[asa] Is Philosophical Naturalism replacing Methodological Naturalism

From: <philtill@aol.com>
Date: Sat May 26 2007 - 18:31:12 EDT

The more I think about this, the more I think we are seeing the beginnings of a trend to re-define "science".  It seems to have grown out of the effort to close ranks and exclude pseudo-science, but now it seems to be reaching farther than it ever has before so that it is beginning to exclude everyone who is not a philosophical naturalist.  It is very worrisome.

Pim wrote of the "flawed" statement signed by the 120 faculty members at ISU, 

> Flawed in what sense?  For defining methodological naturalism the way they did?

It is very ironic because the statement is doing the exact thing they were accusing Gonzalez of doing:  injecting metaphysics into science.  The statement claims that a particular view of metaphysics is the only possible view for practicing scientists.  The view they described is the one held by the head of the atheist organization on campus, the person who was leading the attack.

> Again I do not see why the definition in context is flawed? 
 
To the contrary, the context is what makes it a real problem. 

First, they actually did what they were accusing Gonzalez of doing.  While it is true that Gonzalez is associated with the DI, he never appears to have injected any metaphysics into his use of the scientific method or into his teaching.  But the statement signed by these faculty does inject metaphysics into science by misrepresenting methodological naturalism (MN).  These people should have known better because they are on the faculty of departments that routinely deal with the definition of science, and they were actually presenting themselves as defending the purity of science, and so they were working in a context where the accuracy of the definition was everything.  In that context, those people had no excuse for not getting it right. 

If it had been a careful attempt to protect science rather than a hurried attack against an individual, then they probably would have gotten it right.

But second, I think it is even worse than this.  If they had defined MN correctly then they would have probably had insufficient grounds to attack Gonzalez.  The whole attack was a trumped-up claim that Gonzalez does not understand, follow, or teach the scientific method.  They assumed this must be true of him because of his association with ID.  But can you show me any place where Gonzalez has not used the scientific method, including MN, correctly?  I don't think you can.  So rather than using real evidence against Gonzalez, they simply re-defined science as being based in philosophical naturalism (PN), and then of course Gonzalez is not a "scientist" and cannot be trusted with tenure.  

So the error in that context is at best an inexcusable gaffer, but at worst it was an attempt to define Gonzalez (and all Christians who are public with our views) out of our jobs in science. 

I want to explore this question:  has the backlash against YEC (and now ID) progressed so far that science is being re-defined around PN rather than MN?  Or stated equivalently, is MN being redefined to be "a method that only follows adoption of the philosophy" of naturalism?  It seems to me that this is the case, considering recent events.

I don't think Gonzalez's book is really that controversial.  I was bored with it because he went over a lot of things that are already well known and uncontested, so I didn't finish it.  His claims that measurability is an important part of design seemed to be a bit overreaching, to me.  But I didn't see that as any reason to question his abilities because most science faculty who write popularizing books have views that are a bit idiosynchratic or overreaching in one way or another.  So in my opinion, there wasn't anything in Gonzalez's book to question his abilities as a true scientist.  I mostly agreed with his book and thought he was a very sharp thinker to be able to write it.  IMO, the real thing that drew people's ire was his mere association with the ID camp.  So I think this bad definition of MN was pivotal in making the controversy more tangible in the absence of any really tangible evidence against Gonzalez.

In other words, it was written to make a complex discussion overly simple in order to advance some very simple goals.  Seen that way, the bad definition of MN was central to the statement's purpose and not an accident.  This is an inductive conclusion and you are free to disagree, but I think many people will agree with me on this.  I'm not saying the author of the faculty statement intentionally wanted the definition of MN to be wrong, but since he knew that his goal was to isolate and discredit Gonzalez, he did make the statement intentionally simple in a way that does not protect Christians or other non-naturalists.

>  Are you still believing that their statement had any impact on Gonzalez's tenure? 
 
Of course it had an impact because it contributed to the political climate on campus, and every human activity is inherently political, including tenure decisions.  But even if the tenure committee would have decided the same way without its influence, it was still an attempt to have an impact, and so these people were attempting to hurt a human being's life. 

> Or perhaps some of us are reading too much into the definition of 
> science as presented here and we should give some grace and attempt to 
> understand what is being said?

How can we read too much into the definition of science in that statement?  The whole purpose of the statement was to define science in order to exclude some people on that basis!  (And so maybe I should return the favor and rhetorically ask you if you read the statement...)  It was intended to re-define science in a way that was not giving any grace to Gonzalez. 

Phil

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Received on Sat May 26 18:31:57 2007

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