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Philosopher submits hoax abstract to theology journal


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#1 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 29 September 2012 - 06:43 PM

In 1996 the physicist Alan Sokal submitted a hoax paper entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" to Social Text, a journal dedicated to postmodern social studies. His aim was to see whether a meaningless paper studded with postmodern cliches would be accepted if it agreed with the preconceptions of the editors. Its acceptance and the resulting controversy has become known as the Sokal Affair, and raised questions about the intellectual rigour in postmodern studies.

The Belgian philosopher Maarten Boudry has revisited the Sokal Affair by successfully submitting a bogus abstract to two theology conferences:

The Paradoxes of Darwinian Disorder. Towards an Ontological Reaffirmation of Order and Transcendence.
Robert A. Maundy, College of the Holy Cross, Reno, Nevada


In the Darwinian perspective, order is not immanent in reality, but it is a self-affirming aspect of reality in so far as it is experienced by situated subjects. However, it is not so much reality that is self-affirming, but the creative order structuring reality which manifests itself to us.

Being-whole, as opposed to being-one, underwrites our fundamental sense of locatedness and particularity in the universe. The valuation of order qua meaningful order, rather than order-in-itself, has been thoroughly objectified in the Darwinian worldview. This process of de-contextualization and reification of meaning has ultimately led to the establishment of ‘dis-order’ rather than ‘this-order’. As a result, Darwinian materialism confronts us with an eradication of meaning from the phenomenological experience of reality.

Negative theology however suggests a revaluation of disorder as a necessary precondition of order, as that without which order could not be thought of in an orderly fashion. In that sense, dis-order dissolves into the manifestations of order transcending the materialist realm. Indeed, order becomes only transparent qua order in so far as it is situated against a background of chaos and meaninglessness. This binary opposition between order and dis-order, or between order and that which disrupts order, embodies a central paradox of Darwinian thinking.

As Whitehead suggests, reality is not composed of disordered material substances, but as serially-ordered events that are experienced in a subjectively meaningful way. The question is not what structures order, but what structure is imposed on our transcendent conception of order. By narrowly focusing on the disorderly state of present-being, or the “incoherence of a primordial multiplicity”, as John Haught put it, Darwinian materialists lose sense of the ultimate order unfolding in the not-yet-being.

Contrary to what Dawkins asserts, if we reframe our sense of locatedness of existence within a the space of radical contingency of spiritual destiny, then absolute order reemerges as an ontological possibility. The discourse of dis-order always already incorporates a creative moment that allows the self to transcend the context in which it finds itself, but also to find solace and responsiveness in an absolute Order which both engenders and withholds meaning. Creation is the condition of possibility of discourse which, in turn, evokes itself as presenting creation itself. Darwinian discourse is therefore just an emanation of the absolute discourse of dis-order, and not the other way around, as crude materialists such as Dawkins suggest. (Line breaks added for reading clarity)

I have to admit, it's a great parody, and skewers the turgid writing to which some theologians are addicted. You would have thought the Sokal Hoax would have taught everyone a valuable lesson. Evidently not.

HT: Why Evolution is True
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#2 Fortigurn

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Posted 29 September 2012 - 07:43 PM

Whilst this is amusing from the point of view of ridiculing the post-modernist strain of theology, the source link warned me that it was going to be extrapolated and pressed into service for a different agenda, and so it proved to be. However, I did find this gem among the comments.

Let’s not get too full of ourselves or extrapolate beyond the data. In much the same way that Sokal did not publish in what would be considered a peer-reviewed pomo journal, neither did Boudry. Conferences are like the first run toward publication in the humanities, where ideas get tested out on audiences. Feedback is solicited and conversations are started. It’s comparatively low-hanging fruit to get a goofy paper accepted at a conference. I recognize Eleanor Stump, one of the plenary speakers, and she’s a first rank scholar by any measure.

I have no–literally no–sympathies for postmodernism or the deluded people who ape the style. (Grammatically correct but meaningless sentences are not philosophy, and I have deep suspicions of any system of thought built entirely out of French puns.) But be aware that the VAST majority of theologians are working in an interdisciplinary, highly scholarly and rigorously evidence-driven endeavors. Theology is not to be mistaken for apologetics, a mistake that our friends in the sciences often make.

I like these types of hoaxes because they shame bullshitters. I’d just be careful about drawing too many conclusions from a pair of rather shabby panel chairs. The humanities, man, they take a shellacking because of self-appointed revolutionaries who posture and spout goof with authority. Most of us are pretty modest, work within evidence, and have genuine expertise in our fields. We’re just not the loud ones.

BTW, you might appreciate my “Topography of Ignorance: Science and Literary Theory” (http://skepticalhuma...iterary-theory/)


Edited by Fortigurn, 29 September 2012 - 07:43 PM.


#3 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 29 September 2012 - 08:08 PM

Whilst this is amusing from the point of view of ridiculing the post-modernist strain of theology, the source link warned me that it was going to be extrapolated and pressed into service for a different agenda, and so it proved to be.

That's certainly true. Coyne isn't quite as bad as PZ Myers in his reflexive usage of the Courtiers Response, but the praise heaped on Boudry certainly suggested An Agenda:

Boudry has spent a lot of time showing that religion and science are incompatible, attacking the distinction between “metaphysical naturalism” and “methodological naturalism” (a distinction much beloved by accommodationists), and generally pwning “Sophisticated Theologians™.”

You can find my earlier discussions of Boudry’s work here, here and here, and, if you’re familiar with the unctuous theologian Alvin Plantinga, be sure to read Boudry’s new review of Plantinga’s book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Boudry’s review is free online, starting on p. 21 of the latest newsletter from The International History, Philosophy and Science Working Group.


Evidently, a good philosopher is one who agrees that science and religion are incompatible. Given Coyne's status as a non-philosopher and a vocal opponent of theism, I can't say that I put much confidence in his ability to determine good philosophers from bad.

Material this bad however ideally should have been caught even at conferences.
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#4 Freckle

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Posted 30 September 2012 - 07:16 AM

You can get any old rubbish published. Especially as a conference abstract.
Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

#5 palladium

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 06:04 PM

You can get any old rubbish published. Especially as a conference abstract.



Science is simply an understanding and knowledge of our physical world. Science and religion are perfectly compatible, the prophets understood science. Dan 1:4 Gods creative process was set in motion in 6 literal 24 hour days. "The evening and the morning were the (#) day. Each day continued for 6000 years where what was created multiplied and evolved until the next day of creation. Adam and Eve were created at the end of the sixth day, in the year 4004 bce so on March 12 it will be the year 6018 (Nissan 1) God is Energy (the El of Elohim-a plural) Energy, the forces in nature, are ubiquitous, omnipotent and eternal. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. God is electromagnetism, gravitation and the nuclear force. Our son (pun intended) is the source of Energy for the universe and is a ball of fire (symbol of holiness The Lord is Gods wife and they are one flesh. Gen. 2:24


I'm sorry, what?

Were these two posts related?

#6 Hudders

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 11:45 PM

I'm sorry, what?

Were these two posts related?


Yes, I'm pretty sure Susan's comments are a spoof.




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