So far in the Faith and Science course we have spent some time discussing the importance of our worldview, Flatland, and definitions of important terms. We concluded that even scientists who hope to achieve true objectivity are inevitably victims of their own biases. Are there are ways to overcome this bias? Certainly there are areas of scientific endeavor where the worldview affects ones understanding or interpretation of a particular result greater than others. In the end, worldview matters. Scientists should be aware of their bias and not necessarily try to hide it behind an attitude of objectivity. In particular, I can say that as a Christian I am motivated to understand God’s creation by my desire to learn more about the Creator. And yet, the truth of the topics covered in, say, my Intermediate Analysis course are true and independent of my personal beliefs. Our expectation of how the world “works” has its source in our own beliefs about the world around us. This can affect, and most likely does, the way we “do” science.
God has given the gift of a rational mind to humanity so that we can use it to arrive at the truth about this world. I’ll not recreate the entire discussion here but it was very intriguing.
Next, the class read a short little book written in the late nineteenth century, by Edwin A. Abbot (although originally under the pen-name of A.Square), called Flatland. It tells the story of the life a square who lives in a two dimensional world called Flatland. The first third of the book describes the the life of a figure in two dimensions. Imagine taking a penny and placing it on the table and then lowering your eyes to the level of the top of the table. You see that the circle that was the penny has become a straight line. From that perspective, all objects in the plane have become straight lines. It is very interesting world that Abbot creates. The rest of the book discusses the adventures of A.Square into the worlds of Lineland and Spaceland. He visits Lineland, a one dimensional world and tries, in vain, to explain the nature of his two dimensional world. Later, a sphere visits him from Spaceland, a three dimensional world like ours. A.Square cannot not understand what the third dimension is like until he visits the world and sees Flatland from above. When he returns to Flatland and tries to explain the nature of the third dimension, “upward, not northward”, he is outcast and thrown into prison for his heretical ideas.
We used it as an important lesson on how we communicate with individuals with an entirely different set of assumptions about the world around us. Very often, we not only don’t understand their language but their lack of similarity to our experiences make our ideas seem completely foreign and incomprehensible. We must make every effort to understand each others arguments accurately as we debate. And of course, we critique ideas and not persons. In fact, on the first day of class we laid down the parameters of our debates in our class and that principle was high up on the list.