SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND SOCIAL THEORY
Revised version for Theory and Science .
* Sociology-Atkinson, York University, 4700 Keele Street, North York, Ontario, M3J 1P3. Phone (416) 736-2100 x20469, Fax (416)350-3876, E-mail “firstname.lastname@example.org”. Support for this project was received through Atkinson College Research Grants, York University Specific Grants and my visiting appointments at the Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University, Department of Sociology, Princeton University. Thanks for helpful comments from three anonymous reviewers.
Critiques of science in social theory are often based on a selective and dated view. In the extreme this has led to creation of the creation of an intellectual “other” that is based on what science is not rather than it is. Greater homogeneity is perceived in this other than actually exists. Basing rejections of science on what social scientists think it is, is an ultimately futile pursuit. This argument appears by looking at philosophy of science focused on the transition from Medieval to Enlightenment times in Europe. In so doing it becomes apparent that science has been a multiplex of epistemological stances, including constructivist and relational philosophies, as far back as classical times. Further, science has increased this diversity and the prominence of constructivist and relational views in the 20 th century. This questions the utility of selective views of science. In so doing it points out that recent critiques of science may be targeting an opposition that is more apparent than real.
SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND SOCIAL THEORY
It’s time to take another look at history and notions of science from the standpoint of social theory. Critique of science, anti-science, anti-positivism has expanded substantially since the 1960s and remains as a theme in current social analysis. This can be seen in feminism (Harding, 1986b), post modernism (Jones, 2003) (Lemert, 1997), social policy (Greenhalgh, 2003), philosophy (Latour, 1987; Rorty, 1991), literary theory (Poovey, 1998), critical theory (Karakayali, 2004), and sociology (Gartrell & Gartrell, 2002; Mjoset, 2003). A view of classical models of science and the dynamics of transformation from Medeival to Enlightenment Europe holds the potential to provide a more inclusive view of science than may have been considered to date. Key to this consideration is looking more closely at the social and political context of Classical and Medieval times to explain how and why a particular type of science became popular in Europe.
To this end I propose to move the debate a few centuries earlier to argue that many common understandings of science are undermined by being too selective and insufficiently specific. This may seem contradictory on the surface since I am arguing that critiques are both too narrow and too broad. However, I chose the words deliberately to capture a paradox in stances that attempt to criticize science by taking up just one possible approach while at the same time lumping scientific ideas together that are worth considering separately. This reminds me of the notion of “other” that has come from studies of racialization. Those unlike oneself are seen in narrow terms that are more homogeneous than would be suggested by looking from inside a particular context. These terms tend to emphasize things thought to differentiate the “other” from the definer. This argument is supported by an author who points out problems with portrayals of scientific homogeneity (Pedynowski, 2003). Or, other work that points out problems with the way debates about use of natural science methods in sociology tend to focus on a “subjectivist critique” (Bourdieu, Chamboredon, & Passeron, 1991) .
Key to a more inclusive view of science is looking at how elements of what is commonly understood to be science such as logic, nomotheism, and positivism arose in reaction to religious politics. This makes it possible to examine the historicism of ideas such as rationality and enlightenment (Brunkhorst, 2000). In so doing it is possible to see that many current views of science are unnecessarily narrow. Critiques that focus on the European Enlightenment often assume that science is directly equivalent to logical nomothetic positivism. Examining each of these three ideas in turn suggests an argument that they arose as a reaction, or antidote, to the religious domination in a particular social historical context. In so doing it is possible to see that the ideas are less polarizing that is often assumed. Indeed, they may be used by the critics of science themselves.
THREE EPISTEMOLOGICAL STANCES: NOMOTHETIC LOGICAL POSITIVISM
Nomotheism, logic, and positivism, are often lumped together into a view of science, empiricism, or positivism. An example of this is seen in a recent article that assesses the state of use of positivism in American and British Sociology. Here the authors use a definition of positivism that comes from theory as “general law-like statements relating abstract concepts; nominal and operational definitions of terms; formal language such as logic or mathematics used to express laws; derivation of hypotheses; relations among variables; and statistical analysis” and relies on “observation” (Gartrell et al., 2002: p.640, p.644). This reflects how the idea may be used in current practice as an amalgam of nomotheism, logic, and positivism.
However, the three elements of nomotheism, logic, and positivism can be usefully separated. To this end, I elaborate each element below Individual understanding in place, it is possible to consider why this particular set of epistemological stances emerged as a triumvirate in a particular social historical context, the European Enlightenment. Each of these stances fit the prevailing beliefs and practices in a place and time where religion, predominantly Christian/Catholic, dominated politics and many aspects of everyday life.
Nomotheism is an element of epistemology which looks for laws that can be used to explain specific occurrences of observed phenomena. Examples of such laws that have been developed within this epistemology are: gravity, the rate at which objects fall to earth, the point at which water freezes or boils, and people become more liberal in their political attitudes as their levels of education increase. A notion of nomotheism, laws governing the universe, universal law seems a short step from a notion of one god permeating all aspects of the universe. God lives within everyone. Stick a pin in a balloon and it will burst. A notion of cause and effect cast in terms of laws or properties that tapped universal principles was fitting in times that were dominated by a notion of a single omniscient, all powerful God and this God’s universe.
It may be that simple cause and effect and relationships have been sought throughout time. Indeed the appeal of such explanations may be at the heart of what consumers desire from medical intervention (Hanson, 2001); a magic bullet or pill to cure or prevent illness. However, in various times and contexts there may have been competing modes of explanation such as polytheistic religions that encompassed a wider range of metaphysical entities. Germane to the current argument would be the tendency for more complex notions of phenomena such as the relational theories of Pythagoras to be given less attention during the European Enlightenment. I argue that the social times in which theories emerge shape which theories become famous. For example the insights of Chinese medicine, naturopathy, and acupuncture have taken on popularity in North America relatively recently while the ideas that ground them have history going back farther than classical European scientific ideas.
Over time various explorations suggested that universal law had to be qualified and contextualized. Water boils at different temperatures at different altitudes. Medication works differently for different people. Birth control education has different effects in different social groups. Universe has become more of a functional concept to refer to like happenings under like conditions, in context. Search for law or laws is seen more as a way to develop ideas that apply to given conditions, contexts, even if it is the sole instance of such conditions. This makes critiques of science or modernity based on singularity (Lemert, 1997) difficult to accept in the full range of sciences. It also calls into question activities within the practice of sociology such as declaring the death of positivism in sociology as reported in a recent article (Gartrell & Gartrell, 2002). Anti-science stances may be on shaky ground where they take an outsider view of science. They critique the singularity or universalism of science without allowing for the contextual variation in the principle of law. Neither do they see their own reliance on a law like critique as problematic.
Problems with views of science within sociology are implied in Charles Lemert’s examination of how the concept of science has entered into reflexive considerations of the discipline of sociology (1997) . He points out how various critiques of sociology have struggled with whether sociology is, or should be, a science. What is interesting for my argument is the way science, taking the example of natural science, is portrayed by sociologists–as consensus based and progressing (Lemert, 1977: p. 133). This is in sharp contrast to analysis of the natural and physical sciences, such as Lakatos discussing Popper and Kuhn, that chronicles processes that are largely disorganized and seem to be driven by breakdown and competing positions (Lakatos, 1976). This adds to my suggestions that critiques of science in social theory have created a portrait of science from the outside that may not reflect how science is practised by its insiders.
Logic and rationality are often criticized as arguments for the possibility of, or a need for, value free science. Those who argue for subjectivity and subjectivities reject this notion as the imposition of a dominant ideology in the guise of science. Notable in this vein are feminist critiques of science. To wit, Harding focuses on the ways “scientific rationality has permeated not only the modes of thinking and acting of our public institutions but even the ways we think about the most intimate details of our private lives” (Harding, 1986b : p.16 ).
Here it is important to remember that in historical context, logic/rationality was offered as an alternative to the reliance on deity to explain cause and effect. It may seen anachronistic today but the transition from Medieval to Enlightenment times in Europe was dominated by modes of inquisition that sought to root out and purge non-believers. This means that in some ways the use of science at the time was a way to get at the “world hidden from the consciousness of science” Harding discusses (Harding, 1986b: p.245).
This stems from the idea that with the beginnings of European Enlightenment the social position of religious explanation was more equivalent to the social position of science in modern times. This is chronicled by recent analysis of the role of scientific explanation in the 1800s (Poovey, 1998).
At the genus of the European Enlightenment, science was a form of radical challenge. It looked to everyday experiences in the form of observations, rather than omniscient principles of deity to explain the world. Thus, religious explanation at that time resembled scientific explanation in modern society. Scientific explanation at that time resembled current critique of science, anti-science. Put another way, the European Enlightenment was, in some ways, the postmodernism of its time.
This suggestion emerges from an argument that the power dimensions in a social historical context may override the content of the ideologies/philosophies. Indeed, if one examines this content, as I do in this article, it becomes apparent that the seeds of radicalism are as marked as the seeds of justifying status quo in European Enlightenment thinking that has come to be identified as science.
Although logic was a means of purging ideology or values, it was intended to purge a particular ideology--religious inquisition. Science relied on what could be reasoned rather that what could be inferred as metaphysical good or evil. Many have questioned the reliance on rationality as a means of supporting a particular political ideology. However, in context it was intended as a way to break the stranglehold religion had on scholarship, law, and various aspects of everyday life. This posited connection between religion and rationality is supported by analysis of the rise of the modern prison in Denmark and elsewhere in the 18 th and 19 th centuries (Smith, 2004). It ties into the idea that while religion may be formally rejected and rationality seen as an antidote or corrective, religious modes of thinking are still implicit in rationality.
Nested in the concept of logic is an element of morality, specifically blame. This derives from the mechanistic notion of linear cause and effect as finite and separable. In a mechanism, parts are separable from wholes and can be considered individually. Then they can be added up or put back together to get the machine. Mechanism or separability is necessary to a notion of blame. It is impossible to point the finger at one thing as causal or to blame without first being able to separate that thing from other things.
Thus, a mechanistic epistemology science can cast blame in the form of cause on one part or parts in deference to the lack of blame or innocence of another part or other parts. This idea was highly amenable to a religious mode that relied on blame. One author points out a similar connection between religion and rationality in the 18 th and 19 th centuries (Smith, 2004). Even though early scientists did not look for religious or deistic cause they still retained a mode of inquiry that searched for cause as a separable phenomena. Because of this, logic can be seen as a means of reaching for cause that implies blame. This notion is paramount in notions of law. Cause and blame are united. Lack of logic, or inability to reason, erases blame.
In Enlightenment Europe positivism was a move to looking at what can be seen rather than inferred as being of God, the Devil, or what others say. I am reminded of a fortune cookie saying “The eyes believe themselves. The ears believe others”. In Enlightenment times, reliance on what could be seen was an alternative to taking religious inference or the accusations of others as proof. This related to things such as a person being “of the devil” or evidences of devilment in occurrences like plague, death, murder, hurricanes, drought or tides.
During the later part of the 20 th century positivism has come to be criticized as an argument against subjectivity. This surfaces in arguments that objectivity is a problematic scholarly concept (Kim, 2004). Seeing positivism as a rejection of subjectivity is, however, valid only in a limited sense. Yes, subjective opinions and religious inferences were discounted during the European Enlightenment. However, as science expanded and grew, new kinds of phenomena required the development of inference and subjectivity. One such expansion was the development of probability theory that augmented simple linear models of causality with models of correlation. This became important in the development of theories of genetics and rapidly expanded when its utility for things like market research and voting prediction was discovered.
In the social sciences there are views of objectivity as a search for inter-subjectivity (Babbie, 1995), consensus on relevant observations, modes of measurement, or cannons of proof. Objectivity is a way for scholars to communicate with one another based on shared symbols. It is necessary to have a common understanding on what a degree is before scholars can see if global warming is more severe on some parts of the planet than others.
Given this, it may be inappropriate or at least counterproductive to cast modes of inquiry that search for consensus as rejections of subjectivity. Even though the practical search for common language among scholars may be called objectivity when it is performed by scientists, it does not resemble a rejection of subjectivity. Neither does it necessarily deny values or ideology. Thus, critique of science or positivism may be somewhat inappropriate given direct recognition of the actual impossibility of objectivity within the practice and philosophy of the natural, medical, and physical sciences and in logical positivist oriented social science.
WHY NOMOTHETIC LOGICAL POSITIVISM?
The birth of science as nomothetic logical positivism arose in the period of transition from Medieval to Enlightenment times in Europe. Why did this particular triumvirate of epistemological stances, rather than a host of alternatives, emerge in this particular place and time? Although logical positivism became prominent, it was not the only theory available for refinement. The Greek classics like Plato and Aristotle were one kind of theory that relied on notions of mechanism and universe. Other classics like Pythagoras (Dell, 1980) that relied on the epistemological alternative of relationships were also available but did not get the same attention.
I argue that this is because the notions of universe and mechanism from Aristotle were more compatible with the monotheistic religion that dominated the social historical context. Although the scientists of the European Enlightenment may have formally rejected religious explanations for the phenomena they studied, they lived in times dominated by religion and many of them were religious figures themselves. They took on modes of doing science that were amenable to familiar styles of thinking and practice even though they rejected the formal content of such practices.
In the transition from Medieval times in Europe religion dominated most aspects of social life. Science of the time, even though formally stated as an antidote to religion, was cast in a mode of inquiry and explanation that resembled religious practice in several ways.
Early scientists were trying to replace metaphysical explanation with observation, positivism. They looked for universal laws rather than deistic explanations–bad sanitation rather than God’s will to explain the death of child. However, even though they rejected deistic explanations they practiced science in a monothetic mode. It was a short step from one God to one universe and universal law. Thus, nomotheism, universalism, became the dominant mode of scientific practice in the Enlightenment and its two derivative elements, logic and positivism, came to represent this particular epistemology of science.
The shift from Medieval times in Europe was a time of questioning of religious domination both politically and in everyday lives. The torturing and killing of non-believers and witches at the hands of religious inquisitions and political bodies was a common occurrence. Books were few and often hidden from popular view. The Greek classics that ultimately provided the intellectual base for nomothetic logical positivism were suppressed, hidden, banned or even destroyed in Europe. However, these ideas were very much alive in the Arab world. When classics like Aristotle and Plato were re-discovered by Europeans they had to be translated from Arabic into Latin before they could be used in Europe (Dampier, 1932).
In the times of the European Enlightenment, the people who had access to education and the leisure to pursue scholarship were predominantly wealthy, and male. Books and schools were few and expensive. Women were less likely than men to be given schooling or access to books than men. For women, the content of this learning was more often of domestic, as opposed to intellectual, content. Even if educated, women’s lives were dominated by childbearing that was typified by many pregnancies, miscarriages, births, still births, maternal death in labour, and infant deaths. Women spent a large portion of their lives pregnant, sick, caring for and grieving dying children and often dying themselves in the course of child bearing. This role for women was reified by religious doctrine and practice.
In total the social context in which a logical positivist science arose was prone to defining and supporting scholars of a particular type. Therefore, even though religion was formally rejected in scholarship, it carried a religious cast. Witness the religious figures Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Blaise Pascal. Newton, while positing a physical universe, still had a conception of God governing the universe (Dampier, 1932, : p. 93,155, 188, 213). Galileo, even though questioning religious dogma, recanted in fear of the fate of his soul (Coyne, Heller, & Zycinski, 1985). This continued to the times of Gregor Mendel the monk who founded the study of genetics with his bean plants. Religious explanation even colours the philosophy of twentieth century physics. Recall Einstein's famous question about how the universe is set up--"Did God Have a Choice?" Current ethnographic analysis suggests that God is a concept that is alive in scientific practice (Pinch, 2000). The influence of religion in education is seen worldwide with many schools and colleges having their origins in religious education and many maintaining daily religious practices.
Mechanistic scientific epistemology was also particularly apt for the beginning, development, and proliferation of industrialization. So the common association of mechanism with nomotheism provided a useful mode of scholarly practice to guide the creation of factories to manufacture goods. More recently the shift in terms of how developed economies are driven by information technology and global trade has suggested the revisiting, promoting, or creation of relational scientific epistemology to ground new practices. Cybernetics, quarks, black holes, holism, ecology, are all derived from relational scientific philosophy and have moved from isolated scholarly jargon into popular language in the last twenty five years.
20th CENTURY ANTI-SCIENCE
All scholarship is selective or reductive in the sense that it is not possible to think about, write on, or look at, everything. All analysis is a subset. A view of science as nomothetic logical positivism is one such subset. There are however, many other views of science. I argue that taking one particular view to represent a multiplex of epistemologies oversimplifies and perhaps misrepresents science. The triumvirate of nomothetic logical positivism prospered because it fit the dominant monotheistic religion of the social historical context of the European Enlightenment. Particular ideas work for particular groups in particular places and times.
The separable notions of nomotheism, logic, and positivism may have been conflated in scholarship about science which surfaced in the second half of the 20 th century. For example you see Karl Popper writing about elements such as “experience by observation” “the problem of induction” and moving from singular to “universal” statements (Popper, 1976: p 89). Or, Quine looks at the way a conception of truth in implicit in conceptions of empiricism (Quine 1976). More recently you see this conflation in an article that investigated the presence of positivism in sociological writing (Gartrell et al., 2002).
My separation of nomotheism logic and positivism argues against the idea that their conflation is necessary. Natural, medical, and physical scientists don’t all adhere to the notion of science in which social scientists often cast them. Some do. But some don’t. The don’ts have been taking on a greater presence in the past 50 years. Philosophy of science in the natural, medical, and physical sciences may be more pluralist than is often allowed. Constructivist science in terms of an epistemology of inquiry, socially conscious self reflexivity, or an education practice has taken on an increasing presence in the physical and natural sciences (Pinch, 2000).
Nomotheistic logical positivism science has been challenged within the natural, physical, and medical sciences. The limitations of mechanism and universalism began to show when scientists confronted new kinds of problems like ecology. Or, they looked at old problems like the physical nature of the universe in new ways. Einstein’s theory of relativity was a recognition of the issue of context. Phenomena could be profitably studied in terms of their relationship to one another, rather than as discrete parts of a mechanism. Biofeedback, holism, cybernetics, and ecology recognize not just the importance of context or wholes but subjectivity, and non-linear causality as well.
Further, there has been recognition within studies of science of the context bound nature of science. Notably Thomas Kuhn pointed out how evidence alone does not drive change in science citing an example where scientists had to “beat nature into line” (Kuhn 1976: p 152). Thus, the belief systems of scientists organize and classify observations. A new theory may be taken seriously even if the data do not fit.
This does not deny that science and social science methods have at various times been dominated by nomothetic logical positivism and derivative quantitative methods or that these practices have abetted discriminatory practices. As such these practices are well deserving of critical attack. Upon looking through my own personal library for books to include in a book on theory of methods, I came upon one of my own undergraduate methods texts written in 1973. The title of the first chapter "Some Men Call it Science" jumped out at me (Forcese & Richer, 1973). This told me two things: how common implicit sexist practices were at that time and how oblivious I was to such practices 25 years ago. It reminded me of how women of my generation may take for granted the great strides made by second wave feminists in making sexist practices explicit and pushing for inclusiveness (Olesen, 1994) .
I can see how quantitative methods became a central focus of criticism. Feminists have criticized this particular application of nomothetic, logical, positivism. For example Sandra Harding writes about “liberal political theory and its empiricist epistemology” (Harding, 1986a: p.646). However, there is nothing inherently discriminatory in the epistemology. I argue that it is the politics that determine the application. To wit, feminists have used nomothetic, logical, positivist epistemology such as census data and surveys to justify and enact feminist political agendas like affirmative action, day care programs, and pay equity. Recent work in the area of gender equality shows a strong presence of socalled “positivist” research like surveys and statistics (Brown, 2000,: Charles, Buchman, Halebsky, Powers, & Smith, 2001; Newsome & Dodoo, 2002; Zipp, Prohsaka, & Bemiller, 2004). A recent article, quoted above as an example of the current meaning of positivism, reported on research suggesting that use of positivisim is sociology is still prevalent, more so in the US than in Britain despite formal resistence or rejection in the discipline (Gartrell et al., 2002).
This suggests that there may be formal rejection of notions of science at the same time that ideas of nomotheism, logic and positivism are in wide use. I think this derives from several factors. Even critics of science are doing their scholarship in a “science like” manner. To wit, there is Eisenstadt’s argument that constructs of modernity are themselves vested in singular notions and stand in contrast to observed development of culturally or context specific modernity. Therefore, it is more appropriate to talk about modernities as a plural (Eisenstadt, 1999). There has been a lack of attention to the religious character of science. Critiques tend to shore up and maintain the positions they oppose, like the two pillars that apply opposing pressure and is so doing hold up a temple. This may be a reflection of the implicit religious character of some scholarly critique. Thesis/antithesis may be a lingering mode of scholarship that has carried into current practice from the times of European Enlightenment.
What Objectivity Isn’t
It often seems lost, or at least not fully considered, that conceptions of objectivity came from a focus on positivism–reliance on observation. In the context of the European Enlightenment this meant looking for evidence or data in what could be seen rather than what was intuited as deistic cause. One example of how this principle went into practice is a shift in thinking about health. By looking at places where Plague prospered and comparing them to places where it was absent or limited, early scientists were able to isolate the factors that led to an epidemic--rats, fleas, and humans living in close proximity. Notions of objectivity arose in the sense of finding commonly agreed upon ways to look at and measure in order to compare pieces of information. Before they could see which area has more sewage there needed to be a consensus on what constituted a useful measure of sewage--pound, square meter, or gallon.
This notion of consensus remains in positivist oriented social science conceptions and is simultaneously a recognition of social construction. Philosophy and study of science is replete with consideration of observation as mediated by social construction, representation, or instrumentation (Bhaskar, 1978; Latour, 1987; Collins, 1998; Myers, 1990; Woolgar & Pawluch, 1985; Law, 1990; Woolgar, 1988). Questions of constructed observation have been readily recognized in the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences. This is seen in the widespread use of double blind randomized clinical trials where neither the researcher nor the subjects know who is getting a test drug and who a placebo. It recognizes that both researcher and subject may have an interest in wanting the drug to work. Such desires may cause people to note or report positive effects of a drug when there is no physical effect, or minimize negative side effects. This is recognized as a way to make sure that only physical effects of a drug are detected. At the same time it recognizes the importance of human processes of belief, imagination, and interpretation that may create actual physical differences. This is often utilized in intervention where elements like visualization and positive mental outlook are part of treatment. It demonstrates the respect medical science has for the power and importance of social construction.
However, this has often been construed as a definition of objectivity as a reach for value free science or a view of reality as separable from human experience and action (Baudrillard, 1988). But this is not how the question is uniformly approached within science. There is instead a long history of reflexive and political views of science (Weiner, 1950) and discussions of representation and the operational meaning of objectivity as consensus (Babbie, 2001) or inter- subjectivity (Babbie, 1995). So to say science, or positivist views of social science, are necessarily objective or a rejection of social construction is at least too narrow, even arguably wrong.
The emergence of science in the European Enlightenment was about religion. I argue that debates about science are still about religion on two fronts – political/ideological, and practical. Political/ideological religion captures the sense of systems of beliefs systems that are sustained by faith. Practice of religion gets at the ways in which modes of action bear the cast of formal religion such as how the search for moral right and wrong enters into the search for dichotomies or oppositions. Scholarly practice today often implicitly bears the cast of religion on both fronts, even where religion is explicitly rejected. Because of this, debates about science are a distraction that prevents scholars from getting to the core of disagreements. Indeed, when one takes an expansive view of the nature of the positions it may be difficult to discern useful differences.
Anti-science critiques may even perpetuate the very notions of science they purport to undermine. The presence of an anti position maintains the position. Shusterman points out how the iconoclast depends on convention (Shusterman, 1999). This can be seen as a form of tribalism (Antonio, 2000). This is religious in its character similar to the theological need for a conception of the Devil to keep the idea of God afloat. This is where the importance of Foucault’s work in establishing the idea of practices of power becomes important (Foucault, 1979). It is worthwhile looking at scholarly practices in terms of their ability to establish the positions of the scholars who use them. Critiques of practices of power or relations of ruling (Smith, 1987) move notions of control, oppression, or dominance into the immediate, everyday, and informal aspects of social life. One author points out how a critical attitude such as that expressed by Foucault reflects Enlightenment style thinking (Schaff, 2002). This suggests the possibility of a critique of critique. It may be worthwhile to look at how the practices of scholars themselves become practices of power.
Attempting to take away the power of science by de-mystifying or pointing out its oppressive nature may move power into the hands of the scholars doing the critique. In a traditional tribal view of power one person or group takes power away and covets it. In scholarship this would translate into oppositions of assumptions, deductions, or observations of competing schools of thought who vie for popularity, grants, students etc. A scholarly practice of diffuse critique that is not formally bound to such traditions creates power by taking upon itself the power to define what constitutes practice, even as it rejects an overarching scholarly practice of definition. Saying that something should not be done is effectively saying what should be done.
In this vein anti-science critiques are can be looked at self reflexively in terms of the way they maintain the religious nature of the original debates about science. This becomes an opposition that maintains the traditional position, like the opposing columns of a tripod that lead to its stability. Current debates can be seen as arguing for religious forms of explanation, stated as ideology. This removes the need for proof or evidence. In so doing it opens the door to political ideological arguments that need no proof or evidence to prosper. This may be a partial explanation for why anti-science arguments have prospered in social science in the past 50 years. They are co-emergent with growing interest in political issues dominated by marginalization/oppressions. Indeed some authors argue that politics have been moved from the social science to the humanities in the past 40 years (Agger & Luke, 2002). I see this as a reflection of critique against sciences, social and otherwise, that has found a comfortable home in the humanities.
Thus, anti-science can be seen as a return to ideological justification whether explicitly stated or not. Contradictions arise when such modes of inquiry try to move back into proof or evidence. This means explanations arise that have ultimate freedom and flexibility. Proof has been formally discounted, a rejected positivist principle. Scholarship is ideological speculation, abstraction, and construction. These practices are ultimately tied to the ideological beliefs of the scholar doing the analysis (Anderson, 2002).
An anti-science argument works best when arguing against something rather than for something. It takes energy from negativity about other things. This makes it difficult to criticize since it is not building a stance of its own. This is where the ability to control scholarship and academic practices arises. It’s the ultimate politic, one that is pure politic with no need to be effective except as a means of justifying itself. This makes it an ideological practice without any formal definition as such.
Thus, the practices of anti-science transcend the classic limitations of traditional assumptive based social theories like conflict, consensus, and constructivism by having no assumptions, inherent nature, characteristics, or derived ideas. They float around and outside as critiques of everything but can’t be pinned down when others try to criticize them.
In this sense it can be seen to parallel the social practice of constructing others as a means of reifying the position of the people who define or critique. Just as with the creation of social difference, this is often based on what things aren’t rather than what they are. When the category of other is looked at from within, the basis for the creation of difference disappears. Once this is done it is possible to look at the process which drives a desire to define other as the topic of interest. I argue that this is the case with anti-science debates. When we look at the origins of debates about science in the transition from Medieval to Enlightenment times, it is difficult to discern any difference between current anti-science debates and the pro-science debates that fueled the emergence of science. Its still about religion while the actual practices of sciences have moved on.
CONCLUSION: AN INCLUSIVE NOTION OF SCIENCE
In the context of current debates about science and anti-science, it is worthwhile to step back and see if the basic premises of these debates hold. I have argued above that the debate was and is about religion–ideological legitimization for scholarship. Specific scientific philosophies all bear elements of ideology. This is recognized within science and positivist oriented social science. It is witnessed in arguments that scientific prestige depends on its fit with political interests ( Moore, 1996). One author suggests that sociology may have had a more confrontational relationship with science than other social science disciplines (Heuveline, 2004). I suspect this may have something to do with the explicitly political character of sociology, a character that has expanded in the last 50 years.
Perhaps is it time to transcend the science/anti-science argument. Once you look expansively and historically at science the basis for argument disappears. Originally a debate about religion, it is currently an implicit debate about the legitimacy of ideology as justification. This creates a space to examine how scholars go about their work and justify their positions.
This type of analysis may have begun. To wit, it surfaces in work that offers a critique of science and offers the alternative of an “antirepresentationalist account” “which does not view knowledge as a matter of getting reality right, but rather as a matter of acquiring habits of action for coping with reality” (Rorty, 1991: p.1). Notable in this idea is that there is a focus on everyday practices combined with reliance on a notion of reality. In so doing, the critique falls in on itself when it relies on a notion of reality. It also opens the door to look at the process of science as a process relevant in itself that should not be overly focused on the content of ideology that is put out formally.
I have argued elsewhere (Hanson, 1999) that the process of fact creation can become the focus of scholarly inquiry. As such the target becomes facticity, how scholars go about trying to establish that an idea is true, real, important, relevant, wise. This is not necessarily tied to notions of one epistemology, theory, philosophy, religion or another. As such it allows an active self reflexive process of scholarship. Germane to the current argument is the possibility for seeing how elements of religiosity enter into scholarship, even in the face of formal rejection of religion.
In so doing it is possible to see that while the surface of arguments about science have changed since European classical times, the core has not. What may be more important is seeing what purpose the argument serves. Who benefits? I propose we openly debate ideologies rather than an assumed homogenous science. This suggests that there may be common ground between recent critiques of science and a more expansive view of science which looks at a greater historical range.
Science can be defined broadly as the refinement of theory. This captures several elements of philosophy of science. We can look at the origin of the word science itself derived from the Latin scientia meaning having knowledge. There are also notions of systematic doubting (Dooley, 1995), organization of facts, “systems of thought” (Crombie, 1959, p.1) or an attitude (Egler, 1970, p.1). All of these ideas flesh out a concept of science that is multiplex, fluid, diverse, and growing. Including a notion of theory, without defining any particular kind of theory, allows us to consider that knowledge is a plural rather than singular. This will allow sociology to keep pace with exciting theoretical advances in physical and natural science disciplines such as cybernetic models of causality that could help sociology past chronic limitations with levels (Sawyer, 2001).