Postmodern Science – Introduction
Postmodern science is “anti-science” in many respects. Some Postmodernists argue that science is not really knowledge at all. Instead, they speak in terms of chaos theory, the unpredictability of science, indeterminacy, or uncertainty of evolution/devolution, etc. For instance, Paul Feyerabend, former philosophy professor at the University of California (Berkeley) maintains that what is called science in one culture is called voodoo in another: “To those who look at the rich material provided by history, and who are not intent on impoverishing it in order to please their lower instincts—their craving for intellectual security in the form of clarity, precision, ‘objectivity,’ [or] ’truth’—it will become clear that there is only one principle that can be defended under all circumstances and in all stages of human development. It is the principle: anything goes.”1
In his article “Anything Goes,” Feyerabend further explains how science works. In the history of science many theories have arisen, been accepted as established, promoted as the truth, and then eventually discarded. When a scientist promotes scientific data in support of a theory, that bit of data is anything but neutral because the scientist has an agenda. In all fields of science questions remain open as scientific theories are regularly tweaked. And to top it off, the scientific establishment is very much politicized.2 Thus, scientists regularly work with unproven assumptions and filter all data through their preconceived ideas.
Postmodern Science – Theories of Indeterminacy
Postmodern doubts about the objectivity and neutrality of science arose in the mid-1900s from Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge3 and Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution.4 Kuhn, for example, points out that science is not merely a progressive and incremental discipline that studies and records facts. So-called facts can be understood and interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the worldview assumptions of the scientist.5
In addition, Kuhn asserts that scientific theories, or paradigms, do not often fall out of favor because they are proven wrong. Rather, older theories tend to die out along with their proponents, while new and creative theories attract the attention of younger scientists who, in turn, promote their theories over the older ones.6 A current scientific theory is just that: a current theory, which will be replaced by another current theory in the future. For that reason, science cannot tell us what is real, only what scientists believe to be the case at that particular time in history. This falls in line with the Postmodern concept that everyone, including the scientist, is locked into his or her particular culture and language, and thus cannot claim to have an objective picture of the world.
Postmodern Science – What’s Really Real, Anyway?
In the world of Postmodern science, even mathematics is not immune from Postmodern analysis. Doubts about the objectivity of math were brought to light with Douglas R. Hofstadter’s Pulitzer prize winning book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, published in 1979.7 This theme has been developed in other works. In Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas, Marcia Ascher asserts that much of mathematics education depends upon assumptions of Western culture. For example, she writes that no other culture “need share the categories triangle, right triangle, hypotenuse of a right triangle . . .” She further questions, “Is a square something that has external reality or is it something only in our minds?”8
However, even in light of the Postmodernist aversion to metanarratives and doubts about science being able to describe the real world, when pressed for an explanation concerning the origin of life Postmodernists will assume anything but creationism! For this reason, Postmodernists embrace the only other alternative—one of the several forms of evolution.
Postmodern Science – Inconsistent and Unreliable
Christians need not agree with the extreme conclusion that contemporary Postmodernists derive from Kuhn’s theories of indeterminacy. Although Christians acknowledge that scientists do have biases and presuppositions, we also assert that true knowledge about reality is possible. Philosopher J.P. Moreland explains the Christian position this way: “Science (at least as most scientists and philosophers understand it) assumes that the universe is intelligible and not capricious, that the mind and senses inform us about reality, that mathematics and language can be applied to the world, that knowledge is possible, that there is a uniformity in nature that justifies inductive inferences from the past to the future and from examined cases of, say, electrons, to unexamined cases, and so forth.”9
Saying much the same thing is Secular Humanist Paul Kurtz. In Humanist Manifesto 2000, Kurtz insists that rejecting objectivity is a mistake and that Postmodernism is counterproductive, even nihilistic. Kurtz writes, “Science does offer reasonably objective standards for judging its truth claims. Indeed, science has become a universal language, speaking to all men and women no matter what their cultural backgrounds.”10
Along the same lines, Lee Campbell, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences at Ohio Dominican College, writes, “The methods used in the sciences have produced powerful explanations about how things work and innumerable useful applications, including technology even its harshest critics would never be without.”11 Indeed, Postmodernists use all the comforts and conveniences that modern science and technology provide, yet at the same time deny the foundational premises on which science is established. This brings to light the contradictions within the Postmodern worldview and reveals it to be unreliable.
Postmodern Science – Conclusion
In contrast with the failed approach to Postmodern science, history confirms the reality and progressive reliability of the scientific method. In fact, modern science came about because of a biblical view of reality. Campbell writes, “The rise of modern science would have been impossible without Christian presuppositions that the universe is rational because it was created by a rational God.”12
In his book For the Glory of God, Rodney Stark details why Christianity (rather than Islam, Cosmic Humanism, or any of the atheistic Humanisms) is the worldview most responsible for modern science.13 Indeed, the father of modern science, Sir Francis Bacon, was a Christian, as were many of the leading scientists who founded the disciplines of chemistry, paleontology, bacteriology, antiseptic surgery, genetics, thermodynamics, computer science, and many other fields.14
Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.
1 Paul Feyerabend, “Anything Goes,” in Walter Truett Anderson, ed., The Truth About The Truth (New York, NY: Tarcher/Putnam Publishers, 1995), 199–200.
2 To understand how much of science has become politicized, see Tom Bethel’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2005).
3 Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1974).
4 Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (1962; Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
5 Millard J. Erickson, Truth or Consequences: The Promise & Perils of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 106–7.
6 Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 16–19.
7 Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, 20th anniversary ed. (1979; New York, NY: Basic Books, 1999).
8 Marcia Ascher, Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1991), 193.
9 J.P. Moreland,Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 45.
10 Paul Kurtz, Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call for A New Planetary Humanism (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000), 22.
11 Lee Campbell, “Postmodern Impact: Science,” in Dennis McCallum, ed., The Death of Truth, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996), 193.
13 See Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).
14 For a detailed list, see “The Worlds Greatest Creation Scientists: From Y1K to Y2K” at http://creationsafaris.com/wgcs_toc.htm.
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