Thursday, March 15, 2007

Selective Deconstruction

I just heard an interview with Elaine Pagels, the writer of Beyond Belief and many books dealing with the Gnostic Gospels. A minority group of scholars consisting of Marcus Borg, Domonic Crossan, Robert Funk, Pagels, and a few others seems to dominate media coverage of anything pertaining to Jesus. This should be no small surprise in a postmodern deconstructionist era in which we are challenged to question long-held assumptions. The mantra of this generation of historians and thinkers is: “the winner writes the history books.” This statement has some veracity, there is no doubt, and I strongly support the notion of questioning even long-held traditions when initial inquiry reveals that something is wrong with these entrenched beliefs.

What I find fascinating is that this attitude of appealing to a minority of experts (which should be expected from a critically minded media) is only applied selectively. So, it is okay to dedicate page after page of U.S. News and World Report and hour upon hour of broadcast on NPR or the History Channel to this minority of religious scholars, but it is absurd to dedicate any fair bit of press or airtime to minority views on global warming, the Holocaust or evolution.

Now, before you x this window out, I’m not saying that the people who deny the Holocaust have any merit to their position. I believe the Holocaust happened and have no need that it be denied. I don’t even understand how a thinking individual could question the reality of the Holocaust, but if the media feels this inexorable need to constantly undermine accepted understanding of history, why does it not apply the same modus operandi when dealing with certain areas? Again, I’m not insinuating that because a lot of people believe one thing that this view should be considered true, and I’m certainly not advocating the idea that a minority will have a better view than the popularly held idea. All I’m asking is: Why should any of this matter? Why don’t we look at the claim, hold it up to critical inquiry, and as far as possible, let the facts speak for themselves?

I’ve yet to hear much debate on the Gnostic Gospels issue, because it always seems that the minority scholars get free reign in the public arena. I’ve never even heard the objections raised by “the holocaust as myth” crowd, because everyone is afraid to give them publicity. I think you give them more publicity by news blurbs that announce their existence, but don’t explore their views and offer a chance to give them a rebuttal. I’ve still yet to see any fair treatment of the Intelligent Design issue. All I ever see is a bunch of talking heads (who are far from scientific experts) denouncing the movement as scientific heretics without ever giving them a chance to present their viewpoints. No, they are just branded as Creationist idiots.

It’s a wonder that the same institutions that decry I.D. scientists for their heresy, laud the Pagels crowd for theirs, giving the latter a bully pulpit with no opportunity for rebuff, and the former only a caricature, and no opportunity to even present their reasons for believing the way the do. If we’re to be critical thinkers, we need to see both sides of a story and subject both sides to critical inquiry. Right now, the accepted evangelical understanding is being subjected to criticism for the gazillionth time in history. Fine, all is fair, but what of Gnosticism? Have you put that worldview under the microscope lately? What of evolution? A theory that for all its charm, after 150 years still lacks adequate proof in the fossil record to vindicate it. Where is the objectivity in all this?

3 comments:

Bradley said...

Here, here, Ford!

For this modrinn era and all its wikis and diggs, you'd expect the marginal voice to have an outlet, but instead it seems to be the opposite. The mainstream scientists and world view holders are quick to squelch anything that directly conflicts any of their extremely COMFORTABLE vantages.

It really is a mystery to me how all throughout school I’ve been force-fed incredible – and to me, preposterous – timelines of the history of existence. I’ve been shown thousands of artists renderings of what my ancestors and predecessors looked like, but never shown bones beyond “Lucy” and a handful of others. These creatures are no less human to me than the scientists who decided they were super-hairy and dumb as rocks.

Did you know that Neanderthal man’s brain cavity was larger than ours? Of course, brain size does not necessarily indicate greater intelligence, but a larger cavity can certainly hold more brain cells than a, oh, let’s say, peanut.

However, I must admit (takes a deep breath) I’m really having to come to terms with the fact my enemy is not my culture – which is about as screwed up as they come. It’s a far more pressing objective for me to just love people and show God’s love rather than to argue for science which isn’t a necessarily true or untrue according to the Bible – nor has been definitively proven scientifically. I say this by way of disclaimer, however: such a stance is an indication of where I am, not where anyone else is. I pray to God that some one out there with a calm, cool, and collected voice would eloquently and affectively decry the bigotry that is Mainstream Science.

Rob Cole said...

Fantastic points-
Though my knowledge of gnostiscism, I.D., and the mainstream evo-creation arugements, etc. is somewhat limited, I can say that criticism of the science community for not reckognizing/teaching I.D. is somewhat unfounded. The mere premise of I.D. requires the initial belief in a higher/supernatural power which undermines a specific requirement for the testing of any scientific hypothesis. Or, in order to test a theory (say I.D.) one must first propose a hypothesis. In science, whether or not the conductor believes in the hypothesis does not matter, but a series of experiements are conducted. The results of which are analyzed for evidence in support or against the hypothesis. You cannot scientifically investigate a theory that relys partially on faith, and therefore I believe I.D. will never be regarded as sceince. This is not to say that it should not enjoy the spotlight equivalent to that of other "scientific" theories, however. Myself, along with many, many highly regarded scientists throughout history have rejected evolution as the sole theory for intelligent existence and prefer a more "guided evo" approach, yet other prefer the "we don't know yet" mantra. The fault in our society seems to be our large disconnect between the physical and spiritual self, which permits such a discourse within the scientific/religious community. Interesting research was recently performed by Greg graffin (Bad Religion, atheist, PhD) regarding such matters... -worth a read. www.cornellevolutionproject.org

Ford said...

Rob,

Your point is well-made. It is true that bringing God in to answer scientific mysteries is nothing short of metaphysics, but I feel that that popular evolutionary theory has been doing this for over a century: by removing the word “God” and inserting “evolution” or “natural selection” or “punctuated equilibrium” in its place, i.e., replacing theist leaps in logic with materialist leaps in logic. And, yes, I do understand that there is evidence for natural selection and evolution on SOME level, but much of the accepted understanding of macroevolution is so faith-based, I don’t understand how it constitutes science because it’s not testable, provable or, as you point out about ID, falsifiable.

I’m no scientist so I could be very misled on some of this and maybe you can help, but one of the prominent ID proponents named Michael Behe has written a book in which he puts forth the idea that certain chemical processes are too complex to have evolved without intelligent help. Irreducible complexity is what he calls it: processes like the blood-clotting mechanism, which, if they fail in any of the thirteen or so steps, fail utterly. So, he is putting forth a challenge: if evolutionary scientists can show how, without intelligent help, some mechanism like this can evolve, then ID is falsifiable.

Evolutionary theory, on the hand, allows no falsifiability. It’s just accepted as is, even though quite a number of its holy grail moments have been weighed by years of scientific scrutiny and been found wanting: Haeckel’s embryos, Miller and Urey’s experiment, lack of evidence in the fossil record. So what do evolutionists do when the Cambrian Explosion is discovered and they realize that Darwin’s gradual theory of evolution is turned on its head? Do they say, “Well, the theory’s been shown to be false on this level?” NO, they just replace the gradualism myth with the punctuated equilibrium myth, and they’re off and running again. Macroevolution is unfalsifiable. No matter how many things stack up against it, scientists will always hearken back to this odd notion (which I still don’t understand) that without evolution we don’t have science. I don’t get it. It’s fitting that the theory is called evolution, because the substance of the theory has evolved more in the past century than any other theory I’ve ever heard of. Where is the evidence for evolution on its fundamental levels? If it’s trapped in the past, behind a wall of millions of years, why even put it forth as science?

I guess my biggest problem is that I’ve read so many diatribes in the media against ID, but I’ve still never read ANYTHING that made evolution seem any less a faith cry. And one of the most articulate ID scientists has laid out a gauntlet for evolutionists to disprove his theory. Has an evolutionist ever done that-Given the opposing viewpoint a chance to prove their theory falsifiable?

I’d like to hear your thoughts because I really haven’t had much of a chance to discuss this with someone who’s dealt with it more. Looking forward to Saturday!

Ford