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Theos and Mary Midgley

Nick Spencer of Theos has interviewed Mary Midgley as part of their Rescuing Darwin project. This is written up in a report entitled Discussing Darwin. It would seem though that Midgley is closer to post-modernism and a multi-faith approach to truth, than the type of objective modernism that Darwinists believe underpins their science. Is she really the person to ask to defend science? Both Dawkins and scientific creationists have one point of agreement, that there is such a thing as objective truth.

Discussing Darwin – Mary Midgley

 Science and Values blog

While she has a few good points to make, she believes for instance that Darwinism is the creation myth of our age, she seems in reality muddled by post-modern ideas. I am not convinced that Darwinists would really find such ideas of relative truth helpful to the advancement of objective science. She comments;

“Yes, we all have myths through which we explain the world. The word ‘myth’ is a bit awkward because it is sometimes used simply to mean ‘false’, but I find its other meaning very useful. I also talk about dreams and dramas and visions and so forth. Whichever way one talks about it, it’s about an imaginative background, a way of seeing a problem in the world which determines what questions you ask, how you select your questions.”(p. 13)

“I suppose it sounds less surprising if one refers to ‘visions’. It’s an imaginative framework within which one fits the different elements. (p.14)

“So if one asks what myth the term ‘evolution’ is propagating, it is rather a pernicious one in many ways, because whatever the right way to justify some policy may be, it never is that it is the only road to the future.” (p.16)

But while she believes in having one’s own ‘myth’, and recognizes the subjective and perhaps ‘pernicious’ nature of such beliefs; ‘revelation’ she thinks is dangerous. “You need to have an awareness that other people have views and that your position is just your position and not revelation. The idea of revelations is a dangerous one.” (p.15)

In this statement she is making the mistake of collapsing a belief in literal truth into militant fanaticism. That does not follow by necessity and is offensive to many people, but it is a prejudice of our age where liberals have an antithesis towards those who believe strongly in objective truth, whether it is suicide bombers, or those who uphold the absolute sanctity of life; but what of nihilism – and the darker side of Darwinism that comes out of ‘myth,’ isn’t that potentially dangerous also?

So biblical literalism is apparently irrational and dangerous. That sounds to me like an argument that objective truth is irrational or relative truth is rational. As Mike Peter’s of the pop group the Alarm said, ‘The truth is the truth or the truth is surely a lie.’ Or as St Paul said, ‘let God be true and every man a liar.’

It is part of the muddled thinking of post-modernism where the only acceptable intolerance is towards those who are deemed intolerant because of their belief. I might ask on what basis and by whose authority should we reject objective truth – not on the basis of reason and logic I would guess. So why might I disagree with her article – perhaps for no other reason than it makes me feel good and it isn’t in accord with my ‘myth’, but that would be wholly unsatisfactory.

Midgley though thinks that creationists and intelligent design supporters are cutting themselves off from others. I would suggest the reverse is the case, that the liberals who accept Darwinism are expelling and ostracising those who want to believe that there is a truth and objectivity in the universe worth finding, a ‘myth’ that is ultimately true is the great hope of humanity.

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4 Responses to Theos and Mary Midgley

  1. The part I found most fascinating was the next to the last paragraph:

    I do see that Intelligent Design could be, not scientifically satisfying, but less off-putting than Young Earth Creationism. It’s Young Earth Creationism that this lady has discovered, you see. My son had a talk with the pastor and said ‘What about x and what about y?’ The pastor said there were papers that had been written contradicting the evolutionary evidence. The awful thing is, for some time chemists and physicists have been converting to creationism because they don’t know any biology and they pontificate.

    That last sentence is particularly rich. Apparently “chemists and physicists” are rejecting the whole Darwinian myth. Those who dissent this radically from Darwinism do so because they “don’t know any biology and they pontificate.” As an applied human biologist, I find this line of reasoning amusing.

    I guess that a corollary would be that engineers are particularly unsuited to understanding the fundamentals of biology, given their insistence on an actual viable mechanism.

    It apparently never occurs to Midgley that perhaps the biologists have less of a grasp of physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc., and they pontificate. Biochemists and cosmologists run into the best evidence for the inadequacy of naturalism, namely, the origin of life, and the origin of the universe. Biologists are allowed to slough off the problems because they are trained to accept naturalism as not only the default position, but the only possible one. Not knowing the mechanism for a change cannot possibly be evidence against there being a naturalistic one. It only means that we have more research to do in order to find it. Those keys just have to be around the street light. Give us some time and we’ll find them.

    You’d think that Midgley would welcome ID as an alternative, as she says,

    Surveys show that people who are asked why they have converted to Creationism say, ‘It’s the only alternative to Darwinism and scientific atheism’. And it isn’t you see, that’s what is so dreadful.

    ID could be another alternative to the two extremes. But no, she sees ID as “not scientifically satisfying”. This raises the question, what alternatives does she have to “Darwinism and scientific atheism” and “Creationism”? She doesn’t like the “either-or” approach, but then fails to give any alternatives, even in outline. And this is a trained philosopher?

  2. Why does she have to use so many words to describe what we all understand to be wholly contained in the term “world-view”? I’ll tell you what, more and more I see post-moderns primarily as people who have some sort of lingual or communication disability.

  3. Paul, you are right.

  4. 4

    TM,

    It’s the inability to be concise. If one accepts pretty much everything in the name of “tolerance” (except those things that one rejects :) ), it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what one accepts or rejects – thus, the use of many words in order to convince others that one’s thoughts are full, when in fact they are empty.

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