Dispatches from the Creation Wars

After I got a copy of Stephen Trask’s abominable article in the Chapman Law Review, I sent it along to my buddy Dan for his amusement. He replied and said, “I bet Sandefur is thermonuclear pissed.” Yep, that about sums up his reaction. He’s done a much more thorough fisking than I did (I focused on just one particular bit of silliness). As I did, Sandefur finds it both amusing and ridiculous that a fundamentalist Christian would cite postmodernists like Foucault to argue that there is no truth, only cultural power structures that unfairly shut out alternative viewpoint. Sandefur writes:

Adopting fashionable pomobabble, Trask argues that magical understandings of the universe are just as acceptable as scientific understandings, and that “[s]cientific epistemologies…legitimize the exclusion of those who do not understand truth exclusively through empirical verification.” Science is cruelly excluding magical theories by its emphasis on such silly things as testability, or evidence, or replication of results and silly stuff like that. See, it’s just cultural imperialism to prefer a medicine that’s been subjected to rigorous double-blind field trials over a witch doctor shaking his rattles and chanting.


And indeed, that is exactly what Trask attempts to argue. And Sandefur’s response is precisely on point:

Of course, Trask pulls out the old canards about how science is really based on faith and all. Of course, this is not true: science has demonstrated in real-world practical results the greater effectiveness of its method. The predictive power, not to mention the analytic power, of science, has proven itself through repeatable, experimental results time and time again. Now, of course, this will only matter to those of us who believe in repeatable, experimental results, a position Trask characterizes as a mere prejudice. But as C.P. Snow put it, if you don’t believe in it, go off and do a modern Walden and live without the comforts science has produced, and I’ll respect you for the strength of your aesthetic revulsion–but don’t come around here saying that repeatable, experimental results are only a desideratum of those who have been “indoctrinated” or colonized by science’s “hegemony.” We demand experimentation, evidence, and proof, not as an irrational prejudice or because we have been brainwashed, but because we know that this is the best way to get real-world results that actually work.

More and more these days we’re seeing the religious right adopt this position that they previously mocked. In the good old days you only heard this “multiple ways of knowing” nonsense from the loony left, those new age types who wanted to promote ESP or chakra therapy or whatever specific form of woo they were peddling, and you could count on fundamentalist Christians to laugh at them along with us. Now, suddenly, they’re adopting the same silly arguments to counter the “cultural hegemony” of science. And Sandefur again nails the problem with this argument:

But we can see why Trask is wrong by simply changing the terms. One could with equal plausibility argue that the government is forbidden from teaching heliocentrism, or from teaching them that astrology is untrue, or that the world is round. After all, there are surely non-scientific beliefs that cling to geocentrism, or astrology, or flat-earth theories. One can argue against all of these things on scientific grounds, but that would be ratifying science’s hegemony, right? If government schools must treat all epistemologies as equal, then any nonsense at all must be allowed in the classroom; indeed, if all epistemologies are equal, then there is no such thing as nonsense.

Trask is essentially making the same argument that Steve Fuller tried to make at the Dover trial, though Fuller did so on more pragmatic grounds. It was nonsense then and it is nonsense now.