Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Tue Nov 03 2009 - 04:26:24 EST

Heya all,

I'm rushed for time today or I'd comment on more, but I wanted to throw in
some comments to Gregory's observations here.

> Also, what Murray said about teaching science *as though* it were
> metaphysically neutral is precisely what the ideology, which surprisingly
> many people on this list accept, albeit, apparently without much serious
> consideration, of 'methodological naturalism' pretends to achieve. By
> teaching 'MN,' the result is the same as what Muray says, re: "students are
> given the perception that there are not metaphysical commitments." This is
> what makes MN a weak position to promote, though a majority of the minority
> of non-theists like it because it does for them a job that they inevitably
> want done: no discussion of metaphysical commitments. As with what Merv
> suggests, if you mandate somewhere in the curriculum the discussion of
> metaphysical commitments (see how this is done in a formal sense below), I
> have no doubt that the religious scientists will come out ahead of the
> non-religious (and commonly anti-religious) scientists. But then again, I am
> biased when I say this (i.e. when I practice 'reflexivity') too!

I have to say, as recently as a few months ago you could have considered me
a die-hard defender of the "methodological naturalism" viewpoint. While a
host of factors were in play when it came to changing my mind, I have to
admit that Cameron, Gregory and others played a large role in my reversing
my views on MN. And I also must stress, I didn't just see things
differently, or moderate my stance as a result of what was said. I realized
that MN is not only not an acceptable "neutral point", but it's an actual
misnomer, deceptive, and something I no longer feel comfortable abiding,
much less promoting.

Here are just a few problems with "methodological naturalism".

* There's nothing about the methods commonly associated with "methodological
naturalism" that makes its findings or methods exclusively compatible with
naturalism anyway. Claiming that, say, "Water = H2O" is a naturalistic
discovery is an empty statement, since nothing in the discovery or
description is necessarily incompatible with a non-naturalistic perspective.
Even the method of its discovery (observation, or experimentation, etc) is
not necessarily incompatible - indeed, it can be entirely compatible
(regarding science as studying the "book of nature" for example, exploring a
rational creation that is itself given to understanding by other rational
creatures.) Any theist on this list who has ever made the point that they
would not see themselves as subscribing to "theistic meteorology" should
turn around and ask whether it therefore makes sense to say they "accept
naturalistic explanations for the weather". The qualification of
"naturalistic" does not necessarily do what one would casually expect it to,
if any expectations are had at all.

* What's more, "naturalism" is not itself a very meaningful term anymore -
if it ever was to begin with (beyond negative commitments - a denial of
purposes, a denial of "God", etc). Now, many have the habit of equating
"naturalism" with "materialism" - and certainly there seems to be a solid
historical basis for doing as much. But that time has come and gone;
discoveries in quantum physics forever smashed the old materialism (even
Bertrand Russell, that lovable atheist/agnostic, asserted as much) and has
since given way to physicalism - which itself is a term that is fought over
to this day, typically meaning 'whatever the physicists decide it should
mean'. But the problems don't end there. I think anyone on this list
interested in philosophy of mind questions will have heard of David
Chalmers, and therefore are aware he's argued strongly against physicalism.
But at the same time, he sees himself as a naturalist. Galen Strawson is
another example of someone who takes a position that would have been seen as
a radical departure from naturalism/materialism once upon a time, advocating
panpsychism (the idea that consciousness is fundamental to the universe,
such that even an electron has some experiential aspect). But I doubt he'd
argue against 'naturalism'. Indeed, he has trouble arguing against
physicalism (he refers to his views as 'real materialism'.) This only gets
worse when one notes how many quantum mechanics interpretations,
cosmological speculations (multiverses, anyone?), or other esoteric ideas
(simulated universes, anyone?) are also advocated by people who would
consider all these things 'naturalistic'.

* It isn't just a question of 'naturalism versus theism' either, or at least
that division is not so simple. Metaphysics play a role: Dualists (of which
there are various types), panpsychists, idealists, materialists,
informationalists, and others all have metaphysics that can be brought to
the table - and frankly, all of them typically can easily accommodate the
findings and typical methods of science in their respective worldviews.
Thomas Kuhn, I'm told, may have a lot of interest written on this topic, and
I'm attempting to pick up his oft-talked about book to see for myself (the
idea being science does not progress in a linear fashion, but rather -
loosely put - jumps from worldview to worldview.)

So I would support (if I have them right) Gregory, Cameron, and others here
who stress the importance of philosophy of science, who understand the
relevance of metaphysics (and perhaps the impossibility of a truly 'neutral
picture' of science), etc. I may be going further than them in explicitly
rejecting MN, at least insofar as it implies "naturalism" has much, if
anything, to offer to science that is unavailable in any alternative
approach or metaphysics - but it's certainly a view I would defend.

And to further agree with Gregory - some kind of gardening seems long
overdue, indeed.

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Received on Tue Nov 3 04:27:01 2009

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