Re: Methodological Naturalism

Steven Schimmrich (
Wed, 25 Mar 1998 20:48:58 -0500

At 05:37 PM 3/25/98 -0500, George Murphy wrote:
> Paul A. Nelson wrote:
>> Allan Harvey wrote, responding to Phil Johnson:
>>> "By MN we know that gravity keeps the planets in their orbits."
>> Really? Methodological naturalism (MN) is conspicuously absent
>> from Newton's _Principia_, and I couldn't find any mention of it in
>> the physics textbooks on my office shelves.
> Of course. Physicists don't keep saying "We are going to invoke
> MN." They just do it - for many not as a fundamental world view (see my
> earlier response to PJ) but as a working hypothesis. & it does work.

Exactly. MN is only explicitly discussed in evolutionary biology BECAUSE
there are those who oppose evolutionary biology for religious reasons and
desire some type of ill-defined "theistic science" to take its place and
give them the results they want to hear.

>> Allan also wrote:
>>> "By MN we know that the Sun condensed gravitationally billions of years
>>> ago from nebulous material and eventually began to burn by nuclear fusion."
>> This is more interesting as a counterexample to Phil's thesis.
>> But consider the following.
>> Suppose a scientist doubted the standard theory of stellar evolution.
>> Perhaps he decides that, for instance, the so-called "collapse problem"
>> (Larson 1978) is unlikely to be solved by any natural mechanism.
>> So he proposes that, on the grounds of the available evidence, stars
>> are intelligently-designed, or created, objects.
>> What do you suppose his chances are for publication at any of the
>> major astrophysics or astronomy journals?
>> I'd say his chances are nil.
> Again, of course. Because such a statement is either
>a. a mere conversation stopper ("God did it, that settles it"), or
>b. vacuous, because it still leaves scientists open to investigate how
> the design was carried out.

Once again, I totally agree with George. I've noticed in these
discussions that most opponents of MN in science aren't Christians who
actually DO science but rather lawyers, philosophers, etc. who want to
redefine what science is from the outside.

MN is used because it works. As George states above, the other option
contributes nothing to our understanding of the phenomenon. Science not
based on MN would be chaotic with each researcher inserting miracles where
they think appropriate and no two agreeing on where to insert the miracles.
Abiogenesis? Evolutionary development of eukaryotes? Cambrian Explosion?
Global Flood? Evolution of man? Wherever we have difficulty explaining how
something came about? Wouldn't that different for scientists living in 1700,
1800, 1900, or 1998?

I've yet to see any coherent explanation of how, for example, a field
geologist is supposed to do science except by utilizing MN as a fundamental
assumption. Are we supposed to abandon MN when studying rock strata because
our results do not support someone's interpretation of Scripture which calls
for a global flood? Maybe I'm slow but I just have difficulty seeing how one
can DO science without utilizing MN.

- Steve.

   Steven H. Schimmrich
   Physical Sciences Department (office)
   Kutztown University      (home)
   217 Grim Science Building         610-683-4437, 610-683-1352 (fax)
   Kutztown, Pennsylvania 19530