BWhite's Objections to Methodological Naturalism

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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.

You are confused. Newton did experiments, and explained observations with natural causes(such as forces of acceleration, and gravity). That’s textbook methodological naturalism.

He privately thought that those forces were created by God, but that has nothing to do with his experimental methods.


I don’t care. I find it odd tat people actually believe what you believe.

Science is about truth.

Science is the search for truth, the effort to understand the world; it involves the rejection of bias, of dogma, of revelation, but not the rejection of morality.” Linus Pauling

“But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding.” Albert Einstein

No, you are confused. Experiments do not mean MN. Talk about question-begging.

Please don’t confuse what might have motivated Newton to do science, with how he carried out his science. What he did in practice was MN, what motivated him was curiosity. He believed God created the world, but his motivation for doing science was that he wanted to know how. And his method for finding that out was MN.


Notice that none of those quotes says science finds truth, only that it is a search and aspiration towards it. In any case, there are no authorities on what science is about. There are great scientists who had important and lasting contributions to scientific progress, but their words to not carry any authority on what science is about. They are stating their opinions, not facts.


Actually, the early The Christian philosophers who worked so very hard to develop the scientific method assumed that Laws of Nature were necessitarian laws. These laws exist independently of events or the behaviour or objects; they have they own metaphysical standing. This in itself is a very strong theological claim, that has nothing to do with what we would call methodological naturalism today. In fact, necessitarian Laws are only really possible with a law-giver (God, for example read Nancy Cartwright) and in some sense might be identical with it. Modern science usually claims Regularity laws which merely assume to summarize the symmetry/uniformity we see in nature; they are not compatible views of laws as the first assumes Theism. Additionally, many philosophers of science and scientists themselves feel that laws are themselves problematic and opt for law statements, capacities, natures etc. Nothing to do with the laws of the early moderns. Of course, this is not to take away from the very real fact that Christians did indeed start the science ball rolling and it was, for them, a theological activity. But academic areas move on, necessitarian laws are as dead as a dodo in method and almost impossible to know if they exist. The link with the early moderns and modern science is weak at best.

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BWhite, I do not know the root causes of your hostility, but you are portraying yourself as a layman with some interest in science that is convinced that the professionals have it all wrong and it is your God-appointed duty to set them all straight. Please consider that those that have responded to you know a great deal more about science (particularly biology) and how it is done.

Yes, it is true that Newton performed his science from a theistic perspective. However, his discoveries absolutely used methodological naturalism. MN is not a set of conclusions used to shape ideology, it is a recognition and admission that what is studied by science is limited to what we have the tools and knowledge to test and/or observe. Thus, MN (and science) cannot answer larger questions like the existence of God. You might be confusing MN with PN (philosophical naturalism), which, I believe, erroneously assumes that nothing can exist beyond our ability to directly handle and observe.

There are a good number of Christ-following scientists here at this very site (@swamidass @Joel_Duff @glipsnort @AndyWalsh @david.heddle [welcome, David!] @dga471 @PdotdQ and others) that use MN in their daily work (I’m just a biology professor that dabbles in it), yet acknowledge a truth beyond MN. All of these are testament to the fact that it is possible to use MN and view study of the natural world as “a way of understanding what God did”.

Please consider the possibility that you may learn from interaction with others.


The two are not mutually exclusive. And I think you are incorrect in regards to Newton. In fact (and here it becomes a matter of opinion) when I teach an honors course on the history of physics I credit Newton with being (again, in my opinion) the first person who was fully engaged in MN. (1) Kepler was very close (he hinted at gravitation), but I think you still have to classify him a purely observational only–a subset of MN, at least as I see it. BTW, I view MN and “the scientific method” as synonymous. (2) I know that some disagree.

(1) Which is not to say he never stepped outside the confines of MN, as in when he did theology or had trouble explaining the stability of orbits.

(2) FWIW while I recognize that there many formulations of “the scientific method” in textbooks and in books about science, there is (IMO) only one scientific method in practice: namely the way we have done science since, at a minimum, the time of Newton. If Newton popped into the 21st century he’d be perfectly at home in the modern scientific community.


Hi David, and @Rumraket Thank you for your response. I was basing my post on what Dr. Joshua Swamidass wrote:

Mainstream science seeks “our best explanation of the world, without considering God .” This limiting clause,”without considering God,” is the rule of Methodological Naturalism (MN).

First, Newton definitely did not follow that rule. Next, the problem, to me, is obvious. How do you know it was “God”? Do we have to dismiss obvious signs of design just because someone thinks God may be involved? One of Arthur C. Clark’s rules seems relevant here.

Science doesn’t need to be about “all Truths”- see Why Methodological Naturalism?. But science does have to be concerned with the truth behind whatever is being researched, studied and investigated. Otherwise there isn’t any demarcation between science and science-fiction. Science needs to be open.

“Science is the search for truth and knowledge. Originality and autonomy are its lifeblood. Science only becomes science by a bona fide treatment of data, facts, and intellectual property.” Science is the search for truth and knowledge · Elephant in the Lab

Science asks 3 basic questions, from UCBerkley

  1. What’s there?
    The astronaut picking up rocks on the moon, the nuclear physicist bombarding atoms, the marine biologist describing a newly discovered species, the paleontologist digging in promising strata, are all seeking to find out, “What’s there?”
  2. How does it work?
    A geologist comparing the effects of time on moon rocks to the effects of time on earth rocks, the nuclear physicist observing the behavior of particles, the marine biologist observing whales swimming, and the paleontologist studying the locomotion of an extinct dinosaur, “How does it work?”
  3. How did it come to be this way?
    Each of these scientists tries to reconstruct the histories of their objects of study. Whether these objects are rocks, elementary particles, marine organisms, or fossils, scientists are asking, “How did it come to be this way?”

And science is looking for the truth for those answers. For example, the truth means how it actually came to be the way it is. Science fiction deals with things that aren’t true. Science does care what is and isn’t testable, though.

That couldn’t be further from what is going on. First, why me? Why not Mikkel who said that I was confused? Why isn’t he hostile?

Second, I am not a layman. I have real-world investigative experience.

Third, I can find authorities that disagree with the authorities here. So it isn’t just me, Mr. Henderson.

Is pointing out your confusion being hostile? I don’t think so. Everyone can become confused and get things mixed up, there is no attack or personal insult in that. If all I said was “you’re confused” you could have said I didn’t add anything to the discussion, but I did immediately follow it up by clarifying the relationship(between methods and motivations) which I think you got mixed up.


Hi Bill,

I think Newton did. I don’t think mentioning God as part of a description, popularization, or summary, or describing how the science proclaims the glory of God, or having God in the back of your mind, constitutes considering God as part of the scientific process. Newton did not invoke God when he developed universal gravitation, no matter how much he may have marveled or discussed how the beauty and simplicity of the theory was a testimony to God the great designer.

I am not a big fan of definitions of science or definitions of the scientific method. I rather think of science as what I do and my colleagues do. To wit:

  • We consider puzzles, problems, and unknowns (even if it is as mundane as an incomplete data set) in the world.

  • We devise experiments to collect (and analyze) the data, and theories to try to explain or predict the data.

  • We validate the experiments and theories against one another (1)

  • We disseminate our methods and results for peer review and for reproduction and further validation.

Then we rinse and repeat.

(1) Theories that do not make connection to experiment get a honeymoon period, but if they never make contact with experiment they will lose the honorific “science”.

The scientific method is never expressed this way, but to me that is what it is.


The assumption here is that the theories that try to explain and predict data are based on regularities in natural phenomena. That’s what science does, fundamentally: explain phenomena in terms of regularities or patterns of behavior (and then explain those regularities in terms of other regularities). That’s implicit in the idea of testing hypotheses against data. I don’t like the term “methodological naturalism”, because I’m not clear on what “naturalism” means. What I do know is that science has to assume regularity in natural phenomena, because if there’s no regularity the tools of science don’t work.