Thursday, June 22, 2006

The mythology of science

Rev Sam has formulated The foundation myth of science. And very well, too.

The three big progress myths - evolution, technological progress and ecenomical growth - have somehow lead humanity to believe that progress is something natural, something given. The absurdity of this should be clear from the fact that evolution is blind, technology stupid and growth is destructive. Evolution does not go anywhere, technology produces H-bombs as well as cancer medicine, and growth is just a nice word for abuse of resources. Still, our present society lives in the vane hope that unlike all other civilizations in history, ours will continue to prosper forever.


Anonymous said...

Interestingly, though, I think this is just another attempt to discredit contemporary technocracies and neo-Darwinian modes of economics and sciences. It's too easy to cast stones at the same trends that have permitted the spread of Christianity through media and technology. When will Christians stop flailing science by kicking down straw man caricatures (who in technology or science actually views their craft the way our dear Reverend describes?) and realize their "post-modern" critiques are merely preaching to choir that's already half-asleep? Unoriginality abounds in the Christian pulpit. Let's actually pick up a science book or two before we begin our misinformed and self-referential critiques. Science is impervious to such many more diatribes must be pronounced before the realization hits home that Christianity must re-imagine itself in light of science and not against it. As we blog away, we reap the benefits of our technological and scientific world...the dear Reverend bites the hand that feeds. Amazing how we of the humanities, probably out of an inferiority complex, harp all over science and technological "progress" after reading not science but hermeneutical and postmodern works of the humanities!

byron said...

Anon, can you suggest a good place to start?

But while we're still harping on, how about a forth myth: moral progress.

Anonymous said...

As much as I enjoy the works of Midgley, she directs much of her efforts toward popular science authors such as Dawkins and socio-biologists. That said, unlike the Reverend, I recommend putting Midgley off until an acquaintance with actual practitioners of science is established. To read Midgley or other philosophers of science as providing insight into HOW science conducts ITSELF is like reading Dennett and Pinker on religion or perhaps Pat Robertson on sociology and political science.

I recommend my students and congregation--if they are interested--begin with high school text books in science. If we are going to take Wittgenstein seriously, as the dear Reverend seems to, then we must immerse ourselves in the "language-games" of science, that is, their own didactic tools. After these high school texts, I recommend moving into one of three directions: 1. Evolutionary biology college texts; 2. Genetic Psychology texts; 3. Materials engineering texts (this will give a further grounding in applied physics and chemistry). Once we theologians, philosophers and humanities people actually begin at square-one where scientists gain their own formation, then we will be less inclined to use the humanities (in the persons of Husserl, Gadamer, Midgley, Wittgenstein, et al.) to critique science, which goes by a much different tradition (McGrath) or language-game (Wittgenstein and Lyotard). Do we really imagine that science cares to hear own philosophical/hermeneutical/linguistic criticisms? We can talk all about the mythologizing trends of any discipline in the sciences...the reply will be an aloof "So what?" Quoting Midgley and Wittgenstein is hardly effective unless, of course, you're merely trying to impress a handful of religion blog readers.

Weekend Fisher said...

Economic growth is another nice word for abuse of resources? Sigh. So is the premise that there's no such thing as proper use of resources, or that proper use of resources could never lead to a comfortable level of prosperity?

"Technology produces H-bombs as well as cancer medicine" -- really, technology is a tool that needs a human hand and a guiding will before it has a direction (+/-). Technology is the result of good people doing their best to make things better, and selfish people doing their best to get their way, and so on for the whole variety of human motivations. Which is to say technology will always have some genuinely positive effects so long as there are people who try to make it so, but it will never be the whole story.

Shane Clifton said...

Patrick, normally i find your posts so thoughtful - so this simple joining in the with science bashing (biological and technological) surprises me. Surely science, technology and economics are human tools, capable thereby of being used for good an ill. It seems to me that the romanticising of pre-scientific, pre technological, pre-capitalist society is as misleading as assuming that science, technology and economics are always positive forces.

Of course, i am sure i am misreading you - the problem with the fact that blogs dont enable you to say everything at once.

One of Freedom said...

Why do we have to ascribe moral characteristics to things like technology, evolution and economics or even the sense that these things progress the same way as morality.

I think human progress is a myth, but these things are just tools within the framework of that myth and can be healthily brought into other metanarritives (and often morphed by those metanarratives).

Technology in an of itself isn't really a trajectory of progress - it is more like an accumulating mass acted on by a myriad of social, economic and random factors. I think economimcs and evolution can be thought of in similar ways.

I tend to think that of those three that evolution is the one Christians should take the most serious as it becomes an influence on human progress (the current metanarrative we live within). I don't think evolution is necessarily that far fetched and tend to feel that de Chardin (I really appreciate his work) has brought it into the realm of being yet another instrument in the story of progress - it is just which narrative are we applying evolution to? I think the big hang up is that evolution is seen as the saviour that evolves us into humans that eventually stop screwing everything up - which is the emphasis on the tool not the toolmaker.

I struggle a lot with how to feel about economics. There is much to hate about capitalism. But there is also not a lot of really good solutions out there. I think as long as we are convinced that capitalism is un-subvertable then we, at least in the West, are going to be frustrated and do less than if we set about trying to do the subverting. I personally think we need more theories than whinging in this area.