Quantcast

«

»

Sep 28 2012

Philosopher Pulls a Sokal on Theology Conferences

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the now-infamous Sokal hoax, in which physicist Alan Sokal submitted an article to a postmodernist journal that was, quite literally, gibberish — they accepted it for publication, of course. Now a Belgian philosopher has pulled a similar hoax on two theology conferences.

Dr. Maarten Boudry made up a fake name (an anagram of his real name), Robert A. Maundy, and a fake university, College of the Holy Cross, and submitted a paper to present at a Christian philosophy conference held last year by the Association for Reformational Philosophy. The subject of the conference was “The Future of Creation Order.” You can see the abstract for that paper on page 42 of the link above. And it’s hilarious:

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.

The Christian philosophers apparently didn’t notice that this was just a bunch of meaningless babble, put together to sound really sophisticated. Word salad for the win!

50 comments

1 ping

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    cry4turtles

    Could this be empirical evidence of the consequences of being told what to think versus being taught how to think?

  2. 2
    baal

    Spend enough time reading babble and living in a fantasy land and your ability to spot poes or intentional word salad goes right out the window. It’s a subtle (or not so subtle) problem of religion (including the mild generally inoffensive religions like Jainism or the UU).

  3. 3
    Didaktylos

    It’s a sort of Emperor’s New Clothes thing – they don’t want to call bullshit ‘bullshit’ just in case it isn’t bullshit but something they are too stupid to understand.

  4. 4
    matty1

    The Christian philosophers apparently didn’t notice that this was just a bunch of meaningless babble, put together to sound really sophisticated. Word salad for the win!

    Or they know perfectly well given they do the same thing but are just pissed off that he exposed the scam.

  5. 5
    dingojack

    Alan Sokal and Maarten Boudry follow a long line of folks, taking the piss.
    Dingo

  6. 6
    Gregory in Seattle

    I’ll have the word salad with vinagrette, the baked inanities with a side of philosophical hodge-podge, and… a slice of vapid a la mode for dessert. Oh, is the hodge-podge clueless? I’m allergic.

  7. 7
    jolly

    I hope he doesn’t get sued for plagiarism by Deepak.

  8. 8
    richardelguru

    But surely, since meaning is self-actualized within the perceptional act, then this only a ‘joke’ or ‘Sokal-hoax’ if the perceptor does not perceive it.
    Thus both ‘joke’ and non-’joke’ (‘Sokal-hoax’ and non-’Sokal-hoax’) are obviously co-terminus. Q.E.D.

  9. 9
    Chiroptera

    So, is this an example of that “sophisticated theology” that us atheists gotta know about before we have the temerity to criticize others’ belief in god?

  10. 10
    illdoittomorrow

    jollywahlstrom @7,

    Deepak wouldn’t have a case. The word ‘quantum’ appears nowhere in this abstract.

  11. 11
    heddle

    Hah! I love when people do this. Boudry joins Sokal in my list of heroes who nail pseudo-intellectual dumbasses.

    Of course, as a philosopher himself, I wonder if his subfield would be susceptible to such a hoax. I suspect most of them are.

  12. 12
    anteprepro

    It said the word “theology”, cited a theologian favorably, bashed Dawkins, and was all about how a Darwinian worldview is soooo reductionist. I’m pretty sure that makes it pass the minimum requirements for Sophisticated Theology.

    But wait…holy shit. That was just the abstract? An abstract that long and incoherent, containing quotes, didn’t set off any alarms?

  13. 13
    illdoittomorrow

    OT, but I’d just like to say that John Lithgow’s dramatic reading of Newtie’s press released ruined me for life. I can’t read stuff like this and not imagine it being spoken in the most pompous, posturing, bloviating, self-aggrandizing tone possible. I’ve had to waterproof my laptop!

  14. 14
    Synfandel

    I don’t know what you’re mocking. It makes perfect sense to me. And it’s really quite profound.

  15. 15
    Abby Normal

    I always feel sorry for people who try to treat Creationism as a rational pursuit, a scientific endeavor. Sometimes, when work is getting me down and I can’t seem to solve some difficult problem, I think of the poor creation scientist and suddenly my problems don’t seem so insurmountable. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to grow faith in a petri dish?

  16. 16
    rickdesper

    “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”

    I’ve been saying this for years.

    I have to say that this is a brilliant abstract. Reading through it, phrases make sense, and sentences make sense, and I keep feeling like the author is on the verge of saying something profound. But it’s just beyond my reach. I am a mere mortal next to the mind of Robert A. Maundy.

  17. 17
    Ysanne

    Beautiful.

    …an absolute Order which both engenders and withholds meaning. …

    The classic technique of making up sophisticated-sounding pseudo-intellectual bullshit: Build sentences that seem paradoxical by attributing some property and its exact opposite to something, thereby making your statement look complex and meaningful, which shows yourself to be capable of deeeeeeeeep insight and reflection.
    Boudry is a master of it.

  18. 18
    Aratina Cage

    Boudry joins Sokal in my list of heroes who nail pseudo-intellectual dumbasses.

    You tell ‘em, heddle! Then hurry back to your Jesus studies.

  19. 19
    Area Man

    I think hoaxes of this kind prove too much. If you’ve ever been to an actual scientific conference, never mind the humanities, you’ll find lots of bad abstracts. You’ll also find terrible articles, bordering on the nonsensical, that somehow managed to get published in the peer-reviewed literature. I think that overworked and under-attentive reviewers and editors, not to mention sympathy for 1st year grad students who don’t speak much English, goes a long way to explaining how such gibberish can make it past the filters.

    That’s not to say that these theologians aren’t especially gullible or prone to interpreting nonsense as profound, but you can’t really say for sure just because something stupid managed to get published in their conference proceedings.

  20. 20
    heddle

    Aratina Cage,

    You tell ‘em, heddle! Then hurry back to your Jesus studies.

    I think you mean back to the lab. I’m a scientist, not a theologian. What is your occupation?

  21. 21
    divalent

    “Dr. Maarten Boudry made up … a fake university, College of the Holy Cross”

    Well, except there really is a College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester MA.

    http://www.holycross.edu/

  22. 22
    slc1

    Re Aratina Cage @ #18

    Just in case Ms. Cage is unfamiliar with Prof. Heddle, he has a PhD in nuclear physics and is on the faculty of Christopher Newport Un. in Newport News, Va., which is a branch of the Un. of Virginia. He is, or was, the chairman of the mathematics department of that school.

  23. 23
    wysage

    Don’t get smug about this. Most conferences are open to all who would like to contribute a talk at the meetings. Peer-review of abstracts for conferences is almost non-existent. From a quick search of the program, Robert A. Maundy was not listed as a plenary or invited speaker, so this achievement is not a big deal.

    At global warming conferences, trolls usually slip into the program somehow. While professional society conferences do not welcome trolls intentionally, it is generally more important to be open. Also these conferences make money for the professional society, so the sponsors may be laughing their way to the bank.

  24. 24
    tsig

    Just in case Ms. Cage is unfamiliar with Prof. Heddle, he has a PhD in nuclear physics and is on the faculty of Christopher Newport Un. in Newport News, Va., which is a branch of the Un. of Virginia. He is, or was, the chairman of the mathematics department of that school.

    And who also has a personal relationship with an invisible friend.

  25. 25
    heddle

    Don’t get smug about this. Most conferences are open to all who would like to contribute a talk at the meetings.

    This is true. Most APS (American Physical Society) meetings will have whacko talks from APS members who are into stuff like numerology (the number 137 often playing a central role.) Based on those abstracts and talks you would not (I reckon) claim the APS had been sokaled.

    In this case, however, most the real talks sound as ridiculous as the fake.

  26. 26
    vmanis1

    Not a particularly good parody. It didn’t (according to Firefox’s `Find In Page’, I couldn’t read the extract a second time, as I might have clawed my eyes out) contain either the words `dualism’ or `hegemony’ (though I agree that the latter word is more suited to a political science or cultural studies conference), and doesn’t even explicitly contain the word `reductionist’ (though a commenter did use that word).

    Better luck next time, Dr Maundy!

    P.S. I wonder if he wrote this on Maundy Thursday.

  27. 27
    baal

    I’m guessing Heddle was confused with Hoggle? They look very much the same. brb, getting a hoagie for lunch. (yes Alex, I’d like to take 6 letter words start and ending with H and E for 800)

  28. 28
    Marcus Ranum

    Here’s the problem with bullshit like this: it can be interpreted to be a perfectly worthwhile metaphor for something or other. Which is basically what happens with the bible. So what if the original content is bullshit – the re-metaphorized synechdoce transcends its bullshit-nature and becomes illuminative!

  29. 29
    Aratina Cage

    Just in case Ms. Cage is unfamiliar with Prof. Heddle [blah blah blah]

    Mr.

    And no, not unfamiliar at all. It just broke another one of my irony meters to see him write what he did. Seriously, if you want to hear some pseudo-intellectual mouth flapping about Jesus, heddle is the man to go to.

  30. 30
    dingojack

    Heddle – why 137 particularly?
    Dingo
    —–
    133.335 is the Dewey Decimal number for the subject of numerology. I’ll leave to you to discover the connection with ‘the number of the Beast’

  31. 31
    cjcolucci

    Though I generally disagree with heddle on things, there’s no point in picking on him when he’s right, or, much the same thing, when he’s on our side. Yeah, he believes, we don’t, everyone gets that, but when he’s not pushing his rather interesting theology — and it is genuinely interesting, and not vulnerable to some of the generic, drive-by shots taken at him by people who don’t get what he’s actually saying — why bother?

  32. 32
    heddle

    DJ,

    Because the fine structure constant (the strength of the electromagnetic force) is number that is approximately 1/137

    Aratina Cage,

    And no, not unfamiliar at all. It just broke another one of my irony meters to see him write what he did. Seriously, if you want to hear some pseudo-intellectual mouth flapping about Jesus, heddle is the man to go to.

    In other words you are a fool who has nothing but an ad hominem. Since I write, at times, in a very different area (Calvinist doctrine) my comments on this area (philosophy/theology) are suspect? Why? If this was a conference on Calvinist doctrine you’d have a point.

    If a any postmodernist was delighted (I’m sure there were many) that Sokal made fools of some postmodernist clowns–would that break an irony meter? (And for god sakes–do you really want to be remembered as the 10 millionth person who used the worn-out “broke my irony meter” shtick?

  33. 33
    whheydt

    Re: #31 Dingojack.

    Fine structure constant, most likely.

  34. 34
    Aratina Cage

    I actually agree with what you said in your first paragraph up there in #11, heddle, I just found it to be amusingly ironic coming from you. I don’t see how that fits into the category of ad hominem.

  35. 35
    dingojack

    Heddle – Relative to what? Gravity?
    Dingo

  36. 36
    Aratina Cage

    If a any postmodernist was delighted (I’m sure there were many) that Sokal made fools of some postmodernist clowns–would that break an irony meter?

    Sure. Especially if I had read them arguing for postmodernism on Pharyngula numerous times in the past. Should I have said something about it and apparently derailed this thread? Probably not. Bad call on my part.

  37. 37
    anteprepro

    Since I write, at times, in a very different area (Calvinist doctrine) my comments on this area (philosophy/theology) are suspect?

    Shouldn’t the former be a subset of the latter?

  38. 38
    heddle

    DJ,

    Relative to the strong nuclear force (that holds nuclear together). Roughly speaking the relative strengths in descending order are

    * Strong nuclear (binds nuclei–and quarks into composite particles like protons) 1

    * Electromagnetic (binds atoms) 10^-2 (~1/100, or, ~1/137)

    * Weak nuclear (radioactivity) 10^-13

    * Gravity 10^-38

    Gravity is, by leaps and bounds, the weakest force. And yet the one we “feel” most readily. It is about 36 orders of magnitude weaker than the electromagnetic force. The universe is magnificently interesting.

  39. 39
    slc1

    Re heddle @ #39

    Strong nuclear (binds nuclei–and quarks into composite particles like protons)

    It is my understanding that the force holding the quarks together increases as the average separation increases, which e3xplains why we have never seen an isolated quark, which is not the case with the forces holding the atomic nucleus together. Thus the quark/quark interaction is more like a harmonic oscillator in that regard.

  40. 40
    heddle

    slc #40,

    I once heard this from a world-class nuclear physicist (Dirk Walecka). He said: “all nuclear physics is based on the observation that nuclei get bigger when they get bigger, but atoms get smaller when they get bigger.” Atoms (apart from completing a shell)do get smaller, because as you add protons the additional charge pulls in the electrons more. Nuclei, as you add neutrons and protons, just get bigger. Careful thinking about this statement will lead one to correct conclusions about the different ranges of the forces, as you alluded.

  41. 41
    slc1

    Re heddle @ #41

    I think that I understand the explanation that Prof. Heddle gave. I’m not quite sure how it applies to quarks. Take the case of deuterium. Putting in enough energy will cause the deuterium nucleus to split into it’s constituent parts, namely a neutron and a proton. However, as I understand it, putting in more and more energy into a proton will not cause it to break up into its constituent quark parts as the extra energy causes the quarks to bind together more strongly. Possibly, my understanding, which is based on a couple of sentences in a book by physicist Taner Edis, is flawed.

  42. 42
    Crudely Wrott

    A most thorough soaking, eh?

  43. 43
    democommie

    “contain either the words `dualism’ or `hegemony’”

    So, howzabout “dualistic didactic hegemony”?

    slc1 @40:

    This:

    “which e3xplains why”

    is the reason I hate math. I can never figure out which variable in “e3xplains” is affected by the numerator! {;>)

  44. 44
    heddle

    slc,

    However, as I understand it, putting in more and more energy into a proton will not cause it to break up into its constituent quark parts

    No, it certainly will. This is exactly what we do at Jefferson Lab. We use an electron or photon beam to bast apart protons and neutrons. Of course the quarks will not exist long in isolation–they will recombine into other baryons and mesons.

    You are right in the sense that the nuclear force I spoke of in #41 is not the fundamental interaction between quarks and gluons (QCD– Quantum Chromodynamics) but the effective or residual interaction between composite particles, like protons, neutrons, and pions.

  45. 45
    dingojack

    Heddle – Thanks for that. So why does gravity operate of such huge distances but the other (nuclear) forces don’t?
    Dingo

  46. 46
    heddle

    DJ,

    So why does gravity operate of such huge distances but the other (nuclear) forces don’t?

    Ahh that is a good question. A very rough answer is that the range of the force is inversely proportional to the mass of the particle that “mediates” the force. For the electromagnetic force the particle that mediates the force is a photon, which is massless.(By mediating, you can think of the the force between charged particles arising by the particles exchanging photons.) For gravity it is (postulated to be) another massless particle, the graviton. For the nuclear forces the mediating particles are massive (or effectively massive).

    Since the range is inversely proportional, this means that the nuclear forces are short range, while the electromagnetic and gravitational forces are of infinite range–which is why we feel gravity on human scales–it has infinite range.

    The reason we do not routinely experience electromagnetic forces, which are also infinite range, and 10^36 times stronger than gravity, is that happily almost all matter is electrically neutral and so uncharged–and hence no force. Protons and electrons will combine to form neutral atoms. (And, remarkably, the charge on a proton is exactly opposite the electron charge, even though one (proton) is a massive composite beastie made up of quarks and gluons and the other (electron) is a sizeless fundamental particle 2000 times lighter.)

    Mass, on the other hand, comes in only one flavor–there is no positive and negative mass just (by convention) positive. So the gravitation force is never shielded– it is always there.

    A classic first semester physics problem is that if you could ionize hydrogen (which is a proton and an electron) and put the electrons on the moon and keep the protons on earth, how much would you need to equal the gravitational attraction? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader but give a hint: it ain’t much.

  47. 47
    lofgren

    This almost seems unfair, like playing soccer against a bunch of blindfolded paraplegics.

  48. 48
    dean

    Gravity is, by leaps and bounds…>

    I like that little construction. Intentional?

  49. 49
    slc1

    Mass, on the other hand, comes in only one flavor–there is no positive and negative mass just (by convention) positive.

    Depending on what makes up dark energy, this might not be true. Dark energy effectively behaves as if it had negative mass/energy.

    No, it certainly will. This is exactly what we do at Jefferson Lab. We use an electron or photon beam to bast apart protons and neutrons. Of course the quarks will not exist long in isolation–they will recombine into other baryons and mesons.

    But do the quarks remain isolated long enough to be directly detected detected?

  50. 50
    heddle

    slc,

    But do the quarks remain isolated long enough to be directly detected?

    No they do not, and they cannot be detected directly (according to QCD.) They are virtual. You can only detect the mesons and baryons they form by recombining.

    dean #49,

    not intentional

  1. 51
    Is theology baloney? Reflections on the latest Sokal-styled hoax

    [...] an indebted to Ray Ingles for making me aware of this blog post which chronicles a clever Belgian philosopher’s appropriation of Alan Sokal’s modus [...]

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site