A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Cutting through the dangerous postmodernist cant.....

Highly recommended at the ever-challenging 'Butterflies and Wheels': Meera Nanda on 'Postmodernism, Science and Religious Fundamentalism'. A superb essay that cuts through much cant:-

"I was not being facetious, nor was I stoking the “science wars” when I suggested that there was a dangerous convergence - unintended, surely, but not entirely coincidental - between the social constructivist views of science routinely taught in science studies, women’s studies, postcolonial studies and allied disciplines, and the views of those who defend creation science, Islamic sciences, or, as in the case of India, Vedic sciences. The point I was making was not that the foot-soldiers of religious fundamentalist movements are sitting and poring over the works of David Bloor, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway or even of that great simplifier, Sandra Harding. They are not - although the more sophisticated among them do cite the classic works of (a hugely misinterpreted) Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, and those of local post-colonial and feminist scholars who have popularized the social constructivist critiques of objective knowledge and reason at home. I wanted to show how the promotion of an anti-secularist, anti-Enlightenment view of the world by well-meaning and largely left-wing scholars in world-renowned centers of learning has ended up affirming a view of the world which constitutes the common sense of the rather malign, authoritarian and largely right-wing fundamentalist movements. I wanted to show that that having invested so deeply in anti-modernist and anti-rationalist philosophies, the academic left has no intellectual resources left with which to engage the religious right."

"The problem with doing science as a Christian believer or a Vedantist is not just that it is based upon a wrong understanding of the distinctive self-correcting social dynamic of modern science. The problem is that this whole idea of theistic science is wrong in a politically dangerous way. Postmodernist arguments for faith-based science are being used both by the Christian creationists and Hindu apologists to attack the assumption of naturalism in modern science. The alternative to naturalism is supernaturalism, which means the re-introduction of revelation, miracles and rituals as legitimate sources of empirical knowledge."

Meera Nanda's book - the first to examine the relevance of postmodern theory for developing nations - , Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India (Rutgers University Press, 2003), has just been published.

Do take time to read through the whole of this fine analysis - it merits a really good sauvignon blanc as one grasps the importance of what she is unravelling. Cheers, Meera, and thanks. It needs saying. Philip.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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