Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why Our Paradigms Ain't Shifting

Thomas Kuhn - Irritator of scientists and politicians.

If you're not a historian, a scientist, a philosopher or a physicists, you probably haven't heard of Thomas Kuhn, the author of the book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" - at least not directly. You may, however, be familiar with the term "paradigm shift". This is the idea that ideas in a particular field or in a person's worldview remain static until enough evidence comes together to change that worldview causing a shift to a new paradigm. Christians call this a "conversion experience". Buddhists may call it "enlightenment". Archimedes responded to his own little paradigm shift by shouting, "Eureka!"  A paradigm shift, one would think, would be a good thing - a step toward enlightenment. Unfortunately, not everyone always thinks so. When a paradigm shift happens in science or politics or religion, such a shift tends to either make the scientist or politician or theologian terribly uncomfortable or ecstatically happy. Martin Luther experienced this elation when he discovered the principle of righteousness by faith while reading the book of Romans. Pope Leo X on the other hand, experienced profound discomfort when Luther nailed them to the door of the chapel at Wittenberg.

Kuhn's book is pretty heady stuff, but let me give you a very rough idea of what he says. Kuhn maintains that science doesn't progress in a straight line, but roughly in a series of steps with a plateau in between these apparent shifts. The plateaus he calls paradigms.  During the period when the paradigm is broadly accepted, scientists (or politicians or theologians) busy themselves proving the paradigm. If enough anomalies arise that don't fit the paradigm, eventually scientists, politicians, et al (usually from among the younger generation whose opinions are more flexible) will begin to develop a new paradigm model which, when enough evidence is gathered, causes the old paradigm to shift to the new one.

In science, you see this happening at the time of Isaac Newton and again with Albert Einstein. Politically paradigm shifts happen around things like the rise of the Roman Empire, the American Revolution and Karl Marx and the Russian Revolution. In the realm of religion, The Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Jesus Christ, Constantine and Martin Luther have all created religious paradigm shifts in their day. The reason a paradigm shift is such an upheaval is because the folk invested in the old paradigm don't want to have to stand up and tell their students that what they were saying last year was, well......wrong!

I think we are facing a number of pending paradigm shifts today and they all seem to be coming together at once. The evidence for this is in the way the various factions are all shouting at each other, desperately defending their own turf, and not actually listening to one another. The arguments rage on and few are convinced of anything.  There is a reason for this as Kuhn points out in his book.
  • "When (political or scientific) paradigms enter, as they must, into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group uses its own paradigm to argue in the paradigm's defense. The resulting circularity does not, of course, make the arguments wrong or even ineffectual. The man who premises a paradigm when arguing in its defense can nonetheless provide a clear exhibit of what scientific* practice will be like for those who adopt the new view of nature. That exhibit can be immensely persuasive, often compellingly so. Yet, whatever its force, the status of the circular argument is only that of persuasion. It cannot be made logically or even probabilistically compelling for those who refuse to step into the circle. The premises and values shared by the two parties to a debate over paradigms are not sufficiently extensive for that. As in political revolutions, so in paradigm choice--there is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant communities."
                                                 - Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
So the reason everyone is shouting at each other and no one is particularly listening is that we are all defending our paradigms, using our paradigms as self-evident proof that we are right. A hint at how this works can be found in the Declaration of Independence. 
  • "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed../"
At the time and even down to this day and age, the royalists (today we call them "elitists") hold to a paradigm where the above enumerated "truths" are very much NOT self-evident. To them it was and still is patently obviously that some men are naturally superior to others and therefore should, by right, be rulers over what Karl Marx (and King George III) would think of as "the masses" or "the proletariat" - lesser quality humans who require the leadership of their superiors. This doctrine is held to be self-evident by Darwin and by those who believed in the "divine right of kings".

 So in the political realm you have two competing paradigms.
  1. Progressive Socialism which, I believe is a direct descendant of the feudal belief in a class of superior people called the nobility, has been invested in the idea of collectivism since it was first articulated by Karl Marx. Marx's model for human evolution saw no problem with the restriction of human rights, if it was necessary for the good of the entire race of man. Today that idea is pretty much that free sex, drugs and rock n' roll should be enough freedom to placate the rubes while their betters run things for them.
  2. Constitutional Free Market Capitalism in which the majority of Americans (until recently) have been invested has been the paradigm in the U.S. since the states accepted the Constitution as law of the land. The Constitution itself incorporated long-held Christian values and the philosophy of John Locke and others of the day. Since then, this bunch of rugged individualists, almost unique in history, has been invested in the idea of individualism and personal freedom as the model for human progress and liberty for all. The equality of man was the paradigm of the day at our nation's founding and that paradigm led inexorably to many reforms including the abolition of slavery and the rejection of imperialism as a foreign relations policy tool. The idea of an entitled elite has long been repugnant to Americans. We've believed, until recently, that people should be free to solve their own problems individually and as communities. We don't need no stinkin' Kings (or queens or commissars or dear leaders for that matter).
At this point Progressive socialists are trying to win the debate by convincing everyone they've already won the debate!  Can you say "The political science is settled? The progressive left is using the culture, the news media, the entertainment industry and the increasing power of the government to cause a politico-cultural shift from free market capitalism to collectivism. It's the "everybody knows" argument and however illogical that argument actually is, it's a powerful one given human beings and their natural instinct to join herds of other human beings. The need to belong is powerful and progressives are adept in exploiting that need to their own purposes. The Constitutionalists, conservatives and some libertarians are stubbornly resisting the attempted forced paradigm shift in our culture, but, because we have neglected to maintain control of the education system, the next generation of Americans is coming up already indoctrinated into the progress socialist circle. They are being taught the "obvious" superiority of the collectivist model. Converting our kids back to old-fashioned American values is going to be an uphill battle from here on because most are NOT in our circle.

It's not that we don't have tons of evidence to prove our point or to break down our opponents paradigm model. We do. But like Thomas Kuhn pointed out, we're all arguing from within our own circles, using our own paradigms as a self-evident truth. If those we are arguing with won't step into our circle, then we're essentially talking to ourselves.

We see the increasing tension everywhere in our world today between competing paradigms.
  • The Anthropogenic Global Warming "settled science" vs the embattled group of scientists who see evidence to the contrary.
  • Conservatives vs Liberals
  • Christians vs Muslims
  • LGBTQ (or whatever it is today) vs traditional marriage supporters
  • Pro-life vs. Pro-choice
  • Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter
Instead of looking at the facts like we all think we do, we mostly focus on the facts which support our own paradigm. When the sides become so incompatible, a "revolution" occurs. Sometimes it's peaceful, though that's seldom the case with political revolutions. Often it can be violent as it was during the Protestant Reformation, the American Revolution, and the Vietnam War protests.

So what can we do to prevent all these factions from erupting into some new sort of paradigm-based cleansing of opposing viewpoints?  The truth?  Probably not a lot. Scripture predicts a very nasty end is going to happen just about now in Earth's history. Like the Mayans, the Christian prophetic calendar is about to run out.

The Good News?  We can teach ourselves how to argue outside the circle of our own personal belief system (paradigm). We can take a page from Jesus who was very good at it as evidenced by the fact that there are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world today - more than any other religion.  How did Christ do it?  He stepped outside the circle - way outside actually. Here's how:
  1. He reached out to the outcasts who had been pushed to the fringes of the Jewish circle - the lame, the insane, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and the Samaritans. He drew them in and made them a competing core within the community of the followers of God. We do that by reaching out to those who were once with us, but who have drifted away.
  2. He sacrificed himself in a tangible way for his followers. We must sacrifice our time, our energy and our money for those we have lost from our fellowship. They need to know we care about them.
  3. He empowered his followers to reach out beyond the circle. His disciples and their converts went out to share the gospel with the Gentiles in every part of the world.  Have you noticed that it is often those who come from the farthest from us, who become the greatest spokesmen for our causes? I think of atheists and agnostics who have become Christians like C. S. Lewis, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Doug Batchelor. I think of liberals who have become powerful conservative advocates like Bill Whittle, Milton Friedman, Dennis Milller, George Orwell and David Horowitz.
The key thing to remember is that, just because your paradigm says a thing is so, that is not going to be a valid argument to someone else who believes that his own paradigm, religion belief system, or ideology is also self-evident.  Sgt. Joe Friday of the old TV show "Dragnet" perhaps said it best.

The only thing that effectively defeats a stubborn paradigm is the relentless bombardment by facts. Name-calling only solidifies an opponents position. Ad hominem attacks, straw man attacks and any number of logical fallacies will work against you. I highly recommend you check out the link I just gave you. It will help you not only improve your ability to articulate your position, but will also help you recognize flawed reasoning when you are pelted with it by some hysterical ideology who is upset by the facts you present. Here are some basic logical fallacies you should avoid.

In CS Lewis' brilliant children's book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," Professor Digory, when told a thing wasn't logical by one of the children, lamented, "What are they teaching in schools these days?"  I leave you with this clip from the movie (below) so this blog ends on less of a downer.

© by Tom King

* ...or political or religious practice for that matter

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