Telic Thoughts responds (sort of) to a point I made yesterday. In the course of arguing that creationists and postmodernists talk about science the same way – as “microfascist,” etc. – I pointed out a TT post with some confused thoughts on demarcation between science and non-science. Macht replies:
I wasn’t talking about what was true and what wasn’t true — I was talking about what the motivations for the demarcation problem are.
Which I understood. My point was that this view of the demarcation problem as fundamentally political is exactly how postmodernists approach it also. My point was that science serves as a process for distinguishing truth from non-truth. The process it follows has limits and rules which serve that broad goal. The principle of falsification with empirical evidence is what lets science identify some claims about the world as false (or probably false according to some philosophers of science). Distinguishing what science is allows you to assess a scientific sounding claim about truth.
Macht gets this all confused. He quotes me saying:
The possibility that government funding goes to science for exactly the reason that science is different from non-science seems not to have even occurred to macht. That science is a way of distinguishing truth from non-truth is precisely why we try to isolate what makes science work, and why we fund and teach the process that does exactly that, and why we oppose teaching or funding things that do not follow those methods but which purport to do so.
I actually I did consider that — and I rejected it. Distinguishing truth from non-truth is a different project from distinguishing science from non-science. Scientific theories can be false and non-science can be true.
But what he claims to have rejected is not the claim of an equivalency between truth/non-truth and science/non-science. He is dancing pretty hard to make that link, but you simply won’t find it in anything I wrote.
Yes, scientific theories can be false or true, and nonscientific claims can be true or false. The difference between the two is that science offers an empirical way to tell which is which, while non-science doesn’t.
If the government is interested in determining which claims about the world are true, should it fund nonscience to do so? Should it fund methods that cannot distinguish truth from non-truth? Should we teach students that techniques that don’t distinguish truth from non-truth actually do?
My point here is that “science” isn’t just a word, it represents something actual, and that actual thing has a method. Things that don’t follow those methods don’t do the work that science does. Funding nonscience as if it were science will not yield results, and is a waste of money. Teaching non-science as science is a lie and a waste of valuable teaching time. The distinction has political implications, but it is not fundamentally a political distinction. It is political because having objective knowledge about what is and isn’t true is valuable in making policy, and non-science doesn’t allow us to objectively distinguish what is (might be) true from what isn’t.
As a side-note to macht’s commenters: don’t try to “translate that which Josh is not explicitly stating but about which he would likely concur.” I don’t. If you don’t understand something, just ask. I’ve never claimed that science has a monopoly on truth. It is, however, the only method we know about that allows us to objectively clarify what is or isn’t true.