Regularism: A Better Alternative to Methodological Naturalism

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This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Science Doesn't Need MN


(Update 3/29: Please regard this series as a first draft with important revisions yet to come.)

I have just completed an argument to the effect that “Methodological Naturalism” (MN) is a false and flawed requirement for the practice of natural science. MN’s assumptions are theological rather than scientific, as witnessed by the fact that there is at least one form of “Methodological Theism” with equivalent implications for the practice of science. MN’s theological assumptions are disputable, and they are not resolvable by scientific means. Science can proceed without naturalistic assumptions of any kind, including methodologically. Granted, MN could be (and has often been proposed to be) broad enough to encompass a theistic understanding of nature, but its psychological effect is to bias persons toward a naturalistic vision of all reality, and to give illegitimate cover to those who claim a scientific attitude requires atheistic beliefs.

There has to be a better way to approach science than that.

“Methodological Supernaturalism:” A False Dichotomy
What would that more preferable way be? Most writers seem to take it that the one and only alternative to MN is Methodological Supernaturalism (MS). Mark Vuletic writes:

I take methodological naturalism to be the practice of adhering to the kind of methodology a metaphysical naturalist devoted to fulfilling the aims of science would adhere to. Methodological supernaturalism, correspondingly, is the practice of adhering to the kind of methodology a metaphysical supernaturalist devoted to fulfilling the aims of science would adhere to.

Steven Schafersman says he is

concerned with the relationship of science and naturalism, whether science assumes or necessitates methodological or ontological naturalism or both, and whether supernaturalism can or should be a part of science.

Mark Isaak writes (p. 25),

Naturalism works. By assuming methodological naturalism, we have made tremendous advances in industry, medicine, agriculture, and many other fields. Supernaturalism has never led anywhere.

Now, if MS were indeed the only alternative, I would rush to support MN all the way. MS is, if anything, even more biased than MN. We all agree nature exists; we don’t all agree the supernatural does. I’m not arguing for more bias but for less!

Is there then another approach toward science that stays on the proverbial cliff, without falling off toward either a naturalistic or supernaturalistic bias?

“Reliable Regularity of Cause and Effect In Nature”
Whatever that better alternative is, it had better retain all the virtues of MN. For all my disagreement with requiring MN as a basis for science, I don’t dispute the good it does. Its effect is to lead scientists to seek natural causes for natural effects, which is exactly what scientists ought to do, all the way down, as far as they can. Now, that may come as a surprise to some readers (it ought not to, but I expect it will anyway) in view of my sympathies toward Intelligent Design. ID’s conclusions are (as of now, at least) supported by the utter lack of natural, scientifically-accessible explanations for the origin of the universe and of the first life. Fine: let science keep looking—all the way down, as far as it can! The more we study, the more we learn, and that’s all to the good.

MN has been fruitful and productive in its insistence on looking for natural explanations for natural causes. It has the associated virtue of expecting the world to behave itself. It assumes that nature will act reliably and regularly. This is the positive side of Haldane’s proclamation, “When I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course.” What he means is that he expects regularity rather than chaos. Theism expects the same, as I have argued previously. The expectation that nature will act reliably and with regularity is central to our entire experience of life, and (if it were possible) even more so to the practice of science.

And with those two requirements—the deep pursuit of cause and effect in nature, and the expectation of reliable regularity in nature—I believe I have exhausted the essential virtues of MN as a requirement for science. If we discard the terminology of Methodological Naturalism, as I have recommended, we must still retain this much of it as a necessary, regulating assumption for the practice of science: We expect a reliable regularity of cause and effect in nature.

And that’s it. It doesn’t scan very well, I admit. “Reliable regularity of cause and effect in nature” has seventeen syllables instead of MN’s ten, and it doesn’t insert into a sentence as handily as “Methodological Naturalism” does. (Maybe someone more poetic than me can compress it down to two words. See the first comment for one suggestion, which I have gone back and incorporated into the title of this blog entry.) But it expresses all of MN’s virtues as a requirement for the practice of science, without making non-scientific, disputable, and needless assumptions, or unscientifically biasing anyone’s conclusions toward or away from naturalism, theism, or any variation or combination thereof.

It’s a better way to approach the practice of science.

Series Navigation (Science Doesn't Need MN):<<< Why Scientists Should Reject Methodological NaturalismMethodological Naturalism and Regularism: A Postscript >>>
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118 Responses to “ Regularism: A Better Alternative to Methodological Naturalism ”

  1. Hi Tom,

    After reading the whole series, I think I agree with you, but I think you may have left something out. Would you agree with the following statement?

    If you want to participate in science, you must: i) assume reliable regularity of cause and effect in nature [your requirement], and ii) not draw any metaphysical or theological conclusions from your work in the scientific literature (although you are free to express those conclusions in other venues).

    The second part of that statement is meant to apply both to atheists (who shouldn’t publish in a journal article things like “this result rules out God’s action in this particular corner of nature”) and theists (who shouldn’t publish in a journal article “this result illuminates how God works in nature”).

    I think the above statement comes close to how science is actually practiced. Obviously, the (vast) majority of both atheistic and theistic scientists adhere to these ground rules without much trouble. Even many popularizers of science are careful to separate the valid conclusions of science from extra-scientific, metaphysical statements in disguise. The trouble comes from popularizers of science who fail to make this distinction, and who claim to draw “scientific” conclusions about metaphysical reality that no self-respecting scientist would ever put in a journal article.

    Anyway, the question is: is methodological naturalism a misnomer for the two guidelines expressed in the above statement? You have convinced me that, yes, it is a misnomer. But we can’t just replace the term MN with “Reliable regularity of cause and effect in nature”. Not only is it too long — never underestimate the importance of marketing — but it also leaves out the second, equally important criterion for participating in science.

    How about the terms Regularism and Metaphysical Non-advocacy to denote these two criteria?

  2. Bill, thank you for that. I think Regularism might be a good name for it. It certainly fits the marketing better! I’ve taken the liberty of adding it to the title of this blog post, and I’ve edited an explanation into the post. I trust readers will see clearly enough that it was your idea, not mine.

    Your proposed additional statement has some merit but I see some problems with it, too. The “scientific literature” is a flexible term. Clearly it includes peer-reviewed science journals, as you’ve indicated in your example here, but does it also include books like Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box or Dawkins’s Blind Watchmaker? What about philosophy of science journals? Who decides?

    I was thinking about that, and I thought about putting it this way: “We ought not to draw any metaphysical or theological conclusions from our work, and present such conclusions as findings of science.” That has a certain ring of sensibility to it, but the boundaries of science/non-science are not all that clear, either. Steven C. Meyer applies Lyell’s dictum about the uniformity of causes, which is at least arguably a scientific principle, to draw the conclusion that the information in the cell can be attributed to intelligent action. Or maybe that’s a philosophical principle that science employs. Maybe (and this is what I really believe) the line between philosophy and science is hard to draw.

    So here’s what I would conclude provisionally, which is less restrictive than what you have offered here, and on which I’m certainly willing to be proved wrong: Metaphysical advocacy should only be undertaken if one clearly states one’s assumptions, methodology, evidences, logic, and other related processes, either directly or by making responsible references to other publications where such support is responsibly provided. I think that ought to apply to popular literature, insofar as it fits whatever comprehension level one is writing for, and certainly also to professional literature.

    (Holopupenko, I’ll come back to your comment later on. Thanks.)

  3. This is great stuff, Tom. I know that’s not much meat for a comment box, but I wanted to throw that out there.

    I became skeptical of MN years ago, for reasons similar to what you state but also going beyond it. (I should note that I reject MN as the defining standard of science, but that does not mean I automatically regard ID as science. I think the two are ultimately distinct issues, but do have some secondary crossover.)

  4. So apparently this whole series of posts actually wasn’t a takedown of methodological naturalism, it was actually an endorsement of it (scientists seek “natural causes for natural effects, which is exactly what scientists ought to do, all the way down, as far as they can” — a perfectly decent definition of methodological naturalism, in my view) which for some mysterious reason was disguised as a critique of it.

    As far as I can tell, all we’re left with after wading through the critique is just some protesting against the MN terminology itself, because
    it (allegedly) favors atheists, despite the fact that Christians invented the practice and the term “methodological naturalism” in the first place, and despite the fact that it is the “new atheists” that don’t like methodological naturalism, and the “new atheists” who regularly criticize defenders of the scientific establishment (“accomodationists”, in their terminology) for being so weak-kneed and tolerant of religion by invoking MN to refrain from saying “science disproves the supernatural”.

    Now, if we could just get all those ID folks to agree with mainstream science like Tom has here, then we’d be set…

  5. As far as I can tell, all we’re left with after wading through the critique is just some protesting against the MN terminology itself, because it (allegedly) favors atheists, despite the fact that Christians invented the practice and the term “methodological naturalism” in the first place, and despite the fact that it is the “new atheists” that don’t like methodological naturalism, and the “new atheists” who regularly criticize defenders of the scientific establishment (“accomodationists”, in their terminology) for being so weak-kneed and tolerant of religion by invoking MN to refrain from saying “science disproves the supernatural”.

    Can you name any “new atheists” who disavow methodological naturalism, Nick? I mean who criticize MN specifically, rather than say things you’d interpret – if you squint your eyes and tilt your head – as a criticism of MN. And before you bring it up, NOMA is not MN.

    Maybe there have been some prominent New Atheists who have explicitly dumped on MN and I’ve missed it. Then again, I’ve also missed the NCSE and other groups denouncing the New Atheists as anti-science and doing harm to science.

  6. If you’re not going to read what I wrote, Nick, I don’t know why you would want to comment on it. That includes my comment in answer to Bill R., and also this:

    ID’s conclusions are (as of now, at least) supported by the utter lack of natural, scientifically-accessible explanations for the origin of the universe and of the first life. Fine: let science keep looking—all the way down, as far as it can!

    Perhaps I should make more explicit that science should keep looking for explanations as far as it can, but that “as far as it can” does not mean assuming it will find all the answers that there are. Science should find all the answers that science can find, and be humble about what it cannot.

    You have reminded me (thank you, by the way) that I also need to be more explicit concerning MN’s psychological effect of biasing the practitioner toward PN, specifically toward supposing that in the end all answers must be naturalistic. That may in fact be its most damaging effect. I’ll be re-writing this series into one article shortly, and I’ll be clearer about that there.

  7. Tom Gilson wrote:

    Perhaps I should make more explicit that science should keep looking for explanations as far as it can, but that “as far as it can” does not mean assuming it will find all the answers that there are. Science should find all the answers that science can find, and be humble about what it cannot.

    Just say it, Tom: Know thy place, science.

  8. Tom,
    Here are a few criticisms. First, I think what you have written here is probably 3-5 times too long.

    Second, I don’t see that changing terminology is going to accomplish anything. Coining terms in my opinion, is more often than not, not done deliberately or intentionally, and once a term is coined it’s a humpty dumpty type of task un-coining and then re-coining it, especially if it’s being misused. The problem here as I said earlier is that MN has been co-opted by certain people (Scott, Pennock and Krauss et. al.) with an ideological agenda, who are then using the term equivocally to smuggle in their own metaphysical assumptions. Are they going to go along with a change of terminology? How is changing the terminology going to change their minds? They are the one’s who have created the debate by misusing and abusing the term. Criticizing that misuse and abuse, in my opinion, is the only way to carry on the debate.

    Third, part of the reason we are having this debate is because certain ID’ists’– Johnson, Dembski, and Meyers, supposedly to make room for ID as a science, have also bought into the equivocal meaning of MN and have attacked it as if that is the only way the term can be defined or used, but that as I have argued is patently false. BTW this one of the things, among many, that I part company with the ID movement over. I disagree that ID as science is in anyway ready for prime time (if it ever will be).

    On the other hand, I agree with ID’ists in their analysis materialism/ naturalism has been allowed to become perceived as the dominant world view of science. Unfortunately most of this damage can’t be easily undone because so many scientists personally have a naturalistic world view and uncritically don’t separate it from methodology. However, from an academic freedom/ freedom of thought standpoint it’s a debate that worth having.

  9. Thanks, JAD. I’ll take that under advisement.

    The excessive length is a function of the reviews with which I began each post after the first one, and also of this being essentially a first draft. Part of rewriting is eliminating redundancies, and I’m sure I need to do that. I think part of the reason you think it’s too long might be because you think much of it was unnecessary, too, for the reasons you just stated; and on that point I disagree. Maybe I’ll be more successful in making my case when I re-write it.

  10. JAD is spot on, Tom.

    (BTW, did you know some of the reCAPTCHA text is now appearing as Hebrew–complete with the diacritical marks? Amazing!)

  11. I suspect the reason Tom and others want to change the term MN is not because of the word methodological but because the word naturalism has a philosophical connotation. That’s true, but I would argue that it is not exclusively so.

    For example, look it up the word naturalist in the dictionary you’ll find it defined like this:

    1
    : one that advocates or practices naturalism

    2
    : a student of natural history; especially : a field biologist
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/naturalist

    In other words naturalist has an equivocal meaning. One has metaphysical overtones the other does not. It is not too much of a stretch then to argue, as I do, that the word naturalism in the term methodological naturalism is being used in an equivocal non metaphysical way. Clearly it was to De Vries who coined the term in the first place. I don’ t think an evangelical Christian philosopher at Wheaton College was trying to advance metaphysical naturalism, overtly or covertly.

    Tom also brought up ‘methodological theism.’ Curiously, Nancy Murphy, another evangelical philosopher, coined the term methodological atheism which she defines as follows.

    “There is what we might call methodological atheism, which is by definition common to all natural science. This is simply the principle that scientific explanations are to be in terms of natural (not supernatural) entities and processes. … (Nancey Murphy, 1993)
    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/mn-lh.htm

    On the surface it appears that her definition is trying to do what MN was meant to do. However, I can’t think of an equivocal meaning of the word atheism. So in my mind Murphy is saying something completely different. MA is suggesting that we have to tacitly assume to be, or pretend to be atheists to do science. For that reason I would reject the term MA. Atheism no other connotations AFAIK.

    Here is how I speculate the term MN was coined. What is science (physics, chemistry, biology etc.) the study of? Science is the study of natural phenomena and the causes and effects associated with such phenomena, and has developed methods for studying those phenomena. So science is the methodological study of natural phenomena, or we can create a shorthand description by calling it methodological naturalism. In other words, the intent was never a metaphysical one in the first place.

    If I were to replace MN with another term I would suggest empirical methodology because science studies natural phenomena using an empirical methodology. Of course, you know that some where there is going to be someone who is going flip that around and call it methodological empiricism. That however puts us back at square one because the word empiricism has philosophical connotations too. (Logical empiricism aka logical positivism or neopositivism)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empiricism#Logical_empiricism

  12. Bill, thank you for that. I think Regularism might be a good name for it. It certainly fits the marketing better! I’ve taken the liberty of adding it to the title of this blog post, and I’ve edited an explanation into the post. I trust readers will see clearly enough that it was your idea, not mine.

    Wow, I’m flattered! Did I just coin a term? 🙂

    So here’s what I would conclude provisionally, which is less restrictive than what you have offered here, and on which I’m certainly willing to be proved wrong: Metaphysical advocacy should only be undertaken if one clearly states one’s assumptions, methodology, evidences, logic, and other related processes, either directly or by making responsible references to other publications where such support is responsibly provided. I think that ought to apply to popular literature, insofar as it fits whatever comprehension level one is writing for, and certainly also to professional literature.

    I agree with the principle you propose, and I think it ought to be the universal rule for any type of advocacy, not just in metaphysics. For most venues, your rule should be sufficient, because it’s useless to try to ban metaphysical advocacy outright from all scientific books, news articles, blog posts, etc. — the ban would be impossible to enforce!

    However, I don’t think your rule is strict enough for peer-reviewed scientific literature, whose credibility and usefulness as a metric for science depends on the strict regulation of content. If metaphysical advocacy (even with full-disclosure of assumptions, reasoning, etc.) were allowed into scientific journals, it would be a disaster on the same level as if political advocacy were allowed. You would have naturalistic chemistry journals and theistic chemistry journals, Republican biology journals and Democratic biology journals; impact factors and publication lists would cease to be useful tools for making decisions about hiring faculty, allocating federal funding, etc.

    As such, I believe that metaphysical advocacy, even with full disclosure, should be prohibited from research articles in scientific journals. You raise the point that it is difficult to draw the line between science and philosophy, and while that task may be difficult in general, I think it is actually pretty easy in peer-reviewed literature. Science has its own journals (where metaphysical advocacy should be disallowed), and philosophy has its own journals (where metaphysics is open season). The toughest place to draw the line would be in the case of non-research features in scientific journals: perspectives, news and views, letters from the editor, etc. These features are not peer-reviewed and do occasionally espouse philosophical points of view (there was an (in)famous editorial in Nature some years ago that blatantly stated that philosophical naturalism is the only worldview compatible with science), but for the most part, it should be possible to keep metaphysical advocacy out of scientific journals.

    I hasten to add that, while I seek a strict separation between science and philosophy in peer-reviewed scientific literature, I do not think that such compartmentalization is either necessary or healthy within an individual. I am not a NOMA-ist — my faith in the Lord definitely governs how I work in the lab and how I fit my scientific results into my view of nature, and I think my labwork also shapes my faith and grows my relationship with God. Scientists (and non-scientists, for that matter) should be free to draw metaphysical conclusions from science, and even to write popular books and blog posts about them, but not journal articles. There should be at least one type of venue that tries to separate, as much as possible, science from metaphysics.

  13. Nick,

    Great, Larry Moran does not like MN. Who else? You said ‘New Atheists’ as if this was a standard position.

    But let’s run with Larry as an example himself. He’s explicitly saying that science can investigate and rule on the supernatural. In fact, he’s defending Philip Johnson when saying this.

    Is Larry anti-science? Is he doing harm to science? Would anyone taking Larry’s stance be anti-science? And if so… if Richard Dawkins and the rest really do reject MN, and if rejecting MN is anti-science… surely the NCSE has denounced them, given their past influence? Surely you’ve condemned the New Atheists as anti-science? I’d love to see those posts too.

  14. JAD,

    Are they going to go along with a change of terminology? How is changing the terminology going to change their minds? They are the one’s who have created the debate by misusing and abusing the term. Criticizing that misuse and abuse, in my opinion, is the only way to carry on the debate.

    I don’t think it’s essential to get Eugenie Scott and company to “go along with the terminology.” If more awareness were merely brought to the problems of methodological naturalism, and if men like Francis Collins, etc, could be convinced to reject it on Tom’s and similar terms, that would be a tremendous advance. Terminology cannot be ignored, especially considering that the ‘selling point’ of naturalism so often comes down to mistakes, confusion and rhetoric.

    If a word has a certain original use, and that common use changes, reacting to that is normal.

  15. Moran cites Boudry et al’s critique. As does Coyne, for the same reasons:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/methodological-naturalism-does-it-exclude-the-supernatural/

    …with plenty of supporting comments from readers.

    Here’s my take on Coyne’s/Boundry et al.’s critique of MN, it applies to many of the things MN critics are saying here, as well (another example where the new atheists line up with the creationists on the same side):

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/methodological-naturalism-does-it-exclude-the-supernatural/#comment-54636

  16. Nick,

    I’ll readily grant that you’ve provided evidence of some New Atheists who are against MN.

    Are Larry Moran, Jerry Coyne and company harming science by denying methodological naturalism (putting aside Tom Gilson’s criticisms for now)? Are they anti-science?

    Or is it not anti-science to deny methodological naturalism as the boundary of science?

  17. “Are Larry Moran, Jerry Coyne and company harming science by denying methodological naturalism (putting aside Tom Gilson’s criticisms for now)? Are they anti-science?”

    Yes, you harm science when you pretend that you can resolve eternal, probably unresolvable metaphysical debates as if they were simple matters of science, which is what they are doing. It basically crosses the same line that e.g. the evangelical apologists cross when they argue that such-and-such can’t be explained, therefore GodDidIt, except they’re crossing it in the opposite direction (science has solved/is solving these problems, therefore no God).

    It harms science politically also but that’s a secondary point. The degree of harm is limited I think, primarily because there is a broad consensus among practicing scientists and scientific and science teacher leadership and organizations that a religiously neutral, MN position is the right place for science to be. The carping from IDists/creationists and from New Atheists is loud precisely because they are annoyed that they don’t get any traction with the people who have been working on these issues for decades, with the scientific societies, etc.

  18. Yes, you harm science when you pretend that you can resolve eternal, probably unresolvable metaphysical debates as if they were simple matters of science, which is what they are doing.

    Glad to hear you say as much, Nick. Now if only some actual attention would be brought to that fact from the people who make it their business to defend science, because as it stands it’s made out to sound as if the only people mucking questions like these up are ID proponents and creationists.

    The degree of harm is limited I think, primarily because there is a broad consensus among practicing scientists and scientific and science teacher leadership and organizations that a religiously neutral, MN position is the right place for science to be.

    MN is not religiously neutral. I think Tom’s insights are valid on that point – and considering you seemed inclined to regard some of his observations as sensible (as in, retaining appropriate limits of science while pointing out flaws in casting those limits as MN), hopefully you’ll consider them further. It’s entirely possible for MN to be incorrect, yet for ID to still be ‘not science’.

  19. “Glad to hear you say as much, Nick. Now if only some actual attention would be brought to that fact from the people who make it their business to defend science, because as it stands it’s made out to sound as if the only people mucking questions like these up are ID proponents and creationists.”

    Sheesh, I linked to this very dispute happening between the responsible pro-MN people and irresponsible lets-ditch-MN-so-we-can-promote-atheism-with-science people.

    “MN is not religiously neutral.”

    Sure it is. Even Tom basically endorses MN, although he doesn’t want to acknowledge that that is what he’s doing.

    If you think MN is not religiously neutral, please explain the religious bias when a weatherman assumes that natural processes explain past weather events and will predict future ones, ditto for earthquakes, diseases, lightning, etc.

  20. Nick, this is — what shall I say? — completely outrageous:

    Sure it is. Even Tom basically endorses MN, although he doesn’t want to acknowledge that that is what he’s doing.

    How on earth do you think you can get away with that kind of blind, senseless distortion? I do not endorse MN. To a great but not entire extent I endorse a practice that you call MN, but I have clearly explained and argued at length (too much length, even, according to JAD) that the terminology of Methodological Naturalism is not religiously neutral, and that therefore the terminology ought to be discarded. I have also argued (more briefly) that some of MN’s implications should be discarded.

    If you think MN is not religiously neutral, please explain the religious bias when a weatherman assumes that natural processes explain past weather events and will predict future ones, ditto for earthquakes, diseases, lightning, etc.

    Okay. I’m sorry. Pardon me. You’ve disproved my case. You’ve showed that there is at least one instance in science where the practice that you prefer to label MN can be regarded as religiously neutral by the person involved in that situation. I see from that example that MN is in all ways and in all cases religiously neutral, and that there is nothing in its connotations or in anyone’s understanding of the term that could ever involve any religious bias. I yield to the power of one limited example of non-bias to prove that unlike situations are also always unbiased, and that because you know of at least one group of persons who view it in an unbiased manner, it is therefore impossible for any other person to take it in a biased way.

    Not.

    I am frequently disappointed in you for your failures in logical reasoning, Nick. You’re just not very good at it. Seriously. It would do you good to take a class in logic.

    Related to that, I notice your silence following this, and conclude that you don’t really care whether you are reasonable or unreasonable, right or wrong; and that you have no apparent capability to own up to your own mistaken thinking. Tell us whether we should think you care about the truth, Nick. If you do, then please give us a better reason to think so.

  21. By the way, here’s where your weatherman’s bias might enter in. If he views it this way, he’s biased:

    Please explain the religious bias when a weatherman assumes that natural processes must explain all past weather events without exception and must predict all future ones without exception, ditto for earthquakes, diseases, lightning, etc.

    MN prejudices persons toward that theologically biased stance.

    It ought to be clear enough to you that that is my position on MN. I’ve made a case for that position, which you haven’t begun to respond to. All you’ve done lately has been to say that I didn’t say what I said, or that what I mean by it is what you mean (how arrogant is that?!), even though what you say I meant contradicts what I actually said.

    It’s wrong and frankly quite strange of you to have done so.

  22. Tom,

    I am not sure what is the purpose of this writing project. Philosophers and theologians don’t have much influence on scientists. Karl Popper spoke and scientists shrugged. Your complaints about the terminology of methodological naturalism won’t even be taken seriously.

  23. Philosophers and theologians don’t have much influence on scientists.

    On poor, narrow-minded scientists, that is.

    Your complaints about the terminology of methodological naturalism won’t even be taken seriously.

    By arrogant “scientism-ists,” that is.

  24. While I’ll respond to Nick later – I think Tom’s given an ample reply to him besides – I do want to say one thing to olegt now.

    Karl Popper spoke and scientists shrugged.

    So you’re saying Tom’s complaints about methodological naturalism won’t be taken seriously by scientists.

    But “So?” is as good a response to that claim, even if it’s accepted. If philosophers listen – really, if anyone listens at all – then Tom’s efforts are well-placed. I don’t care what scientists think as scientists. They can be philosophically and metaphysically ignorant for all I care, so long as they produce things that are materially useful. It’s like being a checkout girl – insofar as she’s a checkout girl, I don’t really care if she’s well versed in the works of Chaucer. But if she can pack my groceries decently, I’m satisfied.

    So olegt, pay no attention to topics like this if you wish. It’s your choice. So long as you pack my groceries fine, I really don’t care.

  25. By the way, olegt, you’ve already told us what you think of philosophy and theology. Your sentiments expressed here are not news to me; I’m not surprised you would think what you do. I don’t know what effect my posts might or might not have, but in general, historically speaking, you couldn’t be more wrong about the influence philosophy and theology have had upon scientists.

    At the risk of disagreeing with Holopupenko (actually I know he will agree with this, phrased in this manner): philosophy and theology have had considerable influence even upon narrow-minded, arrogant scientism-ists. They just don’t know it. And their work is poorer for it.

  26. Tom,

    It’s possible that I am wrong about the influence of philosophy on science. I am a layman as far as philosophy is concerned.

    But this cuts both ways. You are a layman when it comes to science. Pardon me if I am not impressed by your last sentence.

  27. Tom to Nick @ 23

    I am frequently disappointed in you for your failures in logical reasoning, Nick. You’re just not very good at it. Seriously. It would do you good to take a class in logic…

    Related to that, I notice your silence following this, and conclude that you don’t really care whether you are reasonable or unreasonable, right or wrong; and that you have no apparent capability to own up to your own mistaken thinking. Tell us whether we should think you care about the truth, Nick. If you do, then please give us a better reason to think so.

    If Nick knows that he’s right and you’re wrong, Tom, why would he need to worry about logic?

    If you want to write a paper that really gets to the heart of the issue try to understand Nick’s mindset. This is not merely a misunderstanding over terminology, rather it is about some deeply held set of beliefs that cause self-appointed-defenders-of-science like Nick, and his former comrades at the NCSE to think that they cannot possibly be wrong. They have no desire, aside from some disingenuous accommodating sounding lip service, to use MN as it was originally defined. Rather, they co-opted the term to be used (really misused) as part of their own wedge type strategy to advance their own world view as being an integral part of science. For them spin laced with some subtle condescension and ridicule is more important than reason, logic or the truth. However, don’t ask people like him directly, you’ll never get a straight or honest answer.

  28. Nick: what JAD just wrote is all too consistent with what I’ve observed.

    Would you like to prove him wrong? You could, you know; it’s not too late. I don’t mean proving him wrong about your past behavior—it really is too late for that. I mean showing him and the rest of us that at this moment in time, and even from this moment forward, you can do better. There’s still time for that.

  29. olegt,

    As requested, you are pardoned.

    (Did you expect me to allow that arrogant narrow-minded scientism-ists’ work doesn’t suffer for their lack of breadth of understanding of what has influenced them?)

  30. It’s getting late. Tomorrow I will be packing groceries and Nick will be taking a remedial course in logic, while the broad-minded scientists of [insert your favorite flavor of creationism] will be toiling in their labs and putting the rest of us to shame. It’s a perfect world!

  31. Nothing sabotages sarcasm quite like overreaching. (This series was about reducing, not increasing theological bias in the practice of empirical science.)

    The idea of Nick taking a logic class is not, however, where you were overreaching (just in case that wasn’t clear).

  32. Oh, gimme a break, guys. This, for instance, is total bogosity:

    This is not merely a misunderstanding over terminology, rather it is about some deeply held set of beliefs that cause self-appointed-defenders-of-science like Nick, and his former comrades at the NCSE to think that they cannot possibly be wrong. They have no desire, aside from some disingenuous accommodating sounding lip service, to use MN as it was originally defined. Rather, they co-opted the term to be used (really misused) as part of their own wedge type strategy to advance their own world view as being an integral part of science.

    What’s my worldview, again? C’mon, tell me.

    Re: MN being biased:

    By the way, here’s where your weatherman’s bias might enter in. If he views it this way, he’s biased:

    Please explain the religious bias when a weatherman assumes that natural processes must explain all past weather events without exception and must predict all future ones without exception, ditto for earthquakes, diseases, lightning, etc.

    MN prejudices persons toward that theologically biased stance.

    Oh, really? So, why doesn’t every weather forecast come with a disclaimer on it saying “well, unless God intervenes today, we mean.” Is it biased for them to exclude that?

    Like I said before, unless you can provide some actual method for allowing the supernatural to be objectively verified/falsified in science, it is not biased to restrict science to the study of the natural. It’s just a practical necessity.

    It ought to be clear enough to you that that is my position on MN. I’ve made a case for that position, which you haven’t begun to respond to. All you’ve done lately has been to say that I didn’t say what I said, or that what I mean by it is what you mean (how arrogant is that?!), even though what you say I meant contradicts what I actually said.

    Well, I’ve said I’m confused, because on the one hand, you claim to be rebutting MN, but on the other hand, you endorse exactly what sounds like MN to me:

    For all my disagreement with requiring MN as a basis for science, I don’t dispute the good it does. Its effect is to lead scientists to seek natural causes for natural effects, which is exactly what scientists ought to do, all the way down, as far as they can.

    Please explain to us, Tom — what’s the difference between “scientists ought to seek natural causes for natural effects, all the way down, as far as they can”, and methodological naturalism?

    If we discard the terminology of Methodological Naturalism, as I have recommended, we must still retain this much of it as a necessary, regulating assumption for the practice of science: We expect a reliable regularity of cause and effect in nature.

    You confirm my confusion right there — the only specific suggestion you make is to discard the MN terminology. You make no suggestion about what to change in substance. And yet you bash me for saying that all you are saying is to change the terminology.

    Here’s more evidence that all you’re proposing is a complaint about terminology — you endorse Pennock’s description of MN (which is also my view of MN):

    Psychological Impact of the Term

    The argument I’m making here is admittedly neither philosophical nor logical; rather it is psychological. Pennock’s statement about MN’s implying nothing about the true nature of reality would be true and trustworthy in every way, if only MN did not have the psychological effect of biasing the mind toward naturalism, and of giving cover to some writers’ false (and non-scientific) contentions that to be scientific requires one to be atheistic. See further this from Eugenie Scott:

    Science has made a little deal with itself: because you can’t put God in a test tube (or keep it out of one), science acts as if the supernatural did not exist. This methodological materialism is the cornerstone of modern science.

    Psychologically speaking, acting as if something does not exist prejudices one toward believing that it does not exist. Festinger has shown us that behavior affects beliefs. Nobody in the pursuit of truth—least of all scientists—favors terminology that is inherently biased. If there were a better term than MN, one that avoided this naturalistic bias, wouldn’t it be preferable to use that instead?

    Basically, all you are saying is that don’t like the word “naturalism”, because other people you cite — who are talking about “naturalism” (Laurence Krauss) or “ontological naturalism” (Schafersman), not about methodological naturalism, have the temerity (horror of horrors) to actually argue for their metaphysical viewpoints. Even though the original coiner of the word (a Christian) and literally the leading philosophical proponent of MN (Pennock) use the term in ways that you approve, and you couldn’t even cite any examples of people using the actual term “methodological naturalism” (as opposed to “naturalism”, a much vaguer term with many more meanings than MN, or “ontological” naturalism which specifically and clearly is meant to be an amibitious philosophical position, rather than a mere methodological convention) in an inappropriate way.

    You seem to be annoyed that those endorsing “methodological naturalism” are creating an unfair bias towards metaphysical naturalism — but this fails to note that *the whole friggin’ point* of putting the clarifier “methodological” in front of “methodological naturalism” in the first place was exactly to avoid that kind of confusion, which might result if people just said “science is naturalistic.” Now people say, “metaphysical/ontological naturalism is a philosophical position that goes beyond science; scientists may hold that position, but it is not, properly speaking, a scientific position. Science only adheres to a methodological naturalism; people can make up their own minds about the existence of God or the supernatural. Science makes no statement about the ultimate truth of these metaphysical questions.”

    E.g., the Kitzmiller case, where Pennock testified, where I and Eugenie Scott worked on the legal team, etc. where the NAS and AAAS statements were cited, etc., made exactly these kinds of points:

    4. Whether ID is Science

    After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

    Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (9:19-22 (Haught); 5:25-29 (Pennock); 1:62 (Miller)). This revolution entailed the rejection of the appeal to authority, and by extension, revelation, in favor of empirical evidence. (5:28 (Pennock)). Since that time period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea’s worth. (9:21-22 (Haught ); 1:63 (Miller)). In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. (9:21 (Haught); 1:64, 87 (Miller)). 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)).

    The judge says it several times: he’s taking no position on whether or not ID, in some form, might be true. That’s beyond the balliwick of both science and the courts. He’s just saying it ain’t science.

    If all you are proposing is that the language be changed because it is “psychologically” problematic, color me unimpressed. The Kitzmiller court, the single most influential and prominent venue where the discussion of “methodological naturalism” ever came into play, did not end up with the bias which you are afraid of.

    If you are proposing something more than a cosmetic terminology change, well then, propose it clearly so that dolts like me don’t miss it.

    PS: re: logic. I’m pretty sure that what is going on in the discusison thread here, and in past threads, is that as a scientist, I think that what is most important in arguments is making good approximations of whatever is being discussed. E.g.: ID and the ID movement are, basically, creationist — 99% or more. Tom’s position is, basically, substantively, in terms of what scientists will actually do in their research if Tom’s proposal was adopted, still methodological naturalism. These are important facts in these debates, and it would require a lot of changes in a lot of facts to undermine these generalizations. But, instead of doing the hard, detailed work it would require to go through the reams of evidence supporting these generalization, estimate the frequency of possible exceptions, etc., I’ve noticed a tendency here and in similar apologetics discussions for people to attempt to evade these sorts of important, well-evidenced, very good approximations, by finding rare exceptions, or often, by just using creative imagination or hypotheticals. Having found or imagined a very marginal just barely arguable exception or two to the overall generalization, they then declare the main generalization utterly falsified and completely overthrown, congratulate themselves, and accuse me of being a bad logician. This is logic-chopping and hairsplitting, not effective argumentation. And it is not logical, in the most reasonable senses of the term.

    (Note: The previous paragraph is not intended as a depiction of Tom’s MN posts, which actually did not seek out real/imagined exceptions to MN, but instead sidled up right next to MN, endorsed the content of MN, proposed a label switch, and then somehow contended that some important critique of MN had been made. However, it is intended as a critique of the common tendency I’ve observed in TC discussion threads to miss the forest for the trees, or a tree, or a imagined dubiously possible twig of a proposed counterfactual tree.)

  33. Nick,

    Like I said before, unless you can provide some actual method for allowing the supernatural to be objectively verified/falsified in science, it is not biased to restrict science to the study of the natural. It’s just a practical necessity.

    Have you noticed you’ve switched from claiming that Tom’s view of science is downright benign due to it capturing what’s essential about science (“Now, if we could just get all those ID folks to agree with mainstream science like Tom has here, then we’d be set…”) to implying that Tom is angling for trying to include the supernatural in science?

    Please explain to us, Tom — what’s the difference between “scientists ought to seek natural causes for natural effects, all the way down, as far as they can”, and methodological naturalism?

    For one thing, because science is restricted to more than “natural causes”.

    Something happening utterly without cause or explanation is “natural”.
    Aliens manipulating experiments would be “natural”.
    Our living in a universe simulated by an advanced civilization is “natural”.
    Laws of nature suddenly changing is “natural”.

    There are plenty of ideas entirely compatible with a “naturalistic” worldview that science methodologically ignores.

    On the flipside, “laws of nature” can be upheld by God. Regularity can be a method – call it a design standard – employed by God. Theists and non-naturalists generally have no need to assume some imagined methods of naturalists in order to do science, much less good science.

    You confirm my confusion right there — the only specific suggestion you make is to discard the MN terminology. You make no suggestion about what to change in substance. And yet you bash me for saying that all you are saying is to change the terminology.

    What’s being pointed out, at least in part, is how inaccurate the terminology is with regards to its very substance. If this is just a terminological change, Nick, why in the world would you be getting so worked up about it? You’re insisting at once that Tom’s view of science is accurate, yet at the same time you’re stamping your feet like crazy at him framing the discussion this way.

    Is it because the terminology is important to you? Or is it because Tom’s focusing on something that you just plain don’t want to be focused on?

    You seem to be annoyed that those endorsing “methodological naturalism” are creating an unfair bias towards metaphysical naturalism — but this fails to note that *the whole friggin’ point* of putting the clarifier “methodological” in front of “methodological naturalism” in the first place was exactly to avoid that kind of confusion, which might result if people just said “science is naturalistic.”

    Funny – Barbara Forrest is very confused then. From her paper:

    My conclusion is that the relationship between methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism, although not that of logical entailment, is not such that philosophical naturalism is a mere logical possibility, whereas, given the proven reliability of methodological naturalism in yielding knowledge of the natural world and the unavailability of any method at all for knowing the supernatural, supernaturalism is little more than a logical possibility. Philosophical naturalism is emphatically not an arbitrary philosophical preference, but rather the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion–if by reasonable one means both empirically grounded and logically coherent.

    And

    Exclusive methodological naturalism does have metaphysical implications, and the metaphysical implications of the exclusive use of scientific method are the same, i.e., philosophical naturalism, whether the latter is presupposed in an a priori fashion or whether it is a generalization founded on the result of the method’s consistent application. Insofar as methodological naturalism can accept as evidence for belief only what scientific method judges reliable, it does define what is an acceptable world view by limiting what one can justifiably assert.

    So there we have Barbara Forrest drawing a link between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. But Tom’s point is that no, science does not and need not “act as if naturalism is true” – that a belief in regularity and causes at work within nature is not “acting as if naturalism is true”. Looks like there’s more than terminology at work here after all.

    Tom is right: Methodological naturalism is a misnomer. We should describe science’s limits and operations accurately, and terminology that is inaccurate should be changed, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to major shifts in the practice of science. I mean, you’re a biologist aren’t you? Arguments over “terminology” are legendary in biology – whether or not teleological terms should be used, for example.

    Terminology matters.

  34. To bolster one point I made in the previous comment…

    “When I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course.”

    Haldane gives examples that are typically viewed as supernatural. But what I’d note is that the ‘supernatural’ aspect of those things aren’t what captures the essence of his approach. Haldane is also assuming that natural entities won’t interfere, either in the form of agents (The powerful alien, the programmer of our ‘simulated world’, and so on) or non-agents (Sudden jolts of inexplicable irregularity in nature, sudden or temporary changing of laws of nature, and so on.)

    In other words, science’s practical constraints run deeper than excluding “the supernatural”. Plenty of things that are compatible with “naturalism” are as a rule excluded from consideration as well. People forget that “naturalism”, insofar as it’s even defined, is largely a narrow negative claim about God. That’s not much of a constraint.

  35. Nick,

    I’m still recommending that logic class. Seriously.

    RE: MN being biased, your answer here just doesn’t address the kind of bias I ascribed to it. Your charge at the beginning of your comment just now just misses the point badly. I don’t know whether I should re-write the post for you here now or just ask you to go read it again, but I would hope the latter would suffice.

    Oh, really? So, why doesn’t every weather forecast come with a disclaimer on it saying “well, unless God intervenes today, we mean.” Is it biased for them to exclude that?

    They don’t do it because for reasons I have explained and have repeatedly linked to, God’s “intervention” in that manner is very, very rare, even on theism, and it would be ridiculous to remind us all of that every day.

    Like I said before, unless you can provide some actual method for allowing the supernatural to be objectively verified/falsified in science, it is not biased to restrict science to the study of the natural. It’s just a practical necessity.

    Agreed. I said that too. But I also gave reasons, which you have not addressed, for ascribing bias to the MN terminology that you want to use for that doctrine. Until you actually address those reasons, Nick, what you write here remains irrelevant.

    Please explain to us, Tom — what’s the difference between “scientists ought to seek natural causes for natural effects, all the way down, as far as they can”, and methodological naturalism?

    I have. The difference is that although MN as technically defined and strictly interpreted is no different than what I have recommended, it is far too prone to being interpreted in a technically incorrect and biased manner. That’s what you haven’t caught, which is a shame, considering it’s the main point I made in this blog post. It is a complaint about terminology. Complaints about terminology are frequent and valid. Need I provide you with examples of biased terminology that our culture has decided to discard?

    Krauss was arguing for his ontological naturalism on the basis of his methodological naturalism. That’s an example of what’s wrong with it, and that’s what you missed. I didn’t miss the point of putting “methodological” in front of “naturalism.” You missed the point that it is equally valid, on the view of theism that I and many, many others espouse, to put “theism” behind “methodological.” (Thank you, Crude, for that further example from Forrest. I forgot she had said that, and I’ll certainly need to include it in my finalized version of this argument.)

    Thank you for the reminder that you worked on the legal team for Dover. I’m sure you wouldn’t want us to forget that important fact. I was in no danger of doing so. Thank you for quoting the Judge quoting your documents. You’re really only referencing yourself there, aren’t you?

    I have no clue what you think you were approximating at the 99% level. (My here has not been ID or creationism, so that’s irrelevant.) I was not logic-chopping or hair-splitting when, for example, I pointed out that your objections early on here completely missed four of my major points. It’s not logic-chopping to point out that your argument from analogy failed. You offered several objections to my position, and I showed that they do not apply. That’s not logic-chopping, that’s just using good sense. A counter-argument that does not apply is no counter-argument at all, and it’s perfectly normal and sensible to say so.

    Having found or imagined a very marginal just barely arguable exception or two to the overall generalization, they then declare the main generalization utterly falsified and completely overthrown, congratulate themselves, and accuse me of being a bad logician.

    Would you please tell us what that “found or imagined… very marginal just barely arguable exception or two” is that we’ve employed here? I need your help with that, because the examples of bias we’ve provided include Barbara Forrest, among others. Is she marginal? Is Haldane? Is Krauss? Maybe I misunderstood your point, and if so I welcome clarification.

    It’s also not logic-chopping, by the way, to point out that no matter what anyone says to show that you miss the logic of an argument, you never, ever learn from it, as far as you give us any reason to think.

  36. Tom Gilson wrote:

    I have. The difference is that although MN as technically defined and strictly interpreted is no different than what I have recommended, it is far too prone to being interpreted in a technically incorrect and biased manner. That’s what you haven’t caught, which is a shame, considering it’s the main point I made in this blog post. It is a complaint about terminology. Complaints about terminology are frequent and valid. Need I provide you with examples of biased terminology that our culture has decided to discard?

    Krauss was arguing for his ontological naturalism on the basis of his methodological naturalism. That’s an example of what’s wrong with it, and that’s what you missed. I didn’t miss the point of putting “methodological” in front of “naturalism.” You missed the point that it is equally valid, on the view of theism that I and many, many others espouse, to put “theism” behind “methodological.” (Thank you, Crude, for that further example from Forrest.)

    Methodological naturalism isn’t something decreed from above. It is simply a description of how science has worked for centuries. God is kept out of the equations. Rightly or wrongly, this is what works in science as it has been practiced for centuries. If some folks wish to change that, they are free to start their own enterprise and call it something else.

    I hear that ID scholars already have a couple of labs: the Evolutionary Informatics Lab and Biologic Institute. More power to them. They also have their own journal Bio-Complexity. If these startups succeed in pushing the boundaries of knowledge then their approach will be emulated by others. And then philosophers with a theological bend will be able to point to their successes and engage in speculations based on methodological intelligent design to argue for philosophical intelligent design.

  37. “Methodological Intelligent Design?” What’s that? How is it defined?

    If theism is true, olegt, God isn’t kept out of the equations. He is that by which the equations and the world they describe become possible.

    As to what works in science, I have already acknowledged the very thing that you said, and I have explained why “it works” is not a sufficient reason to continue with the terminology of MN.

  38. I’m baffled at the attempts to treat Tom’s post as if his thoughts on methodological naturalism were some attempt to treat ID as science. It seems to me one could accept Tom’s argument here and still regard ID as not being science. Or not. It’s a distinct issue.

    Maybe someone will engage the actual points being made here: That science’s methodology is not rightly “naturalistic” even in method, that the terminology of MN itself is misleading/inaccurate, etc.

  39. from olegt:

    Methodological naturalism isn’t something decreed from above. It is simply a description of how science has worked for centuries.

    But if that’s true, then MN is an inaccurate and biased description of how science has worked for centuries. Considering the very Christian origins of science — and the crucial theistic assumptions of the scientific pioneers — Methodological Christian Theism would fit much better as a descriptive term for how science operates.

    Science is based on several assumptions. To list a few:

    1) The vast majority of the time, nature operates according to fixed patterns of cause and effect

    2) Those patterns are rationally intelligible

    3) Those causes and effects are entities within nature

    4) The proper way to discover the patterns, causes, and effects is through the cycle of observing natural events, developing hypotheses to explain those observations, using the hypotheses to predict future observations, refining the hypotheses based on the observations, and so on.

    5) If the supernatural exists, it interacts with nature in such a way that it preserves, or does not disturb, assumptions 1 through 3.

    The term Methodological Naturalism, taken at face value, only covers assumptions 3 and 5 (which flow from naturalism), and perhaps 4, if you interpret “methodological” as a reference to the scientific method. As a result, the term MN must be stretched and distorted from its common-sense meaning to fit the actual scientific enterprise it attempts to describe. Are there any guarantees that the reverse won’t happen — that the practice of science won’t shrink and distort to fit this ill-chosen container?

    As stated above, Methodological Christian Theism would fit better, because assumptions 1, 2, 3, and 5 all flow from Christianity. Tom is not arguing for the adoption of this term, however, because many atheists would resent the labels of “Christian” and “theism” being applied to the prestigious and beloved institution of science. He is merely asking (and I now completely agree with him) that the same courtesy be extended to theists. Yes, I know that MN was coined by a Christian, but the more I consider the matter, the more I realize what a mistake he made. Why do we have to live with this mistake, since it can be fixed by a name change? We Christians love and respect science just as much as atheists (God used Christians to bring science into this world, for heaven’s sake!), and I had not realized until now what a stinging barb that second half of Methodological Naturalism is, and how bitter it tastes when saying it. It is like having to insult one’s own mother.

  40. Good points, Bill, and thanks for the support for my argument. It might help to acknowledge that your assumptions 1 and 2 are part of naturalism as it has come to be understood. But how did they get that way? Christian theism provides a theoretical justification for them, whereas for naturalism (both PN and MN), they are brute facts, not tied to any explanatory base.

    Physicists are seeking a Theory of Everything—a worthy quest, and I hope they succeed! But it’s misnamed, too. A true theory of everything would explain everything, especially why theories work in our universe. Given naturalism’s assumptions, that will be tough: it’s going to run into some pretty vicious circles. But suppose someone solved that problem. Then assumptions 1 and 2 could be regarded as intrinsically tied in with everything else. But for now (on naturalism), they’re just floating in the same regions of cognitive space as assumptions 3 and 4, and wow, aren’t we lucky we can use them all together?

    In that sense, they are not a part of naturalism at all. They’re neighbors, but they’re not kin.

  41. It might help to acknowledge that your assumptions 1 and 2 are part of naturalism as it has come to be understood.

    True enough. I was using naturalism to mean “the belief that matter, energy, space, and time are all that exists”, but I have never met a naturalist who rejects my assumptions 1 and 2, of course. So, I suppose, naturalism has come to mean “the belief that MEST are all that exists, and that they interact in consistent, rational ways”, which includes assumptions 1 and 2.

    But how did they get that way? Christian theism provides a theoretical justification for them, whereas for naturalism, they are brute facts, not tied to any explanatory base.

    An excellent point. The second definition of naturalism, above, covers all the assumptions, but in an ad hoc way, whereas Christianity posits only the character of God, from which all else flows. It is ironic that Occam’s razor is the favorite tool of the naturalist, reluctant as he is to use it when it matters most.

  42. I actually don’t have a strong attachment to the terminology. I was just annoyed because people jumped all over me and called me all kinds of names for saying what was basically true, namely that Tom’s posts boil down to a terminological proposal rather than an actual suggested change to the substance of MN, which is that scientists should seek natural causes for natural phenomena.

    That, and I was expecting some kind of attempt at a substantive critique of the practice of scientists seeking alternatives to seeking natural causes. Proposals to include the supernatural are always entertaining, because in my experience their unworkability becomes stunningly obvious as soon as they are proposed. But instead, we had a long series of posts with a lot of promises and anti-MN rhetoric at the beginning, and no substantive suggestion for an alternative at the end. So that was disappointing.

    I do think that the claim that the MN terminology causes a bias isn’t supportable, and I’ve said why. Even the quote by Forrest, above, makes it clear. She clearly say that MN is one thing, and ontological naturalism is another. The terminology has successfully described the distinction, and noted that holding MN is not the same thing as holding to ontological naturalism. She then makes an *argument*, as did e.g. some other people cited, that ontological naturalism is a preferred philosophical/metaphysical conclusion. She and others could have made the exact same argument in exactly the same way, if the word was “regularism” or something else. All they are arguing is that the success of science in seeking and finding natural causes — often for areas where supernatural causes were originally claimed — supports the idea that the supernatural really doesn’t exist at all. People can make up their minds about what they think about that argument, but it will exist just the same regardless of the terminology.

    The one really strong argument I can see for switching to a suggested terminology like “regularism” is that it might help conservative evangelical Christians to stop starting fights over “methodological naturalism”, since they very often misunderstand it as being anti-theistic, and it indeed probably is because they have such strong emotional reactions against the word “naturalism”, apparently *even* when the specifically-designed-and-intended-to-head-off-that-exact-misunderstanding clarifier, “methodological”, is used.

    The main reason to avoid changing terminology is that it’s extremely difficult once other terms are established, and it just adds more verbiage to the already considerably confusing debate in this area.

    Even if the term “regularism” was adopted, though, at this point I am cynical enough to think that sooner rather than later, the connotations that conservative evangelicals currently attach to “naturalism” and “methodological naturalism” would soon get attached to “regularism”, and in 20 years we would repeat this debate again and have someone suggesting that a term invented by Tom Gilson was actually a devious atheist plot.

  43. Nick, you may be entertained by proposals to include the supernatural. I would be entertained if you would define what you mean by supernatural in this context, and if you would tell us where you have seen any such proposals here,

    Your “explanation” for why there is no bias in MN terminology is lacking. You haven’t addressed my reasons for saying it; you have merely repeated what I have already acknowledged, which is that if one is terribly cautious to stick only with the strict technical definition, MN is not problematical. My point has been that this is fine in theory but fails the test of psychological reality.

    Have I suggested that MN was coined as a devious atheist plot? No. It had unforeseen, unintended consequences. If “regularism” proves to have unforeseen, unintended consequences in 20 years, then I do hope someone then, with the benefit of hindsight, will do just what I am trying to do now.

    Contrary to what you say here, I didn’t “jump all over” you for

    saying what was basically true, namely that Tom’s posts boil down to a terminological proposal rather than an actual suggested change to the substance of MN, which is that scientists should seek natural causes for natural phenomena.

    I don’t think anyone else here did either. We critiqued your logical errors, some of which include not seeing accurately what my posts really “boil down to.” I stand by the critiques I have made. You were wrong, you were wrong in much more substantive ways than you recognize, and you continue to refuse to learn from it. That’s a character flaw, my friend, and it stands out in these discussions like the proverbial sore thumb. It’s not just a character flaw, though: it’s also a terribly blind way to navigate reality.

    If you don’t do anything else, if you don’t change your mind about anything else in all of life, for your own sake at least change your mind about your proud, stubborn unwillingness to consider changing your mind in the face of substantive criticism.

  44. Crude to Nick @ 41

    Have you noticed you’ve switched from claiming that Tom’s view of science is downright benign due to it capturing what’s essential about science (“Now, if we could just get all those ID folks to agree with mainstream science like Tom has here, then we’d be set…”) to implying that Tom is angling for trying to include the supernatural in science?

    That’s exactly what’s going on here. Nick is playing a very disingenuous bait and switch game that has resulted in a very obvious double standard. Notice that when Haldane, Scott, Krauss, Forrest slide from methodological naturalism to metaphysical (or philosophical) naturalism they don’t even receive a proverbial slap on the wrist from Nick. ID’ists, on the other hand, are treated like they are threatening the very foundations of civilized society when they appear to stray from Nick’s very fluid definition of MN.

    Nick apparently doesn’t even notice that there is a difference between Tom’s view of MN and ID’ists like Johnson, Dembski and Meyer. For example, Tom appears to be okay with MN as it was originally defined whereas Johnson, Dembski and Meyer are not. Apparently they find even the original definition to be too restrictive.

    For the record, I do not think ID as it is presently construed can be classified as science (nor do I see how it ever could be). In my opinion ID is a philosophical position like materialism or naturalism. However, if we are strictly adhering to MN as it was originally intended, to keep empirical science separate from metaphysics, then ID should be treated no better or worse than either materialism or naturalism, which are very much tolerated by the scientific establishment.

  45. Did you notice, by the way, Nick, that you have failed to respond to the reasons several of us have given for why terminology matters? This is your blindness in action. You continue to regard terminology as neutral. It isn’t. It’s so meaningful that had I gone ahead and simply named some of the examples that I asked you to consider here it would have been at the risk of being considered a horrible racist. There are terms we don’t use any more because of their prejudice. Someone (I forget who) even got in trouble for saying “niggardly,” which has nothing to do with the racist term it reminded people of.

    You keep insisting that MN means just what it means in the most strict technical sense of the term. How many times have I told you I don’t disagree with it in the most strict technical sense? How many times have I told you that I’m looking beyond that? How narrow does one have to be, to keep insisting that the strict technical definition is the only one that counts; that nobody has ever thought of it, or ever would think of it, in any sense other than its strict technical definition?

    If you think terminology is non-substantive, you’re wrong, Nick. If you think terminology can’t be prejudicial, you’re wrong. If you think prejudicial terminology is of no consequence, you’re wrong. You’re obviously wrong, in fact; but you won’t see it, so in these matters so crucial to your own work you are living as a blind man. Nick, you’re hurting yourself, much more than you are me or anyone else, by your willful refusal to see reality.

    Your narrow view on this scares me. Not that I feel personally threatened by it, but that it’s just strange and upsetting to think of anyone trying to live life that way. My concern is for you. For your own good, wake up!

  46. I am going to acknowledge another mistake I’ve been making. Nick, I’m never again going to recommend you take a course in logic. I’m suggesting instead that you take a long introspective look at yourself. There’s a reason you’re stuck in your narrow, unlearning posture. Do you know what that reason is?

    Please don’t come back and tell me it’s that you don’t accept ID or creationism, or that you’re defending science. We haven’t been attacking science, and none of us have been been defending ID or creationism in this series. There’s something else going on inside you besides that. I couldn’t guess what it is and I wouldn’t presume to try, but I don’t think it’s about logic, and I do hope you’ll figure it out for your own sake.

  47. I do think that the claim that the MN terminology causes a bias isn’t supportable, and I’ve said why.

    Nick, your examples show that thoughtful people, acting carefully, can separate MN from philosophical naturalism. That’s not the same thing as showing that the term MN doesn’t cause bias. Your argument is analogous to saying that, because one can walk through a minefield unharmed by exercising careful attention to detail, therefore minefields pose no danger to the average person. Furthermore, since clearing the minefield is unnecessary hard work, we should leave it alone.

    It is our responsibility as scientists (and philosophers of science) to make science as transparent and accessible to the general public, so that they can see what is and is not a scientific finding. This task begins with terminology.

    I am currently teaching a class on “science and faith” to middle and high school students at my church. We spent a couple lectures defining science and faith at the beginning, and later a couple lectures covering the worldviews of Christianity and (philosophical) naturalism. Throughout the class so far, I’ve been emphasizing that science and naturalism are not the same thing, and that confusing the two leads to all kinds of errors. I’m pretty sure they get it, based on our in-class discussions (and based on how they’re starting to roll their eyes whenever I repeat “science is not scientism“, “evolution is not evolutionism“, etc). But now, I have to tell them that, even though science in no way implies naturalism, we have to use the term “methodological naturalism” to describe the scientific process… and this is not supposed to confuse anyone at all.

    Don’t get me wrong — they are a smart group of kids, and I know they can work through the confusing terminology, but i) they shouldn’t have to, and ii) I’m more worried about their classmates in school, who are learning about the scientific method but haven’t yet cultivated the virtuous habit of mentally repeating “methodological naturalism is not philosophical naturalism” whenever their teacher says MN.

  48. Once again, as I tried to explain above @ 10 & 13 the issues surrounding the MN debate are not going to be resolved by a simple change of terminology. This is a hearts and minds kind of thing. We are having this discussion because certain people with a philosophical agenda (naturalist, materialist, humanist etc.) have misused and abused a term because it can be used equivocally to further their cause. This is not a simple case of misunderstanding. If they had been honest and been willing to consistently use the term MN as it was originally construed there would be IMO virtually no debate.

    However when Barbara Forrest writes,

    “Exclusive methodological naturalism does have metaphysical implications, and the metaphysical implications of the exclusive use of scientific method are the same, i.e., philosophical naturalism.”

    Or, Mark Vuletic says,

    “I take methodological naturalism to be the practice of adhering to the kind of methodology a metaphysical naturalist devoted to fulfilling the aims of science would adhere to.”

    It is obvious to me that this much more than a case of misunderstanding a term, rather it is a case of underlying beliefs. Changing the terminology, even if it could be done, is not going change the beliefs. People who have a philosophically driven agenda will just find another avenue to advance it.

  49. I agree: changing the terminology won’t resolve the issues, and people with agendas will still advance them. But as Bill R. has shown us, it should help ease one of the barriers to resolving the issues, especially for people who have not yet developed an agenda; and it would be an improvement over terminology that biases people towards a certain non-scientific metaphysical position.

  50. @JAD:

    This is a hearts and minds kind of thing… [snip]… Changing the terminology, even if it could be done, is not going change the beliefs. People who have a philosophically driven agenda will just find another avenue to advance it.

    True, changing the terminology will not have much of an effect on the beliefs of those who are committed to naturalism. But that’s not the point anyway. The point is to prevent such people from taking advantage of the psychologically persuasive but logically fallacious association between MN and PN, in order to convert others to naturalism. Isn’t that what Forrest and Vuletic are doing in the quotes you provided?

    It is a battle for hearts and minds, and changing the terminology will help protect the hearts and minds of the impressionable (especially youths and children), who may not have committed to a worldview yet.

  51. Tom, I think you are mostly just annoyed because I’ve pointed out how your allegedly anti-MN arguments are weak to non-existent. Thus you stoop to vague insults about my character, and supporting others doing the same, rather than spending all of your posts making arguments. I won’t bother responding to that kind of dreck, it’s basically pointless except as emotional expression.

    And for what it’s worth, I think you are misinterpreting my confidence on these issues. Rather than just being a close-minded meanie, maybe, just maybe, it is possible that I have been thinking about and working on these issues for years? Have you read DeVries’s original article on MN? Have you read Numbers’s actual chapter on the history of MN? Are you aware of how the old “creation science” movement made the exact same complaints that IDists make about how scientists disagreed with them not because of evidence, but because of philosophical bias, except that instead of “naturalism” the target was “uniformitarianism”? I’ve done all this, and once you’ve been around the block a few times on these issues, it’s difficult to let it pass when a poster’s essay doesn’t prominently acknowledge up-front that MN was actually originally designed as a clarification to avoid exactly the problems the poster is complaining about, that it was largely a Christian invention, that it is used appropriately by its main proponents, etc. All of this has been conceded, in the comments, basically because I have been here pointing it out — and yet these concessions come with all kinds of venom directed my way for some reason, which is particularly surprising coming from those who wear their Christianity on their sleeves.

    As far as the substance of matters, you guys have basically admitted that the substance of MN is fine, and that the founders/leaders in using the MN terminology use it correctly. So what are we left with? People who are uncareful and inexpert end up using technical terminology incorrectly? Why is this surprising or in any way different from a million other areas of academics?

    And even here you haven’t established that there is anything like a systematic problem — most/all of your examples are of people using the MN terminology correctly — you just have a vague personal suspicion that there might be a problem.

    As for classrooms, I’d be very surprised if even 1% of American science classrooms had actually employed the term (already an unappealing mouthful) “methodological naturalism” in an actual high school science class. It’s mostly a technical term of art, primarily in the science education literature surrounding the creationism/evolution issue, and the philosophy of science, law, etc. that is connected to that.

  52. Nick Matzke wrote:

    Even if the term “regularism” was adopted, though, at this point I am cynical enough to think that sooner rather than later, the connotations that conservative evangelicals currently attach to “naturalism” and “methodological naturalism” would soon get attached to “regularism”, and in 20 years we would repeat this debate again and have someone suggesting that a term invented by Tom Gilson was actually a devious atheist plot.

    That has happened before. As Nick pointed out a while ago, and as JAD reminded us in this thread, the very term methodological naturalism was coined by a philosopher from a conservative evangelical school.

  53. Nick,

    The best refutation I can give you to your first two sentences is that not a word of them is true. I’m not annoyed, I’m concerned for you. I haven’t failed to make arguments—the suggestion is ludicrous!—though I don’t narrowly think that’s the only purpose for writing on a blog.

    Your second paragraph is nothing but an argument from authority (yourself), and does nothing by way of response to the arguments we’ve put forth here.

    MN’s original purpose was its original purpose, and its original connotations were its original connotations. That was 26-29 years ago. I have not (in spite of your dig at me on this) failed to acknowledge it, and I have not failed to address it.

    You keep missing the point. You do it again with “All of this has been conceded, in the comments….” which fails to note that what has been conceded does not change the point of what has not been conceded.

    You ask,

    Why is this surprising or in any way different from a million other areas of academics?

    Who said it had to be surprising or different to be worthy of improvement, if improvement is possible? Have you never heard of an academic discipline changing its terminology? (Brontosaurus burgers, anyone?)

    And if this is just a discussion about a cosmetic terminological issue, why does it bother you so, and why can’t you ever own up to your very apparent logical miscues? Look inside yourself; for only you know.

  54. Richard Hudelson, UW-Superior Professor of Philosophy, “Methodological Naturalism:”

    In the war against creation science, methodological naturalism has served as one of the weapons utilized by defenders of evolution.[1] ….

    [1]By “creation science” here I mean to include not only scripture based young earth creationism, but also the old earth intelligent design theory of such currently influential figures as Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe and, in general, all proponents of special creation.

    Nicely unbiased terminology, no?

  55. The Hudleson quote reminds me of this well known quote by Richard Lewontin.

    ‘We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1997/jan/09/billions-and-billions-of-demons/

    What I appreciate about Lewontin is that he drops the pretense. Methodological naturalism (or materialism) in his view, is metaphysical naturalism. Furthermore, it’s the metaphysics that drives the science. He hammers this point home when he declares, “we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations.”

    I commend him for his honesty, and I’m not being sarcastic. Of course that does not mean that I agree with him.

  56. JAD,

    You have indicated that you might disagree with Lewontin, I’d like to prod you further to determine what exactly might be the nature of the disagreement. Are you interested in allowing a Divine Foot in the door? If not, what is your beef with Lewontin?

  57. As you’ve noted in other terms, Nick’s got issues, and not close behind is olegt. They’re both not very good scientists because they’re both not very solid, logical thinkers. What drives them is fear–it’s called Christophobia. It’s kind of like radiophobia: all radiation is bad, very bad. God is bad. Christianity is bad… because we say so. Do you think they are able to reject or belittle philosophy and theology on “scientific” grounds? No: Nick’s sophomoric “I’m the authority on these matters” style is rank, childish nonsense. They’re pseudo-philosophers even as they reject or demean philosophy. The gain on their pretty little tinfoil hats is tuned up way, way too high into the radio station called “scientism.”

  58. Holo,

    I have never spelled out my position on Christianity. You have nothing to go on and you are making stuff up. That’s pretty shameful.

    Oh, and I don’t think you are in a position to judge whether or not I am a good scientist. You are just not qualified to do that.

  59. Nick,

    Even the quote by Forrest, above, makes it clear. She clearly say that MN is one thing, and ontological naturalism is another. The terminology has successfully described the distinction, and noted that holding MN is not the same thing as holding to ontological naturalism.

    Except for the little problem that Forrest bases her argument on the idea, not that science has some particular methodology, but that she defines the methodology as acting as if naturalism were true. But a key claim being offered up here is that *this is not an accurate description of the methodology*, and it’s due to this inaccuracy that the label of “methodological naturalism” is being pointed out as incorrect.

    All they are arguing is that the success of science in seeking and finding natural causes — often for areas where supernatural causes were originally claimed — supports the idea that the supernatural really doesn’t exist at all.

    No, she’s arguing something different from that. She’s arguing that philosophical naturalism is empirically supported, and that theism is not – and she’s doing so largely on the grounds that “methodological naturalism” is the (practical) stance that God/”the supernatural” does not exist, and that this stance is central to the success of science.

    If Tom and others are correct, though, this sort of reasoning has serious flaws. You’re acting as if Tom has argued that the term “methodological naturalism” should be jettisoned even though it’s 100% accurate. But Tom’s argument is that the term is inaccurate! Your response seems to be, “Well, in a practical sense Tom’s Regularism would function almost entirely the way methodological naturalism does.” But Tom himself is noting that – he’s not trying to change the practice. He’s trying to accurate describe the practice.

    Tom, I think you are mostly just annoyed because I’ve pointed out how your allegedly anti-MN arguments are weak to non-existent.

    No, you haven’t “pointed out” this. You’ve complained that Tom’s suggestion wouldn’t change the practical methods or limitations of science (but Tom’s expressly not trying to change that) and have insisted “methodological naturalism” would be a mere change of terminology (A: As if Tom doesn’t realize that he’s arguing for a change in terminology, and B: You insist this while totally ignoring the question of whether methodological naturalism is accurate. Your main argument so far has been “The term was thought up by a Christian so it must be okay!”).

    As far as the substance of matters, you guys have basically admitted that the substance of MN is fine, and that the founders/leaders in using the MN terminology use it correctly.

    Uh, what? If by “substance of MN” you mean “the practical limitations and methods most commonly used by scientists”, this was not some point you had to get anyone to admit – it was a claim from Tom right out of the gates. Nor has the complaint been that someone can’t apply what amounts to the “Regularism” definition to MN itself – anyone can change the definition of any word if they so chose. We could make methodological naturalism mean methodological theism if we really wanted to.

    But the problem remains that MN is a misnomer – it is incorrect, and the definition commonly associated with MN (basically, play-acting as if naturalism were true) is also incorrect.

    Again I’ll say: You’d think someone who’s all about science would be in favor of accuracy in terminology.

  60. Holopupenko says:
    March 28th, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    As you’ve noted in other terms, Nick’s got issues, and not close behind is olegt. They’re both not very good scientists because they’re both not very solid, logical thinkers. What drives them is fear–it’s called Christophobia. It’s kind of like radiophobia: all radiation is bad, very bad. God is bad. Christianity is bad… because we say so. Do you think they are able to reject or belittle philosophy and theology on “scientific” grounds? No: Nick’s sophomoric “I’m the authority on these matters” style is rank, childish nonsense. They’re pseudo-philosophers even as they reject or demean philosophy. The gain on their pretty little tinfoil hats is tuned up way, way too high into the radio station called “scientism.”

    More Holo insults. Nice Christian behavior there, Holo.

  61. Uh, what? If by “substance of MN” you mean “the practical limitations and methods most commonly used by scientists”, this was not some point you had to get anyone to admit – it was a claim from Tom right out of the gates.

    Not really, his claim out of the gates was,

    “‘Methodological Naturalism’ (MN) is a false and flawed requirement for the practice of natural science.”

    …which is rather different from where the discussion is currently at, which is something like “MN is fine as its originators and major proponents defined it and defended it in places like the Kitzmiller case, and it’s fine for scientists to just keep doing science like they’ve been doing it, but it’s still for some reason false and flawed requirement for the practice of natural science even though the only proposed improvement is terminological.

    But the problem remains that MN is a misnomer – it is incorrect, and the definition commonly associated with MN (basically, play-acting as if naturalism were true) is also incorrect.

    This is the key issue. You and Tom and supporters have just got the word “naturalism” irrevocably, unchangeably fixed in your head as meaning philosophical naturalism, aka atheism. Therefore even the explicit attempt to avoid this misinterpretation with the clarification “methodological” (and the almost always associated statement that MN is not meant to be something different and much more limited than philosophical naturalism) is lost on you guys.

    But the words “naturalism” and “naturalist” are very broad and have many meanings, thus it is unfair to just assume that just one meaning, philosophical naturalism, is the “natural” (forgive me) interpretation, especially when the writer is explicitly and self-consciously ruling out this precise confusion by using the clarifying word “methodological”.

  62. I don’t know that it’s fear driving you, Nick. I think Holopupenko went over the line with that. I’ve urged you to discover for yourself what’s driving you. The external result of it, though is evident: you’re not acting in any way as a solid, logical thinker here. Your argument to yourself as authority is sophomoric, and (for purposes of the present argument) it is indeed nonsense. He’s just right about that. Whether you like it or not, you would do well to face it as reality. Maybe it’s fear driving you, maybe it’s not. But something is preventing you from getting a handle on it.

  63. Nick,

    MN is a false and flawed requirement for the practice of natural science, in that it has acquired associations and connotations unlike what its originators and (some of its) major proponents have defined it to mean. It’s fine for scientists to keep doing science like they’ve been doing it, as long as they don’t let those acquired associations and connotations intrude on their science illegitimately, whether in their methodology or in the conclusions they allow themselves to draw. The proposed improvement is terminological for the sake of accuracy in terms.

    I don’t know whether that’s any clearer than the way I’ve stated it a dozen times previously, but if you can’t get the difference this time between what I’m saying and what you claimed in your most recent comment I’m saying, I suggest you copy and paste your version into one Microsoft Word document, and do the same into another document with my version, and then use Word’s Compare Documents function to highlight the differences.

    I do not have “the word ‘naturalism’ irrevocably, unchangeably fixed in [my] head as meaning philosophical naturalism, aka atheism.” That’s an outright, shameful lie on your part. I (and we) have never said that, nor have we implied it. You have it fixed in your head that no one will ever draw that association or be biased by it, whereas we recognize that persons will commonly draw that association and/or be biased by it. We’ve provided examples.

    There is a better term than MN, one that doesn’t lead persons toward that association—an association that you yourself say should not be made. What is your problem with it? Why does it bother you so?

  64. The time has come to state something more explicitly. I will thank you, Nick, if you would quit attributing to me falsely things that I have not said. Use MS Word or whatever it takes to discover the difference between my statements and your persistent distortions.

    Stop fooling yourself, and stop this game of trying to fool us. It’s not working with us, and it’s not doing you a bit of good for yourself.

  65. Nick, I just edited a line into my 7:42 comment, which I don’t want you to miss in case you’ve already read the comment as I posted it originally. Here’s the addition:

    “That’s an outright, shameful lie on your part.”

    Got it?

  66. Nick,

    Not really, his claim out of the gates was,

    “‘Methodological Naturalism’ (MN) is a false and flawed requirement for the practice of natural science.”

    …which is rather different from where the discussion is currently at

    That’s just flat out incorrect, and borderline dishonest considering the context I spoke of (“the practical limitations and methods most commonly used by scientists”). Let’s go back to Tom’s own words. (Hard to believe this is necessary but, I’m game.)

    Whatever that better alternative is, it had better retain all the virtues of MN. For all my disagreement with requiring MN as a basis for science, I don’t dispute the good it does. Its effect is to lead scientists to seek natural causes for natural effects, which is exactly what scientists ought to do, all the way down, as far as they can.

    And here’s you yourself very early into this conversation: So apparently this whole series of posts actually wasn’t a takedown of methodological naturalism, it was actually an endorsement of it (scientists seek “natural causes for natural effects, which is exactly what scientists ought to do, all the way down, as far as they can” — a perfectly decent definition of methodological naturalism, in my view) which for some mysterious reason was disguised as a critique of it.

    Tom was speaking out in favor of the methods and restraints commonly used in science, even commonly (if mistakenly) labelled ‘methodological naturalism’ throughout his series. You yourself recognized this previously. Really, you were suggesting that Tom himself subscribed to “methodological naturalism”.

    This is the key issue. You and Tom and supporters have just got the word “naturalism” irrevocably, unchangeably fixed in your head as meaning philosophical naturalism, aka atheism.

    No, we don’t. All of us have been focusing on the definition of methodological naturalism, the “acting as if naturalism were true when engaged in science” part. And we’ve been pointing out that this is an inaccurate description of science’s methods and limitations. You’ve been blowing past all that and making weird suggestions that this is some kind of attempt at smuggling the supernatural into science, and ignoring the criticisms of the terminology (or better yet, insisting that Tom’s move mostly comes down to one of retaining the common practices of science, yet changing the terminology. Go figure.)

    especially when the writer is explicitly and self-consciously ruling out this precise confusion by using the clarifying word “methodological”

    I really wish you’d actually read what people are saying here, since maybe then you’d grasp that “the clarifying word” still results in a term that is inaccurate, because the common description (Science proceeding as if God / the supernatural do not exist) does not accurately capture the methods and limitations of science. Believe it or not, a term can both label behavior that is useful or helpful, yet the label on (and even description of) that behavior could be incorrect.

    Methodological naturalism is incorrect, and does not accurately reflect either the limitations or common practices of science. The fact that you’re going quite a long time here now shooting at everything but the actual arguments and observations made just bolster these criticisms being made here, since if you could actually engage them and take them down you would in a heartbeat.

  67. Olegt:
    Seriously, I mean about your views of faith? Seriously? Really? I stand by my words to the both you: a good scientist presupposes a good logical thinker. Both of you lose on that count–big time. I’m not going to go back to recapture your trying to use science to dispel the Principle of Sufficient Reason by asserting things happen without cause at the quantum level. Просто плохой физик, ты. Просто ужас.

    Nick:
    I stand by my words, and moreover your appeal to Christian principles as you decry and deny them (“scientifically”? heh.) falls flat. That’s intellectual hypocrisy… but we see that from your inability to think logically. You’re a weak scientist wedded to unscientific, emotional baggage that Tom’s been trying to figure out. Science? Not a chance.

  68. Holo,

    Apart from you and me, no one understands Russian here, so have the courage to address me in English.

  69. I am not sure that it is a good idea to condone the practice, Tom. It’s just inconsiderate with respect to the rest of the participants. And I am not sure what sort of response this name calling is supposed to induce.

    Come to think of it, I have nothing to say to Holo. He attacks the opponent, not the argument. Fans of informal logic classify this as the ad hominem fallacy. Not that I care much for informal logic.

  70. I’m no fan of ad hominems myself (a familiar term around here, by the way; the link was hardly necessary). Holopupenko, I think olegt has a point with respect to the name-calling. (Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of argument to be attacked.)

    Your lack of concern for informal logic is not news to most of us.

  71. olegt:
    Which part of science told you it was inconsiderate to repeat, in Russian, essentially what I had just written in English? Was it your, ehem, physics… or your pseudo-philosophical babbling? Moreover, a pot calling a kettle black? Really? You have, as noted, in a single thread deflected from or ignored the points Tom made because, well, they’re inconvenient. And, like Nick, you appeal to that which you decry (attacking the opponent).

  72. Olegt: You have indicated that you might disagree with Lewontin, I’d like to prod you further to determine what exactly might be the nature of the disagreement. Are you interested in allowing a Divine Foot in the door? If not, what is your beef with Lewontin?

    Lewontin writes, “we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations.” In other words, he accepts materialism by faith not because material causes have been proven sufficient to explain anything and everything. I reserve faith for the big questions, like “why is there something rather than nothing?“– questions that science can’t answer.

  73. JAD,

    It sounds to me like you are disagreeing with Lewontin on metaphysics, not on how science is to be done. Is that right?

  74. Are you interested in allowing a Divine Foot in the door? If not, what is your beef with Lewontin?

    Hi olegt, I know this question wasn’t addressed to me, but I hope you don’t mind if I give my opinion.

    The way Lewontin phrases it — “Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” — together with the context of his statement, makes it clear that he is not trying to preserve the integrity of science by defending it against divine intervention, but rather the other way around: he is constructing an inviolably materialistic science to serve as a bulwark against divine assault on his ideology. His strategy highlights an important point, namely that “allowing a Divine Foot in the door” does not actually harm science (as long as the Foot belongs to Yahweh).

    To be precise, it’s not really a matter of “allowing a Divine Foot in the door” or not. Of course, if the Christian God exists, then the door is wide open, and we can hardly do anything to shut it. But I suspect you have considered this, and that you really meant something like “Are you interested in allowing science to posit supernatural explanations for natural phenomena?” My answer is a qualified “no”. In general, “no”, because God’s ordinary involvement in nature consists of upholding its existence and enabling the rational patterns of cause and effect that science discovers. Science makes no attempt to explain the continued existence and rationality of nature, so it need not concern itself with God on that front. I also answer “no”, in that science need not be bothered even when God very occasionally does special things that run counter to the ordinary course of nature. Most of science does not care about singular events of that sort, but about generalities, statistically discerned out of noise and outliers (Tom mentioned this in one of his posts).

    However, for the sciences that do deal with singular events in history, it is not out of the question that a particular scientific investigation may run into a miracle. Even so, science is still free to attempt a natural explanation of the event, and should try as hard as it can. If it succeeds, then great (because the presence of a natural explanation does not settle the question of whether the event is a miracle); if it fails, then no big deal, as far as science is concerned. If unexplainable events exist, whether in principle (due to direct non-natural causation) or in practice (due to a lack of information necessary to reconstruct a particular event), then they cause no injury to science, only to scientism. Science, unharmed, simply places the question on the back burner and proceeds to the next one.

    So, in answer to the question at hand, I am not bothered by “allowing” a Divine Foot in the door, because, as a Christian and a scientist, I do not see science as the first and last line of defense against unknowable chaos, but as a useful-yet-limited tool for watching God’s plan unfold in a broader context.

  75. I should add that, while science may be able to show that a historical event is consistent with God’s action in nature and/or with the words of Scripture, I don’t believe that science alone can demonstrate supernatural causation. For instance, the sciences of historical investigation and textual criticism can establish the events surrounding Jesus’s death, and they can show the Resurrection to be superior to other explanations for those events, but they cannot prove that God raised Jesus from the dead. As per my discussion with Tom earlier in this thread, I believe that peer-reviewed scientific literature is, and ought to be, technically silent on metaphysical and supernatural questions. I do think that logical argumentation, aided by science, can demonstrate God’s action in the world, but science alone is not equipped for such an enterprise.

  76. Olegt: It sounds to me like you are disagreeing with Lewontin on metaphysics, not on how science is to be done. Is that right?

    On the contrary, though he is being very honest about it, I think Lewontin is mistaken in conflating methodology with metaphysics. I think sciences like physics, chemistry and biology use an empirical methodology (or methodologies) in an attempt to understand natural phenomena and their causes and effects. However you don’t need to assume a naturalistic or materialistic metaphysical position to follow an empirical, or naturalistic, methodology as a scientist.

    Earlier in this series I wrote:

    For example, when Haldane writes that when he sets up “an experiment [he assumes] that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course,” that’s fine for him. However, it is not a conscious assumption that a religious scientist needs to make because making that kind of metaphysical assumption is not empirically necessary to carry out an experiment. Indeed a theist may believe that because God is the creator of a natural process, it is going proceed in a predictable or regular way because God set it up in a way that does not require Him to interfere. So methodologically theism can work just as well as atheism because neither perspective is required to do objective empirical research. In other words, neither assumption is required methodologically.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/03/why-science-doesnt-need-methodological-naturalism-2/#comment-25399

  77. Tom writes,

    MN is a false and flawed requirement for the practice of natural science, in that it has acquired associations and connotations unlike what its originators and (some of its) major proponents have defined it to mean.

    C’mon, you’ve got to admit that this claim is at least a little unlikely just on its face. MN is false and flawed, even though the originator’s and major proponents’ version of MN is just fine? Who are the authorities on what MN means supposed to be, if not its originators and major proponents?

    To document a claim that is this subtle, you would pretty much have to do some sort of statistical analysis and show that the frequency of science educators illegitimately advocating philosophical naturalism increases in a statistically significant way by 15% or something when “methodological naturalism” is used in the discussion.

    I think it’s far more likely, though, that any educators using the term “methodological naturalism” would be the sort who are well educated on these issues, and who realize that MN is intended to be distinguished from the metaphysical position of philosophical naturalism, and thus if you found anything, you would find that people that know about the MN terminology are more responsible than those who don’t.

    So, basically, I don’t buy your bias argument, therefore I don’t buy even your close-to-trivial-even-if-true critique of MN. Why this daring to disagree inspires so much emotional invective directed my way is beyond me.
    Terminological change without a compelling reason is pointless and probably both impossible and will lead to even more confusion. That’s why I oppose your terminological proposal. But like I said, it’s not a huge deal to me. If everyone started using the “regularism” terminology, I could deal with that just fine.

    PS: Speaking of logic: what’s with accusing me of being a liar? Lying entails an intent to deceive. What evidence do you have of this? What would my motive be? Who am I trying to mislead? The half-dozen other people following this thread? What would be the point?

    At worst I advanced an incorrect hypothesis about your beliefs when I talked about the multiple meanings of the term “naturalism”. I should have said “I think” in front of it. At the time, I was trying to figure out just why you guys were holding so doggedly to at-best-highly-debatable idea that MN gave some kind of severe bias towards PN, despite the actual stated views of the actual coiner of the term, the major proponents of the term, and the major public application of the term in the Kitzmiller case. It’s still pretty mystifying to me, but I am happy to retract the statement that you have the “philosophical naturalism” meaning of diverse-meanings generic word “naturalism” completely fixed in your head, based on your protests.

    But — if that’s true, and you agree that the generic term “naturalism” has many meanings, and not just the meaning of “philosophical naturalism” — well then, that just weakens further your claim that the terminology of “methodological naturalism” is badly biased, instead of being a useful clarification (as the coiner and major proponents of the terminology claim).

  78. No, we don’t. All of us have been focusing on the definition of methodological naturalism, the “acting as if naturalism were true when engaged in science” part.

    PS to my previous post: the above, though, is an example of someone taking “naturalism” to automatically mean “philosophical naturalism”.

    And we’ve been pointing out that this is an inaccurate description of science’s methods and limitations.

    It’s an inaccurate description of methodological naturalism — if you would like a concession from me, I would freely concede that defining MN as “acting as if God doesn’t exist” and the like is a relatively poor way to describe MN. A much better definition is the one in the Kitzmiller case, advocated by the experts in that case, i.e. MN means that science is “the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (9:19-22 (Haught); 5:25-29 (Pennock); 1:62 (Miller))”

    I think that those who have used this sort of language didn’t realize how “acting as if God doesn’t exist” might sound to someone who has major problems with atheism. I suspect what examples exist tend to come from earlier descriptions, especially before Pennock started seriously explicating this language in the mid-1990s. But I don’t think it’s even a particularly common description of MN. E.g., google/google books on Eugenie Scott/methodological naturalism brings up:

    [Scott’s 2005 book: ] “This amounts to saying that methodological naturalism is the view that no naturalistic explanation can appeal to God or to …” (rest of page restricted)

    ===========

    [another random hit from the top google hits]

    In science, we restrict ourself to natural cause. Science is a limited way of knowing, I like to tell people. We are limited to explaining just the natural world, we are not telling people how to treat each other, morals and ethics. We are just trying to explain the natural world, and we limit ourself to natural cause. The reason we limit ourself to natural cause, to methodological naturalism, is not because all scientists are atheists, because they aren’t. The reason we limit ourself to natural cause is because the essence of science is testing ideas against the natural world.

    ===========

    [ Eugenie Scott on Methodological Naturalism
    Email correspondence with Salvador Cordova, at IDEA (May 18, 2005). ]

    My position is to distinguish between philosophical and methodological naturalism, but of course, the leaders of the ID movement reject this distinction and conflate the two. I think the distinction is real, it should be appreciated, and it is one of the keys to solving the problem of the rejection of evolution. And a lot of scientists agree with me, even those who are nonbelievers. But it’s much easier for the leaders of the ID movement to keep flogging Dawkins and Provine than to reflect the philosophical reality out there. ¶ I think much of the antievolution sentiment in the public is because anti-evolutionists have sold the public a bill of goods that because science CAN explain through natural cause, it means that science is saying that therefore “God had nothing to do with it.” Evolution, like all science, explains through natural cause. It tells you what happened, and nothing about ultimate cause. If a religious position makes a fact claim, like special creation of living things in their present form, at one time (the YEC view), science can propose that there are no data to support this view, and much against it. But if God wanted to create that way, but make it look like living things appeared sequentially through time, science of course could not refute the claim. The claim — like all claims about God’s action in the natural world — would in fact not be testable (and therefore not scientific) because ANY result is compatible with God’s action (assuming God is omnipotent.) ¶ The blame lies partly with science professors and partly with the public. In defense of science professors, students rarely challenge them for making atheistic comments when discussing, say, cell division (“Prof. Jones, you just said that ‘enzymes A & B make chromosomes line up on the equator.’ Are you saying that therefore God had nothing to do with it?”) When they are discussing evolution, scientists treat it the same way as they treat cell division: here are the natural processes that result in the splitting of a lineage, or whatever. Students are more likely to read philosophical naturalism into methodological naturalism when the topic is evolution than when the topic is cell division — and we can’t blame that on professors. It would help if students would be a little more reflective on this issue! But professors can be more sensitive to this issue, certainly. And I find that once the difference between philosophical and methodological naturalism is pointed out, they “get it”, and few argue that this isn’t a good idea.

  79. Nick,

    PS to my previous post: the above, though, is an example of someone taking “naturalism” to automatically mean “philosophical naturalism”.

    No, methodological naturalism is distinguished from philosophical naturalism – even in that example. “Acting – not believing, but acting – as if X were true in a limited domain, for practical reasons” is not the same as “Believing X to be the case”. It’s a description of a method, of behavior, not belief. But it’s still a lousy way to define the behavior, the method, and the constraints.

    It’s an inaccurate description of methodological naturalism — if you would like a concession from me, I would freely concede that defining MN as “acting as if God doesn’t exist” and the like is a relatively poor way to describe MN. A much better definition is the one in the Kitzmiller case,

    I don’t care about the Kitzmiller case, and that you prefer other definitions doesn’t matter much to me either. In fact, if you’re really taking the point that “methodological naturalism” is really that disconnected from metaphysical naturalism – if MN doesn’t even mean one is employing a method as if naturalism were true – then it just drives home the point all the more that “methodological naturalism” is a misnomer. The “naturalism” part of “methodological naturalism” isn’t doing any work.

    Again: Tom’s right about this term. It’s inaccurate, it’s misleading, and the fact that in this or that particular case it was defined in such a way as to be at odds with the actual choice of words, doesn’t matter. And the fact that a christian came up with the original words doesn’t mean anything. It’s not like any of us are going to go “Oh, a Christian came up with the world Methodological Naturalism? Then it must be totally accurate. Go Christians!” The man made a mistake with his choice of words.

    And finally, regarding your specific examples…

    The reason we limit ourself to natural cause is because the essence of science is testing ideas against the natural world.

    Except, as has been pointed out, plenty of “natural” possibilities are also ruled out by the methodology of science. Or are you saying, Nick, that it’s entirely acceptable and scientific to entertain “natural” possibilities of the sort I’ve already listed in this conversation? That ID is okay, so long as the designer is natural?

    Science is not limited merely to “the natural world” methodologically. It’s limited to a far tighter group of possibilities than that.

    The rest largely is a complaint that some people think methodological naturalism says that God doesn’t exist, a misunderstanding which is not the point or the problem here.

  80. I don’t care about the Kitzmiller case, and that you prefer other definitions doesn’t matter much to me either. In fact, if you’re really taking the point that “methodological naturalism” is really that disconnected from metaphysical naturalism – if MN doesn’t even mean one is employing a method as if naturalism were true – then it just drives home the point all the more that “methodological naturalism” is a misnomer. The “naturalism” part of “methodological naturalism” isn’t doing any work.

    Well that’s just silly. “Naturalism” is doing the work of putting the bit about natural processes into the definition.

    The rest largely is a complaint that some people think methodological naturalism says that God doesn’t exist, a misunderstanding which is not the point or the problem here.

    That’s exactly what your main complaint was, until just now when I pointed to a number of instances of Eugenie Scott quite carefully avoiding that misinterpretation.

  81. Nick,

    Well that’s just silly. “Naturalism” is doing the work of putting the bit about natural processes into the definition.

    Except “naturalism” isn’t a simple claim that ‘natural processes are responsible for stuff’. You’re reaching desperately here, and you’re now in the position of saying that methodological naturalism does not mean employing a methodology designed to function as if naturalism were true.

    That’s exactly what your main complaint was, until just now when I pointed to a number of instances of Eugenie Scott quite carefully avoiding that misinterpretation.

    For God’s sake, Nick: No, it wasn’t. That’s what you keep insisting I must be complaining about, what everyone must be complaining about, despite it repeatedly being pointed out that no, we’re not acting under the belief that methodological naturalism == metaphysical naturalism, or that methodological naturalism requires the claim that God does not exist. I pointed out in that very comment that there’s a distinction between “believes” and a pragmatic “acts as if”, and I’ve been stressing the conditional “acts as if” of methodological naturalism throughout this entire discussion.

    By all means, quote where I said that “methodological naturalism says that God doesn’t exist”, rather than is a methodology that in practice treats naturalism as true for the purposes of scientific investigation. Or retract it and admit my problem has been located elsewhere. Or hey, earn that accusation of dishonesty that you’ve complained about in this thread.

    And I still see no response from you over the fact that all kinds of things which could be possible in a naturalistic universe are ruled out in the course of science – thus further showing why “methodological naturalism” is an utter misnomer.

  82. Nick,

    It’s early in the morning and I’m off to a breakfast meeting. I only have time to glance at this much:

    C’mon, you’ve got to admit that this claim is at least a little unlikely just on its face. MN is false and flawed, even though the originator’s and major proponents’ version of MN is just fine? Who are the authorities on what MN means supposed to be, if not its originators and major proponents?

    1. The originators’ version of it is not what’s under discussion. The version with its acquired associations and connotations is.
    2. You missed “(some of its)” preceding “major proponents;” that is, you treated our exchange as if I hadn’t said that, and as if we we stood agreement concerning the major proponents’ views.

    Other than that, THANK YOU! THANK YOU for not telling me this time that what I’ve been writing is exactly the same thing you believe. You finally opened your eyes. There’s still some distortion there, but I don’t want to overlook progress when I see it.

    Intent to deceive? It’s either that or absolute, culpable unwillingness to pay attention to what we have been saying, such that you ended up misrepresenting us by deafness to our statements rather than intent to deceive. Maybe that’s the fault; and maybe that’s less dishonorable than lying; but by how much? You manufactured that claim out of thin air. Can you show us anything in what we wrote that indicates we have this stubborn idée fixe over naturalism meaning PN or atheism?

    If you’re not intending to deceive then you have a different problem. Let me repeat something else I said, with special focus on certain words.

    Stop fooling yourself, and stop this game of trying to fool us. It’s not working with us, and it’s not doing you a bit of good for yourself.

  83. Bill R.,

    I find myself mostly agreeing with your position, perhaps with the exception of this paragraph:

    To be precise, it’s not really a matter of “allowing a Divine Foot in the door” or not. Of course, if the Christian God exists, then the door is wide open, and we can hardly do anything to shut it. But I suspect you have considered this, and that you really meant something like “Are you interested in allowing science to posit supernatural explanations for natural phenomena?” My answer is a qualified “no”. In general, “no”, because God’s ordinary involvement in nature consists of upholding its existence and enabling the rational patterns of cause and effect that science discovers. Science makes no attempt to explain the continued existence and rationality of nature, so it need not concern itself with God on that front. I also answer “no”, in that science need not be bothered even when God very occasionally does special things that run counter to the ordinary course of nature. Most of science does not care about singular events of that sort, but about generalities, statistically discerned out of noise and outliers (Tom mentioned this in one of his posts).

    I wonder how one could determine whether a phenomenon belongs to this excluded category. Would the big bang qualify? Should science stay away from studying the big bang? If that is not the right example then what is?

  84. olegt,

    No, science should definitely not “stay away from studying the big bang”. In differentiating singular events from generalities, I was simply trying to show how, in each of these categories, God’s action in nature does not harm the scientific process. I was most emphatically not setting up singular events as an “excluded category”, off-limits to science. The paragraph that follows the one you quoted explains my view that science should still try its best to investigate singular events (like the big bang), and that it can probably offer natural explanations for most, if not all, of them*. My point in the text you quoted in bold was not that science should keep away from studying the big bang, origin of life**, etc., but rather that if no natural explanation exists or can be found for a particular event, it does not erode the foundations of science, as some materialists would have us believe.

    *By “natural explanation”, I do not mean “total explanation”. A miracle, as a singular event, may or may not have a natural explanation, in addition to a supernatural explanation. Furthermore, the presence of a natural explanation for a particular event does not, per se, threaten its miraculousness, just as the absence of a natural explanation for a particular event does not wreck science.

    **I have friends in my current lab studying the origin of life; I fully support their efforts to bring this interesting picture into focus, and I eagerly await their results.

  85. You missed “(some of its)” preceding “major proponents;” that is, you treated our exchange as if I hadn’t said that, and as if we we stood agreement concerning the major proponents’ views.

    Meh. We’ve already looked at Robert Pennock, Eugenie Scott, and the Kitzmiller decision, which are undoubtedly the three biggest and best known proponents of MN, and they are giving careful usage of the term. Given that, it’s going to take a lot of countervailing evidence to establish that there is a problem, despite the explicit views of the major proponents.

  86. We’ve also looked at Forrest, who takes it that there is a tight connection between MN and PN.

    But be careful not to change the subject. In this most recent comment I was not objecting to your opinions concerning the major proponents of MN. I was objecting to your treating the matter as if you and I were in agreement on them, and proceeding in your argument on that basis Merely restating your own position does not make it true that I have agreed with it. So you have either intentionally or else unknowingly (incompetently) twisted my position to suit your own purposes. Which was it?

    It would be typical of you to ignore the very clear error I’ve pointed out to you regarding your adverting to the originators of MN. I’ll be interested to see what you do with that.

    I’ll also be interested to see whether you’ll acknowledge how you have distorted our viewpoint—the one concerning which I accused you of lying. Whether you did it with intent to deceive, or whether you did it based on an incompetent misunderstanding, one way or the other you committed that distortion. Care to acknowledge it?

  87. Great work, gentlemen.

    John Lennox in God’s Undertaker:

    With this we come to one of the major points we wish to make in this book which is that there is a conflict, a very real one, but it is not really a conflict between science and religion at all.

    No, the real conflict is between two diametrically opposed worldviews: naturalism and theism. They inevitably collide.

    Lewontin claims that there is a struggle between “science and the supernatural”, and yet at once contradicts himself by admitting that science carries no compulsion within itself to force materialism upon us. This supports out contention that the real battle is not so much between science and faith in God, but rather between a materialistic, or more broadly, a naturalistic worldview and a supernaturalistic , or theistic, worldview.
    … What is more, lest we lose our sense of proportion, we should bear in mind that science done on atheistic presuppositions will lead to the same results as science done on theistic presuppositions.
    For example, when trying to find out in practice how an organism functions, it matters little whether one assumes that it is actually designed, or only apparently designed. Here the assumption of either ‘methodological naturalism’ (sometimes called ‘methodological atheism’) or what we might term ‘methodological theism’ will lead to essentially the same results. This is so for the simple reason that the organism in question is being treated methodologically as if it had been designed in both cases.

    pp. 27-36

  88. In case you haven’t noticed, Nick, I’m intentionally shifting my objectives in my dialogue with you. I have given up on arguing the issues with you, in view of your illogic, your almost constant inability/unwillingness/whatever to understand and/or to properly represent our positions, and your resulting repeated distortions. As long as you continue in those things there’s really no point in arguing the issues with you.

    Instead I’m focusing my energies on trying to help you see what you’re doing, and trying to help you understand that you’re really only harming yourself with it.

    I thought I’d state my objectives openly and explicitly for you—though they might have been clear enough implicitly before now. You can do with it what you will. If I were you I’d think long and hard about it.

  89. Bill R. wrote:

    My point in the text you quoted in bold was not that science should keep away from studying the big bang, origin of life**, etc., but rather that if no natural explanation exists or can be found for a particular event, it does not erode the foundations of science, as some materialists would have us believe.

    I am not sure I buy this. Could you give me an example of someone saying that not having a natural theory of some phenomenon now erodes the foundations of science?

    I think people on my side of the tracks raise a different issue. Namely, when not having a natural theory of some phenomenon now is taken as a sign of supernatural involvement. A case in point is the “theory” of intelligent design.

  90. I am not sure I buy this. Could you give me an example of someone saying that not having a natural theory of some phenomenon now erodes the foundations of science?

    But that’s not at all what I said. Please be careful not to put words in my mouth. I make a clear distinction between the unexplained and the unexplainable. Things that are (currently) unexplained do not erode the foundations of science (nobody I know claims that they do), and neither do they count as evidence for the supernatural (I am skeptical of ID, but others can argue whether or not it depends on this strategy). You misunderstand me if you think I am arguing that gaps in our knowledge of nature point to God.

    The issue is not with things that are currently unexplained, but with things that are unexplainable by science. Robert Pennock states (as quoted by Tom in this series):

    Without the binding assumption of uninterruptible natural law there would be absolute chaos in the scientific worldview.

    This is an example of exactly what I was talking about: a claim by a materialist that any scientifically unexplainable (not unexplained) event “erodes the foundations of science” by interrupting the uninterruptible natural law and producing “absolute chaos in the scientific worldview”. Do you see what Pennock is saying here, olegt? He is saying that allowing a Divine Foot in the door destroys science. I am arguing that he is wrong.

    He sets up the false dichotomy between a universe that is totally explainable by science, on the one hand, and a universe that is totally unexplainable by science, on the other hand. He then says that, because the latter view destroys science, we must choose the former. I am saying that there is another view in the middle that preserves science equally well: that the vast majority of what happens in nature is explainable, but some events may not be.

    You seem to think that I am trying to stifle scientific investigation by showing where science might fail to explain something. That could not be further from my goal. Rather, my goal is to show that science is still a worthy pursuit, even if it is not guaranteed to succeed 100% of the time. Do you see the difference?

  91. Bill R. wrote:

    The issue is not with things that are currently unexplained, but with things that are unexplainable by science. Robert Pennock states (as quoted by Tom in this series):

    Without the binding assumption of uninterruptible natural law there would be absolute chaos in the scientific worldview.

    This is an example of exactly what I was talking about: a claim by a materialist that any scientifically unexplainable (not unexplained) event “erodes the foundations of science” by interrupting the uninterruptible natural law and producing “absolute chaos in the scientific worldview”. Do you see what Pennock is saying here, olegt? He is saying that allowing a Divine Foot in the door destroys science. I am arguing that he is wrong.

    I disagree. If you look at the context of Pennock’s quote it becomes clear that he was talking about unexplained phenomena. Here is a paragraph preceding the quote:

    Finally, if we were to allow science to appeal to supernatural powers even though they could not be tested, then the scientist’s task would become just too easy. One would always be able to call upon the gods for quick theoretical assistance in any circumstance. Once such supernatural explanations are permitted they could be used in chemistry and physics as easily as Creationists have used them in biology and geology. Indeed, all empirical investigation could cease, for scientists would have a ready-made answer for everything. For example, consider Wayne Frair’s alternative creationist explanation of the many general similarities among animals (such as common reactions of humans and rats and monkeys to drugs). These, he says, “can be explained as originating in basic design given by the Creator. Evolution is not needed to account for the similarities.” (Frair and Davis 1983, p. 14) In short the “explanation” does not go beyond claiming that this pattern is so because God designed it so. Clearly science must reject this kind of one-size-fits-all explanation. By disqualifying such short-cuts, the Naturalist method also has the virtue of spurring deeper investigation. If one were to find some phenomenon that appeared inexplicable according to some current theory one might be tempted to attribute it to the direct intervention of God, but a methodological principle that rules out appeal to supernatural powers prods one to look further for a natural explanation. Clearly, it is not just because such persistence has proved successful in the past that science should want to encourage this attitude.

    I think you need to find a different, more compelling example.

  92. Well then, if Pennock was solely concerned with unexplained phenomena, and not unexplainable phenomena, why did he go on to write the outrageous and logically fallacious sentence that I quoted (via Tom)? I am responding to that particular sentence, and not to the paragraph you quoted (which I agree with, as far as it goes).

    What do you think Pennock meant when he said “Without the binding assumption of uninterruptible natural law there would be absolute chaos in the scientific worldview.”? Can you paraphrase it for me so that I understand its true meaning, or show me how it follows (logically) from the paragraph you quoted?

  93. Let me summarize my position about MN:

    1. I am okay MN as originally construed.
    2. I don’t have a problem with the terminology.
    3. However, I do think, because of the equivocal meaning of the term naturalistic, it has been co-opted, misused and abused by people with a naturalistic world view.

    Here are a couple things from Nick that strikes me as if not very disingenuous at least biased and one sided.

    Nick @ 53: I do think that the claim that the MN terminology causes a bias isn’t supportable, and I’ve said why. Even the quote by Forrest, above, makes it clear. She clearly say that MN is one thing, and ontological naturalism is another. The terminology has successfully described the distinction, and noted that holding MN is not the same thing as holding to ontological naturalism. She then makes an *argument*, as did e.g. some other people cited, that ontological naturalism is a preferred philosophical/metaphysical conclusion.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/03/regularism-a-better-alternative-to-methodological-naturalism/#comment-25484

    However when Barbara Forrest writes,

    “Exclusive methodological naturalism does have metaphysical implications, and the metaphysical implications of the exclusive use of scientific method are the same, i.e., philosophical naturalism.”

    She is conflating the methodological with the metaphysical and vacating the original meaning and intent of MN. Forrest’s version of MN, in other words, is entirely superfluous.

    Nick @99: We’ve already looked at Robert Pennock, Eugenie Scott, and the Kitzmiller decision, which are undoubtedly the three biggest and best known proponents of MN, and they are giving careful usage of the term. Given that, it’s going to take a lot of countervailing evidence to establish that there is a problem, despite the explicit views of the major proponents.
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2011/03/regularism-a-better-alternative-to-methodological-naturalism/#comment-25533

    Who appointed Scott, Pennock and Judge Jones? And why should we rely on them to tell us what MN means? Isn’t that something that should be left to scientists and philosophers of science? It appears to me that Nick is making a naked appeal to authority implying that the opinions of Scott, Pennock and Jones are impeccable and that questions are unwarranted.

    Coincidently, Scott and Pennock are anti-ID and use MN as a debating tool in their battle with ID’ists. I hardly think that this misuse of MN has anything to do with the original intentions. It seems to MN as originally construed was intended as a way to establish some common ground and avoid heated debates, not as a weapon to cudgel your opponent with.

    Finally, Nick, it seems to me, wants to turn this into a debate about ID even with those of us who don’t support ID as science. That’s hardly an unbiased approach.

  94. Bill R. wrote:

    Well then, if Pennock was solely concerned with unexplained phenomena, and not unexplainable phenomena, why did he go on to write the outrageous and logically fallacious sentence that I quoted (via Tom)? I am responding to that particular sentence, and not to the paragraph you quoted (which I agree with, as far as it goes).

    What do you think Pennock meant when he said “Without the binding assumption of uninterruptible natural law there would be absolute chaos in the scientific worldview.”? Can you paraphrase it for me so that I understand its true meaning, or show me how it follows (logically) from the paragraph you quoted?

    Bill,

    It helps to read not just that single sentence and wonder about its meaning, but rather the entire paper. If you do not have time for that, at least read the two paragraphs that begin with that sentence.

    Without the binding assumption of uninterruptible natural law there would be absolute chaos in the scientific worldview. Supernatural explanations undermine the discipline that allows science to make progress. It is not that supernatural agents and powers could not explain in principle, it is rather that they can explain all too easily. As such we may think of them as the explanation of last resort, since, like the Greek god in the machine, they can always be hauled down to \save the day\ if every other explanation fails. They are the poor person’s explanations, that is, the explanations of the intellectually poverty-stricken, since they are available for free. Surely it is not in this sense that the poor in spirit are blessed with seeing God.

    I believe that such abstract considerations provide sufficient reason to reject appeals to supernatural explanations in science. Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to make the ideas more concrete by considering a few specific effects of reintroducing the possibility of supernatural interventions in a practical setting.

    In these two paragraphs, Pennock is arguing that ascribing an unexplained phenomenon to God’s intervention generates no new knowledge and is the equivalent of giving up. Implicating God explains exactly nothing. To an unbeliever, the very concept of the divine is vacuous. To a believer, everything is held together by God. So what is the point?

  95. Who appointed Scott, Pennock and Judge Jones? And why should we rely on them to tell us what MN means? Isn’t that something that should be left to scientists and philosophers of science?

    You seem disappointed that the actual major proponents of MN don’t match up with your expectations of devious evilness. Scott is a scientist. Pennock is a philosopher of science. The Kitzmiller case is probably the only one that ever used the term “methodological naturalism”, and was of course the biggest public fight over these issues in recent memory.

    It appears to me that Nick is making a naked appeal to authority implying that the opinions of Scott, Pennock and Jones are impeccable and that questions are unwarranted.

    If you’re going to have a discussion involving the role of “major proponents”, then it is legitimate to discuss who they are and what they say. This is not an appeal to authority, people can believe or disbelieve what the major proponents say if they want. But certainly they are important to consider if someone is claiming that MN is biased terminology.

    I’m just trying to make sure that people get their generalizations about the overall state of affairs correct. Part of Tom’s argument is that the MN terminology causes bias, I am pointing out major countervailing evidence.

    Coincidently, Scott and Pennock are anti-ID and use MN as a debating tool in their battle with ID’ists. I hardly think that this misuse of MN has anything to do with the original intentions. It seems to MN as originally construed was intended as a way to establish some common ground and avoid heated debates, not as a weapon to cudgel your opponent with.

    C’mon, have you read the original de Vries paper? The “MN” terminology was directly proposed and promulgated within the midst of the “creation science” debates of the 1980s, which continued seamlessly into the “ID” movement starting in 1989.

    And it’s not intended as a weapon, MN was and is intended to be common ground on which people of diverse views on religion could cooperate to do science. Of course, this didn’t stop creationists/IDists from complaining about MN at great length, for decades, for allegedly being unfair, just a cover for metaphysical naturalism, etc.

  96. Nick,

    Part of Tom’s argument is that the MN terminology causes bias, I am pointing out major countervailing evidence.

    You don’t really have much major countervailing evidence beyond “These specific people use MN in a way I, Nick Matzke, personally approve of”, painting a description of methodological naturalism where the actual word “naturalism” has mangled from its common usage, and arguing that any problems with either the terminology or use of MN – no matter how typical, no matter how easy to regard as being the actual definition – doesn’t matter so long as Pennock’s writings merely exist.

    MN is a misnomer, Nick. You yourself seem to basically be inching toward claiming that methodological naturalism has nothing whatsoever to do with… naturalism. Maybe that’s why you’ve ignored the problems related to any treatment of MN that makes even a practical, purely-for-the-sake-of-methodology reference to naturalism.

    You’re pretty much backing Tom’s point up here. And I’m still waiting for a response to my questions, particularly your withdrawing that I was ever claiming ‘MN says God doesn’t exist’ or words to that effect.

  97. Nick,

    I’m going to begin with your last word and then go backwards from there.

    “And it’s not intended as a weapon,” you say. Intended by whom? Everyone? Hudelson? So some people use it innocently. Cocaine was once the drug of choice for ophthalmic anesthesia. It wasn’t intended to be harmful, and in its prescribed usage it may not have been; but its prescribed usage did not end up being its only usage, and when a better drug with less potential for abuse was found, doctors wisely quit stocking cocaine in their cabinets. MN has been used as a weapon, and the fact is that it lends itself to being used as one, whether deVries intended it to or not.

    This is not rocket science.. If MN were used as a weapon in spite its originator’s (or even its major proponents’) intentions, it would hardly be the first time something got turned into a weapon that wasn’t intended to be. I think you know that.

    The “major proponents” you keep referrring to in this case are not exactly, um, unbiased, in case you hadn’t noticed. (Judge Jones is ostensibly unbiased, but we know who wrote his opinion.) How far do you think you get in this discussion by pointing at this trio and saying, “See, they’re not promulgating any bias!” So this is almost funny:

    Part of Tom’s argument is that the MN terminology causes bias, I am pointing out [Jones, Scott, and Pennock as] major countervailing evidence.

    The deVries paper is not only hard to find, it’s also, as Crude and JAD and I have explained to you at least a dozen times, irrelevant; and we have provided reasons for saying that. Our attempts to bring that to your attention have had no effect. You keep acting as if we ought to consider the deVries paper important, even though you haven’t bothered to explain what’s the problem with the reasons we have given you for our position. So let’s try this technique instead: Please repeat after me:

    Tom et al. say the deVries paper is irrelevant. They have argued this repeatedly, and provided their reasons for thinking so. I don’t agree with them. I think the deVries paper is relevant. But they don’t. So if I reference the paper (again) as if it should seem relevant to them, without (again) at least giving them some reason why they ought to think it’s relevant, I’m going to sound like a ninny (again).

    Is that overstated or demeaning? Recall what I wrote in comment 100 at mid-day yesterday:

    It would be typical of you to ignore the very clear error I’ve pointed out to you regarding your adverting to the originators of MN. I’ll be interested to see what you do with that.

    It has proved to be interesting indeed. What you did was completely blow right on by it. That is completely nonsensical of you!

    You see, Nick, this is how argumentation works. Not just argumentation, but conversation in general. If person P says a is relevant to a discussion, and person S says no, and here are my reasons b, c, and d, it’s not very smart for P to come back and say, “Well, as I have already told you, a is relevant to this discussion.”

    I think you should know this. I think probably you do know it. It’s not as if it’s not obvious; you don’t need that logic class I’ve mentioned previously to understand it. Something is blinding you in this interaction, though, so that you’re not practicing plain, normal human interaction practices. You are especially not engaging in anything like argumentation; for in argument one does not just repeat a! and expect it to be somewhat persuasive when the other person has explained why a is not persuasive to him.

    Don’t you already know that? Of course you do. But you can’t practice it here for some reason. What is it that has your eyes so covered, Nick? Have you asked yourself that question yet?

  98. Well, let’s at least throw Nick a bone.

    Here is a quote from Paul DeVries’ original paper:

    “Methodological naturalism is quite different from metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical perspective that denies the existence of a transcendent God. Methodological naturalism does not deny the existence of God because this scientific methodology does not even raise the question of God’s existence. Unfortunately, these two kinds of naturalism have often been confused. As a result, it has seemed to the philosophically careless as if the natural sciences under the guidance of methodological naturalism have provided evidence for metaphysical naturalism. This confusion is regrettable and certainly inexcusable.”

    Let me focus in on one sentence.

    Methodological naturalism does not deny the existence of God because this scientific methodology does not even raise the question of God’s existence.”

    That in my opinion expresses DeVries’ original intent. It sounds to me, if anything, that DeVries conceived of MN as being metaphysically neutral.

    Now let’s look and see how it is being used by some so called proponents.

    Barbara Forrest writes,

    “Exclusive methodological naturalism does have metaphysical implications, and the metaphysical implications of the exclusive use of scientific method are the same, i.e., philosophical naturalism”

    Metaphysically neutral?

    And, Mark Vuletic says,

    “I take methodological naturalism to be the practice of adhering to the kind of methodology a metaphysical naturalist devoted to fulfilling the aims of science would adhere to.”

    Metaphysically neutral?

    Or, Richard Hudelson.

    “In the war against creation science, methodological naturalism has served as one of the weapons utilized by defenders of evolution.”

    Metaphysically neutral?

    Is it just me? Does anyone else think that these so called proponents are departing from the original intent of MN in both the letter and spirit of the original definition?

    My main concern, again, is not the terminology itself, but the fact that the term “naturalistic” has an equivocal meaning that has been not only co-opted, but misused and abused by people with a naturalistic world view.

    If the quotes I have provided above, aren’t smoking gun quotes and confirmation that MN has been abused and misused I don’t know what is.

  99. Hi Tom,

    Is regularism taught in philosophy of science courses that you know of?

    What would it take for it to catch on?

  100. No, it’s not taught anywhere. What it would take would be publishing something like this in an academic publication, and then for it to catch on. I’m working on the first. The second is another matter entirely.

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