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The seldom spoken fear seemingly held by both sides in the debate is that the first concepts
absorbed by our schoolchildren will then dominate their entire pattern of thought. To
paraphrase Hong (2013), one does not dis-recognize an acquaintance simply because the
latter has shaved off a trademark goatie beard. It takes a skillful plastic surgeon to render a
familiar face beyond recognition, and it takes a barrage of overwhelming evidence to
discredit a well-accepted theory, formulation, pre-conception of the world, and so on. For
most of the past 3,000 years such theories, formulations, and pre-conceptions were supplied
by religious beliefs. The prominence of “science” is perhaps only 100 years old. And not only
do religious institutions feel threatened by the new prominence of science, so too do the
hundreds of millions who have formed a significant portion of their self-identity through the
initial processing of religious belief.
The realist may choose to disregard the importance of the self-identity and related
cognitive and psychological functions of the protagonists. The pragmatic constructivist has
no such luxury. Pragmatic constructivists are all too aware that both the realists and the
religionists have a tendency to proclaim access to a revealed pre-given truth and a striking
ignorance of the notion of “as-if.” (whether of the Vaihinger variety or some other.) This
chapter will expand on the question-generation model introduced in the Introduction, and
make use of the terms fundierung, model, and affordance in synecdoche in an effort to
explain a pragmatic constructivist view of the creationism/evolution debate.
In a dialogue between Varela and Poerksen (2006), Poerksen remarks: “Perhaps two
aphorisms by Heinz von Foerster could contribute to further clarification. He epitomizes the
central idea of realism with the words: ‘The world is the cause, experience the consequence.’
The fundamental principle of constructivism is, however: ‘Experience is the cause, the world
the consequence.’” In the current case this would translate into a debate over truth, the bible,
and the concept of “meaning” or “purpose in life.” To the realist, these questions have
answers – the scientific realist asserts that science provides the answers, the theistic realist
that the answers come from God. To the constructivist, however, these questions have no
answers and instead are revelatory about the self-identification of the questioners. The
scientist will ask and answer in one way reflective of the cognitive environment that has
constructively constituted his or her identity. The practicing theist will ask and answer the
very same questions from the perspective of a very different cognitive environment – the
environment that has produced his or her identity. As Varela (2004) comments:
“You are working with a concept of truth that is based on correspondence: truth is the
correspondence between theory and reality. Such a position will inevitably make you
a realist. Let me just point out that there are many ways of speaking about truth. My
own concept of truth, which is inspired by phenomenology and the philosophy of
pragmatism, is best understood as a theory of coherence: what counts is the
consistency of theories, the coherence of viewpoints. Truth is, the motto of
pragmatism proclaims, what works.”