What Is Postmodernism? And Why Does It Matter for Science?


I found that useful as an account of postmodernism. Thanks for posting.


I am struggling to get through this. It is slow reading to me.

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For me, too. I’m planning to come back to it later. But it does connect with some of what I am doing, so I’m finding it useful.


Conway is clearly a student of the postmodernist approach to facts and alternative facts.

Or at least to how some would construe postmodernism in their view of truth.

Thanks for posting this. I enjoyed reading it and the follow up post. I think he makes a number of valid points in both.

“I’ve been writing about this topic lately because my job as an evolutionary social scientist of religion puts me in the crosshairs of all three ideologies”
– from the end of his follow up post.

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There are good parts of postmodernism. Check out Paul Ricoeur, Michelle Henri, Jean Luc Marion, the works of James K.A. Smith, and Andrew Louth’s breathtaking little book “Discerning the Mystery.” David Bentley Hart’s “Beauty of the Infinite” is also supposed to be excellent, but it was too steeped in continental philosophy for me to understand. Maybe some day…

The idea that we live in a post-truth culture doesn’t seem right to me. We live in a post-truth culture ONLY in regard to ethics and religion. Scientists don’t have much to worry about. The goofy entirely relativistic-type postmodernism is just old school verificationism. Historians who want to move towards a view of history where the historian actually creates history rather than discovers it are still in a minority and the tools of historical-criticism are still very much in-vogue.


It is not just ethics and religion. Anti-vaccines, anti-climate change, anti-environment, anti-GMOs. These are very anti-science and align with YEC in this country.

You sure about that? Anti-climate change and YEC maybe, but anti-GMO and anti-vaccine tend to be more a left-leaning and hence not YEC, I’d think. I wasn’t aware Portland was a hot-bed of YECs :wink:



I think the climate change denying YEC’s are even more terrified of the bugaboo of postmodernism than you. They aren’t postmodernists, they’re just mistaken. I’ve never run into a YECist who said, “well, the earth might be old to you, but it’s young to me.” Or “the climate might be changing for you, but for me, it’s not! Your truth might be death due to climate change but my truth is life due to an eternal temperate climate.”

I think you’re trying to understand how people could believe such crazy things and be sincere. That’s a difficult question to answer but the answer isn’t that they’re postmodernists.

@Robert_Byers, are you a postmodernist?

I don’t like these terms. You voted for them.
I have no answrr except i’m sure global warming is a hilarious myth from the upper class to make their second homes greener and cleaner.
Its not warming in Toronto.

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I agree there are good things about post-modernism. If nothing else post-modernism identifies the problem correctly. Modernism is based upon the assumption of objectivity. Post-modernism rightly points out that objectivity is not possible for myriad reasons.

So, it seems to me that ultimately post-modernism raises the issue of “authority” rather than “truth,” though they are connected. Post-modernism calls into question any authority or authoritative interpretation. The problem raised is something that must be contended with in the our culture. Where post-modernism goes wrong is when it ends up in radical deconstructionism and essentially leaves all things without meaning or coherence.


Postmodernist with serious problems= Brian McLaren

Mostmodernist who takes the good and leaves the bad= James K.A. Smith (though I doubt he’d describe himself this way)

Postmodernism, or at least a simplified popularization of its ideas, is a sociological explanation for the loss of the authority of experts in providing the facts to serve as inputs for personal decisions and for political discourse. People may or may not understand what postmodernism is. That is not relevant to the issue of the merit of such a claim for the role of postmodernism in our world.

So, as other posters have noted, people make decisions on health issues like vaccines and on diet issues like GMO foods based on the general attitude that every viewpoint should have equal claim for consideration in deciding what the facts are.

Further, they elect politicians and support political agendas that take the same approach to giving equal weight to fringe views as to the scientific consensus, for example on climate change.

Does it matter for science? Scientists can have selfish worries about whether political funding decisions for their research programs will have a reasonable basis in fact.

But more generally, like all of us, they should worry about what kind of world their children will live in.

The nature of objectivity is an important, related point.

Scientific objectivity does not claim truth by definition of science. Rather, objectivity should be understood as resulting from a process of inquiry which is disinterested, transparent, universal, and organized in application of informed, skeptical review. To the degree it meets those standards, science can be relied on as a truth-seeking inquiry into the nature of the world.

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Has the “authority of experts” ever been so far-reaching, and have people ever really been different? I’d tend to think this has a lot more to do with people just being people than any influence of post-modernism. People’s thought processes are just much more on display now.


OK, I had to like that because of how hilarious it is.

It is respect for experts as authoritative in their field that I am referring to (not to any sort of governing authority, which they should not have).

There are many signs of the loss of expert authority. Consider the widespread acceptance of crackpot conspiracy theories, the spread of medical nonsense, widespread doubts about established science, and politicians elected to high office who consider Nazis and their protesters to be moral equals and who prefer the lies of foreign despots and media personalities to the reasoned analysis of their own intelligence staff.

People have not changed, but culture, education, mass media, and standards for discourse have. There are likely many causes. The replacement of traditional media by the free-for-alls of FB, reddit, and YT is undoubtedly one of these causes . Perhaps the relativism on truth encouraged by a postmodernist zeitgeist is another.


People still respect experts as much as ever. It’s just that everyone has now appointed themselves as experts :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


I’m not sure this quite gets to it. The fact that there is a loss of “the authority of experts providing the facts” is because there is skepticism that there is something objective from which the experts might provide such “facts.” I think you’re quite correct in its result - but I’m not convinced you have the correct cause.

I think I agree with your, if you are saying:

  1. Postmodernism (or at least a simplified version of it) says there is no objective knowledge
  2. Therefore, given PM, there cannot be expertise based in objective knowledge.