Religion and Science

Details on how religion is and isnt a science

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Socoiolgists who Disagree with science

  1. Science is too rigorous - sociology needs the open-minded creativity of the artist.
  2. Science is too empirical. Sociology should be committed to change.
  3. Science is too manipulative. Sociology should not aim to change society (the opposite of number 2).

C.W. Mills - cook book approach.

sociology is better practised with imagination and flexibility than with rigid adherence to the models of natural science. Mills complains that following scientific principles can lead sociologists into what he calls abstracted empiricism - an insightless search for facts. He argues; Sociology is a craft to be judged by its product: what works best is best.

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Jack Douglas

Positivism too often forces a sociologist into a particular stance, rather than a particular stance indicating a particular methodology. In other words the means become more important than the ends.

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Erving Goffman

compares positivist methodology to the instructions on a child's chemistry set. Follow the rules and you too can be a real scientist.

  1. Humans are reflexive - they think about themselves and what is happening around them.
  2. Because they think experiments on humans can alter their behaviour.
  3. Manipulating humans may be unethical, but also in research the subjects of research may end up manipulating the researchers.
  4. Humans can lie, or deceive, as subjects of research they too might have purposes to achieve.
  5. Experimenting on humans will in many cases create an unnatural situation, thus behaviour will be untypical.
  6. The number of variables to be considered is always unknown.
  7. Replication of research is not possible.
  8. Human behaviour is meaningful. But the meanings cannot be directly observed.
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Nicolai Bukarin

....... Agrees arguing that positivists ignore: All earthly sufferings, all conflicting interests, all the ups and downs of life, the hunt for profit and other earthly and vulgar things... (which were seen as having) relation whatever with their science.

For Marcuse and other Marxists, sociology should adopt a critical stance. Objectivity is conservatism in disguise.

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Kuhn on science

Kuhn produced a book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The book caused a storm of controversy. His account challenges the rationality of science. His theory, based on historical examples, suggests that science is characterised by phases of very conservative practice (normal science) followed by periods of revolutionary upheaval. The sociological characteristics of communities of scientists play a very important role in his account.

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Kuhn's Arguments

Kuhn argues:

1. Scientists are not open-minded but are strongly committed to their theories.

2. Scientists try to defend rather than falsify their theories.

3. Scientists, if forced, will modify theories rather than give them up.

4. Scientists are socialised into the academic culture of scientific communities, centered on particular disciplines.

5. The communities work in consensus groups based on a shared paradigm.

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Kuhn's Arguments

6. A paradigm is a research tradition, a whole way of thinking and working (see later notes on paradigms).

7. Once socialised into a paradigm scientists find it difficult to describe it. It becomes common sense and is rather like us trying to describe riding a bike - it's obvious.

8. The paradigm is necessary. If scientists constantly questioned it little empirical research would get done.

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More of Kuhn's arguments

9. Within the paradigm, normal science is a puzzle solving activity. Kuhn compares it to doing a jigsaw. Failure to solve puzzles reflects not on the paradigm but on the researcher.

10. In the course of normal science anomalies occur. Many might be talked away or ignored, but gradually they accumulate. The paradigm becomes unstable.

11. The seriousness of the crisis deepens when a rival paradigm appears. The new paradigm will regard different kinds of questions as more appropriate and meaningful and will apply different and incompatible standards.

12. When scientists switch paradigms Kuhn likens it to a religious conversion. Once converted the scientist understands the world in a new way, and one that is incompatible with the old.

13. New paradigms cannot be tested by old methods.

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Normal Science

Normal science

Normal science means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice. This knowledge is visible in the form of text books.

People educated in the same way and doing research into the same areas tend to be committed to the same rules and standards of scientific practice. There will seldom be disagreement over fundamentals, and so there develops and is sustained a particular research tradition.

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Revolutionary science

Revolutionary science

When problems arise that cannot be answered without a radical revision of the paradigm the possibility of a scientific revolution occurs. Guided by a new paradigm, scientists adopt new instruments and look in new places.

Even more importantly, during revolutions scientists see new and different things when looking in places they have looked before. The familiar becomes strange, and is seen in a new light. After a revolution, scientists are responding to a new world. However scientists do not call these changes what they are; a change in opinion, but rather a correction of a mistake.

Looking at the moon, the convert to Copernicanism does not say, 'I used to see a planet, but now I see a satellite'. That locution would imply a sense in which the Ptolemaic system had once been correct. Instead, a convert to the new astronomy says, 'I once took the moon to be a planet, but I was mistaken'. The shift in scientific vision is disguised as an advance in knowledge.

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Revolutions in scientific paradigms

Examples of revolutions in scientific paradigms are:

  1. The Darwinian revolution in the 19th century.
  2. The Copernican revolution.
  3. The Einstein revolution.

If correct Kuhn is suggesting that natural science, like social sciences, is studying not an objective world but a created world, one created by the interpretations of the scientists studying it. Kuhn rejects objectivism and announces the relativism of all knowledge.

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