Monday, January 02, 2017

Dare we ask if naturalism is a philosophy brought to science?

Questions about the status of this naturalistic story do not readily
go away, as the level of public interest shows. So, is naturalism actually
demanded by science? Or is it just conceivable that naturalism is a
philosophy that is brought to science, more than something that is entailed
by science? Could it even be, dare one ask, more like an expression of
faith, akin to religious faith? One might at least be forgiven for thinking that
from the way in which those who dare ask such questions are sometimes
treated. Like religious heretics of a former age they may suffer a form of
martyrdom by the cutting off of their grants.--John Lennox, God's Undertaker

Lion Hudson plcMar 29, 2011



23 comments:

Jo F said...

Naturalism is inherent in the scientific methodology, as its pool of live explanatory hypotheses are always naturalistic and never supernaturalistic. Of course, a truth-seeker would find this arbitrary and look to the *best explanation* of the phenomena in question--not ruling one out because of its adherence to a particular worldview but to its superior plausibility, efficiency in explanation, explanatory power, etc.

Legion of Logic said...

Science is the study of the creation. Understanding how things work in nature. It is quite appropriate for science to assume natural causes for natural phenomenon.

What is not appropriate is to claim something completely idiotic like "Science shows that the Resurrection and the virgin birth never occurred, because there are no studies showing that people raise from the dead or that virgins give birth." People who say things like that are so ignorant of philosophy, theology, and science as to not belong in the discussion.

Joe Hinman said...

Science in Newton's day did assume SN and metaphysical assumptions. Newton and his lot almost took argument from design as a law of physics.Robert Boyle wanted to understand science as a tool of Christian apologetic.The French philosophes mnade a philosophical choice to limit science to naturalism. They did it for ideological anti clerical reasons.

John Moore said...

As a scientist, I'm interested in this phenomenon where the Red Sea occasionally parts, allowing people to walk straight through without getting wet. The problem is that you never know when or where it's going to part next. Last time the Red Sea parted it was said to be a miracle. Am I to understand that you can never predict the Red Sea's parting at all?

Joe Hinman said...

what does your red sea comment have to do with anything John?



can science disprove the soul?

Joe Hinman said...

I am fascinated by the inability o our resident scientist to answer the question of this thread. What does it say about science and about atheism f true?

Legion of Logic said...

I also apparently missed John's point. If the point is that science should assume naturalism for every question, even if there is excellent reason to suspect otherwise, then all that is being said is that science is a tool to confirm the worldview of naturalism, rather than a tool for truth.



AdamHazzard said...

It's not at all clear to me what it means to suggest that a given phenomenon might have a "supernatural" explanation.

If it means an explanation that posits the physical activity of non-physical beings, many obvious questions and problems arise. What distinguishes phenomena with such an explanation from phenomena for which no such supernatural explanation is necessary? Where conflicting supernatural explanations exist, which one is verifiably correct, and how do we know? Does a natural explanation for a given phenomenon preclude a supernatural explanation, or might both be correct? Do we have reliable prior knowledge of non-physical entities to which we might attribute such action? How is such knowledge derived and validated? And so on, perhaps ad infinitum.

Miguel Corleone said...

Adam,

Doesn't what you say simply mean that "supernatural" phenomena (if they occur, that is) isn't within the realm of science?

Relatedly, if we can't use science to prove a supernatural cause, then we can't use science to disprove it either.

Can someone tell Dawkins this?

AdamHazzard said...

"Doesn't what you say simply mean that 'supernatural' phenomena (if they occur, that is) isn't within the realm of science?"

I don't know. In the absence of a verifiable example of a "non-natural" phenomenon, the question is impossible to answer.

John Moore said...

My point about the Red Sea is that science looks to the future rather than the past. Scientists might actually accept the reality of miracles, but miracles have no bearing on science because they don't help us predict things in the future.

The only reason scientists try to explain things in the past is so they can better predict similar things in the future. A supernatural explanation doesn't help, and that's why scientists are uninterested in the supernatural, even if some scientists accept that the supernatural might exist.

To answer Victor's question, therefore, I would say science doesn't advocate naturalism, but it's just that science is only interested in naturalistic explanations. Only naturalistic explanations are useful.

B. Prokop said...

"miracles have no bearing on science because they don't help us predict things in the future"

You speak the truth, but not the whole truth. There are other reasons why miracles do not belong in the realm of science. The most important one is the role of intent, or will. Whether or not I decide to turn right or left on my walk is not a subject for scientific discussion, because ultimately what I do will be the result of a decision I make (unless you believe in a deterministic universe with no free will). Similarly, miracles are not the consequence of natural law, but the Will of God.

Ilíon said...

some anti-science yahoo who is "forever closed to some of the major findings on the rules that govern the Universe" "As a scientist, I'm interested in this phenomenon where the Red Sea occasionally parts, allowing people to walk straight through without getting wet. The problem is that you never know when or where it's going to part next. Last time the Red Sea parted it was said to be a miracle. Am I to understand that you can never predict the Red Sea's parting at all?"

Carl wept

Victor Reppert said...

John, but if there were laws of supernature, then couldn't science discover those?

Jim S. said...

Scientific explanations tend to assume that whatever has made the laws of nature (relatively) constant in the past will continue making them (relatively) constant in the future. This assumption cannot be that that's just the way nature is, since we are addressing what is it that makes the way nature is the way it will continue to be. Nor can it be an appeal to some other law of nature that keeps all the others in line, since then we would have to assume that this law of nature is constant, and whatever has made it constant in the past will continue making it constant in the future. So all scientific explanations have to tacitly include a reference to something that is responsible for keeping the laws of nature constant, will continue to do so, and is not subject to change itself.

Jim S. said...

Forgot to include the main point: since whatever is responsible for keeping the laws of nature constant is not subject to change, it cannot be subsumed under naturalism, but instead requires supernaturalism. So scientific methodology tacitly assumes supernaturalism. Without this assumption, there would be no science.

B. Prokop said...

Ilion,

When you styled Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson as Speaker For 'Science!', were you channeling E.E. "Doc" Smith's "Helmuth, Speaker for Boskone!" in his novel Galactic Patrol, or was that just a chance similarity?

Ilíon said...

I had a number of sci-fi characters "Speaker For [X]" in mind (including Orson Scott Card's "Speaker for the Dead"), but I don't recall encountering (*) "Helmuth, Speaker for Boskone!"


(*) Growing up, I think I read most of the science fiction novels and anthologies down at the main library, but I never much cared for "Golden Age" science fiction, and tended to avoid it.

David Brightly said...

Science, science, science! Why is it such a bugbear? Does science have to be diminished in order to make room for faith?

Suppose we take methodological naturalism to be a voluntary constraint on inquiry that rules out explanation and understanding in terms of persons. Science is then that body of understanding that eschews personhood as an explanatory factor. So there can be no science of world war one, say, and hence scientism is ruled out. Metaphysical naturalism becomes the doctrine that there are no persons other than the likes of us. Science then neither requires nor implies metaphysical naturalism, and there is plenty of space within naturalism for lines of inquiry that lie outside science.

With this understanding of naturalism isn't it just a bit odd to speak of religious faith and 'faith in naturalism' in the same breath, as Lennox does? I would have thought that if someone's faith in Christ were on a par with my faith in naturalism it would amount to such a meagre, milksop kind of thing as to be not worth having.

Surely the essence of much religion and certainly Christianity is the conviction that personhood lies at the very heart of things. Faith in Christ involves a relation with a person with all the emotional and moral implications that has. Atheists just don't feel this way.

B. Prokop said...

"Does science have to be diminished in order to make room for faith?"

Certainly not! There is no God of the Gaps, but rather a God of the Filled In Spaces. The more we learn about the universe, the more we see the astonishing detail and complexity of its structure, the more we discover its remarkable adherence to regularity and law, the more we appreciate its sheer scale… the more opportunity there is to appreciate the Mind behind it all. The Heavens do indeed declare the Glory.

“I the Lord have not spoken from hiding, nor from a land of darkness. And I have not said to the descendants of Jacob, “Seek me in an empty waste or in chaos.” (Isaiah 45:19)

"Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:20)

Victor Reppert said...

But here is the problem. People speaking for science, or as Ilion likes to say, Science!, don't accept the idea that science is subjected to a constraint.

What you get is a shell game. "Why should we be naturalists?" Because there is no scientific evidence for anything other than the physical world. "But what about the bacterial flagellum? Isn't that evidence that there is something outside the natural world?" No, you IDiot, to infer from the bacterial flagellum, or the fine tuning of the universe, to a being beyond nature is to violate the canons of scientific inquiry." It is the science defenders who seem to think that belief in anything beyond the natural is somehow a threat to their enterprise, but in fact such heresy hunting, if effective, would deprive the scientific community of some of its best practicioners, such as Francis Collins and Donald Page.

Further, for many atheists, commitment to atheism is something really important to them. I know many atheists who have ten times the zeal most Christians have for their belief. For them it isn't heaven or hell, it's progress or regression.

The scientific community has the right to define the limits of its own inquiry any way it sees fit. To then say that their domain is the complete realm of rational inquiry is to make not a scientific claim, but a philosophical one. And to reject that claim is not to be what they insist one should not be, a science denier.

Joe Hinman said...

The scientific community has the right to define the limits of its own inquiry any way it sees fit. To then say that their domain is the complete realm of rational inquiry is to make not a scientific claim, but a philosophical one. And to reject that claim is not to be what they insist one should not be, a science denier.

exactly and they do play a shell game, It includes all of reality but then when we show aspects of reality that are beyond the empirical rather than say "ok there's something we can't deal with" they say then it can't have any importance or existence because it's not in our domain,

David Brightly said...

Well, I'm 'speaking for science' and I accept that science is subject to constraints. In fact I think you allow much too much by saying that the scientific community has the right to define the limits of its own inquiry. The limits are partly defined by the method itself. Granted, some philosophers of science will tell us that no single method can be discerned, but anyone who fell in love with science at an early age knows that's wrong. Likewise I will 'defend science'---I think it's a great manifestation of the human spirit---but I wouldn't say that belief in something beyond the natural is somehow a threat to that enterprise.

I think it's too easy to slide into a kind of scientism that ignores those aspects of the natural world that don't readily succumb to scientific investigation, let alone any putative supernatural elements. Perhaps it's here that the more zealous militant atheists need to be challenged.