Re: [asa] Anti-Creationist Psychobabble On the Web - non-natural agents?

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Sat Apr 11 2009 - 05:56:51 EDT

The subtitle of this thread added the terms 'non-natural agents' in reaction to the text Keith Miller wrote about MN, "There simply is no way to incorporate the actions of non-natural agents into a scientific research program."
I think Keith is missing something because I see 'non-natural agents' all the time, i.e. on a daily basis, incorporated into scientific research programs. The onus is on him to show or explain otherwise. He has chosen not to name the 'non-natural agents' as anything other than 'supernatural.' Why? Is there no other option?
An easy exit would be for him to clarify: "a natural scientific research program." But then that would spin us back into the meanings of 'nature' and 'naturalism,' which is what the general controversy is about. Is it the character of science to be about nature and not about character, even though scientists have character and not only nature? 'Reduce yourselves philosophically to MN,' that's the answer for honest Christians at Easter time?
George Murphy persisted with the line: 'attribute nothing to the God/gods' as if it defines MN, for *him & everybody else* at ASA. If his personal definition is 'appropriate' I fear for the future of ASA as being 'irrelevant' in science and religion dialogue on a global scale. MN is an inferior philosophy of science on the global stage, reminiscient of schismatic American Protestantism and not coherent around the world. George's definition is also straight out of the 1960s or 70s (educated by Kuhn and Popper, not Lakatos or Feyerabend) and is certainly not consistent with what is happening today in history and philosophy of science.
In George's own words: "In practice that is the meaning of MN - God cannot be part of a scientific explanation or theory."
First, this is a negative definition, not a positive one. Second, there is no mention of 'method' or 'nature' in the definition. Rather, what is described would better be called methodological anti-supernaturalism (MAS) or methodological atheism (MA) - in George's words *God cannot* - than methodological naturalism (MN). Or that science 'methodically excludes the supernatural' (MES), which is a mess indeed! As it turns out, George simply cannot rebute this, so he resorts to character attacks, saying I have an inferiority complex about human-social science. Nothing is further from the truth!
Third, whoever defined science as 'God is part of a scientific explanation or theory'? MN is no improvement; it is an attempt at philosophical sophistication. Unfortunately, the USA is not renowned for its philosophy, while its science is a leader in the world. Why trust an American philosophy of science wrt MN when better alternatives exist?
What is problematic, and which is often assumed by people, is that 'science only deals with nature.' This is not true and not provable and not consistent with the knowledge produced in history and philosophy of science over the past 30 years. 'Science' is about more than just 'nature.' Who would contend with this (Moorad)?
What is evident regularly on the ASA is a fear of YEC - e.g. the recent thread suggesting that 'YECs are still winning.' YEC is George's 'inferiority complex.' Glenn Morton recently accented this fear among you. The defensiveness towards YEC, which is a particular feature unique in American society and much less so in other societies, drives the opposition to those who woud critique MN. It would seem that MN is the 'philosophical assumption' offered by Christians who are also scientists to defend their scientific practise against...what?
I remember Ted Davis commenting after the ID-Dover trial that the core discipline involved was his - history and philosophy of science. Would you folks say that HPS is well represented in American education or that it is underrepresented? To me it is quite obviously underrepresented if a respected scholar and theologian would argue that MN is merely 'attribute nothing to the God/gods.' Such a view is redundant at best and dogmatic at worst; it is not salvageable as being significant in contemporary discourse. And yet nobody at ASA except for this message challenged it!
The simple solution to this disagreement is to come up with a definition of 'non-natural agents' that are not 'supernatural.' I challenge George to do this and doubt he will respond. With his physics-theology and his science-religion combinations he simply cannot afford to do so. The real responsibility to explain, however, is for Keith, since it was his statement that I originally responded to. Bill Powers asked about 'natural agents' and then everybody perhaps except for me forgot about 'non-natural agents,' thus letting Keith off the hook to simply defend MN as if it were a logical or rational 'philosophical assumption,' as he calls it. MN is not a logical or rational position; it is myopic.
George seems to avoid altogether philosophical language. MN to him is simply 'the way science is done.' Yet George doesn't study 'the way science is done' professionally. He does science (or rather did science), and now tries to accommodate it with theology. On the other hand, I have been studying 'the way science is done' for several years. He would choose to ignore this and try to marginalize it. This is why I resist.
Let's take the example of Easter. 'Everyone here' accepts that certain events happened. They are part of human (and...) history and led to the establishment of 'the' Christian church around the world. Yet what can MN tell us about it? 'Attribute nothing to the God/gods,' says George. So is there nothing for 'science' to do at Easter time according to MN, according to George's 'science'? Easter and Christmas are times for religion and other times are for science? What a sad state of affairs this would be. He will surely correct my view of his position with nuance in the coming days.
Sacrifice the human-social sciences at the alter of naturalism (call it 'methodological' if you must) - this is the unsaid feeling of George's approach. He says: "I repeat that those sciences [sociology & allied sciences] do have places in science-theology discussions." But surely (let's not kid ourselves) he doesn't mean it. He can't mean it according to his philosophy. And if he does mean it, he does nothing about it. He does not promote holism in science, but merely ridicules it. Those appear to be the facts, as we celebrate the communi(on)ty of Christ and the Holy Trinity together this weekend.

Happy western (Gregorian calendar) Easter!
G. Arago
p.s. to George, I am not interested in a 'science-theology' discussion, but if you add philosophy, as a unifying voice, then a 'science-theology-philosophy' discussion would be much more appealing (and then we can add all of those voices that you are missing and which shows why you don't seem to be considerate to what I am saying).
p.p.s. I should have written two pages on my dissertation this morning instead of writing these two messages; was it worth it, George, because you just won't admit any change or reflexive weakness?
p.p.s. will you ASA sacrifice the (now, after David O.) lone human-social science voice at the alter of naturalism? It would be a non-natural decision, indeed.

--- On Mon, 4/6/09, George Murphy <> wrote:

From: George Murphy <>
Subject: Re: [asa] Anti-Creationist Psychobabble On the Web - non-natural agents?
To: "Keith Miller" <>, "AmericanScientificAffiliation Affiliation" <>
Received: Monday, April 6, 2009, 10:09 PM

Discussion of what is meant by "nature", "agent" &c is appropritae in its own right but in 98% of the discussions in which the concept of MN comes up the meaning is what Burgy has quoted, "Attribute nothing to the gods."  Perhaps it should be expanded to "Attribute nothing to God or gods/godesses."  In practice that is the meaning of MN - God cannot be part of a scientific explanation or theory.  Stating it that way avoids a lot of philosophical debates which are interesting in themselves but not essential to the question of how science functions.
MN has been criticized here as a theological concept & that charge may be levelled against the definition I've given.  Since the question is precisely whether or not God can be part of scientific explanation, that's unavoidable.  But my definition is also a limit on theology.  In any case it's something upon which both theists and atheists can agree (especially if they have any understanding of how science actually functions).  Theists agree not to introduce God into their theories & atheists agree that the absence of God from scientific theories does not in itself mean that there is no God - i.e., that MN isn't equivalent to ontological naturalism.  At least that's how it should work.   

----- Original Message -----
From: "Keith Miller" <>
To: "AmericanScientificAffiliation Affiliation" <>
Sent: Sunday, April 05, 2009 9:18 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Anti-Creationist Psychobabble On the Web - non-natural agents?

> For those interested:
> I will try to clarify my statement below.
>> Natural agents are events or processes that have a cause-and-effect 
>> link to a subsequent event or process.  For example the eruption of 
>> a volcano might be the proximal cause (agent) for a subsequent 
>> decrease in global temperature by increasing the concentration of 
>> sulfur-dioxide aerosols in the upper atmosphere.
>> Organisms are also natural agents as they impact their environment 
>> and by their actions cause a subsequent event or process.  Humans 
>> are obviously powerful natural agents in the natural world.
> "Agent" can be used with a very wide range of meanings.  There are 
> volitional agents, living agents, and nonliving entities (I probably 
> should not have referred to events or processes as agents in my 
> comment above).   Examples of these types of natural agents would be 
> humans (volitional agents), burrowing clams (living agent), and 
> volcanoes (nonliving natural entities).  The term "agent" in 
> scientific description could be restricted to volitional agents, or 
> any living organism, or include any natural entity.  I used it in the 
> most general sense because the boundaries between the categories 
> above are not at all clear to me.
> Some may argue that humans are non-natural agents.  In fact many ID 
> advocates equate humans and supernatural agents as scientifically 
> equivalent.  This is one of the bases for their argument that science 
> can investigate the supernatural, since it can investigate human 
> action. (I discuss this in more length in my chapter in the book "For 
> the Rock Record: Geologists on Intelligent Design)  However, human 
> are natural agents.  They are part of this material world that can be 
> studied using the tools of science, and whose actions in the past can 
> be reconstructed.  Because we know human physical capabilities and 
> limitations we can identify them as causal natural agents.   If 
> humans possess a non-material spirit or soul, this does not make them 
> non-natural agents.  It would simply mean that humans possess an 
> aspect of their being which transcends scientific description, and 
> would lay outside the ability of science to investigate.
> Note:  Not that dictional definitions are the same as philosophy, but 
> here are the definitions of "agent" in the Websters:
> 1) A power that acts, a moving force; 2) one who acts ... a free 
> moral agent; 3) that which produces or will produce a certain effect 
> (also Chem. - a substance or element capable of producing a 
> reaction).  These would seem to be consistent with my use above.
> Keith __________________________________________________________________ Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now

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Received on Sat Apr 11 05:57:11 2009

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