Pre-modern / Post-modern Alliance Forming

Tom Byers (
1 Oct 1995 18:46:27 -0400

Imagine modernism as a sort of conceptual government. If post-modern
guerrillas are poised to overthrow it, are they replacing dictatorship
with democracy, or are they creating an academic Lebanon? In other words,
how comprehensive is the replacement that post-modernists are offering us
for the old philosophies of science such as positivism and materialism?

To focus the question, let me discuss post-modern defenses of
creationism. I recently responded to a person asking for advice on how to
debate creationists. I was not attacked as a heretic by people who
believe in the literal truth of the Bible. Instead, I was accused of
being a bastardly mind control freak, etc. by people with no obvious
commitment to creationism. They felt it was morally reprehensible for me
to suggest that my world-view is more "true" than anybody else's.

My positivist-sounding response was that testing theories and
discarding those which least fit the data has nothing to do with ultimate
truth. One person replied that trying to test one theory against another
is tantamount to deciding whether a dolphin fits better into a kayak or a
canoe. Science is therefore either impossible, irrelevant, or just
another way of forming an opinion.

The point is not that we should take such arguments seriously or that
any of the leading academic post-modernists would argue in such a vein.
Although these extreme examples fall within the fringe limits of
post-modern thought, they are no basis for dismissing the whole movement.
Rather the point is to question whether a post-modern philosophy of
science can provide any basis for rejecting its own nonsense or the
nonsense of others.

As anthropologists, we don't waste time on "scientific" creationism
any more than astronomers do on astrology. Nevertheless we are
responsible to the public at large, and a pretty huge chunk of them
question whether our reconstructions of human ancestry are any more valid
than the Biblical tracing of a lineage back to Adam. Most of these folks
are perfectly intelligent and want us to explain WHY our approach is
better. We used to have an answer for them back in modern times.

Will somebody familiar with post-modern viewpoints please give me a
reference (including page numbers) for any work in which a post-modern
philosophy of science provides a sound, systematic basis for rejecting the
theory that the Earth is flat. The dwindling modernists are worried that
common sense is no longer sufficient to argue against a literal
interpretation of the National Inquirer, and that the pre- and
post-modernists who have fled us in opposite directions are somehow going
to meet up and form an alliance to usher in a new, improved age.

Tom Byers

(Copying this message is permissible; responding to it with foul language
is not.)

P.S. For those of you tempted to respond that post-modernism does not
seek to change the philosophy of science, but rather to reject the
application of science in anthropology, please read the article by Paul
Roscoe in the September, 1995 American Anthropologist before posting a