Science and Postmodernism: Can the Two Be Compatible?

I recently read a fascinating article on GMOs that brought up a concept that I hadn’t though about too much. It was about the greek yogurt company Dannon’s recent decision to move to only non-GMO sourcing for the feed the cows eat to that make the milk used in their yogurt. The article talked about how this move was based in their customer’s embrace of postmodernism, a philosophy that rejects absolute, wide-ranging truths.

Question mark clip art

Postmodernism, because if it is happening today it isn’t “modern” anymore? So is now the future? I don’t think the folks who came up with this name thought this one through.

While postmodern philosophy can be nice to keep people from having their feelings hurt, it does bring up problems when looking at scientific information. The foundation of all the sciences are laid on principles that are considered undeniable. For example, physics relies on Newton’s Laws of Motion. Biology requires definitions of what is considered life and what is not. Chemistry requires an understanding of atomic structure.

While no one disagrees with these principles (I hope), as we progress away from basic science into applied sciences, postmodernism begins to be applied. Even without including hot-button topics, such as vaccination or GMOs, postmodern thought questions scientific conclusions. For instance, have you ever heard someone when confronted with the dangers of tobacco smoking reply, “My grandpa/uncle/cousin smoked until he was ninety and did just fine! I’ll be fine too!”.

grandpa-gustafson

Case in point: This guy. Who is also an awesome dude. If you don’t believe me, follow this link to watch the scene.

Now don’t confuse postmodernism with healthy skepticism. I’ve written before on the dangers of pseudo-science, and there is fair amount of junk science out there that has undoubtedly fostered postmodernist thought. But the question I pose is if we as a culture are to embrace this postmodern thought, can we seriously reach scientific conclusions?

It is difficult to believe so, as the scientific method itself relies on the acceptance or rejection of hypotheses as the basis for further experimentation. Unless we as a society are willing to admit that absolute truth exists, then we will no longer have the ability to use the scientific method to answer questions as to the best path forward in this or that issue. While one may think the lack of absolutes is harmless, the result of postmodern relativism has real consequences. Consider the well-publicized measles outbreak at Disneyland last year, a consequence of anti-vaccination postmodernism.

So let’s bring this back to Dannon and setting precedents for agriculture sustainability. We know, through controlled scientific experiments and retrospective studies, that GMO crops have an excellent safety record and hold significant benefits for the environment, not to mention other noble intentions (such as golden rice for vitamin A deficiencies). However, if the postmodernist thought rules the day, that option for sustainability will be underutilized. This will increase the difficulty of maintaining our food sustainability without any tangible benefit for growers or consumers.

The best conclusion I can gather from contrasting science with postmodernism is the incompatibility of the two has and will continue to create two rival camps–one that is willing to accept they as individuals may not be the best source of all information and another than does not. While those aligned with science may continue to bicker among each other what answer is the correct answer, their honest dedication to finding the solution will create a positive impact. The best we can hold for the other camp is a descent into a relativistic chaos.

-Jake

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