This one at the Discovery Institute’s creationist blog was no fun to read and even less fun to write about, but it’s interesting to see what those people are up to. Their new post is Are Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism the Same? A Dissent. It was written by Walter Myers III, who teaches philosophy at Biola University, a bible college. We wrote about him in Discovery Institute — The Mind of Walter Myers.
As before, Walter is discussing: (1) methodological naturalism, an operational procedure which is inherent in the scientific method; and (2) philosophical naturalism, also known as metaphysical naturalism, defined by Wikipedia as “a worldview, which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences.”
We wrote about those concepts years ago in Bring Me An Angel Detector!, where we said:
To be a competent scientist, no philosophical materialism is necessary, and many — perhaps most — do quite nicely without it. A scientist may even believe that a multitude of spirits inhabit this world, but being imperceptible, they are outside the scope of his professional work. For the same reason, no scientist can embark on a scientific exploration of the anatomy of angels’ wings, because there are no observable or detectable data to be examined, measured, tested, etc. This is a consequence of methodological materialism — the process of science. It says nothing at all about the existence of spiritual matters, only their inability to be scientifically studied. Methodological materialism is an operational constraint of science, not a philosophical attack on theism.
Slogging through Walter’s prose is difficult. Attempting to appear scholarly, he writes in a deliberately obscure manner, using as many polysyllabic words as possible. But we know — because he’s a Discoveroid — that Walter is attempting to blur the distinction between the two kinds of naturalism, so he can claim that science is an inherently atheistic enterprise, which arbitrarily refuses to consider what it stubbornly regards as philosophically incorrect ideas.
That’s enough introduction. We’ll give you a few excerpts from Walter’s post, with bold font added by us for emphasis. He cites an article by Barbara Forrest and says:
Forrest, unlike Dembski [a Discoveroid], does not believe that methodological naturalism necessarily entails philosophical naturalism. She reasons, however, that based on the success of methodological naturalism, and the great knowledge it has contributed to the world, along with the simple dearth of evidence for the supernatural, that the “only reasonable metaphysical conclusion” from an empirical and logical perspective is philosophical naturalism. She sees methodological naturalism as procedural and epistemological, as opposed to philosophical naturalism which is a metaphysical position.
She’s right. But being a good creationist, Walter says:
I don’t think this holds up logically. Methodological naturalism has, indeed, shown great success in describing the natural world through physics and chemistry. We think, notably, of the incredible technological advances in medicine, robotics, cell phone technology, and soon-to-be-ubiquitous self-driving cars. But descriptions are not explanations, as they don’t tell us why things are the way they are. There are a great many things we can’t explain or describe that seemingly defy physics and chemistry, such as human consciousness, dark matter, or life itself. So I think Forrest displays considerable “epistemological arrogance” in saying that philosophical naturalism naturally follows from the success of methodological naturalism.
Walter wants science to have wiggle room for the supernatural. He tells us:
Both Dembski and Forrest would agree that methodological naturalism is, in principle, metaphysically neutral. Both would also agree that methodological naturalism has no bearing on what practicing scientists may actually believe about the supernatural. Yet Dembski thinks that methodological naturalism effectively impedes scientific progress, in that it limits science to pursuing only natural causes. [Hee hee!] Forrest counters that methodological naturalism keeps science focused where it should be, on natural causes.
Walter continues, attempting to be reasonable and scholarly:
Clearly, there is no reconciling these two positions. However, is it necessarily the case that those who practice methodological naturalism, particularly those who are theists, feel that God would leave no empirical evidence of himself, as Dembski asserts of them? And is it necessarily the case that a non-theist who accepts methodological naturalism is not open to intelligent design? I don’t see it as the case that a non-theist who practices methodological naturalism could not possibly, at some point, infer design if sufficient empirical evidence were presented. And I don’t see where it is logically necessary that a theist who practices methodological naturalism as a principle must also believe design is not empirically detectable.
What about evidence for intelligent design, Walter? Science is all about evidence! If you have some, bring it on! [*Curmudgeon pauses, but sees no evidence*] After a lot more polysyllabic blather, Walter gives us his position:
I believe wholeheartedly that design is empirically detectable in nature. [Hee hee!] The fact that some bring an a priori view of philosophical naturalism into science, while others feel it follows a posteriori from methodological naturalism (as with Forrest), is in my view unfortunate but immaterial to the goal of methodological naturalism to be neutral on the metaphysical (as Forrest maintains). For me, what is important is that all scientists, irrespective of their metaphysical views, should be able to express their own sincere conclusions without fearing derision or reprisals in the scientific field.
Lovely, wasn’t it? So what did he say? Nothing, really. But it sounded so scholarly!
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