[asa] Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents - corrected-complete version

From: wjp <wjp@swcp.com>
Date: Tue Apr 14 2009 - 10:16:12 EDT


I am not Keith, nor do I play him on television, but I will, nonetheless,
attempt to address some of your concerns.

First, that science cannot understand itself has long been acknowledged,
witness, for example, positivism's fall upon its own petard.
Indeed, this was the motivation upon Quine and other's attempt to
naturalize epistomology, essentially abandoning all justification of science

Nelson's point is an old, if not ancient, one, representing the Socratic
rejection of Ionian determinism. Indeed, it is, at least in part, for
the sake of a science (knowledge) that DesCartes insists upon dualism
and a non-combatibalist notion of free will.

DesCartes' analysis attempts to indicate that knowledge depends upon a
free judgment and assessment, something which is incombatible with

Naturalism has an interesting history. As I understand it, Renaissance
naturalism was an attempt to eliminate god in the explanation of
phenomena, but in doing so they permitted "occult" powers, making the
world more pantheistic, and attempting to eliminate the distinction
between the natural and the supernatural. It seems that such a view
might appear neo-Aristotelian, in that the powers (forms) of matter
are contained within them. However, one might imagine such a view
could permit resident souls. That is, naturalism is not necessarily
"materialistic," yet another concept to be tracked down.

It is interesting that DesCartes supported a mechanistic view in
opposition to the naturalism of his day. Mechanisms require that they
be activated from without and have of themselves no "occult" powers.
Mechanisms are deterministic machines.

So the question, it seems to me, is to ask whether science, as we define
it, is possible under its metaphysical (natural) commitments?

In response to this question the notion of science has changed much.
No longer do we speak of attaining "certain" or even "true" knowledge,
an evolutionary response to Plantinga's criticism.

But I don't think this puts to rest the entire problem. If science
still abides a mechanistic account, albeit much different than originally
construed, what is the nature of science? Is it just something we do,
and can make no assessment of its character and products?
Is all this talk of the superiority of one theory over another mere
nonsense and just a way of squawking, perhaps an epiphenomena that
masks its chemical biological roots?

As I've said before, the word "natural" appears to me to be almost vacuous.
We have taken it to means something more like "material." But "material"
is likewise a rubber nose.

What is the difference between human free action and God's? One might reply
that we can observe human behavior and that is enough to call it natural.
Theories that explain human behavior might speak of a "will." Is that
non-natural? Must the "natural" abide by certain "laws"?
If I say, "John desires to get the most for his money," and then apply
that covering law to explain John's behavior relative to an Easter
ham, is that non-natural?

I'll simply suggest the following and stop. We run into this problem
of natural and non-natural in different ways in different disciplines.
I don't think its a problem for sociology and most psychology, but
it is a problem for chemistry and physics. If we simply abandon the
reduction of sociology and the like to physics and chemistry, we
can keep science and human free will, otherwise we're in trouble.

bill powers

On Tue, 14 Apr 2009 05:27:29 -0700 (PDT), Gregory Arago <gregoryarago@yahoo.ca> wrote:
> Let it first be noted that my gripe here is not with ID, but with Keith's
> 'non-natural agents.' What are they? I am curious what he means and
> haven't yet heard a direct reply to my questions. I am not an IDist, but
> started this thread because I don't think Keith coherently understands or
> can give a legitimate voice to 'non-natural agents.' Failure to do
> so discredits his defence of MN as 'science's method'. And I love
> science and want to promote good science (in America and elsewhere) too!
> Keith wrote: "ID advocates reject humans as natural agents, and instead
> view them as non-natural intelligent agents distinct from the natural
> world." 
> This is not true of any of the ID leaders that I've met. The quotation you
> cite below does not suggest this either. Your interpretation of it is
> uncharitable and misleading. Human beings are 'natural agents,' but we are
> also, and please note this Keith, *more than just natural agents.* Do you
> disagree that we are more than just 'natural agents'? Perhaps you would
> agree if this doesn't have to make us 'non-natural agents' at the same
> time?
> I'm no defender of Paul Nelson's YEC views, and I challenged him directly
> when I last spoke with him in person. But if you staunchly disagree with
> the quotation below, Keith, then it is obvious that he is your
> philosophical superior. Perhaps this is obvious given that his UoChicago
> degree is in Philosophy of Biology, which means that he should have read
> much HPS in his research.
> This is the field - HPS - in which I find your position lacking,
> Keith, and which shows quite openly (though perhaps more easily and
> clearly to those outside of America) that MN is a silly ideology. It's
> not 'the way science is done in practice,' it is just ideology based on
> philosophical assumptions, the latter which you note. In other
> words, you need to come up with some 'non-natural agents' that are not at
> the same time 'supernatural agents' to gain any credibility in what you are
> positing. Doing so would open up a new place of common ground between us.
> "a demonstration of human intelligent action is for them [ID advocates]
> indistinguishable from a demonstration of divine action." - Keith
> Who said this or believes this? Please back this up with something
> concrete. I think you are falsely representing all of the key ID
> advocates I know and have met. Are you suggesting that IDists make no
> distinction between man and angel or man and God or gods? It sounds like
> you are saying that IDists think men are gods!?
> Let me be more specific. Do you think such is the view of any of those
> who are considered the IDM's current leadership: Behe, Dembski, Meyer,
> Wells, Gordon, Thaxton, Gonzales, Sternberg, Axe, West (i.e. Johnson is
> now retired)? I don't think any of them conflate human action with divine
> action (and note that the tools to do so are not in their respective
> intellectual tradition) and I've had personal conversations or
> correspondence with them (except for Gonzales and Axe) about this. Meyer
> is also well ahead of Dembski in philosophical pecking order.
> Where I agree with you, Keith, to repeat myself, is that the major ID
> advocates have not adequately accounted for the difference between human
> action and divine action. They have few, if any, persons who would fit the
> profile with capacities to do this. They are reaching into the dark and are
> sometimes confused. Yet they bring such topics as pattern recognition,
> information theory and specification(ism), alongside of highlighting and
> even respecting HPS, into the foreground and they partner with those who
> use 'design' as a legitimate and undeniable concept in arenas such as
> engineering and computing. ID is thus not a science stopper in so far as
> it encourages research in these scientific arenas, as well as
> cross-disciplinary fertilisation through linguistic transfers (just as
> 'evolution' did).
>>From Nelson's quotation: "You are, if science must be naturalistic,
> engaged in an activity that science will never understand." 
> This is makes complete sense and is true, as far as contemporary
> science studies goes. There *are* activities that science doesn't study
> and can't possibly understand. How do you interpret this Keith? The
> limitations of 'science' qua 'naturalism' are regularly underrepresented
> by those TEs and ECs in North America who oppose ID. Ontological,
> epistemological, methodological, aesthetic, or scientific - these 'types'
> of 'naturalism' are all still part of the family of naturalism. Only with
> philosophic sophistication or an alternative way of approaching the
> controversy will you be convinced that MN is a silly ideology, undeserving
> of the allegiance that some at ASA pay to it. But then you are not a
> 'naturalist' or are you Keith?
> "Human psychology, if it can only recognize natural causes for events,
> will be forever on the hapless task of trying to explain the actions of
> the soul without including the soul in the theory." - Paul Nelson
> What about this exactly do you disagree with? Is it that a person is
> 'doing science' and therefore cannot possibly be 'entirely objective'?
> This was the question Bill asked: "Simply put, where is the scientist as
> an agent, the science-maker?" I find IDs answer, even if it ultimately
> fails to be post-naturalistic, as far advanced from what you are offering
> in terms of HPS and the agency question, Keith.
> Let's return to our sheep. This thread started in reponse to your
> statement: "There simply is no way to incorporate the actions of
> non-natural agents into a scientific research program."
> What are you saying, Keith? 'Non-natural' equals 'supernatural' or
> something else? If so, then science can work on whatever that 'something
> else' is, can't it?
> 'Science' is about more than just 'nature.' Would you contend with this
> Keith?
> Gregory
> - On Sat, 4/11/09, Keith Miller <kbmill@ksu.edu> wrote:
> From: Keith Miller <kbmill@ksu.edu>
> Subject: Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents
> To: "AmericanScientificAffiliation Affiliation" <asa@calvin.edu>
> Received: Saturday, April 11, 2009, 8:32 PM
> Gregory Arago wrote:
> I.e. every major ID 'theorist' disagrees that "science can investigate the
> supernatural, since it can investigate human action." It's just that their
> language is fuzzy or foaming!
> ID advocates reject humans as natural agents, and instead view them as
> non-natural intelligent agents distinct from the natural world.  Human
> (and human-like) agents and supernatural agents are viewed as essentially
> identical categories with respect to scientific explanation.  Thus a
> demonstration of human intelligent action is for them indistinguishable
> from a demonstration of divine action.  This equation of human and divine
> action is crucial for their argument that supernatural intelligence can be
> detected empirically.
> Nelson argues for the non-natural character of human actions as follows:
> “At this very moment, you are engaged in a nonnaturalistic event. 
> Traditional Christianity teaches that your nonphysical soul is engaged
> with your body in the task of reading.  You are, if science must be
> naturalistic, engaged in an activity that science will never understand. 
> Science bound by naturalism will never be able to recognize an immaterial
> soul.  Reading is not scientifically explainable.  This holds true for
> whatever activity in which humans, or any other beings with souls, engage
> themselves.  Worst of all, the same research futility that plagued the
> physicist will return with a vengeance for the psychologist.  Human
> psychology, if it can only recognize natural causes for events, will be
> forever on the hapless task of trying to explain the actions of the soul
> without including the soul in the theory.”[1] 
> [1] P. Nelson and J. M. Reynolds, 1999, “Young Earth Creationism.” 
> In, Three Views on Creation and Evolution (J.P.Moreland & John Marks
> Reynolds, eds.) Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, p.47.
> The whole point of Nelson's argument is that science must be free to
> investigate the non-natural and supernatural.  He is arguing for the
> expansion of science to the investigation of the supernatural.
> Keith
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Received on Tue Apr 14 10:16:55 2009

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