Ways of knowing

Reason and Common Ground: A Response to the Creationists’ ‘Neutrality’ Argument by Timothy Sandefur at the Pacific Legal Foundation – Economic Liberties Project takes note of modern relativism to make everything OK.

An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority

This is a close relative to the “both sides do it” tactic often seen to excuse or rationalize a lack of integrity or some other falsehood. It is the idea that everything is relative, hence of equal credibility. That is often extrapolated to the idea that if one side takes a point of view or does something, then the other side’s point of view has the same merit and does an equivalent something. That is comforting because it requires no establishment of standards, no evaluation or measure of position or behavior, and no effort to analyze circumstances and behavior to derive conclusions. Less work, less conflict, more comfort all around.

An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority

The evolution versus creation brouhaha is an example with several merits. It was recognized in fundamental US law in the demand that religious matters not be subject to laws of the state. That separates the secular evolution from the religious creationism. Yet the onus of human psychology intrudes ny some trying to define the secular as religion using theology from postmodern relativism. Much of the brilliance of the US Constitution was in its mechanisms to inhibit and control the human impulse. This conflict is one of many attempts we see today to lawyer ways around those mechanisms.

It has not been until recently in human history that the methods and values of science have impinged upon the broader aspect of human lives. The revelation of such status is known as the industrial revolution and it was coincident with the formation of the United States. The reaction and resistance to what this revolution brings us provides luxuries and wealth that allow fantasizing about the benefits without the costs. These fantasies have names ranging from luddism to socialism and communism. Among the many fronts of this conflict are those of rationalizing the values and methods of science with the concepts of religion. Can each have its on ‘Caesar’ or must each find a way to coexist or is it even possible for each to contribute its own part of a greater whole?

An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority

What lends heat to these conflicts is the perceived outcomes. Is the risk that of eternal damnation in the hereafter or is it in the suffering of the life here on earth? What is the best path to providing comfort and long life and good health such that it does not endanger what might come after? Is there a reality or is it all a creation of our minds?

Humanitarian efforts to bring the fruits of scientific research to the Third World may alleviate the poverty in which too many still live, but it is only by teaching others how to think scientifically, and giving them the intellectual tools they need to make future discoveries on their own, that human suffering and ignorance can be reduced.

There has been a struggle in religion to move from idolatry, spells, and the direct action of gods in ways we cannot understand towards the establishment of written values and codes that can be examined and tested. That is much of the strength of the Jewish religion and Christianity which follows it. But there are still those who try to ‘understand’ the miracles of the Bible or the story of the Christ in a way they can understand in their modern context. There are those who insist on full knowledge and definitive concrete explanation. They try to match words in the Bible as if we read them in a modern text as an ultimate authority. That creates conflicts on many levels. The evolution and creation issue is one that has escaped into a broader social concern.

This should be visible in our own lives. How we understand religion as a child is not the same as many years later. We suffer periods of disillusionment, enlightenment, and change as our understanding is flavored and becomes more aware of nuance and broader aspect. We gain a better appreciation for who we are and our role in our our religion.

How we deal with that change is an issue we must face. We can reject it. We can try to force the reality around us to match what we think it should be. Or we can accept, assimilate, learn, grow, adapt and figure out how these things fit together. The question is whether we know what is proper to reject and what is not. Do we accept that there is a reality and its demands must be accommodated? How do we fit what we believe and what we experience when it seems they do not want to work together?

The first guide is in the Ten Commandments. Do not bear false witness, especially to yourself.

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