Philosophy on creation-science

In McLean v. Arkansas board of Education, 1981, McLean et. al. successfully overturned Arkansas Act 590, that had required balanced treatment of creation-science whenever evolution science curriculum were presented in public schools. Dr. Michael Ruse was one of over a dozen witnesses for the plaintiff in this case that may be unique for having experts qualify these two subjects in testimony (www.antievolution.com).

Larry Laudan criticizes the demarcation criteria used in the ruling, though ultimately agreeing with the decision that found the 590 statute in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Laudan felt that the decision would have been much stronger if it had been built on better arguments, and he shares them in his Commentary: Science at the Bar-Causes for Concern.

The demarcation criteria proposed in Judge Overton’s ruling focuses on a point that creation-science is not science, and details definitions of the important terms (www.ncse.com). Laudan writes that it is more accurate to define creation-science as science, and would have been a much stronger position to argue against creation-science on the grounds that it is bad science. Laudan’s ‘Concern’ is that neither Judge Overton nor Dr. Ruse have done a real service to the  Evolution camp in its long-term rivalry against attempts to advance the religious conviction that a mystical spirit created humankind, because Overton adopts Ruse’s criteria of true science that are either red herrings or embarrassing misrepresentations of what science really is. The criticisms of each criterion are as follows:

1-      Creationism makes no (falsifiable) assertions. Laudan clarifies that to the contrary, claims have been made, tested, and found to be false; and that the court was entirely silent on this, what would have been the best argument against creationism. Further, this framing places creationism outside the boundary of empirical confrontation. Laudan also notes that not all true science is testable in an isolated context.

2-      Creationists are supposedly unscientific because they refuse to adjust their doctrine to advances in evidence that affect the doctrine. Laudan remarks that creationists would probably not admit that they change anything in light of evidence, but they have changed some positions over the years; anyway there are examples of scientists in the past who committed dogmatically to their claims.

3-      That if it cannot be explained by the natural laws that we understand today, then it must be unscientific. Laudan states that Newtonian, Darwinian and plate-techtonic theories would all have qualified as unscientific by this standard.

These arguments leave multiple loopholes for creation-science, for one, because there is no respectable consensus within the pro science community on what activity totally constitutes a definition of science; and two, just because creationism is not science, does not mean that it must be religion. It would be better says Laudan, to simply compare the two doctrines head to head and observe that one is entirely robust, while the other is not. It is also important to maintain the integrity of the intellectual community, which this ruling does not do.

In a response to criticism, Ruse does not adequately address Laudan’s philosophical concerns, but he does mention some noteworthy points. For one thing, many of the believers in miracles are not going to “be swayed by any empirical facts.” Ruse also argues Laudan’s arguments would not have stood up in court because it is not illegal to teach bad science, while in fact, the McLean decision did stand up in the U.S. Supreme Court six years later in Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987.

“Some creationists responded to [the Edwards v. Aguillard] decision by refashioning “creation science” to avoid any explicit references to the Bible, to God, or to the beliefs of a particular religious sect. This version of creationism re-emerged as part of the “intelligent design” movement in the 1990s” (www.ncse.com).

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