Re: Paul's question

Paul A. Nelson (
Mon, 30 Mar 1998 10:08:06 -0600 (CST)

Howard Van Till wrote:

>Your intuition that the _application_ of the RFE Principle and
>the _application_ of methodological naturalism to any specific "scientific
>research problem" or "empirical puzzle" (regarding the formational history
>of physical structures or life forms) would be essentially the same is, I
>think, correct, provided that you honor the limited scope of "scientific
>research problem" or "empirical puzzle."

Thanks for the clarification.

Howard continued:

>However, I would make two comments on your choice of terminology
>where you refer to "choosing from the same limited set of explanatory
>tools, namely, natural regularities and chance." That terminology seems
>to be slanted toward Naturalism (as if to give the RFE Principle a
>malodorous connotation. Surely you didn't intend to do that, did you,

No bad odors intended. The regularities of physics (and other sciences)
are as much God's handiwork as the cactus on my office desk.

However, one can *call* natural regularities "creaturely capacities," but
their mathematical expression and empirical content will be no different
with the new label attached. A regularity of nature by any other name
would be just as regular.

But we know of causes other than natural regularities. That's the problem
with the RFE Principle. Howard writes that, under the RFE Principle,
intelligent causation is

>"not _forbidden_, not _impossible_, just (by God's choice) _unnecessary_."

Practically speaking -- Howard's caveats aside -- this amounts to a
philosophical a priori, and therefore a restriction on scientific theorizing.
If we know before investigating that it was unnecessary for God to act as a
primary intelligent cause during cosmic history, then any hypothesis that He
did so act will be judged false before the evidence ever makes it onto the
table for discussion.

In this sense the RFE Principle and methodological naturalism (MN) are, for
any empirical purpose, identical.

What would thrill me (truly!), Howard, is to hear you say something like
"I personally hold to the RPE Principle and think the 'intelligent designers'
are wrong. However, the RFE Principle itself might be wrong. Given God's
absolute freedom to act as He pleases, hypotheses of intelligent design
should be weighed on their merits in the arena of scientific discussion,
on the grounds of the evidence."

But you answered as follows:

>So, Paul, given my concept of fully-gifted the character of the Creation's
>formational economy, I have little complaint with contemporary scientific
>methodology as it applies to the investigation of the Creation's
>formational history. On that point your intuitions are correct.

Darn. I was hoping for something else.

Thanks to Howard and all the others who have contributed to this useful
discussion -- almost a mini-seminar in the philosophy of science. I'll
respectfully return to lurking here.

Paul Nelson