September 17, 2008
The comedic potential of academic feminism will not be unknown to regular readers of this site. Some of you may have fond memories of Dr Sandra Harding, an alleged “feminist philosopher of science,” who claims that Einstein’s theories of relativity are “gender-biased” and thus disreputable. Ms Harding famously described Newton’s Principia as a “rape manual” and claimed that rape and torture metaphors could be used to usefully describe its contents. Harding’s most famous “work” is essentially a pile of unsupported claims, false equivalences and comical non sequitur. That she’s employed in academia is, or should be, a minor scandal. Before you snigger too much, though, it seems Ms Harding’s worldview is not entirely without influence. Over at B&W, Ophelia Benson has been trawling through a Women’s Studies discussion group and unearthed the following gem:
Biology is a socially constructed concept too - dated. It categorizes and defines ‘organisms’ a certain way - not wholistically - and not the only way possible, I might add.
I am no science major,
A shock to us all.
but I know Einstein’s theories and physics has already proven most of the fundamentals of biology to be faulty.
Readers may be wondering how exactly the theories of General and Special Relativity - or some unspecified “physics” - have “proven most of the fundamentals of biology to be faulty.” Alas, our Women’s Studies devotee doesn’t seem to know and so, alas, nor will we.
I admit, I am a science heretic. It is a belief system and I’ve confronted it’s [sic] limitations - quite soundly and concretely - for my own understandings...
This is a surprisingly popular assertion – that the scientific method is a “belief system” and thus, allegedly, no better or more deserving of “privilege” than whatever it is it suits one to believe. As, for instance, when the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting told her readers that “rationality is a social construction” while taking umbrage with the Enlightenment on grounds that it was now “being used against Islam.” This, one must suppose, is a very bad thing and to be avoided at all costs. To suggest that someone is wrong on points of fact or incoherent or amazingly credulous would be terribly unfair.
I was once told that “science is based on assumptions; an assumption is essentially a belief, so science is based on belief.” But the scientific method is actually based on the testing of formal hypotheses, as opposed to beliefs, which are not the same thing at all. Strictly speaking, a scientific hypothesis must be self-consistent, must explain existing observations and must predict new ones. These formal obligations and restraints are not comparable with the acceptance of erroneous or unverifiable assumptions as a priori truth. The scientific method is one of the best practical lessons in intellectual humility. As the mathematician Ian Stewart pointed out: “Science is the best defence against believing what we want to.” And the willingness to defer to evidence – as opposed to one’s own preferences – is the antithesis of fundamentalism, whether religious or political.
But back to our Women’s Studies enthusiast:
Frankly, I am tired of seeing ‘respected’ scientific studies that continually study an environment that they deny exists in the first place.
It is not logical thought. What we were taught as logic is simply what we were taught and thus not logical, but you have to question it before you can see it as ‘not logical’. My views can be perceived as not ‘logical’ because they are deviating from taught beliefs. Logic doesn’t mean it makes sense. It means it follows a certain line of thinking. It is the certain line of thinking women have attempted to confront.
As a result of all this “questioning” and “confronting” of logic perhaps we can look forward to the first feminist computer, which will presumably operate on more “wholistic” non-logical principles. If such a device could be built, I’m confident it would generate answers that are ideologically agreeable, if not actually correct.
Ophelia notes drily:
Ah yes - logic is a ‘certain’ (male, patriarchal, phallic, linear, hierarchical, situated, constructed, stupid, wrong, smelly) line of thinking, and women have attempted to confront it, because women have something different, and better, than mere ‘logic’. Women have - uh - holistic (or do I mean wholistic), different, better womanier stuff.
Update, via Anna: Women: Know Your Limits.