[asa] Re: Is Philosophical Naturalism replacing Methodological Naturalism

From: PvM <pvm.pandas@gmail.com>
Date: Sat May 26 2007 - 20:31:23 EDT

On 5/26/07, philtill@aol.com <philtill@aol.com> wrote:

> 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.

You still have not explained how it was flawed. I have read the
statement and found it quite straight forward, they even mention
clearly methodological naturalism. I understand that the support for
this statement came from many different religious viewpoints.


> 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.

Neither one seems a very likely candidate however.

> 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?

Not really.

> 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 see little evidence of such

> 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

Perhaps you are weaving a strawman here? I am not sure that the book
led to people question his abilities and while the book may have
played a limited role in the tenure debate, I doubt that this was the
reason for denial of tenure. Soon we may know more here.

> 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.

Again, an understanding of the history in which the statement was made
can be helpful in understanding its purpose. There was a bit of a
controversy of the Smithsonian allowing the DI to present the movie
"Privileged Planet" on its premises, and given the attempt by the DI
to present the movie as something more than it really was, hundreds of
people signed several statements denouncing intelligent design as
scientifically relevant. In fact, that ID is scientifically vacuous
seems self evident.

> 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.

Again, pure speculation and you have not even established that the
definition was bad or that it was central to the statement's purpose.
The central statement was the first paragraph I believe.

> 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.

Again this seems weird as I understand Christians did not feel that
way and signed on to the statement.

> > 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.

Even though these people deny that this was intended to have an
impact? Were they attempting to hurt a human being's life or were they
attempting to support science?

> > 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

No, it was defined to exclude ID on that basis.

> 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.

Nope, it was intended to show how ID fails to be scientific. Not much
different from the findings of Judge Jones for instance.

So contrary to what we know, you speculate that you know the true
intentions of those involved. Interesting.
Now I am sure that few will agree with you since the DI is doing a
good job at presenting its rhetoric about what happened at the ISU.
However, it does not take much effort to actually inform oneself from
reading the primary sources.

Note for instance that Guillermo Gonzalez was not even named. Note
that the statement was copied by two other universities in Iowa.

The stated reason by Avalos: "We certainly don't want to give the
impression to the public that intelligent design is what we do." and
"Mr. Avalos said the statement was not intended to silence Mr.
Gonzalez, or to get him firedů"


The invitation to sign

<quote> Intelligent Design has become a significant issue in science
education, and it has now established a presence, even if minimal, at
Iowa State University.

Accordingly, if you are concerned about the negative impact of
Intelligent Design on the integrity of science and on our university,
please consider signing the "Statement on Intelligent Design by Iowa
State University Faculty" below. If you agree with this Statement, add
your name and affiliation at the bottom and return it to Prof. Hector
Avalos at [email]. Prof. Avalos will compile the full list of
co-signers, and the Statement will be sent for publication in relevant
media (e.g., ISU Daily, Ames Tribune) as well as sent to relevant
administrators by August 26, 2005.</quote>

The statement

<quote> We, the undersigned faculty members at Iowa State
University, reject all attempts to represent Intelligent Design as a
scientific endeavor.

    Advocates of Intelligent Design claim that the position of our
planet and the complexity of particular life forms and processes are
such that they may only be explained by the existence of a creator or
designer of the universe. However, such claims are premised on (1) the
arbitrary selection of features claimed to be engineered by a
designer; (2) unverifiable conclusions about the wishes and desires of
that designer; and (3) an abandonment by science of methodological

    Methodological naturalism, the view that natural phenomena can be
explained without reference to supernatural beings or events, is the
foundation of the natural sciences. The history of science contains
many instances where complex natural phenomena were eventually
understood only by adherence to methodological naturalism.

    Whether one believes in a creator or not, views regarding a
supernatural creator are, by their very nature, claims of religious
faith, and so not within the scope or abilities of science. We,
therefore, urge all faculty members to uphold the integrity of our
university of "science and technology," convey to students and the
general public the importance of methodological naturalism in science,
and reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science.

University of Iowa

 In August, Avalos co-authored a statement signed by more than 120
faculty at ISU denouncing intelligent design as a science. Earlier
this week, nearly 120 UNI faculty signed a similar statement. Neither
groups say the statement was directed at Gonzalez.
      "It wasn't supposed to be a deliberate undermining, it wasn't
meant to be an attack and the statement has nothing to do with him,"
said Wendy Olson, a UNI faculty member who led the organizing of
signatures in Cedar Falls.



Rich Blinne

> Note that the statement also specifically brought in fine tuning. While I believe Gonzalez'
> argument is overstated nevertheless it differs from Collins in degree but not kind. Avalos
> opposes all fine tuning arguments as the article in The Mercury shows. While I believe it is a fair > point to not call fine tuning "science" -- I am still a demarcationist -- but does that demarcation
> justify the policy that science professors are banned from making metaphysical conclusions
> derived from the scientific data? Of course not and it produces a a chilling effect (note the

Of course not so why do you raise this as an issue?

Whether one believes in a creator or not, views regarding a
supernatural creator are, by their very nature, claims of religious
faith, and not within the scope or abilities of science. We,
therefore, urge all faculty members to uphold the integrity of our university,
and convey to students and the general public the importance of
methodological naturalism in science and reject efforts to portray
Intelligent Design as science.</quote>


> While tenure may be sui generis as the Gonzalez threads have shown, in the non-academic
> world this is called a "hostile work environment". Even if management is diligent to not
> discriminate in hiring and promotion based on religion their non-action to protect against the
> hostility of peers can get a company sued. Ted Davis specifically warned the ISU president a
> long time ago about precisely this. Thus, even if it can be shown that Gonzalez didn't deserve
> tenure this not-so-innocent statement by Iowa State and University of Iowa professors may put
> their institutions into a world of hurt.

'not so innocent statement'? It denounces ID as science, how is this
relevant to religion? I fail to see any legal reasons to support
Rich's claims. Perhaps Rich can expand as to what was said that was
'not so innocent' and which could put their insitutions into a world
of hurt? How does the response by the University affect this analysis?

 The decision of where to teach intelligent design at Iowa State
University should be left up to the faculty in the particular academic
disciplines it would affect, concluded President Greg Geoffroy and
faculty leaders.
      "If you're thinking of what the university's role is in it, it's
a faculty issue," Geoffroy said Friday.
      In a letter to ISU faculty Thursday, Geoffroy also welcomed the
debate and stressed the importance of academic freedom at


How does the claim by ID proponents that their work is science and not
religion play into the analysis? After all, how can one claim
religious hostility when this is not about religion?

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Received on Sat May 26 20:32:01 2007

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