Wednesday, November 16, 2005


There's an interesting opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald about intelligent design (ID) and postmodernism.

It suggests there is an element of hypocrisy in the arguments against ID. According to postmodernism, each individual is encouraged to make personal discoveries and challenge orthodox views. The assumption is that each individual has their own truth that cannot be impinged upon by another individual.

This postmodern mode of thought has been popular in many higher educational institutions around the world for the last several decades. Indeed, my own university courses in philosophy, and especially psychology, hinged on this view.

In postmodern thinking, the greatest intellectual faux pas is hypocrisy. As there is no absolute point of view, an individual's belief cannot be challenged directly as being untrue in an absolute, objective sense. An individual can even hold contradicting beliefs, according to some views. However, to assert a belief, and to act differently, is the ultimate betrayal of postmodernism, because all we have is our own truth.

As such, the charge of hypocrisy placed on anti-ID campaigners is a serious one from a postmodern perspective. For an individual sympathetic to postmodern views, it's also a hard one to come back from.

However, in my opinion, this just highlights the chink in the armour of contemporary Left thinking, which has postmodern and relativist leanings in many ways.

The Right has acknowledged this weakness in the Left well before the Left has. And the Right has exploited it very effectively - as in this opinion piece here. Or through the Wedge Document.

In fact, ID proponents tend to fall back on the argument that they are only offering an alternative explanation for the origins of life, and they want to give students all sides of the story, encourage debate, and let the students decide for themselves in the end. On the surface this sounds very acceptable, especially to a postmodernist or a postmodern-inclined educational institution.

However, it's hoodwinking us by turning postmodernism against us.

This is becasue science itself is not actually postmodern in this relativist sense.

Science asserts that there is one true reality, and that humans have access to parts of this reality through experience. Through the empirical method, we can perfom tests on theories and gradually learn more about the nature of this reality. Science does not assert that there is a different reality for each individual (Quantum mechanics aside - but that's another story, and it doesn't support the countscientific view anyway).

There are plenty of scientific theories that have been discounted, such as phlogiston and caloric. However, you don't find proponents of these theories wanting them to be taught to students to let them decide whether their true for themselves. They've already been proven false by science. There's no point in teaching them in the science class. That's not to say they shouldn't be taught in the history or science methodology class, but not as contributing to our current understanding of reality.

In my opinion, it's time for us to move beyond postmodernism and find a new intellectual paradigm. We need to take a view more similar to that of science. Postmodernism has served it purpose, and we must learn from the lessons it teaches us. But we also need to acknowledge its weaknesses, both in terms of offering a useful approach for understanding the world and psychologically. By the latter I mean the human tendency to look for answers. If these answers come from our individual exploration of the world, great. However more often than not they come from the outside - often from some form of authority. This authority could be a school or university, a friend, a book, an 'expert' on television, a church or many other sources.

I personally applaud the concept of being a lantern unto oneself, but I think it's an unfair burden to place on each and every individual to discover reality on their own. It's also unreasonable to expect everyone to do their own exploration. People will naturally turn to outside sources for help and guidance, and for answers - and the Left needs to be there to help provide those answers.

I don't yet know how this will work. But I have some ideas.

Currently the Right asserts its answers, which are often be black and white, uncomplicated, easy to digest, and use a variety of compelling psychological devices, such as force, fear and appealing to the insecurities of people. The Left needs to be equally compelling, but not fall into the trap of using the wrong means for asserting its views.

I imagine this might be like a simple and clear manifesto that lays it all out in black and white, bite size chunks. However, beneath the surface there will be explanation, theories, evidence, and a culture of questioning. This way those individuals who are inclined to just want answers can get them. Yet those who disagree, or who want more information, are encouraged to dig deeper. This also leaves open the possibility that the philosophy can change and evolve. This is nothing like the current Left system of leaving every individual more or less on their own to find their own answers, where other Left people are somewhat reluctant to assert their own views on others.

I reckon we need to ditch this soft approach, and get a bit harder. But leave it soft underneath. Like a Caramello Koala.


At 9:52 pm , Blogger woodbunny said...

Surely ID is founded on faith, while science is founded in facts.

Another example of theological posturing, the new Pope has dropped the concept of Limbo. Limbo is the place where unbaptised children are said to go, and has been part of Catholic belief since the 13th century. Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not 'enjoy God' but they do not suffer. Because of original sin, they do not deserve paradise, but because of the tenderness towards children, they don't deserve Hell or Purgatory. (the concept of Catholic tenderness towards children is another discussion).

So in one deft stroke of the pen, the Vatican has scratched Limbo. Where have all those souls ended up? Benedict said, in an interview 20 years before he was ordained, 'Limbo has never been a defined truth of faith. I would drop something that has always been only a theological hypothesis.' That would be a tautology, unless he can prove that there is a theological definite. Prove it with science.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home