postmodern bedfellows

Paul Arveson (
Fri, 5 Dec 1997 11:54:59 -0400

Art Chadwick kindly quoted the editorial from of Social Text (responding to the
Alan Sokol hoax), and Garry DeWeese noted that in the last paragraph,
the editor set both science and humanists against creationists
who wanted equal time in public schools. He noted that "antipathy
towards creationism makes [for] strange bedfellows".

The postmodern situation is not that simple, of course. As long-time
readers of this list will know, there is no consensus here in defense of
polical creationism. In fact, I'm going to turn the argument around and
point out some ways in which Christians might even find themselves in bed
with the editor of Social Text:

>"... when you tell them that
>their choices are "dictated" by the physical laws of an "orderly
>universe," they are going to answer that you don't know that
>universe nearly as well as you think you do, and they are going
>to ask some searching questions about what you mean by "orderly"
>and whether you aren't presupposing in advance an orderliness
>that properly remains to be investigated and proved. In other
>words, this is not science as it is practiced, but science as
>ideology. Practicing scientists don't need it."

This exact same reaction to reductionism has been stated by many Christians
in ASA for years.

> "On the other hand, Alan's side should admit that sometimes
>there are serious problems in getting from the existence of the
>objective world to the conclusions people draw about it. They
>should admit that in the social world, especially, some very ugly
>stuff continues to hide behind the mask of supposed scientific
>objectivity, and that it's therefore not totally irrational to
>want to pull that mask off."

To Christians, who of all people should be most sensitive to the subtlety
of sin, this language of suspicion should sound quite familiar and

> "To our side, the extra investment in an abstract notion of
>"the" truth, which is something entirely separable from science's
>practical needs, looks like displaced theology. That is, it
>looks like an unwarranted claim to social authority. And that
>claim, I think, is the real heart of the matter."

This is analogous in the theological context to the debate between faith
and reason -- which comes first? If all authority is unwarranted, then how
is that lack of warrant detected? Some starting-point must be postulated.
Is that done arbitrarily? Or by some line of reasoning? If it is
arbitrary, then it has no merit and is no better than nonsense. If it is
by reasoning, then there needs to be a starting-point for the argument.
Are we bedfellows in this dilemma?

> "I haven't left myself enough time for further description of
>this so-called "postmodernism"--not a banner I happen to march
>under, but one I'll accept for the occasion since it's what Alan
>says he's attacking. But one shorthand account would be to say
>that it is a mode that, in resisting certain sorts of single and
>authoritative interpretation, also (for better or worse) gives up
>the right of making any authoritative critique."

Christians are often heard to complain about the hidden biases and
assumptions made by secular people, such as journalists and social
scientists. It's common for secular "authorities" to pontificate about all
kinds of things that are outside their specialty, including theology, where
they misunderstand and misrepresent the Christian view. Now we have a
group that wants to give up making such "authoritative" critiques. Maybe
they should be welcomed -- in our terminology they have discovered the
"noetic effects of sin."

Paul Arveson, Code 724, Research Physicist, Signatures Directorate
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division
9500 MacArthur Blvd., West Bethesda, MD 20817-5700
(301) 227-3831 (301) 227-4511 (FAX)