Re: Science and Religion

Matthew S. Tomaso (Tomaso@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU)
Sun, 8 Oct 1995 17:52:10 -0500

Dwight Read and I, in the end, disagree on very little. But here is one
point on which we may never agree.

>If you are scientific then you are committed, when engaging in scientific
>discourse, to privilege hypothesis testing over witnessing and life
>experience when you are communicating to others about what your claims
>when you also expect your claims to be accepted as validated. To my
>mind there is an enormous difference between saying: "I accept the accounts
>made of experiements n years ago, which were subjected to scrutiny,
>challenge and the like at the time, and are experiments which I could
>replicate today if I were so disposed" and saying " the apostles are in
>agreement about the purported facts of Jesus's ministry," with that
>account never subjected to publice scrutiny, chanllenge and the like and
>which is also a non-replicable event.

Since most of social and cultural anthropological and indeed all of
historical data are constructed from witnessing events (ethnography) which
are not replicable in any real sense, this stricture seems to rule out the
possibility of a science of culture as well as any authenticity (in the
scientific sense of the word) for historical information not pertaining to
scientifically conducted experiments. If these were the absolute and real
standards applied by scientists (and I include myself in that category) we'd
have very little acceptible foundations for our ideas and very little with
which to build theory. In fact, we would have very little at all.
Fortunately, this kind of restrictiveness, in my practice, are only ideal
models of how I think I ought to proceed. These are not standards we can
agree on. Dr. Read may disagree, but until I've found a way to replicate
history in any but the most reductive sense, I'll stand by this opinion.
Rather than attempting some sort of experiment, I rely on a great deal of
induction and deductive logic (using probabilities), statistics and
converging lines of evidence to construct my representations. I consider
this practice to be scientific, but not really replicable except at the
methodological and the most general level. In archaeology, for instance,
you can get the same results from an attribute analysis over and over again,
but that replication does not directly measure the validity of the
interpretations and preconceived notions you bring to the final analysis.
For all of that, you need to consult the (non-replicable) ethnographic
record or, at least, history. Perhaps Dwight and I are not really so
different on this account.

Regarding evolution and structure. Read has a very good point, and I have
to concede that I also tend to treat structure and evolution as if they are
things in the real world - although I know, philosophically, that they are
little more than very powerful explanatory devices <especially structure -
since it not only explains something about how we think, but it explains its
own necessity!>- mainly because they do seem to explain an awful lot (re:
can be and have been indirectly tested). nevertheless, there will always be
an article of faith in this because we can not really observe either process
(evolution or structuring) without the interpretive filters that tell us
that what we are seeing is evolution and/or structuring.

As always, Dwight, thanks for the interesting and enlightening challenges.

Matt Tomaso.
Anthropology. University of Texas at Austin.
Phone/Fax 512-453-6256