Re: Religion & Science

Sheldon Klein (sklein@CS.WISC.EDU)
Fri, 16 Aug 1996 12:52:37 -0500

The usual logical positivist rules of the game of science are:

1. If you cannot think of a test that would prove something 'true' or 'false',
it is 'meaningless'.

2. If you can think of test, but cannot carry it out at the present time,
it's status is 'indeterminate'.

3. If you can & do test it, it is either 'true' or 'false', but to no greater
extent than the significance of the test.

(e.g. if one says, "beauty is truth" and " beauty = 1",
"truth = 2", it is 'false' but not in a way that has much

These rules have the potential for characterizing 90% of ANTHRO-L discussion
as 'meaningless'. The Quantitative studies would survive, but not
all sorts of interesting ideas.

This led Anatol Rapoport to write
(1953) Operational Philosophy

in which he accepts 1-3, but is willing to allow social scientists to
play with 'indeterminate' and some 'operationally meaningless' ideas
so long as one recognizes that, eventually, one owes an obligation to
test 3.

Most physicists are still logical positivists.
Hawking is one.
Philosophers such as Penrose, are not.
Chomsky, early in the game, explicitly rejected logical positivism
in favor of the rationalism of Leibniz & Descartes which allows
one to accept a concept as 'true' if it seems 'clear' & 'distinct'
to you-- (includes the notion of innate ideas--
====>yielding the philsophical motivation his position on the
genetic basis for human language).

A postmodern view could be comfortable with logical positivism if one
allowed the tests to be in the context of particular cultures.
i.e. what a Western anthropologist might term 'religion'
might be viewed as operationally demonstrable as 'true'
by the members of some particular non-western culture.

Sheldon Klein