Friday, May 18, 2007

Methodological Naturalism

UPDATE: This post no longer reflects my opinion on this subject. I now believe that science is not bound by methodological naturalism. Science as a way of knowing is free to investigate claims of the supernatural. [Is Science Restricted to Methodologial Naturalism?] [Accommodationism in Dover] [Methodological Naturalism].
In a comment on The Neville Chamberlain Atheists thread "slc" repeats a claim that he/she has been making for several months. I started to reply on that thread but the comment grew too long so I'm making it into a separate posting.
"slc" says,
As I have commented on this and other blogs, Prof. Morans' position, along with Myers and Dawkins is that philosophical naturalism is science and therefore science == atheism.
Indeed, I've seen you make that claim several dozen times. I'm glad it makes you happy.
For the record, I am an atheist so naturally I'm a philosophical naturalist. (Duh!) But I do not claim that good science requires philosophical naturalism. I claim that methodological naturalism is a requirement.
Most of my arguments [e.g. Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground] are based on the idea that methodological naturalism is the foundation of science and that, therefore, science is effectively atheistic in practice. I've been trying to show that methodological naturalism all by itself is capable of highlighting all of the important conflicts between science and religion. In my opinion, it's simply not true that the only conflicts that arise are when you make the leap to philosophical naturalism.
In this sense—and this sense only—I'm defending the concept of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) promoted by Stephen Jay Gould. As long as religion sticks to it's proper domain (magisterium) and stays out of science then it's okay (e.g., I have no problem with Deism and most versions of Buddhism). The problem is that most believers want to violate the rules of methodological naturalism and still be praised for being good scientists. One of the ways they rationalize this obvious conflict is to try and equate methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism. They claim that it's okay to allow a little bit of religion into science because science is not the same as atheism. We see an example of that in "slc"'s attempt to dismiss what many of us are saying about the conflict between science and religion.
This concept of methodological naturalism has been around for some years and I often quote experts like Eugenie Scott and Michael Ruse who make the same point I'm making. For example, here's what Eugenie Scott said about methodological naturalism/materialism in 1999,
Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. As practiced in the 20th and likely in the 21st centuries, science restricts itself to explaining the natural world using natural causes. This restriction of evolution to explanation through natural cause is referred to as "methodological materialism", materialism in this context referring to matter, energy, and their interaction. Methodological materialism is one of the main differences between science and religion. Religion may use natural explanations for worldly phenomena, but reserves the right to explain through divine intervention; science has no such option. Whether or not miracles occur, they cannot be part of a scientific explanation.
I then go on to discuss religious claims that conflict with the methodology of science. Claims that insert God in natural phenomena, for example. Since these are violations of methodological naturalism then they cannot be scientific. Theistic versions of evolution that require guidance by God fall into this category.
"slc," I'm sorry if this argument is too difficult for you to follow. I can see that you would prefer to dismiss it by assuming that it's based on my atheism and not on a proper definition of science. That's an easy way to avoid the ramifications. In your comment you continue by saying,
Of course the good professors are certainly entitled to make such claims, there being freedom of speech, even in the US, Canada, and Great Britain. However, the problem with this claim is that it is the identical to claim made by the enemy.
The "enemy" is Phillip Johnson and his pals like Alvin Plantinga and Paul Nelson. They fully recognize that there's a conflict between methodological naturalism and most claims of religion. Here's what Plantinga has to say about that in his essay When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible, reprinted in Intelligent Design and Its Critics (edited by Robert Pennock),
Returning to methodological naturalism, if indeed natural science is restricted in this way, if such a restriction is a part of the very essence of science, then what we need here, of course, is not natural science but a broader inquiry that can include all that we know, including the truths that God has created life on earth and could have done it in many different ways. "Unnatural Science," "Creation Science," "Theistic Science"—call it what you will: what we need when we want to know how to think about the origin and development of contemporary life is what is most plausible from a Christian point of view. What we need is a scientific account of life that isn't restricted by that methodological naturalism.
Plantiga recognizes the problem, namely that it's methodological naturalism that excludes his religion from science (he is a Calvinist who teaches at Notre Dame).
Philip Johnson, an evangelical Christian, also recognizes the conflict between proper science and his religious beliefs. In his essay Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism, also reprinted n Pennocks book, he says,
Naturalistic evolution is consistent with the existence of "God" only if by that term we mean no more than a first cause which retires from further activity after establishing the laws of nature and setting the natural mechanism in motion. [e.g., Deism LAM] Persons who say they believe in evolution, but who have in mind a process guided by an active God who purposely intervenes or controls the process to accomplish some end, are using the same term that Darwinists use, but they mean something very different by it.
We've seen that Plantinga proposes to redefine science so that it is not restricted by methodological naturalism. Johnson agrees, but he also introduces another point. According to Johnson, the fact that science relies on methodological naturalism means that scientists tend to adopt scientism (philosophical naturalism) as a philosophy. This is atheism and it's bad. Paul Nelson, another Intelligent Dsesign Creationist (and Young Earth Creationist as well) adopts the same strategy.
The implication is that for scientists there's no difference between believing in methodological naturalism and atheism. Since the creationist flock knows for a fact that atheism is evil, it follows that methodological naturalism must be the wrong way to do science. In other words, Johnson wants everyone to believe that methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism are just two sides of the same coin. If this sort of propaganda is successful then the distinction between methodological naturalism, which greatly restricts religion, and philosophical naturalism, which forbids it, is erased. What this means is that the creationists won't have to defend the conflict between religion and science because the essence of science is discredited by being linked to atheism.
I'm not buying it. That's why I focus my attention on methodological naturalism and it's implications for religion. What it means, however, is that the science of the Theistic Evolutionists has to be examined using the same rules that we apply to Intelligent Design Creationism.
There's a well-anticipated, spin-off, advantage to the rhetoric of Phillip Johnson, Paul Nelson, and their creationist pals. Their attempt to equate methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism in the minds of believers plays right into the hands of the Theistic Evolutionists and the accommodationist atheists. It gives them an easy cop-out to dismiss any "attack" on the milder forms of conflict between religion and science.
"Slc" has fallen hook, line, and sinker for this line of argument. The irony here is that he accuses me of conflating methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism in spite of the fact that I try very hard to keep the distinction clear. In fact, the whole point of my essay was to point out that Theistic Evolution is not a middle ground between extreme forms of creationism and atheism. The point was that the claims of Theistic Evolutionists violate the essence of science (i.e., methodological naturalism) in the same way that the claims of Intelligent Design Creationists do. It's why I state that Deism is acceptable to science even though it's not acceptable to an atheist.
So, what the "irony?" Here's how "slc" puts it.
Thus, the good professors are choosing to fight on the enemys' chosen ground and on the latters' terms. Anyone who has ever studied military history, particularly military strategy, will recognize that this is a bad idea. The object of a good military campaign is to make the enemy fight on our chosen ground and on our terms.
It's "slc" who has bought into the argument that methodological naturalism is the same as philosophical naturalism. Thus, the creationists can just sit back and watch the fireworks because there will be plenty of deluded evolutionists who will defend their basic premise. These deluded evolutionists will advance the cause of creationism by fighting fiercely to allow some forms of religious superstition into science in order to appease the Theistic Evolutionists.

60 comments :

  1. I'm with you Larry. Maybe slightly off topic here, but would you consider free will to be something that is supernatural. I personally think there is no such thing as free will, that there is no ghost in the machine as they say. This is a topic that I don't often see mentioned in discussions about rationalism vs. superstition (other than on Scott Adams blog). I agree with his assessment that we are just moist robots. Is this too contentious an issue, and are rationalists afraid to bring it up for fear of reprisal. I know that the odd time I've brought it up with my wife and friends that the conversation turned ugly fast, so maybe I understand :-)

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  2. The point was that the claims of Theistic Evolutionists violate the essence of science (i.e., methodological naturalism) in the same way that the claims of Intelligent Design Creationists do.

    Not sure I understand your point. If TE's practice methodological naturalism does it make an objective difference? They may privately entertain the possibility that God operates subtly through QM (Ken Miller), but if it doesn't affect the way they practice science, isn't it still methodological naturalism? In Ken Millers case, QM is not even his field. What about a more extreme case such as Marcus Ross? Did he practice methodological naturalism?

    It's why I state that Deism is acceptable to science even though it's not acceptable to an atheist.

    Not sure I understand this either. The only difference between Deism and TE seems to be when God interferes - earlier or later.

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  3. I think people are focusing too much on the immediate practical consequences on the behavior of individual scientists and too little on the logical consequences of the claims they make, as well as their effect on the public perception of science. Larry's point, as I detail here, appears to be that many claims we consider to be outside of the purview of science are not in principle inaccessible to scientific reasoning. I give several examples of claims that are no doubt theistic claims, but are. Even though there are theisms that do not strictly violate methodological naturalism, there are at least as many that do. And many of those theisms are found among theists who otherwise ably defend evolution.

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  4. "It's "slc" who has bought into the argument that methodological naturalism is the same as philosophical naturalism."

    This statement is absolutely incorrect and inaccurate. My point is that methodological naturalism is science, philosophical naturalism is not science. Period, end of story. This point was clearly spelled out in Prof. Barbara Forrests' testimony at the Dover trial. Philosophically, I, like Prof. Moran, Prof. Dawkins, and Prof. Myers, am a philosophical naturalist, i.e. an unbeliever. The only difference between us is that I don't claim that that philosophical naturalism is science. This is also the position of Prof. Forrest, Prof. Scott, Dr. Neil Tyson, and others. Furthermore, Prof. Ken Miller is by his own description, a methodological naturalist and a philosophical theist, as he made plain in a talk he presented at the Un. of Kansas. He, makes it quite plain in his presentation that he does not believe that philosophical theism is science in any way, shape, form or regard.

    Having, I hope clarified my position, I stand by my claim that those who claim that philosophical naturalism is science, are the ones who are in agreement with the Philip Johnsons of the world. My position is that, in making this claim, the good guys are fighting on the enemies turf and on his terms and history tells us that such a strategy usually leads to defeat. Thus, I have very little doubt that Prof. Scott would agree with this position. I have downloaded several presentations by her and have heard her speak once in person and my impression is that this is her position.

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  5. Larry,

    You wrote: Most of my arguments ... are based on the idea that methodological naturalism is the foundation of science and that, therefore, science is effectively atheistic in practice.

    Just out of curiosity, how are you defining "atheism" here? Do you mean "god(s) do(es) not exist," or "for the purposes of science, we assume that god(s) do(es) not exist"? In other words, is it a statement of fact, or is it an axiom adopted as a precondition to the situation at hand? There's a world of difference between saying "science says there are no gods," and saying "science assumes there are no gods."

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  6. Oh, one other thought: zerod, we aren't and can't be "moist robots" because of quantum physics. Radioactive breakdown introduces a truly random element into the Universe, and that includes human behavior. (Yes, the human body and human brain can be affected by radioactive breakdown -- both contain carbon-14 and potassium-40, among other radioisotopes.)

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  7. "Radioactive breakdown introduces a truly random element into the Universe, and that includes human behavior."

    Many of the devices we use to implement computations are affected by quantum effects as well, semiconductors being the foremost example. I fail to see how this criticism holds water.

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  8. AMEN! (Are we atheists allowed to say that?) This post captures my perspective very well.

    There was just one place where I thought "wait a minute..."

    Is "methodological naturalism" the same is limiting yourself to "natural causes"? I'd prefer to say that methodological naturalism treats all causes in the same way that we treat natural ones. This may be a subtle distinction, but I think it's an important one.

    I don't admit any special difference between natural and supernatural. I admit a difference between exists and fictional.

    If there's some new process not so far identified by science which is at work here, great. Methodological naturalism means that you check it out like you'd check out anything else. Even if everyone labels it supernatural, I'm still going to check it the same way I check anything.

    Hence I can study fairies in the bottom of my garden using methodological naturalism. Basically, I don't treat fairies as different in principle from grasshoppers. They can either be found in the bottom of my garden, or they can't. The fairies might be from faery, and arive here by popping into the garden through some portal within the ring of toalstools. You can call that supernatural; I don't mind what you call it. I just want to see if it is real or not.

    So I look for the fairies. I check for tiny footprints around the toadstools. I see if there are wands left forgotten on the grass. Examine the caterpillars for tiny saddles. Put out some little cups of mead and set up a camera to see what comes to taste them.

    Measure the rates of healing of people in hospitals and set up double blind tests to see if praying makes any difference.

    Oh, sorry. That was a test for God. But it's the same principle.

    If a purported entity, natural or supernatural, makes no measurable difference to anything, then by default I'm going to guess that it is fiction. If, as well as a lack of positive evidence, there are reasons to think that positive evidence OUGHT to exist, then I'll go further and be pretty sure it is fiction.

    God is complicated, because so many people mean so many different things when they speak of God. But I think they mean at least that it is an entity that has attributes of personality, like consciousness and awareness; and that it is an entity which interacts with people here and now. That's what I mean by God, and I am pretty close to certain that no such entity exists.

    That's my position right now with respect to God, and with respect to fairies.

    On the other hand, I don't get all that bothered by people who think God does exist. I'm quite happy to debate the matter, or to put it aside if the two of us are busy with something else, like taking a walk together, or teaching a science class together.

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  9. Many of the devices we use to implement computations are affected by quantum effects as well, semiconductors being the foremost example. I fail to see how this criticism holds water.

    Actually it may be valid, since random effects are generally not permitted (in principle) to surface in artificial digital systems. Whether or not they play any role in biological systems, I don't know.

    But on an even deeper level, it is not entirely certain that the universe is not deterministic at some level. I believe someone (de Hooft?) is working on a deterministic interpretation of QM.

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  10. Strong outline of a nice project. Albeit with some, for me at least, unclear points. (And some problems that I will came back to.)

    "Their attempt to equate methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism in the minds of believers plays right into the hands of the Theistic Evolutionists and the accommodationist atheists. It gives them an easy cop-out to dismiss any "attack" on the milder forms of conflict between religion and science."

    I believe I don't fully get that. There is clearly a fuzzyfication project by creationists. It is clearly better to keep up valuable distinctions, which we are discussing here. But I am not sure how TE's and accomodationists can base a dismissal of the conflict with religion on a creationist strawman.

    This is my own view, which I think would fit into the project.

    Science as we discuss here is a tool. (And results, that isn't important here.) Tools are value free, so in this context I call them "secular" for lack of a better term. Except that they have one utilitarian value, their usefulness. And this is how we judge them.

    Based on usefulness, science immediately turns out to need methodological naturalism (MN). This means not that observations necessarily are restricted to natural phenomena, but that the theories are based on natural mechanisms.

    There are several reasons:

    1. Internal
    1.a. The constructive reason: Using natural mechanisms in theories works, and minimal (elegant) science works best. This is a weaker claim, but enough.

    1.b. The destructive reason: Assuming frequent supernatural intervention doesn't work, because it would destroy complete theories. This is a stronger claim, but I believe this is what scientists are using most.

    2. External.
    There are two alternatives to naturalistic explanations; None and Theistic. "None" doesn't work compared to what we have, so is out. "Theistic" explanation is akin to a 5 year old that points to an observation and exclaims "godsdidit", and then to the next, and the next. This will at best be 'descriptive' and never predictive, it is a Baconian view and not useful and growing science.

    So we accept MN and can make it a description or even a formal axiom if we wish. In the words of a theist, it is 'given' by nature. The secular tool turns out to be naturalist. Though luck, so is a hammer.

    For the theists out there we can note that nowhere is MN refusing to observe supernatural phenomena, if they exist. Observations are free, and for the methods, as everything else in science MN is revisable.

    We can also note that nothing precludes TE's and ID's from trying to make science out of their ideas. But as we all know, both groups are anti-science, so they concentrate on perverting or criticizing existing science and its 'provocative' results instead.

    But we can also note that nothing precludes rationalists from using scientific results to support philosophical naturalism, that everything observed is natural. Either by philosophical reasons or based on accumulating heaps and heaps of solely natural explanations.

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  11. Or, to continue my last comment, nor is there anything precluding using science to debunk supernaturalistic claims.

    Now for the problems, or as it turns out, nitpicks, I have with the post. It is a really excellent post, so it deserves some scrutiny. :-)

    A minor comment is that nowadays, Barbara Forrest apart, it is popular to term "philosophical naturalism" as "metaphysical naturalism".

    I think the later is more descriptive, since observing natural methods (science) and theories working is also a part, while philosophy at large can be removed from observations and facts. But that is me.

    "scientism (philosophical naturalism)"

    That could be Johnson's idiomatic usage I hope.

    Scientism seems to have a gliding usage, which is noted in an otherwise bad article on Wikipedia. From a philosophical usage describing views akin to logical positivism (in the form where "cognitively meaningful" statements are accepted) it has moved to be a religious pejorative that science demands primacy, not that it deserves it.

    Both forms are ridiculous as applied to current society and its scientists, of course.

    "evolutionists"

    I don't especially like this term, as I understand it to be a religious pejorative akin to "scientism" or "darwinism". I think pro-scientist (or skeptic where appropriate) is better, since otherwise we would have "classical mechanists", "special relativists", et cetera. My two cents.

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  13. "would you consider free will to be something that is supernatural"

    'Free will' has several connotations - it is a folk psychology concept, a philosophical concept, and perhaps a part of study in neuroscience. It is notoriously difficult to define or observe. For example, how do you distinguish unpredictability and free will?

    FWIW, on the neuroscience side apparently everything we do spontaneously is modeled by ourselves a few moments after the fact. So there it is a rather meaningless to discuss if we actually choose freely if we can only experience it thus.

    "Actually it may be valid, since random effects are generally not permitted (in principle) to surface in artificial digital systems. Whether or not they play any role in biological systems, I don't know."

    "Random" is an incomplete descriptor. For theists, it means 'without purpose'. For laity, it means equi-probability. For scientists it can mean stochasticity, unpredictability (chaos), et cetera.

    Fully deterministic theories can have randomness from chaos or from coarse-graining (noise et cetera). Quantum mechanics is an example of genuine, fine-grained randomness within a deterministic theory. Between observations states develop deterministically, at observations the causal equations describes stochastic outcomes.

    What is not "deterministic" is that there are no hidden variables, ie the stochastic outcome is indeed genuine, without underlying description. 't Hooft is a great scientist. But FWIW I don't think his peers expect anything out of his efforts, that would presumably reveal the (local) hidden variables that results from Bell experiments have precluded to high precision and few remaining "outs". (And non-local theories have other problems.)

    To get back to biology, AFAIK the ion channels in nerves close and open randomly whether in rest or in action, albeit at different frequencies. And synapses have stochastic elements too. So no nerve signal is like another FWIW.

    Btw, we can also observe genuine unpredictability, in chaotic brain behavior during epilepsy attacks.

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  14. I was going to write a whole long response but why bother? My efforts and those of many others to dislodge your idee fixe has proved useless. But when did you get so knowledgeable in the philosophy of science that you feel free to get all smarmy and condescending with others? I remember when you were whining in talk.origins about how these are hard concepts that you were doing your best to understand and all ...

    Anyway:

    The point was that the claims of Theistic Evolutionists violate the essence of science (i.e., methodological naturalism) in the same way that the claims of Intelligent Design Creationists do.

    So, you want to lump IDers and TEers all together, eh? So tell us, are you going to welcome Michael Behe into science with open arms or are you going to try to force Theodosius Dobzhansky out of the history of biology? If there is no distinction between them, don't you have to do one or the other? If not, why not?

    Oh, and by the way Larry, if its a choice between you and Dobzhansky, are you under any delusions who science would be better off with?

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  15. So, you want to lump IDers and TEers all together, eh?

    John, Larry was talking about their "claims". Claaaaims. Specifically, their claims about the supernatural. Why are you mistaking attacks against a subset of opinions of the TE'ers for attacks against their persons? Not a very scientific attitude, I must say.

    Oh, and by the way Larry, if its a choice between you and Dobzhansky, are you under any delusions who science would be better off with?

    Interesting. What if it's a choice between Moran, Dobzhansky and Newton, and you can keep only one? Sorry guys, but I'd have to pick Newton. Since we couldn't do without Newton, does it then follow that he gets a free pass to make a few supernatural or paranormal claims? Following your logic, we must declare Newton's occultism entirely compatible with science.

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  16. Larry was talking about their "claims". Claaaaims. Specifically, their claims about the supernatural. Why are you mistaking attacks against a subset of opinions of the TE'ers for attacks against their persons?

    If that is what he is trying to say, he is he is being incredibly sloppy with his language:

    The problem is that most believers want to violate the rules of methodological naturalism and still be praised for being good scientists. One of the ways they rationalize this obvious conflict ...

    I don't see your distinction in Larry's wording there.

    The very definition of a TEer is a person who distinguishes his or her science from his/her religious beliefs. Otherwise, why the have distinction in terminology from IDers at all?

    Thus, under your formulation, there is no dispute at all. The TEer's clearly-labeled religious claims aren't scientific claims to begin with and are, therefore, irrelevant to their status as "good scientists." If their beliefs aren't clearly-labeled as religious, then they are IDers and Larry is confusing categories.

    In fact, Larry wants to deny them the status of "good scientists" simply because they try to make that distinction and think that there is no "obvious conflict" between religion and science (though Larry will generously allow Deism and Buddhism might not conflict with his version of "methodological naturalism"). The point of methodological naturalism is that scientists are free to believe (and talk and write about) what they want as long as they don't try to use anything other than naturalism while they are actually doing science.

    But, okay ... I'm willing to listen. Let's rephrase and ask Larry if Dobzhansky should be considered a "good scientist" and, if so, what is the difference between him and those TEers who Larry thinks aren't good scientists.

    What if it's a choice between Moran, Dobzhansky and Newton, and you can keep only one?

    Oh, I'd keep Newton even though he thought it was necessary for angels to push the planets around every now and then. Oh, wait a minute ... That rather sounds like religion and even god-in-the-gaps thinking may not determine who "good scientists" are ...

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  17. "Actually it may be valid, since random effects are generally not permitted (in principle) to surface in artificial digital systems. Whether or not they play any role in biological systems, I don't know."

    In the abstract they aren't allowed to, but it has often been a pesky engineering hurdle to make sure that quantum events do not disrupt the operations of semiconductors, which has gotten more difficult as transistor capacity has increased and size has decreased.

    Besides, we at least know that small scale computations with quantum phenomena are possible. And as for biology, I am strongly skeptical of the idea that our neurophysiology is significantly affected by quantum mechanics. I'll have to expand upon that in a post on my blog soon.

    "But on an even deeper level, it is not entirely certain that the universe is not deterministic at some level. I believe someone (de Hooft?) is working on a deterministic interpretation of QM."

    Yes, t'Hooft's idea is something I find quite fascinating. Essentially, as I understand it, he expands to holographic principle and information loss to explain how quantum events are so constricted at the classical level. Even though Bell's inequalities cast some doubt on hidden variable theories, there are some questions, I gather, about whether the phenomena on which the inequalities are based (e.g., isospin) even exist beyond laboratory scale. That's where the experimentalists come in.

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  18. The TEer's clearly-labeled religious claims aren't scientific claims to begin with and are, therefore, irrelevant to their status as "good scientists."

    Well perhaps Larry can clarify his position himself, but it seems that apart from strict Deism any kind of God concept has a tendency to leak over to the realm of observable things. Thus saying "but it's not a scientific claim!" doesn't help.

    Here's an alternative hypothesis: TE'ers prefer to posit God's interference outside their field of expertise, ID'ers don't (if they had any expertise). Thus the God of the former doesn't mess with their ability to do science. But that doesn't mean that they have honored NOMA in other fields (ie. Collins on morality, Miller on quantum physics).

    Oh, I'd keep Newton even though he thought it was necessary for angels to push the planets around every now and then. Oh, wait a minute ... That rather sounds like religion and even god-in-the-gaps thinking may not determine who "good scientists" are ...

    Do you consider angels-pushing-planets claims compatible with science or methodological naturalism? If it's OK to criticise such claims based on science, why not theistic evolution?

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  19. ... any kind of God concept has a tendency to leak over to the realm of observable things. Thus saying "but it's not a scientific claim!" doesn't help.

    Ah, so you are suggesting that the naturalism that Larry maintains is required to do science is not methodological (required only while actually engaged in science) but is philosophical naturalism (necessary for a scientist to believe about all things at all times in order to be a scientist)? Yeah, that's what I think too. Larry has never been able to distinguish between his own personal philosophy and the philosophy of science.

    Here's an alternative hypothesis: TE'ers prefer to posit God's interference outside their field of expertise, ID'ers don't (if they had any expertise). Thus the God of the former doesn't mess with their ability to do science.

    Why the needless discussion of expertise? TEers don't confuse their religious beliefs with science; IDers do. Very simple and straightforward. If you have any instance where, say, Miller or any other TEer holds a belief that contradicts any scientific result, I'd like to know.

    But that doesn't mean that they have honored NOMA in other fields (ie. Collins on morality, Miller on quantum physics).

    I'm sorry, where does NOMA require that religious statements must never mention any fact of the world that happens to have been discovered by science? If someone's clearly-labeled religious belief is that quantum mechanics somehow "supports" their version of god, how is that anything but a religious statement? Are religious people restricted only to knowledge that was available before, oh, say, Newton or some other arbitrary date for when science began? Do they have to believe that the earth is flat?

    As I said elsewhere recently, theists are going to point to the Big Bang and go "Oooh! God ..." but that doesn't have anything to do with science if they are clear that it is a religious conclusion. I think that the fact that the hair in my nose grows down, instead of up, where it would clog up my brain, is evidence for the existence of god. But would you mistake that for a scientific conclusion? The mere pointing to some fact about the universe and asserting that it "supports" your belief in god is not co-opting science in any sense.

    If Miller wants to hide his god in the gap called the uncertainty principle, that is no more a reflection on his scientific ideas than Newton's angels were on his. Neither Miller's use of the uncertainty principle nor Newton's of angels are scientific ideas. Miller understands that and says it clearly (Newton didn't but the philosophy of science was not well developed then).

    If it's OK to criticise such claims based on science, why not theistic evolution?

    Remembering that TEers like Miller make clear that their claims in that area are theological, you can try to use science in a theological refutation of a theological claim if you want. But it sounds a little silly to me. After all, that is mixing apples and oranges together precisely in the same way that Larry says is improper in science.

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  20. "As I said elsewhere recently, theists are going to point to the Big Bang and go "Oooh! God ..." but that doesn't have anything to do with science if they are clear that it is a religious conclusion."

    I'm curious as to what, exactly, separates "Ooooh! God..." from "Ooooh! Gravitational fluctuation in quantum foam..." They're explanations for the event, aren't they? Or is the theists' observation nothing more than glorified cloud watching?

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  21. And to be clear, I mean "conjectural explanation" above, not "established explanation".

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  22. Ah, so you are suggesting that the naturalism that Larry maintains is required to do science is not methodological (required only while actually engaged in science) but is philosophical naturalism (necessary for a scientist to believe about all things at all times in order to be a scientist)? Yeah, that's what I think too.

    No, that is not what I said. Project much? I say that I keep hearing about religious claims that are *completely* compatible with science yet somehow untestable in principle, but they seem to be thin on the ground. One that I can think of is a liar "God" that micromanages everything undetectably, but if that is acceptable then why not a fossil-planting cheater God?

    If you have any instance where, say, Miller or any other TEer holds a belief that contradicts any scientific result, I'd like to know.

    Torbjörn Larsson had something to say about messing with quantum events, ask him about Miller. But a blatant example which you have surely heard before is Collins and his statement that morality has no natural explanation. Or is Collins a No True TE'er already?

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  23. Re Newtons' supernatural claims.

    It is manifestly unfair to criticize Newtons' supernatural claims made in the 17th century using the knowledge, methods and processes of the 20th and 21th centuries. For instance, Newton was a creationist, as the IDers are quick to point out. So was everybody else at the time. The state of knowledge was such that no other explanation seemed reasonable (i.e. the gaps to be filled by god were far larger in 1690 then in 1990).

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  24. Tyler:

    They're [conjectural] explanations for the event, aren't they? Or is the theists' observation nothing more than glorified cloud watching?

    Doesn't that depend on whether you think theology is glorified cloud watching? I'll repeat in case you missed it, TEism is theology, not science.

    But to answer the question I think you are really asking, holding one of two possible contradictory conjectural explanations is hardly unscientific on that basis alone. It's rather common among scientists. The crunch comes for TEers exactly where it comes in any such situation: If convincing evidence comes in for one, do they abandon the other? Of course, the Duhem–Quine thesis will kick in at that point and, like many scientists do for their favored theories, Miller may well set about moving his theological proposition to higher ground. But as long as he still doesn't claim it is a scientific result, he is not violating methodological naturalism.

    Windy:

    Project much?

    I'm sorry. I was unaware that you were unfamiliar with the concept of tongue-in-cheek.

    I say that I keep hearing about religious claims that are *completely* compatible with science yet somehow untestable in principle ...

    So your claim is that the only things that can be completely compatible with science are those that are equally testable (presumably by science)? So art is incompatible with science in the sense that they cannot both be "true"? Or can they be completely compatible because they make completely different claims about reality that are not testable by the same means?

    ... you have surely heard before is Collins and his statement that morality has no natural explanation.

    No, actually I hadn't, at least in any detail, which is why I didn't try to reply to it above. Unlike the case with Miller, I've never read Collins' book. Looking it up, I find Gert Korthof's review which quotes Collins to the effect that "Selfless altruism presents a major challenge for the evolutionist." That is not itself an IDist position, just an attempt to demonstrate a gap into which to stuff god, not unlike the uncertainty principle. I certainly think it is questionable theology (for what my opinion is worth on that subject) because it is so easily refuted (though Korthof raises issues about how easily). But bad theology is not necessarily the same thing as bad science.

    The question still remains whether it is presented as a scientific rather than a theological claim. And on that question, if Korthof has accurately represented Collins as maintaining that morality "cannot be explained and will never be explained (!) by Darwinian evolution and the human genome," then he has wandered over the line into IDism, because he has, in effect, made the claim that the present scientific evidence demonstrates that the existence of selfless altruism is unexplainable by science. That claim is not, and apparently is not even presented as, a religious conclusion. In which case, he doesn't fit within the definition of a TEer.

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  25. "But to answer the question I think you are really asking, holding one of two possible contradictory conjectural explanations is hardly unscientific on that basis alone."

    I'm not arguing against that. What I'm arguing against is this idea that the two claims occupy some different epistemic plane by virtue of one being within the purview of "methodological naturalism" and one being within the purview of "religion". Or rather, one being within science (at least potentially) and one being within theology (not). I'm also arguing against the idea that the falsification of predicted consequences has no effect on how we should evaluate theism as a proposition.

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  26. John Pieret asks,

    But, okay ... I'm willing to listen. Let's rephrase and ask Larry if Dobzhansky should be considered a "good scientist" and, if so, what is the difference between him and those TEers who Larry thinks aren't good scientists.

    No, he wasn't a "good" scientist, he was an "excellent" scientist. Clearly one of the best scientists of the 2oth century.

    Some religious beliefs interfere with doing good science and others don't. What I'm discussing is the opinions of some religious scientists who claim that there is no conflict between their religion and science, properly defined. In many of these cases I see a conflict and the fact that they don't suggests to me that they are violating some aspects of methodological naturalism.

    This isn't really news, John. We've know about cognitive dissonance for many years. It's how many Theistic Evolutionists manage to do good science while holding on to religious superstitions that conflict with what they practice in the laboratory.

    When those scientists write books claiming to show no conflict between science and the belief in miracles I think it's fair game to challenge them. I point out that belief in miracles, among other things, is not compatible with good science. You over-interpret those comments when you say that I'm accusing them of being bad scientists.

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  27. Larry says:
    When those scientists write books claiming to show no conflict between science and the belief in miracles I think it's fair game to challenge them. I point out that belief in miracles, among other things, is not compatible with good science. You over-interpret those comments when you say that I'm accusing them of being bad scientists.

    Can you fill this out some more for me please? I mean this as a serious question.

    My own metaphysics is a strictly materialistic naturalism, which is indeed inconsistent with miracles, so I'm not arguing in favour of miracles here. But I don't identify science with my materialistic metaphysics.

    How is that that people who are good scientists and do good science and also believe in miracles fail to be a plain demonstration that you are incorrect to think that "belief in miracles is not compatible with good science"?

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  28. "How is that that people who are good scientists and do good science and also believe in miracles fail to be a plain demonstration that you are incorrect to think that "belief in miracles is not compatible with good science"?

    I can't speak for Larry, but IMO there is a difference between "incompatible" and "strictly incompatible" in the same way that there is a difference non-strict and strict inequalities in mathematics. I would say, for instance, that despite Lynn Margulis' fantastic work in science (serial endosymbiosis theory being the foremost example), her recent dabbling in HIV/AIDS denial is incompatible with good science.

    I think that scientists who affirm miraculous happenings like answered prayers or whatever medoohicky have a similar relationship to actual science. Good ideas complemented by a shitload of nonsense. Our capacity to contradict ourselves and partition our thinking is well admitted.

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  29. "These deluded evolutionists will advance the cause of creationism by fighting fiercely to allow some forms of religious superstition into science in order to appease the Theistic Evolutionists"

    If we do not straight out deny any possibility of the occurrence of miracles, that means we want to introduce miracles into science? Please

    Admitting that you cannot know if miracles occur or not is actually BASED on the premise that science cannot deal with miracles.

    The debate on whether miracles occurr or not has no relevance whatosever for the practice of science (methodological naturalism) because to begin with, miracles are incognoscible (and MUST challenge science).

    Once again, I'll repeat until infinity: miracles are SUPPOSED to go against science and reason. To point out they are incompatible with science is part of faith. So Larry has not precisely discovered the wheel by saying that miracles are incompatible with science. Anyone can tell walking on water is not what normally is supposed to happen.
    Nobody believes in the typical religious miracles because he wants to change science, but for religious reasons of doctrine, based on faith.

    This is not about anyone introducing miracles into science, no one believes in miracles with this ointention, nobody loks at them that way. It looks more like Larry wants religion not to have any faith in miracles.

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  30. I would say, for instance, that despite Lynn Margulis' fantastic work in science (serial endosymbiosis theory being the foremost example), her recent dabbling in HIV/AIDS denial is incompatible with good science.

    Admit it, Tyler - you want to lump all HIV deniers together and throw Margulis and Mullis out of the history of science! Yes you do!

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  31. Tyler:

    What I'm arguing against is this idea that the two claims occupy some different epistemic plane by virtue of one being within the purview of "methodological naturalism" and one being within the purview of "religion". Or rather, one being within science (at least potentially) and one being within theology (not).

    Either they are separate subjects, not testable by the same means, or you are claiming that methodological naturalism is capable of testing everything. But for that to be true, naturalism must describe everything that exists and you have just imported, sub rosa philosophical naturalism into science. The claim that theology is subject to scientific refutation is, necessarily, a philosophical claim, in fact, "philosophical naturalism." It cannot be a scientific claim because empiricism cannot itself demonstrate the proposition that empiricism can describe the entirety of what exists. To say it does goes outside methodological naturalism, which is a constraint against turning science into a philosophy as much as it is against turning it into theology. You are free to hold philosophical naturalism but your philosophy is not "science."

    I'm also arguing against the idea that the falsification of predicted consequences has no effect on how we should evaluate theism as a proposition.

    Again, evaluating theism as a proposition is not a scientific endeavor but a philosophical/theological one. No one is saying you can't use the results of science as part of your philosophical response to theism ... be my guest. But when you do, you are doing philosophy or theology and not science.

    And, by the way, Miller, for one, invites you to try to determine the origin of the Big Bang and will welcome the result, which was the point I was making above. If you succeed, he will adjust his theology to incorporate that fact of nature, just as he has incorporated the facts of evolution into his theology. The point of TE is that it can't be in opposition to science since TEers will accept all the findings of science and adjust their theology to it. You may find that unsatisfying as philosophy/theology but that isn't science either.

    Larry:

    ... he wasn't a "good" scientist, he was an "excellent" scientist. Clearly one of the best scientists of the 2oth century.

    Oh, good, Larry! Up in the heaven he so firmly believed in I'm sure he is greatly gratified.

    Some religious beliefs interfere with doing good science and others don't.

    Now we're getting there, Larry! I wholeheartedly agree that ID interferes with doing good science and TE doesn't. (Note to Windy: that's one of those tongue and cheek thingies.)

    What I'm discussing is the opinions of some religious scientists who claim that there is no conflict between their religion and science, properly defined. In many of these cases I see a conflict and the fact that they don't suggests to me that they are violating some aspects of methodological naturalism.

    As noted, if they want to accept the results of science and adjust their theology to it, they can make it so they are not in conflict. They don't have to accept your philosophical naturalism in order to do science though.

    This isn't really news, John. We've know about cognitive dissonance for many years. It's how many Theistic Evolutionists manage to do good science while holding on to religious superstitions that conflict with what they practice in the laboratory.

    [Cough] Maybe you should look up "cognitive dissonance" if you are going to bandy it about. I see no evidence that Miller, et al are experiencing any uncomfortable tension or have any sense they are holding two conflicting thoughts.

    In any event, what you are claiming is that a person's entire life and how they think about everything in their life must be consistent with "practice in the laboratory." In short, they should take the methodological naturalism of the laboratory and make it into their philosophy of life. That's called "philosophical naturalism," Larry. Of course, I already knew that. Maybe it's "cognitive dissonance" that's keeping you from seeing it!

    ... belief in miracles, among other things, is not compatible with good science.

    Along with Chris, I'd like to know how you square that hypothesis with the empiric evidence of the existence of good and even excellent scientists who believe in miracles, since you are such a stickler on laboratory practice.

    You over-interpret those comments when you say that I'm accusing them of being bad scientists.

    Riiiiight! Their belief in miracles is not compatible with good science but don't interpret that as saying they are not good scientists.

    Tyler again:

    As to HIV/AIDS denial and Margulis (whatever that story might be), of course you can separate good science from bad science in particular cases without throwing out an individual's entire output. You'd better be able to because it is probably a rare scientist indeed who has always done good work. But note that Larry hasn't attempted to discuss particular cases, instead claiming there is a distinction to be made across the board (though he is backpedaling now). I wouldn't toss Collins' work on the genome simply because he may have slipped over the line into a kind of ID. (You know the bit about tossing Dobzhansky from science was hyperbole to point up the problem, right?)

    I think that scientists who affirm miraculous happenings like answered prayers or whatever medoohicky have a similar relationship to actual science. Good ideas complemented by a shitload of nonsense. Our capacity to contradict ourselves and partition our thinking is well admitted.

    I partition my thinking all the time. For example, I do so by holding that hammers are good for striking things and wrenches are good for turning things and that they each suck trying to the other's job. But, in any event, exactly where in the underlying philosophy of science is partition of our thinking prohibited? It is certainly prohibited in philosophical naturalism but where in methodological naturalism is it prohibited?

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  32. TEers don't confuse their religious beliefs with science; IDers do.

    Oh, please. Go look at the subtitles for Collins' and Miller's books. It's printed in a big bold font right on the cover.

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  33. "Either they are separate subjects, not testable by the same means, or you are claiming that methodological naturalism is capable of testing everything."

    And I would argue that they are certainly not separate subjects a priori. There are certainly some claims that fall within both subjects, as someone who claims that angels are pushing around planets is making a testable (and falsified) claim. You can always make claims that are not testable, but that is not the point.

    You are free to hold philosophical naturalism but your philosophy is not "science."

    I think you're trying to conflate two separate issues here. First, there is the question of how science is properly conducted and modeled, which is itself a philosophical question. And then there is the question of whether our philosophical assumptions when thinking empirically rule out theological ideas. You can't completely decouple science from philosophy.

    And furthermore, I would say that the hyper-pragmatic idea which you seem to be implicitly assuming, that science is only it's results and outside of them science is inapplicable, is a bald fallacy of composition. Those results were approached and decided on as valid in a certain way, and the way such was done does not automatically rule out testing religious claims. Although those are philosophical questions, I'm not here arguing that philosophical aspects to a debate mean that there is no worthwhile debate. Even the idea that methodological naturalism is a valid approach toward empirical discovery is philosophical, and shouldn't be left unexamined.

    As for a claim that isn't scientificially testable, you could always look to the veracity of subjective preference in art and literature. But religious claims are not the same thing, and make claims to things that objectively exist.

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  34. "Admit it, Tyler - you want to lump all HIV deniers together and throw Margulis and Mullis out of the history of science! Yes you do!"

    Yes, windy, although I must say that The Evil Atheist conspiracy will cooperate fully with BIG PHARMA *cue frightening and or ominous music* to retroactively appropriate their discovery to other scientists. Their laudable accomplishments must not stand!

    In all seriousness, I think John misunderstood the analogy above. The point is to rubbish this idea that there is a binary relationship between good scientist/bad scientist instead of a remarkable ability for good scientists to advocate bad ideas. David Deutsch has made invaluable contributions to quantum computing, but his global warming denialism is a bad idea. I'm not, of course, trying that say that religion is automatically conceptually isomorphic to global warming or HIV denialism, but no analogy is perfect.

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  35. And, by the way, Miller, for one, invites you to try to determine the origin of the Big Bang and will welcome the result, which was the point I was making above. If you succeed, he will adjust his theology to incorporate that fact of nature, just as he has incorporated the facts of evolution into his theology. The point of TE is that it can't be in opposition to science since TEers will accept all the findings of science and adjust their theology to it.

    Haven't they heard that religion is orthogonal to science? Why do they feel this misguided need to "adjust" their theology to admit scientific facts? Why, that sounds as foolish as adjusting your wrench to admit nails.

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  36. PZ:

    Go look at the subtitles for Collins' and Miller's books. It's printed in a big bold font right on the cover.

    Oh! Argumentum ad Publisher?

    I hope that was one of those tongue in cheek thingies too.

    Miller is quite clear what he is doing and it is clearly labeled as theology. Collins as I noted above seems to have crossed the line. Was Dobzhansky confusing his religious beliefs with science when he called himself "a creationist"?

    Tyler:

    You can always make claims that are not testable, but that is not the point.

    If it is not testable by science it ain't science and therefore no violation of science to hold it.

    First, there is the question of how science is properly conducted and modeled, which is itself a philosophical question.

    Yes, I am for brevity's sake using "philosophy" to mean a system attempting to make the world at large understandable but, like any conceptual system, science has philosophy without being a philosophy in the larger sense. Science is a process subject to evolutionary forces (Wilkins' favorite book again: Hull's Science as a Process) and not a worldview (though you can try to make it into one called "scientism").

    It also has to be remembered that the method of science was developed by scientists actually doing science, not by philosophers setting out rules. Philosophers just come along after the fact and try to figure out what happened and how to explain it cogently.

    Certain parts of science's method are well settled and have been for some time. One of them is what (only fairly recently) came to be called "methodological naturalism." It was accepted by the community as part of the reaction of scientists against the confusion of Natural Theology with science that Darwin was at some pains to address. But the only reason he had to was because of the confusion, not because there need be a conflict between science and religion. It was a contingent fact of history, not a necessary result. In fact, there is only a necessary conflict when religious claims are made about empirically testable (i.e. natualistic) facts about the world, such as the age of the earth.

    And then there is the question of whether our philosophical assumptions when thinking empirically rule out theological ideas.

    Your "thinking" about philosophical assumptions may rule out theological ideas but, again, your philosophy is not coexistent with science. And on what empiric basis do you assert that the method of science, developed by the practice of scientists, "rules out" theological ideas when so many theists are good and even great scientists? They seem to be able to handle the scientific method and leave that stuff out of their science. You and Larry and PZ seem to want to load it back into science in the form of Natural Atheism, an attempt to make science an ally of your philosophical/theological beliefs.

    I would say that the hyper-pragmatic idea which you seem to be implicitly assuming, that science is only it's results and outside of them science is inapplicable, is a bald fallacy of composition. Those results were approached and decided on as valid in a certain way, and the way such was done does not automatically rule out testing religious claims.

    [Sigh] I can't make head nor tails of this other than as just another way of saying that the "approach" of methodological naturalism should be expanded into a worldview of philosophical naturalism separate and apart of actual scientific results. Scientific results and explanations are the only thing that science delivers. If you want justification for your philosophical naturalism you can point to how successful science has been and try to project that it will fill all the gaps in our knowledge "someday," but while you are doing that you ain't doing science.

    I think John misunderstood the analogy above.

    No, I understood it. Go back and read my reply.

    Even the idea that methodological naturalism is a valid approach toward empirical discovery is philosophical, and shouldn't be left unexamined.

    The attempt to bend the method of science to your philosophical preference by redefining methodological naturalism (reached by the actual practice of scientists) is the exact same thing the IDers want to do by jettisoning it. If you succeed, you will have done as much damage to science (though in different ways) as the IDers will do if they succeed.

    Windy:

    Why do they feel this misguided need to "adjust" their theology to admit scientific facts? Why, that sounds as foolish as adjusting your wrench to admit nails.

    That may (or may not) be a quite cogent theological criticism, though I think the analogy is more correctly that they are installing bolts with a wrench in addition to nails that the guy in the lab coat has already hammered in.

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  37. "If it is not testable by science it ain't science and therefore no violation of science to hold it."

    True, but not all theological or religious ideas meet this criterion, and I'm not talking about those ideas.

    "Your "thinking" about philosophical assumptions may rule out theological ideas but, again, your philosophy is not coexistent with science."

    But if drawing a posteriori conclusions against theological ideas is not scientific, I'm curious as to how you're operationalizing the demarcation between science and religion. Specifically, how are Ken Miller's ideas about quantum mechanics any different than, say, a hidden variable theory that connects classical mechanics to quantum behavior? If you're going to toss Miller's ideas out of science then you would likely have to toss out t'Hooft's as well.

    I'm not simply "ruling out" theological explanations as potentially correct, I'm ruling certain elements of them out as exempt from science. I reject theological ideas because I have never encountered one I consider valid, not because I am a priori opposed to them, anymore than the people here are a priori opposed to Intelligent Design.

    "I can't make head nor tails of this other than as just another way of saying that the "approach" of methodological naturalism should be expanded into a worldview of philosophical naturalism separate and apart of actual scientific results."

    No, science isn't only it's results, and it's not only what it "delivers". The fact that we have certain conclusions we consider scientific (e.g., evolution) doesn't mean that science is only those conclusions. Science is more or less the way that those conclusions were drawn, at least methodologically speaking. And the way those conclusions were drawn is not a priori demarcated from how we evaluate theism.

    I'm having a hard time understanding whether you're advocating some kind of demarcationist position or not. What exactly in your mind separates science from non-science if not the testability of the claims? Keep in mind that I'm not saying that in principle all religious claims are empirically testable, only a good deal of them.

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  38. Specifically, how are Ken Miller's ideas about quantum mechanics any different than, say, a hidden variable theory that connects classical mechanics to quantum behavior? If you're going to toss Miller's ideas out of science then you would likely have to toss out t'Hooft's as well.

    Presumably t'Hooft (and string theorists, which I know a little about, as opposed to t'Hooft's work) are proposing hypotheses that they hope can be empirically tested in some way. If they can't be, even conceptually, then those ideas aren't science. Not a few physicists are saying that string theory is not science because there does not appear to be any way to test it. Miller does not hold that God creating the universe is empirically testable, even conceptually. Ergo, it is not scientific proposition and is, as he says, a religious one.

    I reject theological ideas because I have never encountered one I consider valid, not because I am a priori opposed to them, anymore than the people here are a priori opposed to Intelligent Design.

    I'm sorry? It has been a common objection of numerous scientists to ID that the proposition that God designed life is unscientific a priori because it is untestable. By what criteria are you saying that they aren't a priori opposed to Intelligent Design? They may listen to some sort of suggestion of some sort of (uncapitalized) "designer" (though, as I understand it, Crick and Hoyle got very short shrift for panspermia) but the actual ID movement was roundly rejected by scientists out-of-hand, as did the courts in McLean and Kitzmiller. Are they all wrong about science? Is Bruce Alberts, President National Academy of Sciences, wrong when he says:

    Because "intelligent design" theories are based on supernatural explanations, they can have nothing to do with science.

    Science is more or less the way that those conclusions were drawn, at least methodologically speaking.

    I can't agree that naturalism, which is an assumption and only a methodological one at that, is the same as the empiric evidence and explanations derived from them. You are elevating the tool of science, the method, to the same status as the hard evidence produced by the tool. You're making the paint brush as important as the painting.

    What exactly in your mind separates science from non-science if not the testability of the claims?

    That is precisely what I am saying.

    That is one reason why the methodological assumption is not, itself, science, because it is not testable (as Hume showed some 200 years ago).

    And when you show me how to drag god into the laboratory to test him, her or it, and by what methods, we can then talk about whether god is a scientific proposition.

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  39. Very clear and precise. Thanks for posting this, Larry; I'm going to link to it.

    As an aside, did a book really slip by its copy editors entitled Intelligent Design and It's Critics instead of Intelligent Design and Its Critics?

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  40. John Pieret says,

    [Cough] Maybe you should look up "cognitive dissonance" if you are going to bandy it about. I see no evidence that Miller, et al are experiencing any uncomfortable tension or have any sense they are holding two conflicting thoughts.

    Why do you think Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris felt the need to write books explaining how they reconcile science with their religious views? Why do you think those attempts are so convoluted and illogical?

    Of course they feel the tension. All three think they have an acceptable rationalization but I bet they aren't 100% comfortable with it.

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  41. Monado,

    As an aside, did a book really slip by its copy editors entitled Intelligent Design and It's Critics instead of Intelligent Design and Its Critics?

    Of course not. Thanks. I made the correction.

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  42. And when you show me how to drag god into the laboratory to test him, her or it, and by what methods, we can then talk about whether god is a scientific proposition.

    To study macroevolution or abiogenesis, do we also need to "drag them to the laboratory"? No.

    Most believers are not content to have their God design the laws of the universe and retreat out of reach of science. They think that God or some other "higher force" interacts with their minds somehow. Since minds are physical, this would entail God messing with matter and is potentially a falsifiable hypothesis.

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  43. Funny...I've heard that same naive view of how science works from creationists, who claim that because something happened in the past it is no longer subject to scientific scrutiny. There are lots of things we can't drag into the lab to study, or that we've never visited, or that happened a billion years ago -- but we can still test predictions about their effects.

    If someone wants to claim that a god had absolutely no observable, testable effects, and that there is no way to detect whether any process could be influenced by either his existence or non-existence, than the phenomenon has been defined out of existence and we can reject it.

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  44. One of the requirements for a miracle is to be incognoscible, but not anything incognoscible is a miracle. Miracles are not ONLY incognoscible; they are events alleged to be scientifically impossible.

    According to PZ's rationale, if something is incognoscible, it has been ruled out of existence and can be rejected. But it is easy to conceive how perfectly natural events can leave no trace whatsoever. Relevant data CAN be lost forever. In the end PZ's attitude is solipsistic, like if the extension of human knowledge perfectly overlapped with the universe, without leavig anything out. I think that is quite unscientific.

    I trust some people can realize a distinction can be made between well-docuemnted historical events and those where little evidence was left.
    Miracle-arguing does not require any kind of general questioning of the historical sciences, even though it helps that the alleged miracles refer to events lot in time that could not leave much scientific proof.

    It really amazes me how PZ seems not to care about thinking things about appropiately.
    All he seems to care about is to convert a low-brow kind of audience He will repeat a bad argument 1000 times so long as there is someone silly enough to buy. That is how he "changes opinion" . He seems to think that becuase an arugent still works on some, it must be a "good" argument.

    *barf*

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  45. One of the requirements for a miracle is to be incognoscible...

    What would be the point of miracles, if they were "incapable of being perceived or known"?

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  46. If someone wants to claim that a god had absolutely no observable, testable effects, and that there is no way to detect whether any process could be influenced by either his existence or non-existence, than the phenomenon has been defined out of existence and we can reject it.

    Hubris. You are confusing "undefined" with "defined out of existence". There is no way to test or detect if Thomas Jefferson picked his nose on the morning of June 11 1776, but that does not mean he did, or did not, or that it has been "defined out of existence".

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  47. "What would be the point of miracles, if they were "incapable of being perceived or known"?"

    Pffff. Precisely that is the point: you have not seen the miracle. You cannot ever confirm it. You believe in it becuase of FAITH.
    allow me to say ....DUH!!

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  48. Re: "cognitive dissonance":

    Of course they feel the tension. All three think they have an acceptable rationalization but I bet they aren't 100% comfortable with it.

    Nice try, Larry. But this is what you said:

    In many of these cases I see a conflict and the fact that they don't suggests to me that they are violating some aspects of methodological naturalism.

    This isn't really news, John. We've know about cognitive dissonance for many years.

    And just where do your "bets" about what other people think and feel fit in your practice in the laboratory, Larry? Is that kind of thing really compatible with good science?

    And PZ:

    Funny...I've heard that same naive view of how science works from creationists, who claim that because something happened in the past it is no longer subject to scientific scrutiny. There are lots of things we can't drag into the lab to study ...

    Oh, stop! Not only was it a metaphor, I was just ironically echoing Larry (from the same comment as the one quoted above):

    It's how many Theistic Evolutionists manage to do good science while holding on to religious superstitions that conflict with what they practice in the laboratory.

    Of course we can study the past and repeatable observations are every bit as good as repeatable experiments in science.

    And someone with a track record like Miller's could hardly be accused of not knowing that by anyone knowledgeable of the subject.

    If someone wants to claim that a god had absolutely no observable, testable effects, and that there is no way to detect whether any process could be influenced by either his existence or non-existence, than the phenomenon has been defined out of existence and we can reject it.

    "We" meaning people who hold to the philosophy of "scientism," naturally, not someone actually doing science.

    So, how do you reach the conclusion that a phenomena doesn't exist if it is not empirically testable without making an induction anyway?

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  49. "What would be the point of miracles, if they were "incapable of being perceived or known"?"
    Pffff. Precisely that is the point: you have not seen the miracle. You cannot ever confirm it. You believe in it becuase of FAITH.
    allow me to say ....DUH!!


    Allow me to say: WTF? Thousands if not millions of people have allegedly seen miracles. The word you used (incognoscible) does not mean "observable by some, but not confirmable".

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  50. Incognoscible means that it cannot be known, not that it cannot be observed, regardless of what the genius who wrote your dictionary thinks.

    Obviously miracles must be (in theory) observable. They are manifest alterations of natural order.

    but the "experience" in itself is, in fact, a detail; faith remains central.

    You cannot say there is no possible scientific explanation for the experience. Faith is required.

    Take for example the medical "miracles" accepted by the catholic church to declare saints. Of course these cases could have scientific explanations. In fact, the possibility of scientific explanation cannot ever be discarded.

    Other miracles you can only know are real or not if you experience them in person (a great deal of miracles are like this)
    Now, us: the faithless. Say a miracle occurs in front of our eyes. Would you acknowledge it? or you would not believe yourself: adscribe it to some neurological phenomenon in your head?

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  51. Wow, this thread took off (or threads - sorry about introducing a parallel stream here). I was enjoying the Canadian long weekend and didn't get back online until just now.

    Anyways, my thought is that even if you factor in some randomness at the quantum level, does that really mean we have free will? I'm talking about free will such that we are really in control of our decisions. To me, photons hit our eyes, they are collected by our rods and cone and signals are passed into our brains whereby our neurons fire in certain patterns - even if there is some randomness in how those patterns play out, I don't see at any point where we are in "control". With randomness, I can see us not be able to predict the outcome of our actions, but in no way are we in control, bending the laws of nature. So to me, free will is just an illusion.

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  52. "Incognoscible means that it cannot be known, not that it cannot be observed, regardless of what the genius who wrote your dictionary thinks."

    If something is observed, that means that we know at least something about it, regardless of what the genius "alipio" thinks. But this is getting exceedingly off-topic.

    Except: many people hold that absolute knowledge is not attainable. Therefore everything that happens is "unknowable" using your definition. Thus everything that happens is a miracle, QED ;)

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  53. Windy, the word you want is "unobservable". OK?

    And no, saying that absolute knowledge is impossible (which is not the same as saying knowledge is impossible) does not imply everything is a miracle. Anyone can tell that things that are commonplace are no miracles.

    Silly, silly stuff

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  54. Oh, not another one that has no free will.

    That's one of the reasons why religion is ahead as far as social influence goes. For all practical purposes in our lives, we DO have free will and make OUR OWN decisions, regardles of whether you believe you have it or not. Religion handles this basic human reality, where others fail to even acknowledge it.

    Maybe zerod thinks his own existence has o greater individuality or self-control than a chemical reaction in a lab tube. He fails to see the differences between living and non-living systems.

    Has Zerod ever noticed that the dynamics of organisms can be highly independent from their environment? In fact, autonomy is all what life is about. Organisms are mostly determined by their own "inner" workings.

    That is, what happens in them mostly has to do with themselves.

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  55. Hey, thanks for the response alipio. You say:

    Maybe zerod thinks his own existence has no greater individuality or self-control than a chemical reaction in a lab tube.


    And actually, ya, that's what I think. It's a hard one to swallow, but based on what I know (or at least have read) there is no magic going on in our brains, and that my little example shows that we are not in control, that is, free will (or consciousness) is just an emergent phenomenon. Nothing you said really discredits my basic assertions.

    Hey, as far as practicality is concerned, I agree this is not the most useful stance to take (I think it to be the truth though) and I have to flip back into living mode when I'm not thinking about it so as to stop my brain from exploding. So, I'm willing to accept it, then tuck it away so as to go on with life. I was just interested in throwing it out there to get comments because with most of the people in my life (especially the older people) I cannot talk about it without getting them all bent out of shape :-).

    You also say:


    He fails to see the differences between living and non-living systems.


    You know, I bet you get a few dissenters on that one. I think your assertion can be attacked in a few ways. One that comes to mind is that there are no differences at a different level abstraction - let's say at the sub-atomic level. Is there really any overall difference between living and non-living systems at the sub-atomic level, that is if you only consider the universe as a collection of quarks.

    Anyway, I'd love to hear more comments. After that, I promise never to bring it up again on this site :-) I agree this stance probably won't help society tip towards atheism vs religion and I wouldn't want to endanger that.

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  56. If you think that free will is being like some kind of ghost that can do whatever it wants with no material restrictions, no, of course there is no free will. But if free will means simply acknowledging the role of the organism's structure in determining its own encounters with the environment...then yes, there is autonomy, that can be likened to free-will.
    Plus I have no idea why do you refer to your own mind as "only" an emergent property, as i emergent properties don't really count or exist! Horrible. Without emergent properties there would be no biology, as Mayr and Gould understood clearly. In fact the autonomy of living organisms is an emergent property that disappears if the organism is separated into its chemical components; only THEN would it be comparable to the chemicals in the lab tube.

    Organisms are self-organizzing; explore that concept.

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  57. The fact that anyone (whether he/she acknowledge it or not) experiences existence as an individual that wants things and makes decisions according to his will, is by no means a mere illusion only because it is a perfectly materialistic and natural process, with no magic behind it. The lack of magic in free will is certainly no good reason to question its authenticity!

    Material observations of organisms can actually lead us to notions of individuality and independence that underlie our experience of free will. Any organism exists as a discrete body that stands out against an environmental "background". That body has a clearly complex and organized inner environment, self-ensembled and self-organized

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  58. "We" meaning people who hold to the philosophy of "scientism," naturally, not someone actually doing science.

    You write as if formulating bad hypotheses that are incapable of being evaluated is a virtue, and as if being able to recognize a bad, untestable idea is not part of "doing science". Again with the naive view of science: you don't have to be sloshing colored fluids back and forth to be doing science. We are also informed by theory and are doing science when we reason and predict and propose and synthesize.

    What you are babbling about is a typical attempt to isolate religious nonsense from criticism by narrowing the scope of scientific thought unreasonably.

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  59. As another commenter noted, this thread really took off during the weekend. To catch up:


    "[Pieret:] Neither Miller's use of the uncertainty principle nor Newton's of angels are scientific ideas."
    "[windy:] Torbjörn Larsson had something to say about messing with quantum events, ask him about Miller."

    Miller may think that he is using the uncertainty principle, alas he is not. As Tyler noted, he is effectively describing a hidden variables theory, which we know is impossible by experiments.


    "[Pieret:] Of course, the Duhem–Quine thesis will kick in at that point and, like many scientists do for their favored theories, Miller may well set about moving his theological proposition to higher ground. But as long as he still doesn't claim it is a scientific result, he is not violating methodological naturalism."

    Ah, here is the core of the problem. Commenter Duas in similar threads here think it is enough that theists claim that they are compatible with science. You think the same, as long as they adjust their beliefs according to scientific finds.

    But the problem is manifold. [He! I am still tired after the long weekend. That come out as "manyfold" at first.]

    First TE's claim that they are compatible with science. Note that the Duhem-Quine thesis, AFAIK "saving the theory" (that I don't think describes science methods, btw), says that scientists adjusts their theories after tests, not that they are trying to withhold them from tests.

    Second, after TE's adjunctive beliefs (those outside religion, that was found to be distorting science) has been debunked, they immediately erect new ones (i.e. they adjust their adjunctive claims), in spite of that they know that they likely will be debunked again.

    In my own view, where scientists theories fails in tests and we must make new ones if so by adjusting a parameter value, it is even worse.
    Since TE's repeatedly put up their 'religious' ideas for tests and fail, they should abandon either the method (which many argues here) or their religion. Not unlike their creationist fellows in ID, btw.


    "[Pieret:] "We" meaning people who hold to the philosophy of "scientism," naturally, not someone actually doing science."

    "Scientism" as it is used today is mostly a signal of a religious sentiment akin to "Darwinism". The closest philosophy, logical positivism, is not something scientists use (or probably ever used). To recognize that empiricism and especially science is more powerful where it can be applied is not 'scientism'.


    "[Pieret:] how do you reach the conclusion that a phenomena doesn't exist if it is not empirically testable without making an induction anyway?"

    Induction is for sissies, real scientists use testing. ;-) At least, testing is how we mostly recognize failed theories. (Induction is excellent for inventing hypotheses.) I claim that we can keep the remaining provisionally, if they have no other problems.

    We have several methods to select out bad ideas, testable or not. PZ mentions one, recognizing bad hypotheses.

    Another is to debunk enveloping empirical claims, for example when prayer studies debunks "medical prayers" by testing, it also debunks remaining functional claims on prayer including communication with the gods.

    A third, less usable here, is "no-go" theorems, such as the QM no cloning theorem. It says no clone will be possible, yet for some reason we have never seen one. :-)

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  60. I think I remember from Miller's talk at Yale that his attitude towards contingency is theistic. He acknowledges that multiple different results are possible according to contingency, and related that notion to god (I can't remember precisely how). He was not making any implication for science. He was making a theistic reflection about nature. I found it amusing. It was not been shoveled down people's throats as science (which is more than I can say of most of our own scientistic atheists)

    Despite my ingrained suspicions about any theist, I remember Miller left me comfortable. He did not leave me feeling any "immanent conflict" with science.
    People of faith can make cool scientists. Miller is a case. Bakker is another. Mendel. Gulick. Fisher. Dobzhansky.

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