What Is Postmodernism? And Why Does It Matter for Science? | Patheos

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Actual filename: Old_Man_Postmodernism.jpg

Here we are, living in the “post-truth” era. Every day, the internet inundates us with alternative facts, fake news, doctored film footage, and bizarro anti-science conspiracies. No one seems to agree on what’s really real anymore. How did we, supposedly the most technologically and scientifically advanced civilization in history, get to this point? There are a lot of answers to that question, some of which, I’m sure, must involve fairly potent narcotics. But one of the most useful and informative answers has a lot to do with the social dimensions of cognition. Specifically, it has to do with how people create and then agree on social realities, or what some people call “social constructions.” In turn, the question of social construction drives straight to the heart of the so-called “science wars” – the conflict between postmodernism and science advocates – and evokes the fraught question of how religion relates to these mutual rivals. 

This essay won’t invoke your righteous anger at postmodernism, scientism, religion, or any other contemporary bogeyman. I only want to look at how our relationship to “truth” has changed over the past few decades, and to think about what that shift might imply. A lot of people, such as philosopher, public atheist, and Santa Claus impersonator Daniel Dennett, blame our post-truth era on “postmodernism.” Are these critics right? In many ways, I think they are indeed onto something. But I also think that postmodernists have some credible points to make, and science advocates should take seriously what their arguments might imply for real, actual small-s science, as well as for the ideology of scientific progress (big-S Science™). Meanwhile, I think religion, scientism, and postmodernism are tangled in a tensely bound, three-way relationship of shared and opposing convictions and values. I think it’ll be illuminating to explore that triangle.


If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything | James Wood, New Yorker

At a recent conference on belief and unbelief hosted by the journal Salmagundi, the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson confessed to knowing some good people who are atheists, but lamented that she has yet to hear “the good Atheist position articulated.” She explained, “I cannot engage with an atheism that does not express itself.”

She who hath ears to hear, let her hear. One of the most beautifully succinct expressions of secular faith in our bounded life on earth was provided not long after Christ supposedly conquered death, by Pliny the Elder, who called down “a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death!” Pliny argued that belief in an afterlife removes “Nature’s particular boon,” the great blessing of death, and merely makes dying more anguished by adding anxiety about the future to the familiar grief of departure. How much easier, he continues, “for each person to trust in himself,” and for us to assume that death will offer exactly the same “freedom from care” that we experienced before we were born: oblivion.