Ontology determines epistemology (was Re: [asa] Re: Coyne vs Collins)

From: Murray Hogg <muzhogg@netspace.net.au>
Date: Thu Apr 30 2009 - 17:03:43 EDT

Cameron Wybrow wrote:
> First, on methodological naturalism versus metaphysical naturalism. We
> know that Eugenie Scott and many TEs make a big deal about the
> distinction. But they do that largely to fend off attacks from both
> sides. Eugenie uses it to fend off attacks that Darwinism implies
> atheism. She wants to look professionally neutral on the subject of
> religion. The TEs use it to fend off charges that Christians can't do
> science because they will be using miracles to explain things all the
> time. In sum, the whole discussion is politically charged. Why would
> any philosopher or scientist, outside the constitutionally-charged
> religion-in-the-schools atmosphere of the USA, want to make a
> distinction between epistemology and ontology ("I'm methodologically
> naturalist, but not metaphysically naturalist")? As if we should study
> reality in one way, while knowing that it's really another? So that
> we're supposed to study nature as if there's no God, or at least no God
> who has any active part it, while believing in our heart of hearts that
> God does have an active part in it? This is another example of modern
> schizophrenia; the ancients did not think about life in such a bizarre
> way. The ancient atomists, like Lucretius, made their epistemology
> match their metaphysics. You don't find Lucretius arguing that we
> should treat the world *as if* everything can be explained by atoms
> falling through a void, while believing in his heart of hearts that God
> is behind it all somehow. No; for Lucretius we should look only for
> mechanical explanations for things, because that's all the universe is:
> a dead mechanism of colliding atoms. Epistemology matches metaphysics.
> And this is a sane attitude. (Not the atheism, but the unity of
> epistemology and metaphysics.)

Hi Cameron,

I realize I owe you a response to one of your previous posts, but I wanted to jump in on the above.

It's proper, let me say, to insist that "epistemology matches metaphysics." But the proper order of precedence is "ontology determines epistemology" and not the other way around.

That is, epistemology is logically secondary to ontology - how we can know is determined by the nature of the object being investigated and not vice versa.

Or, to put it less abstractly, what we want to assert is GIVEN a particular ontology/metaphysic THEN what sort of epistemology follows.

What this means is that one cannot BEGIN with an epistemology and "work backwards" to assert that it DEMANDS a particular metaphysical/ontological point-of-view, as it may well be the case a given epistemological programme can be compatible with MULTIPLE metaphysical/ontological points-of-view. To do so, to argue that "you are a methodological naturalist, therefore you must consistently be a metaphysical naturalist" is technically to commit the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent ("if A therefore B, B, therefore A")

And this, of course, is the rub with Methodological Naturalism: it is consistent with an ontology in which the natural order is "all there was, is and ever will be" (metaphysical naturalism) or an ontology in which God creates a natural order which functions in a regular, hence predictable, manner (metaphysical super-naturalism).

On either view it is perfectly consistent to affirm methodological naturalism as a legitimate guiding principle in investigation of the natural order - whether the later is indeed "all there was, is, and ever will be" or whether it was divinely created to function in a regular, hence predictable, manner.

To labour the point, both the following are logically correct;

IF "Metaphysical Naturalism" THEN "Methodological Naturalism"
"Metaphysical Naturalism" THEREFORE "Methodological Naturalism"

IF "Creation functions in a regular, hence predictable, manner" THEN "Methodological Naturalism"
"Creation functions in a regular, hence predictable, manner" THEREFORE "Methodological Naturalism"

You may, of course, argue as to whether the Creation does, indeed, function in a regular, hence predictable manner - by which I don't mean you would suggest anything utterly silly like there is NO predictability, rather you may well question the extent to which God overrides the regular, hence predictable, manner of nature's function in specific circumstances - but you can't, logically, argue that accepting MN demands of the Christian scientist anything other than a commitment to a divinely ordained regularity in nature.

Methodological naturalism, in short, most emphatically does NOT entail - or even lend the slightest credence to - metaphysical naturalism.


To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Apr 30 17:04:44 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Apr 30 2009 - 17:04:44 EDT