Post-modern Pre-modernism

Tom Byers (TomByers@AOL.COM)
Sun, 1 Oct 1995 20:38:39 -0400

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. My recent response to a newsgroup request for advice on how to
debate scientific creationists ended up creating some ill feelings. 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

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

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 reply.