methodological naturalism

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Book Review: “Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique” Part 3: Philosophical Critique

Crossway has published a book entitled Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique edited by J.P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, et al. The book is mammoth- right around 1000 pages of text. As the title suggests, it purports to give a comprehensive refutation of the position of theistic evolution. Due to its huge size and scope, I’ve decided to break my review up into multiple posts. I do not claim to be an expert in every field this book touches upon–that would be impossible. Instead, I’ll offer comments on those areas I took notes and had interactions with in my own reading.

For this part, I will focus on the philosophical critique offered in the book.

Philosophical

As I read through the chapters on the philosophical critique of Theistic Evolution, I found that although each chapter was thoughtful and interesting, there was little by way of actual refutation of TE in the chapters.

Stephen C. Meyer and Paul A. Nelson, in a chapter entitled “Should Theistic Evolution Depend on Methodological Naturalism?,” state that TEs “accept a philosophical rule known as methodological naturalism… [which] asserts that, to qualify as scientific, a theory must explain by strictly physical or material–that is, non-intelligent or non-purposive–causes” (561) and then argue that “…no sound justification exists for holding methodological naturalism… Christians should not use [methodological naturalism] as a reason for adopting theistic evolution, or excluding other theories” (561-562). The chapter is extremely long and filled with a number of analogies and parallels, but the thrust of it is of course centered around these theses at the beginning. But suppose that Christians don’t use methodological naturalism as a reason for adopting theistic evolution or excluding other theories? Indeed, that is the case for myself. I am still not entirely convinced of methodological naturalism as the only way to do science; but I am leaning that direction. However, the reason I began to lean towards TE was because I found time and again that evolutionary theory seemed the best explanation for the observations we have. So I suppose it is possible that methodological naturalism is a poor reason for adopting TE; but that doesn’t mean TE is false, nor does it mean methodological naturalism is false. Indeed, in my reading, this methodological naturalism is an operating assumption. Indeed, I doubt that many TEs would say it is impossible for some natural feature of life to be designed; rather, the argument would be that we have yet to see evidence thereof, and time and again natural explanations are better. This latter point allows scientists to feel justified in looking for natural causes for the features of life rather than going through something like Dembski’s explanatory filter and positing design when current research comes to a dead end.

The very next chapter of the book, by Stephen Dilley, simply argues that “Theistic evolutionists should reject methodological naturalism” (593). Again; suppose this is true. If true, does it show theistic evolution is false? No. Maximally, it just means that methodological naturalism is not the best way to go about things as a TE.

J.P. Moreland’s chapter’s lofty title caught my attention: “How Theistic Evolution Kicks Christianity Out of the Plausibility Structure and Robs Christians of Confidence that the Bible is a Source of Knowledge.” Certainly, Moreland’s chapter appears to be a broadside against TE. In his “summary” of the chapter, Moreland puts his argument thus: “…given the widespread scientism–the view that the hard sciences are the only or the vastly superior way to know things…–in our culture, theistic evolutionists reinforce this view by constantly revising biblical teachings and interpretations because science says so. Thus, by adopting this unbiblical epistemological outlook, theistic evolutionists weaken the rational authority of biblical teaching among Christians and non-Christians” (633). Moreland’s concern, then, is not that TE actually inherently destroys Christianity, but rather that because TEs allegedly continually change what they think the Bible says [which part? where? why?], it undermines confidence in the Bible.

Moreland argues, for example, that TEs have changed their position on the soul because of science, turning towards physicalism as opposed to dualism regarding the mind-body problem due to advances in neuroscience. Alongside blithely noting that “Jesus believed in a soul” (655) (what did Jesus mean by “soul”? Does physicalism truly deny the possibility of a soul or does it say that the soul is emergent or part of the physical self? Are our ideas about the “soul” so advanced or perfect that we can easily claim Jesus is certainly in agreement with us?), Moreland’s broader claim is that TEs willingness to change what the Bible says about the soul (which, as I’ve read on this issue, is not very much and rather vague–this, coming from someone who would consider himself a Thomist regarding the mind-body problem) demonstrates that TEs are willing to undercut dualism in behalf of science.

Though Moreland does briefly acknowledges that theology may change, he quickly goes on to state that “we should be very careful and reluctant to revise what the church has held for centuries…” (657). He goes on, “…it seems hardly a coincidence that just when the naturalistically informed culture puts pressure on us to believe a certain thing, even though the history of biblical interpretation supports the exact opposite, we conveniently discover that we have misunderstood the Scriptures all along!” (658). Indeed, that would be convenient if that were what is happening, but before there was cultural pressure from the “naturalistically informed culture,” Christians like George Frederick Wright were noting that God’s special divine interaction with the world is not appealed to for the movement of planets and need not be for things like the diversification of life. Wright wrote at a time when evolution was still a theory very much debated, so he can hardly be accused of caving to cultural pressure. The TEs we see today are in that same line of tradition that stretches back more than 100 years, seeking to understand the teachings of Scripture and what God has revealed to us by nature. Moreover, as Alister McGrath notes, “Christian theology undergoes periodic revision, often in response to particular situations within the culture at large, even if it could be argued that it nevertheless keeps certain core ideas at the centre of its vision” (Alister McGrath, The Science of God, 27-28). Whether it was the development of Nicene orthodoxy, the condemnation of the Donatists, or the rejection of the prosperity gospel, Christianity has often changed or clarified issues in response to cultural pressures. That’s because we don’t have the full picture. Now we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), so we must constantly seek for truth and revise our ideas as we run into more evidence, no matter where it comes from.

Moreland also turns his sights against non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) and claims that TEs largely hold to this view and that it undercuts Christian doctrines and ethics. How? Because if we say that science can only test some claims, apparently that means that we would automatically assume that other doctrines or ethical positions are merely subjective. This unfortunate non-sequitor is the kind of argumentation I’d expect to be beneath Moreland, a scholar I respect. In no way does NOMA entail that there can be no objectivity outside of science, unless one then pairs it entirely with scientism. But very few TEs would embrace full-on scientism, because, after all, they remain theists and so affirm that God exists and is the ground of reality. Thus, this fanciful tale in which scores of TEs are out there undermining Christian doctrines and ethics and calling them subjective seems fear-mongering. Indeed, some TEs are among the most steadfast and brilliant theologians of our time and certainly do affirm objectivity in theology and ethics (for example, John Walton and Alister E. McGrath).

C. John Collins’ chapter on God’s action in the world largely seeks to say that we should allow for miracles in the workings of the natural world, something that I doubt many TEs would deny. The difference is that many TEs (though certainly not all) would see things like the emergence of life or the way nature is set up to allow for evolution and lead to humans as miraculous, while leaving the individual workings to “natural” processes. Again, very few people today would demand Christians affirm that the movement of the planets is an act of special divine intervention, even though historically many Christians did affirm that and the Bible explicitly states that the “heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). Yet we don’t have books arguing against Christians who don’t believe that the movement of the stars or weather patterns are the direct acts of God? Why not? Because we have accepted that God may use natural processes, and that this, too, is glorious.

Other chapters argue about the origin of conscience, the problem of natural evil on evolution, and the interaction of science and scripture. These are interesting, but again seem to do little to undercut the position of TE.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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

ddd-klinghoffer

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.

Links

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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)

Source

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).

SDG.

Intelligent Design in Fiction – Ben Bova’s “New Earth” and Intelligent Design

bb-neBen Bova is a six time winner of the Hugo Award. His books hit best seller lists, and he is acknowledged as one of the all-time masters of science fiction. I’ve already explored several themes found in one of his latest books, New Earth. Here, we will look at how one might view the book as a fictionalization of the way to discover intelligent design in unexpected places. I should note that I am highly doubtful that Bova intended the book to be viewed through this lens, which makes the discovery of such a possible theme more surprising. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Expectations

When a team from Earth discovered the planet they dubbed “New Earth,” it defied explanation. Between a pair of stars, one of which went nova in the relatively recent past, the timing was off for such a planet to exist. The strangeness of the planet only increased when life was discovered on its surface. Finally, when intelligent life in fairly similar form to humans greet the human visitors in English, the astonishment of the explorers is complete.

But of course that’s not all that is strange about the planet. Under the surface it is actually hollow, with metal mantle that contains a gravity generator. Each of these aspects ultimately leads to the inescapable conclusion: the planet was designed for life, specifically life like that of Earth. The revelation comes from a Precursor–an ancient, sentient machine–the planet was designed to lure humans into first contact so a message of coming destruction could be delivered. The planet and the life on it were indeed designed with purpose. The eeriness of the situation is, in fact, telling.

Finding Design

In New Earth, when things show up with unexpected parameters or where they “should not be,” it is reason for further scientific exploration. Ultimately, this exploration yields the conclusion of design. I must emphasis this aspect of the book: design is not a hypothesis excluded at the outset. Instead, it is the logical outcome of putting the disparate pieces of evidence–unexpected location, age, life, types and forms of life, breathable atmosphere, hollow planet, etc.–together.

Put this in perspective: today one of the major critiques against the notion of “intelligent design” in the origins of life, its diversity, or our universe is that, essentially, one must have an a priori commitment to reject such intelligent causes as some kind of primitive magical reality in which people believe anything. However, in New Earth, epistemic openness to the possibility of design leads to real scientific discovery… of design.

I can’t help but think there is something informative here. The notion that scientific hypotheses must, by definition, exclude design not only would–if consistently practiced–remove any notion of agent causation from any situation (such as a human doing something), but could also hamper actual discovery. Methodological naturalism–the notion that science must operate in such a way as to exclude the possibility of agency–could actually be limiting the scientific enterprise. This is not to say that any unexpected observation should immediately be credited to design. Rather, my point is that if design is the most plausible of competing hypotheses, there is no reason to exclude it from the realm of possibility.

New Earth provides just such an example of how, ultimately, design was a better operating hypothesis than rival theories. When the explorers initially discussed the strange circumstances in the planet (specifically its seeming impossible location), one character remarked that [paraphrased] “It’s here! The models must be wrong!” Ultimately, this exclamation was shown to be incorrect: the models remained correct but did not account for the possibility of design.

Conclusion

One might note that Bova’s work perhaps shows the disjunct between design and naturalistic process. The juxtaposition of New Earth and its unexpected location, age, flora, and fauna against Earth’s more “typical” age and location provides readers with a reduced sense of the wonders of Earth. Moreover, in Bova’s broader canon, even Mars at one point had intelligent life upon its surface.

However, one must look to Earth and consider what we actually do observe rather than simply declaring that Earth “is here” so it must have gotten here through naturalistic means. Does Earth (or our universe) provide evidence for the hypothesis of design? That is, is design a more plausible explanation than naturalistic explanations which are offered? That’s a question which will take much exploration.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

A Solar System and Cosmos Filled with Life?- A reflection on Ben Bova’s “Farside” and “New Earth”– I explore the notion that life should be expected all over the place in a post that looks at some of Bova’s most recent works.

Our Spooky Universe: Fine-Tuning and God– Here, I present evidence that our universe indeed has been designed.

“Fitzpatrick’s War”- Religion, truth, and forgiveness in Theodore Judson’s epic steampunk tale– I take a look at the book Fitzpatrick’s War, a novel of alternative history with steampunk. What could be better? Check out some of the worldview issues brought up in the book.

I have discussed the use of science fiction in showing how religious persons act. Check out Religious Dialogue: A case study in science fiction with Bova and Weber.

Source

Ben Bova, New Earth (New York: Tor, 2013).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Methodological Naturalism: A Practice in Self-Affirmation?

I recently read a fantastic article in the latest Philosophia Christi by Stephen C. Dilley entitled “Philosophical Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism: Strange Bedfellows?” and I just had to share its central thesis here.

Dilley argues that “philosophical naturalists who draw epistemic support from science for their worldview ought to set aside methodological naturalism in certain historical science” (118).

Methodological Naturalism (MN) is generally the position that within science, one should never appeal to a supernatural explanation. Philosophical Naturalism (PN) is broadly defined as the belief that the world consits only of the natural, that is, that there are no supernatural entities (and thus theism is false). Here, of course, astute readers will almost instantly notice the problem with utilizing such a position to try to gain epistemic support for PN. The problem is, as Dilley points out, that using MN to epistemically justify PN is circular.

Let us examine this problem more fully. One consequence of MN is that “God hypotheses… cannot receive evidential confirmation within the context of science” (127). Of course, this doesn’t mean that “…God hypotheses do not receive scientific confirmation… but that they cannot… No possible emphasis can confirm God hypotheses within a scientific context, no matter what the evidence actually is. That is just what MN entails” (127, emphasis his).

Again, readers will probably already see where this is going. The problem of circularity here rears its ugly head. On the one hand, hypotheses which would disconfirm PN are ruled out a priori from scientific investigation. On the other hand, adherents of PN seem to want to utilize scientific evidence to confirm PN and disconfirm rival hypotheses. But then, while MN is in effect, PN cannot be criticized scientifically (129). This is because the central thrust of MN is to rule out supernatural hypotheses, which, in turn, rules out any kind of rival position for PN. Again, this doesn’t even appeal to any kind of scientific evidence for God or lack thereof, because such evidence isn’t even considered, a priori.

And then, following from this, PN will always receive confirmation from MN, because it cannot be otherwise. This is because MN rules out any rival hypotheses by definition. Again, it doesn’t even matter if naturalistic explanations would be superior to theistic explanations, because, given MN, there cannot even be a side-by-side comparison!

Thus, those who wish to utilize MN as some way to draw epistemic support for PN are sadly misguided. It simply cannot be done, because MN can’t even consider rival hypotheses. Instead, the joint usage of PN and MN show just another reason that naturalism is a practice in self-affirmation. Obviously, naturalism is going to appear superior to theism if we rule out theism before we even begin to investigate! Clearly, those who wish to justify PN cannot utilize MN to do so.

Source:

Dilley, Stephen C, “Philosophical Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism: Strange Bedfellows?” Philosophia Christi, 12-1, 2010, p. 118-141.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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