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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Accommodationism in Dover

The Kitzmiller v. Dover trial took place in September/October 2005. The issue was whether Intelligent Design Creationism should be presented to Dover high school students as a valid scientific controversy [Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. The plaintiffs successfully argued that Intelligent Design was a religious view and as such it should be excluded from the science classroom.

The general thrust of the plaintiff's argument was laid out in the opening remarks of their lawyer (Eric Rothschild). They intended to show that science is restricted to natural causes. It cannot make statements about the supernatural. Since intelligent design refers to God it must be religion, not science, and should not be presented in a science classroom.
At this trial, you will hear the parties use the term "methodological naturalism." Methodological naturalism is the term used to describe science as self-imposed limitation, that it will only consider natural causes for natural phenomena. Science does not consider supernatural explanations because it has no way of observing, measuring, repeating, or testing supernatural events. It doesn't mean that supernatural events, including divine miracles, have not happened, just that science cannot properly make any statements about them.

But intelligent design will not accept the well-established boundaries of science and openly rejects methodological naturalism, the way science has been practiced for centuries. Why? Because it has to. In the end, no matter how many stones intelligent design throws at the theory of evolution, the only alternative it presents for the development and diversity of life, the only explanation for how a bacterial flagellum or the human eye came to be is a miracle, an abrupt appearance, an act of supernatural creation. That, by itself, establishes intelligent design as a religious argument, not a scientific argument, for the creation of biological life that cannot be taught to public school students.
This position is convenient because it defines non-overlapping magisteria. It means that someone can believe in miracles and supernatural beings without violating the principles that govern science. It's a good way of making the claims of intelligent design appear to be outside the bounds of science while, at the same time, allowing moderate religious scientists to live under the big tent of science.

It's a politically and legally effective tactic, but it it correct? I don't think it is. I think science is allowed to investigate claims of miracles and whether there are supernatural beings, just as it's allowed to investigate claims of the paranormal.

Whether or not this is a good description of science, it's clear that in the context of Kitzmiller v Dover the tactic was very successful. The Judge, John E. Jones III, accepted the definition of science and noted in his ruling that science is limited to methodological naturalism [Memorandum Opinion: Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Are School District et al.].
Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (9:19-22 (Haught); 5:25-29 (Pennock); 1:62 (Miller)). This revolution entailed the rejection of the appeal to authority, and by extension, revelation, in favor of empirical evidence. (5:28 (Pennock)). Since that time period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea’s worth. (9:21-22 (Haught); 1:63 (Miller)). In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. (9:21 (Haught); 1:64, 87 (Miller)). While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. (3:103 (Miller); 9:19-20 (Haught)). This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. (5:23, 29-30 (Pennock)). Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify. (1:59-64, 2:41-43 (Miller); 5:8, 23-30 (Pennock)).

As the National Academy of Sciences (hereinafter “NAS”) was recognized by experts for both parties as the “most prestigious” scientific association in this country, we will accordingly cite to its opinion where appropriate. (1:94, 160-61 (Miller); 14:72 (Alters); 37:31 (Minnich)). NAS is in agreement that science is limited to empirical, observable and ultimately testable data: “Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science.” (P-649 at 27).

This rigorous attachment to “natural” explanations is an essential attribute to science by definition and by convention. (1:63 (Miller); 5:29-31 (Pennock)). We are in agreement with Plaintiffs’ lead expert Dr. Miller, that from a practical perspective, attributing unsolved problems about nature to causes and forces that lie outside the natural world is a “science stopper.” (3:14-15 (Miller)). As Dr. Miller explained, once you attribute a cause to an untestable supernatural force, a proposition that cannot be disproven, there is no reason to continue seeking natural explanations as we have our answer.
One of the people who testified for the plaintiffs was John Haught, a Roman Catholic Theologian. He was asked to define science and distinguish it from religion. His testimony is a very good example of the accommodationist position so I'm quoting it below in order to illustrate that view. (The transcripts are freely available on the NCSE website, see Kitzmiller Trial Transcripts.)
Q. Focusing on natural science, what is science?
A. Science is a mode of inquiry that looks to understand natural phenomena by looking for their natural causes, efficient and material causes. It does this by first gathering data observationally or empirically. Then it organizes this data into the form of hypotheses or theories. And then, thirdly, it continually tests the authenticity of these hypotheses and theories against new data that might come in and perhaps occasionally bring about the revision of the hypothesis or theory.

Q. You said that science seeks to understand the natural world through natural explanations. Is that important?
A. Yes, that's critical. The science, by definition, limits itself self-consciously, methodologically, to natural explanations. And that means that anything like a supernatural reality or transcendent reality, science is simply not wired to pick up any signals of it, and therefore any reference to the supernatural simply cannot be part of scientific discourse. And this is the way that science carries on to our present day.

Q. Would that mean this is the way modern science is conducted?
A. Modern science we date from roughly the end of the 16th to the 17th Century, in that period of time. And it was at that time that the great figurists of modern science, almost all of whom were deeply religious men themselves, decided self-consciously that this new mode of inquiry would not appeal to anything that's not natural, would not appeal to things like value, importance, divine causation, or even anything like intelligent causation.

These are not scientific categories of explanation. And ever since the 16th and 17th Century, modern science, as it's called, leaves out anything that has to do with theological or ultimate explanation.


Q. Does this make science at odds with religion?
A. By no means. Science and religion, as I've written in all of my books, are dealing with two completely different or distinct realms. They can be related, science and religion, but, first of all, they have to be distinguished. The medieval philosopher said, we distinguish in order to relate. And when we have a failure to distinguish science from religion, then confusion will follow.

So science deals with questions relating to natural causes, to efficient and material causes, if you want to use Aristotelian language. Religion and theology deal with questions about ultimate meaning and ultimate purpose. To put it very simply, science deals with causes, religion deals with meanings. Science asks "how" questions, religion asks "why" questions.

And it's because they're doing different things that they cannot logically stand in a competitive relationship with each other any more than, say, a baseball game or a baseball player or a good move in baseball can conflict with a good move in chess. They're different games, if you want to use that analogy, playing by different rules.

Q. You've used another analogy in discussions with me that might be illuminating. This is the boiling water analogy. Could you give us that?
A. Yes. I think most of the issues in science and religion discussions, most of the confusion that occurs happens because we fail to distinguish different levels of explanation. And so what I advocate is layered or -- layered explanation or explanatory pluralism, according to which almost every phenomenon in our experience can be explained at a plurality of levels.

And a simple example would be a teapot. Suppose a teapot is boiling on your stove and someone comes into the room and says, explain to me why that's boiling. Well, one explanation would be it's boiling because the water molecules are moving around excitedly and the liquid state is being transformed into gas.

But at the same time you could just as easily have answered that question by saying, it's boiling because my wife turned the gas on. Or you could also answer that same question by saying it's boiling because I want tea.

All three answers are right, but they don't conflict with each other because they're working at different levels. Science works at one level of investigation, religion at another. And it would be a mistake to say that the teapot is boiling because I turned the gas on rather than because the molecules are moving around. It would be a mistake to say the teapot is boiling because of molecular movement rather than because I want tea. No, you can have a plurality of levels of explanation. But the problems occur when one assumes that there's only one level.

And if I could apply this analogy to the present case, it seems to me that the intelligent design proponents are assuming that there's only one authoritative level of inquiry, namely the scientific, which is, of course, a very authoritative way of looking at things. And they're trying to ram their ultimate kind of explanation, intelligent design, into that level of explanation, which is culturally very authoritative today, namely the scientific.

And for that reason, science, scientists justifiably object because implicitly they're accepting what I'm calling this explanatory pluralism or layered explanation where you don't bring in "I want tea" while you're studying the molecular movement in the kettle. So it's a logical confusion that we have going here.
I think that's a prety good description of the accommodationist position as I understand it.

One of the interesting aspects of the trial is that when John Haught started to testify as an expect on science there was an objection from the defendant's lawyer. He claimed that Haught was a philosopher, not a scientist, and therefore was not an expert witness with respect to defining science. The objection had to be withdrawn when the defendant's lawyer discovered that he had already approved pre-trial documents where Haught discussed science.

Later on there was the following exchange,
Q. Well, according to Gould, the message of Darwinian science is that life has no purpose. Is that a scientific claim?
A. No. And I think if you ask Gould, he would have to admit that, also.

Q. Okay. Daniel Dennett, do you know who he is?
A. Yes.

Q. He's a philosopher. Is that right?
A. He's a philosopher at Tufts University.

Q. Right. And he claims that Darwin is incompatible with religious beliefs?
A. Yes. He's a philosopher, not a scientist. That's a philosophical belief.

Q. Well, what about E. O. Wilson, who is a biologist at Harvard, he puts Darwin's science in direct competition with religion, does he not?
A. Yes, because he is one of these people who unconsciously conflates his very good evolutionary science with a very suspect metaphysical belief system. Not always, but at times.
I'm sorry, but I can't help but snicker at such testimony from a Roman Catholic philosopher. He's testifying as an expert on science but criticizes another philosopher for making statements about science (justifiable, in my opinion, but still hypocritical). Then he criticizes a scientist for mixing up his science with his metaphysical beliefs.

What, exactly are those "very suspect metaphysical belief system" that John Haught avoids but which entraps E.O. Wilson? Why it's the "religion" of materialism.
Q. And by a materialist world-view or belief system, what does that mean?
A. Materialism is a belief system that claims that matter, lifeless and mindless matter, is the ultimate foundation of all reality, and there's nothing more ultimate than that. So it's kind of religious in the first sense of my term, a belief in something of ultimate importance. For the materialist, matter is the ultimate creator, the ultimate source of all being, and therefore it excludes the existence of anything supernatural, certainly the existence of God.
So, materialism isn't something that could just arise by default among those people who don't fall for religion. No siree. It has to be a religious view of its own.

If you think about it, that's very strange. Western Europeans are raising a whole generation of children who will have never been brainwashed by religion. They will be materialists by default because they've never known anything else. But according to Haught (he's not alone) they will be engaging in adopting a form of religious belief system, just like E.O. Wilson. How does that work?

So, what exactly are the limitations of science that we are supposed to adhere to? Earlier I criticized the concept of methodological naturalism because it seemed to rule out investigations of the paranormal as well as investigations of miracles. Robert Pennock, another philosopher, was asked about that during his testimony and he had a ready answer. See if you are convinced.
Q. Isn't it true that as we sit here today scientists are investigating what some people call psychic powers?
A. I know that there are a few scientists who did that I believe. Mack is one name, someone who's done this. So there are a few scientists who have done that, that's right, and what they do in that case is really the same thing. It's often misunderstood to think, to call something paranormal means that it is supernatural. Essentially what's going on in those scientific investigations is to say no, that's not so. We will again treat this purported phenomenon, ESP or telekinesis for example, as though this is a natural, still yet unknown, but ordinary causal process, treating it essentially in the same way we treat other things under the constraints of methodological naturalism, reconceptualizing it as a natural thing rather than a supernatural.
Cool. You can investigate the paranormal because it's not supernatural and you can treat it as a potential natural phenomenon. Presumably you will reach the conclusion that is is not a paranormal event.

But for some reason you can't do that for miracles and the role of God in theistic evolution. That's forbidden science.

Excuse me if I'm confused.


Michael Fugate said...

It is interesting that the Catholic Church does believe miracles can be investigated scientifically. The Church requires proof of miracles for canonization to proceed. Miracles require supernatural intelligence (see
If the Church concludes that something is a miracle then it is proof of God's action.

Doesn't seem to match NOMA.

Olorin said...

Methodological naturalism means that science only investigates phenomena that are repeatable and predictable.

Several scientific studies have investigated the power of intercessory prayer--which is by definition supernatural. When the results came back inconclusive, the investigators couldn't say that there is no such thing as "answered prayers." But they could say that the effects of such prayers are not repeatable or predictable---and thus of no scientific import.

This is, I think, the difference between religion and science. Not some mystical "magisteria" or "levels od understanding."

Corneel said...

OK, I'll bite,

If I understand your position well, you are claiming that we can investigate the role of God in evolution by assuming he is not a supernatural being, but a natural being, bound by as yet unknown natural laws (correct me if I am wrong).

I think that sorta works for religious claims that invade on the working territory of science, e.g. concerning the age of the earth. If supernatural beings interact with the physical world, their actions become amenable to scientific investigations.

But this is not what most believers seek in religion. They are searching for purpose and meaning. Science can only describe and explain the world, but gives
no moral direction. That is up to humans to decide.

In my opinion, the problem with intelligent design/ creationism is not that its claims cannot be scientifically investigated, but that it is burdened with a religious baggage of moral directives that should be followed if the claims of ID were true. That is the reason why religion and science should be kept apart.

J.J. Emerson said...

I'm always confused about what exactly is "supernatural". It seems to have no meaning.

I'm fine with superhuman (as in superhuman intelligence which we've never observed or superhuman speed which you can see in your garden variety pet dog). But to me, "natural" is simply the world of shared observations (in order to distinguish it from delusions or hallucination which might be observed by only one or small number of people; although hallucinations are to a certain extent amenable to brain scans).

And I've always thought that the definition of natural as "not made by people" is kinda silly, and in any event doesn't make sense here. Because then Coca Cola would be "supernatural".

And back in the day, all kinds of events people took to be driven by god (weather, earthquakes, astronomical phenomena) are now considered natural. So, it is not clear to me why people find it useful to even contrast the "natural word" with god-type stuff. After all, around the time god was burning bushes and turning Sodomites and those that watched them into pillars of salt, people were still blaming god for pedestrian things like floods and plagues and thunderstorms.

I agree with Larry, except I would try to avoid the "natural"/"supernatural" dichotomy. I'd just say "If we all saw some dude descend from the clouds and turn our water to wine and raise the dead, that's an amazing observation that I've never seen before."

Supernatural is either defined in such a way as to escape scrutiny or it isn't distinguished from "natural". After all, hallucinations can be described in terms of brain biology, so nothing supernatural about them. Similarly, if someone remembers "divine revelation", then we can apprehend that, assuming we were watching at the correct time with sufficiently sensitive instruments. This is to say nothing of parting seas and raining toads.

Perhaps NOMA really means "Science deals with reality and religion deals with fantasy."

SLC said...

Re John Haught

For an alleged Roman Catholic theologian, Prof. Haught has some rather remarkable ideas.

1. When questioned about the notion of the virgin birth of Yeshua of Nazareth, he implied that it was allegorical (it would seem that Ken Miller is now amenable to this idea).

2. When questioned about the notion of the resurrection of Yeshua of Nazareth, he stated that, if a video camera had been present and running in the room where this allegedly occurred, nothing would have been recorded on the video tape, implying that the resurrection did not physically occur but rather occurred in a vision.

everettattebury said...

[Perhaps NOMA really means "Science deals with reality and religion deals with fantasy."]

I'm going to steal this.:)

My understanding of the concept of "supernatural", is that it is a way of asserting that contradictory, impossible, or entirely imaginary things are real.

It also seems like an attempt to get people to mistrust their own observations and experiences and their own capacity for distinguishing reality from fantasy.

Tulse said...

"But this is not what most believers seek in religion. They are searching for purpose and meaning. Science can only describe and explain the world, but gives
no moral direction. That is up to humans to decide."

For the religious it is apparently up to a sky fairy to decide. That's what I find particularly bizarre about the "religion provides meaning" claim, as it essentially admits that one has ceded one's life's meaning to some invisible non-human entity.

Michael said...

"And I've always thought that the definition of natural as "not made by people" is kinda silly, and in any event doesn't make sense here. Because then Coca Cola would be "supernatural"."

Please say that's just a joke and there's no more to it than that.

Michael said...

"For an alleged Roman Catholic theologian, Prof. Haught has some rather remarkable ideas."

Unless SLC is herself a Roman Catholic theologian, it is remarkable that SLC thinks himself in a position to say what is remarkable coming from a Roman Catholic theologian.

I am using "Roman Catholic theologian" in the same sense as Haught would use it, meaning that he has the approval of the Roman Catholic Church to say that what he teaches as the view of the Church is the view of the Church (which will certainly be the case with him teaching at Georgetown, which is a Catholic school).

anthrosciguy said...

The actual science position, as I see it, is that you can only study things that have effects, and anything that has an effect can be studied. (This isn't the same as having effects we can't yet detect, because that's been the case for centuries, that there are things that at a certain time cannot be detected or measured properly; but these yield to later, better methods.) The problem for religions in this is that if they want to claim that there's a god or gods and that the workings of this entity have no effect, then fine, science can't study that. But that's not much of a god, is it?

George said...

One treads on someone's sacred ground. The other does not. Confused?

Anonymous said...

Re Michael

1. I am male and am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

2. Prof. Haught in no way, shape, form, or regard stated that his views were the official or unofficial views of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, they are quite the opposite. These are the personnel views of Prof. Haught.

3. I have no evidence that Prof. Haught, who was at one time the chairman of the religion department at Georgetown, teaches these views in his classes.

4. AFAIK, the official position of the Roman
Catholic Church is that Yeshua of Nazareth was born of a virgin and physically rose from the dean on the second day after his execution.

Larry Fafarman said...

Intelligent design does not have to be creationist -- for example, ID could be defined as the study of the extent to which living things give the appearance of being designed instead of being the products of chance, or could be defined as the study of the probability that living things could be produced solely by natural genetic variation and natural selection.

Jerry Coyne said...

If you're a theist, like Ken Miller is, and claims that God interacts directly with the world, changing what would occur if only purely natural processes operated, then you lay yourself open to empirical testing. Even the Vatican knows this--the beatification process involves a panel looking at EVIDENCE about whether someone really was cured miraculously. Now that process is pretty rigged, but there is at least a requirement for evidence.

Deism, not so much, but theism, yes--it's not immune to evidence.

Michael (mjpam) said...

I'm not sure why the statement is confusing "paranormal" and "supernatural" don't necessarily men the exact same thing, so it is conceivable for the paranormal to be investigated by science as long as it is also not supernatural.

Sigmund said...

Francis Collins explicitly comes out against NOMA in the introduction to his latest book.
“In the twenty-first century, many seem to have concluded that the spiritual experience and the life of the mind ought to occupy separate domains, and that disruptions, conflicts, and disenchantments will result if the firewall comes down. Surely humanity’s ongoing search for truth is not enriched by such limitations.”
Theism cannot function within the strict limitations of NOMA. It requires slightly overlapping domains (SOMA?), otherwise there can be no ongoing communication or interaction between the theistic God and his creations.

Matti K. said...

MJPAM: ""paranormal" and "supernatural" don't necessarily men the exact same thing, so it is conceivable for the paranormal to be investigated by science as long as it is also not supernatural."

What would your advice be to an investigator who want's to study a phenomenon that does not seem to fit to the description of "natural" (or "normal")? How can you weed out the "supernatural" events in order not to waste time on unscientific endeavours?

bad Jim said...

Science attempts to describe systematically any sort of phenomena that can be reliably and consensually observed. It doesn't exclude any sort of explanation at the outset. That supernatural influences are no longer taken seriously is not the result of a methodological bias; it's merely because they can't be detected. As far as anyone can tell, they don't exist.

So, yeah, scientists are in practice methodological naturalists. Why waste your time?

Unknown said...

A couple of points:

First, accomodationism is not limited to NOMA or the "differing levels of explanation" view presented here. In the post about NCES, Peter Hess presented a view that essentially states that religion must accomodate itself to science fact, and that the Bible was never meant to teach us that. Thus, under that view, that the Bible says that a bat is a bird is irrelevant; it was never meant to tell us the "right" classification for bats as mammals. It was aimed at teaching us about morals and, well, God, so if science and religion contradict each other over scientific fact then religion must give way. This seems to me to be clearly accomodationist, but certainly seems to be a position that's very simple to hold.

Since another post accepts that morality isn't scientific, this gets slightly into a NOMA situation, but does accept that at least some religious claims are scientifically settleable (and could possible accept that all of them are), thus making it not NOMA.

Additionally, on natural/supernatural, it always irritates me that people don't understand the history of the debate well-enough to understand that it isn't the supernaturalist side that drove the distinction. It used to be the case that natural/physical had a very strict definition. Descartes substance dualism pointed out some of the things that mind has that those things can't (it has to have extension, for example). But science shifted natural to everything that it found to be true, including some things that strongly violated that (superstrings is the example Chomsky used). So naturalists are the ones that are trying to shove supernaturalists into the dichotomy of "non-existent/special pleading", because of how they changed natural.

Take the "paranormal vs supernatural" discussion in these comments and post. Telepathy, telekinesis, and ghosts were all considered to be "supernatural" because they were believed to violate natural laws. Scientists tried to study them, but there is a risk that their studies lose what makes the phenomena the phenomena. At any rate, this all comes down to the idea that if scientists could regularly reproduce "supernatural" things, then those things would automatically become "natural", without any change in their purported nature and even if science had no clue how it worked.

So you can see how science is trying to eliminate the supernatural by definition; there is no a priori way to determine what is or isn't supernatural because if we prove it to exist, naturalists will call it natural. The same might even apply for God.

However, miracles might be different, in that they are DEFINED to violate the laws of nature, and so should be supernatural by definition. However, I'm sure this will not stop some scientists from claiming it to simply be an exception to those laws -- whatever they are -- to avoid that.

Olorin said...

ACC: "Since another post accepts that morality isn't scientific,"

Morality not only can be studied scientifically, it has been. Harvard's Marc Hauser, for example posits a "moral grammar" in the brain. and demonstrates two moral centers, one emotional and one on a more conscious level. (Hauser, "Moral Minds," Ecco, 2006)

Anonymous said...

...the beatification process involves a panel looking at EVIDENCE about whether someone really was cured miraculously. Now that process is pretty rigged, but there is at least a requirement for evidence.


The beatification process in modern times has turned from an absurdity into a farce after Karol Wojtila set up an assembly line for canonisation. The farce peaked when Agnes Boiaxhu an obscure nun from Kolkata was declared fully beatified in 2003 after the Vatican faked a miracle in the case of Monica Besra. Even after the government of the state of West Bengal in India provided the medical records of Monica Besra to show that her devotion to Agnes Boiaxhu was worthless and that it is the state that had treated her for cancer, the Vatican went ahead in declaring Besra's recovery a miracle. But worse still is the attitude of several freethinkers/atheists/rationalists etc. Barring Chris Hitchens not one among you have ever bothered to decry or at least reject the myth of Agens Teresa Boiaxhu. She was a nun who collected millions and millions and spent all of it on establisheing nunneries. Not a cent was spent on providing a smidgen of care. While she provided not even palliative for the 20 odd patients of her hospice the ghoul availed of the best medical facilities she could have for free. Hitchens was right to call her the Ghoul of Calcutta. Even atheists seem to derive some satisfaction from the imagined story of a western white person ministering among the fallen wretches of the East.

Richard Wein said...

It seems that a priori MN suits the accommodationists in two ways: keeping science out of religion (i.e. saving moderate religious beliefs from scientific scrutiny) AND keeping religion out of science. On the latter point, it leads to the fallacious argument that ID cannot be scientific because it's "supernatural". Bradley Monton criticises this argument thoroughly here:
I disagree with much that Bradley Monton writes about ID, but on this point he's right.

I call it a priori MN to distinguish it from another sort of MN. Jerry Coyne and others refer to MN as a kind of rule-of-thumb which rejects "supernatural" explanations on the grounds that they've proved useless to science in the past. This sort of MN is potentially revisable in the light of new evidence, so cannot be used to rule ID out of science a priori.

Good point. I've repeatedly challenged supporters of a priori MN to justify it, and to start by defining what they mean by "natural" (or conversely "supernatural"). They usually fail at this first hurdle. The only way they're able to justify MN is by defining "natural" to mean something like "verifiable", to which I respond: that's not what people mean by "natural"; if you mean "verifiable" say "verifiable"; don't confuse everyone by saying "natural". And, of course, if you define "natural" this way, then calling ID "supernatural" is begging the question of whether it's verifiable.

Corneel said...

Morality not only can be studied scientifically, it has been.

That is true, but also besides the point. Science tells us why we have morality, but not what our morals should be.

Unknown said...


I'd reply to your claim that it has been studied scientifically that science cannot study things that are normative. It tells us what people do and, to some extent, why people think certain things are or aren't moral, but not whether or not that's correct or that we SHOULD think that.

Also, Larry Moran comments in his post on universal knowledge that morality cannot be such and since he thinks that science can study everything that is universal knowledge seems to have to accept that morality can't really be studied scientifically.

Unknown said...

Very confusing and not very logical but it is a legalism that has kept ID and creationism out of American schools. Best we can do in the US of A.

Michael (mjpam) said...

Very confusing and not very logical but it is a legalism that has kept ID and creationism out of American schools.

I'm not sure what is so confusing or illogical about the position the court took. In fact, it is only confusion and illogical if one takes the position that the "paranormal" and the "supernatural" are identical.

As far as I understand the terms, "paranormal" just describes phenomena that are beyond everyday experience or current scientific explanation, whereas "supernatural" describes phenomena that, by their very nature, must always contravene any set of laws that explain empirical observations of the universe. Thus, there is nothing inherently supernatural about paranormal phenomena.

That said, it is still important to pay close attention to the exact claims being made, because it is possible for people to make supernatural claims about phenomena that are usually considered to be paranormal. For instance, if someone were to claim that it will always be beyond human comprehension how extraterrestrials have been able to master interstellar transport, they are making supernatural claim about extraterrestrials.

Unfortunately (at least for those who would rather not consider any paranormal claim to be possibly true), this means that someone investigating paranormal claims must try to understand exactly what the claim is before it is dismissed. In other words, one must pay attention to the content of the claim as well as its form. Thus, the fact that, for example, a claim is about extraterrestrials does not automatically make the claim supernatural; one must first determine what exactly is being claimed about extraterrestrials.

Unknown said...

Science asks "how" questions, religion asks "why" questions.

This is a lie. Both enterprises ask all sorts of questions. Science offers a genuine possibility of answering at least some of them. Religion has no chance of answering any of them.