Monday, June 05, 2017

God as a scientific hypothesis

It's quite true that many scientists, in the past, and today, believe in God, and for some of them God is an important background belief in their scientific investigations. Yet, the commitments of the sciences provide a large barrier to making God an actual scientific hypothesis. 
This is a statement of Methodological Naturalism made by the National Academy of Sciences:
Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science. (in Jones 2005, 66)
As result, a court determined that Intelligent Design could not be presented as a scientific hypothesis in biology class because it violated the standard of methodological naturalism. If science is constrained by the rule stated above, then our failure to find God in the universe through science in not terribly surprising,  because if someone claimed, as some have, that science had found strong positive evidence in favor of God, then that would be dismissed by definition as not science. 
What you can't do is both of the following: Claim, on the one hand, as Richard Dawkins does, that the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design, but, whenever someone claims that scientific evidence supports the reality of design, say that you aren't doing science, since you are bringing in a designer. That is to play a "heads I win, tails you lose" game. 


StardustyPsyche said...

" As result, a court determined that Intelligent Design could not be presented as a scientific hypothesis in biology class because it violated the standard of methodological naturalism."
--If god exists it is natural, so naturalism does not rule out a scientifically detectable god.

" If science is constrained by the rule stated above, then our failure to find God in the universe through science in not terribly surprising,"
--Quite the contrary, a real god could be as scientifically obvious as the noon day sun.

" that the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design, "
--Because the identification of the physical processes of evolution negate the claim of irreducible complexity.

"whenever someone claims that scientific evidence supports the reality of design,"
--That never happens in a methodologically sound analysis.

" say that you aren't doing science, since you are bringing in a designer."
--You are mistaken, that is not the reason. Science could conceivably detect panspermia, or design of Earth life by intelligent space aliens. or god.

It is the lack of evidence for the designer, the palpable absence of a designer, the lack of irreducible complexity in both living and nonliving structures, and the availability of naturalistic terrestrial explanatory mechanisms for the construction of both living and nonliving structures that so very strongly evidences the nonexistence of a designer, and thus, god.

David Brightly said...

Victor, have you considered that someone seeking a path to God through science might well be in a logical double-bind? It's not just an unscrupulous rhetorical move by an atheist with both philosophical and scientific hats. The problem is that God, as traditionally conceived, is just too powerful. To hypothesise him as an explanatory factor is just too easy. Methodological naturalism acts as a kind of ethical goad to the scientific endeavour to think harder about problems. This is what Lynn Margulis did. She couldn't believe that purely Darwinian mechanisms could produce the eukaryotic cell, just as ID people can't believe it can create other complexities. There had to be another way. But not God. Despite skepticism and opposition she pursued her endosymbiosis idea, gathering evidence and argument over many years, and eventually her theory was accepted into mainstream biology. So Darwin isn't the last word and biology advances. Maybe the ID people are wrong or just aren't such good scientists as Margulis? Whatever the reason, their ideas simply aren't mainstream, which is justification enough to leave them out of school science classes.

Besides, under what conception of God could empirical, shall we say, investigation come up with 'strong positive evidence'? You don't say what you have in mind here. But if God, for whatever reason, has chosen to keep himself well-hidden, the best that empirical inquiry can hope for would be veiled hints. Another impediment on the scientific path.

But on the other hand, as philosophers we can stand outside science with its self-imposed restrictions and ask where it might point us as rational inquirers. We have the fine-tuning problem in particle physics and the big-bang singularity in cosmology crying out for greater understanding. Plenty of scope here for theological speculation, as we find in WL Craig.

Victor Reppert said...

I am inclined to think this is probably correct, in that I think there is "narrow path" of science, which avoids theological explanations but does not straightforwardly deny them. If we are talking about the narrow path, something like NOMA is true, which ID people and New Atheists like Dawkins both hate. However, there are many issues on the boundaries of science, and we shouldn't expect people in the scientific community to shut up about them. I think IDist s are right to struggle against an excessively triumphalistic view of evolution which pushes atheological implications. Sometimes you will get a scientist like Gingerich making a theological case but saying he is outside the boundaries of science in doing so. But it's easier to cloak theology if it's atheology, but I do think atheists who use biology to argue for atheism go outside the boundaries of their discipline in the same way that scientists who defend ID do.

Exactly what ID is is less than clear. The Discovery Institute actually stopped defending the Dover school board after a certain point, because they concluded they were violating the Establishment Clause.

Maybe scientists should bring different hats to their presentations, so that when they are leaving strict science and going into metaphysics, they can change hats.