Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Wed Nov 04 2009 - 04:22:32 EST

Hi Keith,   If you'll forgive what's going to sound like the voice of an ‘outsider,’ it is aiming for clarity, which I think your message obscures.   First, can I ask if this is the ‘Understanding Science’ page, from UCC, which you think is ‘quite good’?   Personally, I think it is bad and quite representative of something put out by those who do not understand and have never studied Philosophy of Science (PoS). Perhaps it only sounds good to you because the voice of the ‘editor’ on this page has studied in similar fields to you, i.e. has a similar approach to ‘what science is and isn’t’? Let me assure you, Keith, this is amateur at best in terms of its PoS. Now I’ll explain why.   1) It promotes ‘scientism’ right at the start by citing Medewar: science is (start the trumpets blaring) “incomparably the most successful enterprise human beings have ever engaged upon.” Yeah, right! And then it cites Michael Shermer as an authority on the power of ‘scientific method’. Yeah, of course! Even the title of the article is "The Power of Science."   2) It talks about ‘THE scientific method.’ But *anyone* who has read Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend, i.e. the Big Four in 20th century PoS, only one of who was American, would not use such language. Cameron just raised this issue in a recent post, noting that such an approach to science as saying it is about ‘the scientific method’ is wrongheaded.    3) Regarding ‘nature,’ Reville again perpetuates the myth that science can *only* study ‘nature.’ Wrong again. ‘Science’ can be applied to non-natural things, as I’ve discussed many times on this list. Also, when he speaks about religion, he says “God by definition is supernatural and cannot, in principle, be investigated by science which deals exclusively with the natural world.” In my view, God is much more than just an ‘extension of nature’ – by which I mean ‘supernatural.’ Isn’t this what is normally meant by the prefix ‘super-' (e.g. superlative, superduper, super size)? Otoh, Christian theology teaches that God is SUPRA-natural; in, beyond and through nature, as well as outside of it, i.e. both immanent and transcendent. Such language as Reville’s, and a whole unphilosophical (and I would also suggest weak theological, though would of course defer to Murray and George on this) tradition that goes along with it
 (e.g. MN), simply talks about God as an ‘extension of nature.’ This reduces to a simple term what is far beyond, greater and more mysterious than that!   4) Wrt your language in your message, I don’t understand why you choose certain phrases. What is NOS? You cite the acronym NOS after writing ‘the nature and methods of science.’ Is this an acronym of your making or do you borrow it from someone?   I find it wrong in two ways, one already mentioned about ‘the method of science’ by myself and Cameron, among others, though you have pluralised 'methods.' But also, and it is probably just my own fetish with clarity, but I consider the phrase ‘THE NATURE OF’ to be one of the emptiest phrases in the English language! I’ve said it here before, but ask you to think about it – what does it add to the meaning of a word, by prefacing it with 'the nature of'? First, it privileges ‘nature,’ which imbalances the playing field in the Academy. And one could just as easily write ‘THE CHARACTER OF’ and get the same effect (i.e. communicative understanding). Or one could just leave both phrases out and speak about ‘science’ and ‘nature’ and ‘method’ on their own. I consider the phrase ‘ the nature of’ to be one of the pillars of ‘naturalism’ because it sticks a view in our heads that ‘nature’ is all there is, even if that
 is unintentional.   Yes, for folks who doubt my HSS perspective on this, of course people speak of ‘the nature of God.’ But since the Christian God is a ‘personal’ God, speaking of ‘the character of God’ serves the meaning as well.   5) Aside from those criticisms, I agree with the thrust of your message, Keith, and of course with you promote teaching more HoS, and much more PoS.   In Russia the field called ‘Science Studies’ (SS) originated at the beginning of the 20th century. It was quite developed, and included history, philosophy, politics, sociology, economics, semiotics…of science, each with their own contribution. Of course, during the Soviet period SS became apologetic to Marxism and Leninism, and then Stalinism (e.g. Lysenko). Nevertheless, this broad approach to what science is, who does it, where is it done, how has it developed and grown, what is its purpose, who pays for it, how is it planned and executed, what does it mean to people, etc. has left Russia today far ahead in terms of PoS than is America (and my home and native land too!). This is also reflected in the fact that all PhD candidates in Russia today must take a course and pass an exam both in HPS generally and in the HPS of their particular field of study. This is a great example of actualising a theory about how to teach more PoS and HoS imo, and
 should be duplicated elsewhere around the world, which is what Cameron has also suggested, more specifically wrt credits and electives in this thread.   Yours sincerely, Gregory   N.B. Please don’t take this message (especially the part about the ex-Soviets) as condescension, but rather as sharing of information about another country. Russia and America have many more things in common now than before, during the Cold War era. And the Orthodox Church is indeed growing quite amazingly nowadays, despite how M. Roberts would grumble about it. ________________________________ From: Keith Miller <> To: Sent: Wed, November 4, 2009 7:02:15 AM Subject: Re: [asa] on science and meta-science Murray wrote: Actually, reflecting upon this situation one might suggest that the problem with science teaching is precisely that the metaphysical interpretation is *implicit* rather than *explicit* - but teaching science *as though* it were metaphysically neutral, students are given the perception that there are not metaphysical commitments - which probably makes it all the easier to foist upon them the metaphysical interpretation(s?) implicit in the science. And wouldn't this issue: the implicit advancement of an unarticulated materialistic metaphysic through the teaching of science be precisely the objection which theists have to the practice of science education in the US? > One thing that much science education research has shown is that the nature and methods of science (NOS), which necessarily involves metaphysics and philosophy, are left implicit in most teaching.  Students are left to pick up the NOS by osmosis.  If it is taught explicitly, it is often taught badly and simplistically.  Few teachers even at the university level, let alone at the secondary level, have been equipped to teach the nature and philosophy of science.  Many are ignorant of it.  My personal recommendation is to include more history of science in the science class.  Giving the historical context of science helps to provide some of the larger context in which science occurs, and communicates in a practical manner something of the nature of science. There is also a new website that on the NOS which is quite good.  You can find it by searching "Understanding Science." Keith __________________________________________________________________ Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now

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Received on Wed Nov 4 04:23:24 2009

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