Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Two Sides to Every Story

In the interest of fairness, here are links to the Troglodyte's (Scott Warmka) responses to my post on ID from a few days ago. He responds in three parts here, here, and here.

It will be clear to anyone who has followed the arguments that he and I have advanced that we are not really all that far apart in some ways, but clearly there are areas where we disagree. This is not helped much by the fact that there have been some occasions of confusion (for example, I did not attribute to Scott Warmke the error of assuming that like effects entail like causes--I attributed that view to Mark Shea [correctly, I think], but Scott seems to think I was talking about him [Scott Warmke] at that point, so his third installment is at least in part a case of ignoratio elenchi, though he does have some interesting and valuable things to say in that installment).

Although I am somewhat played-out on this topic, there is one point that does deserve at least a mention here, and that is the bit about Kuhn's conception of normal science as offering demarcation criteria for the boundary of science. There are two things to note in this regard. First, Thomas Kuhn would have been among the first to reject ID as an example of a "scientific" hypothesis, though Scott mentions only Kuhn's early book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions--perhaps he hasn't had a look yet at Kuhn's later work in The Essential Tension. But of course appealing to Kuhn in that way is tantamount to an appeal to authority (though a rather good authority, not an unqualified one).

Of more interest (at least to me) is the idea that Kuhn's conception of "normal science" would offer an answer to the question "what are the demarcation criteria for counting something as an instantiation of 'science'?". It is important to see that Kuhn's "normal science" is not a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for understanding the nature of science, but is rather a description of what scientists do during a certain phase of the development of a certain scientific discipline. In other words, to call the historical phase "normal science" a set of demarcation criteria would be hopelessly question-begging. It rather tells you what it is you should be doing once you have decided that what you are doing is 'science'. It does not tell you what science is.

This is not an uncontroversial point, however, since Kuhn and others, in talking about "normal science", have talked about the "constitutive values" that are at play during that phase of the development of a scientific program. But to see how this can be problematic if one reads it carelessly, consider this quotation from Kuhn that Scott has in one of his installments:
"[N]ormal science" means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice.

Note that the definition of "normal science" on offer here places it in the context of "past scientific achievements". If this were intended as a definition of science (a list of necessary and sufficient demarcation criteria), then it would be a circular definition: one still needs to know what a "scientific achievement" is, what it is that makes a particular achievement scientific rather than, say, theological in nature. I take it as obvious, for example, that we Christians believe de fide that God created the kosmos ex nihilo--the discovery of that fact is indeed an achievement of some kind, but it is an achievement of the discipline of theology, not of any empirical scientific discipline.

None of this is to downplay the interest and importance of the viewpoint that Scott Warmke so ably defends in his posts. I recommend them--and indeed his whole blog--very highly.

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