This story has been of ongoing interest. Here is the latest.
SSHRC doubts the science of evolution
In rejecting a proposed study, the eminent science council shows it has become infected with postmodern drivel
By Dan Adleman
In the summer issue of Humanist Perspectives, Gary Bauslaugh reports that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has rejected Dr Brian AltersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ application for a grant to study the Ã¢â‚¬Å“detrimental effects of popularizing anti-evolutionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬ËœIntelligent Design TheoryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ on Canadian students, teachers, parents, administrators and policymakers.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The rejection, in and of itself, need not set off alarm bells, as the SSHRC rejected 73% of the applications under review at the time. What is extraordinarily disturbing, however, is the councilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stated reason for the refusal to grant funding:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The committee found that the candidates were qualified. However, it judged the proposal did not adequately substantiate the premise that the popularizing of Intelligent Design Theory had detrimental effects on Canadian students, teachers, parents and policymakers. Nor did the committee consider that there was adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of Evolution, and not Intelligent Design Theory, was correct. It was not convinced, therefore, that research based on these assumptions would yield objective results.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Memorial UniversityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Larry Felt, one of the panelists who reviewed Dr AltersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ application, told Canwest that while he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t dispute the theory of evolution, there are aspects of the natural world that Ã¢â‚¬Å“evolution has some trouble accounting for.Ã¢â‚¬Â Felt went on to suggest Ã¢â‚¬Å“the possibility of a synthesisÃ¢â‚¬Â of evolution and Intelligent Design that Ã¢â‚¬Å“compels scholars to take an open mind,Ã¢â‚¬Â as opposed to the kind of closed mind frame that feels compelled to Ã¢â‚¬Å“dump on the religious right.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Now the alarm bells should be wailing. Not only is the SSHRC now presenting Intelligent Design TheoryÃ¢â‚¬â€a pseudoscientific right-wing Trojan Horse designed to combat the teaching of cumulative Natural Selection in science classesÃ¢â‚¬â€as being on parallel footing with evolutionÃ¢â‚¬â€a rigorously peer-reviewed scientific theoryÃ¢â‚¬â€but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also taking the ideological stance that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the Canadian governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s duty to protect the religious right from potential exposure to the invidious reality that the biblical account of creation is at odds with all of the evidence.
One has to wonder what kind of backward hicks have hijacked the SSHRC council. It turns out that the story is much more complex and convoluted than that.
All of the panelists are respected Canadian Ã¢â‚¬Å“social scientists;Ã¢â‚¬Â that is to say, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re arts professors, most of whom specialize in postmodern theory and know absolutely nothing about science. This sheds a whole new light on their criticism of AltersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ proposal.
Modern day postmodern pedantry has its roots in the genuinely innovative works of thinkers like Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and Deleuze, who wanted to annihilate traditional notions of truth, morality, power, and the self in order to liberate thinking from the confines of vestigial metaphysical systems.
Ironically, most modern day Ã¢â‚¬Å“postmodernistsÃ¢â‚¬Â (an odd title because the aforementioned progenitors of the movement didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want any followers or to have their ideas systematized), tend not to know the first thing about free thought. David Foster Wallace, one of AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most brilliant essayists, has cogently diagnosed the problem:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“After the pioneers always come the crank turners, the little gray people who take the machines others have built and just turn the crank, and little pellets . . . come out the other end. The crank-turners capitalize for a while on sheer fashion, and they get their plaudits and grants and buy their IRAs and retire to the Hamptons. . . . There are some interesting parallels between postmodern crank-turners and what’s happened since post-structural theory took off here in the US, why there’s such a big backlash against post-structuralism going on now. It’s the crank-turnersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ fault. . . . You get some bona-fide artists who come along and really divide by zero and weather some serious shit-storms of shock and ridicule in order to promulgate some really important ideas. Once they triumph, though, and their ideas become legitimate and accepted, the crank-turners and wannabes come running to the machine, and out pour the gray pellets and now the whole thing’s become a hollow form, just another institution of fashion. Take a look at some of the critical-theory PhD dissertations being written now. They’re like de Man and Foucault in the mouth of a dull child. Academia and commercial culture have somehow become these gigantic mechanisms of commodification that drain the weight and color out of even the most radical new advances.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Innovators like Nietzsche and Derrida challenged and played with received moral, political, and metaphysical doctrines in order to broaden conceptual horizons. Unfortunately, the worst of the crank-turners have turned postmodernism itself into a fundamentalist doctrine. And the first commandment of this newfangled religion is to challenge Ã¢â‚¬Å“regimes of truthÃ¢â‚¬Â wherever they may lurk. Unfortunately, a number of dogmatists have unreflectively applied this approach to science. The problem is that science already has an infinitely more rigorous screening process in the scientific method. Unlike the claims made in many of the so-called social sciences, scientific hypotheses are subjected to high levels of scrutiny and forced to withstand attacks from every conceivable angle. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not because of domineering Ã¢â‚¬Å“regimes of truthÃ¢â‚¬Â that the SSHRC panelistsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ cell phones and laptops work so well, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s because of the scientific method.
Similarly, unlike Intelligent Design Theory, evolution is the result of meticulous evidence-assimilation and the open invitation to refute the hypothesis that man evolved from an ape-like species a very long time before the Bible tells us that an omnipotent and omniscient God created him out of thin air. And it is an irrefutable fact that we humans, who were long indoctrinated to believe that we were anything but animals, in fact emerged out of the same protoplasmic muck as all the rest of our cousins in the animal kingdom.
In 1996, American physicist Alan Sokal underscored the vapidity of applying postmodern pedantry to scientific endeavors in a little prank he played on Social Text, a prominent postmodern journal. SokalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s article, which he referred to as a deliberately-contrived hodgepodge of Ã¢â‚¬Å“fashionable nonsenseÃ¢â‚¬Â contained such gems as: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical Ã¢â‚¬Ëœreality,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ no less than social Ã¢â‚¬Ëœreality,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific Ã¢â‚¬Ëœknowledge,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Predictably, Social Text embraced the hoax text with open arms. Sokal therefore concluded that the journal flagrantly ignored intellectual rigor and “felt comfortable publishing an article on abstract quantum physics without bothering to consult anyone knowledgeable in the subject.” Sokal wrote, “My goal isn’t to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit (we’ll survive just fine, thank you), but to defend the Left from a trendy segment of itself. There are hundreds of important political and economic issues surrounding science and technology. Sociology of science, at its best, has done much to clarify these issues. But sloppy sociology, like sloppy science, is useless or even counterproductive.”
Moreover, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to note that none of this should lead us to a kind of default scientism, whereby science is granted supremacy over all other disciplines in every sphere of thought. Everything in its proper place. A technocracy wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily be any better for the world than a corporatocracy (in fact, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re extremely compatible). Science is a powerful tool. Nothing more. And surprisingly, when it comes to doing and understanding science, nobody does it remotely as well as, well, scientists.
The Left needs to pay careful attention to WallaceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and SokalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s admonitions. Real creatives, the kinds of trailblazers who send ripples through our culture, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t apply cookie-cutter methods to a world thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s becoming exponentially more complex each and every day. They arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even arbiters between multiple pre-existing paradigms. Real creatives are conduits for virtual symphonies of ideas. And it is, in part, out of these elaborate new orchestrations that revolutionary paths are forged.
In the meantime, with AltersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ proposal still in limbo, we have to keep the spotlight on the SSHRCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s demagogical dullards, who would have us turn our brains in for mouldy old cookie cutters.