Monday, March 29, 2010

What is "Science" these days? Philosophers, Judges, and the Evolution/Creation Science Controversy

Evolutionists have gone to the courtroom. The ironic thing is that they cannot use common definitions of "Science" to prove that that Evolution is scientific while Biblically-based Creation Science is not. Instead, they have brought philosophers before the judges to be their expert witnesses, since they supposedly have the best expertise at "demarcation", or distinguishing between different categories like science and non-science.

Article Review: Some Implications of the Demise of the Demarcation Problem, by Tom Hogan

Marko's Executive Summary: Many people with a Judeo-Christian worldview are deeply concerned over what is taught in classrooms regarding the origins of life and our universe. The teaching of the Theory of Evolution has slowly squeezed God out of our schools, and now is squeezing him out of all of society. Evolution has done this by claiming that it is "Scientific" and is therefore appropriate for a science classroom, while Creation Science is not science at all, but is actually a front for religious teaching.

Tom Hogan's article discusses how these expert witnesses committed "philosophical malpractice" in the courtroom, by not informing the judges of the most advanced findings of philosophy in the field of demarcation - namely, that there really is no way of distinguishing science from non-science! Hogan then offers advice for Creation Scientists to be better prepared next time to point out this kind of malpractice in the courtroom. There is no definition of "Science" that places evolution and creation science on different sides of the Science fence!`

Hogan's article is titled "Some Implications of the Demise of the Demarcation Problem". My name for this article it would be "What is 'Science' these days? Philosophers, Judges, and the Evolution/Creation Science Controversy".

(This review is by Marko Malyj, of the article published in Creation Research Society Quarterly Journal, Volume 46, Number 3, Winter, 2010, {Original version of this blog post with all pictures is available at My comments that are not in the original published version are offset in curly braces.}

The Creation-Evolution Controversy circles around the "What is Science?" question

Since the days of the Scopes trial in 1925, there has been a controversy over what shall be taught in science classrooms regarding origins of life and our universe. This is commonly called the Creation-Evolution controversy.

At the center of this controversy is the question, "What is Science?". The common answer that has roots from 200 years ago or more would be this: science is defined by use of the scientific method. (Dickson, 1995; Thomson and Turk, 1998). Scientific method consists of 1) making an interesting observation, 2) formulating a hypothesis on that explains it, 3) devising a controlled experiment that would test the hypothesis, then 4) analyzing the results to reach a conclusion as to whether the hypothesis is valid (see for a fuller description of the scientific method).

Many scientific disciplines have followed the spirit of the scientific method scrupulously. Hogan says sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology "have built their reputations on technological achievements", which rest on their use of the scientific method. I would interject that Hogan has in mind here biological disciplines that are devoted to technology achievements in the area of medicine, for example, and certainly not evolutionary biology, which has not directly resulted in useful technology.

The problem is that in the recent 100 years, science has expanded to include many fields that make only occasional use of the scientific method, even others where it is impossible to devise any controlled experiments whatsoever. Hogan explains that this "necessarily decreases the reputation of 'science'". Interestingly, some modern definitions of science still talk about method, but method is no longer limited to scientific method. For example, according Sokal (2008) "use of the term 'science' is not limited to the natural sciences, but includes investigations aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge of factual matters relating to any aspect of the world by using rational empirical methods analagous to those employed in the natural sciences". As Hogan points out, these kinds of "definition reject the idea that experimental controls are essential to 'science'".

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) no longer defines Science in terms of any method at all, instead, NAS provides just a list of disciplines that qualify as science these days, including economics, sociology, psychology, and engineering.

Hogan wonders: "suppose that sewing and football coaching wanted to designate themselves as sciences alongside art, astrology, and carpentry? How should we stop them?.... The statement that scientists are fit to judge what is 'science' is merely begging the question." The credibility of disciplines that have significant technological achievement is certainly "diluted by association with disciplines that have not produced many technological achievements, such as economics, political science, sociology, psychology, meteorology, and paleontology."

Since the 1925 Scopes trial, other court trials have occurred in much more recent years where judges have made rulings on the classroom teaching of origins, for example, the court cases Arkansas in 1981-82 (Hogan cites the date 1980) and Dover in 2005. In both these cases, Evolutionists have raised the key question "What is Science?" to establish that evolution is "Science" but that Creation Science is not science. However, in these trials, evolutionists did not use the kinds of definitions given above to prove their case. The old definition that referred to scientific method would have ruled out both evolution and creation science as sciences, because neither can regularly produce controlled experiments to test their hypotheses. The newer definitions of science are allowing Science to proliferate into new fields, as long as that field sets up some sort of "empirical methodology" that can be back up by "peer review" of workers within that field. Both Evolution and Creation Science can claim to be sciences based on that criterion.

Therefore, keeping evolution and creation science on different sides of the Science fence calls for a different approach. So the Evolutionists brought in heavy firepower into the court room: philosophers! Michael Ruse testified in the Arkansas case, and Robert Pennock in Dover. As Hogan points out, "do any of the specialists {who work within the various scientific fields} understand enough about the broad scope of "science" to be able to define it? That is where philosophy excels."

Philosophy's attempt to answer "What is Science" by Demarcation

Philosophy has a concept called Demarcation. "Demarcation is distinguishing between things in a category and things that are not, for example, between science and nonscience." Demarcation has been an ongoing problem that philosophers have tried to tackle.

Hogan explains that the well known philosopher "Landan reviewed the history of the demarcation problem in 1983.... According to Landan, science was initially defined as those disciplines in which there was apodictic (demonstrable) certainty.... Then in the nineteenth century ... the view that all theories may be fundamentally flawed - a view called fallibilism - became prominent.... Philosophers then began to rely upon methodology - such as methods of reasoning and researching observable entities - for their demarcation criteria. However, this is not what scientists were actually doing.... In the final section of his paper, Landan turned to modern demarcation attempts.... Current (as of 1983) candidates for demarcation strategies include fruitfulness and progressive development, whether a theory has been well tested, accuracy of predictions, pragmatism, and coherence."

Hogan further explains that Landan then ran aground. Landan reached the important conclusion that under modern attempts at demarcation, science is "wildly heterogeneous". Landan illustrates his point by asking (Hogan paraphrases here): "Can ostensibly 'unscientific' things be well tested, including literary theory, carpentry, and football strategy?" Landan then "shows that many ostensibly 'unscientific' disciplines make cognitive progress and many ostensibly 'scientific' disciplines do not make much progress by comparison."

In the end, philosophers "so far are unable to define a list of properties that will always separate science and nonscience.... This vagueness means that it will be unable to prevent anything from claiming to be 'science'.... The conclusion of Landan's survey paper is that the current-as-of-1983 status of the demarcation problem in the philosophy of science is that it is intracable (i.e., unsolvable)".

"His conclusion means that philosophy cannot specify what is not science.... Landan's conclusion is still generally uncontroversial in philosophy of science (Fales, 2005; Koperski, 2008; Meyer, 1994; Monton 2006)."

Hogan follows this up to say that "the definition of 'science' is so vague as to be meaningless.... The reputation of 'science' likely led to many disciplines riding the coattails of 'science' by claiming to be 'sciences'.... 'Scence' is {now} advancing into many areas of human life, including explanations about religion and sexual attraction."

Philosophical Malpractice in the Courtroom

"The court cases Arkansas ... and Dover showed how decisive philosophy can be when wielding demarcation arguments; the philosophical testimony was more influential in the judicial decisions than the scientific testimony and was quoted verbatim at length in the judicial opinion."

But did Landan's conclusions reach the courtroom in Arkansas and Dover? Hogan tells us the answer was no. "In both Arkansas and Dover, heavy reliance was placed on the categorization of creation and intelligent design as nonscience, based on demarcation criteria. The judicial decisions were based on the philosophical error that valid demarcation have been found {this is completely contrary to Landan's conclusions}, and that one of them - methodological naturalism - excludes the supernatural from science."

Who were the philosophers who testified in court?

"Ruse testfied against creation science in Arkansas. Afterward, Landan (1982) responded, essentially accusing Ruse of philosophical malpractice. Intelligent design philosopher Stephen Meyer (1994) also found fault with Ruse's work. Ruse (1982) answered Landan, arguing that the overwhelming need to defeat 'creationism' can excuse any philosophical errors" (!!)

"Robert Pennock likewise committed philosophical malpractice in Dover and was taken to task by Fales (2005), Monton (2006), and Koperski (2008) {also} Plantinga (2006)."

Hogan's Conclusions

"The most critical implication of this paper for creation science is that existing court cases were decided on criteria that have been shown by secular philosophers to be incorrect. Furthermore, the legal strategy of the anti-creationists has been severely undercut. They are left without a definition of "science" and any potential demarcation strategy that might exclude creation {and still keep evolution}. This information must be communicated to creationist attorneys, and we must have creationist philosophers perpared to answer the faulty demarcation-based arguments previously submitted in court. Otherwise we shall see more legal setbacks based on the pretense that effective demarcation criteria exist..."

"The science and popular science news media also must be educated that the demarcation criteria that they have assumed to exist are invalid.... The anti-creationists have sought to avoid engagement by appealing to demarcation and preventing the publication of articles by creationists in secular journals...."

"Those in academia and non-governmental organizations who are ideologues and possess power and influence due to the illusion that 'science' has useful meaning will not submit easily to the ideas that the common perception of 'science' is an illusion and that there ideologies limit human freedom of expression. Many people have gained political power and influence due to the conflation of disciplines that are called 'science' (e.g. the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences), and their ideological corruption and tyranny must be exposed in order for people to work in their disciplines and investigate freely without the suppression of the communication of their ideas by the tyranny of ideology."

References (selected)

Dickson, T. 1995. Introduction to Chemistry. John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY.

Fales, E. 2005. Animadversions on Kitzmiller V. Dover: correct ruling, ,wrong reasoning. (as of March 7, 2009).

Koperski, J. 2008. Two bad ways to attack intelligent design and two good ones. Zygon 43(2):433-449. (as of March 7, 2009).

Landan, L. 1982. Science at the bar: causes for concern. Science, Technology, and Human Values 7(41):16-19, reprinted in Ruse, M. (editor). 1996. But Is It Science? pp. 351-355. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.

Landan, L. 1983. The demise of the demarcation problem. In Cohen, R.S. and L. Landan (editors), Physics, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis, Reidel, Dordrecht, Holland. Reprinted in Ruse, M. and R. Pennock (Editors). 2009. But Is It Science? pp. 312-330. Prometheus Books, New York, NY.

Meyer, S. 1994. The use and abuse of philosophy of science: a response to Moreland. Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith 46:19-21. (as of March 7, 2009).

Monton, B. 2006. Is intelligent design science? Dissecting the Dover decision. (as of March 7, 2009).

Plantinga, A. 2006. Whether ID is science isn't semantics. Science and Theology News. (as of March 7, 2009).

Ruse, M. 1982. Pro Judice. Science, Technology & Human Values 7(4):19-23. Reprinted in Ruse, M. (editor). 1996. But Is It Science? pp. 356-361. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.

Socal, A. 2008. What is science and why should we care? (as of August 8, 2009)

Thompson, B. and J. Turk. 1998. Introduction to Physical Geology. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth, TX.

1 comment:

  1. Our culture has put science on this magical throne so that anything call science can not be opposed. Of course science in the classical science is something that can be tested and retested. so by changing that definition and being able to label anything science gives it instant credibility. Before we can fight over what ideas are science we need to be on the same page of what science is.