[asa] MN in Natural Sciences and Non-Natural Agents

From: Gregory Arago <gregoryarago@yahoo.ca>
Date: Sun May 31 2009 - 08:24:21 EDT

Is there such thing as a <knowledge of nature> that is not <scientific>? If so, what is it called? If one defines <science> as <the study of or a type of knowledge of nature>, then limiting oneself to <using natural methods> (as David Campbell wrote) or to <methods or strategies of studying nature> seems to make sense.
 
On the other hand, if one defines <science> as <the study of or a type of knowledge of reality>, then there is no need to <limit science> to being about <nature only>.
 
Does this clear up where I,m coming from and allow folks like Keith Miller room to gracefully move forward with their aims to minimise the <warfare model of science and religion>, while at the same time recognising that MN can *only* be about <natural sciences> (the original meaning by de Vries in 1983) and *not* about <all sciences>?
 
This was the real problem I was having with the way Keith, and several others on this list, express themselves. The problem is one of reducing one,s definition of <science> to <nature only>, when it seems quite obvious that <scientific methods> can be applied to <non-natural things> too. When Keith raised the term <non-natural agents> as being apparently equivalent with <supernatural agents> I took offence at this. And I think it rightfully so, as a non-natural scientist.
 
Why? Because saying <MN = science> ignores, at best, or marginalises at worst, the human-social sciences, which are categorically *not* the same as natural-physical sciences, though some of the methodologies and investigative strategies overlap. In other words, when Keith spoke of <non-natural agents> he was encroaching on the human-social sciences, even without perhaps meaning to do so. But am I sure that I,ve read his words carefully and interpreted them responsibly in stating this?
 
Keith wrote: <Non-natural agents or entities are those that are immaterial (not matter or energy). As such, science has no way of investigating HOW such agents interact with the material world.>
 
People speak of <culture>, <politics>, <nations>, <economies>, <societies>, etc. as examples of <non-natural agents> regularly in the human-social sciences. Are these things <immaterial>? Of course not! And it is not just the individuals themselves (ourselves) that are deemed <non-natural>, but the institutions, groups, organisations, associations, etc. which human beings form. Thus, it makes little sense in human-social sciences to say something like the following: <Due to the conditions on the Korean Peninsula and of the frozen 6-party talks, it is <natural> that the North Korean military is conducting tests of its missiles and nuclear weapons capacities.> One could just as easily say that their behaviour is <unnatural> and make the opposite argument.
 
Speaking in such a way is just applying a naturalistic framework (via choice of grammar, transfer of concepts) to the study of human individuals and societies (which I am of course not denying that some people do). Indeed, Randy Isaac, the Executive Director of ASA just used such language in another thread - <natural...includes all human actions, choices, emotions, etc>! One doesn,t, however, *need* to use naturalistic language when operating in human-social sciences. This supports the statement that Schwarzwald made, <I don't think science must be naturalistic.> (Please excuse, that I don,t seem to have answered to that post of yours, Schwarzwald.) It seems to me, however, that Schwarzwald was suggesting that not even <natural sciences> *must* be naturalistic, which is a bit of a different statement in terms of categories than my position. He,ll likely wish to correct me if that is not what he meant.
 
In other words, Keith,s approach to <MN = doing science responsibly>, which he uses (with his own choice of vocabularies) in his attempts to defuse the warfare model, actually ignites another conflict (or perhaps more softly said <inevitable opposition>) between the natural-physical sciences and the human-social sciences. And in my opinion, this move is a grave mistake because it would separate (even <alienate> seems suitable here) natural-physical sciences from ethics and social values. Perhaps it is not worthwhile for ASA to speak up on this. Science is, nevertheless, not done in a vacuum and neither is religion.
 
Due to this perspective, I do think that the view that <MN = all science> must be overcome (a softer word for <defeated>, in response to the objection made by Ted) in favour of clarity. Thus, I leave the door open for Keith Miller and others to consider this and perhaps to massage their vocabularies toward a more holistic and inclusive view of the contemporary academy. It doesn,t seem too much to ask for Keith to openly recognise the point I,ve been making in saying this, when he has time to do so.
 
Gregory __________________________________________________________________ Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now http://ca.toolbar.yahoo.com.

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Received on Sun May 31 08:24:39 2009

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