March 14, 2006

ID vs. methodological naturalism - Time to retire this feeble argument

“Intelligent design” proponent’s hot-footed gymnastics over methodological naturalism continue. Without (apparently) realizing that an ongoing campaign to restructure MN undermines their claims that ID does not appeal to the supernatural new circumlocutions regarding the epistemological inequity of scientific methodology appear regularly. A recent post on UD offered a link to the following commentary.
The faith of the methodological naturalist

The basic articles of faith for a methodological naturalist go something like this:

We have found excellent naturalistic explanations for many phenomenon in nature.

Therefore - we believe every phenomenon in nature will have a naturalistic explanation.

Therefore - we make it a strict rule that science is exclusively the study of possible naturalistic explanations for what can be observed in the universe.
You’ve got to love that willingness to start building a strawman right there in the title. And his second and third “articles of faith” help plenty with the stuffing.

Of course some methodological naturalists (presumably scientists and those who have confidence in science?) believe that “every phenomenon in nature will have a naturalistic explanation“ but it’s painfully obvious that not all who use scientific methodology believe this since many are theists. Thus, science is in no way committed to the second “article of faith.”

As such, the third “article” does not drop out of the second. In fact his third point is less accurately stated as a rule about exclusivity than it is as a result of history. Never has a non-naturalistic explanation panned out as science. Science is an attempt to understand things empirically. Empirical understanding depends upon testing, which in our experience has always depended upon the natural reality of the phenomenon in question. When ID proponents can demonstrate how research could operate otherwise (e.g. offer methodology for testing non-natural phenomena) science will be happy to accommodate the data.
Science is not the search for the truth about the origin, operation and destiny of the universe it is limited exclusively to purely naturalistic explanations of the origin, operation and destiny of the universe.
It is not immediately obvious where the distinction is here. The author appears to be proposing that there exist truths other than those which can be discovered by science. This may well be true, but set in opposition to the methodology of science, as it is here, the assertion merely creates a false dichotomy, not an empirical observation, and certainly not any kind of logical argument.
The methodological naturalist will choose a naturalistic explanation over a meta-nature explanation to be taught as the truth in science lessons even if it is not actually true.
And we delve even deeper into the world of flawed arguments based upon assumed conclusions based upon preconceived notions. The author is rapidly losing touch with reality here. For his assertion to have any value at all it has to be assumed that there are known verifiable “truths” which contradict that which is understood by science. We know the author believes this is the case (as he is certain there must be a “designer”) but he appears unable to understand that his belief cannot stand as support for the argument he is trying to fashion. Additionally it is proposed that the methodological naturalist is at some point faced with a choice between natural and meta-natural explanation. This is complete nonsense. Anyone using scientific methodology recognizes that this choice (should it exist) is outside the purview of science.
Thus for a methodological naturalist it is perfectly reasonable possibility that in science lessons it will become necessary to teach children what is in fact not true and what is in fact known to be untrue for the sake of meeting the methodological naturalism criteria laid out by the grand assembly of the interplanetary science council.
Okay, now this is getting surreal, but I’ll attempt to stay on point. No methodological naturalist considers the above scenario a “perfectly reasonable possibility,” nor would anyone teach what is known to be untrue. Even if an anti-rationalist such as the author believes some scientific conclusions to be unwarranted it is purely ignorant demagoguery to suggest that some evil scientific cabal sanctions the dissemination of lies. How someone can produce such petty sniveling without being overcome at some point by shame, or even logic, is beyond me.
The real truth can only be taught in a new subject called meta-science lessons and it is a perfectly reasonable possibility in the future for the syllabus in these lessons to contradict the science syllabus and for the meta-science lessons to be teaching the truth and the science lessons to be teaching what is known to be wrong.
He continues to toss this word salad - if only he could keep it in the bowl. Of course what he’s suggesting is utterly unnecessary as we already have humanities and philosophy classes. Slapping a “Meta-science” label on warmed over religion and calling it a new kind of class would fool only those already singing in the choir.

At the end of the post, the UD guy who found it instructive offers this comment,
MN has been a very productive, beneficial methodology for science. It has led to a great deal of knowledge about nature, but the presumption that every natural phenomenon can always be reduced to unintelligent natural processes is not grounded in empirical science. Such an assertion can only be made from a position of faith.
And that faith has several names, including metaphysical naturalism, philosophical naturalism and others. But that approach is clearly not equivalent with the operational methodology of science. Thus continues the ID movement’s tradition of conflating metaphysical naturalism with methodological naturalism despite having the distinction drawn for them time after time.

Time for ID proponents to get off this horse and put it out to pasture. It's just getting embarrassing.


Blogger Jim51 said...

I followed your links to Uncommon Descent and to the commentary you are discussing and I am again and again left somewhat amazed at how little creationists of all stripes offer in support of their own views. Almost the entirety of the posts you are discussing here are about what those "methodological naturalists" and/or "darwinists" seem to think, or would say. Almost none of it contains any positive evidence nor any hypotheses that might offer support for their alternate view. In fact, the absence of specific claims and evidence in the widely varying creationist literature sometimes makes it difficult to know what sort of creationist one is hearing from.
I have really tried to be fair and give all views a consideration including reading Behe's book, one of Dembski's books, and numerous so-called peer reviewed scientific papers and essays available on creationist sites. The only place I have found anything substantive is in Behe's "Darwin's Black Box." And even though most of his specific claims there are easily refuted, at least he didn't spend the bulk of the book discussing what "those" people think.
The creationist approach of speaking for others views (and twisting them considerably in the process) rather than speaking for their own view, is quite frustrating. In some cases it has seemed to me that it is born of ignorance. It is apparent that there is not a lot of homework getting done when people just repeat sound bite talking points. Here I must suggest to them that they try some study of that which they claim to believe, and some study of that which they claim not to believe. On the other hand there are cases where it seems clear that the straw man games and outright falsehoods are disingenuous and quite deliberate. Here I suggest rereading the ninth commandment.
I think I understand how the judge in the Dover School case felt.

4:33 PM  

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