‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

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.


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.

Andrew Sibley


Dissenter said...

Thanks for this post Andrew.

I have been re-reading C S Lewis's Mere Christianity and collected essays recently, and for the first time also reading his collected letters. He had a lot to say about the meaning of myth.

Lewis came from atheism to faith in Christ through a complicated philosophical route which included his studies of ancient myths from many cultures. It is often asserted opponents that there are many myths in which a deity dies and returns to life, and that Christianity is simply one version of that myth. However, objective study reveals that Jesus of Nazareth was quite clearly a real historical figure whereas Orisis, the corn god, Mithras and all the rest look and feel like man made legends. None of these pagan deities can be assigned a date or place of birth, let alone fulfilled prophecies, miracles, or the power to change mens' lives for the better centuries later.

Lewis regarded such legends as 'good dreams' which spoke of a deep yearning in men's hearts for a saviour, and which prepared them to some extent for the Promised One who was to come. The New Testament says that God has spoken to men in many and various ways in the past, ut now has finally spoken through His Son.

The distinction between myth and objective truth is very important and should not be blurred, but Lewis argued, I think succesfully, that a myth is not simply the same thing as a lie. As Tolkien said to Lewis (I paraphrase) the Christian story has mythic qualities, but it is objectively true.

kind regards Stephen

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I see stevie who is incapable of debate on his own webshite is now posting here.

Midgely has been writing ill informed drivel about evolution for some 30 years and appears in no hurry to stop, much like stevie she thinks she understands but when she speaks she reveals she does not.

"However, objective study reveals that Jesus of Nazareth was quite clearly a real historical figure"

No stevie it does not.

"None of these pagan deities can be assigned a date or place of birth,"

Please tell me stevie you don't think jesus can? Because if that is the standard of your 'objective study', I think we can ignore all you say.

Don't worry stevie carry on ranting on your site (I see we now insist women should remain virgins and if they don't they cause unemployment and worse of all Islam), heaven forbid god would choose someone capable of defending his views.