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.
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).
A new book is coming out from the Discovery Institute, a think-tank that explores issues of Intelligent Design. It is entitled Debating Darwin’s Doubt and basically offers a set of essays on Stephen Meyer’s work, Darwin’s Doubt, itself a pretty massive treatise arguing for the viability of Intelligent Design.
The book has 44 essays in it, some of which are only 3-4 pages long. Others are lengthier, the longest being 18 pages (based on my quick glance at the table of contents).
I’m concerned that so many of the essays are so short. I know from experience that packing a bunch of detailed argument into that small a space can be extremely challenging, and it would be a shame if we don’t get substantive responses to the criticisms offered by so many varied sources to Meyer’s argument.
I’m concerned that there are already reviews on Amazon from people who haven’t even read the book complaining about the selection of authors or calling it pseudo-science. Regardless of one’s view on this debate, should not a “review” be a legitimate interaction with the text rather than just offering an opinion on the topic?
I hope that the book spurs discussion rather than shutting it down. Too often, debates over intelligent design turn into name-calling fests on both sides. I sincerely doubt that’s at all what this book will do. Instead, I’m hoping that the book’s publication will lead to more fruitful discussions about the possibility (or not) of biological intelligent design.
I hope that the book will garner wide readership and so provide means for intelligent discussions on the topic to continue, and new research opportunities to be explored.
Well, I’m hoping to read the book when it comes out! I’ll certainly post on it when I get to it. I would love, in the meantime, to read your own thoughts as it comes out, or on what your own hopes and concerns are.