Sociology of Science

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Sat Dec 31 2005 - 05:00:12 EST

  If you’ll forgive the switch to reflexivity, I should say that something is becoming clearer for me after the ID trial in Dover, Pa. It is about the interdisciplinary character of the discussion and the need for a coherent sociological approach to help interpret the societal effects and causes of intelligent design and evolutionary theories. I note this not to take a teaching or authoritative tone to natural scientists, but merely to express a moment in the process of my own self-recognition of academic diversity.
  Sociology may not be in a ‘scientific’ position the same way as ‘natural’ science is; it may use alternative methods in a scholarly manner, but not depend on biology or chemistry or physics the same way as other sciences do. That should not detract from its communicative value related to topics of origins, meaning, human purpose and teleology. George’s clarification that he was not indeed trying to pick on sociology (or perhaps ‘social physics’) is therefore a blessing in uncovered disguise.
  Ted Davis recently wrote: “[T]he sociology of science is a part of the scientific process itself. Ideas really do need to get political support within a scientific community, if they will have a chance to play out.” (28-12-05)
  If ‘sociology of science’ is (a) part of the scientific process, then I and other sociologists have a lot of work to do to explain and demonstrate just how it is legitimate and what part it must play. This is a daunting task and seemingly a call from an ASA leader to improve ASA’s dialogue with sociology and other social sciences, which some natural scientists have likely long been waiting to hear. Hopefully members of this list may invite social scientists they know to participate in the discussions especially given the role sociology of science may play in topics currently being raised.
  A philosophical idea may ‘have a chance to play out’ only if people think about it, that is, if they philosophize (cf. “Philosophy: Who Needs It,” AR, 1982). Otoh, everybody (with citizenship) is part of a polity, a society, a family or group of individuals who cohabitate or coexist with sovereignty. It may be that, whether hierarchy-taught natural scientists like it or not, sociology does therefore have a more universal meaning for people than any natural science could ever have, because all human beings live in societies.
  Not everyone cares about how genes mutate or what components make up a certain element, constellation or physical aspect of nature, though this does not make the sciences which explore these things less important or effective. But people do care that others feel alienated from their families, their neighbours or that they are oppressed or disenfranchised or discriminated against by the wills or wants of others. All people are affected by the inequalities that plague nations, regions and communities and about the groups and individuals who pride themselves in equality and fairness, or who perpetuate crimes and spread terror.
  Social theory, above and beyond what ID theorists have been claiming about ID as ‘the bridge between science and theology’ and as an idea which has ‘implications for all humane studies’ (Behe), actually addresses humanitarian questions that run deeper than anything (yet) in ID theory. A great problem is that many sociologists, anthropologists, and now psychologists, have been pushing dispiriting perspectives which they assume Darwin’s evolutionary paradigm somehow justifies. As a (practising) sociologist, let me confirm with you at ASA: Darwinian evolution does not justify dispiriting notions of humanity. It should not. It must not.
  “The only way a reference to any deity in a scientific study can be other than religious is in the description by a sociologist or anthropologist of the beliefs of a group. ‘x believes that...’ is noncommittal on the part of the describer… When philosophers or theologians speak of the deity, they are not doing science.” – Dave F. Siemens (29-12-05)
  Dave, this challenges my sensitivities deeply! Can a sociologist be value-free about the meaning and purpose of religion and/or theology in their life or in the groups they frequent? Can they report about it and study it without committing them-self to a singular, partial position? Perhaps we need to accept that the l-i-n-e-s between science, philosophy and theology are not really so black and white after all? A scientist speaking about theology, a philosopher verging on scientific grounds, a theologian expressing philosophical views; these things happens on a seemingly daily basis, even just at the discussion list of the ASA. This is an encouraging thought!
  Returning to SoS, we may recall that A. Einstein didn’t need political support for general and/or special relativity, since scientists in his field of study realized what his contribution inevitably would do once it was read and understood. ID theories have met with nothing like the scientific success of Heisenberg’s, Planck’s or Faraday’s contributions. This is true especially given that the ideas first distributed by the 'father of modern ID,' Phillip Johnson, a lawyer, were meant to contradict a natural scientist. Instead of saying the science is wrong, it is the ideologies of scientism, naturalism, materialism and secularism that should eventually be on the chopping block; at least they can be contextualized and contained - this was/is part of Johnson's message. The politics alone doesn't solve the science.
  What we are all really waiting for, it seems, is an alternative to evolutionary theory that does not threaten the consensus achieved by (natural) scientists about the scientific method itself. Challenging ‘scientific naturalism’ or ‘methodological naturalism’ is something entirely different than arguing that secularism is causing damage to the spiritual beliefs of people in contemporary societies. The new Pope in Rome is doing something to humble the views of those who claim absolutism in the name of scientific knowledge or that human beings are merely a chance happening in a meaningless, indifferent universe. Hopefully, here at ASA, scientists, theologians and scholars can help to convey this knowledge to a public that polemicizes the Evolution or Creation or ID motives to a greater degree than anywhere else in the world. It would seem to be a way to spread peace instead of conflict about origins, processes and directions of our lives.
  With warm regards,
  G. Arago

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Received on Sat Dec 31 05:01:24 2005

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