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

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Fri Apr 17 2009 - 23:57:04 EDT



You've been asking leading questions on this subject for quite a long time to elicit a response from others. I want to ask you to provide some simple, direct answers to a few questions, if you can. Maybe you have described your views and I missed it; if so, I apologize.


Do you consider humans to be natural or supernatural, or something different? Or some combination of natural, supernatural, and/or some other non-natural aspect (if so, what is it, and what combination)?


Do you consider sociology and psychology to be superior to other sciences, because it has moved beyond the simple dichotomy of natural vs. supernatural? And/or (as I understand it) do you consider the problem in modern sociology to be that they are engaging in reductionism to reduce all the non-natural aspects of humanity to purely natural cause and effect?


If there is a natural component of human behavior, can those aspects be studied by scientists using naturalistic means?


If there is are non-natural components to humanity, can those aspects be studied by scientists using naturalistic means? If not, why not, and how would you propose that science could study them?


If "methodological naturalism" is too simplistic for studying human activity, and if purely theological/spiritual mechanisms are inappropriate for a scientific field of study, what other category of scientific research would you offer instead? You mention philosophy and theology – do you consider these to be scientific means of investigating either the natural, supernatural, or other non-natural aspect of humanity?


Jon Tandy


From: [] On Behalf Of Gregory Arago
Sent: Friday, April 17, 2009 2:43 PM
To:; Cameron Wybrow; Ted Davis
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 23:57:20 2009

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