|Middle St. Man
Joined: Sep. 2004
Thank you, Wesley Elsberry, for your literature recommendation. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the actual text where I am located but instead read several reviews of it on-line. In this case, I must admit I am a bit confused as to how this represents ‘Post-Modern Criticism as an approach to anti-evolutionism,’ especially since none of the reviews mentioned evolution explicitly. So if you could please make the connection more explicit, since you’ve listed the approach as anti-evolutionary, that would be appreciated.
One review speaks about the “progressive critic of science who systematically mis-reads the nature of scientific work” and alerts us to the idea that “the nub of the matter is whether science is only a discourse.” (review) My guess is that most people don’t doubt that science is ‘more than just a discourse’ and likewise that evolutionary theory is more than just a conversation about the origins of life and humankind. Evolution is said to be (by biologists and many other natural scientists) the best answer currently available to explain the diversity of living things. And as such it is considered an appropriate concept-metaphor to apply to the social and cultural sciences as well; for example, JM Smith, EO Wilson, R Young, W Wimsatt, et al.
A second review calls the book “a devastating critique of the American cult of post-modernism.” (review) Thus, I couldn’t help but think this is yet another book which critiques the idea of post-modernism from a post-modern perspective (circle herm), which really doesn’t help us to get a grip on whether modern (or contemporary) science has obstacles that must be addressed in this new millennium. Of course, there are obstacles and problems with science; evolutionary biology is not (yet) ‘perfect’, by any means. Likewise, however, this reviewer did not mention evolution directly as a pillar of the modern scientific world.
Several other reviewers linked the post-modern critique to the philologian or literary critic Jacques Derrida and his project of deconstructivism, which apparently has been taken up by the so-called ‘American left’. One reviewer claimed this American left has “mounted a savage attack on modern science” and that “every scientist should read this book, if only to be aware of the perversions of science.” It is thus hoped scientists would then be more able to free themselves (from falsehoods) in order to practise good science in the future. However, I thought it was the ‘American right,’ mainly in the form of ‘creation scientists’ and the more recent ‘intelligent design creationists’ who are the predominant anti-evolutionists in the land. Perhaps someone could explain how the American left promotes anti-evolutionism with a post-modern critique.
One final quotation that struck me in summary, though again which has nothing directly to do with evolutionary theory:
“Scientists and skeptics should be productively engaged in these debates about science and society, where there is a real opportunity to contribute to the resolution of some tough questions. Claims about the impossibility of knowledge, or the evils of science, are extravagant, and Higher Superstition succeeds against these extremes. However, this should not obscure our need for critical thought about science as a social activity.” (review)
The authors seem to think that Gross and Levitt have done a good service to staunch defenders of modern science against post-modernism or cognitive relativism, while at the same time noting that the social activity of scientists themselves (i.e. contextual relevance of scientific theory) should be given further consideration in the formulation of scientific hypotheses and future activities. That is, nobody theorizes or practices science in a vacuum.
If I may add one note further about post-modernism: The modern (life) world was governed by the implicit assumption that natural science, its methods and legitimizing criteria, constituted the supreme model for all socially acceptable knowledge, i.e. that which can be unquestionably trusted. On the other hand, the post-modern (life) world posits a situation where a universal arbiter of knowledge is absent or at least more qualified on the grounds that there are now plural approaches to ‘truth’. In this way, modern-age scientists, including evolutionists, are not considered as infallible or inevitably trustworthy in the post-modern age, nor are they as justified in making appeals to ‘scientific truths’ as they once were. Or so the story goes…
At the very least we can say that post-modernism and anti-evolutionism are not synonymous in all cases. Perhaps Wesley or someone else will concur, verify or correct this as it relates to the socio-political aspects of anti-evolution.