I’ve just finished reading Robert Pennock’s piece “Can’t Philosophers Tell the Difference Between Science and Religion? Demarcation Revisited”, in the new edition of But is it Science?. There is so much wrong in this piece, it’s hard to know where to start. If there’s a philosophy grad student out there who’s looking for a paper topic, let me know and I can give you advice on how to write a paper taking issue with Pennock. Perhaps I’ll talk about some of the philosophical problems with Pennock’s piece on this blog but that will have to be saved for another time. For now I just want to comment on Pennock’s offensive tone.
For example, Pennock writes:
Laudan’s and Quinn’s discussions of demarcation, which can only be described as histrionic and ill considered, and those of their careless imitators continue to muddy the waters to the detriment of both science and philosophy of science. (p. 540)
Laudan’s essay “The Demise of the Demarcation Problem” is standardly considered one of the most important essays in philosophy of science in the 20th century. Pennock may disagree with it, but his level of rhetoric toward it is unwarranted.
Also, Pennock approvingly quotes Paul Gross, who writes:
Larry Laudan presents in his jeremiad on McLean v. Arkansas a perfect example of a philosopher richly deserving an exclusion from ‘the conversation of mankind’. (p. 542)
To be honest, I find this highly offensive. Do I even need to explain why?
I could give many more examples, but here’s a final one for now:
When squinting philosophers like Laudan, Quinn, and their imitators such as Monton and George purport that there is no way to distinguish between science and pseudoscience or religion they bring to mind Hume’s observation that “generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous”. Unfortunately, in giving succor, inadvertently or not, to creation science and now to ID, such philosophers compound the error, making the ridiculous dangerous. (p. 569)
Pennock and I have major disagreements, but I’ll try my best to air these disagreements without calling Pennock things like a “squinting philosopher”, or saying that he’s “ridiculous” and “dangerous”. I think Pennock is mistaken about a lot of issues in philosophy, but I’ll try my best to explain Pennock’s confusions without resorting to this sort of offensive rhetoric. It’s disappointing to me that Pennock doesn’t feel the same way.