scientific materialism



Naturalism is any of several philosophical stances, typically those descended from materialism and pragmatism, that do not distinguish the supernatural (including strange entities like non-natural values, and universals as they are commonly conceived) from nature. Naturalism does not necessarily claim that phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural do not exist or are wrong, but insists that all phenomena and hypotheses can be studied by the same methods and therefore anything considered supernatural is either nonexistent or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.

Any method of inquiry or investigation or any procedure for gaining knowledge that limits itself to natural, physical, and material approaches and explanations can be described as naturalistic.

Many modern philosophers of science[1][2] use the terms methodological naturalism or scientific naturalism to refer to the long standing convention in science of the scientific method, which makes the methodological assumption that observable effects in nature are best explainable only by natural causes, without reference to, or an assumption of, the existence or non-existence of supernatural notions. They contrast this with the approach known as ontological naturalism or metaphysical naturalism, which refers to the metaphysical belief that the natural world (including the universe) is all that exists, and therefore nothing supernatural exists.

This distinction between approaches to the philosophy of naturalism is made by philosophers supporting science and evolution in the creation–evolution controversy to counter the tendency of some proponents of Creationism or intelligent design to refer to methodological naturalism as scientific materialism or as methodological materialism and conflate it with metaphysical naturalism.[3] These proponents of creationism use this assertion to support their claim that modern science is atheistic, and contrast it with their preferred approach of a revived natural philosophy which welcomes supernatural explanations for natural phenomena and supports "theistic science" or pseudoscience.

Definition of Methodological Naturalism

Methodological naturalism contrasted with metaphysical naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism, which is often called "philosophical naturalism" or "ontological naturalism", takes an ontological approach to naturalism. Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that studies being, and so this is the view that the supernatural does not exist, thus entailing strong atheism.

In contrast, methodological naturalism is, in the words of Steven D. Schaphersman, "the adoption or assumption of philosophical naturalism within scientific method with or without fully accepting or believing it … science is not metaphysical and does not depend on the ultimate truth of any metaphysics for its success (although science does have metaphysical implications), but methodological naturalism must be adopted as a strategy or working hypothesis for science to succeed. We may therefore be agnostic about the ultimate truth of naturalism, but must nevertheless adopt it and investigate nature as if nature is all that there is." [4]

Relationship to the supernatural

This definition rules out recourse to the supernatural. Pennock contends[5] that as supernatural agents and powers "are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers" and "are not constrained by natural laws", only logical impossibilities constrain what a supernatural agent could not do, and "If we could apply natural knowledge to understand supernatural powers, then, by definition, they would not be supernatural". As the supernatural is necessarily a mystery to us, it can provide no grounds on which to judge scientific models. "Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables … But by definition we have no control over supernatural entities or forces." Allowing science to appeal to untestable supernatural powers would make the scientist's task meaningless, undermining the discipline that allows science to make progress, and "would be as profoundly unsatisfying as the ancient Greek playwright's reliance upon the deus ex machina to extract his hero from a difficult predicament."

Naturalism of this sort says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural which by this definition is beyond natural testing. Other philosophers of science hold that some supernatural explanations might be testable in principle, but are so unlikely, given past results, that resources should not be wasted exploring them. Either way, their rejection is only a practical matter, so it is possible to be a methodological naturalist and an ontological supernaturalist at the same time. For example, while natural scientists follow methodological naturalism in their scientific work, they may also believe in God (ontological supernaturalism), or they may be metaphysical naturalists and therefore atheists. This position does not preclude knowledge that derives from the study of what is hitherto considered supernatural, but considers that if such a phenomenon can be scientifically examined and explained naturally, it then ceases to be supernatural.

Supporting statements

Supporters of the scientific method describe methodological naturalism as "effective, powerful"[1], "promoting successful investigation"[2], and "an essential aspect of … the study of the natural universe"[3]. They also view the history of science as showing "a progression from supernaturalism to naturalism"[4]. These supporters consider creationist alternatives to be "positively ineffective and counter-productive … in attempts to understand the natural world"[5].

The subject was given detailed attention during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial in 2005, and in his memorandum of findings[6] United States federal court judge John E. Jones III concluded that "Methodological naturalism is a 'ground rule' of science today". This ruling sets a federal district judicial precedent in the context of legal restrictions on the teaching of religion in U.S. schools, and more broadly the memorandum sets out an impartial assessment of the evidence and arguments relating to the use in science of methodological naturalism as against supernatural explanations.

History

The ideas and assumptions of philosophical naturalism were first seen in the work's of the Ionian pre-Socratic philosophers. Particularly Thales, the man considered to be the father of science, as he was the first to give explanations of natural events without the use of supernatural causes. Jonathan Barnes's introduction to Early Greek Philosophy (Penguin) describes these early philosophers as subscribing to principles of empirical investigation that strikingly anticipate naturalism.

But the modern emphasis in methodological naturalism can be traced back more directly to the ideas of medieval scholastic thinkers during the Renaissance of the 12th century:

By the late Middle Ages the search for natural causes had come to typify the work of Christian natural philosophers. Although characteristically leaving the door open for the possibility of direct divine intervention, they frequently expressed contempt for soft-minded contemporaries who invoked miracles rather than searching for natural explanations. The University of Paris cleric Jean Buridan (a. 1295-ca. 1358), described as "perhaps the most brilliant arts master of the Middle Ages," contrasted the philosopher’s search for "appropriate natural causes" with the common folk’s erroneous habit of attributing unusual astronomical phenomena to the supernatural. In the fourteenth century the natural philosopher Nicole Oresme (ca. 1320-82), who went on to become a Roman Catholic bishop, admonished that, in discussing various marvels of nature, "there is no reason to take recourse to the heavens, the last refuge of the weak, or demons, or to our glorious God as if He would produce these effects directly, more so than those effects whose causes we believe are well known to us."


Enthusiasm for the naturalistic study of nature picked up in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as more and more Christians turned their attention to discovering the so-called secondary causes that God employed in operating the world. The Italian Catholic Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), one of the foremost promoters of the new philosophy, insisted that nature "never violates the terms of the laws imposed upon her." [7]


Isaac Newton, when asked about the lack of mention of God in his works on physics, is said to have replied, "Hypotheses non fingo." ("I do not make hypotheses.") Similarly, Pierre Simon de Laplace, when asked about the lack of mention of God in his work on celestial mechanics, is said to have replied, "I have no need of that hypothesis."

During the Enlightenment, a number of philosophers including Francis Bacon and Voltaire outlined the philosophical justifications for removing appeal to supernatural forces from investigation of the natural world. Subsequent scientific revolutions would remove much of the remaining theistic baggage from scientific investigation culminating in the development of modern biology and geology which rejected a literal interpretation of the prevailing Christian origin beliefs. For four centuries scientific research has never had to fall back on supernatural explanations for any phenomena within the reach of experiment and theory, in spite of recurring claims that some particular phenomenon cannot have a scientific explanation. This is a powerful set of evidence in favor of naturalism as a scientific theory in its own right.

The term "methodological naturalism" for this approach is much more recent. According to Ronald Numbers, it was coined in 1983 by Paul de Vries, a Wheaton College philosopher. De Vries distinguished between what he called "methodological naturalism," a disciplinary method that says nothing about God's existence, and "metaphysical naturalism," which "denies the existence of a transcendent God."[8] The term "methodological naturalism" had been used in 1937 by Edgar Sheffield Brightman in an article in The Philosophical Review as a contrast to "naturalism" in general, but there the idea was not really developed to its more recent distinctions.[9]

In a series of articles and books from 1996 onwards, Robert T. Pennock wrote using the term methodological naturalism to clarify that the scientific method confines itself to natural explanations without assuming the existence or non-existence of the supernatural, and is not based on dogmatic metaphysical naturalism as claimed by creationists and proponents of intelligent design, in particular Phillip E. Johnson. Pennock's testimony as an expert witness[10] at the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial was cited by the Judge in his Memorandum Opinion concluding that "Methodological naturalism is a "ground rule" of science today"[6]

Apart from the creationist claims, the historical support of methodological naturalism by Christians is noted by Numbers:

Despite the occasional efforts of unbelievers to use scientific naturalism to construct a world without God, it has retained strong Christian support down to the present. And well it might, for (...) scientific naturalism was largely made in Christendom by pious Christians. Although it possessed the potential to corrode religious beliefs — and sometimes did so — it flourished among Christian scientists who believe that God customarily achieved his ends through natural causes. [11]

Naturalism as epistemology

W. V. Quine describes naturalism as the position that there is no higher tribunal for truth than natural science itself. There is no better method than the scientific method for judging the claims of science, and there is neither any need nor any place for a "first philosophy", such as (abstract) metaphysics or epistemology, that could stand behind and justify science or the scientific method.

Therefore, philosophy should feel free to make use of the findings of scientists in its own pursuit, while also feeling free to offer criticism when those claims are ungrounded, confused, or inconsistent. In this way philosophy becomes "continuous with" science. Naturalism is not a dogmatic belief that the modern view of science is entirely correct. Instead, it simply holds the processes of the universe have a scientific explanation, and those processes are what modern science is striving to understand.

Philosophy

Karl Popper equated naturalism with inductive theory of science. He rejected it based on his general critique of induction (see problem of induction), yet acknowledged its utility as means for inventing conjectures.
A naturalistic methodology (sometimes called an "inductive theory of science") has its value, no doubt. […] I reject the naturalistic view: It is uncritical. Its upholders fail to notice that whenever they believe to have discovered a fact, they have only proposed a convention. Hence the convention is liable to turn into a dogma. This criticism of the naturalistic view applies not only to its criterion of meaning, but also to its idea of science, and consequently to its idea of empirical method.

Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge, 2002), pp. 52-53, ISBN 0-415-27844-9.

Popper instead proposed the criterion of falsifiability for demarcation.

Contemporary philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued that evolutionary naturalism is incoherent. In Science and Theology News[2] he attacks the conclusions of the Kitzmiller trial and suggests that the term "science" denotes any activity that is:
  1. a systematic and disciplined enterprise aimed at finding out truth about our world, and
  2. has significant empirical involvement. Any activity that meets these vague conditions counts as science.


He concludes "if you exclude the supernatural from science, then if the world or some phenomena within it are supernaturally caused – as most of the world's people believe – you won't be able to reach that truth scientifically."

Creationism and intelligent design

Supporters of creationism claim that the possibility of supernatural action is unnecessarily excluded by the current practices and theories of science. Currently, proponents of intelligent design, who hold that certain features of the natural world are best explained as the results of intelligence, argue that the naturalist conception of reality is not needed in order to do science. Their general criticism is that insisting that the natural world is a closed system of inviolable laws independent of theism or supernatural intervention will cause science to come to incorrect conclusions and inappropriately exclude research that claims to include such ideas.

The position that if a phenomenon can be scientifically examined and explained naturally it then ceases to be supernatural is disputed by methodological supernaturalists, who argue that the position is inherently inconsistent. They ask, how can science presuppose what is discoverable before it has been discovered? What is immeasurable is untestable, until a measuring device is invented and a new discovery process enabled. But in order to be allowed by scientific orthodoxy to discover and invent new ways of testing reality, one must be allowed to engage in scientific pursuits of what is considered unscientific (but then, as stated, the "unscientific" becomes scientific, if it's true). Otherwise, knowledge is limited not as much as by religious dogmas, but by materialistic paradigms. This position is taken by intelligent design proponents such as the Center for Science and Culture, whose website claims that methodological naturalism limits science by not invoking the supernatural, and that "'methodological naturalism' cannot be justified as a normative principle for all types of science–without doing violence to science as a truth-seeking enterprise." [12]

See also

Notes and references

1. ^ Butterflies and wheels article by Raymond Bradley, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy in New Zealand, The Tower of Babel by Robert T. Pennock, Naturalism is an Essential Part of Science and Critical Inquiry by Steven D. Schafersman, The Leiter Reports, Report on "Naturalism, Theism and the Scientific Enterprise" conference, The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion, 11: GOD, SCIENCE, AND NATURALISM by Paul R. Draper, Philosophy Now: The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory, Statement on Intelligent Design, Science and fundamentalism by Massimo Pigliucci, Justifying Methodological Naturalism by Michael Martin (philosopher)
2. ^ Whether ID is science isn't semantics By Alvin Plantinga (March 7, 2006)
3. ^ Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection (2000), Barbara Forrest, Retrieved 2007-05-20.
4. ^ Naturalism is an Essential Part of Science - Steven D. Schafersman
5. ^ Robert T. Pennock, Supernaturalist Explanations and the Prospects for a Theistic Science or "How do you know it was the lettuce?"
6. ^
7. ^ Ronald L. Numbers (2003). "Science without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs." In: When Science and Christianity Meet, edited by David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, p. 267.
8. ^ Nick Matzke: On the Origins of Methodological Naturalism. The Pandas Thumb (March 20, 2006)
9. ^ ASA March 2006 - Re: Methodological Naturalism
10. ^ Kitzmiller trial: testimony of Robert T. Pennock
11. ^ Numbers 2003, op cit, p. 284
12. ^ CSC - Open Debate on Life’s Origins By: Stephen C. Meyer

External links

Supportive

Neutral

  • The Craig-Taylor Debate: Is The Basis Of Morality Natural Or Supernatural? William Lane Craig and Richard Taylor October 1993, Union College (Schenectady, New York)

Critical

Metaphysical naturalism is any worldview in which the world is amenable to a unified study that includes the natural sciences and in this sense the world is a unity. According to such a view, nature is all there is, and all things supernatural (which stipulatively includes spirits
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materialism is that form of physicalism which holds that the only thing that can truly be said to exist is matter; that fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions; that matter is the only substance.
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Pragmatism is a philosophic school that originated in the late nineteenth century with Charles Sanders Peirce, who first stated the pragmatic maxim.
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The supernatural (Latin: super- "above" + natura "nature") pertains to entities, events or powers regarded as beyond nature, in that they cannot be explained from the laws of the natural world.
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Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical universe, material world or material universe. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general.
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The supernatural (Latin: super- "above" + natura "nature") pertains to entities, events or powers regarded as beyond nature, in that they cannot be explained from the laws of the natural world.
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Knowledge is defined (Oxford English Dictionary) variously as (i) expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject, (ii) what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information or
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Philosophy of science is the study of assumptions, foundations, and implications of science. The philosophy of science may be divided into two areas: Epistemology of science and metaphysics of science.
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Science (from the Latin scientia, 'knowledge'), in the broadest sense, refers to any systematic knowledge or practice.[1] Examples of the broader use included political science and computer science, which are not incorrectly named, but rather named according to
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Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning,[1]
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Methodology is defined as
  1. "the analysis of the principles of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline" or
  2. "the development of methods, to be applied within a discipline"
  3. "a particular procedure or set of procedures". [1].

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Observation is an activity of a sapient or sentient living being (e.g. humans), which senses and assimilates the knowledge of a phenomenon in its framework of previous knowledge and ideas.
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Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical universe, material world or material universe. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general.
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Metaphysical naturalism is any worldview in which the world is amenable to a unified study that includes the natural sciences and in this sense the world is a unity. According to such a view, nature is all there is, and all things supernatural (which stipulatively includes spirits
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Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that investigates principles of reality transcending those of any particular science, traditionally including cosmology and ontology. It is also concerned with explaining the ultimate nature of being and the world.
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Belief is the psychological state in which an individual is convinced of the truth or validity of a proposition or premise (argument). Belief does not necessarily confer the ability to adequately prove one's main contention to other people, who may disagree.
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The supernatural (Latin: super- "above" + natura "nature") pertains to entities, events or powers regarded as beyond nature, in that they cannot be explained from the laws of the natural world.
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The creation-evolution controversy (also termed the creation vs. evolution debate or the origins debate) is a recurring political dispute about the origins of the Earth, humanity, life, and the universe,[1]
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Creationism is a religious belief that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe were created in their original form by a deity or deities (often the Abrahamic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam), whose existence is presupposed.
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Intelligent design is the assertion that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
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Atheism

Concepts
ReligionNontheism
AntireligionAntitheism
AgnosticismHumanism
Metaphysical naturalism
Weak and strong atheism
Implicit and explicit atheism

History
History of atheism
EnlightenmentFreethought


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Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature, known in Latin as philosophia naturalis, is a term applied to the objective study of nature and the physical universe that was regnant before the development of modern science.
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Intelligent design

Concepts
Irreducible complexity
Specified complexity
Fine-tuned universe
Intelligent designer
Theistic realism
Intelligent design
movement

Timeline
Discovery Institute
Center for Science and Culture
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Pseudoscience is any body of knowledge, methodology, belief, or practice that claims to be scientific or is made to appear scientific, but does not adhere to the basic requirements of the scientific method.
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Metaphysical naturalism is any worldview in which the world is amenable to a unified study that includes the natural sciences and in this sense the world is a unity. According to such a view, nature is all there is, and all things supernatural (which stipulatively includes spirits
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Ontology is a study of conceptions of reality and the nature of being. In philosophy, ontology (from the Greek ὤν, genitive ὄντος: of being (part.
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The supernatural (Latin: super- "above" + natura "nature") pertains to entities, events or powers regarded as beyond nature, in that they cannot be explained from the laws of the natural world.
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Strong atheism is a term generally used to describe atheists who accept as true the proposition, "gods do not exist". Weak atheism refers to any type of non-theism which falls short of this standard.
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Methodology is defined as
  1. "the analysis of the principles of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline" or
  2. "the development of methods, to be applied within a discipline"
  3. "a particular procedure or set of procedures". [1].

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