Thursday, May 29, 2008

Darwin, Science, and the Demarcation Problem

Our study of Darwin’s theory of evolution, its aftermath, and implications unsurprisingly begs as many questions as it answers. One of the biggest questions related to the study of the theory involves epistemic and presuppositional difficulties of science. To resolve these difficulties first requires a definition of science, which relates to what is called the demarcation problem. I will make a few brief comments on the demarcation problem but leave the majority of its treatment to my friend Mario, a much wiser philosopher than I.

The demarcation problem in the philosophy of science concerns the boundary between science, and everything else. In other words, it asks the question what is science and what is not science? One version of the problem concerns the boundary between science and pseudo-science. Advocates of pseudo-science claim that it should be on the same playing field as science even though it does not function in the same way. The difficulty and resolution of demarcation lies within the criterion used to distinguish science from pseudo or non-science.

The term “science” is socially significant because it seems to make a claim on a certain type of knowledge or truth. Some argue that this leads to preferential access to money, policy, and security within educational institutions. As such, the demarcation problem and its resolution significantly affects our definition of social justice and what is taught to children in public schools.

Good philosophy should present difficulties of claims made in an argument as part of its treatment. As it relates to science, keep in mind that some propositions could be true and have nothing to do with scientific formulation or considerations. In addition, we may still intend science to be a truth-seeking activity or a better way of arriving at true beliefs but it does not entail that scientific claims are always true.

Please stay tuned to this post as I have a feeling the debate will be more than interesting. Well, hopefully.

Best Wishes,

1 comment:

Roger Aboud said...

This post is hopefully the first of many from Mario. I would like to express my thanks for his thoughtful comments.

Demarcation Frustration!

First off, I need to express a sincere thanks to my good friend Roger. The last year that I have gotten to know him has been a privilege and I have enjoyed many a conversation with him about various topics, including the current one at hand. I must admit that Roger was being a bit too generous calling me a wiser philosopher than him. In fact, I don’t consider myself as such (a wise philosopher), but do appreciate an honest, open discussion, even among peers who may have differing and even sometimes-competing worldviews. Of the many topics that this blog will tackle, I am positive that every one of them will be deserving of conversation, imagination and honesty.

Given the nature of most blogs, I will try to represent my thoughts in a less formal structure as compared to a philosophy paper. While I may run the risk of not developing thoughts as detailed when compared to a formal paper, I am hoping to identify a particular theme, concept or question and then, through dialogue, explain and defend a given position or thought.

That being said, I would say that Roger’s explanation of the demarcation problem is well explained and reasoned. It would be a disservice to his work and to the time of the reader to rehash it. His summary of the problem as to what are the boundaries of science are as it relates to other disciplines is a good introduction to the issue. The one thing that I would like to add is that the demarcation problem is an on-going conversation that will, in my opinion, always be there. This is for the better, in my opinion, as long as we are willing to be respectful of the expressions of the worldviews being defended. The conversation about the demarcation problem has been around for a while, and as science has progressed and evolved, so to has the ongoing conversation been resituated to handle the new objections that each new bit of scientific information poses. As you can imagine, this subject lends itself to fiery conversation and at times can be frustrating, but as with any other important topic, it is a worthwhile one.

That being said, the issue is if whether or not science, as a discipline, has insulated it self from intersecting with other disciplines. Further, if science, in order to remain purely scientific, is completely self-contained as to eliminate (or prohibit) interfacing with other systems of thought (more specifically, theology), is science simply telling us what we know about the natural world or is it doing something more? If coherence is what we are after in terms of our thoughts, our information and knowledge of the world, then how can we proceed from here in reconciling science with other non-scientific ideas about the world.

That being said, I’m of the strong opinion that science and faith are not mutually exclusive. I understand that position often raises a lot of questions and objections from people on both sides of the issue. However, it is really in the core of my being that I am willing to defend this position as graciously as possible. Given the patience and openness of people who what to know my reasoning for such a conclusion, I look forward to a transparent conversation. In many respects, this is just a quick introduction of what I am hoping for and what I’ll be engaging in. My next step is going to be to answer Roger’s 7 questions he asks on his latest post one by one. Until next time!