Monday, April 23, 2007

Socrates Cafe in Fairlawn.

Some friends at church have organized a Socrates Cafe, that has been going for several months. They asked me to give a plug which, in this instance, I'm happy to do.

Socrates Cafes' emanate from the work of the Society for Philosophical inquiry. According to their website, the organization

    . . .is a grassroots nonprofit organization devoted to supporting philosophical inquirers of all ages and walks of life as they become more empathetic and autonomous thinkers who take active part in creating a more deliberative democracy. Its members strive to form and facilitate "democratic communities of philosophical inquiry". Their gatherings . . . bring together people from a wide array of walks of life and experiences. They take place in venues like parks, coffee houses, libraries, hospices, senior centers, nursing homes, prisons, plazas and other public spaces, bookstores, homeless shelters and community centers, libraries and schools.
So the info for the Akron/Fairlawn Cafe is as follows:

Date: Tuesday, April 24, 2007 and each 3rd Tuesday thereafter.
Time: 7-9 p..m
Place: Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, 3300 Morewood Road (Across from Summit Mall, Turn left at the intersection), Fairlawn, Ohio.

Incidently, people were running a Cafe in Highland Square some time ago in the storefront that is now Square Records. No one I talk to knows if this is the same group moved or a new one. In any case, the people I know who attend are good, smart people, at least one of whom you can read online. I'll probably be facilitating a session soon. I'd be there tomorrow night, but I have a little thing to catch up on instead, about which more anon.

And if you are outside the area, but the idea intrigues you, check out MeetUp for a group near you.


Eric said...

I've a suspicion the group may be too politically correct for constructive democratic deliberation. How would this prompt be resolved:

"In the areas of faith I do not want the State of Ohio or the public school system advocating philosophical theories hidden in science that contradict or insult the faith I impart on my children. When the Board of Education advocates for the theory of evolution by giving it the status of required learning then the board is acting to divide major portions of the community. This split is evident by the flight of children to alternative schooling."

If the group can address the prompt in a timely and constructive manner, members may have potential on the state board of ed.

Cee Jay said...

Well, first you need to turn this into a philosophical question. For example, Is it possible to separate faith from education? Or what is science and what is religion? Certainly all learning is based on faith in something. If nothing else, we have faith in our words, that when we say something to someone else, they can bring up the same image in their mind that we have in ours. We have faith in our eyes and our ears that what we see and hear is really what is there. Science is theoretical, based on constructs that give us some insight into the workings of the universe. We have a certain tenuous faith in the constructs we create until they prove unhelpful in predicting what will happen. Then we revise our constructs, so they can better predict events. Evolution is such a construct.
For most religious people, a belief in the creation of the world by God is not just a helpful construct open to revision when it isn't useful in predicting events. What I can't understand is why anyone who has a strong faith in God would want to subject that faith to the rigors of scientific inquiry. Evolution is a construct open to revision when it isn't working for us. Is God a construct open to revision when it isn't working for us? Evolution is taught as a theory. Should we teach God as a theory in science class?
Those are some of the questions we might explore if you came to Socrates Cafe along with others you might propose or others in the group might suggest.

Pho said...

Well done, Cee Jay. Eric, the group is who chooses to show up. They don't run people out for being "politically incorrect."

I'd also add that your question raises interesting issues regarding the relationship between the individual and society. If you start by acknowledging a societal need to education people who are scientifically literate and given the need to understand evolution in order to understand life sciences, how do you reconcile that with the very real concerns you express. It would be an interesting discussion.

Eric said...

first you need to turn this into a philosophical question

Agreed. The State Board of Ed (SBE) failed to do this and reached a political solution that never addressed legitimate concerns of a religious minority. The winning political constituency appears to object to defining science as "helpful construct[s] open to revision when [not] useful in predicting events." While "helpful constructs" works for me, I'd prefer a definition reflective of AAAS and NAS science standards.

What I can't understand is why anyone who has a strong faith in God would want to subject that faith to the rigors of scientific inquiry.

I'd question this implicit hierarchy of truth/knowledge, that science is more rigorous. Didn't Catholics invent science for the purpose of scrutinizing putative miracles? (Oops, I take that back. Catholics invented science for predicting when Easter occurs on an accurate calendar. (Oops again; the NAS denies Catholics invented science, but the AAAS isn't so sure...))

Evolution is taught as a theory.

Objections arise when evolution is taught as fact. The winning constituency holds that evolution is a scientific theory (not a mere theory) and a fact.

given the need [for scientific literacy], how do you reconcile that with the very real concerns you express.

Well, Cee Jay is much further down the path of "constructive democratic deliberation" than I anticipated, so there's certainly room for discussion. To foster scientific literacy, I'd present science as non-threatening to religious belief, without impeaching the validity of science. That would require distinguishing between truth and knowledge (and possibly data, fact, and belief).

might explore if you came to Socrates Cafe

How about virtually? It would be rather long drive. Democratic deliberation would be good (although the SBE is too traumatized to participate on this specific issue). Savor the contradiction: the board tasked with maintaining the vitality of democracy in Ohio is intimidated from fulfilling its charter.

If the cafe has any thoughts on "Creating a World-Class Education System in Ohio," please share. (The SBE will take this up during the June retreat.) Any thoughts on implementing an Ohio-wide education blog that SBE members would find helpful?

Pho said...


The main reason the SBOE didn't address the concerns about people with religious objections was the way the anti-evolution faction of the Board went about their business. Instead of framing the issue in terms of the objections of religious people, they framed it as a scientific controversy over evolution. The latter strategy is good politically, but it's simply false to claim there is a scientific controversy.

If people with religious objections to their children being taught evolution approach the Board, they will have an interesting time figuring out how to accomodate them. Since they tried instead to Trojan Horse the study of Creationism into biology classes, it became an all-or-nothing political struggle and they lost.

Eric said...

If people with religious objections to their children being taught evolution approach the Board

The initial quote ("In the areas of faith I do not want the State...") comes from public comments to the board, March 7, 2000. You are right that the issue became "critical analysis of evolution." This was the Discovery Institute's strategy in the belief that critical analysis would be more productive than accommodation. I believe Owens-Fink was ill-served by the Discovery Institute; apparently, she would have been better served by approaching members of UUCA or the local Socrates Cafe. (Perhaps these resources could be offered to your new board member.)

it's simply false to claim there is a scientific controversy.

Unfortunately that is exactly their blindspot ("how could 'true' science not support the Bible?") which doomed them to being self-defeating.

I do disagree with characterizing DI's Trojan rabbit as a Trojan horse. Moreover, both sides of the issue failed to demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions specified in Ohio high school social studies. Had they done so, the original prompt could have been addressed (just as we have seen here).

Having witnessed virulent anti-accommodationism first hand, I fear for our democracy. Having placed a deliberately provocative prompt on this thread, and seeing it dealt with responsibly, there is cause for hope. How do we leverage it to avert future controversies?

BTW, I'm vexed trying to project a congenial tone while typing into a six square inch text box. In being concise to a fault I fear the perception of being brusque.