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Bottom line on Demarcation Problem

June 11th, 2006 · No Comments

PT has a lot of good material on Laudan and the demarcation problem. Laudan’s well-known essay, “Demise of the Demarcation Problem”, in Michael Ruse’s But Is It Science?.
I won’t trouble the airwaves with an attempt to exploit Laudan’s views, since I can produce my own position on the demise of the ‘demarcation problem’.
Here’s the dreadful hard reality we face, with respect to science: science does a swell job on physics, but can’t do subjects allergic to strict causal analysis. Such subjects aren’t supposed to exist, but they apparently do. Since scientists assume that they can explicate the whole of reality, they end up with a mythology of science applied to areas beyond the ‘demarcation boundary’: they reduce these to causal mechanisms inappropriately, or else delete the phenomena from consideration.
Science can’t resolve questions of soul, will, mind, consciousness, these are beyond its demarcation boundary, shall we go on? Yes, the last bitter pill must be the suspicion that theories of evolution straddle the fence with respect to the demarcation boundary.
This has an unfortunate conclusion: if we restrict ourselves to science (as currently defined) we will miss the main enchilada, and concoct a reductionist myth. That sounds awfully familiar as we look at the history of evolutionary theory. Natural selection was that pipedream that claimed to be the magical talisman to define the demarcation of a host of metaphysical entities. Thus ‘free will’, a la Dennett, is a selectionist adaptation via natural selection.
The clearest failure here is the issue of ethics. Ethical issues, and their evolution, are beyond the demarcation boundary. Thus scientific claims here are a pretense. No?

The clearest outline of these issues, using its own concepts and language, is the set of critiques of Kant.
None of this is any comfort to religious claims about evolution.

Larry Laudan, philosopher of science and Senior Investigator at the Instituto de las Investigaciones Filosóficas, National Autonomous University of Mexico, is often quoted by ID activists in support of their claims about the demarcation problem. The demarcation problem basically is a philosophical argument about how to define what is and is not science. Larry Laudan strongly criticized the ruling by Judge Overton in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Laudan argued that contrary to Overton’s decision creation science is in fact testable, tentative and falsifiable.

Laudan is also the author of “The Demise of the Demarcation Problem”, printed in Michael Ruse’s “But Is It Science?”. The Discovery Institute and its various contributors have made extensive use of Laudan’s position on the demarcation problem. Ironically, it seems that Larry Laudan holds some very strong opinions in this area.

Tags: Evolution · Philosophy · Science & Religion

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