Humanist Society of NSW Inc.
Humanist books review
(Originally published in the Australian Humanist Aug 1995).
The Influence of the higher superstition of postmodernism was dramatically exposed recently when "The AGE" (Melbourne) theatre critic savagely attacked from his postmodernist position David Williamson's latest play "Dead White Males". Williamson has brilliantly and wittily exposed the falsity of the postmodernist case when deconstructing literature, using some dramas of Shakespeare - a dead white male - as illustration. Another exposure was to be seen on the ABC TV drama "Signs and wonders" just finished. The son who had become lecturer in postmodernism finally admitted its illogicality.
The postmodernist thesis, as presented by philosophers such as Foucault and Derrida, is that there is no knowledge, only understandings based on the social values and language of the period. And because these values have come from a patriarchal society then our understandings are not true but are what the patriarchs want us to believe.
Scientist PAUL R GROSS and mathematician NORMAN LEVITT are concerned with the inroads being made in the USA by the academic left in their endeavour to deconstruct science. The academic left attack science principally because they see capitalism taking over globally through its use of science and its application, technology. A subsidiary influence is a Romantic, emotional attachment to Nature combined with an aversion to the cold scrutiny of Rationalism.
This deconstruction has achieved success in the non-experiential sciences, particularly anthropology where if you don't agree with a finding you can readily dismiss it as based on the writer's values.
Deconstruction is more difficult, if not impossible, in the experiential sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, where experiments can be carried out and repeated to test the truths. The falsity of deconstruction is most clearly shown here. The postmodernists could only claim a new science, a new physics etc, to be true, if found to be true by experiment. If they were to do this then it would become the accepted science.
In effect the academic left gives up the battle against capitalism if they in affect give up science. A good case can be made that the communism of Lenin and Stalin was bound to eventually fail because they could not accept science. Communism had to be accepted as a dogma - finding political truths by observation and experiment was heretical. A classic example of Stalinist communism rejection of science was its acceptance of Lysenkoism - Lamarckian nurture over evolutionary nature - because it was in agreement with Marxism not because of the facts.
The, authors cover a wide field - postmodernism, feminism, multiculturalism, radical environmentalism and AIDS activism. It is illuminating to read in the treatment of feminist science that Goethe considered he was as good a scientist as a poet and was upset that his conclusions based on his understanding of nature were not accepted, whilst those of Newton were. The abuse of multiculturalism is exemplified by an Afrocentric science being taught in many black schools, based on the claim that science arose in Egypt. Environmental causes such as protecting native forests are based more on emotion rather than on scientific evaluation. Medical scientists are attacked for not finding a cure for AIDS with some deconstructuralists even claiming that AIDS was developed by Western patriarchs to destroy the Africans.
Gross and Levitt point out that the problem is that many of the world problems such as overpopulation, tribalism and global warming are complex, requiring a scientific understanding. If we are to retain democratic government then the community must be scientifically literate to make informed judgments. But with the developing antiscience attitude then the community will be influenced by emotional appeals which the modern mass media is so skilful in using.
In the 70s when I was working for the UN the developing countries without exception put science and technology as their top priority for their development. The most recent example of a country that has followed this path is South Korea.
This book is recommended as a well written, most informative and important work. It spells out a warning of what lies ahead for Australia unless we place top priority on achieving a scientifically literate community.