Science and Its Critics Report

Jack Haas (
Tue, 4 Mar 1997 15:01:49 -0500 (EST)

dialogue between the "two cultures" (of C. P. Snow).

The meeting was organized by an interdisciplinary group of faculty at the
University of Kansas, Lawrence for February 28-March 2, 1997. Close to
100 people participated included an ASA member from the chemistry department.

The announcement noted that the science wars between scientists, their
defenders and their critics had generated much heat but little light.The
meeting was intended to explore some of the issues in a non-confrontal,
interdisciplinary atmosphere.

The meeting started with a talk by NYU physicist Alan Sokal who received
instant fame for his parady of post-modern nonsense in the trendy
journal 'Social Text.' He said he had spent half of his day for three months
preparing the piece. It included massive amounts of quotations from the big
shots of deconstruction fame. His critique was directed at sloppy work by
those in the humanities and science studies people, not at their right to
take pot-shots at scientists who overstate their case. He was most on target
when he debunked the 'social construction of science' stance of many
sociologists of science. (The social construction question is important for
ASA.) I feel that Sokal's critic of postmodern anti-realism is largely valid
philosophically yet he was unable to convert the sociologists.

After this shot from the scientists the feminist-multicultural types
had their turn. Is science mainly a white male tool? Would science by
women be different? What would a multicultural science look like? Answers
to these questions were hardly defininitive. A woman in physics found
no gender difference in science. A native-americian ecologist found
ethnic differences.

The next featured speaker, Steve Fuller, University of Durhan (UK),
Sociology and Social Policy;gave a paper "If Scientific Progress is a Myth,
Then are any other grand narratives of science possible." His point was that
there are other ways of knowing than what we have be describing as
methodological naturalism. He was not aware of the theistic
science/irreducible complexity movement. His point was that science was not
all there is.

There was a long session on the failure of much science education with
'creation science' the usual example. Journalists were taken to task for
inaccuracy and oversimplification. On Sunday morning (of course) I gave a
short talk on "Conservative Christianity's Critique of Science" indicating
displeasure at the 'science is all mentality attitude of some.' I
emphasized the diversity in beliefs of conservative Christians, the stark
differences in views of the people on this list and many in the pews of the
local church. I also noted the paratiopation of Christians in the development
of science in the modern period. I reported the concerns of some Christian over
New Age and other 'religious' notes in the environmental movement.

I also commented on the critique of methodological naturalism that some
have mounted in our circles. Philip Johnson has not yet debated Wil Provine
at U Kansas so the issues he presents had not been raised. The questions were
entirely off the wall and reminded me once again how ineffective we are in
educating people about basic science. There were a few Christians in the
audience who thanked me for coming. The post-modern mood now allows
Christians in the gate. The question is, how can we best represent our
concerns. All of us should take the plunge if the opportunity arises!

Jack Haas