[asa] The Defeat of Keith Miller's View of MN = Science

From: Gregory Arago <gregoryarago@yahoo.ca>
Date: Sat May 23 2009 - 15:47:34 EDT

Thanks for the tip, Terry!
 
~~
 
This message is meant as a challenge to anyone who thinks <methodological naturalism> (MN) is a responsible philosophical assumption to accept as their definition of what counts as <doing science.> When MN is claimed as the limit of <science> it is a false definition. I will argue that ‘science’ has a broader meaning than being about <only natural things.>
 
First, some background to this post (quotations taken from the thread: ). Keith Miller wrote the following:
<The nature of science and the meaning and significance of methodological naturalism is a topic of significant importance for me. It figures very prominently in my effort at public science literacy, and defusing the public <creation/evolution> debate.>
 
One could immediately notice that Keith speaks of <the nature of> science, rather than about its <character,> but don’t worry folks, that seemingly pedantic note is probably just for myself because I am the lone human-social scholar participating here. I am a sociologist and Keith Miller’s definition of <science> as <MN> is entirely <dehumanised> as far as human-social science goes.
 
He then went on to quote himself from a published article that says:
<There simply is no way to incorporate the actions of non-natural agents into a scientific research program.>
 
Now, at this point I doubted the coherency of what Keith was positing. Why? I wanted to know what Keith Miller meant by <non-natural agents.> He is, after all, a professional geologist, a professor of palaeontology. How often does he actually come into contact with <non-natural agents> in his work? So, I asked Keith directly: <in your view, does non-natural = supernatural?> He didn’t answer this question in his own words (instead saying ‘this is what Idists think’ – Keith really seems fixated on ID, like many at ASA).
 
I wondered, why wouldn’t Keith answer and make a distinction? So I asked him multiple times if he could say: what are <non-natural agents that are not at the same time supernatural agents?> He refused to or could not find a way to answer this question. Is anyone out there wondering, along with me: why is this?
 
Then I realized that this failure to distinguish non-natural from supernatural revealed a gigantic weakness, even a fatal flaw (!) in both the MN and TE positions. Some of you are likely going to stop reading now. Perhaps you don’t want to know!
 
Those who accept MN and/or TE don’t like to discuss this situation because it highlights their fragmented, specialist approach to <knowledge> (scientia is the Latin word for <knowledge>). It reveals that they are not as unified in their position as they pretend to be. And it also reveals that they have not found a <bridge between science and theology> that does not at the same time sacrifice unity for fragmentation and division.
 
The fragmentation I am alluding to will come as a surprise to many of you. It is not between <science and theology/religion/faith.> Instead, it is between natural and non-natural; it is between the natural-physical sciences and the human-social sciences. Keith Miller’s definition of <science = MN> completely fails to address this.
 
Charles Darwin addressed it 150 years ago by distinguishing <natural selection> and <artificial selection.> A.R. Wallace even wrote about <human selection> to show that <natural selection> was not universally binding on humanity. But MN=science advocates today think they have healed this obvious wound simply by positing a universalistic definition of <science> *as if* <artificial selection> can also be called a type of <natural agency.> MN is what allows George Murphy to suggest that human-made things are simply <natural.> But folks, he doesn’t really believe this! He doesn’t really believe that <technology> is <natural>, does he?
 
Thus, Keith Miller can only speak of <supernatural agency> as being outside of science, but he cannot coherently defend his published position stating that: <There simply is no way to incorporate the actions of non-natural agents into a scientific research program>. Why? This is because <the actions of non-natural agents> *actually can be* studied scientifically. It is his dependence on the philosophical assumption of MN, i.e. his narrow definition of <science> that obscures his ability to approach non-natural things. This is a huge weakness and it is a fatal flaw of MN. But Keith is, after all, a natural scientist, so perhaps we should expect anything else from him about non-natural things.
 
Is there a scientific definition of <non-natural agents>? Or is that simply impossible due to the limitations of natural science itself? Perhaps non-natural agents are best discussed in a non-natural science (i.e. non-natural scientific language)? I asked these things to Keith, but he didn’t answer.
 
In response to Bill Powers, Keith wrote: <Humans are obviously powerful natural agents in the natural world.>
 
And so I responded by asking if human beings are <more than *just* natural agents> in the natural world. Wouldn't Keith agree? Again, there was no response. Keith did not say if human beings are actually or potentially <more than *just* natural agents>. I suspect it is his evolutionary views that presume human beings are only different in <degree>, but not in <kind> from (other) animals. MN bars the possibility I am alluding to because <more than natural> or <non-natural> are not categories that it entertains.
 
Keith Miller then wrote: <human are natural agents. They are part of this material world that can be studied using the tools of science, and whose actions in the past can be reconstructed. Because we know human physical capabilities and limitations we can identify them as causal natural agents. If humans possess a non-material spirit or soul, this does not make them non-natural agents. It would simply mean that humans possess an aspect of their being which transcends scientific description, and would lay outside the ability of science to investigate.>
 
Doesn’t this sound just like a zoologist would speak of human beings and decidedly *not* like an anthropologist or sociologist would speak of them/us? Isn’t the former just a type of heartless objectivism? Keith, to his credit, leaves open the question of whether or not human beings <possess a non-material spirit or soul>. Yet this is precisely his MN defeater! If humans have <an aspect of their/our being which transcends scientific description,> then MN is an incomplete ideology and unsuitable as a definition for *all of science* because it does not encompass human-social sciences. Aside from the positivistic, objectivistic project of modern <natural-physical science> is the reflexive, subjectivistic project of (post-)modern human-social science. But YOU still deny OUR existence!
 
Yes, human beings as <more than just natural> transcend a natural scientific description. Yet this was as far as Keith seemed willing to go. He would not fairly acknowledge the significant portion of the Academy that is non-naturalistic by definition and that does not accept MN as *the only* definition of science. He is still an accomplice to fragmented knowledge because he doesn’t make an attempt to integrate natural-physical sciences with human-social sciences, in addition to philosophy and theology. His is just a two-way dialogue between <science and religion>.
 
At this point George Murphy charged to Keith’s rescue, repeating Burgy’s words to the effect that MN in practice, means: <Attribute nothing to the gods.>
 
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that such a definition is a negative one. George, in other words, wouldn’t give a positive definition of what nature is, either. But if he did, he has mentioned in the past, it would include all things human and human-made.
 
Keith then reverted to his attack on ‘intelligent design,’ as if he had an inability or unwillingness to distinguish <non-natural agents> from <supernatural agents>:
 
<ID advocates reject humans as natural agents, and instead view them as non-natural intelligent agents distinct from the natural world. Human (and human-like) agents and supernatural agents are viewed as essentially identical categories with respect to scientific explanation.>
 
This quotation was out of the blue and is still astonishing to read: Keith Miller asserts that <ID advocates reject humans as natural agents>! Can he back this up with evidence from published works by ID advocates? I suspect that he is exaggerating in his defense of MN and because he doesn’t have any proof of an <non-natural agent>. What is closer to the truth is exactly what I said: human beings are <natural agents>, but we are also <more than *just* natural>. Keith has left open the possibility of a <non-material spirit or soul>, as he says, but here’s another opportunity for Keith to defend his case and to draw limits around MN and his definition of <science>.
 
I challenge Keith Miller to ask one hundred ID advocates these three questions: 1) <Are human beings natural agents or non-natural agents or both?> 2) <Are human beings essentially identical categorically with/to supernatural agents?> and 3) <Is ‘intelligence’ a category that can be studied purely by natural sciences or does it require the assistance of non-natural sciences?>. If he comes back with results that favor his current viewpoint, I’d give them some attention. Otherwise, his presumption that <human (and human-like) agents and supernatural agents are viewed as essentially identical> and the rest of his conjecture is just a bunch of hot air. There is no reason to listen to a geologist or paleontologist on this topic whatsoever.
 
In fact, I think this is Keith’s personal fantasy, rather than being IDs. And it is exacerbated by Keith himself making no distinction between <non-natural> and <supernatural>.
 
to be continued... __________________________________________________________________ Looking for the perfect gift? Give the gift of Flickr! http://www.flickr.com/gift/

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Received on Sat May 23 15:47:57 2009

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