Nick Matzke posted Entry 2127 on March 20, 2006 09:54 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2122

Remember how, according to the ID movement, “methodological naturalism” was supposed to be a Darwinist/atheist conspiracy to arbitrarily exclude ID? Well, let’s have a look at who coined the term. Ronald Numbers, one of the leading experts on the history of creationism, writes,

The phrase “methodological naturalism” seems to have been coined by the philosopher Paul de Vries, then at Wheaton College, who introduced it at a conference in 1983 in a paper subsequently published as “Naturalism in the Natural Sciences,” Christian Scholar’s Review, 15(1986), 388-396. De Vries distinguished between what he called “methodological naturalism,” a disciplinary method that says nothing about God’s existence, and “metaphysical naturalism,” which “denies the existence of a transcendent God.”

(p. 320 of: Ronald L. Numbers, 2003. “Science without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs.” In: When Science and Christianity Meet, edited by David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, pp. 265-285.)

A few additional points worth noting here:

1. In case you didn’t know, Wheaton is a conservative evangelical school where the faculty and staff must agree with a detailed statement of faith.

2. The idea of methodological naturalism is of course much older than the term, stretching back centuries to the distinction between primary and secondary causes. (Glenn Branch dug around and found some evidence that the term may be older, but perhaps like the term “intelligent design” the words are associated occasionally over the decades, but without really being codified as an Official Term.)

3. But perhaps it was Darwin and those other dogmatic Darwinists that came up with methodological naturalism in the 1800’s in order to ram evolution down everyone’s throats. Not according to Numbers:

By the late Middle Ages the search for natural causes had come to typify the work of Christian natural philosophers. Although characteristically leaving the door open for the possibility of direct divine intervention, they frequently expressed contempt for soft-minded contemporaries who invoked miracles rather than searching for natural explanations. The University of Paris cleric Jean Buridan (a. 1295-ca. 1358), described as “perhaps the most brilliant arts master of the Middle Ages,” contrasted the philosopher’s search for “appropriate natural causes” with the common folk’s erroneous habit of attributing unusual astronomical phenomena to the supernatural. In the fourteenth century the natural philosopher Nicole Oresme (ca. 1320-82), who went on to become a Roman Catholic bishop, admonished that, in discussing various marvels of nature, “there is no reason to take recourse to the heavens, the last refuge of the weak, or demons, or to our glorious God as if He would produce these effects directly, more so than those effects whose causes we belive are well known to us.”

Enthusiasm for the naturalistic study of nature picked up in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as more and more Christians turned their attention to discovering the so-called secondary causes that God employed in operating the world. The Italian Catholic Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), one of the foremost promoters of the new philosophy, insisted that nature “never violates the terms of the laws imposed upon her.” (Numbers 2003, p. 267)

The next time you hear IDists ranting and raving about the evils of methodological naturalism, keep the above in mind. In fact, if the IDists don’t mention these rather important bits of history, you should ask yourself why.

4. So it looks like Judge Jones got it exactly right when he ruled:

While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. (3:103 (Miller); 9:19-20 (Haught)). This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. (5:23, 29-30 (Pennock)). Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify. (1:59-64, 2:41-43 (Miller); 5:8, 23-30 (Pennock)).

…and…

ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation

5. So who came up with methodological naturalism – the idea, as well as the term? It turns out it was those notorious atheists, the Christians.

Despite the occasional efforts of unbelievers to use scientific naturalism to construct a world without God, it has retained strong Christian support down to the present. And well it might, for, as we have seen, scientific naturalism was largely made in Christendom by pious Christians. Although it possessed the potential to corrode religious beliefs – and sometimes did so – it flourished among Christian scientists who believe that God customarily achieved his ends through natural causes. (Numbers 2003, p. 284)

6. All of this is worth pointing out because the ID Movement at large has been complaining that methodological naturalism is an unfair constraint on science, and in particular critics of the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, such as Alvin Plantinga and Steve Fuller, have been asserting that methodological naturalism is an arbitrary, recently invented constraint – Fuller has even gone so far as to say it was constructed as an anti-creationism tool in the 1980’s. It may be that the coining of the term “methodological naturalism” was useful in the 1980’s – especially to rebut the eternal creationist yammering about the search for natural causes being atheistic, but also to keep science separate from metaphysical conclusions like atheism – but the idea is ancient and really is at the heart of the history of what we now call “science.” Plantinga and Fuller cite Newton as a non-methodological naturalist (which itself is probably dubious although Newton is a complex guy), but regardless, Numbers makes it clear that methodological naturalism goes back to Galileo and before.

If anyone ever sees an ID advocate acknowledge these sorts of points, please let me know.

References

de Vries, Paul (1986) “Naturalism in the Natural Sciences: A Christian Perspective.” Christian Scholar’s Review, 15(4):388-396.

Ronald L. Numbers (2003). “Science without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs.” In: When Science and Christianity Meet, edited by David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, pp. 265-285.

PS: A bit of commentary from Numbers himself on the ASA listserv.

PPS: I have edited the link for the “ID” part of “ID Movement” to correct a misunderstanding pointed out here.

Commenters are responsible for the content of comments. The opinions expressed in articles, linked materials, and comments are not necessarily those of PandasThumb.org. See our full disclaimer.

Comment #88077

Posted by Chris Nedin on March 20, 2006 10:55 PM (e)

“The University of Paris cleric Jean Buridan (a. 1295-ca. 1358), … contrasted the philosopher’s search for “appropriate natural causes” with the common folk’s erroneous habit of attributing unusual astronomical phenomena to the supernatural.”

So, in the 14th Century we had the common folk’s erroneous habit of attributing unusual astronomical phenomena to the supernatural.

While in the 21st Century, we have the uncommon folk’s erroneous habit of attributing unusual biological phenomena to the supernatural.

Ha!

Comment #88096

Posted by PvM on March 20, 2006 11:42 PM (e)

Clever play on words Chris, all those uncommon dissenting folk..

Comment #88109

Posted by John Wilkins on March 21, 2006 12:01 AM (e)

I’m going to bet that the term and distinction predates this. Someone should go through Francis Schaeffer’s and Hermann Dooyeweerd’s writings and see if it pops up there in the early 70s and 60s.

Comment #88116

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on March 21, 2006 12:23 AM (e)

For what it’s worth, on the ASA list Ted Davis posted an email from Ron Numbers. Ted Davis said,

The following comes from Ron Numbers, prof of the history of science/medicine at Wisconsin and the leading historian of American
religion/science. I use it with his permission.

In my essay “Science without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs” (which will finally appear next month in When Science and Christianity Meet, Univ. of Chicago Press), I have the following note (based on extensive, if not exhaustive, research):

The phrase “methodological naturalism” seems to have been coined by the philosopher Paul de Vries, then at Wheaton College, who introduced it orally at a conference in 1983 in a paper subsequently published as “Naturalism in the Natural Sciences,” Christian Scholar’s Review 15 (1986), 388-96. De Vries distinguished between what he called “methodological naturalism,” a disciplinary method that says nothing about God’s existence, and “metaphysical naturalism,” which “denies the existence of a transcendent God.”

I talked with de Vries, and he thinks he coined the term.

********

I consider this definitive, unless someone is able to produce an earlier passage they can quote at length in which the term “methodological naturalism” is explicitly used and implicitly or explicitly defined.

ted

Another term, “methodological materialism”, I think traces to Nancy Murphy in the early 1980’s. So perhaps it’s possible that “methodological whateverism” was banging around for awhile before MN was officially coined.

Comment #88132

Posted by HH on March 21, 2006 3:19 AM (e)

I’m sorry to disappoint but offering criticisms of methodological naturalism - however poor you may consider them - does not make me part of the “ID Movement at large”, whatever that is. I don’t see how bifurcations like this are helpful.

Thanks for reading, though.

Comment #88133

Posted by Registered User on March 21, 2006 3:26 AM (e)

Steve Fuller, have been asserting that methodological naturalism is an arbitrary, recently invented constraint — Fuller has even gone so far as to say it was constructed as an anti-creationism tool in the 1980’s.

This guy would say pretty much anything if he thought it helped his “argument.”

Fuller is to philosophy what Anna Nicole Smith is to pop culture.

But that’s par for the course for all the creationist “leaders,” isn’t it?

Re Judge Jones’ conclusion that:

ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation

one might argue that Jones is merely shifting the “debate” to the issue: “What is supernatural?” That is, one might raise this point if one were stupid and inclined to engage in creationist apologetics or if one were paid to engage in such behavior.

ID shillers love to make the bizarre claim that the “designers” could be a “mere” race of aliens (assuming your parents and/or community leaders allow you to entertain such thoughts).

Are aliens necessarily supernatural?, the ID promoter asks, scanning his 3 x 5 card for the next “debate point”.

The answer, of course, if “hell yes” – if the key feature of the aliens is the ability to do the things that the ID proponent insists can not be done without the aliens.

Game. Set. Match.

I wonder how long it took Judge Jones to figure this out. I’m guessing about five minutes.

Comment #88134

Posted by Macht on March 21, 2006 3:48 AM (e)

Nick,

“… Numbers makes it clear that methodological naturalism goes back to Galileo and before.”

This is false. Numbers clearly says on p. 272 that “…natural philosophers had often expressed a preference for natural causes, but few, if any, had ruled out appeals to God.” He goes on to say that “by the latter nineteenth century” scientists came to agree that “God talk lay beyond the boundaries of science.”

Comment #88135

Posted by Registered User on March 21, 2006 3:51 AM (e)

HH

I’m sorry to disappoint but offering criticisms of methodological naturalism - however poor you may consider them - does not make me part of the “ID Movement at large”, whatever that is.

Wait a minute – is HH that the arrogant “philosopher” dude Hugo Holbling?

Surely it must be. Even in the two lines comment, the signature elements are all there!

What makes Lord Hugo part of the problem is not that he “offers criticisms” of methodological naturalism. It’s that – like Steve Fuller and other halfwit idealogues – Hugo plays politics but pretends to be “above it all.” Like Fuller, when called on to defend obvious creationist biases in his rambling screeds, Hugo kicks up dust and whimpers about being persecuted and misunderstood.

Yes, it’s pathetic when adults behave like Holbling and Fuller and other so-called “philosophers.”

Below is a link to a classic example of Hugo “at work.” Warning: the condenscension on display may sicken those who haven’t developed resistance to Holbling’s “style.”

http://www.galilean-library.org/blog/?p=90

Comment #88136

Posted by Registered User on March 21, 2006 4:01 AM (e)

Macht

Numbers clearly says on p. 272 that “…natural philosophers had often expressed a preference for natural causes, but few, if any, had ruled out appeals to God.”

How many is “few, if any”?

I don’t think it matters, really. If we have written evidence of substantial numbers of “natural philosophers” expressing a preference for natural causes, it’s pretty much guaranteed that some “natural philosophers” “dared to be different” and chucked the God fallback position entirely.

Human nature.

The idea of solving a problem efficiently by not wasting a lot of time praying over it is an old old idea, almost certainly older than the problem of creating an ink that won’t fade so people can permanently record ideas about how to solve problems.

Comment #88141

Posted by Emanuel Goldstein on March 21, 2006 7:38 AM (e)

But the problem is that atheists and materialists go beyond “methodological” naturalism to promote philosophical naturalism.

Dawkins, Dennet, Harris are probably the most well known propagandists for this view and it is subltly pushed on students in my area by “recommending” the above authors to students while not “requiring” their reading.

Who do you all think you are kidding?

Comment #88142

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on March 21, 2006 7:47 AM (e)

But the problem is that atheists and materialists go beyond “methodological” naturalism to promote philosophical naturalism.

I’m curious — is ID an attempt to combat that? Is fighting atheism (er, I mean “philosophical naturalism”) what ID is all about?

Comment #88146

Posted by William E Emba on March 21, 2006 8:00 AM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

In case you didn’t know, Wheaton is a conservative evangelical school where the faculty and staff must agree with a detailed statement of faith.

In fact, they recently fired one of their outstanding young philosophy professors, Joshua Hochschild, because he converted to Catholicism. The Wheaton statement of faith didn’t explicitly rule out Catholicism, and Hochschild said he felt comfortable with the statement as worded, but the school didn’t think his understanding of their statement was compatible with their understanding of Catholicism. I suppose the fact that Hochschild got his Ph.D. from Notre Dame and that he specialized in Aquinas should have tipped them off originally.

Comment #88147

Posted by William E Emba on March 21, 2006 8:08 AM (e)

Emanuel Goldstein wrote:

Who do you all think you are kidding?

Seeing that you are a fictional character within the fictional context of 1984 who can’t even spell his name correctly, I’d say you are the wrong person to be asking that question.

Comment #88149

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on March 21, 2006 8:20 AM (e)

And just think: despite all these lengthy philosophical ruminations, all it would take to conclusively prove that “methodological naturalism” is not only not a common-sense tenet and a useful practical guideline for science, but in fact a “hamstringing” limitation (as Plantinga claims), would be for Plantinga, Holbling & C to come up with one (1) specific supernatural causal explanation that can be empirically tested by science. Just one.

Until then, all supernatural explanations will be heuristically equivalent to and indistinguishable from “I don’t have a clue”. This whole discussion seems to be a torrent of words that scientists do well by ignoring.

Comment #88151

Posted by Raging Bee on March 21, 2006 8:59 AM (e)

Goldstein wrote:

But the problem is that atheists and materialists go beyond “methodological” naturalism to promote philosophical naturalism.

And non-atheist scientists don’t. So what’s the “problem?”

Comment #88153

Posted by Jim Wynne on March 21, 2006 9:09 AM (e)

A minor quibble: from the title of the post, it’s unclear whether the concept of MN is being referred to, or the origin of the phrase. If the latter was the intent, “methodological naturalism” should be in quotes.

Comment #88155

Posted by Tracy P. Hamilton on March 21, 2006 9:12 AM (e)

Matzke wrote:

[quoting Numbers] The University of Paris cleric Jean Buridan (a. 1295-ca. 1358), described as “perhaps the most brilliant arts master of the Middle Ages,” contrasted the philosopher’s search for “appropriate natural causes” with the common folk’s erroneous habit of attributing unusual astronomical phenomena to the supernatural.

So astrology was not a science back in the 1300s either!

I enjoyed reading this post in particular - it explains why we
have come to do things the way we do them as scientists.

Comment #88160

Posted by Keith Douglas on March 21, 2006 10:17 AM (e)

Tracy Hamilton: You are discovering why good history and philosophy of science can be useful to scientists. Of course, they can be disasterous when bad …

Comment #88162

Posted by PoL on March 21, 2006 10:31 AM (e)

Registered User, I think it’s sad that you have so little respect for reason that you have to indulge in character abuse. I think that probably explains why you believe Hugo is playing politics. The question stands, however: How are bifurcations like you’ve been assuming useful? I think you should consider that there are plenty more sides to this issue than for or against.

Comment #88164

Posted by Corkscrew on March 21, 2006 10:51 AM (e)

Dawkins, Dennet, Harris are probably the most well known propagandists for this view and it is subltly pushed on students in my area by “recommending” the above authors to students while not “requiring” their reading.

Back in RE* class in secondary school, I was required to read chunks of the Bible for study purposes (I think we also covered the Koran). It’s only problematic if it’s presented as truth rather than as an interesting opinion that you should be aware of. Was this in fact the case when these books were recommended?

* Religious Education, for those non-Brits who have no idea what I’m talking about

Comment #88166

Posted by Arden Chatfield on March 21, 2006 11:05 AM (e)

Who do you all think you are kidding?

Why, we think we’re kidding you, ‘Emanuel’… what, you mean we’re not??

Oh no! the creationists have found us out!!! RUN!!!

Comment #88167

Posted by Rich on March 21, 2006 11:09 AM (e)

Keith Miller has a another earlier use of the term on the ASA list
http://www.calvin.edu/archive/asa/200603/0501.html

Ted Davis put me onto the Paul de Vries article, and indicated that Ronald Numbers thought it to be the first use of the term. The article itself suggests that de Vries thought it to be his original term.

I do know of an earlier paper in which the term was used. It was pointed out to me by a new philosophy of science hire at Kansas State. The article is – Edgar Sheffield Brightman, 1937, “An empirical approach to God”, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 46, No. 2, p. 147-169. The paper is rather philosophically dense for me, and I don’t entirely follow all of his argument. However, his real focus is “metaphysical naturalism,” which he usually just refers to as “naturalism.” He introduces “methodological naturalism” only to distinguish it from this “metaphysical naturalism” and does not really develop the idea.

Below is a partial quote of the paragraph in which the term is given –

“Every thinking experient will, in some sense, reach the stage of naturalism. He will accept nature as the space-time order described by the sciences….. Such a universal naturalism – common to idealists and realists, to naturalists and theists alike – may be called scientific or methodological naturalism. But methodological naturalism is sharply to be distinguished from metaphysical naturalism. The latter takes the incomplete description and heuristic methods of the former to be either final truth about reality or at least the limits of present human knowledge.” (p. 157-158)

The author then goes on to argue that theology and philosophy are valid ways to knowledge and address aspects of human experience that naturalism cannot. Examples discussed include mystical experience, purpose and meaning, teleology, and values. He is essentially laying out his philosophical argument for the existence and study of God.

While there are elements of de Vries argument in Brightman’s essay, the meaning and significance of MN is not really developed. It is not clear, at least to me, what exactly Brightman had in mind.

So, I would say that it is de Vries who first lays out the full meaning of MN for both science and faith.

However, I should also stress that I have made no independent literature search on this term myself.

Comment #88172

Posted by AD on March 21, 2006 11:31 AM (e)

Dawkins, Dennet, Harris are probably the most well known propagandists for this view and it is subltly pushed on students in my area by “recommending” the above authors to students while not “requiring” their reading.

So, just to get this out in the open…

You are objecting to inserting a philosophical/religious viewpoint into scientific studies, and so your solution to this problem is to insert a philosophical/religious viewpoint into scientific studies?

Pardon me for having a laugh at that one.

Comment #88178

Posted by wamba on March 21, 2006 11:56 AM (e)

So who came up with methodological naturalism — the idea, as well as the term? It turns out it was those notorious atheists, the Christians.

Ooh, the levels of irony. In the Roman era, Christians were indeed considered atheists by the Romans because they would not accept the gods of the Roman pantheon.

Comment #88182

Posted by wamba on March 21, 2006 12:23 PM (e)

Fears over teaching creationism

Schools should not be teaching the Bible-based version of the origins of the world, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said….
Dr Williams said: “I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories….

Comment #88183

Posted by PaulC on March 21, 2006 12:26 PM (e)

“Methodological naturalism” is the default method humans have always employed when trying to understand the world around them. Nobody with a shred of common sense accepts “God did it” as a proximal cause until they have tried to think of a mundane explanation and failed.

Even someobody gullible enough to believe that the Virgin Mary made a miraculous appearance on his grilled cheese sandwich still mostly practices methodological naturalism. A disbeliever in methodological naturalism would have to wonder if every grilled cheese sandwich was due to the direct intervention of God.

Comment #88186

Posted by k.e. on March 21, 2006 12:46 PM (e)

PaulC Said:
“Methodological naturalism” is the default method humans have always employed when trying to understand the world around them

And when they cross a road.

Its a pity “True Believers” could not practice what they preach and use the “supernatural” method to cross a road.. there would be a lot less of them.

That’s why I like Sundays …Christians are off the streets.

Comment #88187

Posted by AC on March 21, 2006 12:50 PM (e)

wamba wrote:

Ooh, the levels of irony. In the Roman era, Christians were indeed considered atheists by the Romans because they would not accept the gods of the Roman pantheon.

“We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” - Richard Dawkins

Welcome to the Evil Atheist Conspiracy™, Mister So-Called Goldstein. Thor is waiting for us all on the other side, patiently rapping Mjollnir against his palm.

Comment #88188

Posted by PaulC on March 21, 2006 1:05 PM (e)

I wrote:

A disbeliever in methodological naturalism would have to wonder if every grilled cheese sandwich was due to the direct intervention of God.

I’m afraid I might have obscured my point in an attempt to be funny, so how about this formulation:

People who believe in miracles by necessity assume that most of what they observe is not a miracle. Therefore, even people who believe in miracles are methodological naturalists.

Comment #88190

Posted by PaulC on March 21, 2006 1:12 PM (e)

Or a third version: The most ardent bible thumper becomes a methodological naturalist when there’s money at stake.

Comment #88192

Posted by BWE on March 21, 2006 1:20 PM (e)

Or another:
How many Bibles could a bible thumper thump if a bible thumper got hit by a bus?

Comment #88195

Posted by Gerard Harbison on March 21, 2006 1:34 PM (e)

A followup to PaulC’s point. I ask those who claim that science limits itself by excluding non-naturalistic explanations to give me an example of a everyday phenomenon within our common experience whose best explanation could be argued to be non-naturalistic. So far, all I’ve gotten in response is crickets chirping.

I’d argue this was not always so. In the 14th century, if I asked for an explanation of the Great Plague and was told it was the wrath of God on us for our sins, I would have been hard pressed to come up with a better explanation.

Comment #88205

Posted by PaulC on March 21, 2006 1:51 PM (e)

I’d argue this was not always so. In the 14th century, if I asked for an explanation of the Great Plague and was told it was the wrath of God on us for our sins, I would have been hard pressed to come up with a better explanation.

I agree. There are lots of examples, many less dramatic than a plague. The one that comes to mind is a rainbow. The poet Keats complained that Newton had taken all the beauty out of the rainbow by reducing it to a naturalistic explanation. That’s ironic in this context, considering what religious zealot Newton was when he wasn’t wearing his science hat. But absent an explanation of the dispersion of light, a rainbow certainly appears to be a great and beautiful sign from above. It is also uncommon enough that someone who had not spent a lot of time keeping track of the appearance of rainbows might reasonably think they had seen something purposeful.

Comment #88218

Posted by Daniel Adelseck on March 21, 2006 2:22 PM (e)

Good Day:

I am a christian and a creationist (Take it easy, I’m a nice and reasonable guy - despite all the pleasure I get out of listening to your characterizations). As to your question, there would be no dispute with you concerning the concepts of methodological naturalism and its origin. I have taken classes on the History of Science and ID. We spent a lot of time reading books by Ron Numbers and the original writings of scientists who made these distinctions. Another great resource is Danielson’s “Book of the Cosmos.” Making philosophical distinctions is critical to understanding our world, especially within a Christian worldview. These debates about primary and secondary causes go all the way back to philosophers before Plato and Aristotle. Moreover, Christians such as Issac Newton and Samuel Clarke debated these ideas with deists like Gottfried Lebintz. The deists believed God set the world in motion and never intervened again. Arguing Christian ignorance to these facts is simply creating a straw man argument. ID proponents are incredibly well versed in handling these distinctions since they think and write about them every day.

“Methodological naturalism” is a much stronger concept than “primary and secondary causes.” For example: In the Christian worldview, God would be strong candidate for establishing the physics of the universe. He is the primary cause. This does not mean that there won’t be natural explanations for physics, but that all the mathematics and particles and order ultimately have a primary cause (That is not an accident). The further back one takes this argument - the more philosophical it becomes. Gravity and other physics are secondary causes that help to explain planetary motion. A true methodological naturalist however will argue against God being the one who established anything (like physics) since all things must have a naturalistic explanation.

Christians also have a much broader worldview that incorporates miracles such as the Ressurection, Creation, and the parting of the Red Sea. In these instances, God intervenes to alter the course of nature to accomplish His will. Methodological naturalists assign these things to fiction and mythology - without knowing the history behind them. Anyways, I digress…. Call me if you want to chat. I am always open. 714-420-6772.

Take Care,

Dan

Anyways, just some thoughts to those whom I know think differently. Call me if anyone wants to chat. 714-420-6772

In Christ,

Dan

Comment #88223

Posted by Raging Bee on March 21, 2006 2:35 PM (e)

A true methodological naturalist however will argue against God being the one who established anything (like physics) since all things must have a naturalistic explanation.

Wrong: a “true methodological naturalist” will merely argue that divine agency cannot be objectively PROVEN, by material means; that’s different from arguing against the agency itself.

Comment #88234

Posted by PaulC on March 21, 2006 2:59 PM (e)

A true methodological naturalist however will argue against God being the one who established anything (like physics) since all things must have a naturalistic explanation.

Wrong: a “true methodological naturalist” will merely argue that divine agency cannot be objectively PROVEN, by material means; that’s different from arguing against the agency itself.

Both are wrong. What makes you a methodological naturalist is simply that you employ only naturalistic assumptions when carrying out your methodology, such as when formulating a hypothesis or interpreting the results of an experiment.

A methodological naturalist is not restricted to believing anything in particular about the validity or even the falsifiability of supernatural causes, only to keeping these beliefs out of the methodology. As Numbers states methodological naturalism is “a disciplinary method that says nothing about God’s existence.” – not about the truth or falsity of it, nor even whether it could conceivably be proven objectively. It is simply an issue that is intentionally excluded from any study performed under the heading of “methodological naturalism.”

The first quote above seems to be conflating methodological and philosophical naturalism. The whole point of making a distinction is to note that it is possible to leave open all judgment about supernatural causes while ruling them out of an area of study for purposes of tractability.

Comment #88240

Posted by k.e. on March 21, 2006 3:15 PM (e)

Daniel said:

Christians also have a much broader worldview that incorporates miracles such as the Ressurection,[sic] Creation, and the parting of the Red Sea. In these instances, God intervenes to alter the course of nature to accomplish His will. Methodological naturalists assign these things to fiction and mythology - without knowing the history behind them. Anyways, I digress…

Au contraire my son. Daniel you need to bone up on semiotics for beginners of folk tales and classes of literature The Hebrew Folktale: History, Genre, Meaning and its imagined history.

Trying to read so called miracles as historical fact may be satisfying a need, but poetry uses allusion as you MN well know.

Comment #88254

Posted by AD on March 21, 2006 4:08 PM (e)

What do you want to bet Larry calls this guy?

Comment #88255

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on March 21, 2006 4:14 PM (e)

Macht wrote:

Nick,

“…Numbers makes it clear that methodological naturalism goes back to Galileo and before.”

This is false. Numbers clearly says on p. 272 that “…natural philosophers had often expressed a preference for natural causes, but few, if any, had ruled out appeals to God.” He goes on to say that “by the latter nineteenth century” scientists came to agree that “God talk lay beyond the boundaries of science.”

I tend to think that a “preference for natural causes” is methodological naturalism, and it is clearly found in natural philosophers back to Galileo and before.

We might as well quote the whole Numbers paragraph on p. 272:

No single event marks the transition from godly natural philosophy to naturalistic modern science, but sometime between roughly the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries students of nature in one discipline after another reached the conclusion that, regardless of one’s personal beliefs, supernatural explanations had no place in the practice of science. As we have seen, natural philosophers had often expressed a preference for natural causes, but few, if any, had ruled out appeals to God. In contrast, virtually all scientists (a term coined in the 1840s but not widely used until the late nineteenth century), whether Christians or non-Christians, came by the latter nineteenth century to agree that God talk lay beyond the boundaries of science. (Numbers 2003, p. 272)

Numbers details a number of specific examples of exactly this transition occurring – in physics, meteorology (e.g. Ben Franklin’s lightning rods), geology, medicine, etc. – all of this before Darwin got around to doing it for biology in the Origin of Species, and mostly before the term “scientist” was even invented.

The accusation is being tossed around by Fuller and others that methodological naturalism is being read back into history of science in a “whiggish” manner – but here is Ronald Numbers, not some amateur, giving basically what most science fans see as the standard picture.

So perhaps it is Steve Fuller and the IDists who are actually the ones being whiggish about the history.

Comment #88262

Posted by Mythos on March 21, 2006 4:41 PM (e)

As a practical rule of thumb, I’m all for naturalism. I don’t want angels pushing my planets around, or Poseidon stirring up hurricanes. I want completely natural accounts of just about everything I can imagine.

But “methodological naturalism” sounds to much like an inviolable principle. And I can imagine some far-fetched (but logically possible) scenarios in which I would want to violate it. If, for example, a shining figure descends from the sky on a cloud accompanied by trumpets and a lot of winged guys in white, I going to consider the supernatural (whatever that word may mean).

There are many many such scenarios. What is the naturalist (methodological or otherwise) to say about them? That a completely natural account must be held out for come what may?

Comment #88268

Posted by Macht on March 21, 2006 4:56 PM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

I tend to think that a “preference for natural causes” is methodological naturalism, and it is clearly found in natural philosophers back to Galileo and before.

I was always under the impression that MN is the rule that science can’t appeal to the supernatural. Or should Judge Jones have said that “ID violates the centuries-old preference of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation?”

You quoted Numbers:

Ronald Numbers wrote:

…sometime between roughly the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries students of nature in one discipline after another reached the conclusion that, regardless of one’s personal beliefs, supernatural explanations had no place in the practice of science.

This just supports my statement that you are wrong in claiming that MN goes back to Galileo. Numbers doesn’t make this claim.

Nick Matzke wrote:

…but here is Ronald Numbers, not some amateur, giving basically what most science fans see as the standard picture.

The only way you can claim this is if you change MN to mean a preference for natural explanations, instead of a rule against supernatural explanations. Numbers was basically giving the history of how modern science has come to reject appeals to God. As he clearly says, “Students of nature have not always shunned the supernatural. It took centuries, indeed millennia, for naturalism to dominate the study of nature…”

Comment #88272

Posted by steve s on March 21, 2006 5:05 PM (e)

If, for example, a shining figure descends from the sky on a cloud accompanied by trumpets and a lot of winged guys in white, I going to consider the supernatural (whatever that word may mean).

There are many many such scenarios. What is the naturalist (methodological or otherwise) to say about them? That a completely natural account must be held out for come what may?

I’m as atheist as it gets. I think religion is positively stupid. But obviously there are concievable scenarios in which I’d change my mind. Conceivable. Being so committed to MN that you wouldn’t change your mind under any concievable circumstance would be irrational. So you’re essentially asking what an irrationally MN person would do. Are there any such people?

Comment #88279

Posted by wamba on March 21, 2006 5:18 PM (e)

What’s all this fuss about methodical naturism?

Comment #88281

Posted by Anon on March 21, 2006 5:20 PM (e)

“specific supernatural causal explanation that can be empirically tested by science. Just one.”

Visible faeries with magical powers live in the bottom of my garden in a mushroom city.

Game set and match for a posteriori methodological naturalists.

Comment #88285

Posted by Flint on March 21, 2006 5:25 PM (e)

What is the naturalist (methodological or otherwise) to say about them? That a completely natural account must be held out for come what may?

Yes. If we presume just for the sake of discussion that the term “supernatural” actually refers to something beyond “beats me”, then this is forever invisible to science. Any genuine investigatable miracle devoid of any natural cause necessarily remains in science’s “not yet explained” category.

I’m as atheist as it gets. I think religion is positively stupid. But obviously there are concievable scenarios in which I’d change my mind.

But I don’t think any of these CAN be conceived. As far as science is concerned, anything that can happen can be explained by natural principles. I have no difficulty imagining scenarios where I wouldn’t have the remotest clue how something is happening, or even how to go about investigating it. But saying “this is so far beyond my comprehension that it must be supernatural” is just lying to yourself. Ignorance of mechanisms, now matter how profound, doesn’t make anything supernatural.

Comment #88289

Posted by steve s on March 21, 2006 5:28 PM (e)

Flint’s basically saying anything supernatural is inconcievable. I disagree.

Comment #88292

Posted by R. O'Connor on March 21, 2006 5:35 PM (e)

I was bemused to read here (as an occasional lurker) that my predecessor in this department plausibly takes credit for coining the term “MN.” To set the record straight regarding the target of ID’s polemics: Phillip Johnson has been very critical of Christians and Christian Liberal Arts Colleges like Wheaton (IL) who continue to resist ID on the grounds of a procedural commitment to MN. I published a piece in Perspectives, the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (Vol. 49.1, March 1997) in defense of MN in response to Steve Meyers’ argument against demarcation criteria (in Moreland’s The Creation Hypothesis). My claim there (not, by any means, original to me) is simply that scientists have come to exclude explanation by appeal to supernatural agency because of their ongoing success in providing accounts in terms of natural mechanisms, processes, powers, properties and the like. So the question of how long this notion, or term, has been around is really immaterial to the claim that science, as presently practiced, justifiably, non-arbitrarily, abides by this restriction. In any case, I’ve come to regard discussion of MN a bit of a distraction in the debate between Darwinian evolution and ID. The historical argument says that scientists are warranted in restricting their craft by MN because science, when so restricted, has proven it ability to provide plausible, natural, accounts. Evidence for this claim that science can account for natural phenomena in terms of natural phenomena is provided in no small part by the ascendency of the Darwinian explanation by natural selection. So, one’s justification for MN includes the success of Darwinin accounts. It would seem to beg the question, then, to prefer a Darwinian explanation over ID on the grounds that ID violates MN. There are, or so it seems to me now, more fundamental reasons for regarding the design inference as fundamentally a metaphysical, rather than scientific, argument.
-bob oconnor
Philosophy, Wheaton College

Comment #88295

Posted by Flint on March 21, 2006 5:46 PM (e)

steve s:

I’m curious. You’re certainly welcome to disagree, but I’d like to know how you would go about distinguishing between something supernatural, and something you simply lacked any clue about. How would you violate Clarke’s Law?

Comment #88319

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on March 21, 2006 6:50 PM (e)

(apologies to those who have alreafdy seen this at least a dozen times)

Time once again for my standard response to the oft-repeated “science unfairly rules out the supernatural” ID crapola:

The scientific method is very simple, and consists of five basic steps. They are:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe

2. Form a hypothesis that potentially explains what you have observed

3. Make testible predictions from that hypothesis

4. Make observations or experiments that can test those predictions

5. Modify your hypothesis until it is in accord with all observations and predictions

NOTHING in any of those five steps excludes on principle, a priori, any “supernatural cause”. Using this method, one is entirely free to invoke as many non-material pixies, ghosts, goddesses, demons, devils, djinis, and/or the Great Pumpkin, as many times as you like, in any or all of your hypotheses. And science won’t (and doesn’t) object to that in the slightest. Indeed, scientific experiments have been proposed (and carried out and published) on such “supernatural causes” as the effects of prayer on healing, as well as such “non-materialistic” or “non-natural” causes as ESP, telekinesis, precognition and “remote viewing”. So ID’s claim that science unfairly rejects supernatural or non-material causes out of hand on principle, is demonstrably quite wrong.

However, what science DOES require is that any supernatural or non-material hypothesis, whatever it might be, then be subjected to steps 3, 4 and 5. And HERE is where ID fails miserably.

To demonstate this, let’s pick a particular example of an ID hypothesis and see how the scientific method can be applied to it: One claim made by many ID creationists explains the genetic similarity between humans and chimps by asserting that God — uh, I mean, An Unknown Intelligent Designer — created both but used common features in a common design.

Let’s take this hypothesis and put it through the scientific method:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe.

OK, so we observe that humans and chimps share unique genetic markers, including a broken vitamin C gene and, in humans, a fused chromosome that is identical to two of the chimp chromosomes (with all the appropriate doubled centromeres and telomeres).

2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.

OK, the proposed ID hypothesis is “an intelligent designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, and that common design included placing the signs of a fused chromosome and a broken vitamin C gene in both products.”

3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.

Well, here is ID supernaturalistic methodology’s chance to shine. What predictions can we make from ID’s hypothesis? If an Intelligent Designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, then we would also expect to see … ?

IDers, please fill in the blank.

And, to better help us test ID’s hypothesis, it is most useful to point out some negative predictions — things which, if found, would FALSIFY the hypothesis and demonstrate conclusively that the hypothesis is wrong. So, then — if we find (fill in the blank here), then the “common design” hypothesis would have to be rejected.

4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.

Well, the IDers seem to be sort of stuck on step 3. Despite all their voluminous writings and arguments, IDers have never yet given ANY testible predictions from their ID hypothesis that can be verified through experiment.

Take note here — contrary to the IDers whining about the “unfair exclusion of supernatural causes”, there are in fact NO limits imposed by the scientific method on the nature of their predictions, other than the simple ones indicated by steps 3, 4 and 5 (whatever predictions they make must be testible by experiments or further observations.) They are entirely free to invoke whatever supernatural causes they like, in whatever number they like, so long as they follow along to steps 3,4 and 5 and tell us how we can test these deities or causes using experiment or further observation. Want to tell us that the Good Witch Glenda used her magic non-naturalistic staff to POP these genetic sequences into both chimps and humans? Fine —- just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test that. Want to tell us that God — er, I mean The Unknown Intelligent Designer — didn’t like humans very much and therefore decided to design us with broken vitamin C genes? Hey, works for me — just as soon as you tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test it. Feel entirely and totally free to use all the supernaturalistic causes that you like. Just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test your predictions.

Let’s assume for a moment that the IDers are right and that science is unfairly biased against supernaturalist explanations. Let’s therefore hypothetically throw methodological materialism right out the window. Gone. Bye-bye. Everything’s fair game now. Ghosts, spirits, demons, devils, cosmic enlightenment, elves, pixies, magic star goats, whatever god-thing you like. Feel free to include and invoke ALL of them. As many as you need. All the IDers have to do now is simply show us all how to apply the scientific method to whatever non-naturalistic science they choose to invoke in order to subject the hypothesis “genetic similarities between chimps and humans are the product of a common design”, or indeed ANY other non-material or super-natural ID hypothesis, to the scientific method.

And that is where ID “theory” falls flat on its face. It is NOT any presupposition of “philosophical naturalism” on the part of science that stops ID dead in its tracks —- it is the simple inability of ID “theory” to make any testible predictions. Even if we let them invoke all the non-naturalistic designers they want, intelligent design “theory” STILL can’t follow the scientific method.

Deep down inside, what the IDers are really moaning and complaining about is NOT that science unfairly rejects their supernaturalistic explanations, but that science demands ID’s proposed “supernaturalistic explanations” be tested according to the scientific method, just like every OTHER hypothesis has to be. Not only can ID not test any of its “explanations”, but it wants to modify science so it doesn’t HAVE to. In effect, the IDers want their supernaturalistic “hypothesis” to have a privileged position —- they want their hypothesis to be accepted by science WITHOUT being tested; they want to follow steps one and two of the scientific method, but prefer that we just skip steps 3,4 and 5, and just simply take their religious word for it, on the authority of their own say-so, that their “science” is correct. And that is what their entire argument over “materialism” (or “naturalism” or “atheism” or “sciencism” or “darwinism” or whatever the heck else they want to call it) boils down to.

There is no legitimate reason for the ID hypothesis to be privileged and have the special right to be exempted from testing, that other hypotheses do not. I see no reason why their hypotheses, whatever they are, should not be subjected to the very same testing process that everyone ELSE’s hypotheses, whatever they are, have to go through. If they cannot put their “hypothesis” through the same scientific method that everyone ELSE has to, then they have no claim to be “science”. Period.

Comment #88329

Posted by AC on March 21, 2006 7:38 PM (e)

steve s wrote:

Flint’s basically saying anything supernatural is inconcievable. I disagree.

Flint wrote:

I’m curious. You’re certainly welcome to disagree, but I’d like to know how you would go about distinguishing between something supernatural, and something you simply lacked any clue about. How would you violate Clarke’s Law?

I’d like to know why the “supernatural”, when pressed for details, so often collapses into defensive hand-waving - defending either bogus “evidence”, subjective experiences, or plain old lies.

It’s conceivable, sure, but that’s all it is.

Comment #88330

Posted by steve s on March 21, 2006 7:52 PM (e)

well, Flint for instance if a bunch of crazy Revelation nonsense started happening, the rapture, plagues, a chick on a dragon, seals, trumpets, vials, etc, people rising from the dead, the antichrist starts slaughtering christians, I have to get a mark on my hand, for a long time I’ll presume I’m dreaming or hallucinating, but after a while, I would probably figure the supernatural biblical crazytalk was accurate.

Comment #88348

Posted by the pro from dover on March 21, 2006 9:18 PM (e)

Let’s not forget that science is neither a search for the truth nor a tool to explain everything that has been or concievebly could be observed or discovered by an experiment in some aspect of the observable universe. Science is a search for what works and has a primary task of predicting the outcome of an experiment or observation not yet made but could concievebly be made given the tools currently available. It is possible to concieve of an experiment to test the theory of common descent; a key feature of evolutionary biology as currently conceptualized. As far as I can tell Intelligent Design “theory” is capable of explaining anything so far found but makes no claim to a not-yet performed experiment. Any finding is compatible with supernatural intervention which is what makes that concept scientifically useless. Not wrong, not false, not metaphysically untruthful: scientifically useless. Science has a purpose way beyond being the enemy of fundamentalist religion or any religion for that matter. This purpose is the development of technology and hopefully the appropriate utility of it. In short it creates jobs, good high paying ones with a future and the potential for entreprenurial activity. There is a lot at stake here for the economic future of America. Into which century should we be educating our high school students to compete in a global biotech market? Hearing about how religious Newton was as a reason to derail scientific education is sickening.

Comment #88351

Posted by Pete Dunkelberg on March 21, 2006 9:29 PM (e)

In practice (have I mentioned this before?) methodological naturalism simply means following the evidence. As a corrolary, you do not make the argument from ignorance.

All this going on about ‘supernatural’ amounts to is this: you call a conclusion ‘supernatural’ if it is arrived at by the arg from ig. If you followed evidence exclusively, you call it natural. Keep in mind that intelligent causes (human for instance) can be concluded. Supernatural is not the same as artificial.

Comment #88360

Posted by AD on March 21, 2006 10:01 PM (e)

I’m curious, since Bob O’Connor is posting here, what his take on the Dover opinion is?

Also, I agree that MN is something of a side distraction. Regardless of the precise merits of MN, there are a plethora of reasons that ID is not science.

Not the least of which, to me, is the fact that they haven’t produced any, you know, science.

Comment #88361

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on March 21, 2006 10:07 PM (e)

I think it boils down to this: supernatural explanations are unconstrained, and without constraints, you cannot derive empirical expectations, which are what science relies on to proceed.

Specifically, this is a barrier to introducing two well-known cases of proposed explanations into science:

1. God. How can you put constraints on an all-powerful, all-knowing, immaterial being, especially one that might have some whimsy? Empirical observations can’t rule God out of any phenomenon.

2. Vague entities that don’t rule out God. Notably “intelligent design” and other legally convenient constructs.

One can imagine situations where something we culturally call “supernatural” is discovered – like a vampire – but typically such entities are well defined and follow a large number of rules (constraints), which means, I think, that in practice the phenomena would become naturalized if they were actually discovered.

Comment #88363

Posted by PaulC on March 21, 2006 10:42 PM (e)

Mythos:

And I can imagine some far-fetched (but logically possible) scenarios in which I would want to violate it. If, for example, a shining figure descends from the sky on a cloud accompanied by trumpets and a lot of winged guys in white, I going to consider the supernatural (whatever that word may mean).

You don’t need to “violate” it in this case. You would merely concede that methodological naturalism might not be the best tool for analyzing that particular phenomenon, just as quantum physics might not be the best way to decide between putting pepperoni or mushrooms on your pizza.

The whole purpose for distinguishing between methodological and philosophical naturalism is to make it clear that the naturalistic assumptions are held only as part of a particular kind of analysis. The practioner may believe that the assumptions hold generally (an atheist scientist) or may believe that they are part of a methodological fiction (a religious scientist) useful for making the analysis sound and tractable. In the latter case, which occurs in practice, there is no “violation.” The religious scientist simply drops the methodology of science to appreciate some religious experience.

Comment #88416

Posted by Flint on March 22, 2006 9:37 AM (e)

steve s:

for a long time I’ll presume I’m dreaming or hallucinating, but after a while, I would probably figure the supernatural biblical crazytalk was accurate.

You might enjoy Dan Simmons’ latest novels. He has ‘gods’ recreating the Iliad on Mars, resurrecting the dead, stuff like that. All done with ‘high tech’ indistinguishable from magic from today’s perspective.

So you might be hallucinating. You might be in some technological matrix. The aliens don’t have to show up in flying saucers representing the modern 1950s designs, they might choose to appear as you describe - especially if they have a remotely human sense of humor.

And since according to your scenario these things actually *exist*, the first thing many of us would do would be to start weighing and measuring and testing and hypothesizing about them. They’d have become part of the natural world as we know it, perhaps reflecting forces we hadn’t previously encountered (our local region is very local). Not everyone would worship them; many of us would prefer to figure out how they tick.

What you’ve done is conceived them as supernatural NOT on the basis of how they do their thing, but on the basis of their apparent *motivation* in doing it. I admit I have difficulty seeing why the motivation itself makes anything magic.

Comment #88500

Posted by Keith Douglas on March 22, 2006 3:02 PM (e)

Dan has the parties to the dispute between Newton and Leibniz almost exactly backwards. Newton was certainly no orthodox Christian, and although Leibniz was also heterodox, he at least was closer to being such. Newton was an arian, after all.

Mythos, what would count as evidence for it being supernatural, rather than a hallucination, a very powerful extraterrestrial, etc.? (Incidentally, it is for this reason that I disavow the “methodological” label altogether. If you don’t rule it out, in every case you are vulnerable to being “caught out”. Conclusion: take your pick, science or supernaturalism [religious or otherwise]. You cannot have both consistently.)

Bob O’Connor, you are assuming a scientific metaphysics is itself impossible, which is debatable to say the least. In a consistent scientific world view, metaphysics is simply the most general of scientific fields. (See work of, e.g., Mario Bunge, Paul Churchland, David Armstrong, etc.)

Comment #88531

Posted by R. O'Connor on March 22, 2006 5:43 PM (e)

According to Keith Douglas:

you are assuming a scientific metaphysics is itself impossible, which is debatable to say the least. In a consistent scientific world view, metaphysics is simply the most general of scientific fields. (See work of, e.g., Mario Bunge, Paul Churchland, David Armstrong, etc.)

Actually, I assume that the sciences necessarily rest on certain, specific metaphysical assumptions. I don’t deny the rational consistency of a strictly scientific world view. However, if by “the most general of scientific fields” you mean that all metaphysical claims can be reduced to, for example, physics, then I assume that, however consistent such a view might be, it is mistaken. Metaphysics is neither dead, nor is it simply a field within science (a claim that is itself metaphysical). That is, rational inquiry allows room for the such distinctive disciplines as aesthetics, morality, theory of mind, epistemology, etc. So, I do assume a domain of inquiry distinct from science, in subject matter if not in method. The central argument of ID draws upon that domain in a manner often overlooked by many who affirm ID, as well as by many who resist the inference. ID does not rest so much on religion as a theory of mind. Its sin is not so much its underlying religious commitments (or motivations, contra Kitzmiller), as a prior metaphysical commitment to the immateriality of mind, libertarian freedom and agent causality. To the point: the design inference rests on some form of non-reductive dualism. Absent these commitment, the argument simply will not go through.
-bob

Comment #88535

Posted by CJ O'Brien on March 22, 2006 6:38 PM (e)

So, I do assume a domain of inquiry distinct from science, in subject matter if not in method.

The problem there is that there are no a priori limitations as to which domains science can legitimately concern itself with.
The “immateriality of mind” is an example. As the mind falls under scientific inquiry, “non-reductive dualism” is false, and no amount of metaphysical gerrymandering will make it true.

Comment #88595

Posted by R. O'Connor on March 23, 2006 10:12 AM (e)

CJ O’Brien commented:
The problem there is that there are no a priori limitations as to which domains science can legitimately concern itself with.
The “immateriality of mind” is an example. As the mind falls under scientific inquiry, “non-reductive dualism” is false, and no amount of metaphysical gerrymandering will make it true.

You don’t have to suppose such limitations are a priori, necessary, essential, obvious, of fixed. I take the restriction against appeal to non-natural agency, in the course of scientific inquiry, to be an utterly contingent, procedural commitment. I also take it that the question of the immateriality of the soul, which cannot be decided solely on the basis of empirical evidence, is paradigmatically metaphysics. Similarly, empirical evidence may bear on the claim that human agents do/do not have free will. But it is not decisive. To affirm or deny libertarian freedom turns on such issues as agent causality, moral responsibility, divine providence and even the problem of evil. That some scientists offer a “scientific” (i.e., strictly materialist) answer to these questions does not diminish the efficacy of the distinction between science and metaphysics. The lesson of the positivist attack on metaphysics: to maintain that the ability of science to increasingly account for mental phenomena somehow proves (e.g.) dualism false is to engage in metaphysics. The belief that science can account for all aspects of reality is itself a metaphysical commitment. To the point at issue on this list-serve: although there are metaphysical commitments that constitute the basis for scientific inquiry (although I don’t regard any such commitments as individually necessary), the design inference is explicitly grounded in commitment to a fairly specific ontology of the person (immaterial, contra-causal freedom, causal agent) that should be recognized as a piece of metaphysics. This does not render it false, weak, confused, agenda driven, irresponsible, or stupid. Neither, by the way, does it make it religious. Libertarian dualism is not a religion. It only means that it should not be regarded ultimately as science. ID has never tried to hide the fact that they are not so much arguing for dualism as arguing from dualism. See Dembski’s gloss on “intelligence.” To miss this is to misunderstand why the argument is a complete loss for many scientists: they reject its philosophical basis.
-bob

Comment #88682

Posted by Mythos on March 23, 2006 5:26 PM (e)

Flint,

If you watch Star Trek (and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t), you’re familiar with the character Q (an omnipotent, but completely natural being). If I understand you, you’re saying that any bizarre happenings could be natural phenomena, e.g., caused by Q. Therefore, we have no reason to look beyond nature.

If we’re ever able to understand Q, that understanding is likely a ways off (he’s way beyond the grasp of those in the 24th century). And we may never be able to understand him (perhaps human understanding has limits). Either way, we’re presently completely ignorant of Q as a natural cause (to the extent that we don’t even know if he exists). Why, then, is more reasonable, more scientific, to postulate such causes than to consider supernatural ones (again, assuming for the sake of argument that the “supernatural” is meaningful)?

In short, why accept methodological naturalism? The practial response to that question is, “it’s worked really well in the past.” But we are here postulating bizarre happenings with completely unknown natural causes. Will that answer work?

Comment #88706

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on March 23, 2006 7:38 PM (e)

In short, why accept methodological naturalism?

What’s your alternative, and how does it work? Show us.

Comment #88710

Posted by steve s on March 23, 2006 7:53 PM (e)

It seems that if a god existed, he would find it impossible to convince Flint of that fact.

Comment #88724

Posted by Henry J on March 23, 2006 10:17 PM (e)

I like Star Trek too, but it is decidedly not a good source of info on science. Granted it’s sometimes better than some other shows have been (e.g., Lost in Space), but the few episodes that touched on evolution were way wrong.

Henry

Comment #91652

Posted by Nick Matzke on March 31, 2006 3:13 AM (e)

In the ASA archives I picked up a usage of the term “methodological naturalism” in a November 1984 article by Norman Geisler:

In summation, Young does not reckon with the distinction between operation science, which always involves a recurring pattern of events in nature against which a theory can be tested, and origin science which does not. Failing to acknowledge this distinction, he (wrongly) assumes that all science should be defined the way operation science is defined, namely, naturalistically. Taking this naturalistic definition of science and applying it to origins, Young employs a form of methodological naturalism which would seem to be contrary to his Christian beliefs about the origin of the universe.

Comment #93438

Posted by Nick Matzke on April 3, 2006 12:27 AM (e)

From a mostly dubious but sometimes OK PCSF paper by Del Ratzsch (p. 25, note 37):

37. For instance, Boyle, in his 1688 Disquisition writes:

a Naturalist [scientist], who would Deserve the Name, must not let the Search for Knowledge of First Causes, make him Neglect the Industrious Indagation of Efficients [emphasis his]

and Bacon in De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum writes:

For the handling of final causes in physics has driven away and overthrown the diligent inquiry of physical causes, and made men to stay upon these specious and shadowy causes without actively pressing the inquiry of those which are really and truly physical, to the great arrest and prejudice of science.

Ratzsch, Del (2004). “Design: What Scientific Difference Could It Make?Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 56(1), pp. 14-25. March 2004.