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Science as a rhetorical device: the authority of 'science' in the evolution/creation debates

Stefaan Blancke (UGent)
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Abstract
One recent debate that beautifully illustrates the authority of science is that between creationists and those in favour of teaching evolutionary theory. Despite continuous creationist claims to the contrary, there exists no controversy in the scientific community over evolutionary theory; the debate takes place entirely within the public domain. Because of the authority science is credited with within public space, each camp is careful to present its own position as genuinely scientific, and equally intends to portray its opponent’s position as unscientific claptrap. On the one hand, creationists point out the alleged gaps in evolutionary theory to support the claim that evolution is ‘just a theory’, amounting to nothing more than naturalistic philosophy or a godless religion. Evolutionists, on the other hand, intend to demonstrate that creationists have only religion and not science on their mind, and that their scientific pretentions are absurd to the highest degree. The evidence, they explain, does not support a world-wide flood nor the intervention of an intelligent designer. Apart from presenting real or supposed countervailing evidence, both camps often resort to yet another strategy to undermine each other’s position. They put forth a definition of science and proceed to argue that the ideas of their respective opponent fail to meet the criteria set by that definition, and thus lack what it takes to be called a science. It is on this tactic we will focus our attention here, and this for two reasons. First, by these definitions of science , the authority of the term ‘science’ is invoked directly, without relying on those methods and properties science itself owes its authority to. Instead, in this public setting, science becomes a rhetorical device, a term you can define according to your needs. Second, philosophers of science have been deeply involved in this debate. Some of them (e.g. Karl Popper) merely unintentionally, because at least one of the camps seized upon their definition of science. Others have been more actively engaged and proposed definitions by which creationism could be deemed unscientific. Both efforts have the unfortunate effect of giving the false impression that there exists a philosophical consensus on the definition of science or on the demarcation of science from religion or pseudoscience. Also, both bring yet another authority in play, that of philosophy (or the philosopher) of science, that, in this particular case, somehow derives its authority from science, but, again, does not result from the methods or properties the authority of science itself is based on. When philosophers act as experts in the debate, they reinforce both effects considerably. We discern several disadvantages in the latter approach and we suggest that in this debate, by any available means (e.g. education, popular science, ...), science should speak for itself so that its authority can be understood and rightly assigned; simply invoking science as a rhetorical device tends to counteract its authority.

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Chicago
Blancke, Stefaan. 2011. “Science as a Rhetorical Device: The Authority of ‘Science’ in the Evolution/creation Debates.” In 4th Sydney-Tilburg Conference on the Philosophy of Science, Meeting Abstract.
APA
Blancke, S. (2011). Science as a rhetorical device: the authority of “science” in the evolution/creation debates. 4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science, meeting abstract. Presented at the The authority of science. 4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science.
Vancouver
1.
Blancke S. Science as a rhetorical device: the authority of “science” in the evolution/creation debates. 4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science, meeting abstract. 2011.
MLA
Blancke, Stefaan. “Science as a Rhetorical Device: The Authority of ‘Science’ in the Evolution/creation Debates.” 4th Sydney-Tilburg Conference on the Philosophy of Science, Meeting Abstract. 2011. Print.
@inproceedings{1205685,
  abstract     = {One recent debate that beautifully illustrates the authority of science is that between creationists and those in favour of teaching evolutionary theory. Despite continuous creationist claims to the contrary, there exists no controversy in the scientific community over evolutionary theory; the debate takes place entirely within the public domain. Because of the authority science is credited with within public space, each camp is careful to present its own position as genuinely scientific, and equally intends to portray its opponent{\textquoteright}s position as unscientific claptrap. On the one hand, creationists point out the alleged gaps in evolutionary theory to support the claim that evolution is {\textquoteleft}just a theory{\textquoteright}, amounting to nothing more than naturalistic philosophy or a godless religion. Evolutionists, on the other hand, intend to demonstrate that creationists have only religion and not science on their mind, and that their scientific pretentions are absurd to the highest degree. The evidence, they explain, does not support a world-wide flood nor the intervention of an intelligent designer. Apart from presenting real or supposed countervailing evidence, both camps often resort to yet another strategy to undermine each other{\textquoteright}s position. They put forth a definition of science and proceed to argue that the ideas of their respective opponent fail to meet the criteria set by that definition, and thus lack what it takes to be called a science. It is on this tactic we will focus our attention here, and this for two reasons. First, by these definitions of science , the authority of the term {\textquoteleft}science{\textquoteright} is invoked directly, without relying on those methods and properties science itself owes its authority to. Instead, in this public setting, science becomes a rhetorical device, a term you can define according to your needs.  
Second, philosophers of science have been deeply involved in this debate. Some of them (e.g. Karl Popper) merely unintentionally, because at least one of the camps seized upon their definition of science. Others have been more actively engaged and proposed definitions by which creationism could be deemed unscientific. Both efforts have the unfortunate effect of giving the false impression that there exists a philosophical consensus on the definition of science or on the demarcation of science from religion or pseudoscience. Also, both bring yet another authority in play, that of philosophy (or the philosopher) of science, that, in this particular case, somehow derives its authority from science, but, again, does not result from the methods or properties the authority of science itself is based on. When philosophers act as experts in the debate, they reinforce both effects considerably. 
We discern several disadvantages in the latter approach and we suggest that in this debate, by any available means (e.g. education, popular science, ...), science should speak for itself so that its authority can be understood and rightly assigned; simply invoking science as a rhetorical device tends to counteract its authority.},
  author       = {Blancke, Stefaan},
  booktitle    = {4th Sydney-Tilburg conference on the philosophy of science, meeting abstract},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {University of Sydney},
  title        = {Science as a rhetorical device: the authority of 'science' in the evolution/creation debates},
  year         = {2011},
}