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Demarcation Revisited


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#1 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 03:31 PM

Those of you with an interest in the demarcation problem or the battles surrounding the status of Intelligent Design might be interested in a recent issue of Synthese called Evolution and its rivals. (You should be able to access some of the papers.) It includes an awful piece by Robert Pennock entitled Can't philosophers tell the difference between science and religion?: Demarcation revisited. Brad Monton, who is criticised by Pennock, called this issue "disappointing"; Brian Leiter described Pennock's argument as a "purported defense of the demarcation problem against Laudan's famous critique". Still, there may be some aspects of the papers we could discuss here.
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#2 Michael S. Pearl

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 03:36 PM

Just to let folks know -- open access to the articles supposedly lasts only through the end of this month. So, download them now.

Michael
Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason rather than its rarity that it is not only apolitical but anti-political, perhaps the most powerful of all anti-political human forces. -Hannah Arendt

#3 davidm

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 04:44 PM

Do the papers exhibit any philosophical balance, or are they all more or less of the Pennock-style argument?
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#4 Michael S. Pearl

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 05:12 PM

View Postdavidm, on 16 December 2010 - 04:44 PM, said:

Do the papers exhibit any philosophical balance, or are they all more or less of the Pennock-style argument?
So far I have only gotten about half of the way through the Pennock paper. There is also a paper by John Wilkins. You can find some comments about the papers in general from the Prosblogion crowd here.

Michael
Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason rather than its rarity that it is not only apolitical but anti-political, perhaps the most powerful of all anti-political human forces. -Hannah Arendt

#5 davidm

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 07:20 PM

I've now read half the Pennock paper myself.

I suggest moving this discussion over to Nullifidian's "Philosophy of biology" thread, which he will be returning to. His starting text for that thread is a book edited by Michael Ruse on the philosophy of biology, but this issue of Synthese can serve as a companion launching pad for discussion.
"History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness."

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#6 davidm

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 07:24 PM

Just to add: one way to advance this discussion would be if Hugo would review the Pennock piece, which I plan to do myself after I've finished reading it.

Edited by davidm, 16 December 2010 - 07:24 PM.

"History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness."

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#7 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 11:38 PM

I had intended to write some critical comments but the paper really is so bad that I don't know where to start. I'll see if there's some way to make it useful.
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#8 davidm

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 11:45 PM

View PostHugo Holbling, on 16 December 2010 - 11:38 PM, said:

I had intended to write some critical comments but the paper really is so bad that I don't know where to start. I'll see if there's some way to make it useful.

Its badness should make it easy for you, though.  B)
"History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness."

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#9 davidm

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Posted 18 December 2010 - 01:11 AM

Larry Laudan’s essay “The Demise of the Demarcation Problem” may be found here, though note that 3 pages are missing because of copyright limitations as to the number of pages that can be displayed, and you can’t print the page or copy and paste the content to a different program like Word and then print in that program. Moreover, if you want to buy the book in which the essay resides, you will have to part with a handsome 264 U. S. dollars. :yup:

I would find it very interesting if Hugo would post his detailed analysis of Pennock’s essay.

I think Pennock and others in this debate need for there to be a legal finding along the lines that ID is warmed-over creationism and therefore religious; and that religious views, or religiously motivated views, cannot be scientific. Or they need something like that. The problem with the Laudan essay is that Laudan pretty convincingly shows that they can’t get what they legally need; or rather, they can get it, if a judge rules so, but that does not make the judge’s ruling philosophically sound.

I don’t know why so much venom is directed at people like Laudan and Monton. Pretty clearly they are not supporters of ID/Creationism (or however you wish to label it). Monton makes that point very explicitly. What they object to, as Monton quotes Laudan from his essay, is the disinclination to drop “hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us.” Phrases, Laudan elaborates, like “pseudo-science” and “unscientific.” But, again, legally, Pennock et al feel they need these sorts of labels to stick on ID to keep it out assuredly out of the classroom, which is their main goal. But as Monton notes, what really can keep ID out of class is that, even if we say it’s science, it’s bad and unevidenced science, and shows no sign of getting better. Also, religious motivation cannot logically be used to exclude science, or science-like forms of research, from the classroom; for if so we’d have to exclude the body of work of Newton.

Anyway, I’m reading through the available papers; some are quite interesting.

Edited by davidm, 18 December 2010 - 01:38 AM.

"History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness."

-- Benno von Archimboldi :twisted:

#10 davidm

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Posted 18 December 2010 - 04:26 PM

From the Synthese article entitled ”The Science Question in Intelligent Design”

Quote

… note that most philosophers of science have long abandoned a sharp
line of demarcation between science and non-science. Some, such as Quine, have tended to deny the utility of all such dichotomous distinctions on pragmatic grounds. In particular, Quine argued for continuity between science and philosophy (as part of a comprehensive naturalism in philosophy), a position that denies the possibility of a strict demarcation between the two spheres. It is therefore not surprising that, when demarcation criteria were invoked in legal contexts during attempts to introduce Scientific Creationism into US high school science curricula in the 1980s, critics pointed out that its role was rhetorical and political rather than substantive. Laudan (1983,p. 349) puts this point forcefully: “If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like ‘pseudo-science’ and ‘unscientific’ from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us.” Ruse (1982), who had deployed the falsifiability criterion in court testimony, conceded that the demarcation criterion was being deployed for political ends, and pointed out—with some justice—that the most promising legal strategy for excluding creationism from science classes was by arguing that it was religion rather than science on the basis of
a demarcation criterion.

"History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness."

-- Benno von Archimboldi :twisted:

#11 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 05:13 PM

I'm thinking about writing a critique of this paper but I note that it's been out a while. Brad Monton has a few blog entries about it here and here.
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#12 davidm

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Posted 19 December 2010 - 07:35 PM

View PostHugo Holbling, on 19 December 2010 - 05:13 PM, said:

I'm thinking about writing a critique of this paper but I note that it's been out a while. Brad Monton has a few blog entries about it here and here.

Well, Pennock's paper has been out for nearly a couple of years, but I gather the issue of Synthese in which it appears is new? In any case, regardless of the age of the article, I think it'd be a great service for you to do a critique of it, which it richly deserves. Monton's two blog entries only touch on a couple of points, one of them the egregiously offenisve tone of the piece and the other demonstrating the falsity of the claim that supernatural claims can't be tested. Now it's time for you to step up and take Pennock's piece down comprehensively.  B) After which perhaps he could be sent a link to your piece.
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#13 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 21 December 2010 - 07:35 PM

*
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Here are some excerpted comments on Pennock's paper, linked above. This is taken from my longer blog entry here. I ignore the ridiculous rhetoric employed throughout and I 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

Quote

... 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 straightforwardly the case that this is exactly what happened with Creationism morphing into ID, assuming we accept the arguments of those opposed to ID that this is indeed what happened.

This is why Laudan's caution is often pointed to by those who wish to remark on the dangers of attacking ID on the philosophical grounds of the demarcation problem instead of in terms of confirmation or as a research programme. No doubt it is a source of some annoyance to opponents of ID that Laudan's comments have been seized upon by ID 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 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 it requires that we frame that debate in different terms; 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 uses the example of geocentrism and says that even though "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.

[Continued here.]

Edited by Hugo Holbling, 29 December 2010 - 08:01 AM.
Added link to original blog entry.

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#14 davidm

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 03:08 PM

Here's a good one at Panda's Thumb, in which it is noted that the sole value of the philosophy of science is its "entertaining ability."

Edited by davidm, 23 December 2010 - 03:08 PM.

"History, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness."

-- Benno von Archimboldi :twisted:

#15 Peter

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 11:24 PM

View Postdavidm, on 23 December 2010 - 03:08 PM, said:

it is noted that the sole value of the philosophy of science is its "entertaining ability."

That's a compliment. The entertainment of others is the most any of us can aspire to. The highest form of human life is the stand-up comedian.

#16 Michael S. Pearl

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 02:55 PM

My latest blog, The Great Danger that is Creationism, analyzes/critiques/criticizes the Pennock diatribe and also brings in another of the Synthese papers that had been available.

Michael
Love, by its very nature, is unworldly, and it is for this reason rather than its rarity that it is not only apolitical but anti-political, perhaps the most powerful of all anti-political human forces. -Hannah Arendt




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