I was chatting with Middlebrow today about the recent/ancient kerfufle about post-modernist thought, and I could tell I was losing him. "Ah oh! Here comes another disconnected rant!" I could hear him say, although he was more than cordial. I persisted, however.
The reason that Dawkins doesn't get it is simple: he is misapplying post-modernism to science, much as he complains that post-modernists misapply science in their texts. I felt, however, that I had not properly explained my point and I did feel like some conspiracy theorist after my chat with Middlebrow.
I've got a lot to deal with in this thesis, I realize, not the least of which is my ability to lose people in pointless rants, so with that I will attempt to be succinct: Dawkins creates a straw man argument with post-modernism because he is talking about the perception of the world vs. the post-modern notion of texts. Post-modernists talk of texts and only texts. Those texts represent a relationship to the world, indeed, but they are just that: representations of the world. We're not talking about what observations one can make using one's senses--we're talking about a reading of a text that is produced before one. One reads a text. One puts one's whole experience into a text to understand it. One is challenged by texts to change one's mind about a text. One's perceptions are affirmed and challenged by a text.
One is changed by a text.
Dawkins doesn't understand that the scholars he finds fault with are talking about texts--not about the observable world that he privileges. (Yup, privilege is an important term that Dawkins picks up on. He doesn't get that either. Strangely enough, he seems to ignore the possibility of bias based upon social position or gender and just throws it away as some sort of whacko term that folks in the Humanities might use.) Texts are not artifacts like fossils or subjects like living creatures (or are they?) They are complex, multi-faceted phenomena that require a reader and an understanding how that reader's point of view shapes the interpretation of a specific text.
There is a big difference between an observable artifact like a rock and a text that has been written by a fellow human being. A rock, while it may create many various interpretations and a variety of opinions, remains the rock that it is. The rock, exists. And as Middlebrow pointed out in a comment on the previous Dawkins post, to deny that would be insanity.
A text, however, was created by a fellow human being with various intentions and purposes. Yes, indeed, the text exists as a physical artifact, but the interpretation of that text is not so easy. The nature of language and our use of it and its use of us forces further consideration. There is more to a text than what it, or its author, represents itself as.
See none of this is new to we text workers of the world. I'm am trying to explain this to the Science-minded who think that what we are talking about is utter bullshit. They frequently don't admit their their bias is often linguistic, race-based, or gender-based.
That is disturbing.
From my own perspective Science tries to exclude its biases, They usually do that on micro-scale. Science has strict controls for experiments and is certain to calibrate instruments and exclude biasing factors.
Where Science fails, at least in the Dawkins sense, is to exlude its macro-bias. Those biases are there and need to be examined carefully. Scientists like Dawkins refuse to admit that their cultural or linguistic background shapes what scientific problems they are likely to pursue or even the results that they prefer (there's that word again!) to deny.
I would put forward, as have others before me, that they need to consider not only their biases before they do their science, but also have to consider that how they are reporting it (through the use of language) is also going to bias it.
Natural language is not a specific medium. Interpretation is going to exist. And, as far as I've seen, interpretation also exists in the language of mathematics. I don't want to fall into a Dawkins' trap, but, as far as I know (and I am no mathematician), mathematics itself has build in biases--Godel's Theorem--which is infamously mis-applied (apparently) to post-modern theory.
Honestly, I'm not really certain why Dawkins, a perfectly respectable scientist of our modern ilk, refuses to explore the possibility of linguistic bias in how he observes the world. The thing that Dawkins doesn't understand is that post-modernism is about the bias that we all have in observing the world.
As a good scientist, you think he would.