How Can We Tell the Difference Between Real Science and Pseudo-Science?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most common charges that intelligent design (ID) opponents hurl at ID theorists is that ID is not real science.  They will say that a real scientific theory must be testable against the empirical world, must make predictions, must be falsifiable, must be explanatory by reference to natural law, and so forth.  They point to ID and say that it doesn’t meet all of these criteria, and therefore ID must not be science.

But is that true?  Are there really criteria that define whether something is science or not science?  Well, if you ask philosophers of science (the academic experts on this question), they will tell you that no such criteria exists.  Every attempt at formulating an ironclad set of criteria has ended up accidentally excluding what scientists consider to be legitimate scientific fields.  There is no set of agreed upon criteria for separating science from pseudo-science; it just doesn’t exist among philosophers of science.

According to philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, leading philosophers of science such as Larry Laudan, Philip Quinn, and Philip Kitcher have argued that the question of whether something is science or non-science is both “intractable and uninteresting.”  Meyer explains that “they and most other philosophers of science have increasingly realized that the real issue is not whether a theory is ‘scientific’ according to some abstract definition, but whether a theory is true, or supported by the evidence.”

That is the key.  Theories should not be rejected or accepted with definitions of what is or is not science, but with the evidence that supports the theory.  This concept seems so simple and obvious, but the attempt at demarcating between science and non-science is a favorite technique of ID opponents.  By calling ID non-scientific, opponents never have to look at the evidence.  How convenient!  Call it pseudo-science and move on, without ever stopping to examine the evidence or evaluate the arguments offered by ID proponents.

Meyer quotes one philosopher of science, Martin Eger, who concludes, “Demarcation arguments have collapsed.  Philosophers of science don’t hold them anymore.  They may still enjoy acceptance in the popular world, but that’s a different world.”  Indeed it is.

For further reading on this issue, see this article by Stephen Meyer.