Skip to comments.Science Fiction (Leftists worry IDers are using Leftist tactics to win 'Intelligent Design fight)
Posted on 09/19/2005 6:01:22 PM PDT by gobucks
In 1993, the journalist Jonathan Rauch published a book called Kindly Inquisitors, in which he catalogued contemporary threats to the Enlightenment tradition of seeking truth through logical or empirical discourse. One of Rauch's points was that, while this (classical) liberal system for amassing knowledge appeared to be under attack from both the religious right and the multicultural left, in fact the two groups were making a version of the same argument: Mainstream science didn't accord their beliefs the respect they deserved, whether it was creation science on the one hand or feminist or Afro-centric science on the other.
Rauch's book has held up remarkably well in the twelve years since it was published. This is particularly so in light of the current debate over intelligent design (ID)--the idea, popular on the right, that life is too complex to have resulted from random variation. Even President Bush has suggested, as the creation scientists (and multiculturalists) of the 1980s and 1990s did before him, that both sides of the supposed debate be treated as legitimate in public school curricula.
But there was one thing Rauch didn't anticipate. At the time, he suggested that, even though creationists had adopted the tactics of the academic left--the demand for equal time--they still believed in objective truths. They just didn't think all of these truths were discoverable by science. By contrast, today's IDers have gone further and adopted the epistemology of the left--the idea that ostensibly scientific truths may be relative.
The animating principle of the postmodern left is the notion that truth follows from power and not from its intrinsic rightness. It's a conceit that began in the humanities but eventually spread to hard sciences like physics. "The point is that neither logic nor mathematics escapes the contamination of the social," as postmodern pooh-bah Stanley Aronowitz has put it. What makes this approach so radical is its implication that the way to win intellectually is to win politically.
In making their arguments, the postmodernists rely heavily on the work of historians of science like Thomas Kuhn. It was Kuhn who famously argued that scientific knowledge proceeds as a sequence of "paradigm shifts"--revolutions in the way we understand the world--and that the shifts occur not simply when the evidence in favor of the new paradigm becomes overwhelming, but when the people invested in the old paradigm are in some sense defeated (which may not occur until long after they're proved wrong). Mainstream science has taken from Kuhn the belief that evidence and logic are necessary, if not quite sufficient, conditions for a paradigm shift and that, in the long run, successive shifts bring society closer to objective truth. Where the postmodernists go awry is in their emphasis on Kuhn's relativism.
Unfortunately, these postmodernist ideas have become a staple of the ID movement. As laid out in a strategic memo produced by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the leading backer of intelligent design, "Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces." There was nothing particularly objective about this view, according to the IDers. Instead, applying the same reading of Kuhn that the postmodernists embrace, they argue that it was simply the result of a political struggle between insurgents and the establishment. (In fact, the IDers frequently cite Kuhn to this effect.) Probably the clearest example of this comes courtesy of Bruce K. Chapman, the Discovery Institute's president. "All ideas that achieve a sort of uniform acceptance ultimately fall apart, whether it's in the sciences or philosophy or politics, after a few people keep knocking away at it," he recently told The New York Times. But that's nuts. Germ theory, relativity, the idea that the earth is round--with apologies to Tom Friedman, the fact that all have withstood the occasional challenge suggests that truth counts for something.
Chapman might protest that he's simply proposing a more accurate alternative to evolution, the same way Darwin proposed a more accurate alternative to creationism. But ID isn't a new theory, just a new attempt to advance an old one, with some new empirical claims thrown in for good measure. As Jerry Coyne has pointed out ("The Faith that Dare Not Speak Its Name," August 22 & 29), scientists can discredit ID using the exact same evidence they used to debunk creationism. Once you realize this, it's no longer possible to interpret Chapman as echoing the belief in a steady progression toward truth.
Like all conservatives, of course, the IDers claim to decry relativism and to embrace absolutes. But, for them, the claim is logically incoherent in a way it wasn't when it came from their creationist predecessors. When a proposition is empirically false, as both creationism and ID (to the extent that it makes empirical claims) are, you're free to assert its truth; you just can't call it science. The creationists had no problem with this; they just rejected any science that contradicted the Bible. But the IDers aspire to scientific truth. Unfortunately, the only way to claim that something empirically false is scientifically true is to question science's capacity for sorting out truth from falsehood, the same way postmodernists do.
Conservatives were quick to point out the danger of this view in the '80s and '90s. They argued that a science that rejected the idea of truth was vulnerable to the most inane forms of intellectual hucksterism. And they were right. It's not hard to imagine scams like cold fusion or the Scientologist critique of psychiatric drugs gaining ground in a world where science's ability to identify knowledge has been undermined. (Among other monuments to postmodern thought was the idea that E=mc² might be a "sexed equation" that "privileges the speed of light over other speeds," as Belgian-French theorist Luce Irigaray once asserted.)
Americans don't like thinking of themselves as backward. As a result, the risk from science-rejecting creationists hasn't been particularly acute in recent decades. But most people don't have very strong views on the philosophy of science. If, unlike the postmodern left, the ID movement can enlist mainstream conservatives in questioning science's capacity to produce objective truth, then it's by no means clear the effort won't succeed. In that case, it will end up threatening a whole lot more than just evolution.
But, if that just don't beat all! The jig is up fellas!! The leftists have got us all figured out.
-- (By contrast, today's IDers have gone further and adopted the epistemology of the left--the idea that ostensibly scientific truths may be relative.--
We, the clever folks who have bought into the idea that truth is relative and whoever has the most power gets to create the stuff known as 'truth'. Ahem, just when did we do this? I didn't get the memo...
(gee, we must keep well-thumbed copies of Kuhn by our commodes even!!!),
and we the clever folks who have decided that since the revealed word of our Lord is insufficient, why, we'll clevely adopt leftist postmodern tactics to win the fight against the godless, communistic, atheistic, amoralistic, father-hating, scoundrels of the left.
I had absolutely NO IDEA we were that smart, that they are so worried they opened Pandora's Postmodern box, and now, much like Islamo fundies, we're going to use this 'master weapon' against them. The tone of this article is just comical.
But, then again, maybe we are that unbelievably ...; after all, W is, still, the President. (*sounds of quiet chuckling and the whispered word ...'Rove'....*)....
I know you like reading and posting stuff like this from this high brow mag read by low brow knuckleheads on the left.
I thought that their problem with ID was that it was supposedly not falsifiable. There is a huge difference between that and being "empirically false." This writer doesn't know what he is talking about.
I, and the other evolutionist-scientists here at FR, have been consistent in positing the view of this quoted paragraph for quite some time now---namely, that the ID "movement" could: (1.) undermine science and (2.) undermine conservatism (because of its association with ID as portrayed by the MSM.)
It seems to me that, for a variety of reasons, ID/creationists do not have regard for objective and empirical observations. Truth to them is merely a matter of who can shout the loudest and, as such, is purely political.
Ping for the ID folks ... I found the article actually very encouraging...
The exposure of how a leftist thinks ... just another form of gathering, ahem, enemy intelligence.
I had a hunch you'd like it. See, we are all friends in the Freeper Sandbox, and we can play nice.... :)
Thanks for posting it, BTW.
That would be a double secret Darwin Central literary reference.
Here we go again, lumping ID in with creationists (i.e. those that take the bible literally).
You folks who dismiss ID as science rejecting are not very well informed. In fact, ID supporters assert that it is established science which is "science rejecting" when the issue of first causes (and evolution) is raised.
Please, lets keep this argument fair...
If you really want to know what ID is all about with respect to questioning the dogma of evolution read Phillip Johnson's "Darwin on Trial." He is not a biblical literalist, though he is a Christian. They are certainly not mutually exclusive except to the ignorant.
And for very intelligent, thoughtful, and powerful, though not scientific, arguments regarding the existence of God and the truth of Christ, read GK Chesterton's works on the matter and C.S. Lewis too.
Or you could still argue from ignorance, emotion and ingrained prejudice...your call.
George Orwell picked up on this phenomenon long before 1993.
When a proposition is empirically false, as both creationism and ID (to the extent that it makes empirical claims) are, you're free to assert its truth; you just can't call it science. The creationists had no problem with this; they just rejected any science that contradicted the Bible. But the IDers aspire to scientific truth. Unfortunately, the only way to claim that something empirically false is scientifically true is to question science's capacity for sorting out truth from falsehood, the same way postmodernists do.
Yeah sure, and they're not really Liberals, they are really Progressives
I hate to tell you, but you're not fooling anyone
"Joy to Thee and Me. Confusion to Our Enemies"
"Yeah sure, and they're not really Liberals, they are really Progressives
I hate to tell you, but you're not fooling anyone"
Huh? Are you saying that those that believe in Intelligent Design, i.e. God, are all liberals?
Or are you saying that those that believe that a fair assessement of evolution should include its many flaws are all liberals?