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

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Thu Apr 30 2009 - 18:10:12 EDT


What you describe is similar to the position of William Temple (Arch of
Canterbury 1942-4) and a contemporary of course of MB Foster whom you may
know of:)

I cite it frequently and in sermons

----- Original Message -----
From: "Cameron Wybrow" <>
To: "asa" <>
Sent: Thursday, April 30, 2009 11:04 PM
Subject: Re: Ontology determines epistemology (was Re: [asa] Re: Coyne vs

> Murray:
> I agree with your analysis entirely.
> I was, however, putting the emphasis in a different place than you seem to
> think that I was. My point was that Coyne begins from his metaphysics,
> which *demands* pure naturalism, with no exceptions, and from that he
> derives his epistemology. He unifies them by putting the metaphysics
> (ontology) in the driver's seat.
> A Christian who put orthodox Christian metaphysics in the driver's seat,
> and derived his (or her) epistemology of nature from it (without
> deliberately contriving that epistemology to make it friendly to modern
> science), would not spontaneously come up with "methodological
> naturalism". A Christian, basing his epistemology upon the Bible and
> traditional Church teaching, would come up with something like: "Things
> generally seem to run in accord with something akin to "laws", and they do
> this so often that we can treat these "laws" as for most practical
> purposes unbreakable; however, there is no reason why God has to sustain
> those laws all the time, and he may in fact intervene to suspend or break
> them (in the case of healings or visions, for example) even now, as he
> appears to have done, at least in some cases, in Biblical times; further,
> there may have been a more ancient period of time (the period of creation)
> when such laws were not in force, as he was giving shape to the world and
> the life forms in it." That would be a Christian epistemology regarding
> nature, but that is not what is usually meant by "methodological
> naturalism" in the culture-war environment we are in. Usually it means
> that we are pressured to acquiesce in the view that all things originated
> wholly naturalistically, by means of the same natural forces and processes
> that we observe today. Failure to give such acquiescence exposes one to
> the charge of being "unscientific".
> And the rub is, that precisely if chance and necessity are *not* capable
> of producing all the life forms we see, or the special character of man,
> or life itself, methodological naturalism (understood not as a useful
> practical rule of thumb, but as an absolutely binding rule for all inquiry
> into the causes of natural things) will *hide* that truth from us. So the
> question is which is more important: following methodological naturalism
> wherever it leads, at the risk of possibly missing some important truths
> about nature, or leaving matters more open than that, in order not to rule
> out any possibilties in advance. Christian theology suggests that the
> latter is the wiser course. That does *not* rule out wholly naturalistic
> inquiries even into questions of origins (God may have employed such
> means); but it does take away the untouchable status that wholly
> naturalistic inquiries into origins have in neo-Darwinian theory.
> Understandably, Coyne and Dawkins are unwilling to live with such openness
> regarding origins questions. However, there is no reason why Collins or
> Miller, given their theological confessions, should find such openness
> problematic. There is no reason why they should believe, a priori, that
> the naturalistic mechanisms thus far proposed by neo-Darwinism are
> sufficient to explain the origin of life and of species. There is no
> reason that they should not demand proof of the power of chance and
> necessity to deliver such amazing results. And this raises the question
> why they do not join the ID people in demanding such proof.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Murray Hogg" <>
> To: "ASA" <>
> Sent: Thursday, April 30, 2009 5:03 PM
> Subject: Ontology determines epistemology (was Re: [asa] Re: Coyne vs
> Collins)
>> 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.
>> Blessings,
>> Murray
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Received on Thu Apr 30 18:10:43 2009

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