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Friday, August 15, 2003
Is God ontologically present but methodologically absent?
Philosopher Nancey Murphy calls a spade a spade:
“There is what we might call methodological atheism, which is by definition common to all natural science. This is simply the principle that scientific explanations are to be in terms of natural (not supernatural) entities and processes.” Nancey Murphy, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith v.45, no. 1, p.33-34
Geologist Steven Schafersman, in his essay Naturalism is Today An Essential Part of Science agrees that science requires "methodological naturalism" but he also states quite categorically:
I maintain that the practice or adoption of methodological naturalism entails a logical and moral belief in ontological naturalism, so they are not logically decoupled...
I believe assuming the truth of naturalism only for the purpose of conducting or believing science is a logical and moral mistake.
Protecting the religious sensibilities of theistic evolutionists seems a poor reason for insisting that scientists decouple methodological and ontological naturalism in their explanation of science...
Do theistic scientists think they are playing a game, in which they do science during the day with naturalistic methods, but at night go home and leave naturalism behind in the laboratory, since they don't really believe it describes a true picture of reality?
I think theistic/supernaturalistic methodological naturalists are being illogical... The moral entailment of ontological naturalism by methodological naturalism does not create an ethical lapse among those supernaturalists who assume methodological naturalism (for the purposes of science), but something similar to an insincerity or want
Theistic naturalists must believe in naturalism to methodologically assume or adopt it in science, and they cannot logically maintain a belief in supernaturalism at the same time unless they maintain that there is absolutely no connection at all between the natural and supernatural worlds. But this is something no supernaturalist maintains. Even the most naturalistic theistic naturalist--a deist who claims that God is the ultimate Creator of the universe, but that everything after that singular event is natural and operates by
natural causes--believes in a supernatural origin of the universe. But ontological naturalism makes no exception for the origin of the universe. It must have been natural, too. For supernaturalists who believe in miracles or the dogmas of Christianity, the hurdle is even higher. It is not logically possible for them to describe nature naturalistically when, in fact, they believe in supernatural violations of natural law, i.e. the manifestation of miracles. These arguments suggest to me that methodological naturalism, itself alone required by science, is logically untenable for humans unless one is simultaneously an ontological naturalist.
"I merely want to suggest that supernaturalistic methodological naturalists may wish to examine their metaphysical beliefs more closely, since I think they are illogically engaging in self-deception."
Supernaturalism (is) the antithesis of naturalism
Schafersman then takes to task those naturalists, such as Eugenie Scott, who hold out an olive branch to theistic evolutionists by making critical noises about some of the statements of the "greats" of biology who said, for example:
Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, revised edition, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967, p. 345.
Darwin showed that material causes are a sufficient explanation not only for physical phenomena, as Descartes and Newton had shown, but also for biological phenomena with all their seeming evidence of design and purpose. By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous. Together with Marx's materialistic theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior to influences over
which we have little control, Darwin's theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism - of much of science, in short - that has since been the stage of most Western thought. D. J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, Sinauer Associates Inc., 1986, Sunderland, MA, p. 2
[These views are succinctly summarised by Kenneth Miller:
...evolution works without either plan or purpose.
Miller and Levine, Biology Prentice Hall, 1995, p. 658]
It should be obvious that Eugenie Scott is confusing categories here. The statements of Futuyma and Simpson are completely correct and scientifically accurate: there is no purpose in nature, and humans were not planned or designed in the course of their
This is one of the supreme discoveries of science, and for Scott to suggest that scientists engage in self-censorship to protect the religious sensibilities of theistic methodological naturalists (evolution's most numerous supporters and scientific creationism's greatest enemy) is authoritarian and moralistic...
I am sure they [Simpson and Futuyma]would say that if supernaturalists want to believe there is such a supernatural purpose, let them believe it, but don't try to say that such a
purpose exists in nature - it doesn't, as science has revealed beyond all doubt. Simpson and Futuyma are obviously ontological naturalists, but they were not trying to pass off their philosophy as science. They were only speaking about what science knows about nature, and everything they say in the quotations above is completely correct and
proper. In other words, it is not "philosophy" to say there is no purpose in nature: this is a scientific fact. The worst they are guilty of is promoting methodological naturalism, but I don't see how any scientist, even theistic ones, can avoid promoting this.
Richard Lewontin, the zoologist, who is not usually associated with the ultra-Darwinist school of Dawkins, Pinker, Provine, et al, also appears to agree that methodological naturalism cannot be decoupled from ontological naturalism:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community of unsubstantiated just so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material
explanation of the phenomenal world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. Richard Lewontin,"Billions and Billions of Demons", New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28
Peter Atkins, from the ultra-Darwinist school unashamedly states the manifesto:
Science and religion cannot be reconciled, and humanity should begin to appreciate the power of [science] and to beat off all attempts at compromise. Religion has failed, and its failures should be exposed. Science, with its currently successful pursuit of universal competence... should be acknowledged the king. P.W. Atkins, “The Limitless Power of Science” from Nature’s Imagination, ed. J. Cornwell, 1995, Oxford University Press