naturalism and Materialism

Craig Rusbult (
Mon, 15 Jun 1998 03:53:36 -0500

Building on the concepts/terms described in the "Theistic Action" post,
paragraphs 18-19 (of the MEDIUM-sized overview) are important for thinking
about methodological naturalism (mN):

"Events that are natural "normal-appearing matter in operation" (naMIO)
can be interpreted theistically (as some combination of empirically
indistinguishable naTA and th-uMIO), nontheistically (as only nontheistic
unguided matter in operation, nonth-uMIO) with no TA of any kind,
agnostically, or in other ways (polytheistic, pantheistic,...) that won't
be discussed in this overview. For a Christian theist, nature's history
includes natural "naMIO" phenomena and also miraTA events such as the
resurrection of Jesus. p18
It is impossible for us, on the basis of observations, to distinguish
between naTA and th-uMIO and nonth-uMIO and other interpretations, due to
the definition of "normal appearing" and because there is no control group
for comparing one history (without naTA?) and another history (with naTA?).
Therefore, a scientific interpretation of "natural" (naMIO) should be
neutrally agnostic, not claiming support for any worldview. And science,
if its claims are appropriately limited, should also be neutral with
respect to the existence of miraTA events." p19

If a theist favors a policy of "only mN in science," this should be
accompanied by a strong emphasis on an explicit "naMIO" definition of
"natural" because without a clear definition of "natural" many of the
practical difficulties of MN (as discussed in my Section 2A) will occur.
But even with "naMIO" there are reasons to consider "ID as science" to be a
serious alternative. { We can discuss this question later, but in a
different thread, since it is a separate issue from these terms. }

For reasons explained in an endnote for the large overview, (please read it for
details), it is useful to use TWO DIFFERENT TERMS -- naturalism and
Materialism -- for TWO DIFFERENT CONCEPTS. The "naturalism" in
"methodological naturalism" and "philosphical naturalism" are very
different; and so is the "materialism" in "methodological materialism" and
"philosphical materialism"; therefore, we should use two terms.
This distinction between concepts is the same as that suggested by
Howard Van Till (PSCF, June 1995) who describes a "naturalistic (narrow)"
that is compatible with theism and a "Naturalistic (broad)" that is an
atheistic view of nature. But I think it is better to use two terms,
especially because this allows the use of "natural" in its commonly
accepted meaning (in nM) and avoids using it in "philosophical Naturalism"
to mean something very different. { This is especially important in the
common use of "MN" as an abbreviation, which eliminates the significance of
Howard's use of uncapitalized "n" and captialized "N" as the distinguishing
features of the terms; generally, the use of n and N to distinguish
meanings is too subtle, and would generally be ignored. }