Re: Methodological Naturalism

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Thu Feb 21 2002 - 11:23:16 EST

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    >From: Loren Haarsma <>

    > I substantially agree with the point you are making.
    > Yes, we want to distinguish the worldview of Naturalism from the
    > scientific method. I simply propose that, when we talk about the methods
    > which scientists use to study nature, we go back to calling it "scientific
    > methods." The term "methodological naturalism" is misleading, for reasons
    > I outlined earlier.


    As you know, I have long criticized the terminology, "methodological
    naturalism," mostly for the rhetorical abuse of it by promoters of
    anti-evolution positions. At the same time, George may be right in
    predicting that the term is here to stay, whether we like it or not.

    I have another concern at the moment. It has to do with a distinction that I
    once made between "naturalism (broad)" and "naturalism (narrow)." What I
    called "naturalism (broad)" is essentially the same as what David Griffin
    calls "maximal naturalism," and what I called "naturalism (narrow)" is very
    similar to Griffin's "minimal naturalism."

    For reminders, here are Griffin's distinctions, which I find very useful:

     (1)supernaturalism (the traditional theological perspective, which entails
    divine interventionism -- the idea that God occasionally interrupts the flow
    of natural processes & events and supercedes natural/creaturely action with
    direct/coercive divine action); includes YEC, OEC, ID and other forms of
    episodic creationism.

    (2) naturalistic theism (which rejects the divine interventionism of
    supernaturalism but entails a concept of effective, non-coercive and
    variable divine action as essential); includes process theology.

    (3) minimal naturalism (which rejects the divine interventionism of
    supernaturalism, but is silent on other theological questions); a sufficient
    basis for science as we know it. Says more than methodological naturalism
    but considerably less than maximal naturalism.

    (4) maximal naturalism (which rejects not only supernaturalism but all
    concepts of divine existence or action). Includes Dawkins, Provine,

    The question: Would it be useful to refer to Griffin's "(4) maximal
    naturalism" as "ontological naturalism" because it makes a strong
    ontological assertion about the non-being of God, and Griffin's "(3) minimal
    naturalism" as "metaphysical naturalism" [it does indeed posit a
    metaphysical proposition, even though it is silent on the ontological issue
    of the existence/character of God].

    I ask this because in much discussion the terms "metaphysical naturalism"
    and "ontological naturalism" are treated as effectively identical.

    With all of the distinctions in place, the following 3 "naturalisms" could
    be seen as different from one another in important ways:

    (a) methodological naturalism (a statement about scientific methodology
    only; silent on metaphysics & ontology),

    (b) metaphysical naturalism (Griffin's minimal naturalism; non-committal re
    God) and

    (c) ontological naturalism (Griffin's maximal naturalism; explicitly

    (b) & (c) include (a), but (a) does not imply either (b) or (c).
    (c) includes (b), but (b) does not imply (c).

    Howard Van Till

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