Re: [asa] Anti-Creationist Psychobabble On the Web

From: Keith Miller <>
Date: Fri Apr 03 2009 - 19:40:21 EDT

The nature of science and the meaning and significance of
methodological naturalism is a topic of significant importance for
me. It figures very prominently in my effort at public science
literacy, and defusing the public "creation/evolution" debate.

I have published several essays that address this issue, the most
recent is my chapter "The misguided attack on methodological
naturalism" in the edited volume "For the Rock Record: Geologists on
Intelligent Design" published by the University of California Press.

I include an excerpt from that essay below.

> The absence of references to supernatural cause in scientific
> description is not just an agreed philosophical limitation of
> science, but it is a consequence of the practical inability of
> science to detect divine action. It is interesting that even what
> little scientific research is conducted by ID advocates is
> conducted using MN. There simply is no way to incorporate the
> actions of non-natural agents into a scientific research program.
> What ID proponents typically do is to overlay philosophical and
> religious understandings on scientific conclusions. They invest
> particular scientific observations with theological meaning. It is
> entirely appropriate for anyone to apply his or her religious and
> philosophical perspectives to interpreting science. However, that
> does not make such philosophical perspectives themselves scientific.
> From the perspective of scientific inquiry, a supernatural agent is
> effectively a black box, and appeals to supernatural action are
> equivalent to appeals to ignorance. A supernatural agent is
> unconstrained by natural “laws” or the properties and capabilities
> of natural entities and forces -- it can act in any way, and
> accomplish any conceivable end. As a result, appeals to such
> agents cannot provide any insight into understanding the mechanisms
> by which a particular observed or historical event occurred.
> Belief in the creative action of a supernatural agent does not
> answer the questions of how something happens. “A miracle occurs
> here” is no more an answer to the question of “How?” than is “We
> don’t know.”
> This same point can be made beginning from a theological
> perspective. As understood in Christian theology, divine action
> includes the doctrine of providence, which concerns God’s
> sustaining and upholding of the natural world, and divine
> cooperation with and governance of nature.[1] Divine action in
> this sense does not imply any break in the continuity of cause-and-
> effect natural processes. An internally complete scientific
> description would be completely consistent with this theological
> view. Scientific and theological understandings are seen as
> complementary – science would simply be providing a description of
> natural phenomena as they are upheld by divine providence.
> However, what of divine miracle? The traditional Christian
> theological understanding of miracle is that of a sign that draws
> attention to or confirms some aspect of the revelation of God's
> character or will – it carries theological meaning. A miracle in
> this sense does not require that the sign break natural law or
> interrupt chains of cause-and-effect. Only the subset of
> miraculous actions that involve divine intervention and the
> breaking of natural chains of cause-and-effect are potentially in
> conflict with a scientific explanation.
> Can “law-breaking” miraculous events in natural history be detected
> or falsified scientifically? Although not falsifiable, a specific
> claim of divine action of this kind could be brought into question
> if a series of natural cause-and-effect processes could be shown to
> plausibly account for the miracle. However, such a conclusion
> says nothing about God's action in and through those processes.
> If, on the other hand, no such plausible series of natural events
> is currently known to account for the miracle, then scientists will
> continue to search for such a natural explanation. A true break in
> the continuity of natural processes is indistinguishable from
> current ignorance.
> Scientific investigation cannot conclude that a particular event in
> the history of life, or a particular feature of the natural world,
> must be the consequence of a supernatural agent. We are of course
> free to make those claims from a theological perspective. But those
> claims must be evaluated on their theological and philosophical
> merits. ...
> [1] For a concise discussion of providence and miracle see J.
> Polkinghorne, 1989, Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with
> the World. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 114p.

I would encourage those interested to get the book and read the essay
in its entirety.

All the best,


To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Fri Apr 3 20:23:06 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Apr 03 2009 - 20:23:06 EDT