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    Norms and Nobility: The Tyrannizing Science

    June 30, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    The title of Chapter 5 of Norms and Nobility is Saving the Appearances, and let me tell you something: this has given me no end of trouble. I have now read the chapter five times, and I am only beginning to grasp what in the world the phrase “saving the appearances” means. Now, I assure you, we can read the chapter and learn a lot of important lessons without understanding the phrase.

    However, comma.

    I just have this sneaking suspicion that understanding the phrase is the key to the antithesis. In other words, David Hicks is setting the ancient aim of science (saving the appearances) in direct contradiction with the modern aim of science (wielding power over the material world and over each other). If we don’t understand the heart of science in both eras, we can’t fully learn the lesson.

    This morning, then, I poked around on the Internet looking for enlightenment, and I found The Galileo Affair. It is helping me. For instance:

    Since the time of the Greeks, the purpose of astronomy was to “save the appearances” of celestial phenomena. This famous phrase is usually taken to mean the resorting to desperate expedients to “save” or rescue the Ptolemaic system. But it meant no such thing. To the Greek and medieval mind, science was a kind of formalism, a means of coordinating data, which had no bearing on the ultimate reality of things. Different mathematical devices—such as the Ptolemaic cycles—could be advanced to predict the movements of the planets, and it was of no concern to the medieval astronomer whether such devices touched on the actual physical truth. The point was to give order to complicated data, and all that mattered was which hypothesis (a key word in the Galileo affair) was the simplest and most convenient.

    Hicks mentions this, too, especially that simplicity was preferred. He even explained that the ancients, in spite of their precise logical powers, would set up two contradictory hypotheses, each which “saved” a certain appearance. The appearances, by the way, were what the ancients saw in the night sky–the planets, the constellations, etc.

    Science, Hicks tells us, could not concern itself with first causes (origins) or final causes (the ultimate purpose of the thing) because of its nature. Therefore, only immediate causes were to be studied. The Galileo Affair says something similar:

    The almost universal belief that the purpose of science was not to give a final account of reality, but merely to “save appearances” ….Astronomy and mathematics were regarded as the play things of virtuosi.

    The ancients did not believe that science revealed truth. The controversy concerning Galileo, then, says my trusty website quoting Owen Barfield’s book (which, incidentally, is named Saving the Appearances), was over truth:

    It took place when Copernicus (probably—it cannot be regarded as certain) began to think, and others, like Kepler and Galileo, began to affirm that the heliocentric hypothesis not only saved the appearances, but was physically true…It was not simply a new theory of the nature of celestial movements that was feared, but a new theory of the nature of theory; namely, that, if a hypothesis saves all the appearances, it is identical with truth. (emphasis mine)

    This was an elevation of science to a whole new level.

    So, if we are going to understand this chapter, we have to understand what happened. There was a day, once upon a time, when truth had very little to do with science. Truth was what you were taught by your parents and grandparents. Yes, that was part of it. But I would suggest that the most important thing which has been lost is revelatory: Truth revealed.

    The problem occurred not when sciencists began asserting that through science one could know something objective, verifiable, and factual about the created order (though folks at the time thought this was a problem, to be sure). The problem was when science bled over. It asserted itself as a capital-t Truth, and purported to know first causes (The Origin Of Species and The Big Bang) and final causes (the purpose of man–there have been various interpretations such as propogation, survival of the species, and, my personal favorite, there is no purpose). Or, there is another way of looking at it. Science shrunk the world to fit itself, everything which cannot be understood in scientific terms being deemed “unreal.”

    It should probably be noted that Darwin’s work is really quite unscientific, a blend of naturalist observation, imagination, and speculation. But this didn’t stop Science from adopting evolution as its flag ship.

    Okay, so all of this is really interesting, but what does it have to do with education? Well, if you’re David Hicks, you think it explains a lot, actually. The ramifications are far-flung and quite catastrophic.

    A New Definition of Man
    Previously, man was viewed as having three levels of existence: physical, rational, and spiritual. The knowledge he could attain was parallel to these: sensual knowledge (including science), law and purpose, and, finally Good and virtue and Divine knowledge and self-knowledge. Our view of man determines how we educate him:

    [E]ducation at every level reflects man’s primary assumptions about himself and his world.

    The ancients believed that only in understanding the higher knowledge (Good, virtue, Divine, self-knowledge) could one really understand any lower knowledge. The lower was informed by the higher. When science elevated itself, knowingly or unknowingly, man was flattened over time into a one-dimensional, purely physical being. The result is that man is relieved of his responsibility of reaching for the Ideal Type:

    [N]ow that science has hypothesized guilt as a neurosis caused by physical forces, some as trivial as toilet training, ideology bids man to blame his angst on parents, on society, on nature, on the past, that is, on anything but himself. The Ideal Type of classical education laying on man the burden of inner change can be sloughed off.

    To summarize: science is elevated to the point of dogma, and man, as a result, is lowered to the status of a determined physical animal with chemicals that give him the appearance (and only the appearance) of having a soul.

    A New Defintion of Knowledge and Epistomology
    “Classical education did not exclude science,” says Hicks, and he has made it clear in his work that this is not his personal aim, either. However, comma, Hicks does want to put science back in its rightful place. The ancients

    judged science of less significance than other branches of learning that promised knowledge, however slender, at higher levels-of-being.

    Remember those levels of man’s existence? Science was on the bottom. When science asserted itself as not just describing obersvable, verifiable facts, but of discovering Truth, the very foundation not just of knowledge, but of how we know something at all, was rocked. Over time, science subverted more and more of classical learning, until nothing was left. Here, Hicks quotes Arnold Toynbee:

    Whatever the human faculty or the sphere of its exercise may be, the presumption that, because a faculty has proved equal to the accomplishment of a limited task within its proper field, it may therefore be counted on to produce some inordinate effect in a different set of circumstances, is never anything but an intellectual and moral aberration and never leads to anything but certain disaster.

    Hicks goes on to say:

    This disaster is already becoming evident in our schools, where the yoke of science is thrown over all faculties of mind and spirit and where even poetry and history are taught by means of analyses that exclude the imagination and normative inquiry.

    Knowledge, since it deals only with “cold hard facts” which can be analyzed scientifically, loses its transformational ability. No longer able to rise up and reach for the Ideal Type, to lift man out of the mire, to reveal permanent things and transcendant truth, nor to reveal man’s true purposes, knowledge is now only known as power:

    [T]he modern technocrat sees knowledge as a source of power giving him a manipulative edge over nature and over others.

    A New Definition of Teachers and Teaching
    Remember, Hicks already told us:

    [E]ducation at every level reflects man’s primary assumptions about himself and his world.

    Okay, so within classical education, there were certain things assumed about man: that he needed and could access redemption or perfection, that there were things he could know which were important and meaningful on a number of different levels, that his purpose was to attain virtue, and so on. Classical education reflected that in what was studied, how it was studied, and so on.

    Modern education, on the other hand, assumes a one-dimensional, purely physical being, the purpose of which is to manipulate nature, or otherwise wield power. He has no soul, and his death (and by logical extension his life) are practically meaningless. His personal comfort, therefore, is the most important thing. Modern educational methods and apporaches reflect this belief.


    Well, for starters, Hicks says:

    All of this narrows the duties of the teacher considerably, thereby improving his chances for a limited success and for developing expert teaching techniques suited to his analytical methods.

    Experience, thought by the ancients to be worthless (or even detrimental) for its own sake, is held up as extremely valuable by modern teachers.

    For instance, he is willing to let his students read just about anything, just so long as they read.

    There is no value system in a purely physical world, so reading one thing is not much better than reading another. Learning one thing is not much better than learning another. The goals of learning, then, are set arbitrarily, or in light of which subjects and facts offer the students the most power upon entrance to adulthood.

    The modern teacher doesn’t know what to do with the Great Books. He isn’t part of the conversation, because he has evolved out of the sway of the scheme of history. Besides, the Great Books, written in the ancient spirit, are normative and prescriptive–all of them point to the Ideal Type.

    [T]he modern school is happier avoiding normative issues, and few old books find their way into the modern syllabus. No only do old books raise relentless questions of value, but being rooted in a view of man anitpathetic to the deterministic and “progressive” ideologies, they go on to answer these questions with an authority that seems arbitrary and abrupt….When excerpts from Homer, the Bible, Dante, or Cervantes blunder into his classroom, the modern teacher affects a nonnormative pose. He employs analysis to handle the past as if it no longer held any currency, and for the sake of objectivity, he declines to take sides in the great historical conflicts and debates. He is forever reserving judgment of men and of their actions, unless they are historians with a Churchillian flair for underlining the moral lesson: for praising an Alfred, “the bright symbol of Saxon achievement, the hero of the race,” or for condemning an Ethelred, “a child, a weakling, a vacillator, a faithless, feckless creature”…His small store of moral outrage he reserves for these violators of cold-blooded analysis: “subjective historians, hardcover journalists!” Not even his comparative study of religions, when he bothers, smacks of the slightest fervor for truth. “Note how Religion A borrows from Religion B on this point; note how Religion C differs in this respect from Religion A, a difference we might account for in terms of geopolitical influence X.”

    Sort of a long excerpt, I know, but so distinct from traditional teaching. Think of Jesus, if you will. Though he was not merely a great teacher, he is certainly an accessible model. In the spirit of the ancient world, he not only taught (while walking alongside his students), but he embodied the Ideal for them. The teacher was always taking on the flesh (incarnating) the ideas he taught his students. Understanding this ancient context makes Jesus even more astounding.

    At least I think so.

    The Point
    A lot of this chapter was pure criticism of modern methods. I think I needed it. Reading this helps me put boundaries around science: Here, and no further! This is what we must all declare.

    Moreover, we see that to build a better world, we have to remember who man is, that he has a soul, and educate him with that in mind. This means more time must be spent on Great Books and discussing normative issues, and less time in science, not because science isn’t important, but because our culture is in need of greater things.

    Science is the bottom rung, and not the proper nourishment for the developing soul, as our friend Charlotte would say.

    Our children have souls in need of the highest forms of knowledge.

    Further Reading:
    Norms and Nobility Chapter V Saving the Appearances

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts July 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    I would LOVE to know what you think of it. I have never read Barfield, either, though I am forever intending to. We’re hoping for astronomy in the 2011-2012 school year, so I would enjoy hearing your review sometime!

  • Reply The BadgerMum July 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Thanks for the link to The Galileo Affair. I’m planning on studying astronomy with my kids this year and wanted to do a biography on him but the only thing I can find is the conventional “The Church was an idiot” garbage. I’m going to buy that Owen Barfield book — I’ve always wanted to read him, knowing how much CS Lewis respected him, but didn’t know where to start.

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