RE: methodological naturalism

Mike Hardie (
Thu, 11 Jun 1998 15:56:50 -0700

>Burgy was saying (in effect) that MN (ie. Methodological Naturalism) is
true because
>it works. I was pointing out that "it works" is based on a philosophy
called pragmatism
>which in the end denies truth. That MN works in many cases does not
establish that
>it is true.

What would it mean for Methodological Naturalism to be "true", exactly?
It's a methodology, not a metaphysical system. As for pragmatism, I think
it's necessary to distinguish between pragmatism in the general
epistemological sense and pragmatism *used in a limited context*. The
former would deny that truth had any importance, and instead deal with
questions of utility (as you suggest), but the latter need not make any
such sweeping claims about truth.

>Neither Johnson nor I claim that TR "is incompatible with theistic
evolution". Johnson's
>point is that MN is "is incompatible with theistic evolution" because if
carried out
>consistently (eg. origins, Christianity) it would become Metaphysical
Naturalism and
>deny *any* theistic worldview. It is precsiely MN that was used by the
19th century
>German `higher critics' like Bultmann who denied the supernatural as a
matter of
>methodology and ended up with a Jesus who was just a man who did not really
>perform any miracles and who did not rise from the dead.

But Methodological Naturalism would deny things like God *only for the
purposes of the methodology*, not in any general or ultimate sense.
Science does not, and *cannot*, address metaphysical claims, so it has to
eliminate any metaphysical questions (like the existence of God) simply for
its own purposes. This is not to say that science disbelieves in God, but
merely that God is a question science cannot address. Basically, then, I
don't see any necessary connection between Methodological Naturalism (used
by science) and Metaphysical Naturalism (used by some philosophers).

>Which just concedes the point! If MN can't even explain the origin of the
>universe, but TR can, then TR is the more inclusive theory and MN its

That really does not follow at all. MN *should* not address metaphysical
questions. That does not make it necessarily a subset of "TR", or anything
else for that matter. It simply means that MN and metaphysics/philosophy
are two different things.

>Again this confirms my point that MN has no answers to the orign of life

I'm no scientist... but isn't this where abiogenesis comes in?

>JR>But this is no significant evidence -yet- for what many Johnsonians
seem to
>>suggest, which is a positive answer to (2) Are there any
>>scientifically/empirically superior NON-MN approaches to these issues? The
>>consensus here, even generally amongst scientists who are serious
>>Christians, is "no" as well.
>I have read this several times and can't understand it (apart from admitting
>that MN has no answers to the orign of life either). Perhaps you can
>make it plainer?

I think what he is saying is that, within the context of science, MN is
best able to approach the issues. I'd even go one step further with that,
and say that MN *is* the scientific approach to all issues.

>I've got news for you. Johnson already *has* "serious respect in the
>"In his 1992 book Dreams of a Final Theory, Steven described me as currently
>"the most respectable academic critic of evolution." (Weinberg S., "Dreams
>a Final Theory", 1992, pp247-49, in Johnson P.E., "Darwin on Trial," 1993,

I'm not sure that's necessarily indicative of great respect.

>I correspond with leading Intelligent Design theorists and the news is that
>Intelligent Design is gaining ground in universities across USA
>and Canada, both among students and faculty members (including

As a Canadian university student, I find this interesting. Are there any
statistics, news reports, etc. you can point me to which confirm it? It's
certainly not a trend I'm personally observing.

>JR>If ID theory starts showing results, then it may be able successfully to
>>argue against MN on pragmatic grounds -- it's success there will be
>>proportional to its empirical success. Until then, because science seeks
>>truth via theories that show the best available empirical results, ID theory
>>will be more a philosophical research program than a scientific one. (Still
>>perhaps very worthwhile, but not science per se.)
>That is just a question-begging definition of "science". If Intelligent
>really happened then it is not outside of "science" to study it, any more
>than intelliegnt design is outside of sciences like archaeology or SETI.

That's not really correct. Remember, the study of ultimate reality is
metaphysics, which is philosophy. Science is another thing altogether, and
deals solely with empirical data and inferences from it. If you believe
that there are truths which are not accessible by scientific methods (i.e.,
MN), then (in your opinion, at least) there *are* true things that aren't
even theoretically within science's grasp.

>Yes. If Burgy doesn't even get the name of TR right, then it is indicative
>that he does not understand what TR is.

That seems a bit uncharitable. Should I conclude from the fact that you
get fallacy names wrong that you don't know what fallacies are? (For
example, in this same post, you misuse the term "special pleading", and in
the past you have misapplied "ad hominem". Does this mean that you can't
recognize fallacies? Or does it just mean that you make occasional minor

>That you don't even adress the problem but try to trail a red herring,
confirms my
>point that exponents of MN "have a basic problem of explaining why assuming
>there is no God is the key to understanding reality."

Wouldn't "understanding reality" be metaphysics, as opposed to science? I
think it might be more accurate to say that science allows us to organize
and make sense of empirical data. Whether or not that empirical data
corresponds to reality, or to the entirety of reality, would be a
philosophical question.

>We are discussing MN as philosophy, ie. thinking about science, not
>actually doing science.

I think the point is that MN *isn't* philosophy. It *is* "doing science",
or rather the way to do science. Things like metaphysical naturalism or
theistic design, on the other hand, could be *true*, but they are
philosophy and not science. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...!)


Mike Hardie