Philosopher submits gibberish fake abstract and gets accepted on theological conferences
Jerry Coyne, over at Why Evolution Is True (a great blog), has talked about a real gem of a hoax, based on the original Sokal hoax. The Sokal affair was famous int he academic world and is summed up by wiki as follows:
The Sokal affair, also known as the Sokal hoax, was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmoderncultural studies. In subsequent publications, Sokal claimed that the submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether such a journal would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”
The article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity“, published in the Social Text Spring/Summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue, proposed thatquantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist. On its date of publication (May 1996), Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as “a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense . . . structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics”.
The resultant academic and public quarrels concerned the scholarly merit of humanistic commentary about the physical sciences; the influence of postmodern philosophy on social disciplines in general; academic ethics, including whether Sokal was right or wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text; and whether the journal had exercised the appropriate intellectual rigorbefore publishing the pseudoscientific article.
Coyne relates how a Belgian philosopher of religion who is none too keen on religion did the very same thing to a couple of theological conferences. The philosopher, Maarten Boudry, has attracted Coyne’s regard:
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™.”
Both conferences that Boudry submitted his fake abstract to straight away accepted him to speak. Here is the utter nonsense that they stamped with their approval:
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.
As Coyne puts it:
This shows once again the appeal of religious gibberish to the educated believer, and demonstrates that conference organizers either don’t read what they publish, or do read it and think that if it’s opaque then it must be profound.
- The 5 Most Outrageous Hoaxes (livescience.com)
- The Guardian hoax (stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com)
- Blancke on Among the Creationists [EvolutionBlog] (scienceblogs.com)
- The 5 Most Outrageous Hoaxes (news.discovery.com)
- Here Are 12 Scientific Findings That Were Actually Faked (businessinsider.com)