Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Mon Nov 09 2009 - 18:32:30 EST

Hi Dave W.,   You wrote: “One can see why you have an extremely strong aversion to the term "MN", which I consider an unfortunate name as I have written in the past. …I can accept your statement as an attribute of naturalism.  In which case it is an extremely unfortunate attribute and one I do not support but in practise lots of NPS people do.”    Yes, you’ve come pretty close to what I’m saying here about NPS (natural-physical sciences), HSS (human-social sciences), and MN. Let me clarify then and respond to your question to me about MN.   Here’s the key thing, and it shows my stripes as a ‘realist’ (in case you didn’t already know this intuitively!) rather than as a ‘naturalist’: that which is 'real,' but not 'natural' can still be studied by 'scientific' means, e.g. with methods, strategies or approaches, with research programmes, etc. Naturalists are usually the ones who deny this possibility outright, aiming for a privileged monopoly over the word ‘science’ (and thus, by implication, over reality). What they actually mean, however, is *only natural things* when they utter the (almost sacred) word 'science.' In this sense, they are guilty of two ideologies together at the same time; one is called ‘naturalism’ (which is actually distinct from simply being a ‘naturalist’) and the other is ‘scientism.’ But don’t expect anyone here to admit this, at least not publically.   MN actually accepts that it is an ideology *by definition*; it does not even hide that it is an assumption and that it is certainly *not* required in anyone’s definition of ‘doing science.’ Schwarzwald has been addressing this recently with great clarity of thought on this list. But Keith Miller, in contrast, refuses to see *any* other way than MN to ‘do science,’ while at the same time admitting that MN is a philosophy. I suspect this is because he is a ‘natural scientist’ (geology, palaeontology), but I can’t prove this interpretation now. This would indeed be partly understandable on his part (i.e. if *all* natural scientists are necessarily also ‘naturalists,’ but see below). To give some context, reading his introduction to PEC is part of the reason why I am against both MN and TE.   No wonder Keith and Cameron don’t see eye to eye! Look at this statement from Keith’s introduction to PEC:   Keith writes: “Science is a methodology, a limited way of knowing about the natural world.”   No, this is wrong, plain and simple. I side with Cameron; Keith’s view of science is not current with PoS if he really believes this. Science is limited, yes, of course it is and Cameron is not arguing with this and thus is frustrated at why Keith repeats and repeats this obvious statement to him. But science is *not* (ECHO THIS) simply a methodology! This is too simple. Here Keith is missing a larger discourse and I am at a loss of how to convey it to him (e.g. really read more PoS?).   Does simply being a ‘natural scientist’ *necessarily* make one a ‘naturalist’ or *require* that he or she accept the ideology called ‘naturalism’ as the core guideline/strategy/method for ‘doing good science’? I would say ‘No.’ But who that is an NPS here would say otherwise? I’m afraid that a good many people have been led down the primrose path on this one and should instead come back to ‘reality’ with the rest of us.   The problem for advocates of MN (similar to the situation with TE) is that once a philosopher of science (and I am more than an amateur in this field, though not a tenured professional) mentions this word – ‘scientism’ – the naturalists/natural scientists run for cover. No dialogue, no 'revealing' of their thoughts, no *reflexivity,* just silence. And I mean a *real* philosopher of science and not some souped-up historian of science disguised as a ‘philosopher’ (e.g. see naturalists’ great aversion to Feyerabend and their quickness to label contemporary views as ‘post-modern’ or as ‘dangerous’ anyone who would question the ‘classical’ view of science from a contemporary perspective) or some pretend PoS that is hinted at in Faculty/Staff Lounges without actually being confronted. Many people on this list have spoken of the weakness of PoS in America and now Keith says to me that he is ‘up-to-date’ with PoS when I can see
 quite clearly that this is not true. I don’t mean it as an insult because we are *all* here bounded in our knowledges and are best to collaborate with each other and not to pretend that we are experts in a field (or fields) outside of our own. I have never offered Keith Miller advice about geology or palaeontology, and I expect his respect on the topic of PoS, and my specialisation in SoS, not just lip service.   “As I have written before to you I see bioscience as being much more intellectually challenging that say physics or chemistry and HSS as yet another step up in difficulty.” – Dave W.   I am of course glad that you are acknowledging this, Dave. Maybe it means that ASA needs to do more to break into a new under-tapped realm in the Academy? Or maybe that’s just me wishing there were more here who could discuss science, religion/theology, philosophy that includes HSS! : )   The competition for legitimacy (politics of recognition) is not something that a person in your field of work (if I remember correctly, you are a computer programmer) or with your background of knowledge need to fear. But for 'them,' for those in NPS, the very validity of their professions, their livelihoods, their claims to 'authenticity' (another word they shy away from), as for making ‘important’ contributions to society, seems called into question by this fierce word: *scientism*. For many people on this list who are ‘practising’ NPSs, I would guess that this is a highly contentious word, though in my experience they (here) handle it much better than other natural-physical scientists who either have not had much 'practice' in science, religion, philosophy dialogue or who really don't have anywhere else to turn than to their neo-euro-enlightenment (or neo-atheist) view that science is actually 'Science,' something that is meant to 'save us' in
 some as yet unknown way. Indeed, nature is like what Moorad calls it, i.e. Nature, according to such a view. These are sharp words for such folks, indeed!   But I send such words to this list nonetheless because if anyone reading this looks around her or him, they will surely notice the vast number of problems and challenges that exist on our ‘planet’ that cannot be solved by natural-physical sciences (and with this undoubtedly Keith and I agree). But don’t call me a ‘science’-basher! What is required quite obviously is deeper attention to the human-social fields, especially on such topics that relate to values and ethics in ‘science’ and of the power of technology in us and over us. And I personally don't really care if you label HSS fields as 'scientific' or not, in such a case that you properly recognize them and try to deal with them (and don’t just call science ‘something about nature’), because they are in many ways much more important for humanity nowadays than NPSs, in which people here are investing so much of their time and effort in defending.   I am fine with acknowledging that sociology is sometimes ‘scientific’ but not always so. So I would ask that you turn that view back on your own fields with a mirror that asks: what is positivism today, what is scientism, and what is naturalism (and for Moorad and some others, what is objectivity)? Reflect on this and a new view of human uniqueness living in a globally-oriented (not unilateral) network society can emerge…   America is indeed (still) the most scientifically 'developed' nation in the world. There are more ‘scientists’ there than in any other country (cf. D. De Solla Price’s statement about the number of living scientists vs. the number of scientists in history) of the world. What you lack in America, it seems to me, however, is so much humanitarian knowledge (e.g. PoS) that is obscured by this conversation about 'better science' and 'more knowledge' when the more important questions are about which kinds of knowledge we need to solve the problems that we face in our time. And you are absolutely convoluted on the issue of ‘evolution,’ even with TEs elevating the ‘little concept’ to being a totalising ideology. In other words, there needs to me more discussion here at ASA about ‘communication’ and cooperation than about ‘biology’ (so much biology-centrism in the talk of ‘evolution’ here!) and Darwin’s ‘struggle’ motive, a beacon
 for conflictology; more discussion about the eternal (vertical, listen to Murray!) things that really and truly just ‘don’t evolve’ and less discussion about this silly combination (sorry to those sensitive about this) called ‘theistic evolution’ (TE) which seems to suggest that everything evolves, even God!   What such a person as Dennis Venema is allowing for in his ‘total evolution’ approach is that ‘spirit’ is a naturalistic ‘emergent property,’ that the Adam and Eve (‘first’ man and woman) of the biblical tradition, accepted by Jews, Christians *and* Muslims, are mere phantoms, i.e. ‘simply figurative’ (as if he were up-to-date with modern theological philology), that Jesus of ‘perhaps’ Nazareth ‘evolved’ (with no ‘intervention’ or ‘design’) in(to) the womb of his Mother and that the biblical God’s ethics and even our salvation itself are ‘changing with the tide.’ The garden needs to be weeded for such views!   Keith Miller doesn’t mean to promote this. But is it possible that it can be interpreted that he does so without realizing it by his advocacy of two ideologies, one called ‘methodological naturalism’ and the other ‘theistic evolutionism’? The reality is (from a linguistic/communicative perspective) that they are certainly both –isms, mind you…   Gregory   p.s. since I have no access to the book Keith mentions, I would welcome him sending me his article "The misguided attack on methodological naturalism," in case it might influence the utter rout of the idea of MN that is currently happening on this list by several people. ________________________________ From: Dave Wallace <> To: Gregory Arago <> Cc: ASA <> Sent: Fri, November 6, 2009 6:36:59 PM Subject: Re: [asa] on science and meta-science Gregory Arago wrote: > Finally, just now re-reading over my dissertation, which is in the final stages before defence, and the following sentence jumped out at me; I actually 'defined' (shock as it is to me now) the term 'naturalism' as follows: > *"Naturalism is the ideology that preferences NPS above HSS."* > ** > Anyone who would wish to challenge this, I'm open for discussing it (i.e. before defending it in front of a panel of professors in my not-first language)! > Cheers, > Gregory Gregory I assume that NPS means Natural Physical Science and HSS means Human Social Science and that you really mean the above as a definition rather than an attribute of Naturalism. One can see why you have an extremely strong aversion to the term "MN", which I consider an unfortunate name as I have written in the past.  Given your definition of Naturalism then what sense does methodological naturalism have, just as a term.  Methodological Naturalism would then be defined as doing science as if "Naturalism is the ideology that preferences NPS above HSS" were true.  Huh I can accept your statement as an attribute of naturalism.  In which case it is an extremely unfortunate attribute and one I do not support but in practise lots of NPS people do.  As I have written before to you I see bioscience as being much more intellectually challanging that say physics or chemistry and HSS as yet another step up in difficulty.    It seems to me that you need to consider two thoughts: 1)You have deplored the absence of HSS scientists on this list.  To me that reflects the individuals interests and abilities, NOT a reflection on the importance of HSS.  Are there in fact more Christian in NPS than in HSS?  I suspect so.  In all of the churches we have attended I have only known one Christian phd in the HSS field, a physiologist but many phds in the NPS areas.  Just remembered a long time ago I knew a phd archeologist at our church in Ottawa, thus if archology is part of HSS then I have known two.  (He knew Farley Mowat and thought him a good SF writer.) 2)My opinion, at least for HSS sciences like psychology, sociology and economics is that they are not as mature a science as say physics or physical chemistry is.  And given how intellectually intractable I see HSS, I doubt that any discrepancies in funding and related academic opportunities in the HSS area, totally reflect relative importance but rather expected payoff in the short term.  Short term thinking is something that I assume HSS studies as it is a human characteristic and not part of NPS except wrt animals which you have defined as not being part of HSS just by the name. Best wishes on your defense Dave W To unsubscribe, send a message to with "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message. __________________________________________________________________ Looking for the perfect gift? Give the gift of Flickr!

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Received on Mon Nov 9 18:33:29 2009

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