Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Attacking ID with the wrong stick?

A redated post.

In an oped piece in the Christian Science Monitor, Alexander George says that the enterprise of demarcating science from pseudoscience is a historically a failure. So while he opposed ID and the attempt to bring it into the school classrooms, he is critical of the attempt to use a distinction between science and pseudoscience to argue against its inclusion.

My own study in the philosophy of science reached much the same conclusion where Creationism was concerned. After Judge Overton used a demarcationist argument to strike down the Arkansas creationism law, both Philip Quinn and Larry Laudan, neither of them defenders of creationism by any stretch of the imagination, argued that the judge had accepted bad arguments from expert witnesses in support of their conclusions.

Larry Laudan, "Commentary: Science at the Bar - Causes for Concern,"
_Science, Technology and Human Values_ v7 n41 (Fall 1982) 16-19.

Philip L. Quinn, "The Philosopher of Science as Expert Witness," in C. F.
Delaney, J. T. Cushing, G. Gutting, eds., _Science and Reality_ (University
of Notre Dame Press, 1984) 32-53

and more generally:

Larry Laudan, "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem," repr. in M. Ruse,
ed., _But Is It Science?_ (Prometheus Books, 1988) 337-350

I was even told that when Judge Overton ruled there were Big Bang cosmologists who pleaded with the judge not to use the criteria he did to define science because it would not only rule out creationism, but modern cosmology as well.

17 comments:

amstar said...

Victor, I agree that attacking ID on the pseudoscience angle may not be the strongest approach, but your statement that: “there were Big Bang cosmologists who pleaded with the judge not to use the criteria he did to define science because it would not only rule out creationism, but modern cosmology as well” does not ring true because there is empirical evidence in support of the big bang. This evidence includes the expanding universe, the existence of cosmic background microwave radiation and the abundance of light elements (helium in particular).

This list shows that big bang cosmology has at least three more lines of scientific evidence in support of it than do either traditional creationism or intelligent design creationism. So how exactly could Judge Overton’s ruling hurt modern cosmology?

Just before posting this comment, I googled “Judge Overton big bang cosmology”. The top hit was this blog entry from over at the corante website. He disputes the big bang/ID comparison on the same grounds I do.

Victor Reppert said...

It can be a problem (though I don't think Big Bang cosmologists are going to be at all discommoded by what some judge in an evolution case says about science) if a judge produces a definition of science that rules out Big Bang cosmology. The evidential situation may be better, and no doubt is, for Big Bang as opposed to ID, but both theses could flunk Overton's science criteria nonetheless. And that, I was told, was what the cosmologists were complaining about

Demarcationism is understandably attractive to judges, but it strikes me as bad for science in the long run. Why does the judge have to define science?

If you have systematic criteria, you run the risk of ruling things out that are really good science. BIg Bang cosmology and the indeterminism of quantum mechanics are two theses that, I am sure, would have been ruled out as pseudoscience before they developed and became successful thoeries.

You don't need demarcation criteria to deal with astrology, because astrology doesn't work. If it did, science would want to know about it.

im-skeptical said...

I agree that you can't count on a judge to reliably determine what constitutes science. The main determinant should be adherence to scientific method. Peer review, both within the specific scientific discipline area, and in the broader scientific community, will decide the issue.

IlĂ­on said...

"I was even told that when Judge Overton ruled there were Big Bang cosmologists who pleaded with the judge not to use the criteria he did to define science because it would not only rule out creationism, but modern cosmology as well."

If the people who try to throw out ID -- or even creationism -- as being "un-scientific" were logically consistent, which is to say, intellectually honest, they *also* have to throw out evolutionism for the same reasons. And sooner, for there is less science to evolutionism than to even creationism, much less ID.

But, they're not intellectually honest: so, if they can get the result they want by dishonest means, they'll do it every time.

im-skeptical said...

"there is less science to evolutionism than to even creationism, much less ID"

And this is precisely why the scientific community is in the best position to decide what science is. It should not be left in the hands of some know-it-all who doesn't have a clue what science is about.

oozzielionel said...

"And this is precisely why the scientific community is in the best position to decide what science is."

Why did I just shudder? Is this a new magisterium with unquestionable authority to declare true doctrine? Who is granted membership into "the scientific community?" On what grounds are members excommunicated? How broad is the field of knowledge? Who holds this group accountable when they overstep the demarcation of verifiable evidence?

im-skeptical said...

oozielionel,

Your facetious remarks aside, there is no "membership". This is not a religious institution. Peer review decides whether your work is worthy of publication in the major journals. Prominent scientists gain because of their work, not because they were appointed or promoted within some organization. And there certainly is accountability. If someone commits scientific fraud, it will be exposed sooner or later, and that person and his work will be publicly repudiated. Contrast that with the secrecy and protectionism of the church.

Papalinton said...

"Why did I just shudder? Is this a new magisterium with unquestionable authority to declare true doctrine? Who is granted membership into "the scientific community?" On what grounds are members excommunicated? How broad is the field of knowledge? Who holds this group accountable when they overstep the demarcation of verifiable evidence?"

Oh Dear! Judging science and the community against the one and only benchmark in his knowledge bank And as Skep says, it ain't a religion. Magisterium, unquestioned authority, 'true' doctrine, excommunication, and overstepping the demarcation of verifiable evidence, are all the idiosyncratic traits of a faith-based epistemology. Faith claims are knowledge claims. Faith claims are statements of fact about the world. But as Boghosian has demonstrated so forcefully in his most recent treatise, faith is an unreliable epistemology.

A most telling substantive codicil to Boghossian's conclusions is mirrored in "The Stone", by Gary Gutting, New York Times, September 14, 2011:

'Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan, or 21-st Century Saudi Arabia do NOT lead to belief in Christianity. It seems therefore, that religious belief very likel;y tracks not truth but social conditioning."

I say, Amen to Gary Gutting.

oozzielionel said...

I feel better now. The Scientific Community will provide the social conditioning to educate our children in the proper things to believe.

Thankfully, this will not be unquestioned authority. But still, these beliefs "typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The scientific information held in all nations will NOT lead to belief in Science. It seems therefore, that Science very likely tracks not truth but social conditioning."

im-skeptical said...

oozielionel,

You don't have to worry. The scientific community is not in the business of providing social conditioning for our children. It doesn't try to undo the indoctrination that the religious community has worked so hard to impose on them.

oozzielionel said...

Thank you for the assurance. I do not believe you.

im-skeptical said...

"Thank you for the assurance. I do not believe you."

I think what you have in mind is DI. But they're not the scientific community (with very good reason). DI pushes a religious agenda while masquerading as science. While there are scientists who write textbooks, the scientific community as a whole has no such agenda.

Victor Reppert said...

Papalinton: That wasn't Gutting's argument, it was Gutting summarizing the argument of Kitcher.

Papalinton said...

Victor
'Papalinton: That wasn't Gutting's argument, it was Gutting summarizing the argument of Kitcher'

Yes that's correct. And it wasn't my intention to suggest it a Gutting argument but rather that there is synchrony of substance between Gutting's words and the work of Professor Boghossian.

BeingItself said...

"I was even told that when Judge Overton ruled there were Big Bang cosmologists who pleaded with the judge not to use the criteria"

Told by whom? Who are the alleged cosmologists that did the alleged pleading?

Victor Reppert said...

http://soamc.org/tfh/FILES/Creation,%20Origin/TIPLER/

Speaking of Tipler, be sure not to miss his paper, "How to
Construct a Falsifiable Theory in Which the Universe Came Into
Being Several Thousand Years Age," PSA 1984, Proceedings of the
Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association (Vol. 2,
pp. 873-902). Tipler is not a creationist, indeed, he writes, "I
personally am an atheist" (p. 895), but he finds that "the
political position taken by many opponents of the creationists
offends my liberal instincts" (p. 874). Further, Tipler argues that
federal judge William Overton made a serious error in his 1982
Arkansas decision, when Overton ruled that creation ex nihilo is
"inherently religious;" Tipler writes:

The problem with this is that..the standard big bang theory has
the Universe coming into existence out of nothing, and
cosmologists use the phrase "creation of the universe" to
describe this phenomenon! Thus if we accepted Judge Overton's
idea that creation out of nothing is inherently religious, it
would be illegal to teach the big bang theory at state
universities! I pointed out this amusing implication of Judge
Overton's opinion to John Wheeler, who teaches big bang cosmology
with great enthusiasm at the University of Texas, and he wrote to
me that "he would be unable to obey the law" [i.e., Overton's
decision]. (p. 894)

This paper is fascinating, but beware: you'll need (at least) a
Ph.D. for the astrophysics.

im-skeptical said...

"Thus if we accepted Judge Overton's
idea that creation out of nothing is inherently religious, it
would be illegal to teach the big bang theory at state
universities!"

My comment of Dec 4 still stands.