Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pray for the creation of expert witnesses

To flesh-out what it would take to realize our vision "Authentically me living as gracious community", we have developed the following list of milestones that would need to be achieved (not necessarily in this order):
  1. New concepts (e.g. "authentic being", “evaluative diversity”, “evaluativism”) are developed
  2. Multiple people become expert witnesses corroborating objective evidence that evaluative diversity can be mapped, measured and managed
  3. Driven by the responsibility of having special knowledge, the witnesses develop tools/practices to measure authenticity, evaluativism, and evaluative diversity
  4. Driven by the responsibility of having special knowledge, the witnesses develop tools/practices to manage authenticity, evaluativism, and evaluative diversity
  5. The management tools/practices are applied and measurements objectively confirm their effectiveness 
  6. Driven by the reasonable expectation of reproducing the effect, the tools/practices are implemented broadly
The "expert witnesses corroborating objective evidence" are key players in this process. When Jesus was about twice as old as his parents were when he was born, he began to pass a legacy to the next generation by teaching social reform and performing miracles which established the authority of those teachings. The witnesses to his teachings and miracles were foundational to the institution through which his social reforms were realized. The witnesses probably felt a responsibility to share their special knowledge. Now that we have science, God doesn't need the same kinds of miracles to create expert witnesses and social reform--people who conduct experiments discover the wisdom God has encoded in creation and feel a responsibility to share that wisdom with others.

For example, there was a time when it was generally believed that people of certain races are inferior, but some people conducted the experiments of actually getting to know people of other races and tracking differences through population-level experiments. Like people who study the Bible, these people were receiving wisdom from God. When they discovered that our racism is actually a kind of deceptive instinct, they felt a responsibility to expose the deception. There was social reform supported by objective evidence, and God triumphed.

Leah Sprain told me that her team at the University of Colorado Boulder is developing instruments funded by the Spencer Foundation to measure the quality of deliberative engagement across difference. That sounds a lot like milestone #3. I asked Leah if she would consider including churches and families in her pilot studies. She explained that, although deliberation can be dysfunctional in churches and families, her instruments need to focus on deliberation in classrooms because schools are the focus of her funding. You see, the Spencer Foundation is not an expert witness to evaluativism--it seeks merely to improve education. Even Leah's field of expertise is communication, rather than evaluativism.

Perhaps churches will someday fund Leah as the Spencer Foundation does, but first they will need to have enough expert witnesses to decide whether it would be worthwhile. That means the church needs to include "citizen scientists."  Darlene Cavalier, inaugural board member of the Citizen Science Association, described citizen science as a repair to the situation in which “If you don’t have a science degree, and you’re not going to go into teaching or policymaking, you’re relegated to passive consumer of this wonderful information." It sounds a lot like the relationship the average Christian had with the Bible before it was translated from Latin. The US government seems to be committed to citizen science, and it makes theological sense for churches to become centers of it.

Therefore, on January 25, I will address the bible-study group at my church to suggest that we split our time between seeking God's guidance through scripture and seeking it through science. This proposal is consistent with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (that theological development should be based not only on scripture and tradition, but also on reason and experience). Many of the experiments relevant to the topics we study (e.g. those supporting conclusions about love, freewill, fulfillment, and morality) have yet to be replicated because they are new and because professional scientists are rewarded more for discoveries than for confirming or disconfirming discoveries. I will propose that we conduct and publish replication studies for such experiments as a church group.

The goal, of course, it not merely to produce expert witnesses among the laity of my own congregation, but that all congregations will follow suit. If every congregation had a group of citizen scientists, then we would simply submit to them the experiments which raise alarm about evaluativism, they would test the experiments, any appropriate reforms would be motivated, and God would quickly triumph. Please pray not only for the creation of expert witnesses in my church, but also in every church, so that churches can benefit whenever new science turns-out to be God's way of answering our prayers.

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