March 10, 2010
The Philosophic Roots of Eco-TheologyBy Daniel H. Fernald
Man-made global warming (AGW) is and always has been a complete and utter fraud, but the battle is far from over. There remains, however, the question of origins. Or, as David Byrne might put it, "Where?! How...did...I...get...here?!"
The philosophic roots of Eco-Theology are both deep and strong -- so much so, in fact, that only an axe aimed directly and confidently at the roots will keep this eidetic weed from re-asserting itself like intellectual kudzu.
The main root is relativism (specifically, "epistemological relativism"), from which extend, first, the modernist elevation of autonomous reason to supreme status, and second, the postmodern abandonment of reason altogether.
Relativism has been with us since at least the 5th century B.C., when the Greek sophist Protagoras claimed: "Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not." That is, the truth is what we make it. Such a man-centered philosophy cannot help but mire itself in self-referential relativism due to the absence of any transcendent standard.
The growing impatience of late medieval and early Renaissance thinkers with the Scholastic method favored by the Roman Catholic Church and its many schools led at last to an intellectual revolt best exemplified by Rene Descartes' Discourse on the Method (1637) and his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641).
In a return to ancient Greek sophistry, Descartes made the human mind the measure of all things and reduced God to a mere guarantor, an epistemological "co-signer" of sorts, whose sole substantive role was to assure the truth of whatever Descartes perceived "clearly and distinctly."
Think of it this way: God becomes the Federal Reserve, with Descartes as Ben Bernanke.
The following century, along came the celebrated Prussian Immanuel Kant. Kant agreed on the primacy of pure reason but amended Descartes by adding a kind of semi-empirical approach that vaguely resembles what we would call "science."
Unfortunately, Kant -- who was no relativist himself -- ended up giving great impetus to relativism by making knowledge of certain objects impossible, in principle and in fact. He divided objects into "phenomena" (things we can perceive) and "noumena" (things we can't). In his view, there are things that can't be known -- ever -- and we can't even distinguish the "known unknowns" from "unknown unknowns" (with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld). Thus, this good-hearted, well-meaning professor unwittingly caused further erosion to the foundations of knowledge.
Here's the money quote. In an attempt to square his odd little circle, Kant wrote that when his perception of an object and the object itself could not be reconciled, "objects must conform to our knowledge."
Yes, you read that right. Kant believed that if his knowledge of an object ever seemed to be wrong, it was the object that was "wrong" rather than his knowledge.
(This should strike the reader as familiar. How many times have the eco-faithful assured us that it is irrelevant how many errors are found in the latest UN/IPCC/CRU report since the "consensus" formulated by our intellectual betters has already determined that the theory is correct?)
Great damage was done, though unintentionally, to the foundations of science by the 17th-century Descartes. The harm was compounded by the many followers of the 18th-century Kant. In the 19th century, reason finally entered a genuine crisis when Nihilism grabbed Western Culture by the throat, shook it like a pit bull would a Shih Tzu, and refused to let go until it went limp.
"Nihilism" is derived from the Latin word "nihil," meaning "nothing." Nihilism's mission, in the hands of the 19th-century Nietzsche (and even more aggressive 20th-century nihilists like Michel Foucault) is to annihilate all that came before it. Its essence is nowhere better, though opaquely, stated in Martin Heidegger's maxim that "the nothing nothings" (das Nichts nichtet).
(If "the nothing nothings" sounds like incomprehensible gibberish, that's because it is. One of the greatest challenges facing anyone in a humanities Ph.D. program is to emerge without having one's common sense lobotomized.)
Nihilism and its 20th-century grandchild, Postmodernism, represent the inevitable culmination of a philosophy that puts full faith in autonomous reason -- disconnected from history, divinity, and even personal experience.
The ancient Greeks, from whom Enlightenment thinkers liberally borrowed, believed that reason had a transcendent "foundation" either in nature (Aristotle) or in the realm of ideas (Socrates and Plato).
Medieval thinkers made that foundation more explicit by asserting that God Himself provided the intellectual and moral grounding for reason.
In contrast, when philosophers like Descartes and Kant made reason itself primary, reason became self-grounding and self-justifying. In the absence of any transcendent standard of truth, reason went from a discoverer of preexisting truths to a creator of new ones. This is the significance and meaning of the Kant quote; reality is now compelled to conform to our perception of it.
That is, the theory trumps the evidence (as in AGW).
The modern viewpoint of Descartes and Kant ignores both the history and foundations of reason. The postmodernist goes on to deny reason itself.
This denial of reason is also the twisted womb from which emerge Nietzsche's repeated claims to have gone beyond good and evil, to have become a destroyer of old values and a creator of new ones.
This brings us to the present. Climate "scientists'" rejection of scientific method is the red-headed step-child of the postmodern rejection of reason itself. In the process, science has been turned on its head, twisted into a grotesque Grimm's Fairy Tales version of the method practiced by Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein.
Like the Brothers Grimm, we need hunters who will free science from the bloated belly of these wolfish postmodernists. The stakes are far higher than they seem. We are facing something much more dreadful than "just" the imposition of economy-killing regulations. What is at stake is the fate of rationality and Western culture itself.
When Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason, he claimed to have accomplished in metaphysics what Copernicus had done for the sciences. Sadly, with today's grant-addicted and ideologically-addled pseudo-scientists still at the helm, we have in fact gone back to the time of Ptolemy, when reality was forced to remain mute in order to suppress the revelation of an earlier "inconvenient truth."
The writer holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and rhetoric from Emory University and is an Associate Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.