Nelson and Swamidass: The GAE and MN


Avise is a member of the National Academy, so he has (I think) a shorter path to publication in the PNAS than non-members.

Also this article is fully consistent with Avise’s arguments in his 2010 Oxford U Press book, Inside the Human Genome: A Case for Non-Intelligent Design.

As I explain in my forthcoming review of GAE, methodological naturalism (MN) is routinely violated by evolutionary biologists. MN is a rule honored in the breach.

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My book is not about methodological naturalism :slight_smile: . As you know, I don’t think the term is quite right, and I’m becoming more and more convinced you mean something totally different than do I.


A post was merged into an existing topic: Avise: Theology in the PNAS?

Well, we’ll have to sort that out (MN, that is) once my review is published. Your book isn’t about MN, but its entire approach presupposes MN. (The term isn’t the issue; MN’s content, vis-a-vis scientific practice, is.)

We will have to sort it out.

This seems to be factually in error, if we define MN as you seem to be defining it.

I just looked back at the book. The only place that MN comes up is in a footnote in the appendix, where I explain how it interacts with my affirmation of the Resurrection.

I do clearly lay out my methodology. Hans seems to have identified MN with this rule, and perhaps you agree (p. 26):

No additional miracles allowed. No appeals to divine action are permitted to explain the data or increase confidence in the hypothesis. Yes, one direct act of God is included in the hypothesis itself, but the evidential evaluation of the hypothesis cannot infer or rely upon divine action in any way.

What exactly are you objecting to here? Do you believe, to the contrary, that we can and should appeal to divine action to explain way data that would other wise falsify our preferred hypothesis?

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Page 29 of GAE:

As I understand the rules, mainstream science does not consider whether or not God exists or acts in the world.

Page 6 of the Origin of Species, 1st edition (1859):

…the view which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly entertained – namely, that each species has been independently created – is erroneous.

“Created” = action of a deity = God may exist and act in the world; this is testable.

So either the Origin of Species is not science, because Darwin tested a theory of God’s mode of action, or MN is false as description of scientific practice.

“Miracles” are a red herring, btw.

This seems to support my suspicions that you mean something to totally different by MN than do I. Maybe science doesn’t even follow MN the way you understand it in the first place?


My review of GAE will be out before long, and we can sort this out then.

The best short formulation of MN that I know comes from the National Academy of Sciences (1998) and is widely accepted by scientists, science journal editors, and major science organizations:

The statements of science must invoke only natural things and processes.

If you have a different definition, please post it here (we’ll need it for later discussion).

If, instead of “has been independently created”, Darwin has used “had independent origins”, would your comment still apply.

I take the intended meaning to be about origins rather than about the actions of a creator god. I think you may be reading too much into Darwin’s wording.


And your evidence that Darwin (on p.6) meant this is …?


What does that have to do with the GAE?



It is ironic that you take a quote from Darwin against special creation as somehow an indictment on a book that makes space for special creation.

That is why the GAE is important. Going forward your narrative has to change. Maybe evolution is not the threat you’ve been so convinced it is.


The ‘rules’ may have been modified in the past 160 years.

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Scientific findings can inform a person’s theology. That doesn’t mean than the science in question was “testing god”. In this case, Darwin is saying he used to believe that God independently created different species, but from his observations affirming common ancestry that contradicted this view of unrelated species, he changed his opinion on what god did.

None of this implies that the OoS book itself wasn’t scientific, or that MN is false. That’s a completely unwarranted leap.


Well @pnelson, I can see this from two perspectives. In a lot of ways, the focus on MN is tangential, and I see why some would call it a distraction.

On the other hand, you are echoing statements by Sanford, Madueme, and Carter. This also is one way the GAE challenges your narrative. Even though I’m sure you mean MN different than I, the GAR shows that way it is actually practiced in science is not nearly the treat you make it.

That’s good news.