Cultural relativism is one of the great myths of modern Western culture, but it’s far from being a modern truth.
Its roots go back to the 16th century, when the philosopher-king Charles Fourier used it to defend his views on the role of the arts in society.
He used it not only to argue that culture is superior to nature but also to religion.
In a speech at the Paris Salon in 1684, Fourier claimed that religion was “the only art which cannot be found in Nature, in the human body, in human souls, in our souls”.
In other words, it’s “the art of life”.
The same goes for science, which is “the science of truth”, Fourier argued.
Fourier was a champion of “scientific culture”, and the idea of science as the domain of the church has long been part of the popular vocabulary of the Enlightenment.
Nowadays, Fouriers own beliefs have been adopted by those who reject religion, such as the British philosopher Jonathan Haidt, who argues that scientific knowledge is nothing more than “an appeal to authority”.
But Fourier’s notion of science was nothing new.
In 1659, in a book entitled La religionniste, he wrote: “To make any attempt to give any knowledge whatsoever to the human mind, is to deny it the highest power.”
That view was echoed by his contemporary the mathematician Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who argued that science was merely a form of “religious dogma” that had been invented to serve the needs of the “aristocratic state”.
It was Fourier, not Rousseau or the other French philosophers, who first coined the term “scientific relativism”.
What makes the term ‘cultural relativism’ different from Fourierism is that it’s not based on religious dogma.
Its proponents are often sceptical of religion and reject any attempts to redefine what science is.
But its origins can be traced back to an 18th century Englishman, William Harvey, who had a theory of human nature.
He believed that the human brain was shaped by a complex and “unseen” genetic code.
As a result, there was a constant tug-of-war between the human will and the nature of the universe.
As Harvey put it in his 1786 work The Origin of Man, the human species had a “soul” which “cannot be understood except by the understanding of a divine origin”.
But he believed that God, as we know him, created this soul and its parts.
He claimed that the universe was in fact the “consciousness of the soul” and that human beings, in particular, were the only creatures who were conscious of their soul.
The first attempt to create a definition of science came in 1879, when Charles Darwin published Origin of Species.
He called this “the Darwinian doctrine”.
His definition is that science is “a branch of natural philosophy, which seeks to elucidate the origin of the human race”.
It’s a scientific worldview that is rooted in the Christian faith, and its proponents often argue that the bible is the source of scientific knowledge.
In fact, Darwin himself argued in 1859 that God’s plan for the evolution of life on earth was a “law of nature”.
This idea is supported by a number of religious leaders and is shared by many modern scientists.
But, ironically, the very same idea that underpins the ‘science’ label is at the core of Fourierian relativism.
The ‘scientific culture’ argument holds that there is no such thing as “science” in the sense of being a scientific truth, and that everything we know is only the product of our experience and experience’s subjective bias.
But what if this ‘scientific’ worldview is actually based on the idea that “truth” can be discovered by science?
This idea has been a staple of contemporary cultural relativist arguments.
The idea that science should be “interpreted” by the Church and used to “re-establish faith” has been promoted by many in contemporary culture.
The notion that religion should be taught in schools to be “faith-based” and “relevant” to young minds has been embraced by many religious leaders, as well as by some politicians.
This idea of the scientific worldview as the basis for all “scientific” knowledge has been supported by some prominent religious figures.
But it’s worth asking whether the idea is grounded in truth at all.
What if it’s just a tool to divide us into “believers” and those who “don’t believe”?
Is this the real source of ‘scientific ‘relativism’?
The history of science As early as the 1690s, the French chemist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck argued that a scientific method must be used to establish scientific truth.
He wrote that a “scientific fact” is a “verifiable, certain, indisputable fact” that can be proven to be true.
This meant that “scientific truth” was not