Sep 182007
 

I’ve recently had the “privilege” of discussing some of the implications of so-called methodological naturalism (MN) on one or two blogs. For Darwinists, especially Darwinists who take philosophical naturalism (PN) as true, MN is an absolute necessity for scientific practice.
Thus MN becomes an extension of PN, and has the effect of making science a correlate of PN. Now, many defenders of MN would argue that isn’t the case at all and that MN is quite separate from PN and in no way implies its truth or even demands that PN be followed. But is that possible? Given what MN says and how it operates within science, is there a principled way to distinguish between it and full-blown PN?

I don’t think there is.

My contention is that MN implies or is equal to PN and that unless we know a priori that PN is true, MN places unnecessary stipulations on scientific practice that virtually guarantee that, on some matters at least, the deliverances of science could be way off the tracks, especially if key components of the tracks do not fit within the framework of a naturalistic worldview, as demanded by PN. Since no one has established or confirmed scientifically that PN is true, why is it necessary to demand the stipulation of MN in the first place?

I’d be interested to hear other’s thoughts on this matter.

  26 Responses to “Methodological Naturalism: Is it Necessary for Science?”

  1. Hi DonaldM

    I’ve recently had the “privilege” of discussing some of the implications of so-called methodological naturalism (MN) on one or two blogs. For Darwinists, especially Darwinists who take philosophical naturalism (PN) as true, MN is an absolute necessity for scientific practice.

    There is a good introduction to MN at Wiki. Science is about explaining the natural world (hmm, is that a meta-physical position already?), but it is also a requirement of science that those explanations can be tested. You could explain the motion of the planets by saying they are pushed by angels, but angels are supernatural beings; they are, by their character, unknowable. You cannot make predictions about how those angles will behave, or about what we might find angels doing.

    On the other hand, you might posit gravity. Gravity is a natural force, it can be measured in the laboratory, and scientists can make predictions about the effects of gravity in various situations. MN in science would cause us to reject the angels explanation, because it cannot be tested by science, but to accept the gravity one, because it. It is as simple as that.

    Of course, that does not mean science is right. Perhaps there are angels. All science can offer is a good model of what reality really is; those angels are well modelled by an illusionary force we call gravity. Well enough that we can land a man on the Moon.

    My contention is that MN implies or is equal to PN …

    Science implies MN. If you believe MN then implies PN, well you will have to work out the consequences for that yourself. There are plenty of theistic scientists out there (most accepting modern evolutionary theory, and so, I guess, what you would call Darwinists).

    …MN places unnecessary stipulations on scientific practice that virtually guarantee that, on some matters at least, the deliverances of science could be way off the tracks…

    Yes, science could well go off track if it misses some supernatural influence. But science is a careful discipline, and it will note the areas where the results do not make sense. Scientists will propose various naturalistic hypotheses, and then will test them to see how they hold out. No scientist is going to say God did, even the Christian ones who believe God did do it in some manner.

    Think about abiogenesis. There are a shed load of hypotheses about abiogenesis. Scientists test those hypotheses (eg, Miller and Urey, of course), and see how it fits what we know of chemistry and what the planet was like back then. The IDist says God did (this is just one possble ID scenario; I am not suggesting ID necessarily entails God; heaven forbid). Now, how is he going to support that claim? What experiments can he do in the lab. what should we expect to find and not find in the rocks? The IDist cannot say, because God is unknowable. It may be that the ID scenario is right, but it cannot be science.

    You may want to think of that as a failing of science; I would call it a limitation. Science studies what science can study. And that is all MN is really.

    Since no one has established or confirmed scientifically that PN is true, why is it necessary to demand the stipulation of MN in the first place?

    You seem to think that science is founded on the principles of naturalistism, but I think you have this backwards. I would suggest that early scientists (who were probably mostly Christians) realised that they had to restrict themselves to explanations that were ameniable to investigation, and so could be supported. It was later that this methodology was labelled MN, and later still that it was linked to PN.

  2. Hey Pixie. Haven’t run into you in a while. Looks like its just you and me, kid. I was hoping a couple more might drop by, by things have been pretty quiet here lately. I would like to respond to some of the points you made in response to my OP.

    There is a good introduction to MN at Wiki. Science is about explaining the natural world (hmm, is that a meta-physical position already?), but it is also a requirement of science that those explanations can be tested. You could explain the motion of the planets by saying they are pushed by angels, but angels are supernatural beings; they are, by their character, unknowable. You cannot make predictions about how those angles will behave, or about what we might find angels doing.

    The reference to the Wiki definition is interesting. I’ll have some comments on that later, perhaps in a separate post. For now I’ll just respond to your comments, if that’s okay. No, I don’t think the simple claim that science is about explaining the natural world is necessarily a metaphysical stance.

    Your example of the angels is interesting in several ways. First, it is a common type of example used to counter any critique of MN. But the example contains a contradiction itself. One the one hand the claim is that angels being supernatural, can’t be studied, therefore they are unknowable. On the other hand, what’s the scientific basis for claiming ther are “unknowable”? The argument inserts a metaphysical claim — in this case the supposed unknowability of angels (or their character, or actions) — into what is supposed to be a scientific arument.

    It may be that the ID scenario is right, but it cannot be science.

    You may want to think of that as a failing of science; I would call it a limitation. Science studies what science can study. And that is all MN is really.

    Well, no, not really. MN is about much more than that because the explanations of science are taken as facts representing the truth of the matters under investigation. Just because we have a plausible natural explanation for a given observation doesn’t mean that that is what really happened. It depends on whether one believes that science is about coming up with the best natural explanation for every observation, or is science about discovering the truth about what really happened. If its the former, then science can never say that any of its conclusions represent the real truth of the matter. The latter doesn’t suffer this, because in many instances, indeed probably most instances, what we observe can be explained with reference to some natural cause or other. But, there may be other observations or phenomenon for which there not only is no plausible natural explanation, but also no good reason to think there ever could be one, even in principle. The only way around this is to merely assert that nature is a completely closed system of natural cause and effect only. But that is not a scientific but a metaphysical claim about reality — about what ther is.

    But if nature isn’t a completely closed system of natural cause and effect, and is, in fact, an open system, where certain observations could be the empirical result of supernatural activity, then there’s doesn’t seem to be any real reason to prevent that explanation by some a priori stipulation that rules that explanation off the table before the investigation has even begun.
    In practice the forced stipulation of MN has to assume that nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect only. Further, the implication of that is that the finding of science will also represent the truth of the matter under investigation. At that point its pretty difficult to see where MN and PN are substantively different.

    More to the point, in matters related to abiogensis or cosmology and some of the other big questions about who we are and where we came from, and how everything got here, it is very much a live possibility that nature didn’t do all this on her own and had some outside assistance. If that’s even a valid possibility (and unless one strictly adheres to PN, it is a valid possibility), then it is not unreasonable nor unscientific to assume that some things we observe in nature will have features that could be associated with intelligent cause. The only question is what might such features look like and what characteristics might they have. MN doesn’t even allow that that is a legitimate scientific question, let alone that any reference to some non-natural cause of anything is valid.

    Unless and until it is established scientifically that nature is a completely closed system of natural cause and effect, there’s no reason to stipulate that every observation in nature can only be explained with reference to a natural cause, which is precisely the stipulation of MN.

    You seem to think that science is founded on the principles of naturalistism, but I think you have this backwards. I would suggest that early scientists (who were probably mostly Christians) realised that they had to restrict themselves to explanations that were ameniable to investigation, and so could be supported. It was later that this methodology was labelled MN, and later still that it was linked to PN.

    No, I don’t think that science is founded on the principles of PN. But I do think that a science restricted by the stipulation of MN will look no different than one that is. Unless that represents the actual state of affairs in the cosmos, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for that.

  3. Donald

    Hey Pixie. Haven’t run into you in a while. Looks like its just you and me, kid.

    I was beginning to thinkit was just me. I put in the Wiki quote for background for anyone else who hapens across this page.

    Your example of the angels is interesting in several ways. First, it is a common type of example used to counter any critique of MN. But the example contains a contradiction itself. One the one hand the claim is that angels being supernatural, can’t be studied, therefore they are unknowable. On the other hand, what’s the scientific basis for claiming ther are “unknowable” ? The argument inserts a metaphysical claim — in this case the supposed unknowability of angels (or their character, or actions) — into what is supposed to be a scientific arument.

    I would say the example exposes a tautology. We cannot study angels because they are supernatural. If they could be studied, they would not be supernatural. So the supernatural cannot be studied by science because, well, if it could, then it would not be supernatural. So yes, I am assuming angels are supernatural. If it turns out they are not, I will have to find some other supposedly supernatural effect. But the argument will be the same.

    Well, no, not really. MN is about much more than that because the explanations of science are taken as facts representing the truth of the matters under investigation.

    Kind of. Formally, all science can offer is a good model of reality. In practice, after a while that model is so well accepted, so well tested, that it does indeed get accepted as fact. Nowadays most people accept the laws of thermodynamics as fact just because they hold up in so many diverse circumstances.

    Just because we have a plausible natural explanation for a given observation doesn’t mean that that is what really happened. It depends on whether one believes that science is about coming up with the best natural explanation for every observation, or is science about discovering the truth about what really happened.

    For practical purposes, what is the difference? Can you think of a scenario in which science had the best natural explanation (and that explanation explains the observations, and predicts future observations), but that science is wrong and there is some way to tell?

    If its the former, then science can never say that any of its conclusions represent the real truth of the matter.

    This is true, it is a limitation of science. But can you think of a better approach?

    The latter doesn’t suffer this, because in many instances, indeed probably most instances, what we observe can be explained with reference to some natural cause or other. But, there may be other observations or phenomenon for which there not only is no plausible natural explanation, but also no good reason to think there ever could be one, even in principle.

    Should this happen, and no explanation can be found, then science will say “don’t know”, though scientists will probably keep looking for a natural explanation – just because they cannot study a supernatural one.

    But if nature isn’t a completely closed system of natural cause and effect, and is, in fact, an open system, where certain observations could be the empirical result of supernatural activity, then there’s doesn’t seem to be any real reason to prevent that explanation by some a priori stipulation that rules that explanation off the table before the investigation has even begun.

    Say we do a scientific study on the effect of prayer, and find that it has a noticable effect of how fast people recover from illness. Would this prove God answers prayers? No. All it could show is that the naturalistic (and so measurable) act of praying causes a naturalistic (and so measurable) increase in the healing rate. Whether that increase was due to God, Satan, psychic effects or, wel, pixies, we could never determine. That is why the supernatural explanation is rejected.

    In practice the forced stipulation of MN has to assume that nature is a closed system of natural cause and effect only.

    In practice the limitations of science have to assume…

    More to the point, in matters related to abiogensis or cosmology and some of the other big questions about who we are and where we came from, and how everything got here, it is very much a live possibility that nature didn’t do all this on her own and had some outside assistance. If that’s even a valid possibility (and unless one strictly adheres to PN, it is a valid possibility), then it is not unreasonable nor unscientific to assume that some things we observe in nature will have features that could be associated with intelligent cause.

    It would be unreasonable to assume that was the case. It would be reasonable to assume that it might be.

    The only question is what might such features look like and what characteristics might they have. MN doesn’t even allow that that is a legitimate scientific question, let alone that any reference to some non-natural cause of anything is valid.

    MN (in effect) recognises that trying to guess how God would design life is pretty much impossible

    No, I don’t think that science is founded on the principles of PN. But I do think that a science restricted by the stipulation of MN will look no different than one that is.

    Sure. But I say that MN is a natural expression of the limitations of science, while you see MN as a prior assumption.

  4. Science is about explaining the natural world (hmm, is that a meta-physical position already?)

    Yes, if you start with a meta-physical presupposition like blind Forrest.

    Barbara Forrest:
    “To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations. On this ground, to invoke an intelligent designer or creator is inadmissible”

    but it is also a requirement of science that those explanations can be tested.

    Since when does a Darwinian like you ever wanted testable science? Why don’t you show us how Darwinist have tested that a fish turned into an amphibian.

    I would say the example exposes a tautology. We cannot study angels because they are supernatural. If they could be studied, they would not be supernatural.

    That depends on how you define supernatural. A supernatural event can be merely something that occurs infrequently and we lack the knowledge of how such an event would work in a normative sense. The fact is there are many anomalies in nature and we don’t understand how it works in a normative sense. e.g. 13 things that do not make sense

    Christians believe that Jesus walked on water. Do we know how that worked from a physics point of view? No. Does that mean that it didn’t or couldn’t have happened because it is not within a MN framework? Of course not, unless you hold to a PN view of MN.

    So the supernatural cannot be studied by science because, well, if it could, then it would not be supernatural.

    But then again we are not really arguing about religious supernatural causation are we? We are talking about inferences of design which Darwinists have conveniently labeled as supernatural. The IDists and creationists based their inferences on what we current know empirically from science to infer design, while Darwinists overreach by going beyond what is empirically available in science and rely on their PN to infer universal common descent through RM&NS.

    Think about abiogenesis. ” Now, how is he going to support that claim? What experiments can he do in the lab. what should we expect to find and not find in the rocks? The IDist cannot say, because God is unknowable. It may be that the ID scenario is right, but it cannot be science.

    Actually Ross and Rana’s book “Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off” does a great job of looking at the scientific evidences that supports a design and creation model.

    Finally I agree with Donald that even from a strictly logical argument supernatural activities and explanation cannot be ruled out a priori in science unless you assume a PN view of MN. I would concede that a supernatural event cannot be tested in a normative sense but nevertheless it can be authenticated and acknowledged in the anomaly as anomalies of science.

  5. Pixie:

    I would say the example exposes a tautology. We cannot study angels because they are supernatural. If they could be studied, they would not be supernatural. So the supernatural cannot be studied by science because, well, if it could, then it would not be supernatural. So yes, I am assuming angels are supernatural. If it turns out they are not, I will have to find some other supposedly supernatural effect. But the argument will be the same.

    Let me make my point differently because I don’t think I stated what I wanted to say clearly. I agree that its probably true that supernatural entities in and of themselves can not be studied through the methods of science. Using the angels example, since that’s what was mentioned, I was not trying to say that science can directly study angels. But, it doesn’t follow that actions taken by an angel, could not have empirical consequences in nature and that futher, those empirical consequences could be observed and studied. And, I see no reason why those empirical consequences might not have characteristics that could reasonably be attributed to the action of a supernatural being, especially if attributing cause to a natural one requires attributing to nature powers she does not have.

    For practical purposes, what is the difference? Can you think of a scenario in which science had the best natural explanation (and that explanation explains the observations, and predicts future observations), but that science is wrong and there is some way to tell?

    Yes, evolution leaps to mind here as an example of the very point I’m making. Sure, evolution offers an explanation for certain observations in biological systems and the history of life on planet earth. But, there are features of biological systems for which undirected natural causes are insufficient but for which intelligent cause is a reasonable explanation. In denying this, the defender of evolution isn’t demonstrating the actual power of undiected natural causes to produce the effect under consideration. Rather, the stipulation of MN demands a natural explanation, no matter how implausible or improbable.

    Another example is the whole area of abiogenesis. Despite years of studying the question, science really doesn’t have a plausible, detailed testable model of how life got started here on earth. In fact, it is even known that life on earth could get started absent an intelligent cause. But under the stipulation of MN, that explanation can not even be considered because there just has to be a natural cause. But, if nature isn’t a completely closed system of natural cause and effect, (and we really have no reason to think that it is) then why would just have to be a natural cause? Saying because science can only deal with that sort of explanation doesn’t help much here, especially if we think that science is about finding out the truth of what really happened and not just providing a natural explanation for every observation at all costs.

    But I say that MN is a natural expression of the limitations of science, while you see MN as a prior assumption.

    Actually what I’m saying is that MN can’t escape the prior assumption of PN. As I see it MN=PN and I really don’t see any way around it once the full implications of MN are grasped.

  6. Another example is the whole area of abiogenesis. Despite years of studying the question, science really doesn’t have a plausible, detailed testable model of how life got started here on earth. In fact, it is even known that life on earth could get started absent an intelligent cause. But under the stipulation of MN, that explanation can not even be considered because there just has to be a natural cause.

    Amen. 🙂 If you ask any atheist to provide any evidence that supports an accidental genesis of life, they have none, but their PN insist that MN is the only viable explanation even if it goes against the insurmountable evidence of abiogenesis.

  7. BTW, let’s not forget about these little gems.

    Scott’s metaphysics
    As I said, Scott is indeed an atheist and materialist.

    Scott espouses the view that there is a distinction between methodological materialism and philosophical materialism. The first corresponds to what any practicing scientist would do. We assume that the world is made of matter, and that if there is something else out there, this is simply beyond the scope and reach of the scientific method. The second position is rational, but not scientific. It points to the rational conclusion that there is only matter out there, even though we cannot prove it beyond any doubt.

    One problem with Scott’s dualism is that, even though technically correct, it smacks of political correctness, or at least lacks philosophical courage.

    Provine’s metaphysics
    Not so for William Provine. His answer is clear: there is nothing out there, we die in the most definitive sense of the word, and there is no point in even asking the question of the ultimate meaning of life. Where does he get this conclusion? From the Darwinian theory of evolution by descent with modification. According to Provine, not only there is no evidence for anything beyond matter, but the whole essence of evolutionary change should tell us that it is irrational to even look for it.

    Steve Weinberg who’s a physicist and notably anti-religious have said “Science does not make it impossible to believe in God, it just makes it possible to not believe in God”

    Barbara Forrest:
    “So philosophical naturalism serves minimally as a regulative, or methodological, principle in science, for the following reasons given by Strahler:”

  8. Donald

    I agree that its probably true that supernatural entities in and of themselves can not be studied through the methods of science. Using the angels example, since that’s what was mentioned, I was not trying to say that science can directly study angels. But, it doesn’t follow that actions taken by an angel, could not have empirical consequences in nature and that futher, those empirical consequences could be observed and studied.

    Absolutely. The motions of the planets can be described by Kepler’s laws (I think that is the one); it does not matter if they depend on gavity and momentum or on angels lugging them around. The naturalistic consequences can be studied and quantified.

    Yes, evolution leaps to mind here as an example of the very point I’m making. Sure, evolution offers an explanation for certain observations in biological systems and the history of life on planet earth. But, there are features of biological systems for which undirected natural causes are insufficient but for which intelligent cause is a reasonable explanation. In denying this, the defender of evolution isn’t demonstrating the actual power of undiected natural causes to produce the effect under consideration. Rather, the stipulation of MN demands a natural explanation, no matter how implausible or improbable.

    Modern evolutionary theory (MET) offers us the best model that explains what we see in the natural world. If you have a better model, that fits the data better, then that will get accepted. But it does have to make those bold predictions that I mention in my post to Tel. Your ID hypothesis has to make predictions that fit what we see better than the MET hypothesis.

    Mike Gene has a front-loading hypothesis, invoking human-like intelligence (not supernmatural). So far, scientists reject as science (and Mike does not claim otherwis) because it does not make those bold predictions.

    The problem ID faces is that to make a hypothesis that makes better predictions than MET. Chances are, such a theory will have a lot in common with MET (like Mike’s front-loading), but either way, you are going to have be pretty specific about what happened and when.

    Another example is the whole area of abiogenesis. Despite years of studying the question, science really doesn’t have a plausible, detailed testable model of how life got started here on earth. In fact, it is even known that life on earth could get started absent an intelligent cause. But under the stipulation of MN, that explanation can not even be considered because there just has to be a natural cause.

    No, not quite. Under the limitations of science – which we label MN – scientists cannot investigate any supernatural cause of the start of life. No one knows how life actualy started, I doubt they ever will. Personally, I believe scientists will one day have a good model describing what might have happened, a model that fits well with what we know of chemistry, biology and geology.

  9. DonaldM: I’ve recently had the “privilege” of discussing some of the implications of so-called methodological naturalism (MN) on one or two blogs. For Darwinists, especially Darwinists who take philosophical naturalism (PN) as true, MN is an absolute necessity for scientific practice.

    Though we often talk about Methodological Naturalism as excluding the supernatural, what we really do is apply the Law of Parsimony; we don’t posit entities to explain Gaps in our scientific understanding.

    The key word is “methodological”. We act in a certain way regardless of our philosophical predispositions. We propose a hypothesis, make predictions, devise experiments, and modify our hypothesis accordingly. One can be a Christian, a Jew, or a nihilist, and apply the scientific method. But for a statement to be considered scientific, it must be validated by this methodology.

    DonaldM: In fact, it is even known that life on earth could get started absent an intelligent cause. But under the stipulation of MN, that explanation can not even be considered because there just has to be a natural cause.

    That is incorrect. We certainly can and do investigate intelligent causation, such as in archaeology and forensics. However, if we posit intelligent causation, then there should be a causal link to the intelligent agent. Absent such evidence, we would treat any such claim with suspicion.

    DonaldM: Actually what I’m saying is that MN can’t escape the prior assumption of PN. As I see it MN=PN and I really don’t see any way around it once the full implications of MN are grasped.

    Sure it can. We can merely follow the methodology by rote and agree to call it science. You don’t have to believe it tells us anything significant about the world.

    But if you want a bit firmer philosophical basis for *accepting* scientific results as significant, then we can derive the scientific method from a bare minimum of postulates — the ability to reliably make and retrieve a record. Objectivity, then, is the consistency of observations across observers, and we apply the process of hypthesis and prediction (hypothetico-deduction) in order to devise scientific theories.

  10. Zachriel

    Though we often talk about Methodological Naturalism as excluding the supernatural, what we really do is apply the Law of Parsimony; we don’t posit entities to explain Gaps in our scientific understanding.

    There’s really no “Law” of Parsimony. Like ‘the Code’ in the film Pirates of the Carribean, it’s more like a guideline. Also, the use of the “gaps” in this comment implies “a natural cause that we have not yet identified”, with the built in assumption that all such gaps will eventually be filled in with reference to some natural cause. And that assumption is highly suspect because it assumes a priori that nature is a completely closed system of natural cause and effect. Under that assumption, “gaps” are merely places where the natural cause has yet to be discovered. In other words, it means Naturalism of the Gaps!

    Zachriel

    That is incorrect. We certainly can and do investigate intelligent causation, such as in archaeology and forensics. However, if we posit intelligent causation, then there should be a causal link to the intelligent agent. Absent such evidence, we would treat any such claim with suspicion.

    No, this is incorrect. This is nothing more than a convoluted way of saying that unless we know the identity of the intelligence, we can’t infer his/her/its presence or causal power. Yet that is precisely what SETI is all about. If a signal from space is ever found that meets the criterion, attribution to some unknown alien intelligence will be trumpeted everywhere, even if we know not one thing about that intelligence. That is so because the premise of SETI is that there are certain levels of complexities in signals that nature, left to her own devices, could not produce…it is beyond the probabalistic and causal resources of nature to do so. In such a case, the inference to intelligent cause is entirely unproblematic. It only becomes a problem when we’re dealing with biological systems or causes of the cosmos.

    Zachriel

    Sure it can. We can merely follow the methodology by rote and agree to call it science. You don’t have to believe it tells us anything significant about the world.

    That’s just plain silly, Zachriel.

  11. Pixie: Just a general comment. I don’t think the comfirmation or disconfirmation of common descent really has anything to do directly with the (mis)application of MN in scientific practice. It could well be the case that with or without the sipulation of MN, the evidence and data will still produce the explanation of common descent. On the other hand, under the stipulation of MN, there is no other option and so common descent (or something very much like it) has to be the case. With the stipulation, then other options might present themselves, such as common design. My only point here is to say that the truth of a matter under investigation ought to be driven by the data and that is what ought to drive science and not adherence to an a priori stipulation of what can and can not be considered as a cause. Notice the subtlety here. Removing the stipulation does not in any way guarantee that science will reject all prior findings or gurantee that intelligent cause will automatically be the correct answer. But with the stipulation of MN, we are guranteed that if the truth of the matter under investigation is that an intelligent cause was involved, science will be blind to it, no matter what.

    The data, rather than the arbitrary stipulation, ought to determine the results.

  12. DonaldM: There’s really no “Law” of Parsimony.

    Lex parsimoniae. It’s a heuristic rule, and is an essential component of the scientific method.

    DonaldM: Also, the use of the “gaps” in this comment implies “a natural cause that we have not yet identified” , with the built in assumption that all such gaps will eventually be filled in with reference to some natural cause.

    That’s nowhere in my definition, or in any of the equivalent constructions of the scientific method. A Gap is just a Gap. That’s it. You are more than welcome to propose any testable hypothesis.

    DonaldM: This is nothing more than a convoluted way of saying that unless we know the identity of the intelligence, we can’t infer his/her/its presence or causal power. Yet that is precisely what SETI is all about.

    That is wrong on two levels. First, SETI makes certain assumptions about ET; that they are like humans in many ways, such as being located on a planet, and how they might use radio for communications. And more to the point, they make the explicit assumption that the radio waves are not disembodied, but that there is a causal link to the sender.

    DonaldM: That is so because the premise of SETI is that there are certain levels of complexities in signals that nature, left to her own devices, could not produce

    SETI does not attempt to detect complexity, but artifice; a narrow-band radio carrier. Again, SETI makes certain assumptions about ET, including the causal link.

    Zachriel: We can merely follow the methodology by rote and agree to call it science. You don’t have to believe it tells us anything significant about the world.

    DonaldM: That’s just plain silly, Zachriel.

    Waving your hands does not constitute an argument, nor does redefininig science to suit your predilections. The definition and explanation I have provided are consistent with orthodox definitions.

    That’s what we mean by “methodological”, as in the “scientific method“.

    methodology, a body of methods , rules, and postulates employed by a discipline : a particular procedure or set of procedures

  13. The key word is “methodological” . We act in a certain way regardless of our philosophical predispositions. We propose a hypothesis, make predictions, devise experiments, and modify our hypothesis accordingly.

    Please Zachriel, no one disagrees with this definition. The problem is that atheists exclude certain conclusions due to the philosophical predisposition. In other words, atheists are unable to separate PN from MN.

    That is incorrect. We certainly can and do investigate intelligent causation, such as in archaeology and forensics. However, if we posit intelligent causation, then there should be a causal link to the intelligent agent. Absent such evidence, we would treat any such claim with suspicion.

    Please when will you Darwinists stop being duplicity with this straw man argument. I have demonstrated that Darwinists have a double standard when it comes to inferring design in the post, “Wesley Elsberry’s Straw Man Argument: Intelligent Design Needs to Know The Designer” .

  14. teleologist: Please Zachriel, no one disagrees with this definition. The problem is that atheists exclude certain conclusions due to the philosophical predisposition. In other words, atheists are unable to separate PN from MN.

    Some people are certainly Philosophical Naturalists. So? That’s not what is at issue.

    DonaldM: Now, many defenders of MN would argue that isn’t the case at all and that MN is quite separate from PN and in no way implies its truth or even demands that PN be followed. But is that possible?

    Hence, you disagree with DonaldM’s premise. Methodology merely implies a procedure. I have provided a very spare definition of scientific methodology that is consistent with orthodox definitions. One doesn’t have to hold any particular philosophical position to follow this procedure anymore than to follow a recipe. You don’t even have to like cake.

    Furthermore, the only philosophical predisposition required in order to *accept* that science says something significant about the world is the reliability of making and retrieving records of our observations (memory). This methodology makes no distinction between natural and supernatural. Propose any hypothesis you wish, as long as it is reasonably consistent with previous observations, and leads to specific and distinguishing predictions concerning empirical observations.

  15. Donald

    Sorry, this thread has been side tracked into whether I mean evolution when I say “common descent” or common descent , and I have neglected to respond to your last post.

    On the other hand, under the stipulation of MN, there is no other option and so common descent (or something very much like it) has to be the case.

    That is not true; we could hypothesise numerous abiogenesis events say for each phylum or even each species. The fact is that the evidence does not support that hypothesis, and we go with common descent because the evidence supports it.

    If the evidence did not support common descent, we would reject it. Let us suppose there were discontinuities in the tree of life dating back to the Cambrian explosion, and all the organisms that appeared at that time seemed entirely isolated frm each other. All that we could say would be that these species appeared without apparent precursurs. There would be nothing to suggest God created them, nothing to suggest they were placed their by ET. All science can say is “Don’t know”. And that is a limitation of science that we call MN.

    With the stipulation, then other options might present themselves, such as common design.

    I think you could still do this (afterall you could propose an ETI, which would fall with MN). But you would need a convincing common design hypothesis, something that generates predictions, where those predictions are better than the ones from common descent. That means you would probably have to specify when the design event happened, what the purpose of the design was, the capabilities of the designer.

    My only point here is to say that the truth of a matter under investigation ought to be driven by the data and that is what ought to drive science and not adherence to an a priori stipulation of what can and can not be considered as a cause. Notice the subtlety here. Removing the stipulation does not in any way guarantee that science will reject all prior findings or gurantee that intelligent cause will automatically be the correct answer. But with the stipulation of MN, we are guranteed that if the truth of the matter under investigation is that an intelligent cause was involved, science will be blind to it, no matter what.

    MN excludes supernatural explanations, not intelligence. Forensic science and archaeology routinely investigate intelligent causes.

    But yes, science is limited to only what science can investigate. If the cause is something beyond what science can investigate, science will fail to find the cause or even come up with the wrong one. We have to be aware of that, but then we have to be aware that all science is tentative. There is no guarantee that we have the right naturalistic explanation either. All we can do is look at each theory and see how well it predicts and explains the observations. The better the fit, the better our confidence that we have a good model. We can say no more than that.

    The data, rather than the arbitrary stipulation, ought to determine the results.

    The data and the limitations of science determine the results in science.

  16. But yes, science is limited to only what science can investigate. If the cause is something beyond what science can investigate, science will fail to find the cause or even come up with the wrong one. We have to be aware of that, but then we have to be aware that all science is tentative. There is no guarantee that we have the right naturalistic explanation either. All we can do is look at each theory and see how well it predicts and explains the observations. The better the fit, the better our confidence that we have a good model. We can say no more than that.

    The problem, Pixie, is that is not what happens in practice either now or even historically. For example Rene Descartes wrote: “…it suffices to imagine a cause which could produce the effect in question, even if it could have been produced by other causes and we do not know which is the true cause.” (emphasis mine) In other words, for Descartes (and all Cartesians), as noted by Cornelius G. Hunter, “…a theory could be fictional but still useful.” (Cornelius G. Hunter, Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism, 2007 Brazos Press, pg 18) But note what happens here. Even if it were indeed the case that God brought all life into existence, including the many wonderous designs we observe in biological systems, we’re better off for the sake of our science to propose a naturalistic theory even if that theory is wrong and perhaps even known to be wrong. That is the consequence of MN. For that reason it is difficult to see how to separate MN from PN, because the end results are exactly the same. MN won’t even allow that extra-natural explanations are even possible. In many ways, it is a very Cartesian view of science.

    But, is science about generating “useful fictions” because they happen fall within the boundaries of the proscribed stipulation of MN, or is it about discovering the truth about the natural world and how things really came to be and how they work? MN won’t even allow the latter to be a possibility unless all truth about the natural world actually does fall within the boundaries of the stipulation. Unless we know that to be the case a priori, the stipulation comes with a pretty huge blind spot and the price just might be missing the boat on several important issues under investigation.

  17. Hi Donald

    Even if it were indeed the case that God brought all life into existence, including the many wonderous designs we observe in biological systems, we’re better off for the sake of our science to propose a naturalistic theory even if that theory is wrong and perhaps even known to be wrong. That is the consequence of MN.

    We are better off (at least in some ways) with a “useful fiction” (or good model, as I phrased it earlier) if that allows us to apply science. Maybe electricity is not electrons jumping from atoms to atom, but this model has allowed us to do all sorts of things, such as this discussion across the internet.

    However, that misses the real point. Given a choice between a model that fits the data, and a model that is not supported, which would you accept as science? I would choose the former everytime. Then, in the afterlife – perhaps – we find the former was merely a good model, a useful fiction, and the truth was the unsupported hypothesis. And perhaps not, perhaps the former was spot on, or something else neither of us dreamt of.

    But, is science about generating “useful fictions” because they happen fall within the boundaries of the proscribed stipulation of MN, or is it about discovering the truth about the natural world and how things really came to be and how they work?

    Definitely the latter. However, science has these limitations…

    MN won’t even allow the latter to be a possibility unless all truth about the natural world actually does fall within the boundaries of the stipulation. Unless we know that to be the case a priori, the stipulation comes with a pretty huge blind spot and the price just might be missing the boat on several important issues under investigation.

    But those investigations will miss the supernatural cause, if that is what it is, because the supernatural cannot be investigated. Even if all the geological evidence pointed to the planet being 6000 years old, and it was apparent that every “kind” had appeared at about that time, unrelated to each other, science still would not accept that God did it. All science could say was that some unknown and unknowable agency caused the world to be created (of course, you might want to define God as that agency, but I assume you have a more specific God in mind). Because that would be the limit of what science could study.

  18. But those investigations will miss the supernatural cause, if that is what it is, because the supernatural cannot be investigated. Even if all the geological evidence pointed to the planet being 6000 years old, and it was apparent that every “kind” had appeared at about that time, unrelated to each other, science still would not accept that God did it. All science could say was that some unknown and unknowable agency caused the world to be created (of course, you might want to define God as that agency, but I assume you have a more specific God in mind). Because that would be the limit of what science could study.

    There are two things at issue here: 1)science can only study what can be observed (for our purposes we’ll call that ‘nature’ and 2)science can not study anything beyond nature — i.e. the supernatural. Up to this point we’re in agreement. Given #1 and given the possibility that a supernatural agent could interact with nature in such a way as to leave empirical evidence of that interaction, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to say that even if that’s possible, we can’t even consider it for the sake of “doing science.” Yet, under MN, that is exactly what happens.

    If the empirical data in front of us (the effect) has properties for which nature lacks the resources to produce (the cause), but for which an agent that posseses certain qualities (say intelligence) could produce it, I see nothing in the least unscientific about making that inference. It is a direct conclusion based on the empirical data in front of us. Even if we can’t identify the agent, inferring that the evidence indicates that an agent was neceesary to produce the effect under investigation seems unproblematic — until the metaphysic of MN enters the equation. MN is not dictated in any way by data — it is dicatated solely on the basis of metaphysical presuppositions and thus restricts (or “blinds”) science to what the true cause of an effect might be. It also chokes off potential avenues of research. If we knew that certain empirical properties of the cosmos could only be the result of the action of an intelligent agent, that could open up new possibilities for future research within a design paradigm instead of a no-design paradigm – which is what MN demands. In that sense MN restricts science where ignoring it would not. And notice that God does not have to be a part of any of it. It is not a case of simply saying “Goddidit”…or “then a miracle occurred”.

  19. Given #1 and given the possibility that a supernatural agent could interact with nature in such a way as to leave empirical evidence of that interaction, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to say that even if that’s possible, we can’t even consider it for the sake of “doing science.” Yet, under MN, that is exactly what happens.

    Good point. And for the PN&MN he would have no problem accepting the assumption that alternate universes and intangible dimensions can and does interact with nature in some way. I see this as duplicity by PMN in that they will treat the implication of string theory as science but reject ID because it violates their philosophical presupposition.

  20. Donald

    If the empirical data in front of us (the effect) has properties for which nature lacks the resources to produce (the cause), but for which an agent that posseses certain qualities (say intelligence) could produce it, I see nothing in the least unscientific about making that inference.

    I do not see how you can determine betwen a supernatural cause and an unknown natural cause. Some of the most significant design arguments involve eliminating naturalistic causes (Dembski’s EF springs to mind). But how can you ever be sure you have eliminated all possible naturalistic causes, including those you can neither detect (with current technology) nor imagine?

    It also chokes off potential avenues of research.

    How would you actually do that research? This really is the crux of the matter. If you can propose some experiments that would tell you something about the supernatural cause, then you can do the experiment (and good luck to you).

  21. I do not see how you can determine betwen a supernatural cause and an unknown natural cause. Some of the most significant design arguments involve eliminating naturalistic causes (Dembski’s EF springs to mind). But how can you ever be sure you have eliminated all possible naturalistic causes, including those you can neither detect (with current technology) nor imagine?

    Two points. First, the proper distinction to be made here is between undirected, natural causes and intelligent causes. Can an effect under investigation be adequately explained by undirected, natural causes?
    Under the stipulation of MN, or is the effect the sort that requires intelligence to produce? Now to the second point. Per your comment above, we’d have to run through a potentially infinite number of possible natural causes and eliminate all of them before we could even consider intelligent cause. That makes any naturalistic explanation virtually unfalsifiable and therefore not very scientific. Evolution is a perfect case in point. How did Darwinian evolution produce the bacterial flagellum, to use the most noted example. To falsify Behe’s notion of IC, all you need to do is provide one detailed, testable model of a Darwinian pathway. Of course, no one has done that, loud hand-waving portestations not-with-standing. To falsify the Darwinian explanation that some Darwinian pathway produced the system, even though we really have no idea how, we’d have to run through an infinite number of potential pathways to see if any of them might work, with all the necessary detail in the model. For practical purposes, that makes the Darwinian explanation impervious to falsification.

    Now, back to MN. Because the implications of an intelligent cause point to a supernatural intelligence, the stipulation of MN bars that consideration entirely and opts instead for the “useful fiction” of Darwinian pathways, even at the price of unfalsifiability. It isn’t because the evidence warrants that “useful fiction”, but that the stipulation of MN demands it!

    How would you actually do that research? This really is the crux of the matter. If you can propose some experiments that would tell you something about the supernatural cause, then you can do the experiment (and good luck to you).

    But we really don’t need to know much about any supernatural cause per se. Rather, within a design paradigm (as opposed to a ‘no-design’ paradigm), the data and observations we make in the normal course of our scientific investigations reveal design parameters, design properties…designedness if you will…everywhere in nature. From those features we can deduce some things about the supernatural cause, but even if we don’t, the fact that the effect under investigation was actually designed isn’t the issue. We might puzzle over how it was designed, how the information was imparted into the system to produce the effect, much the same way scientists puzzle over all sorts of scientific mysteries now. The only difference is, science would recognize limitations to resources available to nature and the effects it can and can not produce. Under MN, there is the tacit understanding that there are no limitations to what undirected, natural causes can produce. How that’s substantively different from full blown PN is a mystery to me!

  22. Donald

    Two points. First, the proper distinction to be made here is between undirected, natural causes and intelligent causes. Can an effect under investigation be adequately explained by undirected, natural causes?
    Under the stipulation of MN, or is the effect the sort that requires intelligence to produce?

    Archaeology and forensic science routinely do this. This is no problem because they are looking for natural (as opposed to supernatural) intelligent agents. So I would say you are wrong. This is not about undirected, natural causes versus intelligent causes. This is about natural causes (which might or might not be purposeful) versus supernatural causes (which might or might not be purposeful).

    Now to the second point. Per your comment above, we’d have to run through a potentially infinite number of possible natural causes and eliminate all of them before we could even consider intelligent cause.

    If you are using an eliminative argument, then that is exactly the problem.

    Now to the second point. Per your comment above, we’d have to run through a potentially infinite number of possible natural causes and eliminate all of them before we could even consider intelligent cause. That makes any naturalistic explanation virtually unfalsifiable and therefore not very scientific.

    Not true. That makes the vague naturalistic explanation unfalsifiable, I will agree. But it is not true of specific scientific hypotheses.

    Evolution is a perfect case in point. How did Darwinian evolution produce the bacterial flagellum, to use the most noted example. To falsify Behe’s notion of IC, all you need to do is provide one detailed, testable model of a Darwinian pathway. Of course, no one has done that, loud hand-waving portestations not-with-standing. To falsify the Darwinian explanation that some Darwinian pathway produced the system, even though we really have no idea how, we’d have to run through an infinite number of potential pathways to see if any of them might work, with all the necessary detail in the model. For practical purposes, that makes the Darwinian explanation impervious to falsification.

    Let me address the two theories separately. First, Darwin’s. Yes, Darwin’s theory of evolution cannot be falsified in that way. But science does not restrict how a theory must be falsified, it merely says it must be falsifiable. As long as there are other areas where Darwinian evolution could have been falsified, it is still science.

    For Behe’s hypothesis about a specific IC system, yes one example is all that is required (in theory, though in practice the IDists will demand every more detail and/or change the definition). But Behe’s IC hypothesis will not crumble once the bacterial flagellum has been explained; IDists will find a new and equally obscure system, and another and another. Behe’s IC hypothesis will only be falsified opnce the evolution of every component of every organism has been explained (with a “detailed, testable model” of course).

    Now, back to MN. Because the implications of an intelligent cause point to a supernatural intelligence, the stipulation of MN bars that consideration entirely and opts instead for the “useful fiction” of Darwinian pathways, even at the price of unfalsifiability. It isn’t because the evidence warrants that “useful fiction” , but that the stipulation of MN demands it!

    Scientists employ the “useful fiction” because it works. It may be the God created the “kinds” 6000 years ago, but how is a scientist to go about investigating that? He can choose to assume horses magically appeared or he can study horse evolution. The former leaves him with nothing to do. The latter produces interesting fossil patterns and genetic connections to similar animals.

    But we really don’t need to know much about any supernatural cause per se. Rather, within a design paradigm (as opposed to a ‘no-design’ paradigm), the data and observations we make in the normal course of our scientific investigations reveal design parameters, design properties”designedness if you will”everywhere in nature.

    But what does the scientist actually do. Can you describe some experiments that a design-orientated scientist would do, that a PN-scientist would not?

    The only difference is, science would recognize limitations to resources available to nature and the effects it can and can not produce. Under MN, there is the tacit understanding that there are no limitations to what undirected, natural causes can produce. How that’s substantively different from full blown PN is a mystery to me!

    I think both PN and MN accept there are limits to what nature can do. Do you watch Heroes? The mutations exhibited in that program are not possible under PN.

  23. The Pixie: This is no problem because they are looking for natural (as opposed to supernatural) intelligent agents.

    The term “supernatural” has a couple of uses. One is as a God-of-the-Gaps (or Angels or Intelligent Designer or other powerful entity that leaves no trace). The second use refers to transient and non-replicable events, such as apparitions and miracles. The former is a simple fallacy and violates the methodology I outlined above. The latter can be scientifically investigated, but because the events cannot be replicated, the only thing we are left with is eye-witness reporting, often far removed from the purported events. (And other hypotheses have been proposed and tested that might better explain the origin of many such eye-witness accounts.) Often scientists use the term “supernatural” in the first sense, and immediately discount such claims as untestable. But because of the possible equivocation in the term, the conflation leads to continued confusion and argument.

    In any case, my spare definition of the scientific method does not require making a distinction between natural and supernatural. We can investigate anything we choose, as long as we can form specific, distinguishing, testable hypotheses.

    A methodological definition of science can be based solely on the assumption of the reliability of making a record. Objectivity, then, is the consistency of these records across different observers. And this definition makes clear the distinction between philosophical and methodological naturalism.

    We observe some aspect of the world. We form a generalization concerning those observations. We then deduce from that generalization an empirical test. We then verify this prediction with new observations. We modify or discard our generalization as necessary, all the while shaving off extraneous assumptions. We communicate our results so that other observers can replicate and extend our findings. We continue this process and eventually build confidence in our model.

    The Scientific Method

  24. We observe some aspect of the world. We form a generalization concerning those observations. We then deduce from that generalization an empirical test. We then verify this prediction with new observations. We modify or discard our generalization as necessary, all the while shaving off extraneous assumptions. We communicate our results so that other observers can replicate and extend our findings. We continue this process and eventually build confidence in our model.

    This is only a re-statement of the sci-meth. I have no dispute of that. But the sci-meth is not the same as MN. MN is an assumption of how the sci-meth has to be applied, which is a different thing. So, I don’t see your comment here as all that relevant to this discussion.

    Pixie:

    Scientists employ the “useful fiction” because it works. It may be the God created the “kinds” 6000 years ago, but how is a scientist to go about investigating that? He can choose to assume horses magically appeared or he can study horse evolution. The former leaves him with nothing to do. The latter produces interesting fossil patterns and genetic connections to similar animals…

    I think both PN and MN accept there are limits to what nature can do.

    I disagree with all of this, Pixie. First, to the last sentence above, that is simply not the case. The very assumption of PN is that there can be no real limit because everything absolutely everything has to be the end result of some chain of natural cause and effect. There are no other options…indeed there can’t be, if naturalism is true. This means that every single event in all of time and space…every sinlge one…no exceptions…and every event that will ever occur has been, is or will be the result of some chain of the blind, purposeless forces of matter energy acting through chance or necessity (or their combination). Period. What place for any limit on what nature could possibly do or have done with respect to any observed phenomenon in nature, then? None! Nature simply must have the creative power to produce any effect under investigation.

    MN has to make the very same assumption because MN is basically the proposition that, for the sake of doing science, we’ll pretend that PN is true (whether it really is or not). Thus MN blinds science to what may be an important distinction — that is distinguishing between a research problem and a paradigm problem. (This idea is one of the arguments made by Cornelius G. Hunter in his latest book, Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism) Because MN is the paradigm employed, it forces science to see all problems as research problems. But what if the difficulties science faces are first paradigm problems? In other words, what if the assumption of PN, in the guise of MN, is wrong and actual design (as opposed to only apparent design)is an important feature of nature?

    That would have pretty significant ramifications to how a scientist might view a particular research problem, wouldn’t you say? But for all science can tell, under the stipulations of MN, everything is merely a research problem for which the correct naturalistic explanation has yet to be discovered and the idea that perhaps that is the wrong paradigm isn’t even considered or recognized. Thus, there really are no practical limits to what nature can do…indeed there can not be, under such a paradigm, either practically or logically. Sooner or later, according to MN, nature will cough up the natural explanation for everything we observe. Since that is no different than what is demanded by PN, MN=PN and there ain’t no gettin’ ’round it

  25. DonaldM: This is only a re-statement of the sci-meth. I have no dispute of that. But the sci-meth is not the same as MN. MN is an assumption of how the sci-meth has to be applied, which is a different thing. So, I don’t see your comment here as all that relevant to this discussion.

    Methodological Naturalism clearly refers to the methodology. As you have accepted the definition as a proper restatement of the scientific method, I am confused as to why you think applying this methodology implies Philosophical Naturalism.

  26. Donald

    The very assumption of PN is that there can be no real limit because everything absolutely everything has to be the end result of some chain of natural cause and effect.

    No. In fact this is antithical to PN. In PN everything is limited by the laws of nature. That is a huge limitation, that only an appeal to the supernatural can get around. The assumption of PN is that absolutely everything that we observe must be the result of natural effects working entirely within the limitation of the natural laws.

    This means that every single event in all of time and space”every sinlge one”no exceptions”and every event that will ever occur has been, is or will be the result of some chain of the blind, purposeless forces of matter energy acting through chance or necessity (or their combination). Period. What place for any limit on what nature could possibly do or have done with respect to any observed phenomenon in nature, then? None! Nature simply must have the creative power to produce any effect under investigation.

    Okay, that is slightly different to what you said before (perhaps not intentionally?). PN does (as far as I know, and certainly for me) acknowledge intelligence, so there is a place for purpose in PN, and it is debatable whether “matter energy” is the fundamental, but perhaps that is beside the real point.

    But what if the difficulties science faces are first paradigm problems? In other words, what if the assumption of PN, in the guise of MN, is wrong and actual design (as opposed to only apparent design)is an important feature of nature?

    Then science will miss it (if we are talking about supernatural design). What else can it do? I asked before, what practicl experiments can you propose to study the supernatural? If you can think of none, well, you have hit the limitations of sciences.

    That would have pretty significant ramifications to how a scientist might view a particular research problem, wouldn’t you say?

    Yes. But recall that many scientists are theists. They have to propose naturalistic hypotheses to be able to test the hypotheses, but I imagine they believe the underlying reason behind the way the universe works is down to God. Why should we suppose they every single one them forgets that when they enter the lab?

    Thus, there really are no practical limits to what nature can do”indeed there can not be, under such a paradigm, either practically or logically. Sooner or later, according to MN, nature will cough up the natural explanation for everything we observe. Since that is no different than what is demanded by PN, MN=PN and there ain’t no gettin’ ’round it

    Just because MN and PN are the same on this issue, it does not follow that they are identical.

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