2.7 Summary and Further Discussion

Philosophers of various times and in various disciplines have given different meanings to the term knowledge. It has meant the result of a particular kind of reasoning process (logic); it is confined by some to the outcome of the scientific method; and it is equated by others to belief or faith. It can also be personal (taste) or opinion, though most (all?) of what is placed in the last category may properly belong in the others. There are a variety of conflicts among the groups that hold these positions, and these conflicts show up in both academic disciplines and in the gaps between members of academia and ordinary citizens.

As for the scientific method itself, it relies on the assumption that there is a reliable and potentially predictable underlying reality behind the phenomena being investigated, though the nature of that reality is itself the subject of some dispute. Science is connected to, but cannot be completely identified with technology, for the search for tools and techniques has often been independent of theory, even though the scientific and technical community is as one in this century.

If technique is given its broadest possible definition, it may be seen to include the scientific method as one technique. Whether technique is an irresistible force driving society to certain inevitable goals depends on whether or not there exist absolute techniques--the most efficient possible for a given task--and it is not certain that this is knowable.

The very term "high-tech information society", which is often taken to imply a monolithic culture, sure of its content and goals, is quite possibly misleading in view of the number of factions that are present even now. The disparities between the "haves" and the "have-nots" seem likely to continue for some time to come, both within the advanced nations, and between them and the third world. Although high technology is having a profound influence on society, people seem content to use its products in everyday life without needing to understand either how the products are made, or the science behind them. In many ways, such automatic and unthinking routine uses of technique actually characterize a civilization, more than (and perhaps despite) the way its intellectuals think.

Research and Discussion Questions

1. To what extent would it be possible to live without any use of modern technology? Give your reasons in detail.

2. Write a research paper describing the historical origins and development of the scientific method.

3. Compare and contrast the methods of historical and scientific studies.

4. What is the meaning of the word "knowledge" as it is used in science, in mathematics, religion, economics (or some other social science of your choice) and in English literature (or another of the humanities)?

5. Does "knowledge" mean one thing for the academic disciplines mentioned in question 4, and a different thing for art, music, and sculpture?

6. To what extent can the knowledge obtained by the scientific method be regarded as "true" in some absolute sense?

7. Develop further the argument that the academic disciplines are mutually dependent, and cannot exist entirely on their own.

8. To what extent, and in what ways can the cultural and intellectual elements of Western society function together more purposefully and harmoniously?

9. Which is more probable and why: that technological developments will reduce class distinctions or that they will increase them? Consider both the short and long term.

10. Does the presence of the human element invalidate the claims of Science to be objective? If so, to what extent? If not, why not?

11. To what extent is the computer unifying or further dividing the academic world?

12. Write a defence of the academic tenure system, or a detailed proposal for changing it.

13. Expand further upon (or refute) the suggestion in the chapter that there is no such thing as "mere opinion."

14. Are some beliefs more important than others? Why or why not? Consider both the issues of probable truth and probable consequences.

15. Are some beliefs more permissible than others? Why or why not? Weigh freedom of speech against the possibility of some beliefs harming their holders or others.

16. Consider the two statements:

a) "Religious faith and scientific rationalism/empiricism are absolutely contradictory and can never be reconciled."

b) "There is no conflict between true science and true religion."

Defend one or the other of these two statements.

17. Explore the contention that there is (or may be) a metaphysical element in any position on origins. Do you take the same middle position as was advocated in this text, or a radically different one?

18. To what extent are the high-technology, industrial, and agricultural nations of the world mutually dependent? To what extent ought they be?

19. Does the advent of high technology mean that the gaps between the rich and poor nations of the world will widen or narrow? Discuss ways in which technology can be used to narrow such gaps, and ways in which national policies can be formulated to achieve such goals.

20. Is it fair to those countries that develop high technology to have them share it with poorer countries? What would be the consequences of not narrowing such gaps?

21. Research some examples of fraud, wishful thinking, research padding, or hoaxes in modern science and report on the significance of such events in the overall progress of science.

22. Develop further the theme that science and technology are really very different concepts.

23. Develop further the assertion that pure research is now seldom done apart from associated technological goals. You may wish to take the position contrary to that posed in question 21 and argue that science and technology are really just different aspects of the same thing.

24. Expand further on the theme that one technological advance often drives, or even requires others. Use specific examples from the past and suggest more for the future, based on present problems.

25. The text mentioned the assertion of Jacques Ellul that there is an inevitability to the quest for the most efficient techniques--one which tends to sweep aside all other considerations. The author expressed certain reservations about this, at least in theory. Read Ellul, and then support or attempt to refute his thesis.

26. Alternatively, attack or defend the thesis that even if technique is an irresistible force, it is leading nowhere (i.e., that it has no goal).

27. Discuss and expand upon the theme that one measure of a civilization is the size of the set of tasks that its citizens can perform without having to think about them.

28. Discuss the relative importance of teaching and research tasks for university professors. Do the priorities change if the perspective is that of the professor? the university? the student? the state? society as a whole?

29. Research the acid rain problem. What are the economic trade-offs involved in finding and implementing a solution to this problem? in doing nothing?

30. A major city built around a navigable inlet with spectacular natural scenery is considering the building of a crossing for the inlet. It could be a bridge, which some say would blight the landscape and create a navigation hazard. It could be a tunnel, which would do neither, but cost 50 percent more. The tunnel would also create more construction jobs, and based on past experience, there is less likelihood of accidental deaths during construction. How can this decision best be made?


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Talk.Origins Archive--exploring the Creation Evolution Controversy <http://earth.ics.uci.edu:8080/> (1997 02 12)

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises