Saturday, September 24, 2005

Universities, I think.

In the movie The One, starring Jet Li, the idea of the "multiverse", in contrast to the "universe" as we think it, is put forward as a premise. Things are slightly different in each universe, and there is a copy of each person for each universe. The story goes that one of Jet Li's characters discovers if he kills one of his copies, the energy is not diminished, but divided among the survivors. So he goes on a rampage, until there are only two left. Then there's the big show-down.

Have you ever wondered why universities are called universities? Why aren't they called multiversities? Looking at the way universities view "subjects" as watertight, highly compartmentalized separate fields, the term "multiversity" really does seem to fit the modern university better than does the term "university".

Universities were called universities because once upon a time, in the Middle Ages (I refuse to call them the dark ages), scholars viewed theology as the "mistress science." All knowledge had its unification in theology. I would hazard a guess that no public university today is aware of this aspect of its origins. If they were, they would probably scramble to change their name so as to be in conformity to the mythological "separation of church and state."

What are the consequences of such splintering, such fragmentation in academia? I think one of the biggest consequences, aside from general relativism (pun intended) and atheism, is a degree of specialization to the point of specialists from one field not even being able to communicate remotely with someone of a very closely allied field. For example, in mathematics you have algebraic number theory, and analytic number theory. Perish the idea that these two should ever meet! At least, so say the current scholars. But there are problems with this, not the least of which is the forbidding aspect taken on by so many disciplines. It's hard to get into these fields now, because the research papers in each field are so full of jargon and poorly worded ideas that the newcomer is frustrated, and rightly so.

N. David Mermin, in his amazing book Boojums All the Way Through, addressed this issue of over-specialization quite adequately, so I won't rehash it. Read that book! One very interesting distinction he makes is between research and scholarship. Research is coming up with new ideas, whereas scholarship is the making clear and logical arranging of known material. Mermin's opinion, with which I heartily agree, is that one good scholarly paper is worth a hundred research papers. Mermin even proposed having a different degree for scholars versus researchers.

Modern universities have lost sight of the fact that Jesus Christ is the center of all knowledge. What if they got it back? What if a university or two realized its roots and went back? I think there would be a tremendous resurgence of interest in fields like mathematics and physics, which are typically shunned by most people.

My father and I both have a dream. At least, I used to have this dream: start a university on a par with the big universities in terms of science and engineering. But make it a true university: Christ-centered. Then one man asked me why my dream was so small. A true university ought to be better than the public universities! Just imagine, being able to go to a Christian university and get an advanced degree in physics, without having to battle political correctness, evolution, and sheer secular humanism.

Such a dream is expensive. Certain people have gone somewhat in this direction. There are a few colleges that at least are Christ-centered. That's a start, but I believe advanced degrees from such a place would be a great service to the Christian community.

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At 9/25/2005 12:47:00 PM , Blogger Bethgem said...

I didn't see anywhere else to contact you... just wanted to let you know I linked to your blog. It's very interesting, and I agree with much of what you say.

At 9/26/2005 01:42:00 AM , Blogger Mrs Adept said...

Ok - We can open a classical school together. I'll do the grammar stage, and you do the rhetoric. All we need now is someone to do the Logic - and we're set~!!

At 9/26/2005 10:59:00 PM , Blogger Esther said...

I agree...very much so!! Of course, though, I have no desire to go into a math or science degree, but still it would be nice to not have all the evolution and other such junk. It drives me crazy.

At 10/02/2005 10:14:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

I have to make an errata page here. N. David Mermin is not the author who made a distinction between scholarship and research. I finally made the plunge and purchased my own copy of Boojums All the Way Through, and it wasn't there.

I remember now that it was Morris Kline who made that distinction. I think it might have been in his book, Why the Professor Can't Teach, surely a provocative title if ever there was one. I also note that that book is out of print. Hmm. Anyway, just to clarify.

In Christ.


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