The Ultimate Discoveroid Blog Post

From time to time, the Discovery Institute releases a multisyllabic blast of pseudo-scientific flatulence that is difficult to read and exhausting to write about. It’s tempting to ignore such stuff, but it seems to impress their generous patrons and their drooling fans, so sometimes we discuss it. This is one of those occasions.

Today at their creationist blog we found this: Dump the Metaphysics — How About Methodological Regularism? It was written by Tom Gilson, described in an editor’s note like this:

We are delighted to welcome Tom Gilson as a new contributor. Mr. Gilson is a senior editor at The Stream [a website friendly to the Discoveroids] and has hosted ID the Future [a collection of Discoveroid podcasts]. He blogs at Thinking Christian [link omitted].

In other words, Gilson is a creationist. Here are some excerpts from his post, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

The pseudo-scientific doctrine of methodological naturalism has caused no end of trouble. [Aaaargh!!] It’s time we called for a more reasonable replacement: How about methodological theism?

We need to pause for a definition. Methodological naturalism — which Gilson finds so troublesome — is an operational procedure inherent in the scientific method. According to Wikipedia’s article on Naturalism, it “concerns itself with methods of learning what nature is. These methods are useful in the evaluation of claims about existence and knowledge and in identifying causal mechanisms responsible for the emergence of physical phenomena. It attempts to explain and test scientific endeavors, hypotheses, and events with reference to natural causes and events.” Okay, back to Gilson. He says:

Actually, for anyone who’d make a suggestion like that it’s time to duck for cover instead. The scientific community would stone you for advancing an idea so loaded with metaphysical and theological presuppositions. Except that’s precisely the point. Even if methodological theism had nothing else to recommend it — though it does — it can at least highlight how methodological naturalism contains every bit as much non-scientific bias.

Are you following this? Gilson says that methodological naturalism — the essence of the scientific method — has a “non-scientific bias,” while his proposal for methodological theism — whatever that might be — is somehow superior. Next he tells us:

Methodological naturalism, the usual doctrine, tells us we should treat our pursuit of science as if nature is all there is; that we should assume there is no supernatural reality, or if there is, it is completely and forever divorced from our theories, methods, and conclusions.

Utterly wrong. As we said in Bring Me An Angel Detector!:

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.

Gilson continues:

Methodological theism, in contrast, supposes that there is a God who acts in and through nature, as Judaism and Christianity have traditionally understood God to do. [Brilliant!] Many will reject this out of hand. [He quotes a few scientists.] But in fact none of this has anything whatever to do with theism. [Hee hee!] It’s all a straw man, conveniently crafted, one suspects, to support a secular scientific view of reality.

How much of this can we endure? Let’s read on a little more:

True theism actually provides stronger support than naturalism for expecting nature to behave in a regular fashion. And this is no conveniently crafted theory on the theist’s part, served up to explain God in a world of science. This theism goes back millennia. It’s in the very earliest understandings of God as creator, to start with. Genesis tells us that God created humans to be morally significant agents.

Okay — that’s enough! We tried to slog through this mess, but we can’t go on. If you like, dear reader, click over there and read it all. Then, when you’ve been enlightened with all that Oogity Boogity, let us know if we missed anything worthwhile.

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34 responses to “The Ultimate Discoveroid Blog Post

  1. I think the most interesting evolution the Discoids have gone through is from “no, no, nothing we do is related to religion” to hardly bothering to paper it and over.

  2. Michael Fugate

    So Gilson believes anomalous results might be miracles and this somehow helps. Like supposed revelations, how can we tell the difference between a mistake or a random event and an intervention by gods? Once again: science + gods = science. The “gods” term is of no use and is effectively zero.

  3. Cruzing in Victory

    Nothing on orphan genes. Called it!!

    This really is a science-free blog.

  4. Why would these Christians think their god favored regular behavior in nature and as such claim that ‘He” is the source of that regularity. Certainly there is nothing in scripture that indicates, through their god’s behavior, that anything favors regular behavior. That god is capricious, whimsical, and unreliable. He may ask you to do a simple task and then turn around and ask you to sacrifice your son and burn him on an altar as a test of faith. Shouldn’t an all-knowing god know these things already and knowing everything already, shouldn’t that make its behavior a model of consistency?

  5. About orphan genes, see the Wikipedia article of that title:

    I see nothing related to the International Mosonic Conspiracy, the Green Aliens from the Magellanic Clouds, or Ouija Boards. The Flat Earth doesn’t seem to explain them.

  6. SC, forgive me for going of-topic here, but since you are quite interested in the Constitution, I think you would be interested in this Op Ed in today’s NY Times:

  7. Interesting question, retiredsciguy. I don’t have an answer.

  8. For the umpteenth time, creationists – there’s no such thing as the supernatural. If there was, it would be part of reality – it would be natural. The supernatural can’t exist, by definition.

  9. I’ve noticed that measuring tapes, weight scales and thermometers aren’t much use in resolving spiritual matters. Although I have found that once you start recording temperatures, specific mass and measuring distances, the need to arbitrate or guess at such values seems to just disappear. I wonder where that need goes? Do some folks miss having that need?

  10. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
    by Walt Whitman

    When I heard the learned astronomer,
    When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
    When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and
    measure them
    When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much
    applause in the lecture-room,
    How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
    Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
    In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
    Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

  11. Michael Fugate

    I wonder if the DI has ever heard of start codons? Do they know how many bases make up a codon? Have they ever heard of promoters? Have they heard of transposable elements? Do they understand about how a new transcript could arise by a single point mutation?

  12. Dave Luckett

    The piece is presuppositional theism a la Sy Ten Bruggencate, with the same rebuttal. Nothing to see here, move along.

  13. Some years ago, in my country, one of our idiot politicians made the public statement: “No-one ….is the suppository of all wisdom.”

    I beg to differ. After his metaphysical dump, and call for a new kind of “regularism”, Tommy G. might fit the bill quite nicely.

  14. It’s time we called for a more reasonable replacement: How about methodological theism?

    Does that mean we also need methodological pantheism, methodological deism, etc, etc as well? Otherwise this would seem to be a Special Pleading in favor of favoring Theism over other religious views in science.

  15. Goodness. That’s nothing. You should see Gibbo when he really gets worked up. Subject matter is irrelevant because it’s usually Gibbo vs The World. Cruzzie gave him a thesaurus for Christmas last year (I haven’t forgiven him yet) and things haven’t been the same since. Theological-this, naturalistic-that. Poor old Gibbo has no idea what they mean but, as he says, neither does the opposition and it puts them off-guard trying to make sense of it.

    What puzzles me is why he’s gone downmarket with the DI. He’s on a perfectly good little earner with his own shows. I suppose there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

  16. “He blogs at Thinking Christian”
    Creationists excel at creating oxymorons.

    And or course “methodological theism” already exists, it is called theology and its obscurantism proper subset is called religious apologetics. Neither have been able to actually explain reality with any predictive power, which is exactly why that are not any part of science, much to the dismay of the willfully ignorant.

    “This really is a science-free blog.”
    Claims a scientific illiterate hit and run spammer.

  17. As GreenPoisonFrog pointed out, it is fascinating to study the evolution of ID. We started with ‘intelligent design’ being detectable in nature, using the scientific method. Then came the ‘designer’ into the picture, with no religious connotation, of course.
    Now we are told that we are dealing with “… a God as [in] Judaism and Christianity …”
    Reminds me of macro evolution. One can see the desparation after 25 years and no results to show.

  18. If evolution reveals ID through specified complexity, does “the evolution of ID” reveal complexified specificity?

  19. Let me play Gilson’s advocate. I see him as making two points:

    1) There are regular laws of nature. We need to explain why this should be the case. The laws of nature are constant because they represent the will of God, which is constant. This is the philosophical position known as “occasionalism” and dates back, I believe, to al Ghazali. I don’t think this is either ridiculous or harmful, if you like that sort of thing. There is nothing new here, and it doesn’t add anything to scientific practice.

    2) Confusion between pragmatic methodological naturalism, and intrinsic methodological naturalism. I’m not sure if anyone really advocates the latter, which really would be unnecessary metaphysical baggage. I did accuse Lewontin of doing that here, and quote-mining IDologues do so all the time, but that is a foolish misunderstanding based on reading material out of context, as people here pointed out to me.

    The reason scientists don’t spend a lot of time investigating non-natural phenomena is simply that such investigations inevitably come up empty. You can waste your life doing this kind of thing, as JB Rhine did with telepathy, only to have it later emerge that apparently significant results were statistical fluctuations, or (as in Rhine’s case) downright cheating by a trusted assistant.

    But there’s nothing new about the DI being committed to “a broadly theistic understanding of nature”, indeed that when the whole point from the beginning; see the Wedge Document

  20. My understanding of occasionalism is something like what is said in the Wikipedia article:
    “… all events are taken to be caused directly by God. … The theory states that the illusion of efficient causation between mundane events arises out of God’s causing of one event after another. However, there is no necessary connection between the two: it is not that the first event causes God to cause the second event: rather, God first causes one and then causes the other.”

    See also the article on Ncolas Malebranche, section on Occasionalism.

    (I think that ths is very influential in modern Islamic thought.)

  21. The constant behavior of the universe is parsimoniously explained by the *absence* of supernatural entities who could change it.

  22. @TomS, well put. al Ghazali, of course, was a long time before Malebranche but I don’t know if Malebranche was influenced by him, either directly or indirectly.

    The constancy of the laws of nature is then said within this school of thought to follow from the constancy of the will of God

  23. re “understandings of God as creator”, nobody has ever:

    seen God
    heard God
    touched God
    smelled Got
    tasted God
    detected God
    agreed on a definition of God

    Those pesky details aside you can trust them, they understand God.

  24. I’m with Paul Braterman, always a wise default position by the way, in the investigation of the supernatural. Tom Gibberish sets up a straw man by saying

    “…we should treat our pursuit of science as if nature is all there is; that we should assume there is no supernatural reality, or if there is, it is completely and forever divorced from our theories, methods, and conclusions.”

    when, in fact, the “supernatural” has been investigated methodically for centuries and for centuries it’s turned up nothing. Is there telepathy? Nope, the human mind is not like a book and you can’t read it (although you can look at the pictures). Telekinesis? Nope. Intercessory prayer? Nope. Demons? Nope. Ghosts? Nope. Anything on The List?** Nope.

    And, how about just being general and asking what knowledge, any knowledge (Bueller? Bueller?) was discovered and confirmed by metaphysical, religious or revelatory means not accessible by science? The answer is “none.”

    Finally, I find it continually amusing that god-bots like Gibberish, so-called “men of faith” spend their lives scrambling around for the tiniest morsel of evidence to justify their belief. Doesn’t sound a lot like belief, if you ask me.

    ** p.s. There used to be a great web site, the Australian Skeptics Society, I think, that had a lovely compendium of beliefs from Aliens to Zombies. It was an incredible list of weird things people believe.

  25. There is a basic difficulty in using God in an explanation for something that we know about.
    At least kn the Abrahamic tradition, God is unique, and his ways are beyond our uderstanding. He is infinite in knowledge and power, whatever that means.
    But to explain something is to render it in finite terms, in ways that we can understand. For example, if we use a concept like “design”, the only designs that we know about are what our fellow humans, and maybe some other animals, do. We resort to design because of things need changing, and we need to take account of the possibilities for change. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If things are OK, there is no point in changing them.
    But that concept of design doesn’t make any sense when applied to the omniscient, omnipotent creator of all. Why would God feel the need to change anything? And if he did, why would there be any need to design?
    Not only “why”, but “what does it mean?”
    It would be as inappropriate as to speak of Divine Tools, or Divine Blueprints, or Divine Purchasing Orders.

  26. Michael Fugate

    Which is why God is not a “he” and referring to God in such a manner is silly. Transcendence applies.

  27. Zetopan:
    “He blogs at Thinking Christian”
    Creationists excel at creating oxymorons.

    Well, to be kind, the “oxymoron-ess” of the statement sorta depends on how one defines “Christian”. If you define “being a Christian” the way Ken Ham would define it, then yes, it is definitely an oxymoron.

    However, if we chose to define “a Christian” as one who tries to follow the basic interpersonal behaviors allegedly taught by Jesus (the “Golden Rule”, etc.), but doesn’t buy into all the supernatural hocus-pocus, then that person could well be a “Thinking Christian”. In my opinion (for what that’s worth).

  28. @retiredsciguy, I’m with you on this. I’d go further. Almost all evolution rejectors are driven by metaphysical beliefs, but it doesn’t have to be that way, some of the most effective advocates of evolution are committed religionists, and getting sidetracked into god/no-god business is at best a distraction, at worst a betrayal of needed allies, and plays straight into the hands of the Hamsters

  29. @Paul Braterman
    Almost all evolution rejectors are driven by metaphysical beliefs.
    While I don’t know about the motivations of others, what I see of the arguments against evolution, they seem to be
    (1) negative, not directed toward a particular belief,
    (2) emotional, not metaphysical. That is, “I don’t like the thought of being related to the rest of the world of life on Earth, especially when it is quite obvious: monkeys and apes.”
    I agree that it doesn’t have to be “that way”. The Dalai Lama and the Pope seem to agree.

  30. Michael Fugate

    The questions are, given Gilson’s writing, is he thinking and is he a Christian?

  31. There are people who don’t want to think. They prefer others to do it for them, and they like it to be kept simple. Creationism is sort of like intellectual welfare.

  32. “The pseudo-scientific doctrine of methodological naturalism has caused no end of trouble.”
    The simple fact that computers and internet allow Gilson to spread his creacrap is an excellent example of this hypothesis.

    “Even if methodological theism had nothing else to recommend it — though it does.”
    The simple fact that Gilson doesn’t present one single example of it nicely confirms what I just wrote.

    “True theism actually.”
    Ach so. And what exactly is untrue theism supposed to look like?

    @Zetopan has a keen eye for the bright side: ““methodological theism” already exists, it is called theology.”
    Unfortunately theology has not reliable methodology ….

  33. @Paul Braterman

    True, true — evolution is not a religious nor a non-religious philosophical concept. It is an observable fact. The part that is theory is what causes evolution. Darwin proposed that the driving cause of evolution is natural selection, and with the huge preponderance of evidence gathered to date, it is without doubt the best explanation we have.

    Some religionists such as Ken Ham must feel that all the supernatural trappings of religion — heaven and hell, rituals, Word of God, Son of God, Holy Trinity, etc., etc. — are necessary to get man to follow the teachings of Jesus. Human nature being what it is, they may have a point. But by insisting that we deny the plainly obvious validity of evolution because these religionists think it is contrary to their interpretation of the Bible, they push thinking people away from their religion rather than draw people to it.

    I suspect Ken Ham does not personally hold the ultra-orthodox religious views he espouses. He has so much invested in his museum and Ark that he has to play the part, otherwise he would not be able to attract enough of the faithful (or faithful-ish) to stay “afloat”.

  34. @returedsciguy
    I wouldn’t call YEC a particularly orthodox reading of the Bible. Lots of it is 20th century innovations aka making stuff up.
    As far as natural selection, yes, but there are other factors: sexual selection, genetic drift, endosymbiosis, gene transfer.