“Intelligent design” and the hijacking of postmodernism

In the current Harper’s, postmodern legal scholar Stanley Fish provides, according to Hullabaloo, “the clearest exposition” yet “of the intellectual and rhetorical hijinks behind the marketing of ‘intelligent design’ creationism,” and illuminates the right wing’s “cynical hijacking (and distortion) of postmodern arguments.” (Thanks, Max.)

Hullabaloo conjectures that the article is similar to a Fish lecture entitled “Three on a Match: Intelligent Design, Holocaust Denial, Postmodernism.”

A little digging turned up a blogger’s recent report from the lecture. Some of what Fish had to say:

  • “Intelligent Design advocates are rightly offended when someone links them — as I have just done — to holocaust denial. There is no moral equivalency between the two, but they share an equivalent strategy hijacked from postmodern thought. They are playing the same shell game.”
  • “Intelligent design seeks access to the debate by a strategy that empties the debate of content.”
  • “Postmodernism is liberalism taken very seriously” (Fish then exclaimed that this was the first time he’d put it in exactly those words. He then repeated them with a very satisfied look on his face.)
  • “Attempts to translate the decorums of literary criticism to science, or science to religion, or religion to science, fall flat: interdisciplinarianism in methodology is a bad idea. Each discipline has its tested and proven tradition of inquiry — precision is always local to the question it is there to answer.”
  • “The essence of postmodernism is that knowledge is historically contextual and not transcendental. But this observation is not a method in any particular field of inquiry. Postmodernism answers no questions, and does no work of inquiry at all, but you can do political or rhetorical work with it.”


Related: Back in April, in connection with a proposed Florida bill that would’ve allowed conservative students to sue liberal professors who advanced ideas they didn’t like, I tossed out some quick thoughts about Republicans’ co-opting of the very postmodern deconstructionist techniques they denounce in the hands of liberals. (Both the house bill and its senate counterpart appear to have died on second reading calendar.)


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