BWhite's Objections to Methodological Naturalism

Isaac Newton did not use MN. I will side with the greatest scientist our planet ever knew. Thank you.

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What if it turns out in the future that it can? Would that devastate your faith? Is not God’s providence capable of arranging atoms and molecules in a one-time occurrence?

Promissory notes? That isn’t science, Dale.

I’m not saying science can or will, but what if it does? Would your faith be devastated?

Why do you say that? Have you ever read his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, especially where he discussed his Universal Law of Gravitation for the first time?

I would agree.

In fairness, however, we can’t help but observe that in actual practice a lot of ID proponents and their organizations are very much motivated by theological apologetics. For example, one only need look at their promotional literature and fundraising campaigns to notice that the original and/or theoretical “purity” of intelligent design investigations are not always preserved. We also notice that a lot of ID material is written for, published toward, and promoted to lay theists rather than to the broader acadeic community and peer-review. (I’m not saying that that targeting is necessarily a bad thing. I’m simply observing that it has become a huge part of the ID Movement.)


Okay, in the spirit of the thread (finding common narrative) can you drop your guard for a second and play along? The point of what I said was not about God vs. an intelligence…

Instead, it was about MN’s reluctance to consider an intelligence as an ad hoc solution when a material solution cannot be identified vs. the ability of scientists to pursue any experimental means or hypotheses that they wish.

Do you honestly think that if any group were able to show experimentally and verifiably that “an intelligence” was responsible for some function or act that the science world would stand up in a unified manner and proclaim that the findings were not legitimate because of the rules of MN? If the science is good, then the results need to be accepted. Otherwise, you can call out a double-standard.

Yes, MN doesn’t allow for any sort of God-of-the-gaps, but that never precludes anyone from searching and experimenting, and, if they find significant results, from publishing them.


No, methodological naturalism is a method that only investigates naturalistic causes. It doesn’t say there only ARE naturalistic causes, only that it can only investigate naturalistic ones.

Anyone is welcome to try to investigate non-naturalistic causes if they want to.

It can do all three. The question is if those explanations are true, which requires a lot of research to determine. But it certainly can, in principle, explain these with natural processes.


It’s not a conclusion, it’s an assumption.

This is interesting, but would you mind explaining what you’re basing it on? I bolded one sentence as the idea seems rather implausible to me, in short, rather like a just so story. On the other hand if I’m wrong and there are some things you could point to to substantiate it, I’m definitely interested.

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My studies in the History & Philosophy of Science (and courses in the history of western thought) were a very long time ago but I’ll try to summarize. What we now call science was originally a branch of philosophy: Natural Philosophy. (By the way, this also explains why even today the terminal degree in the sciences is the Ph.D., Doctor of Philosophy.) For centuries Natural Philosophy mostly involved applying the Bible, Aristotle, Plato, and other ancient wise ones to the natural world. Even when various philosophers of the Middle Ages started emphasizing actual observations of the physical world, there was still the a priori assumption that Graeco-Roman and Christian theology must guide all understanding of that world.

Paracelsus was among those who had the gall to assert that one should put those ancient explanations to the test by conducting experiments. He famously wrote something like “Experiments are the greatest masters of everything.” (The fact that he wrote and lectured about his experiments in German instead of Latin was a big deal in the early 1500’s and underscores how he wanted to see natural philosophy distinguished from traditional philosophy.)

Roger Bacon also comes to mind among those who recognized that simply citing something from Aristotle or a theologian’s interpretation of the Bible was what we today would call “a science stopper.” Why investigate combustion if Empedocles had already established that everything was made of four elements (water, earth, fire, and air) and Aristotle had further described them as moist, dry, hot, and cold respectively?

There was a powerful belief that God had imparted special wisdom not only to the Bible’s authors but also to the authors of classical Greco-Roman literature (which the Church worked hard to copy and preserve.) Nevertheless, over time there was a growing recognition that the Bible was more focused on the relationship between God and his Imago Dei creation than on describing the details of how the natural world operates. And as alchemists gathered more and more knowledge of actual chemistry—and even developed new medicinal cures—it became clear that various phenomena which may have previously seemed “miraculous” could actually be artificially induced and explained through natural processes. (Paracelsus has been called the father of modern pharmacology.) As empirical knowledge increased, there was less and less of a need to appeal to the supernatural and “magick” to explain that which was not yet understood. Christian philosophers also asserted that a rational God created a rational world which he wanted humans to understand. So the pursuit of scientific knowledge became a quest to understand the rationality which God had placed in his creation. As a result, natural philosophy gradually became more and more about observing that creation rather than simply listening to ancient wise men.

It took centuries for Natural Philosophy to produce what we would recognize as modern science. Even some of those most outstanding of those pioneering philosopher-scientists would get distracted by long theological and philosophical discourses (and even what we today might characterize as bizarre mysticism) over the implications of their experiments. Nevertheless, over time their academic peers recognized that one could learn much from their empirical methods even while discarding their non-empirical speculative tangents. (Issac Newton published great science but also a lot of really strange mystical musings.)

I guess I’m a little surprised that my sentence which you placed in bold would be at all surprising (let alone seem implausible.) To me this is simply the story of how natural philosophy evolved. Also, perhaps it is worth noting [Sorry for previous typo, @John_Dalton, which sounded sarcastic!] that my relevant studies in western thought and the history of science were associated with secular universities, so there is nothing uniquely “Christian” about my view on this.


Science is the ultimate meritocracy.


That vivid “The first time Dembski booted me” title from @david.heddle’s blog almost motivates me to create a cartoon-style illustration.


prod prod prod


I try to draw a line (no cartooning pun intended) at appearing to mock individuals rather than ideas.

(I didn’t say that I always succeed. I just said that I try.)


Thanks! I understand that. I guess I’m wondering if conscious decisions were made or often made, or if scientists simply gradually began following lines of inquiry into natural processes because that is all that was empirically accessible, without really consciously deciding that they should go that way while ignoring the supernatural.

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No, it’s definitely a conclusion.

That is all wrong. Science cannot explain life in naturalistic terms. It cannot explain nature in naturalistic terms. And if the explanations are not true then they do not even exist to science.

Science can and does investigate telic processes. And only special pleading and a ton of question-begging says that those telic processes arose via naturalistic processes.

Yes, I have. Newton did not use MN. Newton saw science as a way of understanding what God did. That is not MN.

“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being…
This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont, to be called Lord God παντοκρατωρ or Universal Ruler.”

Science is not about proof. That is for mathematics.

I find it odd that you make grandiose declarations like this. You might say science has yet to explain life in naturalistic terms, but I don’t understand how you would allow yourself to claim that it can’t. How could you possibly know that?

It cannot explain nature in naturalistic terms. And if the explanations are not true then they do not even exist to science.

This is nonsensical of course, since you seem to be saying science is about truth, which it isn’t. Science is about useful and predictive models that describe reality. They are not reality itself, and will necessarily always be approximations. No scientific models are strictly true, but some are useful. Of course, they’re useful because they are in some sense close to the truth whatever that might be.

Science can and does investigate telic processes.

The fact that science can do so, doesn’t mean all processes investigated by science are telic.

And only special pleading and a ton of question-begging says that those telic processes arose via naturalistic processes.

I have no idea what telic processes you are talking about so I’m not aware of anyone claiming to know how they arose in the first place(or even if they did).

Of course, any assertion that natural processes arose by nonnaturalistic means, or that they came into existence, would be just that, mere assertion.