are narratives that give a human role in destiny, giving us meaning. They are not a True or False hypothesis, but rather a view of the wider reality which informs us how to give meaning to things. Lecture ended with a summary of the 10 new cosmology and Creation myth characteristics.
Readings on Reserve: Brockelman- Cosmology and Creation &endash; Chs. 1-3.
February 17, 1999 Summary
Prepared by Kelly O'Rourke