Edgy thinking at edge.org
It’s like OMG for empiricists!
Edge will subsume you, if you let it.
It’s partly Edge’s fault that I’m delayed in my more-or-less once-a-weeky blog.
Dad stumbled on it after having read David Brook’s article about it in the New York Times.
Actually, in his article Brooks covered only a smidgen of the inner workings of Edge (jeepers, would you look at this? But put on a rope so that someone can pull you out if you do.), but what a smidgen it was: A symposium that the “good folks at Edge.org” threw together to attend to the “smart question” that Steven Pinker of Harvard posed, namely “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”
And so brilliant thinkers ruminated on the notion, 164 to be exact, and culling from a wide sampling of intellectuals, they proposed some responses.
Their “about” page says that “the mandate of Edge Foundation is to promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and literary issues, as well as to work for the intellectual and social achievement of society.”
They base much of their thought on a book written in 1959 by C.P. Snow entitled The Two Cultures, which fussed with the interaction, or rather, lack thereof, between the “literary intellectuals and the scientists.” He observed that the “literary” folks dubbed themselves the “intellectuals,” and “got away with it” not least of all because scientists neither communicated their work and its implications well.
In 1963, Snow added “The Two Cultures: A Second Look,” in which he sketched the possibilities that a “Third Culture” would develop in which scientists and “intellectuals” would indeed speak.
Edge.org says that while the notion was right, the reality was wrong. Instead of a mutual conversation between these two groups, the scientists are now the ones savvily speaking to the hoi polloi (for you Greek fiends, I know that the “the” is redundant, just like “with au jus”). “Today, third- culture thinkers tend to avoid the middleman and endeavor to express their deepest thoughts in a manner accessible to the intelligent reading public.”
Edge.org notices, and believes–in fact, bases its existence on the conviction that–ordinary people can think.
Not only can ordinary people think, but they can also stand to disagree.
And they recognize that the matters about which they think and disagree have relevance: “Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.”
What they have done, you see, is redefine what an intellectual is: “Intellectuals are not just people who know things but people who shape the thoughts of their generation. An intellectual is a synthesizer, a publicist, a communicator.”
True to that notion, they have assembled the brightest and most diverse set of thinkers, allowed them to ponder and write and put their ideas out there.
And it’s addictive. In fact, the BBC Radio said that “It’s like the crack cocaine of the thinking world.”
So what does edge.org have to do with omgcenter.com?
A couple of things, the way I look at it.
1. We should do this in the theological world. Wouldn’t it be great to imagine a feast of theological thinkers who are given the task of thinking through one question and see where it may lead?
There are places where an exchange of ideas takes place, to be sure: I’m thinking of The Christian Century for example. Wikichurch might be another example. But is there, or could there be, a centered and accessible public forum where a focused question is posed and a variety of responses to it are welcomed without fear of the label “heretic?”
2. I am reminded of the idea my father gave me for the quizzes I administered when I taught college religion classes.
The quiz question was always the same, but the day of the quiz was never known. The students simply knew to have this question always bandying about in their brains: “What question(s) have been raised since the last quiz, and how have you wrestled with it/them?”
The quiz grade was not about getting an answer, but rather was about the novelty of the question and the breadth of ways in which the student thought it through.
3. My one quibble is that as I poked around in edge.org, I found only passing references to solid theologians and theological conversation–often in disdaining terms and contexts (Dennett, Dawkins et al.). Freeman Dyson and Elaine Pagels were exceptions. It seems to me that if they are true to their word that disagreement is not to be avoided, then it would make some measure of sense to include more voices to the table, including people who are a) intellectuals, and b) people of faith (gasp!).
You religious intellectuals.
This one’s for you.
What are ways that you can collaborate publicly with one another to consider religious/theological questions of import in a way that honors different perspectives–perspectives not restricted to matters of theology but seen nevertheless through a theological lens–while still pursuing some measure of validity, general where-with-allness, and accessibility to said hoi polloi?
Perhaps we as an OMG community could begin. What are questions that readers think are important enough to shake out publicly, and what are names of theologians who could be invited to publicly shake them out?
I’m in the mood to get edgy.
Seems to me, Anna, that one extremely important question right now has to do with wealth and how it’s distributed and what faith means about what we do with it. Behind it, of course, lie all the God questions; is God involved with who has too much and who doesn’t have enough? Is it a sign of God’s favor or not? What is God’s role in a public conversation about how we use it for the common good, and in the governing processes that depend on and enforce the decisions? Are those who don’t have enough being punished, tested, or used somehow by God? Does God’s “sovereignty” mean that God wants things to be the way they are, a few very rich and many very poor? Are those who have more than they need really able to worship God without “selling all that you have and giving it to the poor?” What does the story of Ananais and Sapphira in the book of Acts tell us about this? Amos, Micah, Isaiah? How can a church leader faithfully raise these questions without tearing a congregation apart? And so on.
None of these are really new questions.
One question I’ve been thinking about, is the historical context of the writing of the Bible. but I know the controversy this raises up. Is there a way to disucss this with understanding and respect? There are questions I ask myself that I’m not sure are valid, or acceptable, but I think they help me understand God’s working with humnity. I believe there’s can be a new way to understand the subject.
Two books among other writings had got me started thinking about this more, but I don’t know enough about any trained theologians I could suggest to this conversation. The books are Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus and Hyam Maccoby’s The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity (both suggested and lent to me). But equally good as thought starters were more ‘conservative’ things I’ve read.
However the questions I ask internally I can’t really verbalize at the moment!
Please pardon my above poor grammar. Actually a theologian named H.H. Rowley stirred my thoughts about this subject with his essay “How to read the Bible with understanding” in the back of the Oxford Annotated Bible. I think he felt it was okay to ask questions about the history of the events in the Bible and the history of the actual writing of the Bible. But it doesn’t seem to me that he expelled his faith as he understood the Bible, even though those questions might have been difficult to his faith.
But I am not knowledgable enough to suggest anyone today that could speak to this conversation.
Richard talked about starting some kind of technologically dispursed “question of the week” that corresponded with the common lectionary schedule. I haven’t heard if he is still pursuing this or if he has given up the idea, but it seemed consistent with your point #1. Maybe a collaboration would be in order??