PvM, in The Panda’s Thumb: Laudan, demarcation and the vacuity of Intelligent design, has done a masterful job of pointing out that a favourite quotemine source of the Intelligent Design crowd, Larry Laudan, doesn’t say what they say he says, quelle surprise. The issue is epistemological naturalism and the demarcation of science from non-science.
The problem arose when Karl Popper did two things simultaneously: he denied there was a scientific method of discovery, and he tried to show what was different about science from all other human endeavours (primarily Marxist sociology and Freudian psychoanalytics, both of which he despised). Popper’s well-known answer was that any epistemic enterprise was scientific just to the extent that any claim made could be tested and shown to be false – its falsifiability.
Falsifiability was taken up with gusto by scientists, but criticisms from the philosophy of science were immediately forthcoming, and Thomas Kuhn’s subsequent view of science as a series of worldviews that replaced each other was used by anti-evolutionists immediately as a way to show that ID or creationism was just another “paradigm”. Pro-evolutionists such as Michael Ruse pointed out that creationism was “bad science” because it wasn’t falsifiable. But if the demarcation criterion was not applicable, then it was open to claim that creationism might just be scientific. A similar claim is made on behalf of ID, as PvM documents.
Larry Laudan, a well-respected philosopher of science, rejects Popper’s view of science, unlike Ruse, who is a staunch Popperian. According to Laudan, and it’s a view I share, there is no demarcation criterion between science and other human activities, but that doesn’t mean there is no way to tell if something is good or bad science. We don’t have a sharp line between them, but good science is well marked by its explanatory successes, predictive value, and contribution to further research. A “theory” that offered no avenues of further investigation is useless in science, unless it offered the final explanation of all the phenomena it purported to explain. And no theory has reached that state of blessedness.
Bad science is obvious to scientists. Most scientists at any rate. It has no techniques, no methods or no models. ID is such a beast, lacking, in fact all three. Dembski’s so-called explanatory filter, which has been eviscerated many times, including by myself and Wesley Elsberry, is not an explanation or a method – it is in fact an argument from ignorance – what we don’t know can be put down to the “Designer” (by which they of course mean God, despite the disingenuous protestations). And there are no other methods – no way to identify the action of the Designer, no way to find out if the Designer did a particular thing or it is natural, and so on. Just the bland and, as John Jones III put it in the Dover judgement, breathtakingly inane, claim that intelligence must be the cause of anythign we don’t presently have an explanation for and which looks like it might be designed (despite the complete lack of criteria for design identification).
To be sure, there are grey areas in science itself. We don’t know which avenues will be fruitful to pursue ahead of time – success is measured after the fact, not before it. So there are many claims in the literature that might be true, but which aren’t yet substantiated. Science needs its greay areas. But there are black areas too, and ID and creationism (which are the same thing anyway) falls squarely in the black. As a philosophical claim it may have legs, despite the continual solid criticisms of philosophers including Kant, Hume and so on, but science it definitely isn’t. Despite the lack of a demarcation criterion, we know nonscience when we see it.
As someone once noted – possibly Johnson – day may shade into night but day and night are, on the whole, tolerably well defined.