Re: [asa] The ASA and the Soft Sciences

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Sat Jan 03 2009 - 16:06:30 EST

Hello Preston, David O. and others in this thread,
One of the issues that distinguishes human-social sciences from natural-physical sciences is the importance of a national context in which theories are posited, tested or applied in comparison with the supposed 'universality' of nature (or Nature).
For example, when Rich writes about the 'self-marginalization of the church' it is quite obviously a local context and not a global one in which he is speaking. 'The church,' which is far, far more 'unified' under Orthodoxy where I live, is not suffering from self-marginalization at all; quite the opposite. The term 'clericalization' is being passed around in caution that the Orthodox church is becoming 'too central' to Russian society today. In other words, the vastly decentralized and highly diversified 'protestant churches' in America offer their own unique national circumstances, which are far from universal around the world. Michael Roberts may contend that things in England are much the same way as they are in America, yet the issue of an Established, State Church presents an obviously distinct situation between the U.K. and America.
David O. wrote the following, which received some criticism from others: "Maybe some of our brothers and sisters from parts of the world that aren't so influenced by rationalism will some day offer some solutions that *we*will need to integrate."

As a person living east of western Europe and outside of both the 'Enlightenment' and 'neo-Enlightenment' tendencies to uplift 'rationality,' which has at times turned into 'rationalism,' I surely agree with David's observation. In fact, this is one of the things that draws me outside of the 'western' sphere of influence; to discover those perspectives that offer solutions the 'west' would benefit to integrate. For anyone interested, Sorokin's "The Crisis of our Age" is a decent place to start. Though it was written in 1941, there are several, even many, prophetic insights that apply to the 'situation' today. Sorokin grew up in a more mystical tradition of Christianity than most 'rationalistic westerners' are challenged to identify with (though they cannot deny that it nevertheless exists). After moving to America, his sociological views adopted the quantitative, empirical style of western academia in general, yet he never gave up his Orthodox roots and
 his philosophy is an integrative one.
Personally, I try to avoid comments like the following, because they are dismissively centrist: "If this be 'colonialism', tough!" One must be sensitive to the generations and peoples who were colonised and who deserve the same dignity as human persons as 'we' do (e.g. I've been speaking with a couple of Indians lately - most interesting to hear views from the formerly colonised!). One must try hard not to elevate their own civilisation as 'the best model,' even scientifically speaking, for others to follow; there is a danger of evolution-IST thinking, i.e. the belief that one's civilisation or culture is 'more evolved,' or 'higher' than others'. In short, the 'progressivist' model of evolutionism in cultural anthropology lead to neo-evolutionary thought to reject civilisational discrimination or condescension.
Thus, as a human-social scholar, I am especially sensitive to the threat of evolution outside of the natural-physical sciences. Maybe in America there is much ignorance and stubbornness wrt 'evolution' about which I have little personal experience other than on-line conversations. There are extra-American discourses about 'the threat of evolution,' however, that are certainly not 'ignorant' or 'subborn' yet which have much to contribute to those Americans who are not privy to the discussions. Since this thread is about non-natural sciences, perhaps it is within conceivability for those reading that 'anti-evolution' in psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology or culturology is indeed a healthy Christian activity, and not just reactionary or 'western, evangelical protestant' (in the negative sense). I'll leave it to you folks to pull evolution back into natural-physical sciences. I am in full agreement with David O. that there is no crisis to the
 'Church universal' caused by evolution.

David O. also wrote:
"One can simply have a "Christian perspective" on neo-classical economics, but one can also have a broader, comprehensive, Christian view of commerce, trade, and justice."

No time to speak about this now, but David and I are reading from the same hymn sheet on this one. Those who would call economics 'amoral' are denying the possibility of integration, rather focussing on disintegration, fragmentation and diversity, rather than on integration, wholism and unity. Philosophy and theology (or religious studies) inevitably come into play in the human-social sciences because we are reflexive beings; that is a condition of our humanity. With morality, economics turns into anarchy and 'crisis' becomes a symbol of the age.
Back to the snow...

--- On Sat, 1/3/09, Preston Garrison <> wrote:

From: Preston Garrison <>
Subject: [asa] The ASA and the Soft Sciences (ASA focus for the
To: "ASA list" <>
Received: Saturday, January 3, 2009, 8:49 AM

David wrote:

> 1 -- yes, there are a variety of religious / Christian distinctives on
economics. There is an enormous body of Catholic social teaching on economic
justice; there's another strand of vigorous social critique running from the
early anabaptists to Bonheoffer to MLK to Yoder to Hauerwas; there is the
neo-Calvinist tradition which largely undergirds many current evangelical
approaches; and so on. If you don't care about this from a theological /
spiritual perspective before it hits your 401K directly, then your theology and
spirituality probably need some work.
> 2 -- I'm so tired of hearing that the Church is in crisis because of
evolution. The Church of Jesus Christ in many ways has never been more robust
in all the history of Christianity. The gospel is exploding in Asia, Africa and
South America; the average Christian has never been more educated and literate
(at least in North America); there is wealth, aid, and support being transferred
to needy people in the name of Jesus in greater volume than ever; and so on.
Crisis-talk is myopic and is usually mediated by our own personal sense of
> The science of evolution is presenting a painful challenge to one small
segment of the Church at present -- educated Western evangelicals. This is an
important segment of the Church, arguably, because it is so wealthy and
influential. And it is important to those of us who live and minister in
well-educated Western contexts. But it's hardly a "crisis" in the
Church universal.

~~Preston:This is true right now, but the whole world is becoming more highly educated,
particularly in places like China and India that are well into the development
of a modern economy that can afford more education. That means that the
intellectual problems that American evangelicals are facing today about
evolution, the relationship of descriptive and theoretical economics to
prescriptive economics (Biblical teaching, historical Catholic teaching and
other moral voices on economics), environmental issues etc. are quickly going to
be facing evangelicals all over the world.

As on many other things, they will look to the U.S. because we are both highly
educated and have a large evangelical population. It looks like to me that the
ASA has a large role to play, because we have a number of people (some of them
participate on this list) who have their lives centered on Christ and who are
very well informed in multiple areas including the history of Christianity,
theology and more than one area of science.

There do seem to be areas of science (areas that are only "soft"
[meaning not as mature as say physics or chemistry] because their subject matter
IS so complex) where the ASA is weak. I suggested that our leaders should look
at alliances with evangelical groups in these other areas because some of these
big issues obviously involve more than one science. A joint meeting that
included sessions on environmental issues with evangelical climate scientists
and economists would be fascinating and very useful, after you got past the
initial shouting that usually goes on between people speaking different
languages. I think simple minded biochemists like me would probably go away
thankful that we deal with things as simple and experimentally tractable as mere
enzymes and cells, but the long term results for the church would be good. We
should pay some attention to our Catholic brothers and sisters, too. They have
been doing this kind of thing for a very long time.

Preston G.

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Received on Sat Jan 3 16:06:53 2009

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