Saturday, December 01, 2012

Torley v. Loftus on ID and methodological naturalism

Here is a debate between Vincent Torley and John Loftus on methodological naturalism. Torley's original article was here. Loftus responded here, and Torley here.

44 comments:

unkleE said...

The first & third links didn't work for me.

im-skeptical said...

"the claim that scientists must explain the natural world in terms of natural processes alone, eschewing all supernatural explanations, is now being openly denied by three leading scientists who are also outspoken atheists."

I can't speak for scientists in general, but I think most of them would be willing to consider any available evidence, and take it into account when making a hypothesis. The complaint of many theists that science excludes the supernatural is a strawman. Evidence is evidence. It just happens that there is no evidence for anything supernatural, and *that's* why scientists don't pursue supernatural explanations.

Torley is disingenuous at best in saying that these scientists agree that there could be evidence for the supernatural. Loftus is absolutely correct in his response.

Crude said...

The complaint of many theists that science excludes the supernatural is a strawman.

It's not a 'strawman'. It's defined as the operating principle of science by many, many scientists. That's what methodological naturalism means.

It just happens that there is no evidence for anything supernatural, and *that's* why scientists don't pursue supernatural explanations.

What would evidence for the supernatural look like?

im-skeptical said...

The assumption of naturalism in science is based on our observation that there are no supernatural phenomena. If we had observed things that could only be explained by the supernatural, there would be no methodological naturalism.

What would such an observation look like? It would look like something we've never seen. As Coyne said, something like a clear message in the position of the stars that couldn't have happened without someone placing them there intentionally.

However if that were the case, all of science would be in doubt, since our understanding of how things work would no longer be valid. We might as well give up trying to understand how things work, since anything at all could be explained away by saying "goddidit". There would me no rules, no natural law, no foundation of understanding.

Crude said...

The assumption of naturalism in science is based on our observation that there are no supernatural phenomena. If we had observed things that could only be explained by the supernatural, there would be no methodological naturalism.

Please name an observation that can 'only be explained by the supernatural'. Keep in mind that PZ Myers and Michael Shermer insist that there is no such thing.

What would such an observation look like? It would look like something we've never seen. As Coyne said, something like a clear message in the position of the stars that couldn't have happened without someone placing them there intentionally.

Which Myers and Shermer would both say is entirely possible to explain naturally. Aliens could do it. It could be some kind of trick. It could all be done through nature, but via natural processes and/or technology we're unaware of.

We might as well give up trying to understand how things work, since anything at all could be explained away by saying "goddidit". There would me no rules, no natural law, no foundation of understanding.

You're saying that if God exists and has ever acted, all science is in doubt, because God cannot create natural law, regular processes, etc?

On the flipside, you're saying that all of science is not open to doubt? That the reason we rely on science is precisely because it's not subject to doubt or error?

B. Prokop said...

Don't misunderstand me here. I say the following as a believing Christian, comfortable in the Truth of his faith.

There is no scientific evidence for the supernatural. And there never will be. If there were, whatever you were observing, measuring, detecting, whatever, would be part of the natural world.

When God intervenes in His world (other than in the act of creation itself) it is through non-reproducible, one-off events, such as God's call to Abraham or to Moses, the Incarnation and Resurrection.

The miracles of Jesus were by design extraordinary events that confounded those that witnessed them. They were, as the apostle John says, "signs" that indicated just who Jesus was. Calming the storm, multiplying the loaves and fishes, walking on water, turning water into wine, etc. were all intended to show that we were face to face with the Lord of the Universe, doing in these specific yet extraordinary acts the very things that He does continually in upholding the universe in existence. The miracles of healing indicated our relationship to Him. The "Grand Miracles" as C.S. Lewis termed them (i.e., the Incarnation and Resurrection) are inextricably woven into reality itself. In them we are given a window into the bedrock reality behind this world we inhabit.

Crude said...

There is no scientific evidence for the supernatural. And there never will be. If there were, whatever you were observing, measuring, detecting, whatever, would be part of the natural world.

Well sure, in part because 'science' is defined as 'methodological naturalism' nowadays. Now, I think methodological naturalism is complete bunk - a misnomer - but I agree that 'detecting the supernatural with science' isn't a live option, even if it's true. Science simply can't handle certain questions or inferences, natural or not. Doubly so when 'natural' and 'supernatural' are basically useless terms.

im-skeptical said...

PZ Myers: "If a source outside the bounds of what modern science considers the limits of natural phenomena is having an observable effect, we should take its existence into account."

True, everything that has ever been observed is explainable as natural, but even Myers allows for the possibility that this doesn't necessarily have to be the case.

"You're saying that if God exists and has ever acted, all science is in doubt, because God cannot create natural law, regular processes, etc?"

No. I think a deistic view of god would not be incompatible with science. But any god that intervenes in the physical world, such as the Christian God, would.

"On the flipside, you're saying that all of science is not open to doubt? That the reason we rely on science is precisely because it's not subject to doubt or error?"

On the contrary, all of science is open to doubt. That's a fundamental difference between science and faith. It's precisely why scientific understanding has made so much progress.

The 'signs' that Bob describes might qualify as genuine supernatural phenomena, but we don't have credible evidence that anybody ever actually saw such things. Just stories written by some unknown author that probably never met Jesus.

Crude said...

True, everything that has ever been observed is explainable as natural, but even Myers allows for the possibility that this doesn't necessarily have to be the case.

No, that's not true. PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne *disagree* with each other on this. Same with Coyne and Shermer.

No. I think a deistic view of god would not be incompatible with science. But any god that intervenes in the physical world, such as the Christian God, would.

So, God is entirely capable of creating a natural, rational world. But any intervention whatsoever would utterly disrupt science. Why?

On the contrary, all of science is open to doubt. That's a fundamental difference between science and faith. It's precisely why scientific understanding has made so much progress.

Alright, but this superficially contradicts what you said earlier. Compare:

"However if that were the case, all of science would be in doubt, since our understanding of how things work would no longer be valid. "

Now: On the contrary, all of science is open to doubt.

Do you see a problem?

The 'signs' that Bob describes might qualify as genuine supernatural phenomena, but we don't have credible evidence that anybody ever actually saw such things. Just stories written by some unknown author that probably never met Jesus.

So, you're saying that if in fact one believes that the Bible contains eyewitness reports or credible testimony, then it would be rational to believe in the supernatural?

B. Prokop said...

Crude,

I think what I'm trying to say is bigger than just definitional squabbles. Apparently, I'm not saying it correctly.

I will go offline for a few hours, and come up with a way to coherently communicate my meaning (possibly later tonight, more likely tomorrow).

I am now off to St. Paul's for a First Sunday of Advent special evening service. Signing off.

Crude said...

Bob,

No, I understand what you mean. You're coming through loud and clear. I even agree with you in large part. I'm just going a little beyond it.

im-skeptical said...

Crude,

"No, that's not true. PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne *disagree* with each other on this."

I was quoting Myers. Apparently he agrees. That's not to say he (or any atheist scientist) think it would ever happen.

"But any intervention whatsoever would utterly disrupt science. Why?"

Any intervention that would be seen as supernatural. Yes, would imply a need to re-write the natural laws that are fundamental to scientific understanding.

"Do you see a problem?"

Not really. There's a difference between being open to doubt and all of science being in doubt. Any theory in science can be questioned and revised if necessary. That's how science works. But if all the laws were suddenly seen to be invalid, that would be a big problem for science itself.

"So, you're saying that if in fact one believes that the Bible contains eyewitness reports or credible testimony, then it would be rational to believe in the supernatural?"

Probably, but I don't see how you can believe those things and still trust the validity of science.

Crude said...

I was quoting Myers. Apparently he agrees. That's not to say he (or any atheist scientist) think it would ever happen.

What Myers is saying is that discovering something outside the bounds of current recognized science doesn't mean such a thing should be discounted. But that certainly doesn't mean Myers accepts that such a thing would be evidence of God, or even evidence of the supernatural - unless all supernatural means is 'something outside the boundaries of science as it currently exists', in which case the supernatural almost certainly exists.

Again, read the post I referenced.

Any intervention that would be seen as supernatural. Yes, would imply a need to re-write the natural laws that are fundamental to scientific understanding.

Natural laws have been re-written before, and in all likelihood they'll be rewritten again. That hasn't been a problem - why should it be a problem with God?

What's more, you say "any intervention that would be seen as supernatural". Alright - again, how do you tell? Shermer and Coyne disagree on this. Coyne and Myers disagree on this.

There's a difference between being open to doubt and all of science being in doubt. Any theory in science can be questioned and revised if necessary. That's how science works. But if all the laws were suddenly seen to be invalid, that would be a big problem for science itself.

Forgive me, but it seems you're trying to have it both ways here.

What's the difference between A 'being in doubt' and A 'being invalid'? The recognition that God exists and has acted in history wouldn't suffice to demonstrate that suddenly all scientific theories are invalid. It wouldn't even suggest they were in doubt above and beyond how they're in doubt as it stands. We could still make the necessary assumptions we do about the natural world to do science. We could still conclude exactly what we do with science - hold provisional theories subject to their being overturned.

But you are suggesting that the mere recognition that God exists and has acted in history not only leads to a provisional holding of theories subject to their being overturned (which science already does as is), but that it *would* overturn them. Recognize that Christ rose from the dead, and suddenly we can't even hold provisionally that the earth is ~4 billion years old.

How do you justify this?

Probably, but I don't see how you can believe those things and still trust the validity of science.

Again, you don't understand how someone can accept that God exists and has acted in history, while at the same time accept, provisionally, the theory of relativity?

Also, do you hold the same view about (say) the existence of events that have no explanation (rejecting the principle of sufficient reason)?

RD Miksa said...

Dear im-skeptical:

You said:

""So, you're saying that if in fact one believes that the Bible contains eyewitness reports or credible testimony, then it would be rational to believe in the supernatural?"

Probably, but I don't see how you can believe those things and still trust the validity of science."


Although Crude already partially addressed this issue, I just wanted to add that for you to provide that latter assertion makes me wonder whether you truly appreciate what 'science' is--and let us just leave the issues of precise definition and demarcation aside for the moment.

After all, consider the following points:

1) Science is by its nature--and as you admitted--provisional, thus meaning that it does not provide us with truth as such, but rather with theories that are rational to hold within our particular time and circumstances.

2) Our level of knowledge / achievement in various scientific fields are, again by their very nature, ultimately unknown, thus meaning that what we perceive as something 'against' science is more likely simply something against our low-level understanding of science. These two are not the same thing.

3) The evidences provided by science are just another form of evidence, and are in principle not superior to other evidences such as testimonial evidence. In fact, for many issues, scientific evidence is positively worse than other forms of evidence are.


So, given these three points, it is easy to understand how it would be possible to rationally believe in the existence of the supernatural based on testimonial evidence--which ultimately gives us truth--while simultaneously still being able to place the appropriate amount of trust in the in-principle provisional, ultimately unknown-knowledge level, and easily overrideable-by-other-types-of-evidence enterprise that is (and this is the key) OUR CURRENT UNDERSTANDING OF science.

Take care,

RD Miksa

im-skeptical said...

"something outside the boundaries of science as it currently exists"

The words that I saw quoted are: "outside the bounds of what modern science considers the limits of natural phenomena". That would be something we see as supernatural, not something that is merely unexplained. This was in the article cited by the OP. Do you think he was not quoted correctly?

"Natural laws have been re-written before, and in all likelihood they'll be rewritten again."

Natural laws are revised to encompass our deeper understanding of how things work. We don't toss them out. We still teach Newtonian physics, but we understand that relativity has broader validity. On the other hand, if a stack of video games could fly across the room, that would imply that Newtonian physics doesn't work, because it doesn't describe how things are observed to behave. We would probably have to toss it out altogether, not just revise it.

"Forgive me, but it seems you're trying to have it both ways here."

Maybe my choice of words was not the best. All scientific theories are open to doubt, or skepticism. Science itself has worked very well as a means of understanding our world, so there is no reason to say that all of science is in doubt. I'm not trying to have it both ways.

If Jesus rose from the dead, what kind of forces would animate the rotting flesh? What chemical processes would be needed to reconstitute the cells of his body? How many well-understood biological process would be violated? I think it would have drastic implications for science as we understand it.

"Also, do you hold the same view about (say) the existence of events that have no explanation (rejecting the principle of sufficient reason)?"

There are many things that remain unexplained by science, but those things are part of our observable world, not contradictions to what we do understand. That does not imply that those things don't have a reason or cause.

Crude said...

The words that I saw quoted are: "outside the bounds of what modern science considers the limits of natural phenomena". That would be something we see as supernatural, not something that is merely unexplained. This was in the article cited by the OP. Do you think he was not quoted correctly?

I'm sure he was quoted correctly, but that changes nothing. 'Outside the bounds of what modern science considers natural phenomena' would simply be a statement about what's possible according to the scientific laws as we hold them to be. In the case of such an event, those laws would be revised - they have been in the past.

We still teach Newtonian physics, but we understand that relativity has broader validity.

Considering that the Newtonian view of the world was ultimately wrong, yeah, I think 'broader validity' would be apt. Of course, that just stacks against your view further - it shows that even though quantum physics is 'more valid' then newtonian physics, you can still get by with newtonian in many applications.

On the other hand, if a stack of video games could fly across the room, that would imply that Newtonian physics doesn't work, because it doesn't describe how things are observed to behave. We would probably have to toss it out altogether, not just revise it.

Why? Quantum physics demonstrated that various previously held ideas of Newtonian physics were fundamentally flawed - yet we still make use of Newtonian physics.

If Jesus rose from the dead, what kind of forces would animate the rotting flesh? What chemical processes would be needed to reconstitute the cells of his body? How many well-understood biological process would be violated? I think it would have drastic implications for science as we understand it.

Okay - how? You've said that all of science would have to be thrown out and we couldn't trust any of it, but you won't say why. Why does one particular act of God invalidate science, period, in all times and places - with invalidation meaning 'can't be relied on'? Because of the possibility it's wrong? But that's a live possibility already.

There are many things that remain unexplained by science, but those things are part of our observable world, not contradictions to what we do understand. That does not imply that those things don't have a reason or cause.

So, you accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason then?

im-skeptical said...

RD Miksa,

I'm with you on your points 1 and 2, but not 3. Science doesn't provide evidence. It takes evidence into account in postulating how things work. Evidence consists of observations and measurements, which should be repeatable and verifiable. If testimonial evidence isn't verifiable, it can't be used by science.

"In fact, for many issues, scientific evidence is positively worse than other forms of evidence are."

I guess that depends on what you are using the evidence for. If your objective is to have a reason to believe a non-scientific idea or assertion, you may be right.

B. Prokop said...

"I don't see how you can believe those things and still trust the validity of science."

Wow. that would be news indeed to Copernicus. Or to Gregor Mendel. Or to Sir Isaac Newton. Or to Mikhail Lomonosov. Or to Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. Or to... well, you get the picture. Statements such as the one quoted above are among the most ridiculous encountered (with woeful repetition) from most atheists.

Im-skeptical, you of all people have no excuse writing such. You asked for a copy of my book, and I presume you've at least looked at it. There you can see science and faith in perfect harmony. I maintain that the Gospels are accurate eyewitness testimony of actual events faithfully portrayed, and I also am a great lover of science - especially astronomy.

You don't see how? But you're surrounded by people who embrace both. How can you not "see how"???

B. Prokop said...

"[Supernatural intervention] would imply a need to re-write the natural laws that are fundamental to scientific understanding."

No, no, no, no, NO!

The occurrence of the miraculous confirms natural law... by breaking it. That's what makes a miracle a miracle. There would be no miracles without natural law - they would not be miraculous!

When Mary asked the angel Gabriel "How can such things be?" Gabriel answers "With God nothing is impossible." this conversation contains in its two short lines the whole essence of miracle. First: Mary recognizes that natural law is being violated (thus affirming the "normalcy" of the law). Second: The angel explains that God, as the maker of natural law, is not bound by His creation. And lastly: The event (the Incarnation) is a singularity. It is not an occasion for re-writing natural law, which remains in force.

im-skeptical said...

Cruse,

"I'm sure he was quoted correctly, but that changes nothing."

You don't interpret his words the same way I do.

"Considering that the Newtonian view of the world was ultimately wrong..."

It wasn't wrong. That's why we still teach it. But we understand that its applicability is limited. When we are talking about the kinds of things that humans observe in everyday life, Newtonian physics is perfectly valid. When we go outside that realm (very fast, very small, etc.), it doesn't apply. Quantum mechanics and relativity extend the laws of physics to those realms where Newtonian physics doesn't apply. But the flying video games scenario would be within the same realm of observation where Newtonian physics applies, and it would violate those laws.

"So, you accept the Principle of Sufficient Reason then?"

I don't think so. From Wiki:
"For every entity x, if x exists, then there is a sufficient explanation for why x exists."
If x is God or the cosmos, then I don't think that statement is true.

Crude said...

You don't interpret his words the same way I do.

Feel free to explain how you'd interpret it, and how my explanation and response fails.

It wasn't wrong. That's why we still teach it. But we understand that its applicability is limited. When we are talking about the kinds of things that humans observe in everyday life, Newtonian physics is perfectly valid. When we go outside that realm (very fast, very small, etc.), it doesn't apply.

We understand that 'its applicability is limited' because it turned out to be wrong. Understandings that came with the Newtonian understanding of the world were upended by quantum physics.

So yes, it was wrong. Unless what you're telling me is 'Well, okay, the fundamental understandings were wrong, but for practical purposes the equations and methods used still work close enough.' But that would just back up my own point regarding science.

Really, you're not going to have to go far to find out that quantum mechanics was an idea that upended previous scientific theories and views.

If x is God or the cosmos, then I don't think that statement is true.

Okay. So you think that sometimes, it's okay if there's just no reason for some thing or event's existence or taking place. Some things exist or occur without cause or explanation.

Sound fair?

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

I'm sorry, but I just don't understand it. I know there are plenty of people who believe both, but to me they seem to be very much at odds with each other and I would have great difficulty reconciling them in my own framework of understanding.

"The event (the Incarnation) is a singularity. It is not an occasion for re-writing natural law, which remains in force."

Such an event would not be verifiable. So it probably wouldn't result in natural law being re-written. But that's also why many wouldn't believe it ever happened. I can't accept the gospels as being truthful because of the incredible stories they contain. Until the day comes that I have real, credible evidence of such things, I don't have a good reason to believe them. And that goes for flying video games, too.

B. Prokop said...

"I would have great difficulty reconciling [science and religion] in my own framework of understanding."

Then (and I say this with all charity and good will), it is time to re-examine your framework of understanding. Far too many people of far more intelligence that the two of us put together have reconciled them perfectly.

When you think Bob Prokop is all messed up, you might be on to something. But when you think you're smarter than Pasteur, Galileo, Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, Roentgen, Gregor Mendel, Solzhenitsyn, Dante, Andrej Rublev, Descartes, Enrico Fermi, Grimaldi, Jean-Baptiste Lamarke, Marconi, William of Ockham, Albertus Magnus, etc., etc.... then you just might want to look at yourself for the solution.

Crude said...

I'd also like to hear im-skeptical defend his claim that an act of God or supernatural event would lead to the following: "However if that were the case, all of science would be in doubt, since our understanding of how things work would no longer be valid. We might as well give up trying to understand how things work, since anything at all could be explained away by saying "goddidit". There would me no rules, no natural law, no foundation of understanding."

im-skeptical said...

"Feel free to explain how you'd interpret it"

I did. When he says "outside the bounds of what modern science considers the limits of natural phenomena", I take it to mean supernatural phenomena. He's not talking about natural things that have yet to be explained.

I'm not sure what your point about physics is. We use relativity when describing objects falling into a black hole, quantum mechanics when dealing with the energy states of electrons, and Newtonian physics when calculating the trajectory of baseballs. The ancient physics of Aristotle, however has proven to be completely wrong. That was before modern science.

I also feel that you are about to make some point about PSR. So what is it?

Crude said...

I did. When he says "outside the bounds of what modern science considers the limits of natural phenomena", I take it to mean supernatural phenomena. He's not talking about natural things that have yet to be explained.

And my response was, even if that were the case, 'outside the bounds of what modern science considers the limits of natural phenomena' doesn't get you to 'supernatural' anyway - precisely because the bounds of science could simply be rewritten, just as they have been in the past.

We use relativity when describing objects falling into a black hole, quantum mechanics when dealing with the energy states of electrons, and Newtonian physics when calculating the trajectory of baseballs.

Because Newtonian Physics didn't come with the exception of 'Oh, this doesn't work at certain scales' - it was a view that the world was, top to bottom, functioning in a certain way. It did not. Even at the macroscopic level the fundamental view has changed - but Newtonian models will do the practical job. Just like geocentrism was done away with, but a geocentric model works just fine in many applications. It even gives accurate answers in those contexts.

I also feel that you are about to make some point about PSR. So what is it?

I asked a question.

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

"But when you think you're smarter than..."

I don't think that, and I didn't say that. I said I don't understand. My framework of understanding doesn't include the supernatural because I've never seen anything supernatural, nor have I seen any evidence that I can believe.

Of course, I think it's fair to say that I am attempting to re-examine my framework of understanding. After all, that's why I'm here.

And for Crude,

To repeat what I said:
"If Jesus rose from the dead, what kind of forces would animate the rotting flesh? What chemical processes would be needed to reconstitute the cells of his body? How many well-understood biological process would be violated? I think it would have drastic implications for science as we understand it."

Crude said...

To repeat what I said:

Wonderful - you've established that, in the case of God intervening, you're left with an inability to scientifically describe said effect.

Now, you just have to explain why the inability to explain that miracle translates to science being an invalid and worthless endeavor in a completely different context.

Crude said...

I also want to note this again:

The complaint of many theists that science excludes the supernatural is a strawman.

But the reply is that methodological naturalism is the accepted modern method of science. I happen to disagree with it, but part of Torley's point was to reply to Eugenie Scott who - not exactly off on her own - insists that science adheres to MN.

I also want to note: the exclusion of Intelligent Design was, at Dover, based largely on the decision the ID did not adhere to Methodological Naturalism (ask me to cite me where in the case decision and I'll do so).

While there's greater arguments at work here: to argue that MN is not the ground rule of science is to argue that the Dover decision was a failure, and that Jones should have declared ID to be entirely within the bounds of science. To argue Jones was right and that MN is the ground rule of science would be to admit that science does exclude discussion of the supernatural from the get go.

Take your pick.

im-skeptical said...

"Now, you just have to explain why the inability to explain that miracle translates to science being an invalid and worthless endeavor in a completely different context."

The point is that if supernatural events DO occur, then we can never be certain whether physical laws apply in any circumstances. Any time we see something happen, it might be a natural event or it might not. We could never predict physical behavior, because the laws might not apply. Any time we don't understand something, we can always just chock it up to 'goddidit' and we have no reason to investigate further. Scientific understanding would certainly be impeded.

Crude said...

Scientific understanding would certainly be impeded.

So the fact that modern science proceeded - and was even founded - in a Christian context is, what, a miracle itself?

The point is that if supernatural events DO occur, then we can never be certain whether physical laws apply in any circumstances.

Even granting this for the sake of argument - you're saying science deals in certainty as it is?

im-skeptical said...

Crude,

Regarding MN, here's what Loftus said: "these scientists probably all agree that when initially investigating the nature and workings of the universe that detecting the supernatural is possible, but that based on everything they have learned such a possibility is very remote. Therefore, the divergent opinions he quotes from are speaking to different questions. On the one side, before their scientific investigations, they would all admit the possibility of detecting the supernatural. On the other side, after they have investigated the universe as scientists, they have all concluded the supernatural isn't much of a possibility at all." So philosophically, they don't adhere to MN, by their own admission. However, there are probably many who do adhere to MN as a practical matter. I still maintain that given sufficient evidence of the non-material, science would abandon MN.

"So the fact that modern science proceeded - and was even founded - in a Christian context is, what, a miracle itself?"

Modern science proceeded very slowly - in fact it was impeded - in a Christian context. To this day, religious institutions fight against scientific progress.

Crude said...

So philosophically, they don't adhere to MN, by their own admission. However, there are probably many who do adhere to MN as a practical matter. I still maintain that given sufficient evidence of the non-material, science would abandon MN.

You're going to have to take your pick here. If MN is not the standard for scientific investigation, then ID was wrongfully excluded - in fact, even if ID (contra its own advocates) full-blown infers God based on findings in nature, the MN standard doesn't suffice for excluding it.

Further more, it's pointless to say that "philosophically, they don't adhere to MN" because MN is not a philosophical position - it's touted as a methodological standard. When MN is used as a standard of science, it's explicitly saying that science is limited to natural causes from the outset.

From the wikipedia: "In a series of articles and books from 1996 onwards, Robert T. Pennock wrote using the term methodological naturalism to clarify that the scientific method confines itself to natural explanations without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, and is not based on dogmatic metaphysical naturalism as claimed by creationists and proponents of intelligent design, in particular Phillip E. Johnson. Pennock's testimony as an expert witness[16] at the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial was cited by the Judge in his Memorandum Opinion concluding that "Methodological naturalism is a "ground rule" of science today""

So again I point out: if you're saying MN is not a ground rule of science, then wonderful - the reason ID was excluded from schools is defunct.

Insofar as Loftus says 'these scientists would probably all agree...' it depends on what he means. But scientists generally? Not according to the NCSE, Ecklund or otherwise.

Modern science proceeded very slowly - in fact it was impeded - in a Christian context. To this day, religious institutions fight against scientific progress.

As have atheist/secular institutions (see: Lysenkoism, homeopathy, etc). But science was not impeded - see Newton, see Bob's lists, see the head of the NIH etc. It was founded in a Christian environment, even on a Christian metaphysic.

Science took off in a Christian context. That's the historical reality, and the legion of Christian scientists is testament to it. I'll see your Galileo and raise you a Lysenko.

im-skeptical said...

"So again I point out: if you're saying MN is not a ground rule of science, then wonderful - the reason ID was excluded from schools is defunct."

ID is excluded from (some) schools because it isn't science. They make the bogus claim that it's because of MN, but the truth is that ID isn't science. Just like Lysenkoism and homeopathy.

Lysenkoism seems interesting, though in that it is very much like ID: "Lysenkoism is used metaphorically to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives." In one case it is communism, in the other it is religion.

Crude said...

ID is excluded from (some) schools because it isn't science. They make the bogus claim that it's because of MN, but the truth is that ID isn't science.

First off, the very fact that Dover concluded what it did is evidence in my column, since it established - with quite a lot of support from the scientific community - that scientists, rightly or wrongly, think MN is the ground rule for science.

Second, 'it's bad science' doesn't mean crap, because you're going to get a number of people - scientists, even - who believe it's good science. That's precisely why they went for the MN standard instead of 'Well we think it's wrong' - because science they think is wrong, even science that goes against the mainstream consensus, doesn't suddenly become 'non-science' just due to that. At worst, that feature makes it a minority view - and schools are entirely capable of introducing minority views into their curriculum.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for the link Vic. Now I have responded to Torley.

William said...

John:

I actually like what you say in your reply here:

"Remember, science assumes there is a natural explanation for everything it investigates precisely because this is the only way it can work. In other words, the very basis of science is predicated on a non-miraculous world order."

Note that scientists are also quite capable of detecting and allowing for outliers in the data, such as those caused by _human_ agency, and there's no reason that science could not coexist with a need to throw out outliers in the data caused by nonhuman (including divine) agency.

There are lots of examples of scientist correctly cleaning up data in this way, and it works!

For example, there is the fragment that the Mars lander saw that was found to be a bit of tape that fell off the lander here. Excluded from mars-geological analysis, correctly.

A more common example is someone with a telescope excluding a human satellite while looking for asteroids, or someone with a seismograph detecting a human-caused explosion and differentiating it from their earthquake data.

So, even with divine agency mixing in some of the data, science would be very possible. Here we appear to disagree.

Where I ENTIRELY agree with you is the inconsistency of claiming a miracle entirely explains an event and then using the same tools designed to investigate non-agency phenomena to probe that event. It's like using tree ring data to analyze Supreme Court decisions.


RD Miksa said...

Dear im-skeptical:

You said:

""In fact, for many issues, scientific evidence is positively worse than other forms of evidence are."

I guess that depends on what you are using the evidence for. If your objective is to have a reason to believe a non-scientific idea or assertion, you may be right."

Precisely...and since a one-time historical event is not something that is best examined via the scientific entreprises, then it is the case that for such an event, testimonial evidence, for example, would be better evidence than other types of evidence. What this means, therefore, is that it is possible to see how, for certain topics, an individual could rationally allow the weight of the testimonial evidences to override other evidences/factors (from the sciences, for example), while still accepting the validity of the sciences within the fields that it excels in.

This is thus one of the reasons how and why it is entirely possible and rational for an individual who believes in the existence of God--a being who by definition could control and change and override the so-called laws of nature--to rationally believe that God could override the laws of nature during one individual event, and also to rationally believe that the evidence provided for this singular event makes it rational to believe in, while also rationally believing that the laws of nature hold in all the other circumstances in which no contrary evidence exists.

So, all this to say that it is easily possible to understand how it is rationally feasible to simultaneously accept the evidence for a so-called miraclous event and to also rational hold to the regularity of the laws of nature in other circumstances.

Take care,

RD Miksa

grodrigues said...

@im-skeptical:

"The point is that if supernatural events DO occur, then we can never be certain whether physical laws apply in any circumstances. Any time we see something happen, it might be a natural event or it might not."

How would we even recognize a miracle without the background of an orderly universe? From the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Miracle:

"The wonder of the miracle is due to the fact that its cause is hidden, and an effect is expected other than what actually takes place. Hence, by comparison with the ordinary course of things, the miracle is called extraordinary. In analyzing the difference between the extraordinary character of the miracle and the ordinary course of nature, the Fathers of the Church and theologians employ the terms above, contrary to, and outside nature. These terms express the manner in which the miracle is extraordinary."

Second and most importantly, a miracle is not a violation of a scientific law, because there are no such things as scientific laws to be violated in the first place. "Physical law" is just a convenient metaphor for wrapping our minds around the natures of substances and their immanent powers as they manifest themselves in the ordinary course of the world. As the quote above shows (and the whole entry substantiates), a miracle is not a violation of any "law", because strictly speaking this would be a contradiction. As the same entry goes on to say:

"The term miracle here implies the direct opposition of the effect actually produced to the natural causes at work, and its imperfect understanding has given rise to much confusion in modern thought. Thus Spinoza calls a miracle a violation of the order of nature (proeverti, "Tract. Theol. Polit.", vi). Hume says it is a "violation" or an "infraction", and many writers — e.g., Martensen, Hodge, Baden-Powell, Theodore Parker — use the term for miracles as a whole. But every miracle is not of necessity contrary to nature, for there are miracles above or outside nature."

Read the rest if you want to understand what is the classical (Catholic) understanding of miracle, as opposed to making very bad arguments.

"Modern science proceeded very slowly - in fact it was impeded - in a Christian context. To this day, religious institutions fight against scientific progress."

If Christianity is so inimical to the progress of science, how come science has only took off in the western, Christian civilization and that virtually all its founders and many of its most eminent practitioners to this day are Christian? I think you have found yourself a miracle.

im-skeptical said...

grodrigues,

"Read the rest if you want to understand what is the classical (Catholic) understanding of miracle, as opposed to making very bad arguments."

Yes, I understand that Christians don't necessarily regard miracles as events that violate physical laws. That's why my remarks specifically addressed supernatural events rather than miracles.

"If Christianity is so inimical to the progress of science, how come science has only took off in the western, Christian civilization and that virtually all its founders and many of its most eminent practitioners to this day are Christian? I think you have found yourself a miracle."

I recognize the contributions to science made by many Christians. I still think that religious institutions have impeded scientific progress.

B. Prokop said...

Im-skeptical,

Indeed, religious entities have at times impeded the progress of science. But that is as unremarkable a statement as saying "red haired people have at times impeded, etc..."

All kinds of persons and institutions have been hostile to science over the ages. The imperial Chinese government forbade exploration of the world outside of China around the time of the Renaissance. The Russian Czar Aleksandr III actually outlawed inventions in the 19th Century! the Republican Party today is hostile to climate change research. It wasn't that long ago that cigarette companies fought medical research on the health effects of smoking. For decades, the Soviet Union suppressed the science of genetics. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

None of the examples I've cited were for religious reasons. So a more accurate statement that you might want to make would be "Institutions of various sorts, to include at times religious ones, have impeded scientific progress."

You OK with that?

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

Your point is well taken.

By the way, earlier you said "You asked for a copy of my book, and I presume you've at least looked at it. There you can see science and faith in perfect harmony. I maintain that the Gospels are accurate eyewitness testimony of actual events faithfully portrayed, and I also am a great lover of science - especially astronomy."

I don't recall that (either asking or receiving it). Where may I find this?

B. Prokop said...

Damn! I believe I've confused your nom de guerre with someone else's (probably beingitself). If you send your email address to dmproko@hotmail.com, I'll send you a PDF file of the book for free. It's available in print from lulu.com, but the price is ridiculously high, despite being set at the cost of printing (i.e., I get not a dime from any sales).

By the way, that offer is good for anyone else who might be interested.

im-skeptical said...

Bob,

Thanks.