PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Demarcation, Law, and the Schools: The Science/non-Science Boundary since the Dover Trial

The question of demarcation between science and non-science has persisted for generations, despite—or because of—its role in negotiating legal questions about the place of evolution in American school curricula. The debate between Michael Ruse and Larry Laudan in the wake of the 1981 McLean v. Arkansas “creation science” trial is instructive, especially because it is widely ready in introductory classes in the history of science. That the verdict in McLean focused so centrally on questions of whether “creation science” was or was not a “science” demonstrated that even if the demarcation problem is philosophically nuanced and unresolved, the exigencies of both the courtroom and the classroom demand a practical approach.
In the 2005 “intelligent design” trial, Kitzmiller v Dover [PA] Area School District, the demarcation issue was revisited with a more historicist approach. The court ruled against the inclusion of intelligent design in schools in part by invoking the history of antievolutionism to argue that a hypothetical objective observer would associate intelligent design with a continuation of that history, and that its status as non-science (and ergo religious) follows. This creates what some critics of the Kitzmiller ruling refer to as a “historical-associations test” as a basis for demarcation. On the face of it, this historical-associations test has some elements in common with what John Dupré and Massimo Pigliucci have each referred to as science understood along the lines of Wittengenstein’s concept of family resemblances (although the historical-associations test relies on a family resemblance among certain non-sciences rather than a non-resemblance to the scientific family.) In a recent article, one proponent of intelligent design argued that the historical-associations test as used in Kitzmiller is so broad that it could even brand evolution an unconstitutionally religious theory to teach in American schools. In this paper, I will argue that the idea of a historical-associations test fails not because it is too strict in eliminating concepts from the science-family, but because to the extent that historical enquiry informs the process of demarcation, it shows that the science/non-science boundary is inherently iterative and socially performed. This result has broader implications for the family resemblances approach to demarcation and the larger question of science-religion interaction.

Author Information:

Adam Shapiro    
Independent Scholar


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