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Is Intelligent Design Science? The Demarcation Problem

We are doing this topic again because we have a new venue which will allow for more time for discussion.

Please see the ratings for the prior meetup discussing the same topic - one of our most highly rated meetups ever.

http://www.meetup.com/Seattle-A...

Casey Luskin from the Discovery Institute will be in attendance. There were several people from the Discovery Institute at the last session. Here was their impression of the prior meetup:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/11/defending_the_s066911.html

Here we go:

Is there a demarcation between science and pseudoscience? This is the “demarcation problem” made famous by Karl Popper. Popper's thesis was that falsifiability differentiated science from pseudoscience. However, although Popper's views are still popular among some scientists, they are widely rejected by philosophers. In fact, most philosophers believe that it is very difficult to find a strict demarcation between science and pseudoscience. The link below explains, in layman's terms, why this is the case.

http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2009/4/10/17459/9222

There is a famous paper called "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem" (unfortunately not available online), by Larry Laudan. Here's a summary some of Laudan's arguments (the link is a response to a recent criticism of Laudan by Robert Pennock).

http://thekindlyones.org/2010/12/21/demarcations-revisited-demise/

Laudan argued that since philosophers have been unable to find necessary AND sufficient conditions to demarcate science from pseudoscience, the demarcation problem should be abandoned and we should no longer speak of areas as "unscientific" or "pseudoscience." Rather, we should just talk about, for example, well-founded and well-confirmed knowledge. To Laudan, creationism is not pseudoscience, it is just bad science.

But there is a practical problem here. It is not unconstitutional to teach bad science (this doesn’t violate the Establishment clause). The legal cases against creationism and intelligent design (ID) do depend on demarcation (this is why Laudan, who is definitely no friend of creationism and ID, is often quoted approvingly by defenders of creationism and ID). How did the judges in the McLean vs Arkansas creationism trial and Kitzmiller vs Dover intelligent design trial decide what science was? They largely relied on the testimony of philosophers (Michael Ruse in the Arkansas trial, Robert Pennock in the Dover trial). But some philosophers contend that the philosophical testimony given in these trials was based on questionable and outdated philosophy of science (in other words, the court was given the incorrect impression that philosophers can readily demarcate science from pseudoscience), and the resulting judicial opinions are based on bad philosophy. Larry Laudan writes:

But let us be clear about what is at stake. In setting out in the McLean Opinion to characterize the "essential" nature of science, Judge Overton was explicitly venturing into philosophical terrain. His obiter dicta are about as remote from well-founded opinion in the philosophy of science as Creationism is from respectable geology. It simply will not do for the defenders of science to invoke philosophy of science when it suits them (e.g., their much-loved principle of falsifiability comes directly from the philosopher Karl Popper) and to dismiss it as "arcane" and "remote" when it does not. However noble the motivation, bad philosophy makes for bad law.

http://faculty.washington.edu/lynnhank/Laudan.pdf

A criticism of the Dover decision by the (atheist) philosopher Bradley Monton

http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/2583/1/Methodological_Naturalism_2.pdf

Now some philosophers would say that what demarcates science is METHODOLOGICAL NATURALISM (MN). Per Robert Pennock:

Ontological Naturalism should be distinguished from the more common contemporary view, which is known as methodological naturalism. The methodological naturalist does not make a commitment directly to a picture of what exists in the world, but rather to a set of methods as a reliable way to find out about the world – typically the methods of the natural sciences, and perhaps extensions that are continuous with them – and indirectly to what those methods discover. The principle of MN demands that scientists appeal exclusively to natural causes and mechanisms. MN is conceived of as an intrinsic and self-imposed limitation of science, as something that is part and parcel of the scientific enterprise by definition.

Now while it may be fine to adopt MN as an operating principle because it has worked so well in past (as philosophers say, a posteriori), a posteriori MN does not commit one to always using MN. On the other hand, if one adopts MN as part of the definition of science (as philosophers say, a priori), this presents a few problems:

https://sites.google.com/site/maartenboudry/teksten-1/methodological-naturalism

The famous philosopher Thomas Nagel addresses the issue of methodological naturalism (among other issues) in his recent controversial article suggesting that Intelligent Design might be taught in public schools.

http://philosophy.fas.nyu.edu/docs/IO/1172/papa_132.pdf

If you don’t think ID is science, how would you respond to Nagel?

Nagel notes that if one says that ID cannot be part of science by definition, this notion is not itself scientifically grounded, and it is hard to say how different this is than holding a religious belief. And if prior religious beliefs could undermine science by leading to conclusions like ID, why does MN not undermine conclusions based upon its assumption?

Nagel writes:

Unfortunately it also seems to undermine the scientific status of the rejection of ID. Those who would not take any amount of evidence against evolutionary theory as evidence for ID, like those who would not take evidence against naturalistic explanations of spooky manifestations as evidence for the presence of a ghost, seem to be assuming that ID is not a possibility. What is the status of that assumption? Is it scientifically grounded? It may not be a matter of faith or ecclesiastical authority, but it does seem to be a basic, ungrounded assumption about how the world works, essentially a kind of naturalism. If it operates as an empirically ungrounded boundary on the range of possibilities that can be considered in seeking explanations of what we can observe, why does that not undermine the scientific status of the theories that depend on it, just as much as a somewhat different assumption about the antecedent possibilities?

It is often said that this particular set of boundaries is just part of the definition of science. I suspect that this simply reflects the confusion pointed out earlier: the assumption that there cannot be a scientific argument for the presence of a cause that is not itself governed by scientific laws.

Now of course, one could just argue that ID is bad science, but as previously noted, it is not unconstitutional to teach bad science. Nagel writes:

The denier that ID is science faces the following dilemma. Either he admits that the intervention of such a designer is possible, or he does not. If he does not, he must explain why that belief is more scientific than the belief that a designer is possible. If on the other hand he believes that a designer is possible, then he can argue that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the actions of such a designer, but he cannot say that someone who offers evidence on the other side is doing something of a fundamentally different kind. All he can say about that person is that he is scientifically mistaken.

There is a recent attack on Laudan’s views from Robert Pennock (the primary philosophy witness for the plaintiff in the Dover case). Pennock's paper has generated controversy, including a complaint from Laudan, for its alleged unprofessional tone. Here is the abstract:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11229-009-9547-3

Pennock writes:

If Laudan's view were indeed the norm in philosophy of science, then it is little wonder that some say philosophy is irrelevant to any matters of practical consequence. Is philosophy going to be so removed from the realities of the world that it has nothing of value to say even on topics that ostensibly are its core concerns? It would be a sad commentary on our profession if philosophers could not recognize the difference between real science and a sectarian religious view masquerading as science. When squinting philosophers like Laudan, Quinn and their imitators such as Monton and George purport that there is no way to distinguish between science and pseudoscience or religion they bring to mind Hume's observation that "Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous." Unfortunately, in giving succor, inadvertently or not, to creation-science and now to ID, such philosophers compound the error, making the ridiculous dangerous.

Finally a good slideshow discussing some of the issues related to demarcation:http://www.lehman.edu/deanhum/philosophy/platofootnote/PlatoFootnote.org/Talks_files/demarcation%20problem.pdf

Join or login to comment.

  • Carrie De V.

    I'd go again and bring friends.

    April 25, 2014

  • Scott L.

    In December 2005 a federal court decided that ID is not science. If there is a demarcation problem, perhaps the problem is that we ourselves are uncertain about what the difference between science and religion. Is that what this is about? The last time we discussed this most people agreed that the term "pseudoscience" was inappropriate because it is inexact and fuzzy. If we are unsure about what constitutes science and what constitutes religion, we are a sorry lot indeed. I'm wondering why we're revisiting this after Judge Jones' clear and damning decision against ID. Thoughts?

    September 5, 2013

    • Chris

      As an ID research program, I would suggest collaboration with archaeologists to find a Stargate, or with physicists and aerospace engineers to develop intergalactic space travel. This is the logical first step. ID scientists can then explore the universe with the hope of finding the designer. With luck the designer will be amenable to coming back to the Discovery Institute for questioning. We can then finally learn the answers to our questions and stop our vain pursuit of scientific knowledge. (I think a little humor / satire was in order.)

      April 24, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      Also, what predictions does ID make possible?

      April 24, 2014

  • Gene L

    For those attending tomorrow, I've come up with an argument that ID could be - legally - taught in some instances which might spark some discussion. I will only be discussing this at the meetup itself.

    April 23, 2014

  • Gene L

    I look forward to the meeting tomorrow. For those of you think there is no "demarcation problem", then the courts should not be offer broad rulings on the nature of ID. The legal arguments against ID do use demarcation, because whatever ID's status, it is not unconstitutional if one cannot demarcate it from science. In fact, the philosophical criticisms have risen specifically in relation to the legal issues. I cannot participate in online discussion but am happy to elaborate at the meeting. Casey can also explain the legal issues in detail.

    April 23, 2014

    • Chris

      The classroom presentation could also point out that Darwin himself initially thought the world and all living things were created. It would be instructive to walk students through his reasons for abandoning this view and how he arrived at his original theory of evolution. This would be a better way to teach science rather than giving the distilled results.

      April 23, 2014

    • Chris

      Gene, I wish it were that simple. As much as I prefer lawyers were not involved, allowing local school boards to do whatever they want doesn't seem attractive either.

      April 23, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    A good question to ask is, "What constitutes as design or designed?". If "design" is what human beings think it is, then its a human invention. So how can a human concept be used by a divine entity (if it exists) ?

    April 19, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      "Science" is not a theory! Its a mechanism to develop theories.

      April 23, 2014

    • Ronaldo

      What is commonly called science has two parts. It is first a process for uncovering truths about the physical world. And, it is also the collection of truths generated by the process. After all, what is taught in school is not necessarily the process, but more so the truths generated from the process. I am trying to reconcile the language we use to talk about things, because when we talk about teaching kids science we are mostly referencing the teaching of facts. The method itself has been horribly taught, primarily because it is poorly understood. Scientist work within a paradigm if you will, and communicating what is done in terms outside of the paradigm requires significant translation. This is not something scientists tend to concern themselves with. Thus, it seems it is left to philosophers and others to be the translators. Clearly, stuff is lost in translation.

      April 23, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I would distinguish between a broader theory of evolution and evolutionary history. For instance, whether two lineages of bats are closely or distantly related or evolved in a certain sequence (and not another) doesn't necessarily refute a particular evolutionary theory of mechanisms (e.g., environmental selection, neutral selection, meiotic drive). This is similar to how different reconstructions of past land positions doesn't necessarily refute plate tectonics.

    April 23, 2014

  • MM

    Scott L. (et al),
    Maybe we’re a sorry lot in much beyond the struggle to limit the rightful entailment of THE demarcation problem posed here. In our highest states of intellectual precision we might come off as having less than glorious virtue struggling to be smart in these matters. The courts have not won renown for being smart on science. Juris et de jure & the courts rules of evidence give us a practice that bears no resemblance to the dialectic practice found in science or philosophy. Litigation is no road to the truth sought here. Are the ID-ers practicing an undsound actus reus? One possible read is what we attempt to capture as pseudoscience is in trouble because we need to be able to separate and well-define its apparent opposite, science. Has anyone done this? As you point out, we may be “unsure about what constitutes science.” A dilemma, for sure, that does not bode well for teasing out a winning strategy. I’m reminded of the fallacy of the beard.

    April 22, 2014

    • MM

      Jason, often you take a position I wouldn’t but the opposite occurs too. I have such respect for your credentials and character that I tell myself mutual further discussion is bound to bear fruit. Your allusion to our country’s brain-drain and perhaps the hope of clarity on the subject at hand brings a smile.

      April 23, 2014

    • MM

      Dan, you seem a true believer! In science! Perhaps a naïve one. I’m a believer in science too but respect the caveats of philosophy, post-modernists, multi-culturalists, and self-critical scientists. Where are your sociological studies on why naïve belief in science (a result of modernist propaganda?). Science journals battle over what is current science. Science peer review struggles because it is a perennial science problem. Media and educational systems inject rather iffy explanations of science and cajole the general public and even well-educated liberal arts graduates with pop science crap. ID trying to technically separate itself from creationism might easily be taken as a small but possibly important attempt to bring critical thinking to some of the mythology on science. Open minds might look with interest at this sincere and probably okay project. Is SCIENCE a GOD? No, it is forever double checking itself for what is true and what is not. Good science is open, knows it must be.

      April 23, 2014

  • George

    Science is a class of activities. ID is a theory. Theories are not activities. Therefore ID is not science.

    September 12, 2013

    • George

      I lost my train of thought.

      April 21, 2014

    • Jon C.

      Jason's question can't be the third question that remains, because if that is the answer, then it doesn't remain.

      April 21, 2014

  • Mary

    Different "theories", different lens thought which to explore and discover. Look forward to the discussion.

    1 · April 21, 2014

  • Jason

    Gene, a substantial amount of the discussion has been deleted, including links to content that I was planning to watch/read. As a moderator on this site, your personal tiffs are not justification for removal of content. If it remains possible, I request that you restore the comments and links (excepting of course any that may be illegal or a violation of the website's policy).

    April 21, 2014

    • Jason

      Kitzmiller v. Dover was one of the most extensive investigations of the nature of ID and it's relationship to science: https://web.archive.or...­ Here is a summary of the decision: https://en.wikipedia.o...­

      April 21, 2014

    • Gene L

      Jason, thanks for the link, that's helpful. For those who attending, Casey is a lawyer and should be able to comment extensively on Kitzmiller v Dover.

      April 21, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    What has ID contributed to science that it should be taught in public schools?

    April 19, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2009/4/10/17459/9222

    The above article talks about supernatural things existing in dimensions other than the ones we are aware of. It also talks about physics incorporating extra dimensions whenever the math requires it. But it fails to see that it only incorporates these extra dimensions when the *math* requires it! On what basis can we assume that supernatural things exist in extra dimensions?

    April 19, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Hey guys,

    I have been in Seattle for 3 years now and I work for Amazon. I will be attending my first ever philosophy discussion. Looking forward to it!

    April 18, 2014

  • Gene L

    Just wanted to make a brief note, due to the activities of a certain "troll" on this forum.

    Please see the ratings for the prior meetup discussing the same topic - one of our most highly rated meetups ever.

    http://www.meetup.com/Seattle-Analytic-Philosophy-CLUB/events/86222102/

    The troll in question has never attended a Analytic Philosophy meetup, and it is not clear why he is interested in the activities of a club he is not involved in. It seems quite strange that someone would spend such large amounts of time posting on topics which he also claims are a waste of time. In any case, if you read the material above, you can see what the meetup is actually about. As for Casey, I quite enjoyed interacting with him and his colleagues, as did others who attended previously - including those who had diametrically opposed views to his.

    2 · April 16, 2014

    • Gene L

      I'd also note that it was someone who runs an atheist meetup group who suggested I invite Casey to the first meetup.

      April 17, 2014

    • George

      His intention is benign. He brought you spotlight. You haven't realize the value of contraversy.

      April 17, 2014

  • Pat D.

    Gentlemen, gentlemen! I have an alternative question that addresses the same issues convolved in ID while turning down the temperature a degree or two until such time as ID can be addressed head-on in a cool and collected manner. To wit, is the act of reverse engineering (i.e., the assumption of a design and designer for the purpose of studying the design with the intent of understanding and/or copying the design) a scientific activity or not?

    April 14, 2014

    • Jon C.

      Making a hypothesis and looking for evidence for or against is the essence of science, regardless of whether it is called reverse engineering or science. The main problem with ID is simply the tendency to promote various theories enthusiastically without considering all the already known evidence objectively, but that is a nearly universal human tendency, as seen for example in the persistence of various problematic philosophical definitions of science as discussed above.

      April 14, 2014

  • nat k.

    I'm no defender of I.D. I am a critic of "science" as practiced. Before getting to Gene's question, let's define "science" and the method as ideals, and as practiced.
    The practice of science excludes many inquiries because a majority of the science-educated voted them to be nonscience. E.g., the hypothesis that Wa's Scablands including boulders from B.C. found on hills above Kennewick, were the result of a single, short-term catastrophic flood was voted on by the USGS 100 yrs ago. The idea was voted to be nonscience. That, gentlemen, is the scientific method.
    Funding requests for observations of X get far fewer approvals than requests to observe the effects of climate change on X. That is our scientific method.
    What then is meant by the 2nd half of the question, "Is I.D. science?" Then we'll get to the 1st half.

    1 · April 14, 2014

  • nat k.

    Another recommended read:
    Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method by Bauer.
    I've come to believe that there is a "scientific method" like a Platonic Ideal that exists like an ideal but its actualizations fall embarrassingly short of it.
    So, do we critique I.D. by the former, or the latter?

    1 · April 14, 2014

  • Victor M.

    For those wondering what philosophy of science is all about, here is a brief accessible introduction:

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/doing-good-science/2014/04/07/what-is-philosophy-of-science-and-should-scientists-care/

    April 14, 2014

  • Mary

    Intelligent Design: do those who hold this view also hold that there are hierarchies or structure in ID that identify or relate to characteristics of society and culture? If so, please identify the what and how and integration. How does ID view male and female biology? (Secondarily, do those who espouse ID also hold conservative views about male and female biology and consequently gender?) Does ID support a view, stated or otherwise, which displaces women in relationship to any practice of power? Or homosexuals, for example?

    How is the issue of minority rights treated in the ID discussion? What is the political implication of the argument for and against ID as and underlying value in society and culture? Will our culture, society, government, and religion shift if ID is widely taught, accepted? Will advertising change, government structure, law, democracy?

    I will read. Perhaps I should talk to Victor?

    September 5, 2013

    • Victor M.

      To answer your question, I don't see any social or political implications of intelligent design--other than perhaps wasting resources teaching it, but what are we teaching kids now that will one day seem a waste? The ID theorists will say if there's not enough evidence for their view it's because we are brainwashing generations not to even consider looking for it.

      They do have a point. Just barely.

      April 13, 2014

    • Gene L

      Victor, thank you for your intelligent and philosophically informed posts. It's refreshing, given the unintelligent and philosophically uninformed trolling that is going on elsewhere on the thread.

      April 13, 2014

  • John M.

    Of course intelligent design is science! It is supported by the most scientific treatise ever written: the infallible Book of Genesis.

    April 12, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    April 11, 2014

  • George

    I'm pretty well to do now. Is there a way I can donate 100 american fiat dollar without having to attend your meetup?

    September 5, 2013

    • George

      I'm the motley type who do thing piece meal, case by case and from particular to general, or no general at all. I only assiciate with idealist when it serves my purpose.

      September 5, 2013

    • Gene L

      George, thanks, I've set up the site to take Paypal donations. Any small amount is fine for an individual member.

      September 5, 2013

  • Gene L

    Daniel, the topic above is about the nature of science, not the specifics of ID. If you attend the meetup (assuming it is scheduled which it probably will be) I'm sure the Discovery Institute folks will be happy to address your questions.

    September 5, 2013

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