Demarcation’s revisited demise

The latest edition of Synthese is dedicated to “Evolution and its rivals” and includes a contribution by Robert Pennock entitled Can’t philosophers tell the difference between science and religion?: Demarcation revisited (originally published in 2009). This piece is highly critical of Larry Laudan, particularly his famous paper The demise of the demarcation problem, and in this entry I look at some of Pennock’s objections. There are already some good responses available, including Brad Monton’s previously and some recent comments from Brandon Watson, and – since both have mentioned it – in the remarks below I ignore the rhetoric employed by Pennock. I also restrict my attention to his criticisms of Laudan, such as they are.

Pennock’s main protest is that “Laudan’s entire critique of demarcation… expects a precise line that can unambigiously rule any possible theory in or out of science”. Pennock argues that what we actually need is “what might be called a ballpark demarcation that simply identifies a position as violating a basic value, or ground rule… Showing that creationism is not science requires no more complicated notion of demarcation than that – it violates a scientific ground rule and is not even in the ballpark”. For Pennock, this necessary condition is methodological naturalism.

What Laudan actually wrote (in The demise of the demarcation problem) is that

… a philosophical demarcation criterion must be an adequate explication of our ordinary ways of partitioning science from non-science and it must exhibit epistemically significant differences between science and non-science. Additionally… the criterion must have sufficient precision that we can tell whether various activities and beliefs whose status we are investigating do or do not satisfy it; otherwise it is no better than no criterion at all.

Laudan goes on to explain that merely necessary or sufficient criterion are not enough to accomplish demarcation. If we are able to provide a necessary condition then we can use it to establish that particular activities are unscientific, but it does not allow us to say that something is scientific; after all, if a claim has merely satisfied a necessary condition, we are only in a position to say that it might be science. Similarly, if we can find sufficient conditions then these would allow us to say that a claim is scientific, but not that it is unscientific. What we want to do, especially with ideas like Intelligent Design (ID), is say both that something is scientific and that something else is not. Pennock’s insistence that a ground rule of methodological naturalism is enough does not address Laudan’s claim that both necessary and sufficient conditions are needed.

Pennock quotes Laudan (now in the latter’s Science at the bar – Causes for concern) saying that “[claiming] creationism is neither falsifiable nor testable is to assert that creationism makes no empirical assertions whatever. That is surely false”, remarking that this “is certainly a strange statement for someone to make in a discussion of the definition of empirical science who has just rejected both of these criteria for just that purpose.” However, Laudan has not “just rejected both of these criteria”: he has accepted them and used them as the basis of a reductio. His argument against the testability criterion is actually very clear: he allows it and then points out that Creationist claims can and have been tested. The fact that they have failed these tests (and therefore been falsified) is what is actually important, since this speaks in favour of evolutionary theory and against Creationism. That they were testable and thereby falsifiable means that they satisfied these demarcation criteria and hence Creationism was, in this sense, scientific, and so the reductio succeeds.

It is thus not the case that “Laudan’s strategy in criticizing Ruse’s five criteria and presumably any other demarcation criteria was to find counterexamples from the history of science” because his strategy for the first two is a reductio. His non-reductio objection to testability, made later in Science at the bar, is that it is “now widely acknowledged that many scientific claims are not testable in isolation, but only when embedded in a larger system of statements”, which he allows is the case for “some tenets of Creationism” and which Pennock does not address. However, Laudan’s argument is plain: the way to make testability important is to emphasise that Creationism has been tested and has failed the tests, not to insist that the more important point is that claims must be testable. The former requires Creationists to show that the evidence for their claims is compelling and better than that for evolutionary theory, while the latter only requires them to make claims that are testable – regardless of whether the claims fail the test – in order to be granted the status of scientific. Even if Laudan was wrong that Creationism was testable and had failed the tests (that is, that Pennock is right that Laudan had “failed to take into account [its] real supernatural content”), it would not impact upon his objection because it would still make the point – to the Creationists – that offering a testable claim is more important than passing the test.

Laudan re-emphasises this in his reply to Ruse (in More on Creationism), in which he states again that “[o]nce we make [the separation between ‘the soundness of creation-science’ and ‘the [supposed or actual] dogmatism of creationists’] we discover both (a) that creation-science is testable and falsifiable, and (b) that creation-science has been tested and falsified – insofar as any theory can be said to be falsified”. Laudan’s warning in his reply was that if we nevertheless insist on making “extremely weak demands from an epistemic point of view” to demarcate science from non-science then “it would be child’s play for creationists to modify their position slightly – thus making their enterprise [by Overton's lights] ‘scientific'”. It seems that this is exactly what happened with Creationism morphing into ID, assuming we accept the arguments of those opposed to ID that it is related to Creationism in this way.

This is why Laudan’s caution is often pointed to by those who wish to remark that attacking ID on the philosophical grounds of the demarcation problem instead of in terms of confirmation or as a research programme is ill-advised. No doubt it is a source of some annoyance to opponents of ID that Laudan’s comments have been seized upon by its advocates, but this approach only succeeds insofar as the debate remains fixated on the question of whether or not Creationism and/or ID are scientific. Perhaps the correct response to such disagreements is to point out that, if we read the entirety of Laudan’s The demise of the demarcation problem, we find that there is no safe place in it for Creationism or ID: Laudan states repeatedly that ideas should not be disallowed via an initial demarcation but should be assessed in terms of how well-founded they are, on which grounds Creationism and ID fail. It can thus be conceded that the demarcation problem may be intractable without allowing that this makes life any easier for Creationism and ID. If this proves difficult in terms of what should be allowed in a science classroom then perhaps it requires that we frame that debate differently; those who attempted to settle the question via demarcation, or who allowed Creationism and ID advocates to do so, are responsible for this situation, not Laudan.

The irony is that Pennock insists on just this point himself in addressing the “dustbin of history argument”. Defending the view that “creation-science does not qualify as science” even if Laudan’s claims about their testability are granted, he points to the example of geocentrism: Pennock says that although “such a claim was historically scientific or even that it remains scientific in the abstract sense that it is testable, it would nevertheless be fair to conclude, because this claim has been decisively disconfirmed (at least under the assumptions of MN [methodological naturalism]), that it is unscientific to continue to hold and teach it today”. This, of course, is exactly the kind of approach to demarcation that Laudan is advocating: the problem with geocentrism is not that it is unscientific but that it has been disconfirmed and other theories are better confirmed. It is conceivable that this might one day change, just as the fortunes of heliocentrism did, but for the time being we discount geocentrism for reasons other than it failing demarcation criteria.

Another issue Pennock takes Laudan to task for is “the prima facie absurdity of Laudan’s claim that searching for demarcation criteria is a pointless pseudo-problem”, but Laudan does not dispute that we can and do attempt to demarcate. What he does argue in The demise of the demarcation problem is that since “the labeling of a certain activity as ‘scientific’ or ‘unscientific’ has social and political ramifications which go well beyond the taxonomic task of sorting beliefs into two piles”, therefore “it would be wise to insist that the arguments in favor of any demarcation criterion we intend to take seriously” should be as compelling as those for the practical actions we plan to base upon it. Pennock is obviously correct that people distinguish between science and religion, just as they do between science and football; the issue is whether our grounds for doing this are actually compelling or not. The fact that some scientists are happy to demarcate does not speak to the soundness of the criteria they use (if they use any) and this problem of demarcation is a philosophical one whether practised by scientists, philosophers or anyone else; what matters, in terms of the demarcation problem, is that the criteria stand up to philosophical scrutiny. Laudan states plainly that he is “not denying that there are crucial epistemic and methodological questions to be raised about knowledge claims”, nor that “we are never entitled to argue that that a certain piece of science is epistemically warranted and that a certain piece of pseudo-science is not” – these clarifications come immediately after he calls demarcation a pseudo-problem. The important point is that after we have investigated whether a theory is well confirmed and explored it in detail, the question of whether or not it satisfied demarcation criteria initially no longer matters.

Pennock argues that the demarcation used in practise by scientists is the “ground rule” of methodological naturalism that he has advocated. He observes that critics often point to examples from the history of science, such as Newton, to show that science and scientists were not always methodologically restricted by naturalism, but he does not seem to appreciate why this objection is raised. The key issue with methodological naturalism is that it is not an a priori criterion that has any impact upon Laudan’s argument; it is an a posteriori principle adopted because of its success. That most or even all scientists use it, explicitly or otherwise, does not change this: if methodological naturalism is successful then we would expect it to be employed, but this does not mean that everyone – including ID advocates – needs to assume it. Indeed, if people choose not to and then fail to achieve any results, while others stick with methodological naturalism and succeed, then this is more justification for methodological naturalism as an a posteriori principle, notwithstanding that it does not bring us any closer to making it an a priori one.

This is why it is absurd to speak of a claim “violating” methodological naturalism because it swaps and confuses the a posteriori for a priori, as if we can infer that a currently successful principle will always be so and should fix scientific practice. Moreover, only by allowing the investigation of alternatives can we determine if our methodology needs to change. If it turned out that a research programme not employing methodological naturalism achieved results then this would be a problem for methodological naturalism, not the research programme; this would give some justification for working without methodological naturalism in future but we would still have the many other successes continuing to speak in favour of it. Precisely what we mean by success in this context is what Laudan is pointing to by insisting that we should be asking what makes a belief well-founded, rather than whether we can call it scientific or not prior to undertaking the investigation.

Finally, I want to comment briefly on Pennock’s reference to Feyerabend and his values-based demarcation criterion, which I have already written about here and which Pennock approvingly calls “practice-based”. Leaving aside the claim that Feyerabend defended “epistemological anarchism and claim[ed] that in science ‘anything goes'”, a common misconception that I discussed in a short essay here, Pennock points to Feyerabend’s criterion as an example of a philosopher of science (“even someone like Feyerabend”, no less) not agreeing with Laudan that demarcation is a pseudo-problem. However, this values-based approach was never intended to solve the demarcation problem or provide any kind of ground rule. Instead, it characterises Feyerabend’s insistence on the principles of tenacity and proliferation, and it is interesting to note the sections of Feyerabend’s claim that Pennock left out. Immediately before the quote of Feyerabend’s view that cranks do not undertake further investigation, Feyerabend had insisted that “to declare that only plausible theories should be considered is going too far” and that “we never know in advance which theory will be successful and which theory will fail”. For Feyerabend, the distinction between respectable people and cranks therefore “lies in the research done once a certain point of view is adopted”. Even a cursory reading show that this does not permit us to demarcate science from pseudoscience and Feyerabend had no interest in so doing; after all, he had already raised “[t]hree cheers to the fundamentalists in California who succeeded in having a dogmatic formulation of the theory of evolution removed from the textbooks and an account of Genesis included” in his lecture How to defend society against science (another frequently misunderstood remark). What it does do is point to exactly the issue Laudan raises with regard to demarcation: we cannot rule out theories ab initio because of their implausibility relative to our existing ideas, even though we tend to justifiably discount the claims of people who refuse to put them to the test or develop them further.

Ultimately, if someone wishes to investigate ideas like Creationism or ID then we will soon see if they have anything to recommend them if they prove well-founded and become well-confirmed. If the advocates of these ideas will not develop them further then we can ignore them, and if they will then we can make a subsequent assessment – no one needs to demarcate a priori. This is why Pennock has missed Laudan’s argument and why it remains the case that, as Laudan concluded,

[... if we want to] protect ourselves and our fellows from the cardinal sin of believing what we wish were so rather than what there is substantial evidence for (and surely that is what most forms of ‘quackery’ come down to), then our focus should be squarely on the empirical and conceptual credentials for claims about the world. The ‘scientific’ status of those claims is altogether irrelevant.


References:

Feyerabend, P. (1981 [1964]). Realism and Instrumentalism in Realism, Rationalism, and Scientific Method: Philosophical Papers, Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Laudan, L. (1982). Science at the bar—Causes for concern in Science, Technology, & Human Values, 7(41), 16–19.
Laudan, L. (1983). More on creationism in Science, Technology, & Human Values, 8(42), 36–38.
Laudan, L. (1983). The demise of the demarcation problem in R. S. Cohen & L. Laudan (Eds.), Physics, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis (pp. 111–127). Dordrecht: Reidel.
Pennock, R. (2010). Can’t philosophers tell the difference between science and religion?: Demarcation revisited in Synthese, Volume 178, Number 2, 177-206.

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17 Responses to Demarcation’s revisited demise

  1. davidm says:

    It’s my impression that perhaps the real problem is this: those fighting to keep ID out of schools need a legal decision. And the most promising way to get this — indeed, perhaps the only way to get it — is to have a court rule that ID is not science, or is religiion, or is some combination of not science/religion.

    Thus the whole issue becomes political and not philosophical. If such a demarcation is genuinely needed by the courts to keep ID out of science class, then someone is going to come up with a demarcation, even though it may have no philosophical or logical validity. Of course, it seems obvious that there is another way to keep ID out of science class: not by declaring it “not science” or “religion,” but simply by showing it has as little evidence as geocentrism or Lamarckism. No one claims that those are “not science” or that they are “relilgious,” but they are not taught in science class becuase they have so little to recommend them.

    • Paul Newall says:

      Yes, to be fair to Pennock, his complaint about Laudan’s criticism seems to be that we have to appreciate the context in which demarcation is being argued, so the question of how philosophically sound our response to the demarcation problem needs to be has to be understood in light of this “battle”. As you say, though, there is another way to look at it: no one appeals to demarcation to keep science classes from teaching geocentrism (Pennock’s example), which presumably ID’s critics would agree has considerably more in its favour than ID and yet is excluded or else only taught as a tool to show how theories change. This is essentially what Laudan was arguing for.

      • Daniel Black says:

        Having children of varying ages and grappling as I am with how to help them develop as learners and thinkers, I very much understand the concerns around how ID or Creationism or evolutionary theory or string theory may make it into academic curricula. However, I wonder if we tend to be led too quickly into thinking about the curricula when discussing these kinds of science/non-science ideas? Is this really the wedge point for apologists who wish to shift popular thought to their quackery (note: tongue in cheek), or are we a little overly paranoid? Maybe students would be better served by exposure to the quackery alongside the good stuff, with focus not on spoon-feeding them conclusions of appropriateness but rather on how to tell the difference.

        This is precisely why I feel fortunate to live near the Creation Museum, and plan to visit it. At worst, it’ll be a spectacle on the order of the Left Behind series, which makes for very entertaining reading.

  2. davidm says:

    This is such a good essay I hope you’ll link it to the discussion at Panda’s Blog and to Pennock himself, for that matter.

  3. Pingback: A nice critique of Pennock’s paper « Bradley Monton’s Blog

  4. Nick Matzke says:

    Let me push back a little here. Is it ever okay, anywhere, to say that something is unscientific and therefore should not be e.g. used as a basis for policy, endorsed by the government, or taught in the schools? Much of the resistance to the anti-demarcationists comes from the perception that they pretty much would prefer us to delete the words “scientific” and “unscientific”/”pseudoscientific” from our vocabulary — never mind how many important things, e.g. governmental policymaking, rely on this distinction.
    Another source of resistance is that the anti-demarcationist position seems to be splitting hairs over details and missing the big picture. It is true that it is difficult/impossible to completely perfectly demarcate night and day, but to say there is no difference, or to even leave that position open (e.g. by denying that words like “science” vs. “pseudoscience” have any rigorous usage) is pretty absurd. As Pennock says, there is a danger in making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    • Paul Newall says:

      As I wrote above,

      Laudan states plainly that he is “not denying that there are crucial epistemic and methodological questions to be raised about knowledge claims”, nor that “we are never entitled to argue that that a certain piece of science is epistemically warranted and that a certain piece of pseudo-science is not” – these clarifications come immediately after he calls demarcation a pseudo-problem.

      Hopefully I showed that Laudan is very clear on what the differences between Creationism and evolutionary biology are and how to make the usage rigorous.

      Incidentally, the term “anti-demarcationist” is inappropriate: it’s fair to say that Laudan’s views on demarcation are standard in the philosophy of science and have been for some time.

    • Is it ever okay, anywhere, to say that something is unscientific … Much of the resistance to the anti-demarcationists comes from the perception that they pretty much would prefer us to delete the words “scientific” and “unscientific”/”pseudoscientific” from our vocabulary — never mind how many important things, e.g. governmental policymaking, rely on this distinction.

      The real problem is that those who might describe themselves as putting up “resistance to the anti-demarcationists” ultimately come out looking like the most superficial of thinkers. Just because politics tends to prefer the superficial, the quick and easy, is no reason to be satisfied with – or resort to – what suits the politics of governance. Surely it is preferable not to have to resort to intellectual prostitution in order to achieve more immediately a more desired result.

      There is absolutely no problem whatsoever with calling something “unscientific” or “pseudoscientific”; the shallowness of thought begins to become apparent when these terms are regarded as essential or necessary rather than as conveniences or shorthand for the more involved concepts which underlie the terms. The conduct of science is every bit as imbued with valuation as is any other sort of human pursuit; accordingly, there is no need to employ the term science as if the modifier good in the phrase good science were redundant or as if words along the lines of bad, inadequate, or disproved would produce contradictions if and when applied to the term science.

      There are conventions and traditions within sciences. So, what would be the problem with regarding science classes as introductions to these conventions? Is that not precisely how math, history, and English classes are regarded and conducted? Innovation is not taught in school. Imagination is not taught in school. The best we can hope for is that education be conducted in a fashion which fosters the imaginative or, at least, a respect for those who can think imaginatively and in new ways.

      Even so, science itself is not inherently imaginative or conducive to innovation or receptive of innovation. Indeed, it might even be argued that innovation is not necessary for science even if it is necessary for progress in thinking, scientific or otherwise. Accordingly, call what is being taught in schools “normal” or “normative” science if need be. Done correctly, this would even keep folks from confusing scientific perspectives for metaphysical positions. Why would that not solve the sociological issue with which the government would like to think of as being within its purview?

      • Nick Matzke says:

        The real problem is that those who might describe themselves as putting up “resistance to the anti-demarcationists” ultimately come out looking like the most superficial of thinkers. Just because politics tends to prefer the superficial, the quick and easy, is no reason to be satisfied with – or resort to – what suits the politics of governance. Surely it is preferable not to have to resort to intellectual prostitution in order to achieve more immediately a more desired result.

        This kind of ivory-tower response doesn’t cut it. I, and Pennock, were specifically criticizing certain philosophers who are missing the big picture because they are splitting hairs over details.

        The big picture is that science and pseudoscience, and science and religion, are (a) important to keep distinct, and (b) it’s not overwhelmingly hard to do so.* Agree or disagree?

        * (despite the philosopher’s ability to imagine unrealistic counterfactuals as possible counterexamples, and despite the ability of e.g. Laudan to argue that testability doesn’t work because creationism is testable and has been found false, but then ignore the rather significant point that creationism is still here despite having been falsified, basically because the creationists invoke miracles to rescue their hypothesis).

      • Michael S. Pearl says:

        This kind of ivory-tower response doesn’t cut it.

        Is the term “ivory-tower” as used above a scientific term, a philosophical term, a pragmatic term? Is there any way for it to amount to anything other than a prayer that the Lord on High might magically make disappear those matters previously raised with which the speaker has so much difficulty in engaging? Of course it can be something other than a prayer; it can be a merely dismissive or intentionally derogatory term.

        The fact of the matter, however, is that, as used, it is a demagogic political term; it is a term which has to do neither with science nor with philosophy. And therein lies its danger; it imagines and desires — even if for only a convenient amount of time — a politics that is not just devoid of philosophical concerns and approaches but also a politics which is, frankly, anti-philosophical (while cloaking itself with that pseudo-philosophical enterprise commonly referred to as: The Law).

        I, and Pennock, were specifically criticizing certain philosophers who are missing the big picture because they are splitting hairs over details.

        But I think that it is quite clear that the philosophers you were criticizing think you and Pennock “are missing the big picture”. I got the impression, with regards to this issue, that Pennock was less interested in “the big picture” than he was in the legal (and the related political) context.

        I do not see anything necessarily horrible about you and Pennock not wanting significant portions of science curricula devoted to the teaching of creationism or ID as if they are mainstays or conventional science, but there are significant potential problems that can well arise when you let the legal and the political set the terms for scientific or philosophical truth.

        In the legal and political contexts, those whose interest is the sort of truth which transcends the legal (such as truths which are scientific or philosophical) will find themselves eventually working for the ethic: If the truth won’t set you free (or get you the result you want), then lie. And as pragmatic an ethic as that is, I just do not think that it is an ethic that well serves science. There is, after all, a rather significant “ivory-tower” aspect to science, is there not.

        The big picture is that science and pseudoscience, and science and religion, are (a) important to keep distinct, and (b) it’s not overwhelmingly hard to do so.* Agree or disagree?

        The matter of distinctions is a philosophical issue. It is the easiest thing in the world to set arbitrary distinctions, but it is a philosophical enterprise that is undertaken when attempts are made to minimize the arbitrariness in the distinctions which we employ. As to the importance of keeping “science and pseudoscience, and science and religion … distinct”, I, personally, have next to no need for such distinctions. That is, in part, because I do not cower from judgments in terms of good or bad, or interesting or uninteresting. But that is my situation, and my situation is not to be demanded upon any others.

        Yet, even from the more common pragmatic perspective, I just do not see that the need for the distinctions which you desire are all that useful. I do not see how the science education devoid of creationism and ID have produced a noticeable number of good or better thinkers. On the other hand, were I a professional science teacher, I would most definitely not want it dictated to me that I had to treat creationism and ID as if they were within the established convention of biological science. Similarly, were I a research scientist who depended on government grants, I would not want research pertaining to creationism or ID to be included in the pool of studies under consideration for funding. But these are really just matters having more to do with politics than with science or with philosophy, and they should, therefore, be discussed openly as matters of politics. Whether or not that politics is to be conducted primarily by means of basically philosophical appeal is different decision that would have to be made.

        * (despite the philosopher’s ability to imagine unrealistic counterfactuals as possible counterexamples, and despite the ability of e.g. Laudan to argue that testability doesn’t work because creationism is testable and has been found false, but then ignore the rather significant point that creationism is still here despite having been falsified, basically because the creationists invoke miracles to rescue their hypothesis).

        Your remark makes it seem as if you are miffed that creationism will not simply just disappear. You deride philosophers such as Laudan as if they are somehow responsible for the fact that creationists are still expressing their creationism, but that is a preposterous way of thinking (if it is thinking at all; maybe it is just an unthinking reflex). The legal context has made it apparent that it has no use of such thinking as Laudan’s, and, yet, the creationists persist in being.

        Are you going to claim that it is the likes of Laudan which feed the creationists’ beliefs? The creationists existed as creationists before Laudan had anything to say about the matter; it is bizarrely unreasonable to imagine that the creationists would just fade away after the legal system paid no heed to Laudan.

        Your dissatisfaction with the persistence of the creationists can be interpreted as verging on being the sort of intolerance for which the totalitarian ethic is the only possible salve. I only mention this because, since your interests are primarily political, it would serve your purposes to appreciate how just the whiff of a respect for totalitarianism can rile up opposition to your own interests.

        In any event, Paul’s blog pertains to philosophy within science and not the politics within science nor with the characterization of science for political purposes. This is to say that you have not actually engaged what Paul wrote.

  5. JP says:

    Similarly, were I a research scientist who depended on government grants, I would not want research pertaining to creationism or ID to be included in the pool of studies under consideration for funding. But these are really just matters having more to do with politics than with science or with philosophy, and they should, therefore, be discussed openly as matters of politics.

    Michael,

    It seems that this distinction presupposes the existence of a type of demarcation principle, which is precisely at issue here. In the absence of such principles, how are we to draw a line between activities that are supposedly unproblematically scientific, such as keeping to sterile technique during an experiment, or participating in specific forms of peer review, or securing certain kinds of information exchange among research groups, or training junior scientists – all of which are necessary to maintain the epistemic capacities of a scientific community – and those that are unproblematically political? Regulating (by means of advocacy or the exertion of authority) what sort of projects should be eligible for funding from professional scientific organisations, or state bodies in charge of science funding, is not obviously that different from observing sterile technique, or ensuring that the right amounts of some given reagents are on hand at the start of an experiment. Failure at both may lead to the demise of a research programme. And the same may well apply to regulating early science education in public schools.

    (That is to say, I broadly agree with Laudan, and therefore this seems to me a bad way to argue in his defence.)

    • It seems that this distinction [between science, philosophy, and politics] presupposes the existence of a type of demarcation principle, which is precisely at issue here.

      Actually, my remark does not so much presuppose “the existence of a type of demarcation principle” as it does acknowledge that we can and do make distinctions. We can, of course, make distinctions without there being pre-existent principles that establish how some distinguishing is to be done. Even so, it is quite common for humans to abstract principles on the basis of experience. But, it is important that we not reify (and, thereby, risk ossifying) the principles we use by regarding them (even unwittingly) as if they “exist” as mind-independent entities, and we must be on guard against falling into this way of treating principles regardless of whether the principles are formed by our own selves or inherited from others’ thinking. In other words, it is not the “existence of … demarcation” which is at issue; rather, it is the nature of distinctions (including the manner in which we distinguish and the extent to which our distinctions are applicable) which is at issue.

      In the absence of such principles, how are we to draw a line between activities that are supposedly unproblematically scientific … and those that are unproblematically political?

      We “draw … line[s]” in precisely the same manner that we either formulate (and sometimes even employ) principles. We make judgments. In communal or societal settings, it is the reasoning much more than the conclusion (the judgment) that is most informative, and it is that reasoning which is to be stressed or tested or reviewed or investigated by others as part of their own judgments. Reasoning can certainly be based on principles, but, when the principles employed are any of those around which the community imagines itself to be organized or by which it effectively identifies itself, the effect of such reasoning can more easily be mistaken for being “objective” when it is, in fact, still a significantly subjective matter of judgment. There is nothing inherently wrong with judgment simply because it can never be made devoid of subjectivity; indeed, what is very wrong — horrific, even — is to honor processes with deference on the basis of their having minimized (if not having eliminated) the need for subjectivity and judgment. With subjectivity in judgment comes responsibility, and the attempt to eliminate that subjectivity far too often coincides, in practice, with the goal of eliminating (identifiable) responsibility.

      Regulating (by means of advocacy or the exertion of authority) what sort of projects should be eligible for funding …

      Regulation via the application of fiat (or principle) can differ very significantly from regulation via judgment. Regulation via judgment will tend to be more readily subject and susceptible to scrutiny and, therefore, improvement or, when needed, rectification. Let us speak clearly and judge which projects are to be granted priority; our judgments are our responsibilities just as in many situations others often are or should be responsible for assessing (or judging) our judgments. Where fiat or “demarcation principle[s]” restrict the scope of judgment, they should be regarded more as suspect than as objective.

      And the same may well apply to regulating early science education in public schools.

      Not just “early science education in public schools” but all education depends on judgment for effectiveness and success, and that success will ultimately depend on courses of action that go beyond – that transcend – what is required by regulations. What remains anything but clear and obvious is how the prohibition of any and all matters of religion in science classes is necessary in order to ensure the highest quality science education possible. This is not to say that matters of religion (covert or not) ought to be programmatically inserted into science curricula, but it should bring into question whether criteria for demarcating science and religion are especially important — to science and to science education.

      That is to say, I broadly agree with Laudan, and therefore this seems to me a bad way to argue in his defence.

      The particular comments of mine to which you referred were not presented as a defense of Laudan. In fact, I was not thinking that any of my comments were being proffered as a defense of Laudan, even if it turned out that any of them could be used in that way. I just happen to think that emphasis placed on the notion of demarcation is either misplaced or misapplied.

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