Saturday, September 24, 2011

Methodological naturalism

I've posted in this blog several times on theistic evolution.  One of the (seemingly) interesting facts about those who hold a strong theistic evolutionary view is their commitment to a philosophical position called "methodological naturalism".

What's interesting is that's the common position held by atheists...so why should theists hold that same philosophical view?

Methodological naturalism basically says that science cannot ever make statements about God.  In fact, the only kind of conclusions that you are allowed to draw, as a scientist, are naturalistic ones.  You can never take evidence you see in the natural world, and from that evidence, conclude that something supernatual occurred.  It's not allowed.

An aside: The statement, "From science, the only conclusions you are allowed to draw are natural ones, and supernatural conclusions are disallowed," is not a scientific statement.  It is a philosophical statement.  Thus, if you are a scientist, this is something that comes from outside of science that informs you how you do science.  Nothing wrong with that, but it's something every scientist must acknowledge.

Back to the discussion of methodological naturalism.  If a theist, who believes in God, says that in science only naturalistic causes are allowed to be drawn as conclusions, then science is reduced from something that searches for truth (no matter where it lies) to something that is dominated by a particular philosophy, a particular worldview, that can force you to conclude something false about the universe.

Now, as a scientist, I am not just going around saying God did everything.  But I am also not going around saying that God could never be the answer.  If God did act in the world, then there could possibly be some evidence of that.  And it's entirely possible that the particular system that I am studying has been effected by that.  If I rule that out from the get-go, then I am effectively ruling out truth in favor of a philosophical (not scientific) position.  I am slanting my scientific conclusions by my philosophical presuppositions.

Where does this lead us?  This means that we should always be cautious and tentative when it comes to science, and that also includes being cautions and tentative when it comes to examining our presuppositions (i.e., our "baggage") that we bring to the table.