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

From: Austerberry, Charles <>
Date: Tue Apr 14 2009 - 15:57:23 EDT

Within a longer posting, Bill Powers wrote:

"It is possible, it seems, for an entity to be investigated in which not
everyone believes exists. This has been true of every fundamental
"particle" of which I am aware. While some may be studying Nature's
regularities, others may be studying God's regularities. Tell me the

Perhaps it's important whether or not a goal of the investigation is to
shed light on the existence or non-existence of the entity being
investigated. Bill is correct that physicists seek evidence for the
existence or non-existence of various fundamental particles. Physicists
with widely differing religious beliefs can do the same kinds of
research on fundamental particles because as George noted, it's not
God's existence that is being investigated, but rather the existence of
parts of God's (for the theist) or Nature's (for the atheist - note
capital N) creation.

Biochemists studying the intricacies of living cells all agree that
cells and their subcellular components exist. Most of us biologists and
biochemists would agree that it matters not, *scientifically*, whether
we view cells as ultimately God's instruments or as ultimately the
products of a "Nature" that exists without God.

As George and Keith others have noted, methodological naturalism (MN) is
helpful as long as it is distinguished from philosophical naturalism

But some, perhaps including Bill Powers, seem to feel that MN inevitably
supports, or is at root indistinguishable from, PN. I am puzzled by
this. I can imagine that subjectively, internally, in the mind of the
scientist, it might be impossible to distinguish MN from PN. But even
then, the work done by such scientists could be taught in a manner that
does distinguish between MN and PN.

There are at least three contexts in which I can imagine MN being
indistinguishable from PN in the mind of the scientist.

One context is that of an atheistic scientist. That some atheistic
scientists sometimes conflate MN and PN in their public discourse is
well known.

Another context is the intelligent design (ID) project of seeking
objective scientific evidence for the existence of a designer whose
properties are potentially unlimited and whose identity is completely
unspecified. There are many practical problems with such an ID project.
My point here is that this ID project indeed requires the conflation of
MN and PN.

A third context is pantheism. If God and Nature are viewed as entirely
the same entity, then I suppose one cannot study something as if it were
only God's instrument, because the scientist would always also be
directly studying God. Here too, I think the distinction between MN and
PN becomes impossible. Albert Einstein seemed to be a pantheist, for

It's OK to teach Dawkins' gene-level selection argument or Einstein's
physics or Michael Behe's biochemistry (histone protein experiments he
did years ago, for example) in public school science classes. I do not
think it's OK, however, to teach Dawkins' atheism or Einstein's
pantheism or Behe's ID in public school science classes, nor is it OK to
teach Collins' BioLogos in public school science classes. It would be
helpful to mention that a wide spectrum of philosophical and religious
views have been and are now held among successful scientists but, unless
there's time to thoughtfully expand the scope of the class beyond
science, anything more than briefly mentioning the wide spectrum could
be problematic.



Charles (Chuck) F. Austerberry, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Hixson-Lied Room 438
Creighton University
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
Phone: 402-280-2154
Fax: 402-280-5595
Nebraska Religious Coalition for Science Education

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Received on Tue Apr 14 16:00:05 2009

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