Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Glenn Rice's view on the Scientific Method and Western Culture

Warner Pacific College
January 4, 2012

WS1 Response Paper #1
 “Western Culture” is generally described as a civil system that is founded upon reason, and of being represented by the core values of individualism, rights, and capitalism – and is nurtured and advanced by science, and technology (Western, 2009a).  Working from this definition, many feel that the ideals of western culture promote the development and sustainment of advanced civilization, and thus, it is viewed as being more advanced – rising above non-western cultures.  The Western Culture Knowledge Center defines western culture as a body of ideas and values derived fundamentally from mysticism or subjectivism, as opposed to reason (2009c).  This somewhat predominant view of global culture has resulted in a commonly held view that Euro-American culture is unchallengeable in its superiority and that less advanced cultures are inferior or “third world.” 
This interpretation of cultural dynamics has been accepted as fact for centuries.  However, as the processes of sociocultural evolution have progressed, and as civilization has expanded throughout the world, different attitudes about what defines “third world status” have changed.  The western cultural paradigm that drove the advancements that created the civilization in which we currently live, were celebrated in the past and in the present as the panacea for most sociocultural ills.  Nonetheless, this social dynamic has been called in to question.  Many currently view the old sociocultural models of the past as out of control.  However, any hint of collectivism in society is viewed as an attack on individualism, personal freedom, property rights, unencumbered economic practices, and uninhibited resource management. 
Ironically, science – itself a product of sociocultural advancement – has become a resource for those who wish to challenge the status quo of capitalistic society.  Science began to focus greater attention upon the environment in the early 70’s and became a very uncomfortable presence for those that supported capitalism as it stood, and resisted knowledge that would dispute its value and expose its flaws.  The scientific method, which determines the viability of any studies and their outcomes, began to chip away at the argument that western culture was superior in almost every case, by producing compelling evidence to the contrary.
Briefly, in its generally accepted form, the scientific method is a process by which questions about how the individual components of our world function.  Potential answers move through a precise process of research and study that can achieve repeatable results.  The results will then be published and made available for review by peers and other interested parties (Withgott, & Bennan, 2011).  Science, and the research methodology that sustains it, began to question capitalism and western culture, and study their effect upon the environment, and attempted to determine whether the benefits of capitalism outweigh the cost to the environment – an environment that at one time was believed to be limitless.
This was the overarching question that the scientific community – through the scientific method – hoped to answer.  The hypothesis was that capitalism – of the sort that sustained modern western culture – was unsustainable given the limited carrying capacity of the natural environment – the concept of nature’s limited carrying capacity being a theory that has been supported by other research (Cohen, 1995).  Using data collected through experimentation, and cross-referencing the data with similar research collected over time, a variety of effects of modern society upon natural systems was determined. 
Due to the complications inherent to studying something as vast as nature, the experiments themselves were not always easy to understand and often resulted in a new set of questions.  However, over time, the answers to these questions appeared vital to the goal of maintaining a healthy environment.  On a number of fronts, the studies eventually provided clearer answers to the question of how western culture effect nature and its ability to sustain itself.  The accumulated information of this research has been published and widely distributed between other scientists and researchers for review, and the outcomes of the experiments have been repeated on numerous occasions (Withgott, & Bennan, 2011).   
Arguably, and in spite of the difficulty of understanding the often-confusing way in which nature operates, the negative effects of western culture on the environment have been clearly illustrated (Cohen, 1995).  However, adjusting the inherent rigidity of western culture’s reason and rationality to accommodate environmental concerns is certain to seriously challenge the validity of the older paradigm and dismiss those that avidly support it.  Change often meets with resistance, particularly when new knowledge and the facts that support it conflicts with a centuries-old model.  Some might say that the sociocultural and socioeconomic disruption that will result from shifting focus toward the protection of the environment and the confusing science that backs such change is not worth the tremendous cost.  However, any peer reviewed science that backs up the reasons for change, becomes reasonable in its own right, and in the end, may rationally accommodate both the environment and the values of western culture.

Cohen, J. E.  (1995).  Population Growth and Earth's Human Carrying Capacity Science, New Series, Vol. 269, No. 5222.  (Jul. 21, 1995), pp. 341-346.  Retrieved from:
Western Culture Knowledge Center.  (2009a).  What is Western Culture?  Western Culture Global.  Retrieved from:
Western Culture Knowledge Center.  (2009c).  Capitalism.  Western Culture Global.  Retrieved from:
Withgott, J., & Bennan, S. (2011).  Environment: the science behind the stories (4th Ed.)  New York, NY.  Pearson Benjamin Cummings.  ISBN-13: 9780321715340

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