I’ve taught in graduate programs for over twenty years. It doesn’t seem like a long time until I make a statement like that. While every job has its ups and downs, overall I really enjoy teaching.
Currently, most of the courses I teach are about research methods in social science. When I began teaching, I thought research was dry and boring, but necessary. I was glad that someone did it, but it didn’t need to be me. Today, I really enjoy and get enthusiastic about teaching research. To teach how to do research is essentially teaching people how to think. The research process poses questions and finds credible ways to answer those questions. When a person learns more about research methods, they discover that there are many ways to ask questions as well as many ways to find answers.
Of course, all research is based on the scientific method. There’s a process of observing, collecting data from those observations, analyzing the data, and arriving at an answer. When research is done well, there’s evidence to support the data. That’s important: what we know from the scientific method is supported by evidence. A theory is formed when the evidence shows there’s a consistent pattern found in the evidence.
Evidence based answers to questions aren’t the only things we know of life. Sometimes, our knowledge is based on something other than analyzing data and drawing conclusions. For example, how do you know that someone really loves you? The evidence for love doesn’t always add up. Sure, the person who loves you may do nice things. But the person who loves you may get angry with you, argue with you, or even disappoint you. Knowing that you’re loved isn’t the kind of knowledge that comes from a simple equation. Someone may love you deeply, but the objective evidence can sometimes have conflicting or ambiguous aspects. Yet, you may still know that you are deeply loved. Trust is like that, too. You may trust someone, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times the person doesn’t let you down.
Research can tell us about many things. But that doesn’t mean that analyzing data objectively is the only way to know something. Sometimes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That’s particularly true when we think about human relationships and our emotional attachments to people. It’s also true about spirituality.
There are many things about spirituality that people over the ages have come to understand to be true but there’s no objective evidence for them. When someone expresses something they believed in, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask, “What’s the evidence for that?” But belief isn’t based on science. Yet, we can know a great deal about our lives because of our beliefs.
For generations, people of faith have known that a variety of spiritual practices were good for people. They didn’t have evidence for that. But they believed that quiet, contemplative prayer and meditation were beneficial practices for people’s well-being. Across the world, rooted in fundamentally different religious traditions, people wrote about these practices. While they are described in different ways because of the languages, cultures, and religious traditions, many of these practices are remarkably similar.
In the last twenty years or so, science has begun to find ways to measure how these practices benefit people. Today, we can monitor respiration, heart function, and scan brain activity in ways that people in past millennia could never have conceived. Yet, from ancient times, Christians practiced the prayer of the heart while Buddhists practiced mindfulness and compassion meditation while Hindus practiced the four paths of yoga. Countless people for thousands of years knew these things were good for them, but they didn’t have the kind of evidence that could be supported by modern science.
Science is just at the doorway of beginning to understand the neurological dimension of consciousness. Is there more to come? I certainly hope so because we still don’t know (from the perspective of evidence tested by the scientific method) very much. Yet we know a great deal about the human spirit and our potential for growth in depth and breadth that science cannot yet explain. Much of this knowledge is based on faith.
Yes, I enjoy research a great deal. The process of research helps us come to understand many things that are true. But there are also truths that humanity has come to know over our history that science is not yet able to explain. That doesn’t mean that what we believe is wrong. Perhaps some of it is. But it’s also likely that science will grow and evolve to help us understand things that could only be accepted in the past by faith.
© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.