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Prometheus Bedeviled: Science and the…
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Prometheus Bedeviled: Science and the Contradictions of Contemporary…

by Norman Levitt

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For most of the time I was reading _Prometheus Bedeviled_, I was planning to give it a 5-star rating. The author, Norman Levitt, has many valuable insights, and he is an extraordinarily eloquent writer. I share the author's profession (mathematics) and much of his disdain for social constructivism. Although I am a conservative, believing Christian and Levitt is an outspoken atheist, I thought that his, sometimes pointed, criticism of believers was generally tolerable. He discusses the teleological presuppositions of the irreligious as well and is willing to spread the blame around for what he perceives as the devaluation of science in modern society.

My enthusiasm for _Prometheus Bedeviled_ began to wane towards the end of the book. Levitt's thesaurus seemed to run dry, as we read about the "clotted" prose of the postmodernists for the nth time. I also began to notice how often Levitt resorted to labeling the arguments of his opponents as "rants" or "raves" as a means of dismissing them without, I think, giving them the attention they deserve. That is a rhetorical device I don't care for. Some cheap shots Levitt apparently couldn't resist. Consider, for example, his observation that "the core ideology of the Republican party is essentially plutocratic, that the central aim of the party is to preserve and advance the interests of a rather small fraction of wealthy Americans." Even setting aside the questionable accuracy of his analysis of Republican economic policy, Levitt conveniently understates the influence of social conservatism in the GOP. In any case, these are the words of a polemicist, not a scientist.

Rather than a full-fledged argument, Levitt presents an intriguing sketch of an argument. Perhaps this is to avoid pedantry, and it does make for a very readable text, but I think it leaves too many gaps. The all-important word "science" is left undefined, and, as far as I can tell, Levitt never tells us the theory upon which he bases his, often resounding, moral judgments. I will not demand that Levitt accept Ivan Karamazov's decree that "without God, everything is allowed," but in light of Levitt's atheism, it would be nice if he clarified where his "oughts" are coming from.

The last chapter strikes me as the least clear and the most controversial. Levitt seems to be arguing for granting the scientific establishment a prominent official presence in government and society, but I'm not sure what exactly he has in mind. Few readers of _That Hideous Strength_ will be able to read this chapter without thinking of N.I.C.E. Levitt himself says that "[t]he notion of setting apart a restricted class of Americans to sit in judgment on all the others is spooky and obnoxious." I agree. ( )
  cpg | Oct 17, 2017 |
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