Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle - Darwin's original sin

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed May 13 2009 - 12:46:22 EDT


I very much like Schwarzwald's suggestion, namely that "methodological agnosticism" is a better term for the particular attitude previously called "methodological naturalism." It does IMO more adequately convey what the latter term was coined to convey: that the "naturalistic" methods of "natural" scientists, which deliberately avoid invoking "gods" or "God" or "supernatural" causes, are not intended to imply anything about the existence or non-existence of such agents as "gods" or "God" or "supernatural" causes. Agnosticism is the attitude that we can't know, and the whole point of "methodological naturalism" was to say that the methods used in the sciences can't tell us anything about any reality larger than, or prior to, nature; that we confine our observations and conclusions to those things that are amenable to such investigation, and nothing else.

That is agnosticism, concerning a larger worldview. And I agree with Schwarzwald that the methods of science are consistent with multiple types of metaphysics, including ontological (as vs methodological) naturalism as well as theism. However, I quickly add, I do not believe that the former is capable of giving a very satisfactory account of why those methods are so fruitful in the first place; it must take the success of science as a given, incapable of deeper explanation; whereas theism provides a very coherent and non-ad hoc explanation for the success of science. Futhermore, Christian theism (as vs simple theism), or at least biblical theism, provides a deeper explanation for why nature is a "contingent order," as the ASA faith statement puts it, and why (therefore) a successful science of nature requires a method of "rational empricism," as Hooykaas called it nearly 40 years ago. Ontological naturalism can't do any such thing, IMO; it can only say that such question!
 s are meaningless, since they can't be answered by science itself.

That should answer your question about my view on MN and Schwarzwald's suggested alternative term. I'll probably stick with MN for most purposes, since it's already a recognized term, but I do like his suggestion. (I'd rather not have to keep on explaining what terms mean, so I'll stick with the one we already have.)

As for "naturalism" vs "materialism" as the real target for ID, the web site that Dembski formerly directed, UD, uses a variant of the latter rather than the former in defining what that site is "about," as follows:

<Materialistic ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialistic worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins. At the same time, intelligent design (ID) offers a promising scientific alternative to materialistic theories of biological and cosmological evolution — an alternative that is finding increasing theoretical and empirical support. Hence, ID needs to be vigorously developed as a scientific, intellectual, and cultural project.>

This is a big point of support for Cameron's statement. I've already given some big points in support of my puzzlement at his statement, and I certainly don't withdraw them: they are relevant facts, as is what it says on the UD site. At the same time, if you go do UD and search there for "naturalism," you'll get a lot of threads attacking MN, so I don't think that there is much agreement with Cameron's statement among ID proponents.

Furthermore, the "about" statement above indicates as clearly as Phil Johnson ever indicated, that ID as a set of ideas can't be separated from ID as a cultural movement. This is just Johnson's "wedge" restated. I've addressed this many times in the past and won't repeat all of that again now. My point now is just that, when the cultural piece is close to the "scientific" piece, the assault on "naturalism" can't be taken apart without blowing up the whole thing. The attack on "naturalism" itself is what so many ID adherents are eager to engage in. If Cameron can convince them that they are barking up the wrong tree (as they are, IMO), all power to him....

Finally, Greg, I agree with you about the very important historical role of "The Mystery of Life's Origin," indeed if you view my powerpoint at, you will see that I stress the role of that book when I present key ID ideas. I call it "The first ID book, before there was an ID movement, [and] perhaps still the best."

My point about Johnson as the "father" of ID pertains to an organized group of people with a specific agenda. I don't think anyone would deny that Phil was the point man for having an ID movement, as such, or that his book "Darwin on Trial" played the key role in getting visibility for the movement. Whatever credit he will be given by historians for his activities, it would be malpractice not to credit him for that. (As you see, my analysis of ID examines both cultural and intellectual aspects. I don't think you can take them apart.)


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Received on Wed May 13 12:46:46 2009

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