Perhaps that's why one particular sentence in Wendell Berry's essay, "Going to Work" caught my attention. In the essay Berry, a farmer, author and agrarian activist from Kentucky, builds a progressing sequence of 49 propositions on the relationship between working and living. Each of them was worth thinking about, but it was #47 that hooked me.
XLVII. Facts in isolation are false. The more isolated a fact or a set of facts is, the more false it is. A fact is true in the absolute sense only in association with all facts. This is why the departmentalization of knowledge in our colleges and universities is fundamentally wrong.Reading #47, of course, made me flip back to a couple of earlier propositions -- #'s 30 and 31 -- which suddenly made clearer sense. There, Berry had talked about the "scientific need for predictability or replicability" that "forces perception into abstraction" -- the test plot, for example, that is perceived not as itself but as representative of all plots everywhere; a new machine or chemical or technique that is proved workable in one situation that is assumed to be representative of all places where it might work.
One might say that Berry's examples are scientific "proof texting" -- taking an insight out of context and forcing it to mean more than it really does. But as in science and technology and education, so it is in scripture: context is everything.
Berry, I think, is pretty close to having it right: facts in isolation are false.
I suppose that means I'll need to scrap tomorrow's sermon on the value of touch.