Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 3, Knowledge

knowledge: (n) acquired information

Knowledge is the realm of facts and data. Information. Learning. Researching. Studying. With this knowledge we can develop theories and hypothesis. We can set up experiments. Look at results. Validate or negate conclusions.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, by definition, God is omniscient. Therefore, if God is all-knowing. God has all the facts and data. No Junk Science there.

Before about the 17th century, the Church was the source of knowledge in western culture. It controlled education and universities. Theology, history, and natural philosophy were filtered through Christian traditions. Since the 18th century Enlightenment, science has diverged in layer after layer of disciplines. Supporting orthodoxy no longer was the purpose of study and investigation. 

Growing up with a father who strongly identified with his Christian beliefs and nuclear engineer education, I was caught between young-earth dating systems of around 6,000 years, and radioisotopes which dated creation back billions of years… often in the same paragraph. As you can imagine from reading my posts, at a young age, I figured out how to get that pendulum swinging by asking alternating questions from Biblical references to physics.

The evangelical Christian community has had issues with science for over 150 years. As scientific disciplines pursued discoveries which contradicted theological positions, the church divided into what I observe as those who accepted that some phenomenon were mysteries outside the rules of science, and those who started from the theological perspective then selected scientific data which supported that position (usually ignoring data which did not support their position). This continues today with Young Earth and Biblical Literalists (e.g. God created the universe in exactly six 24-hour days, about 6000 years ago if you line up the stated ages give in various Hebrew and Christian genealogies). Thus, my observation is that evangelicals either try to cram selected data into their pre-existing belief systems or just ignore or reject data they do not like, mostly by demonizing scientists.

And what have the Republican talking-heads (Fox News to Rush Limbuagh and his various mutations) been saying about science for 40 years? “Junk science”. Whatever does not fit with their beliefs about free enterprise, unlimited wealth, resource extraction, employment figures, pandemic numbers, they just reject, neglect, and ridicule. 

They will quote the number of people on various entitlement programs, suggesting if not outright saying they are black-welfare-queens, but neglect to tell you that most of those benefitting from government programs are white (including all those suburbanites who enjoys roads, public utilities, education, and parks). 

They quote how many babies are aborted, suggesting that these are mostly black women who sell themselves sexually in one form or another, but neglect to tell you that regions of the country with white Christians teens who make abstinence pledges have the highest rates of pre-marital pregnancies. 

They quote how increasing wages and regulations are putting companies into bankruptcy, while neglecting to mention how profits are extracted out of those companies and debts are shielded by bankruptcy schemes. They quote how much the stock market are risen, while neglecting to mention how this has little to do with actually providing companies with additional working capital after the IPO is done.

Trump again epitomized political disdain for science. The press (vilified as “liberal media” for decades by the talking-heads, and “fake news” by Trump) has tallied thousands of lies that Trump put forward over not only the past four years, but for decades before. Data does not lie. Lies are not data. Trump’s advisor and point-talker, Kellyanne Conway, could not have said it better early on when she coined the term “alternative facts”, which of course I have been parodying with this Dept. of Alternative Facts series (which I plant to keep up, as the Democrats do not get a hall pass).

So back to our question, how to empathizes with our evangelical friends on a knowledge level? When we have different conclusions, we need to step back from the conclusions to ask for the facts and data that inform those conclusions. This is tricky, as our impulse might be to contradict whatever they put forward. But, again, listening can help us understand what information they are accepting. And, if invited, we can present our data. The purpose here is not to make judgments, but to understand how different data sets can support different conclusions. We must also be willing to incorporate data that they present, which we did not have before.

NPR aired a report on Christian Nationalist churches recently. In an interview with one pastor who has been preaching about the Deep State, stolen election, and Onward Christian Soldiers siege of the Capital, his comments started with a reiteration that these ideas were facts, to an acknowledgement that he and his parishioners were afraid that secularism had taken over the government, to a confession that these assertions were beliefs that he had without direct evidence to support them. His compromise was to state that they “could be” true.

As I have stated recently, agreeing is not our objective with forgiveness. Being engaged is what will allow us to step back from our conclusions to put our facts and data on the table. When we are humble, we can acknowledge that part of being human is to only have so much information. When we empathize with someone else, we might learn from each other. If we each gain some knowledge, we can understand each other’s conclusions better.

Damn tree of knowledge. God forgot to mention that we would have to eat all the fruit to gain all the knowledge. With our limited capacity to digest facts and data, that sounds like a stomach ache.

“Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind.

All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew ‘more and more about less and less,’ and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about more and more.”

-Will Durant, Preface to the 2nd Edition, The Story of Philosophy, 1933

About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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3 Responses to Dept. of Alternative Facts: Empathy, part 3, Knowledge

  1. Excellent points! Right now, I am struggling to deal with a writer in Maine who does not respect the facts and has her own alternative set. She is not Franco-American, but that culture is her chosen subject, and in a column in a local paper, she presents our history—not a happy one—the way she wishes it were rather than the way it actually was. Obviously, the situation is more complicated, and I will not bog you down with details. However, I’m going to think a lot about what you wrote and how it might be applied to this situation, which is bad on so many levels.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Sounds like Letter to the Editor arm-wrestling. “the way she wishes” suggests these are beliefs rather than facts. I’ll address next. In any case, be kind. You might inquire about her source(s) of information as a way to either clarify how she developed her ideas, or lead into “I have other sources you might want to consider”. I will wait for updates.

  2. HI Oscar,
    First, that was an excellent advice you gave to Laurie Graves. Kindness is always the best approach.
    I have stayed away from discussing politics, as it seems most people are intent on proving themselves right instead of being open to listen to facts, being emphatic and perhaps having a change of heart. I guess the fear of being proven wrong is bigger than the search for facts and knowledge.
    There is one person that I flat-out said I didn’t wish to discuss politics. He not only gave me a stomachache, but all sorts of aches.
    Blessings to you, and thank you for your knowledge! ♥♥

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