Re: Methodological Naturalism

From: D. F. Siemens, Jr. (
Date: Thu Feb 21 2002 - 14:50:25 EST

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    Howard et alii,
    First off, I believe George approaches the terminology problem
    appropriately in his post just earlier. As to linguistic purity, I
    suspect that any terminology can be twisted and abused.
    Note"creationism," which I can hardly use because it has bee appropriated
    by YEC; "gay," which used to mean "excited and merry"; "intelligent
    design," which now implies external intervention rather than Providence.
    But there is something perverse in taking standard usage, like
    "methodological naturalism," and claiming it not to be different from
    metaphysical naturalism, as PJ does. I would not object if he argued that
    methodological naturalism excludes "miracles" as a category of scientific
    explanation. I contend that this is appropriate. He disagrees. But such
    clarity is not enough for an obfuscating lawyer. I hold that I may honor
    God while mistakenly making a claim, trusting that he will overrule my
    error. But I cannot honor him with a deliberate misrepresentation. That
    comes from the father of lies.

    As for Griffin's distinctions, they do not apply to my point.
    Methodological naturalism is compatible with all 4 of his positions, but
    identical with none, as you recognize. As for your amendment, all
    philosophical ontology involves metaphysics, and ontology is often
    claimed to be the primary part of metaphysics, almost to the exclusion of
    other subdivisions. So your terminology does not adequately differentiate
    the two. Actually, Griffin's third category is not properly metaphysical,
    for it is agnostic or noncommittal where metaphysics here is almost
    necessarily dogmatic.

    On Thu, 21 Feb 2002 11:23:16 -0500 "Howard J. Van Till"
    <> writes:
    >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
    > which scientists use to study nature, we go back to calling it
    > methods." The term "methodological naturalism" is misleading, for
    > 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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