December 26, 2006

Postmodernism Vs. Critical Realism

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:47 pm

I came across an interesting excerpt from a biography of William James:

A great philosopher may sit in his study and deny the existence of matter: but if he takes a walk in the street he must take care to leave his theory behind him….

Pyrro said that there was no such thing as pain; and he saw no proof that there were such things as carts, and wagons; and he refused to get out of their way: but Pyrro had, fortunately for him, three or four stout slaves, who followed their master, without following his doctrine; and whenever they saw one of these ideal machines approaching, took him up by the arms and legs, and without attempting to controvert his arguments, put him down in a place of safety.

We may believe anything for a moment, but we shall soon be lashed out of our impertinences by hard and stubborn realities. (4, 7)

Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and ReligionThis is the trouble I have with post-modernism. I am very sympathetic to all things emergent, but I don’t buy “pomo”. John Polkinghorne, former physicist and current Anglican priest, writes in Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion:

[Science’s] findings are held simply to be the products of the communities that propose them; its theorisings are supposed to be more about the exercise of power than about the attainment of veracity. For the extreme postmodernist, there are not really quarks and gluons as the constituents of matter, but the idea of them is a construct of the invisible college of physicists, who have simply colluded in seeing the world in a quarklike way.

As with many other reductive and dismissive accounts of human activity and human nature, these critiques are based at best on no more than quarter truths, whose scope is then exaggerated in the attempt to promote them into the pretension of total explanation. (p.2)

Brutal. Polkinghorne calls himself a critical realist, which I suppose describes me as well.


  1. “A great philosopher may sit in his study and deny the existence of matter: but if he takes a walk in the street he must take care to leave his theory behind him.”

    I was struck by that statement, excellent description of the world.

    I come from a developing nation, and the reality of our existence makes it difficult for us to buy into an excessively logical and relatively unemotional progressive christianity, that seems to reduce Christianity to a series of “theorems” and “proofs”.

    Can “post-modern” Christianity work in say, the slums of Brazil or Africa? Can progressive christianity flourish in a “pre-industrial” society? If it can, why do you think it is not flourishing?

    Why do you think that most of the discussion in progressive christianity leaves out a significant proportion of christendom (the Global South)? Don’t you think it is rather dangerous think of change in christianity from only a western (eurocentric) viewpoint when Christianity is fast becoming a non-western experience?

    Progressive Christianity can act as a counter weight to fundamentalism in developing countries, but where are its evangelists? The much maligned evangelicals are all over the place, creating innovative methods to propagate their message.

    When is Progressive Christianity going to leave the lab … again?

    Comment by Maduka — December 29, 2006 @ 12:28 am

  2. Just discovered your site. Well done. I’m linking to it.

    Comment by Questing Parson — December 29, 2006 @ 10:39 pm

  3. First blog visit or comment (former technophobe).

    Current social scientist, bourgeoining academic, looking for consilience between postmodernism and christianity. I have perceived profundities. Without recognition are they profound or merely indulgences?

    Looking to relieve my autonomy through my collective humanity.

    A brief missive posts that: postmodernism ameliorates judgmentalism in that it acknowledges the experience of the individual who is “fearfully and wonderfully made” this is not an argument for individualism so much as an opportunity for realism.

    Are we as christians juxtaposed between modernist polarities, or are we abandoned to the grace of God, recognising our choices and consequences?


    Comment by integrity2 — February 1, 2007 @ 6:59 am

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