Sunday Quote

Sunday Quote!- Methodological Naturalism Makes a Farce of Empirical Investigation?


Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Methodological Naturalism Makes a Farce of Empirical Investigation?

I’ve been reading through Debating Darwin’s Doubt, which is a collection of essays responding to various critics of Stephen Meyer’s major work arguing for intelligent design within biology, Darwin’s Doubt. In one of the essays, Paul Nelson, a philosopher of biology, directly addresses whether methodological naturalism–the notion that science must offer always and only physical, material causes as explanations–is a viable restriction on scientific inquiry:

[Methodological naturalism] “…makes a farce of empirical investigation, because the outcome of any research could never be in doubt: some material or physical cause must be affirmed as the explanation. If you don’t find one, try harder; just keep looking until you do. (288, cited below)

The point that is being made is that methodological naturalism is itself a limiting factor imposed upon scientific inquiry, rather than something that is required for scientific inquiry. I sympathize with this critique, to be frank. Whatever one thinks of the merits (or lack thereof) of the notion of intelligent design, I think that the sheer possibility of using inference to best explanation to detect intelligent agency is not itself anything to undermine scientific inquiry. Indeed, why should said inquiry be limited unnecessarily? Reject those theories which do not have the evidence to support them; but I don’t think we should do so simply by ruling out some varieties of theory a priori.

Debating Darwin’s Doubt has been an intriguing read so far.


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Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)


Paul Nelson, “Methodological Naturalism: A Rule That No One Needs or Obeys” in Debating Darwin’s Doubt edited David Klinghoffer (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2015).



About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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