Swamidass is Inescapably a Philosophical Naturalist

Continuing the discussion from Is Abiogenesis an hypothesis in distress?:

I think my skin is getting thicker. I’m not even breaking a sweat, even though I was just called a confused atheist. :smile: Are you watching @pnelson? I think you’d be proud!

Back to all seriousness, @Ronald_Cram please explain how it is that a Christian that affirms all of Jesus’s miracles, the bodily Resurrection, has just successfully argued for the de novo creation of Adam, and believes God created all things is “inescapably” a “philosophical naturalist.” This should be fun.

I’m traveling today, so have at it. Maybe even @AJRoberts, @rcohlers, @patrick, @vjtorley, or @Agauger might step in. I may be a lot of things. I may even be wrong (I probably am on many things). I’m not sure how you are going to make the charge of “philosophical naturalist” stick. Go ahead and give it shot. I want to see how this plays out.

You said:

“I’m sorry, Joshua, but this shows confused thinking. I defined Philosophical Naturalism as “the belief that God does not exist or cannot be known to act in the material world.” If you believe that it is impossible to know that God has acted in the material world, then you are, by definition, a Philosophical Naturalist. I don’t see how it is possible to escape this.”

What!? You need to redefine naturalism. Which can be difficult to define. Draper’s is the best. Not thinking God’s action is detectable by the sciences in no way entails metaphysical naturalism. That’s absurd. No metaphysical naturalist, I was one for a long time, uses anything like your definition.

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Did I say that? My definition had two parts. I defined Philosophical Naturalism as “the belief that God does not exist or cannot be known to act in the material world.” The first of those entails metaphysical naturalism. The second only that science cannot tell us anything about the immaterial. I reject both claims. Science can tell us the limits of nature’s abilities. Nature is not all powerful. When we identify events in history that nature cannot be the cause of, then we know that something supernatural is the cause. And Joshua’s suggestion that we don’t know doesn’t work. The truth is that we do know that nature is not capable of doing certain things. It has not yet been established that nature is not capable of creating life, but we are well on our way.

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Yes. Yes you did.

I love this topic, and hope I can contribute fruitfully to the discussion without bringing any more confusion. Draper’s definitions are somewhat helpful, but he asserts that MdN favors the PhNists. I disagree with Draper on this point. I think MdN is part of a robust Christian theology when one recognizes the demarcation and limitations of scientific research. MdN is the appropriate scientifically experimental approach for the physical and biomedical sciences but not the social sciences.

I think there is a lot of conflation when it comes to understanding and discussing the differences between methodological (MdN) and philosophical naturalism (PhN). I’m actually editing my article on this topic that will be in an upcoming edition of The Canadian-American Theological Review. It seems @Ronald_Cram is making some very important distinctions. But I know @swamidass makes the appropriate distinctions as well.

One of the critical distinctions is that science has real physical/metaphysical boundaries as to what it can detect or attempt to detect/measure. Someone who is committed to PhN might possibly deny this in theory and think that, theoretically, one day we will be able to explain mechanisms of all of life’s events. One committed to MdN will acknowledge the boundaries of science but may remain skeptical as to when those boundaries have been reached.

Another distinction that needs to be made is that a scientist who is committed to MdN in their scientific work but who is not a PhNist can rationally, logically, reasonably, and justifiably reach conclusions that suggest God has been, and indeed still is, at work in the Universe. His work can be indicated by, just not proven or shown through, scientific evidences. Science cannot prove God’s existence or work. (But paradoxically science works because of God’s established order in nature.)

A rational scientist (or person) should never be limited to consider only the scientifically verifiable as an individual making arguments to the best explanation. Many things are rational without being particularly scientific.


So do I. I Reject both claims. Still curious how you’ll make your case @Ronald_Cram.

@AJRoberts thanks for the note. I’m looking forward to your paper and see we have a lot in common in our views.

It’s so good to see someone familar with Draper’s work. He, along with Oppy, is the best atheist philosopher of religion out there and I don’t think enough theists engage with his work. I still struggle with some of his arguments. I agree with you that MN doesn’t favor PN. At best I think it’s a weak favoring relationship. Hidden in his argument is the unwarranted assumption that on theism, God’s action should be detectable by the sciences. Nothing about theism entails this or at what frequency God’s action should be detectable. So realizing this really weakens that line of evidence for PN. Then I believe there are additional facts about God’s character that may outweigh it all together. So really at best the success of MN is weak evidence for PN.

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Thanks @AJRoberts, that is very close to my position. I’m looking forward to your article coming out on this. Coming from you at RTB, that is very significant. I am hopeful it will guide others to follow The Rules of the Game.

No kidding. Thanks for the sane voice here.

Amen. (wait, are scientists allowed to say that? :stuck_out_tongue:)

Until you realize MN is rooted in a strain of Christian theology.

I never intended to call you a confused atheist. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding and hope you are not offended.

Here’s what I wrote: “I defined Philosophical Naturalism as “the belief that God does not exist or cannot be known to act in the material world.” The first of those entails metaphysical naturalism. The second only that science cannot tell us anything about the immaterial.”

Most Philosophical Naturalists are atheists, but I did not ascribe that position to you. As I understand it, you are making the claim that science cannot tell us anything about God’s actions in the material world. Did I misunderstand you?

I can quote the portion that led me to that understanding if you would like.

@AJRoberts You sound like you are informed on the subject. Have you ever taken part in the Conference on the Alternatives to Methodological Naturalism? Or read any of the Proceedings? Have you read Tom Gilson’s call for a return to Regularism? It is found in Chapter 3 of the book below.

If I remember correctly, the arguments against Methodological Naturalism are not coming just from theists.

I recommend this book if you haven’t read it.

@Ronald_Cram, considering how different [B] is from [A], I would strongly recommend terminology that makes the difference obvious, instead of a single term which can be interpreted either way!

I uphold [B]!

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If you remember correctly, I never called you an atheist. I only said that your view of methodological naturalism is rigid and closed and is indistinguishable from philosophical (or metaphysical) naturalism. I said a person can hold that view and not be an atheist.

You are not making the claim that God could not have created the first life form. You are only making the claim that science can never say that God created the first life form, even if it is scientifically demonstrated. You are also making the claim that no science paper could ever be published saying the idea that life arose by natural processes has been falsified, that it violates the laws of physics (even if this claim is true and properly demonstrated). You hold this view because your view of methodological naturalism prevents you from holding any other.

I believe I have represented your views correctly. I’m not certain that @AJRoberts would agree with your views.

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Thank you for finally attempting to answer my question.

And no, you have not represented my views accurately. Nor have you explained how a metaphysical atheist can affirm the Resurrection.

In what way did I misrepresent your views?

And I never called you a metaphysical atheist. I said your view is equal to philosophical naturalism. From that you jumped to the assumption I was calling you an atheist.

Metaphysical naturalist = atheist, no? But that is okay, we can stick to your terms. You have not explained how a metaphysical naturalist can affirm the miracle of the Resurrection.

Let us start with that, and we’ll work through the rest of it from there.

In my view, the rigid, closed view of methodological naturalism is equal to philosophical naturalism. In other words, the view is not required by the normal practice of science. Many scientists, like Sean Carroll, don’t hold to it. It is a philosophical commitment that, while doing science, one cannot examine evidence that points to the supernatural. There’s nothing to stop such a person, while not doing science, to admit that God exists or that God raised Jesus from the dead.

So confessing that God exists and the He rose Jesus from the dead is something indistinguishable from naturalism?

That isn’t even remotely close to what I said. Why are you trying to twist my words? That isn’t charitable. If you want common ground, then you should attempt to be fair with my comments.

I’m trying to accurately represent your view. You say that I haven’t, so then explain to me what I have misunderstood.

What is a metaphysical atheist? Sounds like an atheist that goes to church for no reason at all. :grinning: