Re: Answer to Eugenie Scott's views

William B. Provine (
Fri, 20 Mar 1998 00:56:08 +0000

Dear Eugenie,

Our definitions of "methodological naturalism" do indeed disagree. For you,
it means taking hands-off for any "miracles." So I suppose the birth of Christ
or His Resurrection are hands-off, if you are Christian. But if I am Jewish, I
don't recognize that particular miracle, so I can examine it by using
methodological naturalism. If something affects this world in any way, I can
see no way you can argue that methodological naturalism does not apply. Maybe
it will fail. But the method can be applied. Otherwise, you have made the most
curious method that applies only when someone claims it must have been a
supernatural miracle. If someone thinks that supernatural miracles have never
occurred, then he/she can apply methodological naturalism to everything that
can be observed to happen in the natural world. Even members of the ASA list
might disagree with your definition of methodological naturalism.

> Not using my definition. If miracles occur, they are by definition outside
> of the ability of methodological naturalism to consider. I think mine is
> the more common definition of "methodological naturalism." It's a "hands
> off" position, when it comes to *super*natural activity like miracles. I
> refer people to my short essay at

I think your definition of methodological naturalism is simply set up to make
sure there is no problem between Christianity and other religions and
evolution. Then you can proclaim that no conflict exists between science and
religion. Again, I refer you to Steven Schafersman's reply to your thoughts on
methodological naturalism at this

> You and I agree that both theists and nontheists "if we care about social
> good, all of us will cooperate and work together for a better society."
> That's a good note to end on: if we understand one another better, we will
> find the places where we can agree, and the places where we will remain
> unconvinced by one another's positions. And I think both of us would like
> to avoid the name-calling that occurs among some partisans.

Hey, no name calling necessary! This is a fun but serious conversation. People
who disagree with each not only HAVE to work together, but I WANT to work
together with folks who disagree intensely with me.

Warm wishes, Will