Friday, February 20, 2009

Inerrancy and Methodological Naturalism

This is something I put in the combox of the last post, but it need to be treated separately here.

I think there are difficulties with Craig's apologetical operation. I have some fundamental differences in methodology, etc. I'm not comfortable with what he does with his appeal to religious experience and the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

However, I fail to see how pre-commitment to biblical inerrancy is any worse than pre-commitment to methodological naturalism. If a naturalistically inclined biblical scholar finds it difficult to account for the founding events of Christianity, well, by golly, my hallucination/legend/whatever-else theory may not fit all the facts as we know them, but at least it's better than admitting a miracle. We can't let a divine foot in the door, now can we?

The "special pleading" charge, as in the case of Russell's analysis of Aquinas, carries with it an implicit classical foundationalism that has been rejected in numerous areas of inquiry. We don't come to the data as a blank slate to be written on, nor should we. We are humans, not Vulcans. And pretending to be a Vulcan when you aren't one is just one more way of being irrational.

Now, a methodological naturalist could treat MN as a defeasible working hypothesis, but an inerrantist could do the same.

13 comments:

unkle e said...

Yes, you've picked up on my reaction to the Price piece. I went to read the entire article, but found it long and poorly written, so gave up halfway through. But my reaction to the part I read was that his thesis could be summarised as follows:

"Craig is a christian, and so he has a preconceived viewpoint. Therefore you shouldn't trust him. On the other hand, I am an atheist (or whatever) and I have a preconceived viewpoint. Therefore you should trust me."

Steven Carr said...

'If a naturalistically inclined biblical scholar finds it difficult to account for the founding events of Christianity, well, by golly, my hallucination/legend/whatever-else theory may not fit all the facts as we know them, but at least it's better than admitting a miracle. We can't let a divine foot in the door, now can we?'

How do you keep divine feet out of doors?

Any sceptic is more powerful than any god and can debar any god from influencing any event in his life.

God is helpless to work miracles in the lives of sceptics and show them that dead people do not stay dead.

Andrew T. said...

Victor: I think this is a response to my comment on the previous thread; I have a long response up at my blog.

Eric Koski said...

The worst thing about methodological naturalism might be the word “methodological”. The methodological naturalism that I tend to see seems more like an uneasy political compromise than a coherent philosophical position – just a way for Christian scientists such as Collins to do respectable science by checking their supernatural beliefs at the door. There are powerful arguments supporting the thesis that supernatural explanations are corrosive to scientific inquiry, and you don’t seem to be interested in addressing these. To my mind, these arguments support naturalism tout court, and not merely a methodological naturalism. This is a common theme running through the writings of Dawkins, Coyne, Stenger, and others.

It may be true that Russell was something like a classical foundationalist, but it doesn’t follow from this that any accusation of special pleading carries with it an implicit classical foundationalism. As I understand it, classical foundationalism was rejected as a result of the insights that all observation is theory-laden and that it is theories and not individual statements that are observationally confirmed or disconfirmed – Quine’s confirmation holism. In this context, is methodological naturalism (or just naturalism) a basic belief? No, not at all. (Indeed, there probably aren’t any basic beliefs!) However, being far from the observational periphery of the structure of a naturalist’s beliefs, the confirmation it receives from more particular theories and beliefs – and ultimately, from observations at the periphery -- is complex and indirect. On this view of knowledge (and in particular, of scientific knowledge), naturalism is indeed a defeasible working hypothesis, because knowledge is considered fallible across the board. I.e., we’re not classical foundationalists any more.

The concern I have with attempts to reconcile religion with science is the suggestion that one might legitimately adopt one conceptual framework for scientific inquiry and understanding, and some different conceptual framework for spiritual understanding (whatever that might be). For me, this conflicts with a profound intuition that all of our knowledge and understanding address a single reality. I don’t see how attempts to reconcile science with religion don’t result in a form of relativism.

Victor Reppert said...

Eric: Wittgenstein would find this thoroughly unproblematic. As would any scientific anti-realist. Then there's Nietzsche's "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense." (Nietzsche Contra Dawkins).

I think there can be very good reasons for looking for the natural causes first. Science is often successful by truncating its modes of thinking, I think I have good reasons to suppose that this kind of truncated analysis is going to break down at the end of the day. In particular I think that the attempt to collapse the mental into the physical collapses the mental in such a way that it cannot play the role that it must play if science gets us the truth. But that's the long story I've been trying to tell for over 20 years.

Eric Koski said...

Vic, I guess I’ll show my colors by saying so much the worse for Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. (I think I’m allowed to say that.)

“…the attempt to collapse the mental into the physical collapses the mental in such a way that it cannot play the role that it must play if science gets us the truth.”

I suppose we’ll be having some discussion about that.

Victor Reppert said...

Just flip on over to DI2 and have at it.

philstilwell said...

You said "I fail to see how pre-commitment to biblical inerrancy is any worse than pre-commitment to methodological naturalism."

Perhaps this would have been a valid argument 2,500 years ago when supernatural causation had equal status with natural causation due to the very incomplete body of scientific knowledge.

However, as each quest for causal answers was studied with the evolving tools of science over the centuries, a precedent emerged.

In each case that supernatural and natural causation was given equal initial footing, supernatural causation was not seen, but rather natural causation began to, at first slowly, then as it was favored more due to precedence, very rapidly fill in the constantly expanding web of causal explanation.

Methodological naturalism has earned its favored position over the logically possible methodological supernaturalism due to what it has accomplished.

While those committed to supernatural causes were blaming diseases on witches, Jews and demons, those committed to science were exploring cures.

While those committed to methodological supernaturalism were attempting to cast the demons out of the mentally ill through tortuous ordeals, those committed to methodological naturalism were compassionately attempting to find the material causes.

The side of methodological supernaturalism has had 2+ millennium to make their case, and they have failed to introduce a single case of supernatural causation that has passed the muster of modern scientific methodology. Establishing methodological supernaturalism as a worthy heuristic of scientific methodology would require a solid precedent. It has failed to do so.

Methodological naturalism is not a raw assumption even remotely similar to the notion of biblical inerrancy. It is an earned assumption. It has had 2+ millennium of precedent in its favor, an earned status far different from biblical inerrancy.

Victor Reppert said...

There are different ways of explaining the growth of science. I am pretty convinced that naturalistic explanation is headed for a brick wall when it attempts to explain the existence of mind itself naturalistically without explaining it away and undermining the rationality of sciecne.

philstilwell said...

Victor said There are different ways of explaining the growth of science. I am pretty convinced that naturalistic explanation is headed for a brick wall when it attempts to explain the existence of mind itself naturalistically without explaining it away and undermining the rationality of sciecne.

In the minds of supernaturalists, methodological naturalism has been headed for a brick wall 2,000 years. Consciousness is just the latest step back from the advance of methodological naturalism's successes. You may want to check out "Brain Science Podcast" and other sources on cognitive science to determine whether you've stepped back far enough.

Nightvid said...

Suppose we have two photographs of a scene, one with a bathhouse in front of a lake with a tree some distance to the left, and the other with a pile of rubble in place of the bathhouse but the other stuff remaining. Both are from "February 1993". Neither image shows any sign of construction work going on.

From our knowledge of natural processes, we know that it is feasible that the bathhouse got destroyed in under a month, but it is harder to imagine it getting built in under a month without a construction site being present. Thus, we can infer the image with rubble came later. This is methodological naturalism. (cont'd in next post...)

Nightvid said...

(cont'd from previous post...) But suppose, on the other hand, that we had a bathhouse in one photograph and a huge monument of Abraham Lincoln in the other. Which came first? Suppose, hypothetically, that we had 27confirmed reports of buildings turning into statue monuments spontaneously, but none of statue monuments turning into buildings. We conclude that the building photograph came first, inferring from our knowledge of which supernatural process is more common. This inference would be methodologically supernatural, since it would be based on reconstructing what happened using supernatural processes.

Nightvid said...

But the things is, methodological supernaturalism has never proven useful in all of human history, not even once. And by contrast, methodological naturalism has proven useful multiple times over (as in all of modern science among other things...). Thus it is more reasonable.

Biblical inerrancy is believed mostly by people who believe it is a result of supernatural processes. Thus without independent, rigorous, methodologically naturalistic, evidence for Biblical inerrancy, it is based only on methodological supernaturalism.

For this reason, I strongly disagree with you that biblical inerrancy is just as reasonable as methodological naturalism.