Re: [asa] MN and Falsifiability

From: Merv Bitikofer <>
Date: Mon May 11 2009 - 00:29:16 EDT

Jon Tandy wrote:
> However, I want to go a different direction with this. Why did we come to
> think that methodological naturalism had any merit in the first place? It's
> because as we investigated the universe, we found more and more things that
> operated by natural (or at least apparently natural) and regular laws and
> cause/effect relationships. It was the success of science, not a prior
> commitment to naturalism, that led to naturalism's dominance. The "prior
> commitment" before naturalism was to divine action of some kind or another.
> So what would have happened if scientific investigation had instead revealed
> more and more ways in which divine action was obvious? Methodological
> naturalism might never have gained ground. Thus, in this sense I think Bill
> is wrong -- MN could potentially have been falsifiable, if the evidence to
> rule out natural cause and effect had been clearly present. However, that
> hasn't been the case.
> So the main point in dispute, then, is whether MN can explain 100% of
> natural effects, or whether it will turn out to only be able to explain only
> 99% or 90%, etc. Due to its success so far, atheistic scientists and TEs
> alike seem to hold out that it can; ID is counting on it not being able to
> go 100%. So let's ask a question: let's assume MN can account for 90% of
> effects in the natural world. Is it possible to ever falsify it in the
> remaining 10%, and if so, how? Could it be falsified in the same way as I
> described above, by finding areas of obvious divine action? If MN can't be
> falsified, is it scientific?
> Or, are we asking the wrong question? If MN is not a "scientific theory"
> but rather an underlying philosophy about science, should we not even be
> talking about falsifying it? If not, why not? If a philosophy could
> possibly be faulty, should we not be examining the underlying philosophical
> assumptions of science to make sure they are sound, if not "scientific"
> themselves? And if MN as a philosophy were incorrect, how could it be
> replaced, if not through falsification or some other means of disproof?
> Jon Tandy
Bingo to your last paragraph. MN is not itself a scientific theory, so
any criticism about it being "unfalsifiable" is meaningless. At least
it isn't falsifiable in the same way that a scientific proposition is.
MN is an attempted observation from outside of science about how science
operates. Whether or not science has been "successful" under this mode
of operation is another interesting (but non-scientific) question. So
regarding your earlier paragraph regarding a hypothetical scenario where
MN could only explain, say, 90% of phenomena --- this scenario also
runs afoul the same confusion since MN doesn't attempt to explain
anything scientific. It is an observation about how science has
proceeded -- especially over the last few centuries, to its present
point. If one wants to criticize MN or "falsify" it in a broader sense,
one could mount the criticism that science has actually NOT been as
successful as it otherwise could have been without an MN style of operation.

But this seems impossibly difficult. I.e. What would it mean for
science if it had encountered this 10%? First of all, how would we even
know or distinguish this 10% from the other massive body of unanswered
questions that do have naturalistic explanations we just haven't figured
out? And beyond this already insurmountable difficulty lies this
further difficulty: Just how would science proceed AFTER being
satisfied that it found something in this 10%? The answer is: it
wouldn't. Regarding such a phenomenon X, science would have reached a
truly final conclusion and would have to continue its explorations

I too would love to see this question -- or a variation on it in yet
other directions --explored a lot more. We speak of scientific
"success", but this is a value-laden word that presumes many unfounded
things about our world. E.g. that technological advancement is a
"good" thing for which we always need to aim. 'Progress' and
'technology' are some of what I've heard referred to as "god words", or
words that we hold beyond question. Sort of like an economist chanting
the mantra that a financial enterprise must "grow or die". So all
industry unquestioningly follows the model and even as the world is
dragged to financial woe and land-fills are filled we still can't bring
ourselves to think critically about these driving presuppositions. In
like manner I think it quite healthy to scrutinize science and our
assumptions about it. (I appreciate Paul Miller's dark "Canticle for
St. Leibowitz" in which, after world war three, the surviving mobs burn
all the books they can find, and kill all the scientists and literate
people blaming them for having paved the highway to hell. ---a dark and
perhaps more realistic contrast to the Utopian Star Trek universes.)

--Merv Bitikofer

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Received on Mon May 11 00:29:52 2009

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