ATTACK ON SCIENCE AS MERELY A EUROCENTRIC OPERATION

 

According to this post modern faith in the inviability of cultural diversity, what we describe as “science” and what we regard as universally valid, culture-transcending knowledge, is simply a European way of chanting, and to exact analogue of the Cashenahua (tribal) chants which legitimize the Cashenahua as Cashenahua and ensure that people who have different chants are not to be trusted or married or eaten with, and designate all others as outsiders who are really prey. If that science is simply a European way of chanting on an ideology used by Western societies to identify and legitimize themselves, you should see Anne Salmond’s cultural relativism expressed in her prize-winning work on history and anthropology (Two Worlds: First Meeting Between Maori and Europeans (1512-1772) (Viking Press, 1994).

 

In this work, Ms. Salmond argues that if history is to be faithful to events that evolved protagonists from differing societies, it cannot be fairly interpreted from only a Western point of view. Salmon has adopted her approach primarily from findings of European philosophers--Heidegger, Foucault, Ricoeur, Gadamer, Habermas, Hesse, Derrirda, Eco, et.al. Is it not strange that Salmond derived her hermeneutical relativism from postmodern epistemologists without any critical response to the thought pattern of her received Gnostic gurus? Salmond compared Maori cannibalism with the bloody warfare between the States, the violent uprising and revolutions of the period and the cruelty practiced toward criminals.

 

Salmond’s attempts to portray the Maori perspective by replacing one European methodology--empirical historiography--with another relativist hermeneutic, turned out to be nothing but a futile exercise in political correctness, an attempt to write a euphemistic version of history that offends nobody’s racial sensitivity at the expense of telling what really happened

 

Cultural relativism began as an intellectual critique of “Western Thought” but now has become influential justification for one of post modernism’s most potent political forces. This is nothing but resurgent tribalism in both thinking and politics. The demand by representatives of tribal cultures to have sole governance of their affairs is probably the most powerful cause of bloodshed in our global village. It has produced the charnel house of politics of Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Central Africa, the Middle East, the Balkans, and USA delegations on Affirmative Action. This is a call for the integrity of all tribal cultures and the denunciation of all imperial cultures.

 

In his book, Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said even takes to task the Marxist literary critic Raymond William for the “massive absence” in his work of any condemnation of English imperialism imposed on William’s Welsh ancestors (Said, Culture and Imperialism, p. 77). The English imperialists freed his Welsh ancestors. When Kuhn in 1962 wrote these lines which would have suited Salmond’s view of history and of the relationship between the European invaders and the earlier discoverers of New Zealand would have been accepted by Salmond, calculators were not yet readily available and Kuhn himself admitted at that time that, for practical convenience there is something to be said in favor of Einstein. Surely Salmond and Kuhn would agree that when the Maori and Europeans first met, they were on equal ground, with similar intellectual and cognitive equipment and with similar ideas about the world which disappeared purely accidentally because they happened to suit their respective cultures, Kuhn, and if not Kuhn, then Foucault, would have led her to believe that the European way of sailing and mapping the world and of approaching indigenous culture, which were limited in their perspective by a very narrow horizon, was in no way more “true” nor more universally applicable than the Maori way of doing these things. The sources of Salmond’s paradigm is that all societies and all cultures are on equal footing and that the notion of “more advanced” and “less advanced” have no referential meaning because they are derived from a chart which Europeans happen to have adopted to represent themselves to themselves. What Salmond does not mention in any chapter of her work is whether Foucault, whom she mentions, and Lyotard and Kuhn, whom she does not mention, are sound guides.

 

Cultural relativism should simply mirror racist ideology that accompanied and justified Western imperialists in the colonial era. Western imperialism is condemned as brutish. Is there any difference between benign imperialism and ruthless oppression? If all “sides” have their autonomous system of criticism, then there can be no metanarrative. All imperialism is not caused by Euro-American greed to control the world’s wealth and land. Cultural relativism is no help to any of these global crises. (See my essays--”Rewriting of History’s Revisionism” “From Historicism, The Idea of Progress to Post Modern Revisionist History” “The Social Construction of Reality” “New Hermeneutical Horizons in Logic: Epistemology and Language Communication” “Philosophical and Psychological Horizons of Post Modern Hermeneutics” “Search For Truth in Cyberspace” “Terrorism of Truth” Truth and Theory in Post Modern Epistemology”)

 

For these tacit and sometimes not so tacit beliefs, Salmond would have done better to drop Heidegger from her list of gurus and added Francois Lyotard and Kuhn instead, for Kuhn and Lyotard between them have as much as Foucault himself. They have been foremost in popularizing this notion of relativism and of the finality of cultural diversity. As Kuhn put it, there is nothing much to choose between Einstein and Ptolemy, except in Einstein’s theory the course of the planets is easier to calculate. We get almost the same results by Ptolemy’s method and by his assumption that the earth stands in the center of the universe.

 

Salmond is clearly under the impression that these post modern thinkers have solved the problem as to how different systems of knowledge or belief are related, or rather not related to one another. She is ignorant of the fact that there is much modern thought that rejects these facile politically motivated doctrines of Foucault and Derrida, of Eco and Ricoeur. One searches in vain for Salmond’s awareness of having examined the counter-arguments and, perhaps, found them wanting. Salmond is merely an uncritical “camp follower”--surely a poor showing for a “professional anthropologist.” Her acceptance of thinkers who are not “good guides” because they are people who radically over reacted against some “genuine flaws of the Universalism of Modernism” and Derrida would have taught Salmond that since writings, including cultures identified as texts, are subject to the vagaries of interpretation, their meanings are necessarily different. For this reason no text and no culture can have an absolute or determinate meaning because words never refer to a world but, as signifiers always signify only a signifier, never the signified, the signified disappears and the signifier has to be liberated from it. (Paul Ricouer, Of Grammatology (E.T., Baltimore, 1976) To think or do otherwise is to cling to the “logocentric” paradigm of significance” (see my paper, “Narrative Displacements in the Meaning of Meaning”).

 

Post modern women writers are often derogatory of 17th century European universities, which were male dominated often amend Derrida’s “logocentric” to read “phallogocentric”; they wish to imply that the superstitious suggestion of that word might have rational meaning is a male prejudice--women are not guilty of (what? “Gender Bias” prevails).

 

A third guru on Salmond’s list is Foucault, who would have taught her that methods of knowledge (epistemes) changes not only from society to society but in Europe every hundred years. In his work, The Order of Things, he argued that in the 19th century people began to see the world in historical terms and that from this but no other reason, everything came to be explained in evolutionary terms. By disregarding, for instance, the fact that Darwin evolutionary taxonomy explained more than Linnaeus’ stationary taxonomy, and that this was the reason why evolutionary theories, Darwinian or non-Darwinian, gained ground. Foucault manages to look upon all evolutionary and historical modes of understanding as mere 19th century fashions, duly superseded in the 20th century by non-historical and non-evolutionary explanatory models for no better reasons than that they happened to be politically palatable (e.g. Politically correct).

 

Applying Derrida’s position to what Salmond has to say about Maori historical sources (p. 436) we can understand our postmodern impasse. According to Derrida, if it is true that for them (genealogical historians) Europeans were of marginal interest than the Europeans were of no interest. Derrida has “liberated” us from the illusion that the signifiers signify. All we have is the signifier that says that they were of marginal interest. Next Salmond writes “by for the most useful accounts were those collected from elderly tribal eye witnesses by early European settlers. She adds that they vary in “reliability.” (This implies that there is an objective “norm.”) But if she takes Derrida seriously and since she claims on page 15 that she found him a useful guide, we ought to assume that she did--then the question of reliability cannot enter into the argument. For by these accounts their authors simply constructed discourse in order to represent themselves and we neither need nor ought to wonder about the reliability of such discourses. If she were charged with misrepresenting Europe in the way I have indicated above, she could readily reply, relying on Derrida, that she was merely constructing discourse, the value of which consisted in the fact that it was a natural New Zealand self-identification, a way in which New Zealand anthropologists represent themselves to themselves, and that it had nothing to do with what actually might have happened in Europe. The question whether it was valid or not was irrelevant, because such discourse did not refer to anything. For, indeed, according to Derrida’s post modernism, a text is a text is a text and there is nothing but the text. However, I would object that if Salmond is in the business of self-representation, the least she ought to have done is to allow 18th century Englishmen to represent themselves by using, for example, Defoe’s work.

 

Everyone of these post modern thinkers she confesses to have consulted in order to understand why and how Maori and European systems of knowledge are different, would all have taught her that the differences are accidental. Above all, they all would have told her that science was a form of European fiction and in no way different, let alone more advanced than the chants or dances of people alleged for wholly selfish reasons by racist imperialists, to be more primitive and that any Theory of Evolution is itself an example of such fiction. There are Maori ways of looking at the world and of understanding it and there are European ways, they would say. In all cases people know their understanding of the world in order to buttress or represent their cultures to themselves (see esp. Stephen Turner, “Post Modern Ethnology” in J. Clifford, ed., Writing Culture (Berkeley, 1986, p. 125).

 

There is only to be expected that there are many different ways of doing so. But no one way is “earlier” or “later,” or more “primitive” or more advanced, let alone more than any other way. In this view, cultural diversity is original and final, even as Linnaeus’ species were before Darwin produced his evolutionary metanarrative which showed that species are unstable and transient. “There are as many species as there were created different forms in the beginning.” (Karl von Linnaeus, Fundamental Botanica (Amsterdam, 1736, p. 15). Indeed, Salmond says (p. 432) that cultural diversity in New Zealand as elsewhere in the world has proved irrepressible, and that Maori culture has not been submerged by global culture. New Zealand may indeed be unique and the recent horrors in what used to be Yugoslavia provide short-term evidence in favor of her belief in temporary irrepressibility. But globally and historically speaking, she is in the term most certainly mistaken. Everywhere and for thousands of years, diversity has proved eminently repressible, otherwise we would still be living in those small communities of no more than 25 to 35 households which were the rule in early agrarian societies. (Gordon Childer, What Happened in History, 1942, p. 66).

Every single community alive today, i.e., Maori tribes, et.al., as much as for Modern English and the United States of America, is the result of either violent or peacefully gradual repression or absorption or amalgamation of smaller earlier communities. All cultures passed out of existence or became multicultural or monocultural (see my “Chart on World Civilizations from the Classics to Western Civilization”. All but Western civilization has collapsed only artifacts and epigraphic data remains for study) For Salmond to admit this in New Zealand in the last decade of the 20th century would not be politically correct. In painting a picture of the meeting of Two Worlds in the 18th century as if these two worlds represented two different but comparable cultures, she is disguising the fact that one of the worlds had evolved farther away from the initial condition than the other, and that, because of the differences in that distance, the cultures of one world was very much repressible or at least, likely to become volatile. What is really at issue and what she is trying hard to disguise by her way of constructing the past, is the brute reality of cultural evolution.

 

Darwin or no Darwin, we are all descended from “black Eve” (Genesis 1-3). There is uncertainty and there is controversy as to the mechanism of these departures. According to Marx, they are powered by the contradictions internal to every society and according to others, they are driven by “natural selection” and according to 19th century historians, they result from the developmental laws of the progressive stages of evolution--slavery, barbarism, religion, science, nomadism, pastoralism, agriculture commerce. Whichever way “evolution” is propelled it recognizes cultural diversities, explains them and why they are not final, and provides a legitimate way of ranking them according to their distance from the points of the origin, which must have been in all cases the earliest “man” of Genesis. This analysis is too often restricted to description not explanation. All known cultures as well as unknown ones can be located on this “evolutionary scale” and their differences can be accounted for in terms of their distance from “black Eve.” Evidence does not support the postmodern claim that “all cultures” encounter one another on equal terms (i.e., no metanarrative for critique). Salmond has over acted via the arbitrary employment of Western thinkers--Foucault, Derrida, Eco, Ricouer, and Kuhn. Salmond’s “use” of 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th century gurus does not fit readily with the available evidence. Societies of cultures that are isolated and under no particular challenge from a population density tend to remain attached to “dogmatic beliefs” and to the practice of taboos. As Robin Horton has well explained in the case of African societies, this has nothing to do with “deficient genes” and not due to what Levy-Bruhl used to call a primitive, pre-logical mentality, and Sir James Frazer, superstitious belief in magic. The classical 19th century evolutionary anthropologists had identified early with stupidity or with lack of intelligence or with childishness. In this 19th century shape, the notion of “evolution” had a racist flavor and was not only insulting to people who are closer to “Black Eve” than others and exploited imperialists, but also almost certainly, incorrect.

 

A most acceptable “explanation” is based on a totally different and non-insulting, unpatronizing analysis of the limitations of the early mind and itself in any way, to imperalists propaganda. When postmodern scholars like Salmond reject the biblical narrative of Black Eve they usually do so because they believe that we are still saddled with an absolute racist, Victorian view of cultural change in which “early” was equated with “childishness.” It is perfectly true that in the Victorian 19h century there was such a thing as “classical evolutionism” (see my paper, “Narrative Displacement in Theories of Evolution”) which was the foundation of the Social Gospel in American Liberalism (see my paper, “19th Century Context of The Victory of The Darwinian Method: Background of American Pragmatism”) and which served as the basis of crude capitalism and imperialism (G.W. Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (NY, 1987), p. 325).

 

We are no longer in the Victorian Age, but on the bandwagon of post modernism, which is nothing more than a belated over reaction to Victorianism; it is time for scholars like Salmond to get caught up with both modern and post modern thought (see my charts on the themes of modernism and post modernism). The development of science provided much more than mere validation/justification of Western cultural tradition and taboos; rather a universal method and system of knowledge acquisition and validation (e.g. Description and Explanation). Without metanarrative there is never internal “reasons for challenging our own parochial cultures. Every cultural worldview justifies its own belief and behavior system, but every worldview did not create the scientific method. Though it is politically incorrect--as a matter of historical fact--science as a method of attaining and justifying new knowledge is a western phenomenon (see Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Zondervan, 2001). (For the implications of this phenomena on the mission of the Church see J.A. Kirk and K.J. Vanhoozer, eds., To Stake A Claim (NY: Orbis Books, 1991 pub.) Here we are encouraged to challenge the assumption that “early”/”primitive” is a structural, not a genetic category. There remains another hurdle that has made historians and social scientists resistant to the fallacy of genetic origins, i.e., the origin of an idea is not the validation of the truth or falsity of ideas. Salmond is a member of a fast diminishing tribe who believe that every “tribe” has a valid truth and behavior system regardless of the fact that there is contradiction in this claim. If all evaluation logics are internationally justifiable, then there is no metanarrative from which objective universal evaluation of truth claims can be made. If there is no true truth, there should be no personal or cultural confrontation over alternative truth claims!

 

In the post modern maze there can be no “advance,” but only look upon the whole process entirely in terms of a departure from an initial condition. While cultural diversity expresses exclusivism! No new numbers can enter from the outside. At the heart of this expression is the assumption of complete neutral and value free. If the process of change is “neutral,” there can be no question of “progress,” only of progression. How can two cultures come together like Salmond proposes--New Zealanders and Maori? If all cultures are equal, then Salmond’s proposed solution to cultural wounds and is to pour oil on troubled waters and be politically correct. Conflicts between nemesis x and nemesis y cannot be medicated by Salmond’s claim that cultural diversity is irrepressible. Indigenous culture has not yet disappeared completely so that there is a change of some mutual acculturation. All “politically correct” efforts at alleviating conflicts over cultural diversity only cloud the issues rather than alleviate the dilemma.

 

Her comparison between 17th and 18th century Western culture and Maori style of social structure are proof that her chosen paradigm does not go readily with available information. Societies or cultures that are isolated and under no particular challenge from population density tend to remain attached to dogmatic beliefs and to the practice of taboos. Postmodern cultural conflicts are not due to what Levy-Brul used to call a primitive, pre-logical mentality, and Sir James Frazer, who had a superstitious belief in magic. The early cultural “evolutionist” had identified “early” with ignorant stupidity, or with “lack of intelligence” or with childishness. By the 19th century, the notion of evolution had a “racist” flavor and was not only insulting to people who were closer to blacks and exploited imperialists, but also almost certainly, incorrect (see Robin Horton, “African Traditional Thought and Western Sense” Rationality (Oxford, 1970)--African societies have nothing to do with deficient genes). The ever-present danger is identifying absolute racist with Victorian view of evolution. The 19th century Victorian was associated with evolution and closely allied with Social Darwinianism (see my essay, “Social Darwinianism in American Social Gospels”)

The Darwinian Grounds of American Pragmatism

 

The wounds caused by cultural imperialism cannot be explained by either naturalistic evolution of simple to complex nor by post modern rejection of science as Western search for domination and suppression. The essence of the new views of knowledge expressed by Salmond’s intellectual mentors is: that their prejudices and methods guide her into the maze of anti science and revisionist history (e.g. Her philosophy of Science and History). The systems employed cannot be compared and evaluated because they are different systems of knowledge. In post modernism, systems cannot be distinguished according to whether they are true or false. There are also no determinate meanings in which concepts like truth and falsity have no peace. All of Salmond’s mentors are promoters of ethical and cognitive relativism and do not believe that there is such a thing as culture development, let alone any meta narrative which would make rationally feasible any explanation of the differences between cultures and narrative displacements in science. Heidegger has nothing to say on this matter, and with the possible exception of Habermas, Salmond thinkers are all promoters of ethical and cognitive relativism.

 

By comparison with such post modern relativism, Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict’s classical anthropological relativism could almost be considered rational because it was based on findings which we interpreted to be relative (e.g. Pre-ideological relativism, see Peter Munz, Our Knowledge and Growth of Knowledge (London, 1985, chapter 4), as against this post modern relativism is ideological because it results from the construction of non-referential discourses, which, by definition, manifest differences that are inexplicable. More specifically, Ricoeur’s analysis of cultures are like texts (see P. Ricoeur, “The Model of The Text: Meaningful Actions Considered As a Text” in P. Rabinow, and W. Sullivan, editors, Interpretative Social Science (Berkeley, 1979).

 

Since all physical variables and entities, like electrons or electric field intensity, are defined in relation to definite kinds of instrumental contexts, they never enter directly into the common sense horizon-of-things-to subject-for-subject. They are not directly observable. Does abstract entities only have genuine reality status? How are theoretical terms related to observational terms? (See esp. E. Nagel, The Structure of Science (London: Routledge/Kegan Paul, 1951, pp. 93-105); and A. Pap, Introduction to The Philosophy of Science (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1961, chps. 1-14).

 

The scientific table (as DNA, the Periodic Chart) exists but their existence is not existence in perceptual space and time; it is not an already out-there-now-real in Lonergan’s terminology, that is, an object of biological controversy. The scientific object is a strict object where strict objectivity implies a meaning for reality or physical reality, which goes beyond that of empirical objectivity (see my essay “The Sociology of Knowledge Thesis” and Werner Stark, The Sociology of Knowledge (Free Press, 1958); and Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution).

 

How to overcome “conceptual Apartheid”? Post Modern man must look both in a scientific mirror and the Word of God. Our most immediate challenge is--how to tie information from these different levels? How do we translate the language of mathematic physics into our daily language? The description in physical terms, which would say the same thing as a description in terms of what is experienced; but the two descriptions must say corresponding things if both are correct. They are neither “identical nor independent, but rather complementary.” (See Donald M. MacKay’s The Clockwork Image (Inter-Varsity Press, 1974); and in his Science, Chance and Providence (Oxford University Press, 1978); Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension.(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967, esp. P. 40).

 

For decades the great minds of our culture have been asking at least three questions regarding man: (1) What constitutes authentic “humanness”? (2) What makes a human being significant? (3) Does science undermine human dignity? Responses to these questions have been conflicting alternatives. From as long ago as Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape (NY: McGraw Hill, 1968); R. Dankins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1976); B.F. Skinner, Beyond Human Dignity--e.g. J.B. Watson’s atheistic Behaviorism and B.F. Skinner’s operant or instrumental “conditioning method” behavioral psychology. Skinner extended behaviorism beyond Pavlov’s training of dogs. Skinner’s influence goes far beyond behavioral psychology into the learning theory, brainwashing, evangelism and manipulation of Outcome Based Education: Multicultural Diverse Pluralism and all his disclaimers of “reductionist intentions” fails to justify his self defense (see esp. Malcom Jeeves, Psychology and Christianity (Inter-Varsity Press, 1976); Behavioral Science, A Christian Perspective (1984); and his Mind Fields: Reflections on The Science of The Mind and Brain (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994).

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix: Paradigms, Cultures and Civilizations

 

Civilization                Time and Place of Origin

 

1. Egyptiac                    Nile River Valley; before 4000 BC

2. Andean                     Andean coast; c. Beginning of Christian era

3. Sinic                         lower valley of Yellow River; c. 1500 BC

4. Minoan                     Aegean Islands before 3000 BC

5. Sumeric                    lower Tigris-Euphrates valley; before c. 3500 BC

6. Mayan                      Central American tropical forest; before c. 500 BC

7. Yucatee                     waterless, treeless limestone shelf of Yucatan peninsula; after AD 629

8. Mexico                     fused to produce Central America

9. Hittite                       Cappadocia just beyond Sumeric frontiers; before 1500 B.C.

10. Syriac                      Syria; before 1100 B.C.

11. Babylonia                 Iraq; before 1500 BC

12. Iranic                       Anatolia, Iran; before AD 1300

13. Arabic                      Arabia, Iraq, Syria, North Africa; before AD 1300                           

14. Far East                    China; before AD 500

15. Far East                    Japanese Archipelago; after AD 500

16. Indic                        Indus and Ganges River Valleys; c. 1500 B.C.

17. Hindu                      North India; before AD 800

18. Hellenic                    coasts/island of Aegean; before 1100 BC

19. Orthodox Christian Anatolia; before AD 700

20. Orthodox Christian (Russian offshoot)  Russia; 10th century of Christian era

21. Western                   Western Europe; before AD 700

22. Western                   Post Modern Culture moving into 2002

 

Change and the overwhelming problems of anticipating the unintended consequences of every system, i.e., technology, politics, welfare, religion, science, etc., have forced thorough and radical consideration of change dynamics through time’s arrow. Here are some basic studies that have been developed by sociological theorists and researchers. Not only is change to be understood but “measured” and hopefully to be controlled or at least predicted so that intended consequences can be supported and maximized and unintended consequences eliminated or at least minimized. Who decides the value ordering and priorities?

 

Bellah, R.N., “Religious Evaluation.” American Sociological Review, 29.3 (June 1964): 358-374.

Cancian, Francesea. “Functional Analysis of Change.” Ibid., 1960, pp. 818-827.

DeMerath, N.J., and R.A. Peterson. System, Change and Conflict (NY: Free Press, 1967).

Etzioni, A., and Eva Etzioni (ed.). Social Change: Sources, Patterns and Consequences (NY: Basic Books, 1964).

Moore, W.E., “Predicting Discontinuties in Social Change.” American Sociological Review 29.3 (June 1964): 331-338.

________. “A Reconsideration of Theories of Social Change.” Ibid., Vol. 25, 1960, pp. 810-818.

 

 

Orzack, L.H. “Social Change: Implications for Welfare Manpower,” in H. Gold and F.R.Scarpitti

            Combatting Social Problems: Techniques of Intervention (NY: Holt, Rinehart and

            Winston, 1967): 557-571).

Parsons, T. “Evolutionary Universals in Society” American Sociological Review 29:3 (June

            1964): 339-357.

Sheldon, E.B. and W.E. Moore. Indicators of Social Change: Concepts and Measurement (NY: Russell Sage Foundation, 230 Park Avenue, NY 10017, 1968).

Smelser, N.J. “Toward a General Theory of Social Change” in Essays in Sociological Explanation

            (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968): 192-280.

 

 

Dr. James Strauss

Professor Emeritus

Lincoln Christian Seminary

Lincoln, IL 62656