Monday, February 16, 2009


My friends and family regularly hear my confession that anything that has to do with numbers makes my head swim, so it's interesting to me how I find something like Dale Harris's latest post so fascinating. I think it's the power of analogy, and the fact that, without being able to comprehend all the details, I can get so caught up in the general idea when it's explained by a master teacher like Dale.
I've been reading Kieran Egan on education (The Educated Mind, 1997; Getting it Wrong from the Beginning, 2002; The Future of Education 2008). While his work is uneven in places and often quirky, he does provide a nice summary of the state of education in the West (not only his West at Simon Fraser U) when he depicts it as a struggle among those who see education as socialization, the traditionalists who see it as passing on academic knowledge to the next generation, and the progressivists who see it as learner-centred, focusing on individuals' development. I think he makes too much of, and is inconsistent in, his claim that it is a mistake to try to keep-in-tension the three perspectives, and it seems to me that he could rework his schema of the "cognitive tools" of somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophic, and ironic understandings to fit both lists into the framework of Activity Theory's subject/object/community with tools/rules/roles (division of labour) as put forward by Yrjö Engeström.
All of that to say that I think there's something correct about the current theological interest in participation, embodiment, analogy, etc. and it funds a keeping-in-tension of these aspects of education for the sake of preserving a sense of wonder in learning, arising from the created order, certainly, but at its heart generated and guided by the Spiritus Creator.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Social Net [at] Work

Something important occurred to me as I was thinking about key parts of my research project, and I wondered how I might go about finding out whether I was on the right track. So, I turned to my (very informal) network. I'm not a dues-paying member of the T F Torrance Fellowship because their online payment system doesn't accept $ from Canada, and I noticed that the Fellowship's blog hasn't seen much action lately. But I've received valuable help before from Dr. Gary Deddo and Dr. Elmer Colyer, who are founding members, so I emailed with this question:
I admire TFT's strong position on the contingent nature of creation and there is a lot to be said in favor of his stance re: creation's intelligibility, but I just realized that I can't remember him making the connection that would seem to (necessarily) follow: that creation's intelligibility is contingent. I have read him as saying that, because of creatio ex nihilo and because in Christ all things hold together/he sustains all things by his powerful word, creation has an inherent intelligibility. Would contingent not be more consistent here than inherent? (It certainly could be simply that I am mistaken in my reading; the distinction has just now occurred to me, so I haven't been reading with that in mind.) In other words, would I be challenging, extending, going beyond, or drawing upon TFT by claiming that creation has no voice of its own but contingently depends on the Holy Spirit to (moment-by-moment) give to those seeking understanding what is needed to recognize the intelligibility of its internal structure?

It wasn't long before I heard from both. Here is Dr. Colyer's reply:
You are correct that Torrance should conceive of the intelligibility of the created order as contingent. However, Torrance does acknowledge and develop this explicitly. See my book, HOW TO READ TFT, pp. 168-73 for a summary and notes to the primary sources in Torrance's publications. You are also correct that this contingent order (rationality in human beings, intelligibility in creation) is dynamic and sustained continuously by the Word and Spirit of God, indeed, via Trinitarian perichoretic coactivity. However, it is also INHERENT in the created order by God's continuous activity. This is what provides creation with its stability, consistency, lawfulness that makes creation "open" to human rational investigation, so that scientists can be "priests of creation" who bring the contingent intelligibility of the contingent, free and spontaneous creation to orderly articulation in praise of the Triune Creator, the vast theater of the Glory of God!

I responded with
Thank you very much; this is very helpful. The both/and speaks to the idea of "knowledge"as both ontological, something in the world, and epistemological, something in the mind.

So this exchange relates to my thesis on at least a couple of levels: the social affordances of the internet made possible my asking the question of someone who knows and (combined with the gracious kindness of Drs. Deddo and Colyer) my receiving such a quick reply; also, this experience confirms the idea that knowledge is both verb-like ("knowing") in individuals' minds and noun-like (an object?) as distributed over a network.
Now, since I'm working away from home, I don't have access to How to Read T. F. Torrance. Had I bought anything from, I could have searched inside and found the pages that Dr. Colyer is referring to. Alas, that feature isn't enabled for this book on (where, much to my wife's dismay, I'm a valued customer!), and Wipf & Stock, who have recently republished it at a very good price, don't offer "search inside." I notice, though, that I can check out a few pages of The Promise of Trinitarian Theology and also of The Nature of Doctrine in the Theology of T. F. Torrance.
So all the knowledge to which I need access isn't as easily available as the answer to my question above, but, if copyright issues are ever resolved (right, Tom?), a lot more could be!