Monday, February 29, 2016

Three methodological naturalisms

When people talk about methodological naturalism, what do they mean, exactly? I have noticed three different interpretations of it in reading John Lennox's  God's Undertaker. The first comes from Christian de Duve: 

"Scientific enquiry rests upon the notion that all manifestations in the universe are explainable in natural terms, without supernatural intervention. Strictly speaking, this notion is not an a priori philosophical stand or profession of belief. It is a postulate, a working hypothesis that we should be prepared to abandon if faced with facts that defy every attempt at rational explanation. Many scientists, however, do not bother to make this distinction, tacitly extrapolating from hypothesis to affirmation. They are perfectly happy with the explanations provided by science. Like Laplace, they have no need for the 'God hypothesis' and equate the scientific attitude with agnosticism, if not with outright atheism. "

Life Evolving, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002 p. 284.

This version of methodological naturalism is provisional in nature. Lennox notices that de Duve conflates rational explanation with naturalistic explanations, to which he objects. However, for him, science has to try to stay within naturalism, but it is at least possible that it could be given up should the evidence point strongly toward the supernatural. Contrast this with Richard Lewontin: 

‘Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. 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 absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen.

Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons (review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997. 

If de Duve is an evidentialist naturalist, Lewontin is a presuppositionalist naturalist. Further, his methdological naturalism is absolute, not provisional. We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. We can call this absolutist methodological naturalism. 

Finally, Methodological Naturalism can be not an absolute principle, but only a defining principle for the sciences. The Catholic philosopher of science Ernan McMullin writes: 

But, of course, methodological naturalism does not restrict our study of nature; it just lays down which sort of study qualifies as scientific. If someone wants to pursue another approach to nature--and there are many others--the methodological naturalist has no reason to object. Scientists have to proceed in this way; the methodology of natural science gives no purchase on the claim that a particular event or type of event is to be explained by invoking God's creative action directly.
 "Plantinga's Defense of Special Creation," Christian Scholar's Review [Sept. 1991], p. 57.

This is echoed in the Jones ruling. 

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. …we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science…ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation…While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science…This rigorous attachment to ‘natural’ explanations is an essential attribute to science by definition and by convention.

So, if you are recommending methodological naturalism, which one are you recommending? 

5 comments:

Gyan said...

"We can call this absolutist methodological naturalism"

No we can't. It is merely absolutist naturalism. The word "methodological" does not apply.

Joe Hinman said...

From a theological standpoint I think it's important to understand that the modern notion of natural as opposition to supernatural. Is not the original concept of Christian theology. The first version of MN you put up and I think the second, if not all all three held out the possibility that evidence could arise suggesting the reality of the supernatural and if so that would invalidate the notion of natural methodological assumption.

That is not the case if we go by the historical Christian theology of SN. Before middle ages there was only one realm of reality, although it had levels but it was all under the province of Gd. There was no assumption of natural as juxtaposed to SN. Scholasticism created the distinction in the middle ages but even they did not see the two spheres as opposing. They understood the two in harmony and both acted upon by God. Nature primarily meant human nature. The enlightenment created the distinction about methodological issues opposing SN and the need to weigh naturalistic hypothesis against SN belief.


brief essay documenting the view I just laid out.

Joe Hinman said...

you quote: "‘Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. 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 absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."


That view is already obsolete. That's why the idea of physicalism came along, because thinkers began to recognize that the issue they support is not between solid objects and immaterial ones since subatomic particles are not material. Tje view we talked about the other day, Hempel's Dilemma, creates problems for physicalisme.

The real problem here is that science is actually made up of a lot of ideological thinking, Scientists like to perpetuate the myth that it's pure truth seeking but in reality it's very ideological. But I do not advocate trying to apply scientific study to SN. Science people (I mean the larger group, scientists and their groupies so to speak) will just have to accept the idea that there are other forms of knowledge and other valid disciplines. SN is theologies baby and not theirs.

Joe Hinman said...

"The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen."

Let's see, I believe in God, and I believe in evolution

People who believe in God are gullible fools, therefore...

what should we conclude?

Similarly, I believe in God and I belkeve Beck is a great philosopher...

IlĂ­on said...

VR: "We can call this absolutist methodological naturalism"

Gyan: "No we can't. It is merely absolutist naturalism. The word "methodological" does not apply."

It there really any difference between "methodological naturalism" and "philosophical naturalism"?