Re: Science and Religion

Sun, 8 Oct 1995 18:53:00 PDT

Tomaso replies:

"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 [replication] seems to
rule out the possibility of a science of culture ....If these were the
absolute and real standards applied by scientists ... we'd
have very little acceptible foundations for our ideas . ...until I've found a
way to replicate history... I'll stand by this opinion. Rater than attempting
some sort of experiment, I rely on a great deal of induction and deductive
logic ... to construct my representations. I consider this practice to be
scientific, but not really replicable except at the methodological and the
most general level. .. 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."

Tomaso nicely brings out the point that at some level, we are dependent upon
non-replicable events. I think the disagreement (if it is disagreement) lies
in my using replication to refer to validation of theory used to account for
the historically particular. Let me give a simple example that I think
highlights some of these issues. Based on a how I have argued that
quantitative analysis should proceed when the goal is to consturct a typology
with cultural salience, I have demonstrated that "triangular" projectile
points from 4Ven39 were made in two forms: narrow and wide (the distinction
between narrow and wide is not immediately obvious to the casual observer,
but is unequivocal). Various analyses on these projectivel points rule out a
number of reasons why there might be two kinds of triangular points; e.g., it
the points are otherwise identical, hence a "functional" difference is not
very likely, the two kinds of points do not appear to have any time
difference in the site; etc. Further, the two kinds occur equally
frequently. All of this is replicable (in the sense Tomaso discusses).
Given that "function", "trade", "time" etc. do not seem to be the basis for
the existence of two types, I have suggested that the two types may reflect a
cultural difference e.g., made by two different social groups as might occur
with a moiety form of social organization (data on a moiety form of social
organization for the Chumash is equivocal, though other groups such as the
Cahuilla did have that kind of organization).

In Tomaso's words, I have provided an interpretation of the demonstrated and
replicable typology. I consider the interpretation "speculation" and
"unproven" as it neither has independent verification nor a theory that would
connect moiety social organizaiton, and only moiety social organization, with
the existence of two kinds of points with the characteristics exhibited by
the points at 4VEN39. I would thus exclude it from "scientific knowledge."

In other words, we can distinguish between when we making claims that can be
embedded within the framework of scientific knowledge, and recognize that we
also make claims that are not properly within that framework.

Tomaso is correct in noting that we are often dependent upon non-replicable
events. But I would argue that even if we arrive at a theory whose stimulus
for its formulation is a non-replicable event, such a theory is NOT about
that event alone, but is about other events of a like kind where we can
potentially make observations that would serve to either confirm or
disconfirm that theory. If the goal is to account for the historically
particular event, then we are heavily dependent upon non-replicable data--but
the same comment can be made about historically particualr events in ANY
domain, whether it be a "hard" science or not.

Tomaso continues:
".. 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."

The same is true, of course, for any theoretical construct, such as force
fields, gravity, string theory, etc.

D. Read