Ever wondered what mischievous genius looks like? Eyes left. This is Dr. Maarten Boudry, a research fellow at Ghent University’s Department of Philosopy & Moral Sciences, and although I’m nearly two years late in on this story, he’s my new hero. In one finely tuned act of disciplined madness this magnificent package of humanist kickass demonstrated that Christian theologians have not only removed themselves so far from reality that they can no longer even recognise it, they also simply don’t care. This, of course, is not news to those of us inhabiting the more rational world, but Boudry actually tested it, and like lab rats with 90% of their brains re-routed to a pair of damp woollen socks the Christian philosophers performed their reality-evading trick on cue; and by doing so they did nothing but confirm Thomas Paine’s sophic 1794 observation:
“The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.” (Thomas Paine, The Age Of Reason)
The experiment (first published by the always exceptional Jerry A. Coyne, a friend of Boudry) was simple enough: write an utterly nonsensical, anti-Darwin lecture abstract full of theological gibberish and submit it to two Christian philosophy conferences, including the Reformational Philosophy Association’s “The Future of Creation Order.” Now there’s no easy way of elaborating on this other than to say the abstract made less sense than a poem penned by a stoned buffy-headed marmoset using only a vacuum cleaner as a quill. Astonishingly though, the abstract was accepted without a moment’s hesitation and Boudry’s alter ego, Robert A. Maundy of the fictitious College of the Holy Cross, was slotted in as a speaker at both conferences… invitations he (of course) declined after announcing it all a hoax.
Now there simply aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe how awesome this 394 word slice of mesmerising mindlessness is, so get comfortable and prepare your brain for one the finest unhinged carnival rides it’s ever going to experience; a ride Christian theologians believed made perfect sense:
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.
Postscript: I’ve since been in contact with Boudry regarding the reaction of conference organisers after the hoax was revealed. Below is Maarten’s emails of the 13th and 14th of May, 2013
Thanks for your email, though surely you bestow too much honor on my humble hoax! 🙂 To answer your question: some theologians were outraged and accused me of dishonesty and abuse of academic trust, other theologians were blaming the organizers of the conference for not seeing through this obvious nonsense. Still others claimed that Jerry Coyne and I had missed very subtle distinctions between theology and Reformational philosophy. I plead guilty, though I can’t speak for Jerry. The conference board tried to ignore the kerfuffle as much as possible, though chairman Gerrit Glas has been noted for saying that, although the abstract puzzled him a bit, he gave it the benenit of the doubt, because after all postmodern writing are “often impenetrable”. Amen to that!
You´re right: when I submitted the abstract, I thought I had pushed it too far, and that anyone with two neurons to rub together would see through it (I mean, seriously, that word pun with dis-order and this-order). It´s not just that the structure of the argument is unclear — literally every sentence is sheer nonsense. For me it was an exercise in writing pseudo-profundities with evocative language. As it turns out, it’s not easy to keep meaningful interpretations at bay. Your brain (or mine in any case) wants to construct a coherent narrative, so the trick is not to think about the previous sentences, but rather to focus on the grammar and syntax, and freely associate with the jargon of Sophisticated Theology. As soon as some part started to make sense, I went out of the window. The quote by John Haught is real, and appears in God after Darwin, if I’m not mistaken.