[asa] ID and Methodological Naturalism

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Tue May 26 2009 - 22:41:31 EDT

I thank David Campbell for acknowledging that ID people are, in their own
self-conception, "using physical methods to investigate things", and for
writing:

> 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.

I think this is exactly right. Whatever faults may be found with ID theory,
one of its faults isn't appealing to the supernatural to validate its
conclusions. Rather, it uses natural methods to infer a design. Of course,
the designer may be a supernatural being, but ID doesn't claim to be able to
detect the designer *qua* supernatural, but only *qua* intelligent. That's
why ID can't distinguish between Gods, devils, angels, human beings, aliens,
etc. as the designer. (Of course, common-sense criteria can sometimes be
used to narrow down the designer in some cases. For example, aliens from
Antares might have designed the life forms we see on the earth, but it's
unlikely that anyone but God could have designed the basic laws of the
universe. So in the one case the cause would be "natural", in the other
case "supernatural". But determining the identity of the designer takes one
beyond ID proper, and outside of science proper. The tools that ID works
with -- biochemical, mathematical -- cannot answer that question.)

Regarding Denton versus Dawkins, I think it may be true *at the moment* that
science cannot decide between them, but I don't know that this situation
will always prevail, because I'm not certain that the difference is merely
the difference between two different philosophical interpretations of the
same data set. It is conceivable that in the future the front-loaded
character of the process could become so strongly suggested by the data
(e.g., we might come to an understanding of what all that apparently unused
DNA is doing there) that the Dawkinsian explanation would become the poorer
explanation of the two even by narrowly scientific criteria, without
appealing to philosophical criteria.

Here is an interesting statement:

> 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.

Is this statement -- that science is a sub-magisterium of philosophy or
religion, not an independent one -- itself a scientific statement? If not,
what sort of statement is it? And how do we know that it is true?

Cameron.

----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <pleuronaia@gmail.com>
To: "AmericanScientificAffiliation Affiliation" <asa@calvin.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 2:38 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] The Defeat of Keith Miller's View of MN = Science

> 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 22:42:12 2009

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