Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Week 7: Case Study for the Demarcation Question

Next week we’ll begin to consider the falsification model of science as a way of defining what science is. As you might expect, given the worries about falsification as a methodology for science, it doesn’t fare terrifically well as a demarcation criterion. But it’s important to see clearly why. Notice that falsification’s not being a great way of doing science doesn’t automatically entail that a necessary condition of a theory’s being scientific is that it’s falsifiable (of course, we might want to also have sufficient conditions — but it would be important enough to identify some features that scientific theories must have). This is how falsificationism came to be treated — even by Popper. Judge Overton used it this way in his (1982) opinion in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education.

This is one of the things that worries Laudan. There are number of levels to the concern. For one, it’s not clear that creationism is not falsifiable; for two, it’s not clear that any theories (scientific or not) are falsifiable in the sense that Overton and other enthusiasts envision. And there are other concerns that shed some light both on the 1980s debate about scientific creationism (which fizzles today) and on his view of the nature of science. His debate with Michael Ruse, a philosopher of biology who testified in McLean, is the reading for Tuesday. 

On Thursday, we’ll leap into the present by considering the status of intelligent design (ID) viz. the demarcation question. The recent trial in Dover, PA shines another public spotlight on the philosophy of science. And as before, many defenders of evolution by natural selection want to make a case for ID as non-science. But how good is this case?

Tuesday (10/4): Philosophy of Science in the Courtroom
• Readings from Thursday 9/29: Popper vs. Kuhn [PDF]
• Laudan, “Science at the Bar — Causes for Concern” and Michael Ruse, “Pro-Judice” [PDF]

Questions: (respond to one — questions from 9/29 are also fair-game)
  1. One might have the following reaction to Laudan’s commentary on the Overton decision: as long as the correct answer was reached, why should we worry too much about how it was reached it. How might one respond to this reaction?
  2. As Laudan shows, there’s a sense in which falsifiability is an extremely weak requirement. But as we’ve already seen, there’s another sense in which it is a very strong requirement. How could this be?! Isn’t this the same as the porridge being both too hot and too cold?
  3. Consider Ruse’s third objection to Laudan: that his conclusions and strategies “are simply not strong enough for legal purposes” (20). Evaluate this objection. 
  4. Whose position do you find to be stronger: Laudan’s or Ruse’s? Explain your evaluation.
Thursday (10/6): The Intelligent Design Challenge
• Kitcher, "Disinterring Darwin" [PDF]

Questions: (respond to two)
  1. Why do you suppose Kitcher draws a distinction between “the architects of intelligent design theory” and those who “rally to their cause”?
  2. In what way(s) does the development of intelligent design (ID) in the wake of widespread abandoning of creation science connect with the claims of Laudan and Ruse?
  3. Given what Kitcher says about ID, do you think he would side with Laudan or Ruse?
  4. Briefly explain how Kitcher proposes to respond to intelligent design.
  5. Describe the differences between the three varieties of Darwin-detractors.

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