Re: Answer to Eugenie Scott's views

Keith B Miller (
Wed, 18 Mar 1998 21:56:54 -0600

Will Provine wrote:

>Yes, of course we disagree on "methodological naturalism"
>and"philosophical or
>ontological naturalism." A methodological naturalist
>believes that any deities or Intelligences not visible in nature (which
>can be approached by methodological naturalism) are unharmed.
>I agree. But a methodological naturalist would analyse the birth of
>Jesus Christ the same way as a philosophical naturalist.
>The methodological naturalist would want to know what was the
>chromosome complement of Jesus, would want to conduct some
>paternity testing, etc. The methodological naturalist is just as great
>a menace to miracles that happen in the natural world. Or you would
>have to call it, "methodological naturalism" plus as many exceptions
>as your religion might require for miracles that occur in the natural

Methodological naturalism is a _method_, it cannot proscribe anything!

>Well, the issue is important so it deserves our attention. I agree with
>aboutmethodological naturalism not refuting any gods or intelligences
>that do
>have a detectable effect in the natural world. If they do, then
>naturalism and philosophical naturalism are both equally applicable. The
>that start things off in the beginning or work though the laws of nature
>preserved by methodological naturalism, but I still argue that these
>deities or
>forces are worthless to anyone wishing the usual things from gods:
>prayers, giving life after death, an ultimate foundation for morality,
>meaning in life or the gift of free will.

On what possible basis can you determine if God is a god worth having. You
are both presuming the character of God (a "paper tiger" god) and then
saying you will have nothing of such a god. Well, I would have nothing of
the kind of god you presume Christians to believe in either - and neither
would the Biblical writers. You seem to think that God either intrudes
into an autonomous creation, or starts it up and then leaves it alone.
Both of these views are far from the one presented in scripture. God is
declared to be intimately involved in _all_ of creation at all times.
Nothing is outside of God's providential action. The God I worship is most
cetainly a God worth having.

Scientific description and divine action are _not_ antithetical. Are you
really saying that if we can provide a comprehensive cause-and-effect
scientific description of an event or process that a theist must conclude
that God could not have been actively involved? If so, that's awful
Christian theology. If not, then what's the problem?

I find it interesting that scripture often gives both historical or
material cause-and-effect and divine descriptions of the same event. God
is even declared to be in control of chance events (eg the casting of

All your arguments amount to it saying that you are an atheist. Atheism is
a valid philosophical position that can be defended - but that is hardly
news. Christian theism can also be rigorously defended philosophically. I
believe that Christianity presents the truest picture of reality. You
disagree. Well or course you do - otherwise you would be a Christian. I
believe you are rejecting what you do not understand.

>Eugenie, methodological naturalism reaches the same conclusions aboutall
>miracles of the Bible as philosophical naturalism. If you tell me
>that large numbers of folks will try their best to have their cake and
>it too, I agree. If you tell me they are your greatest allies in
>promoting the
>teaching of evolution in the schools, I agree. I understand the wish to
>maintain one's religious beliefs in the wake of modern science. Do I
>that those who maintain this compatibilism are the only ones who should
>think seriously about this issue, surely not. I want to know
>how "methodological naturalism" is compatible with supernaturalism
>that affects the natural world.

Do you really believe that the only truth is scientific truth? Or that
only scientific descriptions are true descriptions? Cannot a poet or
artist say something true?

Methodological naturalism places boundaries around what science can and
cannot say, or what explanations or descriptions can be accepted as part of
the scientific enterprise. Science is self-limiting, and that is its
strength and power as a methodology. But, to say that this limitation
applies to the totality of reality itself is nonsense. You are basically
saying that no reality exists that science cannot explore. You are free to
say that as a philosophical assumption, but it has no support from science.
In fact, it runs comnpletely contrary to the spirit of science.

>Sure I do. I also think these two words were scientifically inadequate
>convey the sense of the process of evolution. What we need to have in
>NABT statement is an accurate statement about evolution that leaves
>religious folks the opportunity to leaf in their favorite deity. The
>majority of modern evolutionary biologists (Keith Miller, you know this
>is true from Society for the Study of Evolution annual meetings)
>are philosophical naturalists. But I think evolutionists are truly
>to say this in public. By the way, I think the entire NABT statement
>about evolution is poor. The statement pretends to know a lot more
>about evolution than we actually do. Sometimes even scientists are
>prone to exaggeration.

I don't know about the SSE, but among the evolutionary scientists (mostly
paleontologists) I know there are a large number of Christians. I doubt if
the ratio of theists to non-theists is different from that of any other
academic field. I suspect the majority of English literature academics are
not Christians either. So what?

>I would like to see understanding of organic evolution to grow anddeepen
>our citizenry, especially young people, so we agree
>on that. As I said before, however, understanding evolution is not
>the same as accepting it. Perhaps sadly, I do see the revised
>paragraph as a kind of deception, though not to the evolutionists,
>who seem the most concerned. It is specifically designed to make
>evolution more palatable, though evolutionists and you and I have
>not changed our minds. Methodological naturalism applied to
>evolution yields the same picture as philosophical naturalism.
>Letting people think differently is perhaps politically wise
>but it is still a deception.

Conflating methodology with a philosophy will do, and has done, more damage
to science than just about anything I can imagine.


Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506