I had intended to go on to discuss prominent attempts to solve the demarcation problem. Before I do, though, I’ll show my hand and reveal something of my personal conclusions on the issue.
The demarcation problem is the contemporary philosophical attempt to find a principled distinction between science and non-science (including pseudo-science). The goal of work on this problem, as I understand it, is to find a way of telling the difference between science and non-science in a way that preserves the modern deference to science as our best source of truth, and our cultural conceptions about which disciplines count as sciences. This is a fascinating project, one of the main quests of the modern discipline of philosophy of science.
It has failed.
So, at least, I think, and hope to convince you. But this failure is by no means a bad thing, because understanding the project and the reasons for its failure can help us understand the modern notion of science, and to resist hand-waving appeals to science to dismiss Christian faith. For example: as I hope to make plausible, we tend to call things “science” when they share some characteristics with what we think of as the paradigmatic sciences, like physics and chemistry, characteristics like the repeatability of results in a lab. As I mentioned last time, we have many perfectly rational and intellectually respectable beliefs that are clearly far removed from such characteristics of science (such as my belief that it is hot in my room or that my parents love me). Being able to repeat results in a lab is a fine thing; but clearly it is not necessary for rational belief in something.
And the same can be said, I think, for the distinctive characteristics of all the disciplines we tend to call “scientific.” This shows that even if it were (contrary to fact) true that Christianity enjoyed no scientific support, this would in no way suggest that we shouldn’t believe it.
There are other practical implications as well. For once we see how different the disciplines we call “sciences” are, and how similar some of them are to non-science disciplines, we can start to put aside the temptation to treat “scientific” results as automatically correct and instinctively ignore anything that lacks the label “science.” Instead, we can recognize the different features that contribute, in distinctive ways and degrees, to warranted confidence in each field: whether repeatability in the chem lab, or documentary corroboration in history. And it is attention to these features, not to the label “science”, which helps us to effectively evaluate claims about topics like global warming, methods of poverty alleviation, or biological evolution.
I hope to return to this theme of practical implications periodically throughout this series. For now, grace and peace.