Monday, January 17, 2011

Barbara Forrest on Naturalism

A redated post. 

Is it just me, or is this a paper a gigantic exercise in begging the question? She wants both methodological naturalism and an argument that science refutes religion. But if the methodology of science couldn't have supported religion, how could it undermine religion?

16 comments:

Mike D said...

The major theme seems to be shifting the burden of proof. But in doing so, she seems to require physical proof of the non-physical.

She raises an interesting challenge:
"the unavailability of any method at all for knowing the supernatural"

My daughter was teaching a Junior High Sunday School. One week they challenged her with every apologetic question a Junior Higher would be expected to know. As we discussed how to answer their questions, we concluded that we would need to know what a "satisfactory answer" would look like. This seems to be different for different people. Some want a legal analysis, some want logic, others an emotional connection, Barbara Forrest seems to want scientific proof. Her challenge to provide material evidence for immaterial realities does seem to beg the question.

Jim Lippard said...

"Any method at all" doesn't sound restricted to the material.

unkleE said...

""the unavailability of any method at all for knowing the supernatural""

I wonder if she ever thought of praying and asking God to reveal himself? I know and have heard of many people for whom that approach has led to faith. Doubtless there are others for whom it hasn't led to faith, but it's a method isn't it? I have suggested that to many unbelievers, and most have refused to try, and just two (from memory) tried it, but with such restrictive conditions that one had to doubt their sincerity.

Steven said...

Material proof for the immaterial could include the sort of ostensible cases of communication with the dead/reincarnation in the parapsychology literature.

Nick said...

As soon as the distinction of natural and supernatural is allowed, the deck has been stacked. I just say there is existence and different ways of existing. Let the naturalist explain existence.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Isn't hear claim that it was contingent that methodological naturalism would be so damned successful, it could have failed in many cases. It didn't, indeed it has been a ridiculous success, and this provides inductive support for the stronger metaphysical claim?

It seems a decent argument superficially.

Anonymous said...

The problem with that argument, BDK, is that there are positions other than metaphysical naturalism which would have likewise either predicted the success of methodological naturalism or are compatible with it. Many brands of Christian theism are comfortable with the fact that by far the majority of causes active in the world are secondary causes, so they would agree that by far the majority of phenomena can be explained without direct reference to supernatural agency. It is the orthodox Christian view that God created a rational, predictable, knowable world that by and large operates without need for God's constant intervention. Christian Theism and Metaphysical Naturalism agree that most phenomena are caused by natural law, but would disagree on whether the laws are brute facts or not. The mere success of science in explicating these laws can't distinguish between the two theories. The types of supernaturalism that this argument refutes, the types that attribute direct supernatural causation to nearly every event, aren't really in play anymore.

(I haven't read the article so perhaps Forrest addressed this point.)

Anonymous said...

I forgot to say that, obviously, Christian Theism and Metaphysical Naturalism also disagree on whether there can be any phenomena that aren't caused by natural law. But the main point is that both agree that most phenomena aren't the result of direct supernatural causation. So, Forest's argument (assuming it is as BDK summarizes it) gives good reason to doubt that Thor causes lightning but not a good reason to doubt that God designed, created, and sustains the natural laws that science discovers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Good point anon, I guess she would say that the lack of any methodology special to theism is problematic for theism. That is, if they are empirically or methodologically indistinguishable, then why posit this extravagant new entity?

But that's a different argument, one I am not comfortable entering because one person's razor is another's eraser.

Anonymous said...

Well, since we seem to be agreed that Metaphysical Naturalism can't gain confrmation over Christian Theism over the success of Metaphysical Naturalism (which both would predict), it would seem that Metaphysical Naturalism also lacks any special method for establishing the truth of its claims. So, we're right back where we started.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, disregard my prior comment. That's why you shouldn't eat and post. I misread your comment.

I guess I would say, in response to your question, that I agree with Swinburne in that it's rational to chase explanations as far as you can. So, if we discover some exceptionless TOE that explains all causally subsequent phenomena, a metaphysical naturalist would ask us to call off the dogs. We've attained all possible knowledge. But others might ask if there's some explanation for why this TOE obtains, and whether there could be exceptions to it. I think that's a legitimate question to ask, and it might even have an answer.

At any rate, as Swinburne I believe argues, there are rational considerations out there other than the success of the sciences that might confirm theism over metaphysical naturalism.

Anonymous said...

"the unavailability of any method at all for knowing the supernatural"

Uh, how about philosophy?

Nick said...

I still disagree with the natural/supernatural distinction. It's an atheist method of trying to stack the deck.

Anonymous said...

BDK wrote: Isn't hear claim that it was contingent that methodological naturalism would be so damned successful, it could have failed in many cases. It didn't, indeed it has been a ridiculous success, and this provides inductive support for the stronger metaphysical claim?

It seems a decent argument superficially.

Alex: I don't see how. This may sound strange but I've never understood how this historical argument for the success of methodological naturalism in the sciences, even provides any support for the use of methodological naturalism in the sciences, let alone metaphysical naturalism. I had a decent exchange with Gregory Dawes on this. The skeptical community makes much of his recent work on theistic explanation. Even though he thinks it carries some weight, he feels the historical argument is fairly weak as well. And I really did not think that he was able to defend its use convincingly.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 10:04am: is your discussion with Greg Dawes public? If so, could you link us to it? Sounds interesting.

Alex Dalton said...

I've submitted an email to him for permission and we'll see what he says. It was in private correspondence.