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

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Fri Apr 17 2009 - 18:20:27 EDT

Then it's just left up to Keith, to explain himself. His 'non-natural agents' was what provoked the starting of this thread. He can end it by answering because the text that he cited of his own words looks like it equates non-natural with supernatural. The discussion turned, without my direction, to pointing fingers at unnamed ID advocates. I even named names in the IDM so that Keith would be able to respond particularly, but he didn't.
Ted now reverts to a ploy: "humans are non-natural agents in the sense meant by advocates of ID." But he is apparently unwilling to speak in his own voice about it.
He writes:
"So, I'm not actually sure that I identified for you a non-natural agent that is not also at least 'partly supernatural,' insofar as many ID thinkers are concerned."
Are you sure or not? Please know that I'm not concerned with 'how ID thinkers are concerned' on this matter. I am engaged with you, Ted Davis now and am not just here for an academic exercise. Why won't you say what you think about 'non-natural agents'?!
My own voice is here, Ted. Gregory is my name and you have my e-mail address. I'd even be glad to speak with you by phone (in person is tough from 5000 plus miles distance) and have great respect for your posts and voice here at ASA. Ask me if I can identify 'non-natural agents that are not supernatural' and I will happily do so (after Keith). That is what this thread is and was about. I'm waiting for Keith Miller to back up his statement, which to me is quite obviously a philosophically empty one. Since he is the main editor of PEC, the main text for TE yet availble, I'd say that a lot rides on his answer in defence of MN via the topic of 'non-natural agents that are not supernatural'. Since George is not stuck on MN, his position is not as significant and it wasn't him who self-referenced words about 'non-natural agents' in the first place.

Your view, Ted, about 'non-natural agents' - i.e. not what the IDists think, but what you think - would imo sure help to things become more coherent on this ASA list.
"Elsewhere on this list, Gregory, you can find in the archives a conversation we had about the first use of that term [MN] some time ago.  I think that someone actually found some earlier uses, but I don't want to trust my memory too much." - Ted
Yes, I was involved in at least one of those conversations. I trust your memory in this case. Earlier uses were found (just as has been found with the particular concept duo 'intelligent design'), still 20th century if I remember right, but earlier than de Vries' use. Let us be clear however, wrt to 'used by presocratic philosophers' - 1) MN is not a 'concept,' it is a 'concept duo' - there are two concepts combined for effect, and 2) what science is (onto) and the way it is done (method) has changed since 2000 yrs ago so it makes no sense to defend 'science' as restricting itself to MN (no non-natural or supernatural things allowed) across the ages. It is historical revisionism, retrodiction, anachronism, tell it how you want Ted.
"I use MN myself (I can't endorse what anyone else might say about it) in much the way that Boyle did: science as science can't deal with the supernatural, and so it must be left to one side." - Ted
Then you are an MN-theist Ted, or otherwise, 'a theist who uses MN' (as what?). Or an MN-Christian or a Christian who uses MN. Take your choice. They all fit, contrived or not.
This is getting circular, Ted. Boyle didn't use 'MN' because 'MN' (as philosophical assumption, concept duo, late 20th century ideology) didn't yet exist. You've admitted the timing.
You're the historian Ted. If you can find an example where Boyle used the 'concept duo' named 'methodological naturalism' I'll eat my words. If there were 'non-natural agents' that he couldn't put a name on because the names weren't there or weren't yet popular and common, then that circumsribes the explanatory power of his 'appeal to only Natural Agents' since other agents nevertheless already existed. Add to that the cultural meaning of both 'science' and natural' and 'method' that differs today from what it did in Boyle's time and your point is almost ultimately unconvincing.
Just as the others do, Ted, you repeat the negative (science 'can't deal with the supernatural'), which as an aside I also accept, but miss the positive 'science only deals with the natural,' which is much, much, much, much more difficult (positively) to assert. Do we need much else to demonstrate that you're missing my point by harping on the negative case. I see it and realise it. As does everybody else here. Now let's get to the positive, just like Keith is in line to get to the positive of what 'non-natural agents' are, learning if he can come up with 'non-supernatural' ones. Perhaps more than you realise, Ted, hangs on this balance.
The concept MN you are applying Ted is not consistent. It plays games with the meaning of 'science' based on an outdated philosophy of science. Today there are sciences (plural) and MN is insufficient to be applied across the board to all sciences. Surely you don't disagree with this?
My goodness, would this be opening the door up for 'ID' to come legitimately into the room?
You write: "science as science is silent about God." And yet natural sciences are silent about all of the other sciences that are not 'natural' ones (and one could argue, about all other things that are not natural, e.g. invisible or simply beyond the scope of science). (I know this is probably provoking Moorad in his operational, historical, origins distinctions.) So the convenient philosophical assumption of MN *as if* it were 'science itself' is a flawed and unsustainable assumption. And yet you still defend it. These are disguised pretensions to universalism as 'the scientific method' that now ring hollow.
Boyle didn't use 'MN' and you 'using' it Ted is simply a discredit to the good historical work that you do. MN is bad philosophical assumption based on a fragmented view of knowledge ~ scientia ~ within a much more potentially holistic approach to reality, history and truth. And to think that all it took was asking Keith Miller to identify 'non-natural agents that are not at the same time supernatural agents' to uncover this is now a surprise of surprises for many people out there (even if they haven't heard it yet at the time of pressing 'Enter').
Maybe this full-frontal challenge to TE (and its process philosophy/theology), backed by the philosophical assumption of MN will encourage some folks to rise to the occasion. ID is well ahead of MN-theists, and it is clearly not creationism, in many ways.
Voistina voskresye - He is Risen indeed!

--- On Sat, 4/18/09, George Murphy <> wrote:

From: George Murphy <>
Subject: Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents
To:,, "Cameron Wybrow" <>, "Ted Davis" <>
Received: Saturday, April 18, 2009, 1:16 AM

I have no intention of trying to carry on further discussion with Gregory but must point out that his claim of some kind of victory over me because I haven't answered his question about non-natural non-supernatural agents is spurious.  I have not used that language and feel no obligation to explain it.

----- Original Message -----
From: Gregory Arago
To: ; Cameron Wybrow ; Ted Davis
Sent: Friday, April 17, 2009 3:42 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

My challenge to Ted, Keith and George still stands unanswered: what about the ‘non-natural agents’ that are at the same time not ‘supernatural’? Are there any and what do you name them? That was the main motivation I had in starting this thread; that is what I wanted to discover from you. We’ve now diverted from that question.


“my point to Gregory stands: MN was to a very significant degree something that Christian scientists themselves helped to create, even a great Christian scientist like Boyle who was also a great ID advocate.” – Ted Davis


Yes, Ted, I’ll concede this point - ‘something that Christians scientists themselves helped to create’ - with the following reservations. 1) MN was a constructed concept duo, it was ‘invented’ by a certain person at a certain time and it is as such a philosophical assumption, 2) Boyle would not have understood the particular philosophical assumption called ‘MN’ that is discussed (as George says) ‘in 98% of the cases’ in our era. The term MN, as you admit yourself, is a recent, i.e. 20th century invention and it is culturally an American invention, 3) MN is mainly used in the context of defence (by old-earth theists) against YEC and ID as a philosophical assumption; it is *not* part of mainstream natural science, other than those involved in American culture-war business and court cases. This is because ‘natural scientists’ by definition only study ‘nature’ and thus the real discussion is not about ‘science’ as a whole, but
 more importantly about the hegemony of ‘natural science’ in the contemporary academy in comparison to other ‘sciences’. It seems, especially on point 3, that you miss this culturally-sensitive contextualising of the story in your HPS, Ted.


Ted writes: “It was Boyle, after all, not Newton, who was always invoking the clock metaphor, and who stressed many times that God, in the beginning, had given matter the properties and powers that it now has; and it was Boyle as much as anyone else who stressed how much we could trust that mechanical picture of nature, and it was Boyle who loved to compare God with the maker of the clock at Strasburg.  The same Boyle also stressed the ongoing dependence of the creation on the creator, but at the same time the regularity of the creation was a created property that God only rarely set aside for specific purposes.”


This doesn’t sound much like what an MN-theist would say today! In fact, much of what you’ve written about Boyle sounds completely foreign to the meaning of MN as it is used today, following its conceptual invention or construction and the subsequent attempts of inclusion in ‘scientific’ discourse (which is really not ‘scientific’ discourse but rather philosophy of science). Even the term ‘MN-theist’ sounds like a contradiction in terms, though it may seem even logical to a philosophical unsophisticate who is basing their perception on an outdated philosophy of science (hence the open recognition of underrepresentation by HPS in the American academy).


Are Ted, George and Keith ‘MN-theists’? I doubt any of them would accept such a label.


Surely you’ll accept, Ted, that this thread was not meant to focus on Robert Boyle, who you’ve indicated that you’ve studied intensely. Rather, as the title indicates, the main topic is natural and non-natural agents. If you could say which ‘non-natural agents’ that are not at the same time ‘supernatural’ that Boyle indicated, that would at least be keeping on target with my main question. Otherwise, I’m not now able to continue with the discussion.


I contend that most scientists who are Christians that argue for MN as a supposedly responsible philosophical assumption with which to ‘do science’ (because that’s the main point we’re talking about again) have divorced or shunned either philosophy or theology from their scientific activities. In other words, they are fragmenting themselves, by checking their whole-self identities at the door. They are philosophers (because we are called to love wisdom), yet they reject the philosophism of some in the contemporary university as irrelevant and unimportant. They go mute with an un-holistic approach to ‘science’ that is detrimental to unifying knowledge, which is what the scientific, philosophical and theological triad taken together potentially provides (TRIAD, not merely ‘science and religion’). Mainly, it is these persons’ failure to grapple with the philosophy, a highly maligned subject in America that is their undoing. MN is the
 unfortunate pseudo-result.


If neither you, nor George, nor Keith can come up with a ‘non-natural agent’ that is not at the same time a ‘supernatural agent,’ Ted, then I am left with little choice but to claim a minor victory in this discussion on this list. I’ll give you until Orthodox Easter Monday to state your position on this question, otherwise I’m done with this thread and you can return or choose to ignore my challenge. What refusing to answer me would do is to demonstrate that my perception of ‘the academy’ is more holistic and unified that yours, it is quite obviously more integrative (and that says a lot), because you have conveniently left out a swack of ‘non-natural’ agents that you could easily have identified.


This thread started and was focussed upon ‘non-natural agents.’ Bill Powers has done an admirable job, but now he’s stuck in discussing what ‘physical’ means, not about what ‘natural’ and ‘non-natural’ means *in the context of* agents and agency. The only one so far who faced ‘non-natural agents’ head-on was Merv, with Bill and now Cameron stepping into the ring with suggestions; the three ASA big-shots along with Dave S. have chosen to take the road already travelled and to deny through silence the existence of ‘non-natural agents.’ I see this as nothing more than a shame for open-minded and candid dialogue that confronts uncomfortable questions with grace and humility. Maybe it just requires a daring leap into the unknown to admit those truths that have not yet been said.  


After speaking today (not-English) in the shadow and light of Sorokin,


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Received on Fri Apr 17 18:20:45 2009

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