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

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Tue May 26 2009 - 14:38:49 EDT

Not to speak for Keith, but I favor defining "methodological
naturalism" as "using natural methods", natural being defined here in
the sense of physical, non-supernatural, etc. I am explicitly
excluding any philosophical or religious reasons as to why one might
decide to use natural methods from the definition of methodological
naturalism. Several different and often mutually contradictory
reasons for using it can be given, for example 1) empirically it works
pretty well for a lot of things a lot of the time, 2) everything is
created by God and obeys the laws He made, so we can expect regular
behavior of physical things in most cases, 3) the physical is all that
exists, so everything will always obey physical laws. This is part of
why people from many different viewpoints are all able to do science.

Thus, you are doing science by my definition if you are using physical
methods to investigate things. It is not science to use a psychic,
for example. It is not science to simply think about how you believe
things ought to work, without checking it against physical evidence,
though of course there's a lot of theorizing in science. This is
actually not far from Moorad's suggestion that science involves things
that could be measured by a mechanical detection device.

Note that this does not a priori rule out the scientific investigation
of supernatural or purportedly supernatural things. In fact, this is
closer to the actual practice of both pro- and anti-ID than the
standard rhetoric of allowing or not allowing the supernatural.

By this definition, ID advocates want methodological naturalism. The
standard ID claim is that regular natural methods point to a
supernatural (or at least a design) conclusion, not that
philosophizing or psychic influences or other non-physical lines of
evidence point to design. Of course, those not favoring ID generally
think they are actually claiming that things are the way they want
them to be without checking against the physical evidence, or else
making non-scientific claims. Conversely, ID opponents generally
agree that one can use science to check if an ID claim (or a variety
of other claims relating to the supernatural) is correct. You can
gather statistics about the experiences of different people and verify
that horoscopes are bogus. You can use clever sleight of hand and
produce results matching those that people claim to achieve by magic.
However, science doesn't help in philosophical interpretation of the
result. For example, science does indicate that a number of Wells'
claims about evolution are incorrect. Science does not help us decide
between Denton's current position of seeing evolution as an example of
design versus Dawkins' position that evolution is an example of
non-design-these are both philosophical interpretations of the same
data set.

Also, this is a definition of the limits of science, not whether
something is good enough to be science. Science is great for lots of
everyday practical things like how to build a machine, but can't touch
the important topics that faith, philosophy, etc. can.

The sorts of claims about the supernatural that are amenable to
scientific investigation generally fall more under the categories of
magic or superstition than of anything of serious theological
interest. Ironically, this point is well-illustrated in a paper from
the Journal of Irreproducible Results, which claimed to be testing the
suitability of angels as lab animals. They were uninterested in chow,
went through the walls of the maze, and generally did not seem
promising as a substitute for rats.

Although an advocate of non-overlapping magisteria might agree with me
up to this point, I would point out that these other sources of
information such as philosophy and religion have implications for
science. Science is a sub-magesterium, not an independent one.

Investigation of humans such as in social sciences varies from
extensive to minor amounts of science in this definition. In addition
to ethical limits, the unpredictability and complexity of humans can
make for major difficulties in finding patterns that are specific
enough and reliable enough to be very useful.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Tue May 26 14:39:00 2009

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