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+--Forum: Antievolution, Politics, and the Law
+---Topic: Post-Modern Critical Anti-Evolutionism started by Middle St. Man
Posted by: Middle St. Man on Sep. 22 2004,15:40
Hi to all on this board,
I'm new here and have just begun reading your site. I've heard of the YEC and AiG approaches before. But I'm curious as to what is the Post-Modernist Criticism anti-evolutionist approach? Is there a particular practitioner of such an approach to keep an eye out for? Or if you've mentioned something further on your site that I might have missed, please direct me to it.
Hopefully this is the proper section to address this topic as it likely covers socio-political aspects of antievolution.
Posted by: Middle St. Man on Sep. 24 2004,02:37
Let me verify that this question refers to what's written on the page "The Many Faces of Anti-Evolution" and that is found at the very bottom of the page:
Other Antievolutionary Approaches
By now I've read Mark Vuletic's informative page about criticisms of creationism, but didn't see any reference to the 'post-modern criticism' which is said to be used as an antievolutionary approach. As a semi-philosophical person, I'd like to learn more about it.
Any references for this question and recent development of anti-evolutionism are welcome.
Posted by: Wesley R. Elsberry on Sep. 26 2004,01:21
Try Gross and Levitt's "Higher Superstition" as a rebuttal to various postmodernist claims about science, including evolutionary biology.
Posted by: Stirling Newbery on Sep. 26 2004,13:47
If by "post-structuralist anti-foundationalism" e.g. Lacan, then the criticism of creationism is implicit: creationists believe in the privileged nature of an utterance, namely the religious text as the particular source of truth, and the logocentrism of the argument follows naturally. From this it is obvious that "ID" is another form of patriarchal hegemony, where the "Designer" is the phallocentric giver of "seed" and the visible world is merely a receptive feminine "earth" which the Designer imposes dominance on.
If by "post-modernism" in the larger sense, then current evolutionary theory is already a post-modern theory based on provisionality of truth, construction of framework and the supremacy of dissemination within a game.
Evolutionary biology as we understand it is not merely post-modern, but one of the central forms of post-modernism.
Posted by: Middle St. Man on Sep. 29 2004,15:02
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.
Posted by: Middle St. Man on Sep. 29 2004,15:08
Whoa! O.k., let’s see if I can take a try at what you’re getting at here. I don’t claim to be a postmodernist but am trying to understand the many varieties of postmodernism; if they won’t lead me down a path to nihilism or solipsism or just plain confusion-ism in the process. The connections with evolution and anti-evolution are most interesting.
Logocentrism, the word as philosophical centerpiece – and as a religious text is claimed to be the particular source of truth (or Truth, in non Pilatean or Baconian terms) therefore now in the post-modern mindset it has been de-centered or dislocated.
Yes, o.k. I’m listening and perhaps following you here. And then one could apply that logic to Origin of Species or Descent of Man or Evolution in Action or The Blind Watchmaker or Freedom Evolves…and it would negate their exclusive claims to truth by identifying the situated knowledge claims of the author(s). Yes, and this would count as anti-evolutionary or at least bring theories of evolution and common descent onto an equal playing field with other offerings in the natural, social and political sciences.
O.k. then, I see how that could be considered as anti-evolutionary, simply in promoting a theoretical or even cognitive relativism to the reader or interpreter. Evolution would only be one of several offerings making claims to truth, or at least evolutionary theory makes claims to what counts as socially acceptable knowledge. Everything evolves or nothings evolves; if the theory wins or loses it explanatory power.
ID as a form of patriarchal hegemony…hmmm, well I didn’t really want to talk about (those other people’s) theories of intelligent design in this thread, so perhaps we could leave that (ontological stuff) for the time being.
I’m curious what you imply by saying that evolutionary biology is ‘one of the central forms of post-modernism’ in the sense that its invention or inception into being ‘the light in which all biology is understood’ was before the modern age had ended (it has ended in some places, if not others, hasn’t it?). I assume you think that preceeding the ‘post-modern’ was the ‘modern’ age and that evolution as ‘discovered’ by Darwin and Wallace, in tune with Spencer and others in the social sciences, is clearly a modern idea.
Yet perhaps it is the ‘process’ ideas associated with evolutionism, i.e. the always-already-something-else-ness of evolution that makes it suitable for appropriation into post-modern culture. Lyotard, Chomsky, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Barthes…all evolutionists – this may be what you’re implying also.
Perhaps I’m way off on what you meant, but thanks for stirring it up nonetheless.
Posted by: Middle St. Man on Mar. 10 2005,17:17
Let me revisit the issue about postmodernism and anti-evolution, since it is still considered relevant on the informational side of this website.
A few questions come to mind:
Is it possible to be a post-modern evolutionist? That is, if evolution is considered a 'modernist theory,' then a post-modern would by definition be a post-evolutionist.
More generally, do natural scientists often think of themselves as post-modern, even though 'postmodernism' began in such fields as literary theory, architecture and cultural studies? Have natural scientists read Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, Baudrillard and others in the postmodern genre?
Recognition that natural science is a priviledged perspective, which nonetheless still claims comprehensive appeal to human meaning, purpose and social value would seem to negate an approach to science that still considers evolution as a universalist theory, as T.d. Chardin or D. Dennet may suggest.
Perhaps I've discovered one article that has influenced the views of this website's authors, that being the 2002 article by Patrick West titled "And then there was postmodernism," which can be found at: < http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/00000006D867.htm >
"Ultimately, postmodern scientists rest their ideas upon metaphors, not upon what actually happens in science. They assume that just because there is chaos theory, uncertainty and irrational numbers, that science is incomplete, chaotic, relativistic and irrational. As any practising scientist will tell you, this is simply not true."
Somehow it doesn't surprise the reader that a view that claims Heisenberg and Einstein are responsible for postmodern theory, might be the least bit partial or incomprehensive. It almost sounds as if those who do not study evolutionary science are destined to be disenfranchised from higher truths about the world that chemists, biologists, zoologists, ethologists, physicalist philosophers of mind and psychologists may be privy to.
A more straightforward question to ask of Dr. Elsberry or others out there: is there any legitimacy to postmodernist criticisms of evolution?
This would seem to lead a further question: is it possible for anyone to be anti-evolution, post-evolution or simply non-evolution, especially outside of the natural sciences? As a postmodern person by birth and location, I would appreciate any answers to these time-dependant questions.
Thanks for your input,
M St. M
Posted by: abyss on Sep. 29 2005,17:54
The post modern deconstructionist trend began mainly with Nietzsche, although because his works were not widely read until after his death and he had little promotion, it often seems that the roots of this way of seeing the world did come from Lacan and Derrida. Particularly these men focused on Will To Power, the human tendency to dominate or submit, as well as the tendency to be Dionysian. Any good biography of Lacan and Derrida will claim that Nietzsche was a major influence on their thought.
However, these two men only pursued one thread of Nietzsche's thought, and so their writings don't really reflect Nietzsche accurately.
Nietzsche claimed that there is no such thing as random, since to measure anything as random requires a stable point of measurement, and so to claim there is randomness in the universe would require there to be somewhere in the universe a single stable point, and that then would be God, or Creator, or unmoved singularity.
Since Neitzsche had convinced himself that God Was Dead, the only possible way to explain the universe was to claim it was chaos.
This is not the chaos of chaos theory. Chaos theory, or at least practical chaos theory, are rules and equations for analyzing and predicting determinate systems which only seem chaotic in that their nature and sometimes sheer size makes piecewise deterministic calculations impractical. With chaos theory at least some prediction can be made. Examples where chaos theory are applied:
Weather prediction, fluid mixing, combustion.
If you watch time lapse photography of clouds moving, especially storms forming, it is intuitively clear that that there are equations at play, but to try to predict the motion of every moisture droplet in every cloud would be humanly impossible. Yet, weather prediction continues to improve, partly due to the rules and equations of the weather subset of chaos theory.
Nietzsche's chaos was more profound, in that it posit's that ultimate or all knowledge is unknowable, since for all knowledge to be knowable the fact base would have to be stable over time - thus there would have to be a singularity.
Furthermore, as Kant pointed out, and Nietzsche agreed, the human mind is limited in what it can know due to sensory limitations and due to the fact that all knowledge has to fit into our limited templates - synaptic connections may not be preconfigured to arrange themselves in ways that allow the understanding of all possible phenomenon. Of course, our templates could be evolving, but no one knows this yet.
Transcendental numbers, like pi and omega, and the failure of regular math to work in quantum physics, suggests that the original assumption that 1+1=2 is incorrect, and likely just an economic expression and approximation.
Bertrand Russell's admitted failure to connect logic with math, and Godel's work to further prove this failure, tends to support the idea that 1+1=2 is arbitrary and economics.
Nietzsche also pointed out that scientists will typically think everything can eventually be figured out, but this is only an aspect of their psychological and emotional makeup. He called scientists mere clerks (fact gatherers, fact filers)
As the direct reading of Nietzsche became gradually more popular in the United States around 1960, these ideas have crept into some intellectual circles.
Then the work of Sir Karl Popper is added into the mix, so that nothing is ever certain, rather, we only know things to a degree of probability. And every scientist knows this is true, since every measuring instrument has an error factor, and repeated trials show varying results.
The ability to apply equations to observations is due to our built in templates for knowledge, and does not mean anything absolute in any way. The dog, the dolphin and the chimp can figure some things out, but we don't credit them with being able to ultimately figure all things out. Arbitrarily, scientists give this ability to themselves, for reasons no one really knows, except if Nietzsche was right, that they are pychologically or emotionally adled.
Anyway, what comes to be accepted as fact is simply that which is tested and confirmed over and over again until no one wants to test any further. The stoppage of testing always occurs before 100% certainty is reached.
What is reached is practical certainty. Once something is known to a practical certainty, engineers can use the information to make things. So, even to the engineer the scientist is a clerk.
But then some people, some post-moderns, take all this to mean nothing is known with certainty. And embarrassing errors in science from time to time reinforce this assertion. (All batteries are still marked backwards to this day!
In the pursuit of the elimination of error, greater and greater accuracy in instrumentation is pursued - the graininess of the data is refined. Unfortunately, this leads to atoms and subatomic particles where certainty is far less certain than in the macro Newtonian physics, and the post-moderns are further reinforced.
Ulitmately, many post-moderns then take all this to mean that nobody has a right to tell anyone what to do, and all authority is bogus. Even more twisted, uncertainty is often used as an excuse for engaging in compulsive behaviors without having to recognize them as such. People who use alcohol, marujuana, speed, ecstacy, all the other recreational drugs, and engage in compulsive sex (60% of Western Culture) find the idea of the unltimate relativity of knowledge an attractive proposition. The brain's dependence on the neurotransmitter rushes from these substances and activities makes concepts of certainty difficult to accept for such persons, as such concepts tend to condemn compulsive behavior as such, as robotic, and no one wants to think their thoughts are not their own.
But then, another class of intoxication dependant people find the purely materialistic world view of evolution as a justification for intoxication. No one is to be blamed for anything! Which in a way is true, and is in a way likely just a paradox. This excuse is gradually becoming successful in courts of law, where bipolars are excused from monstrous behavior, blaming their neurotransmitter fluxes instead, while there has never been a proof that neuro-typicals are not also compulsively controlled by biochemistry, and thus can't be blamed for anything they do, such as winning an Olympic medal, acting kindly, or cheating on their spouse.
Typically, the more sober one is , the less one is interested in relativity or materialism as an excuse for anything.
The hard truth, however, is that the pursuit of science is a manifestion of Will To Power, and can only masquerade as something benevolent. It is curious that evolutionists find Richard Dawkins "Selfish Gene" such a pleasure to contemplate, while not understanding that they themselves are condemned as cretans by this theory. Oh, and Nietzsche came up with the selfish gene idea way back in the 1880's before he even knew about the gene. Anyone familiar with Nietzsche's writings knows exactly where this comes from, namely, "Human, All Too Human".
All science serves masters. All scientific funding comes from economic enterprises that seek advantage from the scientific findings. Sometimes, simple minded people - pawns - are employed as scientists by business and universities funded by business. These people are allowed to think they are serving humanity, and in this way they are most docile and compliant to their master's will. To some extent, some more than others, one is acted through by the will of another.
Nietzsche: "Scientists are compelled to pursue their interests into every corner, and act on them, no matter how terrible the consequences". And thus, 45 years after Nietzsche's death, two atomic bombs were detonated in Japan. This kind of devastation will be wrecked by science on humanity many times over into the future. Thalidomide anyone? How about some PCP's? Or ozone depleting chemicals? (There was a time I didn't need sunscreen)
Thank god they haven't perfected the anti-matter bomb yet, although the US Defense Department is working on it.
Scientists will often squawk at the assertion they are ultimatley dangerous, but then, wouldn't anybody? The scientist who is an atheist humanist goes to great pains to make all who observe him/her believe they are genuinely interested in the welfare of ALL the human race - they want to appear as saints and saviors! But then they couldn't be the result of the selfish gene, could they? Are they suggesting they are of virgin birth?
And is anyone really as "perfect" as the atheist humanist scientist likes others to believe he/she is? This mask is one of the most clever yet to be invented by humans, and like all masks, allows the wearer the comfortable illusion of deception.
No deceiver will ever admit to deception in polite company, and rarely to themselves even in solitary moments, which they typically avoid with a multitude of distractions just in case they might catch a glimpse in the mirror. A public opinion poll would show that A) most people believe most people wear masks B) no one admits to wearing a mask.
Almost every person, every scientist, can be deconstructed into a pitiful creature if for instance, one could record his/her entire train of thoughts and behaviors and experiences, as in the movie "Final Cut". Even if one planted eavesdropping devices in the scientist's home, car, and office enough data could be gleaned to show the person to be not the person they show to others, but rather, much more banal.
What we call the personality is just a collection of lies, just as the hermit crab assmbles it's plummage from bits and pieces of coral and seaweed.
So, could the evolutionists show a little humility in their attacks on creationists? No truly sober person is at all impressed by your crusades.
The day the democratic public elects a scientist as president will be a very dark day. And yet, what scientist doesn't want to rule the world? (Usually due to having been bullied and excluded as a child)
Impossible goal for most scientists: give up all intoxicants for the rest of your lives. Few will be able or willing to do this. (What, scientists need intoxicants too?)
ALL intoxicants means your big fat ego, too. What scientist can give up the ego without having an identity crisis?