Kuhn classfies science into two phases: periods of revolutionary science, where theories themselves are being challenged (for example when Newtonian mechanics was being supplanted by quantum mechanics), and a period of normal science, where researches accept a given theory and focus on confirming and working on its details (For example physicists subsequently fleshing out the details and consequences of QM).

From the SEP article on demarcation:

Kuhn criticized Popper for characterizing “the entire scientific enterprise in terms that apply only to its occasional revolutionary parts” (Kuhn 1974, 802). Popper's focus on falsifications of theories led to a concentration on the rather rare instances when a whole theory is at stake. According to Kuhn, the way in which science works on such occasions cannot be used to characterize the entire scientific enterprise. Instead it is in “normal science”, the science that takes place between the unusual moments of scientific revolutions, that we find the characteristics by which science can be distinguished from other enterprises (Kuhn 1974, 801).

In normal science, the scientist's activity consists in solving puzzles rather than testing fundamental theories. In puzzle-solving, current theory is accepted, and the puzzle is indeed defined in its terms. In Kuhn's view, “it is normal science, in which Sir Karl's sort of testing does not occur, rather than extraordinary science which most nearly distinguishes science from other enterprises”, and therefore a demarcation criterion must refer to the workings of normal science (Kuhn 1974, 802). Kuhn's own demarcation criterion is the capability of puzzle-solving that he sees as an essential characteristic of normal science.

But then per Kuhn's "puzzle solving" criteria, aren't Creationism and Lysenkoism just science as it proceeds in the normal phase? In both cases, a theory has already been accepted ("Lamarckan heritability", and "that world was intelligently designed"), and its practitioners were simply trying to solve the puzzle of how to fit the data to the theory.

My questions:

  1. How would Kuhn's approach avoid classifying Creationism and Lysenkoism as normal science?
  2. Shouldn't the intent of a research program count for whether it is classified as a science or not? In both Creationism and Lysenkoism's case, the program starts out with a none scientific agenda, and then tries to fit it with scientific results. It seems to me that this intention/agenda is what marks out the two as pseudo-scientific, more than anything else (that's not their only problem, but it is their biggest).
  • 3
    But what are the "puzzle" solved by Lysenkoism ? Their adherents have simply falsified the data to fit with the "theory". Nov 23, 2015 at 20:34
  • 1
    And on the other side, tradition describes Eudoxus as highly pious man devoted to Pythagorean ideal of spheres as perfect shapes, and uniform circular motions as the only ones fitting the heavens. Nonetheless he ingeniously solved the puzzle of backward planetary motions by nesting spheres rotating at different speeds and inclinations. It is the approach to solution that matters, not the agenda that drives it.
    – Conifold
    Nov 23, 2015 at 20:44
  • Reading these answers, I'm seeing a lot of what I would think of as "bulk" property science. They presume all of science moves as a whole, which I suppose is well in line with Kuhn's concept of "normal science." However, it reminds me of Cantor's dust. I wonder if the natural succession to Kuhn's approach is to argue that during phases of "normal science," one can always find regions of "crisis science."
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 24, 2015 at 20:11

5 Answers 5


I think Kuhn is just wrong about the nature of daily scientific progress. Just because you're not invalidating the germ theory of disease each time you do an experiment in lab, it doesn't follow that basic progress isn't essentially falsificationist (or castable as falsificationist) most of the time. For instance, most findings are backed up with statistics, and most statistical tests have a "null hypothesis" which you're ruling out, and that ruling out is essentially probabilistically falsifying the simpler hypothesis that nothing's going on. But, happily, we needn't settle that discussion (even if it does make it easier) to judge the examples you gave.

If we're to take Kuhn's position seriously (or perhaps an overly-strong caricature of his position), then indeed, one can do puzzle-solving from within the framework of Creationism or Lysenkoism. However, both of these are (and were when they were proposed) deeply in "crisis" mode, where data is explained poorly, and further inquiry only deepens rather than resolves the problems.

In practice, in both cases, what ended up happening is that "researchers" did not follow the normal process of science so that they could avoid having to face the crisis. And in any case, the two were not bringing theory and observation into closer agreement in any meaningful way (mostly the opposite--new observations would raise further troubling discrepancies), which Kuhn also requires for normal science.

So both fail as normal science on one count--agreement between observation and theory is not, on the whole, increasing; and as science on a second count--crisis has been reached and is long overdue, but revolution has not occurred.

  • Who has the right to declare that "crisis has been reached and is long overdue?" Is that something that an outside individual can make? You imply that what you perceive the due date to be is actually the due date. And what is the "normal progress of science in order to avoid having to face the crisis?" Wouldn't Kuhn's position be that the crises happen (since he mentioned they do), and any scientist who refuses to recognize them is actually not engaging in science?
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:30
  • @CortAmmon Again, who has the right to declare a country to be or not to be in a civil war? It is just obvious when it happens. Police action stops working and cannot be restored. Both sides insist on their own legitimacy. And both of them would like everyone to think there is no war, so that they can pretend they already won. These questions of legitimacy have nothing to do with the actual question.
    – user9166
    Nov 24, 2015 at 20:29
  • @jobermark By your analogy, would it be fair to say the only way to objectively decide whether creationism is or is not science is to be outside of science? An impartial observe who has never done science nor religion could define objectively who is doing science and who is not. On the other hand, if we presume the question is never answered impartially, always subjectively, then legitimacy absolutely does matter, because legitimacy is a very powerful tool for convincing people to agree with your side of the war.
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 24, 2015 at 20:39
  • You also suggest below that Creationism could be approached as a science. I do not see how that is possible or how a "higher intelligence" could be the object of a "scientific" program, normal or otherwise. I'm not rejecting Creationism per se, but the concept (presumably both absolute and singular) is simply not amenable to scientific method. Nov 24, 2015 at 22:15
  • @NelsonAlexander - With Creation Science, you are (nominally supposed to be) subjecting the creation, not the creator directly, to the scientific method. A very active creator may thwart all your experiments because the results will have no discernible logical relationship to one another (due to the creator's whims), but otherwise it's no different in principle than doing science on historical artifacts created by humans (or reverse engineering a complex device).
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 24, 2015 at 23:05

If it were accepted, Creationism -- which involves at least a radical revision of geologic timescales and a correspondingly large change in biology -- would be a paradigm shift in the sciences; all of the sciences. Even what would seem to be a more modest idea, like irreducible complexity, would still require radical reconsideration of large chunks of biology, chemistry and physics. Thus, taken as a whole, these efforts do not lie within "normal science".

This question points out one of the issues with the demarcation of science, radical new ideas have to come from somewhere and seem to require some non-rigorous intuitive spark. If you stick to a strict science/non-science split, you run into a dilemma: if you include the non-rigorous speculative phase under the scientific umbrella, you open the door to many wacky ideas, if you do not, you seem to be missing one of the interesting key features of the scientific endeavour: generating new ideas. One way out of this is to be more nuanced: you can differentiate established science (ideas well founded on observations) from speculative science (ideas that go much further away from what is already established) from discredited science (ideas that were once accepted to some degree, and now abandoned) from psuedoscience (ideas that are scientifically discredited, yet still held onto for some reason).

As pointed out in Cort Ammon's answer, on a smaller scale there may be individuals or groups who believe in Creationism, yet do puzzle solving; Cort's example of analyzing radioisotope (and other) dating methods spot on here. Note that for this to be carried out, the researchers have to analyze the results as per currently accepted techniques in order to show the discrepancies with the other researched work, i.e. operate within the current paradigm, even if their overall goal is to change that paradigm.

The issue is not the existence of an agenda per se, historians of science can point to any number of respected scientists who had an ideological or political agenda and argue that that affected their valid scientific work. However, there are gradations here too. Especially in the more speculative areas, without some commitment that their pet theory is likely to be true, most scientists wouldn't be motivated to continue their work. Note the "likely to be true", this differentiates it from the damaging absolutist ideological commitments that Creationists et al. make. It's not so much about what the motivation is -- drug companies do interesting science in order to make more money -- it's about the degree to which those motivations interfere with the science -- so there is a publication bias towards positive effects-- that is a problem.

I've responded to this question as though the creationists (et al.) were doing responsible scientific work. The Dover case has provided evidence that at least some practitioners in that camp intentionally ignored good scientific practices in order to produce what are, in effect, political propaganda to support their religious stance. Even if some practitioners are making good faith efforts to understand the world (scientifically), almost all of the time the quality of the work is dubious. For example, the mathematical modelling used to justify "irreducible complexity" was quickly shown to contain errors, and each of the the supposed biochemical examples of the same were shown to have less complex analogs in other species; the kinds of errors that erase a researcher's credibility. At some point, poor enough work, or continuing to pursue an idea despite disconfirming evidence, can be considered "not science"

  • "f it were accepted, Creationism -- which involves at least a radical revision of geologic timescales and a correspondingly large change in biology -- would be a paradigm shift in the sciences" -- You are talking about young earth Creationism. I was actually thinking of the more 'reasonable' strands of Creationism, those trying to prove an intelligent designer without going into the geological details. Nov 24, 2015 at 18:31
  • @AlexanderSKing even the creationist ideas that are "less radical" than young Earth creationism still would represent paradigm shifts, and thus not lie within Kuhn's normal science.
    – Dave
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:30
  • @AlexanderSKing - What exactly do you mean by "Creationism"? The directed-evolution-style "creationists" have no hypotheses that differ from normal science except that God selected mutations and stuff because He wanted the process to produce us.
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 24, 2015 at 23:09
  • @RexKerr Mostly I am thinking of the "irreducible complexity" crowd and whoever made the "747 in a junkyard". Nov 24, 2015 at 23:16
  • @AlexanderSKing - They don't (as a whole) have a distinct hypothesis except, "evolution can't do it", based on an argument that is invalid, so I'm not sure they'd be doing any science any differently (except perhaps experiments which tried to "prove" that evolution couldn't do it, and it's really hard to prove a negative).
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 24, 2015 at 23:43

No. Normal science presumes you are advancing or refining a paradigm that is the accepted basis of your current discipline, or is at least one among a set they would consider adopting.

Just having a different paradigm from the majority of your science, by choice, is doing revolutionary science and pretending it is not revolutionary.

It is like an institution setting up a separate system of courts unconnected to the State and Federal systems in the middle of the United States, out of objection to some Supreme Court ruling. Their process may be the same, but what they are dispensing simply isn't law. Acting as if it is law is an act of revolution undermining the sovereignty of the jurisdiction surrounding it.

  • That's why I included the example of Lysenkoism: Lysenko and Stalin were trying to artificially change the paradigm, and for a time Lamarckanism was officially the accepted basis of the discipline, at least in the Soviet union. Nov 24, 2015 at 18:22
  • You see something similar here in the US where states are trying to make intelligent design an accepted paradigm locally,even if they are not sanctioned by the federal government. The question becomes a political one, hence my problem with Kuhn's criteria in the first place. Nov 24, 2015 at 18:25
  • "Just having a different paradigm from the majority of your science..." who defines the categories of science, so that we may define a majority (51% majority?).
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 24, 2015 at 20:08
  • @CortAmmon Who defines who is winning a war, so that we might insist on negotiating only with them? Is the law being dispensed by Daesh right now "Law"? Without an external arbiter, political processes are messy, and sometimes they are co-opted by force. Pretending they don't happen is not the solution. But the examples here -- Lysenko and Creationism are not like the ISIS analogy, they are more like the U.S. analogy I actually gave. Everyone knows they are just attempting to co-opt science for an alternative agenda.
    – user9166
    Nov 24, 2015 at 20:16
  • @AlexanderSKing If you reject Kuhn's notion that deciding the paradigm is a political process, how would that change the ability of governments to ignore whatever other process defines science? Not at all. The ability to abuse something does not change its nature. Lysenko has nothing to do with Kuhn at all.
    – user9166
    Nov 24, 2015 at 20:25

Yes and no.

Creationism per se cannot be construed as a science, normal or otherwise. The causal entity defined as an "intelligence" exceeding "human intelligence" simply cannot be falsified, experimentally demonstrated, or even adequately defined by its subsidiary "human intelligence" or the necessary self-limitations of science. The ID hypothesis can be endlessly pursued as "puzzle-solving," of course, as in Thomism. It may even be true. But I do not see that it can ever conform to what is meant by a "scientific" paradigm, even in the most relativistic interpretation of Kuhn.

In this, I appear to disagree with both Cort Ammon and Rex Kerr, who are venturing, I believe, far outside the Kuhnian framework.

Lysenkoism, on the other hand, could easily be "normal science." Even political intrusion and falsified evidence might have been overcome by some continual, Quinean revision of the subsidiary hypotheses. Presumably, it would have encountered a Kuhnian crisis sufficient to dismantle its ideological embankments. But in fact it never did become a "normal science" because an alternate, crisis-inducing paradigm appeared not in its "normal" development, but as a superior, contemporary crisis and challenge.

But as ideologically driven science, corrupted science, politicized science, or "bad" science, Lysenkoism is not so different from many short-lived episodes in the history of science generally, some of them perhaps widely accepted today. One can only... wait and see. Indeed, it would not be terribly surprising to see some of today's Lemarckian or teleological heresies return to favor in the near future. Teleology of a sort is not necessarily ruled out by scientific paradigms, but a "superior intelligence" as causal entity is, whether God or Stalin.

  • I suspect a circular argument here: you state that "The causal entity defined as an "intelligence" exceeding "human intelligence" simply cannot be falsified, ", hence already assuming fablsificationism as a starting point of your argument. But per Kuhn, falsification occurs only during revolutionary science, and my question was about normal science. Nov 24, 2015 at 20:48
  • No, my point is not about a specific process or moment of falsification. It is simply that the positing of creation by some higher "intelligence" cannot be framed as a "scientific" question, even in the most lenient reading of Kuhn. How could such a free, active, intervening agent be proved or disproved by the subordinate "intelligence" it surpasses... spatially, temporally, and causally? Such a hypothesis simply falls beyond the scope of scientific method, like those of the Kantian antinomies. Nov 24, 2015 at 22:01

Declaring Creationism to be a science is only a problem if you fundamentally believe it needs to be a problem. If the word "science" bestows automatic rights to an idea, it could cause issues. For instance, if the mere fact that it is scientific makes it canon, you could be validly concerned with this issue.

Honestly, I have read plenty of scientific literature defending Creationism. You can do it. The issue arises when that literature then tries to claim it is part of the larger body of secular science, which it is not. It starts from a different set of presumptions, so secular science simply doesn't accept it (it doesn't help that secular science arrives at results that contradict Creationism). It's like two different entities developing their own opinions with the same approach.

Personally, I find no problems with this. If a group of people believe they can have a monopoly on science, they should find themselves mistaken, for the same reason one should find themselves mistaken if they try to claim a monopoly on the ability to do arithmetic.

Using Kuhn's approach, secular science's position for countering Creationism would be to wait for the cycle to continue. Eventually the Creationist scientists will enter a revolution phase to deal with new data (there's questions as to whether the data is already there, and they're ignoring it, but that's another debate)*. They will have to come up with new, more complicated theories to make sense of the data. Eventually, they may find that this revolution phase cuts the wind from their sails, and Creationism peters out as the theory grows too unwieldy to digest this new evidence. Or, alternatively, they may find something the secular community never considered, in which case, their theory gains more credit, and secular science has to struggle to catch up. In either case, science itself wins.

* I am constantly fascinated by the debates regarding the accuracies of dating methods. If nothing else, Creationism has kept science honest about its abilities in dating!

  • This answer is mostly misguided. The problem with creationism isn't that it couldn't have been approached scientifically (that's totally fine!), but that it hasn't been and that the major tenets are absurdly at odds with staggering amounts of data. If it were a science, it would have reached a revolution phase a long time ago--and indeed, many scientifically-minded people reject "Creationism" as typically presented, including for instance the Catholic Church. So what you describe seems to be a hypothetical alternate reality where Creationism wasn't already rejected.
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 24, 2015 at 14:44
  • @RexKerr Rejected by whom? Is there a group of individuals who have the ability to declare what is science and what is not by edict? Perhaps a democracy where 51% of the population is de jure correct? I find that attitude does not meet my needs. I would like to resolve the conflict with Creationism amicably, and telling them "Science is the only road to truth that I recognize, and you cannot do science unless you first axiomatically start from the assumptions I believe" does not meet those needs.
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:22
  • While I have a feeling my personal opinions on what qualifies as staggering amounts of data are actually relatively well aligned with yours, I do feel others have an opportunity to disagree with me on that. If they do, I do not believe that needs to be the end of the scientific discussion. We should be able to have a discourse on what "staggering amounts" actually means with those who do not agree with us (it's not as simple of a concept as we would often like it to be).
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 24, 2015 at 19:27
  • I'm happy to discuss whether the data is staggering or not, but in the 30-odd times that I've tried to do this, zero people have had even a passable understanding of what data there is. Saving your hypothesis by not understanding data is not "doing science". And yes, to some extent this term is chosen on the basis of common understanding, just like all language. We pick words and have to agree on what they mean enough so that we can understand each other.
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 24, 2015 at 21:01
  • @RexKerr Interesting. I'm curious what you were trying to do when you have discussed this with creationists. Have you been trying to prove them wrong, or explain to them why most scientists don't take them seriously? I usually seek the latter, and so far have not found a Creationist that I could not bring to an understanding. I find it is more productive to explain to them why so few people are interested in listening to their ideas than to simply declare their ideas to be wrong. The latter gets them defensive.
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 24, 2015 at 21:14

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