First Response to ‘The Politics of Demarcation’

Abstract: This is in response to The Politics of Demarcation, but the discussion here is largely limited to matters relating primarily to some assertions about whether demarcation is best regarded as a non-issue.

In the comments section of this blog posting, Jim Fetzer says, “Laudan is wrong about the absence of a criterion of demarcation” and “Pennock’s arguments for such a [demarcation] criterion are stronger than Laudan’s against it”. Whether or not there have been any defenses of Pennock which address the matters brought up in Demarcation’s revisited demise, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, or misrepresentations of Laudan’s position do seem fairly common.

For instance, Fetzer says, “Laudan is wrong about the absence of a criterion of demarcation”, and he also alleges that Laudan has been engaged in “efforts to diminish the distinction between science and pseudo-science”. A better point to take (indeed, likely the point intended to be taken) from Laudan’s writings on this issue is that attempts to derive consistently applicable criteria for distinguishing between science and pseudo-science are sufficiently rife with problems as to be not definitive, successful, or ultimately worthwhile — or even constructive for philosophical or scientific thinking. In light of the commonplace expectation that objectivity is at least the goal of science even if it is not necessary for science, with claims that demarcation is real (in the sense of objectively – and not just subjectively or intersubjectively – actual) comes at least the expectation that there are extant objective measures by which science and non-science are distinguishable.

In the above cited comments, Fetzer ties the qualification of hypotheses as “scientific” to “inference to the best explanation (IBE)”, and he then proceeds to argue that neither Creationism nor Intelligent Design (ID) satisfy the conditions of IBE. Even though IBE is itself (even if not consciously or intentionally) an acknowledgment that mind-independent objectivity is either not achieved or not necessary, in terms of IBE, Fetzer can rather easily dispense with “classic creationist hypotheses”, but his manner of dealing with ID is a more problematic matter. This, of course, is no surprise, certainly if ID is seen as a sort of Creationism that has been modified according to Creationism cast in terms of Fetzer’s CC1 (“God created the world and everything therein exactly as we find it today”) and CC2 (“He created life in fixed and unchanging forms”). Indeed, years ago, Laudan himself warned of just such “child’s play” in the form of responsive adaptation.

Addressing the matter of ID (which is Fetzer’s CC3), Fetzer says that “if God created life in all its forms using the laws of evolution … then the laws of evolution are enough to explain those forms of life and the appeal to God is irrelevant”, and, therefore, ID does not qualify as scientific according to IBE. However, what arguably exhibits more “lawlikeness” than the “laws of evolution” are the relatively micro-processes that are the subject of physics/chemistry. This greater lawlikeness, which really amounts to a more detailed observable consistency, might simply be the result of a relatively constricted scope of study whereas the “laws of evolution” amount to a broader description which can be used even while there are gaps in knowledge about just what details/coincidence of conditions are necessary in order to effect the changes that manifest as biological evolution.

Given this sort of broadness, and given the current state of what we know and believe, the only way to succeed with a logical argument against the need for reference to God is to say that science is the study of physical relationships which always has as one constitutive purpose the possibility (or hope) that greater information about physical processes will lead to some sort of enhanced human utilization of the physical. The conjunction of this restricted scope and this purpose gives a fuller picture of what science has come to be. This science has no demonstrated necessity for atheistic metaphysics, and even God as a demonstrated fact would not be a matter for science unless information about God somehow enhanced human capabilities for the utilization (including the manipulation) of physical processes.

From this it follows that the familiar demarcation between religion (in terms of its common definitions) and science is irredeemably erroneous. Such an error is exacerbated when it leads to the claim that ID cannot be – can never be – a matter of science. Belief in God is not necessarily incompatible with science, and ID is not necessarily incompatible with science. Nonetheless, in terms of the description given here with regards to the nature of science, ID is not currently contributory to scientific understanding. Inasmuch as science education – particularly in the middle and high school settings – is first and foremost an introduction to the general conventions of the current science communities (thereby amounting to one aspect of the educational socialization process), it is flatly incorrect to present either Creationism or ID as alternative theories that are currently operative in science communities.

Science communities are best described not in terms of what future investigation they think will prove fruitful; rather, properly construed, science communities are better described in terms of explanations that have thus far been generally accepted, even if any of those explanations are also realized to be in any way lacking. This is to say that, despite the vilifying caricatures of Feyerabend, as far as science communities are generally concerned, anything goes when it comes to new research and research directions, even though the conclusions will not necessarily attain wide communal acceptance. If such communities ever speak in terms of there being ways to demarcate science from non-science or pseudo-science, it is not a mind-independent objective demarcation which is claimed (at least not legitimately so). Instead of demarcation, what is actually at play is judgment, and, instead of the pseudo-objectivity suggested by or associated with the term demarcation, it is more straightforwardly correct to acknowledge and speak in terms of there being judgments that have been made.

See also “Second Response to ‘The Politics of Demarcation’

This entry was posted in Current Affairs, Feyerabend, History and Philosophy of Science, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Science, Politics, Religion, Science and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to First Response to ‘The Politics of Demarcation’

  1. Paul Newall says:

    It seems to me that invoking the exclusion of irrelevant factors as a demarcation criterion begs the question in much the same way I argued Ockham’s Razor does since we do not know beforehand what the consequences of additional factors or entities will be. I gave examples at the link but I wonder how science is supposed to develop or progress without the use of what might appear initially to be irrelevant factors.

    We can perhaps say that since the relevance is not yet clear or has not been shown then we do not have the best explanation; however, more accurately we do not necessarily have an explanation that is good enough to be a contender against other possible explanations. This is a caveat Lipton advised: an inference to the best explanation is between the available competing explanations that are good enough to compete. I think it is fair to insist that an explanation needs to be scientific before it can be good enough to compete with another scientific explanation or else the competition would be unfair and/or meaningless, but that implies that demarcation (if it is possible) would already have taken place.

  2. Pingback: Second Response to ‘The Politics of Demarcation’ | The Kindly Ones

  3. Pingback: Second Response to ‘The Politics of Demarcation’ | The Kindly Ones

  4. Pingback: Belated response to the politics of demarcation « Praj's Blog

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