I don’t understand your position here. Only a strict, over-the-top Scientism insists that only that which is empirically detectable is real. It sounds like you are elevating Science to some kind of ultimate authority which it is not. And just because something is empirically undetectable at a given time in human history does NOT mean that something is “unreal.” (Was the Higgs boson “unreal” until it was empirically confirmed a few years ago? That view seems similar to the bizarre but popular question about whether a tree falling in the forest produces sound even if nobody is there to hear it. Of course there are sounds produced when a tree falls in the forest. They are real, regardless as to whether some human empirically detects the air molecule vibrations.)
And that discovery came through an empirical process: the mechanic checks the gasoline tank and the fuel filter, where the insoluble sugar accumulated harmlessly (though if clogs the fuel filter it may starve the engine of fuel until the filter is cleaned or replaced.)
As a has-been linguist, I must mention that there is a kind of semantic ambiguity at work in this argument. (I don’t want to call it an equivocation fallacy because that might give the impression that there was an intention to confuse the issue, and I certainly don’t believe that that is the case here.)
When we speak of natural (as in “natural causes”), we may mean:
(1) That which exists in or is caused by nature—and thereby not made or caused by humans.
(2) That which is opposite of supernatural, something explainable through the laws of physics as understood in the matter-energy world.
Your example of a mechanic discovering sugar clogging a fuel filter doesn’t qualify as natural in the aforementioned Definition #1. Nevertheless, the cause in the example is entirely natural as understood in Definition #2. No supernatural processes were involved. The mechanic empirically determined that an insoluble contaminant was added to the fuel line, and everybody has heard of the prank where humans sometimes pour sugar or sand into gasoline tanks in order to cause trouble. Nothing supernatural is suspected. The value of Methodological Naturalism is not somehow compromised in this scenario. MN in no way failed to provide an explanation.
By the way, suppose a chimpanzee is trained to pour sugar in gas tanks. In that case both Definition #1 and Definition #2 would label the chimpanzee a “natural cause.”
[And before a professional mechanic corrects me, I certainly concede that in the vast majority of cases, the sugar would merely accumulate on the bottom of the gasoline tank and most of it would probably not reach the fuel filter at all—depending on a lot of variables which are obviously beyond the context of this thread.]
(S. Joshua Swamidass)
Split this topic
“We will discuss five arguments that have been proposed in support of IMN [intrinsic methodological naturalism, which is what we’ve been discussing in this thread]: the argument from the definition of science, the argument from lawful regularity, the science stopper argument, the argument from procedural necessity, and the testability argument. We conclude that IMN, because of its philosophical flaws, proves to be an ill-advised strategy to counter the claims of IDC. Evolutionary scientists are on firmer ground if they discard supernatural explanations on purely evidential grounds, instead of ruling them out by philosophical fiat.”
By all means, folks, let’s critique ID on its mistakes, oversimplifications, vagueness, whatever. In other words, subject ID to the serious scientific criticism it needs. If nothing survives: well, too bad for ID.
But don’t keep MN in your hip pocket, just in case. That’s lazy, hypocritical, “heads I win, tails you lose,” and unworthy of science or philosophy.
So, that is not how I understand it. MN means science speaking in scientific claims cannot ever evoke God as an explanatory force.
This, in contrast, is not coherent “try all natural explanations first, and then appeal to God’s action.” We cannot ever exhaust all possible natural explanations, because we do not know all natural explanations.
Thanks Joshua. I appreciate this… It is not how I understood it… If this is so, then it is problematic. Why do “we” here keep saying, then, to go back to the lab and do the science and bring back the results, if they would be invalid a priori?
This I understand and agree with. It makes good sense to not invoke the unidentifiable as an explanation, but rather to leave the options open. This was my point one.
That said, if one was able to design an experiment that showed that an intelligence was responsible, significantly and verifiably, then how could this be rejected?
I would encourage everyone to read this paper. I’m still forming my opinion on it but it is clear to me that it presents some very important perspectives. Dr. Nelson did not post the link because it is some sort of defense of ID theory. To the contrary, the authors make very clear that they do not consider ID to be solid science. The authors describe their objections to how most scientists (including many of the most prominent, such as Eugenie Scott) are using MN to critique ID ideas.
MN rules out God as a cause in scientific explanations. In practice, science includes intelligent design as a cause, as long as the intelligence is anything other than God.
In principle, ID conflicts with MN, because it does not want intelligent design by God, divine design, to be excluded from scientific purview.
For now and the foreseeable future, MN excludes divine design from science, whether we like it or not.
ID (and others) objects that MN, in practice, is not properly bounded by nearly all of its proponents, so in practice it often becomes just naturalism, which conflicts with Christianity by denying God’s action in the world. Consistently applying naturalism would deny the Resurrection and the possibility of miracles.
Somehow, following MN, the GAE made space for the de novo creation of Adam and Eve. An important question: how? What does this tell us about how to navigate the reality of modern science (3) without importing naturalism into our thinking (4)?
@pnelson does this work for you? You also say “nearly all its proponents”. I like that space you are making. Do you think I personally fall prey to the pitfalls of MN? If not, why not?
Well, I don’t think the science is a total explanation of the world. For this reason, it is not a problem for me. If and when God acts, science’s account will be incomplete, or even wrong. So scientific conclusions come with that asterix, and I take that asterix very seriously.
Would God’s action be invalid a priori? They would be in science, which is why I am not going to science to prove God’s action. They would not be invalid in real life, theology or philosophy. So let science do its thing, don’t be surprised when science is silent about God, and ask questions about God in domains that welcome it.
I would amend that to say, “If and when God acts supernaturally…” (violating natural laws). The distinction still needs to be made between his providential action where he does break natural laws and his providential action where he does not. Again, I think the term hypernatural miracles is useful in describing the latter. None of the many instances in my experience could be detected by science. Likewise, in none of the co-instants in the series in the Rich Stearns account could God’s actions have been detected scientifically, but their meaning is evident by their temporal sequence and grouping.
There are also many such instances in scripture where natural laws are not or don’t need to have been broken.
I think it’s because most ID folks are making the claim that ID is scientific. It seems like they are suggesting that it is only being stopped from becoming the de facto explanation of origins by MN and a priori philosophical commitments (i.e. philosophical naturalism). I think the scientists are trying to say with the “get in the lab” responses, “if you want to be treated as science, then do science, and stop complaining about philosophy”. That is my impression anyway.
It’s that a priori assumption about God - excuse me “The Designer” - who we can never form any direct hypotheses about.
To my thinking, it’s starts with defining the hypothesis. IF you can form a testable hypothesis about God, then something is very very wrong. If I proposed an equation to describe God, or some chemical formula, then we are asking questions about the material properties of God.
That should be a non-starter for both science and religion.
@Michael_Callen, there are several issues we have with ID. One of them is that they are trying to change the rules of science. There are whole set of other, unrelated objections about how they handle evidence.
While I do not think divine design is a valid scientific conclusion, I think it could be valid science-engaged hypothesis to test.
So, I often tell ID proponents, “fine, we disagree about MN and whether to label this science or not, so let’s set that aside for now and see if your case makes logical sense and is grounded in accurate facts and observations. If you are right here, I’ll acknowledge it, and we can disagree about whether or not it is ‘science’ or not.”
That is the premise under which most of the scientific back and forth with ID usually proceeds. It is not as if MN somehow prevents this. We can still have an exchange back and forth with them about their claims even if we disagree about whether or not the exchange is “science engaged” or “science” itself.