Is “Truth” Formal or Material?


Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is often mentioned as a rising star in the Republican Party, a likely candidate for the GOP nomination for president next time around. He appears to be a competent and wise administrator. Nonetheless, I will not be able to vote for him. And that is because of his answer to a question that did not appear in this week’s Time interview “Ten Questions for Bobby Jindal,” namely, “Governor, do you believe so-called ‘Intelligent Design’ Creationist apologetics ought to be taught in secular biology classrooms?” Because his answer would be, has been, an unacceptable “Yes.” Intelligent Design is merely the latest strategy to insert theology into a science class. Not only is this a category confusion; it represents an utter failure to grasp the nature of science and to recognize the war-drum murmurings of the forces of superstition against science.

The whole idea (and this is not too strong a way to put it) of “Intelligent Design” is that we should be eager to admit defeat and to be satisfied with ignorance, the road-block of the mind. The ID advocate looks at a complex organism like the human eye and notes its astounding complexity, then concludes, “I can’t see how such a marvelous device might have developed spontaneously all in one piece, and yet it must have done so in order to have had survival value for the lucky creatures who possessed it! Half an eye would not do you much good! And thus a guiding Designer must have equipped us and the eagles with terrific, sharp eyes. Right?

Wrong, George Gaylord Simpson (The Meaning of Evolution, 1949) already exposed this scam. Both creationists proper and those who believe in a divine manipulation of evolution by an intelligent Designer agree that since the image-forming eye, so they say, could not function until complete, therefore it became complete all at once. It did not slowly change to its present state through the ages but arose as it is now by one bang. [But a brief examination of the variety of extant] photoreceptors sufficiently points up the fallacy of these contentions. If all photoreceptors except the image-forming eyes of advanced mollusks and of vertebrates had become extinct, there would be an excuse for bewilderment. In fact, representative stages at every gradually different level happen to have survived, from diffuse photosensitivity of the whole body through scattered photosensitive cells to cell plates, basins, basins and vesicles plus lenses, and so on to the fully developed image-forming eye with lens, iris, and its other complexities. These photoreceptors function splendidly at every level and do not wait to start working until the final stage is reached. They simply enlarge, refine, and to some extent change their functions as they become more complex.

Yeah, well, so much for “Intelligent Design.” Bad science and even out of date for bad science! Really not science at all. Based on “the assured results of ignorance.” The creed of Intelligent Design Creationism is, “Science can go no further, so let’s retreat to mythic thinking (personal agents made the world based on a whim). Why do they bother to deny that it’s all theology instead of science? Saying that “God did it!” is what we mean by “myth.” Just substitute the name “Zeus” and all will become plain to you.

How do we account for such chicanery? Worse yet, chicanery that always mounts its mountebank strategies in the name of Truth? This is what you inevitably get when you equate “truth” with some particular content rather than with a formal category. As Paul Tillich aid, even the inveterate doubter loves the truth. So much does he love it that he is determined to set some pretty high hurdles that every pretender to the “Truth” title must jump. He will be satisfied with nothing less than the truth, so he will not be easily satisfied. And when and if he does decide to award the palm, it is always provisional. Another contender is always welcome to challenge for the title. What we call the truth turns out to be the latest, best-looking working hypothesis, the latest paradigm, not a dogma.

Nietzsche never spoke in quite these terms, but I think they are the perfect contemporary equivalent of his dictum that there is no truth in the proper sense, but rather only fiction, and that yet we must keep the name “Truth” (whether or not with the Roman “V” for “U” as Johnny Hart always spelled it in B.C.) engraved over the empty category if only to remind ourselves that our current fiction, though the best we can come up with, is not truth. There is no truth in the old sense. Even this very affirmation is not construed as truth in that sense.

The genuine scientist, that is, the researcher, knows the quest for truth is open-ended. He does not yet have it and will never “know as we are known.” But one may dispel deeper and deeper shades of darkness. One may eliminate greater and greater errors. The truth we seek is like the North Star: a conceptual ideal by which we navigate, not a destination we actually expect to arrive at. The dogmatist, even if he masquerades as a scientist, instead believes he has the truth in a particular cherished dogma, and though this dogma grow superannuated, overripe, rotten and stinking, he is determined to keep patching it up, like Lenin’s corpse. The crown of “Truth” lies on the narrowing brow of a moldering lich. The dogmatist escorts ever new generations of uneasy students into the throne room of this hollow-socketed carcass and teaches them to bow before it. At lest they need not strain to hear any words from its dry, leathery lips; no, those guides who shepherd them will quote such discredited ancient maxims as their festering idol once uttered, and that shall be sufficient.

Governor Jindal and his Creationist buddies would love it if our country’s students would rally to meet the challenge of science education in the coming years. Fat chance with leadership like this: politicians who don’t even know what science is.

So says Zarathustra.

Robert M. Price
March 2009


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