Monday, March 13, 2006

The faith of the methodological naturalist.


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

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

Therefore

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

Therefore

we make it a strict rule that science is exclusively the study of possible naturalistic explanations for what can be observed in the universe.

Science is not the search for the truth about the origin, operation and destiny of the universe it is limited exclusively to purely naturalistic explanations of the origin, operation and destiny of the universe.

The methodological naturalist will choose a naturalistic explanation over a meta-nature explanation to be taught as the truth in science lessons even if it is not actually true.

Thus for a methodological naturalist it is perfectly reasonable possibility that in science lessons it will become necessary to teach children what is in fact not true and what is in fact known to be untrue for the sake of meeting the methodological naturalism criteria laid out by the grand assembly of the interplanetary science council.

The real truth can only be taught in a new subject called meta-science lessons and it is a perfectly reasonable possibility in the future for the syllabus in these lessons to contradict the science syllabus and for the meta-science lessons to be teaching the truth and the science lessons to be teaching what is known to be wrong.

27 Comments:

Anonymous Freawaru said...

I wish this was satire :).

3:54 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

My understanding is that Methodological Naturalism is merely pragmatic - if it doesn't make predictions, there's no point considering it. If anyone ever comes up with a non-naturalistic idea that makes testable predictions, all the methodological naturalists will happily convert.

If ID proponents ever make a prediction that:
a) wouldn't be made by current evolutionary theory
b) is subsequently shown to be accurate

then I for one will gladly acknowledge that ID is scientific, and I imagine that the vast majority of methodological naturalists would join me. Until then, though, it's not remotely useful for science to contemplate it.

All that accepting ID would do at present is mark an area of the scientific map, of arbitrary size, with "here be dragons". It wouldn't just be unhelpful, it'd be scientifically nihilistic.

4:26 pm  
Blogger Tim Hague said...

What on earth is 'meta-nature'? Is like a PC version of supernatural?

I like the Cambridge dictionary definition of supernatural:

supernatural
adjective
caused by forces that cannot be explained by science

Kind of wraps it up really.

4:28 pm  
Blogger Joshua said...

There are many things that can't be observed. I hear constant talk of multiple universes...tho there's not a single shred of evidence to suggest any other universes exist. Even if they did, and we could somehow detect them in any subtle way, we would only be able to perceive 4 total dimensions, not the 26 or whatever it is posited by string theory.

I've never heard any outcry over string theory myself.

Wormholes are often discussed in science...yet, no evidence to back it up.

As for the term supernatural, what does that mean, I have to ask? If nature is what exists in the universe, then wouldn't multiple universes be outside of THIS nature, which would make it supernatural? String theory is thus supernatural, no? EVERYTHING is natural, even God is natural- He created nature and is part of it but beyond it as well. BUT, he's still part of the universe, which is what nature ultimately is- the things we see AND cannot see (we can't see supposed dark matter, but we don't label it supernatural).

I think the term supernatural is pointless from the start. So, I'd say that everything in the universe, even the things some would label beyond nature, are indeed natural.

2:31 am  
Blogger allygally said...

Joshua said...

"As for the term supernatural, what does that mean, I have to ask?"

Tim gave the Camridge dictionary definition:

supernatural

adjective

caused by forces that cannot be explained by science

Now you know, how does that affect your arguments?

9:33 am  
Blogger BenK said...

If 'the supernatural' is defined in terms of what science can and cannot explain, then surely 'science' cannot be defined in terms of the 'natural'/'supernatural'.

If 'supernatural' means 'that which cannot be explained by science' and 'science' means 'the process of looking for non-supernatural explanations for things' both words are meaningless.

10:27 am  
Blogger Joshua said...

Alan, you should try learning to act like an adult. You're like a sad stalker calling names.

I realize he gave the dictionary definition- my point is, it doesn't make sense. String theory is unseen in supposed multiple universes, which would make it supernatural by that definition.

If supernatural is anything science can't explain, then by definition the origin of life itself is supernatural.

So, the definition surely doesn't work. Heck, science can't even completely figure out how consciousness arises- making that supernatural. I could make a list of the things unknown to science thus far.

I think that everything in the universe that occurs would be considered natural, to some extent. Natural, in the sense that, everything we know of comes from the universe which covers nature. Like I said- if string theory is even to be discussed, we have to figrue it would be supernatural considering it's not of this universe, but rather a different parallel universe- making it supernatural, using the definition most would use.

The terms mean very little in the end, I think. I'm not sure anything can exist outside of nature, as I see nature encompassing EVERYTHING in the universe. God, as I mentioned, having created the universe (in my view), would surely be part of nature and beyond it as well, but that wouldn't make him supernatural per se.

In the end, again, the terms mean very little. I think we shouldn't discoutn anything automatically...labelling something supernatural and demanding we not take it seriously is not following the evidence. If something IS truly "supernatural" (depending on how one defines the word), then so be it. If you discoubt the "supernatural" from the start, then you're stacking the deck to begin with for one, and two- you're saying that even IF the ultimate explanation lies outside of science (going with the dictionary definition given), then it can't possibly be ultimately true no matter the fact that it IS true.

1:29 pm  
Blogger Joshua said...

Oops. I didn't even notice the last comment from Benk. That was part of my point. Science cannot discount something a priori then conclude that it doesn't exist after study of the situation. I cannot define something out of hand, then claim I studied the issue and concluded that my definition was true (if that makes sense.)

1:30 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

If 'supernatural' means 'that which cannot be explained by science' and 'science' means 'the process of looking for non-supernatural explanations for things' both words are meaningless.

I'd define science as "the process of looking for predictive explanations for things". The supernatural would then be defined as "things for which no predictive explanation is possible". The use of the term "natural" in definitions of science is just a shorthand based on the fact that most people intuitively know what is being talked about.

It should be noted that predictivity includes putting limits on the unpredictable. Thus, quantum mechanics can be said to be predictive despite being fundamentally random, because the randomness is "confined".

To the best of my knowledge, ID incorporates no such limitations on what the Designer can do. That's what makes ID scientifically nihilistic - the "here be dragons" patch isn't just restricted to one portion of the scientific map, but can spread as far and wide as you like.

3:13 pm  
Blogger Joshua said...

ID doesn't put any limits on the designer, because ID doesn't invoke the designer. Of course, design will mean a designer, but ID doesn't take that part of the equation on...so, there's no need to even deal with the designer.

You can infer design without ever once mentioning the designer at all.

If science is defined as the the process of looking for predictive explanations for things, then much of what we call science would be tossed out by this definition. Many of the "predictions" in science are made after the fact with no foreknowledge of what will truly happen. Which mean they're not really predictions at all.

Many outcomes and scenarios in science aren't truly predicted beforehand but after the fact, which would seem to negate much of science as being truly scientific.

That's the problem tho- who gets to decide what the "true" definition of science is. Who gets to define natural VS supernatural or if either term truly makes logical sense, as I pointed out, all in the universe could be seen as ulitmately part of nature, which would make all things natural in the end. Who gets to decide this and that, and why does this or that person get to decide and oust anything that doesn't meet their particular definition.

3:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Many of the "predictions" in science are made after the fact with no foreknowledge of what will truly happen. "

Does this even make sense as a sentence? How can you make a prediction after the fact with no foreknowledge? To have foreknowledge, you must be at a point in time before an event happens. At which point you can make a prediction. But it won't be after the fact.

"who gets to decide what the "true" definition of science is."

Who gets to decide what true philosophy is? Who gets to decide what true mathematics is? I'm going to venture a guess that it's the people who practise the subject EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THEIR LIVES and not a bunch of disgruntled religious engineers (aka the ID movement).

8:52 pm  
Blogger Mark Frank said...

"You can infer design without ever once mentioning the designer at all."

You can utter the words "I observe this or that feature of X, therefore X is designed" - but I don't believe that is a reasonable deduction.

I wrote a small piece on how we actually infer design. See http://mark_frank.blogspot.com/2006/03/how-do-we-detect-design-v4.html

In it I argue that you cannot avoid a hypothesis about the designer and how they implement the design if your inference is to be valid.

9:32 pm  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Not so fast, card sharp: Here's a more accurate description of methdological naturalism:

We look for proximate causes. Over time, we have found many excellent explanations for many phenomena by looking for proximate causes. In every case the explanation has been naturalistic. In some cases, the explanations have overturned misconceptions promulgated by mystics.

Therefore, our experience suggests that we will have greater success looking first for proximate natural causes, rather than in hypothesizing supernatural or non-proximate causes without looking.

Therefore, we have a rule of thumb that science looks for proximate causes methodically.

And when religionists claim that science has a strict rule that rules out supernatural causes, we curtly remind them they confuse our producctive, methodological naturalism with a philosophy of naturalism, which makes the same non-scientific leaps they do.

Science is a search for truth that can be tested and found solid, in the strict Baconian sense, exploring the natural world [of God, as God intended, the religious scientists will note].

The methodological naturalist will not choose any explanation as true that cannot be demonstrated. Period.


The definition offered in the original post is inaccurate, and rather a straw man. Anyone who chooses a demonstrably inaccurate explanation over an accurate one is a fool.

That's got nothing to do with science, really, but with ethics instead. One notes with sadness that it is creationists/IDists who most often choose a "not actually true" explanation over the demonstrated facts. You're not intending to call creationists "methodological naturalists," I think -- so just don't even go there. You confuse your explanation.

10:15 pm  
Anonymous Nathan said...

Ed said: "The methodological naturalist will not choose any explanation as true that cannot be demonstrated. Period."

This statement is flat out wrong in my opinion. The methodological naturalist will chose an explanation that fits his idea of how the universe works; i.e, a natural one. A methodological naturalist limits himself to natural explanations. Therefore in order to say that he will chose an explanation that is true, or able to be demonstrated, you would have to be able to say with certainty that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in the universe can be explained naturally. Until you can prove that, your statment amounts to alot of fluff.

4:55 am  
Blogger Mike Godfrey said...

Hi Guys,
Lifewish you said:I'd define science as "the process of looking for predictive explanations for things". Im not going to argue an alternative position but Science is more than prediction -for instance- description. My training was in Biology and a large part of that involved describing structure, relationships and as well as prediction.
So Science can include description without prediction and still be seen as Science.
ID has nothing to do with the supernatural whatsoever; it is about detecting design in Nature and inferring a designer.ID describes patterns that infere low probability while having high specificity-thats is no way to describe an accident!
What Nathan said above is 'on the money ' .Science has limited its explanations to naturalistic ones and has assumed only what can be measured exists and anything that cannot measured or observed cannot exist-big assumption!
And now I have my mining hat on its.... time for a quote from Paul davies:
Why should inferring design from the evidence of cosmology be scientifically respectable, but inferring design from the evidence of biology be scientifically disreputable, issuing in the charge of creationism? Clearly, a double standard is at work here. Design theorists argue that the evidence of biology confirms a design inference. But even if that confirmation were eventually overturned by new evidence, such a failure would constitute a failure of intelligent design as a scientific theory and not a failure of intelligent design to qualify as a scientific theory, much less to deserve the label creationism.

11:34 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Lifewish,

You said:
"If ID proponents ever make a prediction that:
a) wouldn't be made by current evolutionary theory
b) is subsequently shown to be accurate

then I for one will gladly acknowledge that ID is scientific, and I imagine that the vast majority of methodological naturalists would join me. Until then, though, it's not remotely useful for science to contemplate it. "

If ID theorists were busily trying to do precisely what you tell them to do here...would you call that activity science....or some kind of pre-science?

12:18 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Tim,

You asked what "meta-nature" is. In the post later on I also use the home-made word "meta-science"

They are meant to refer to the same stuff.

What is that stuff? In the context of the post...

It is the title of a new subject which includes all the truth about the origin, operation and destiny of nature that is excluded from the science lessons because it is ruled out by the methodological naturalism rule.

"The ultimate science of being and knowing"

12:32 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Tim,

The problem with the term "supernatural" is that it is used as a synonym for "unscientific" and for many people "unreal" or "something for which there cannot be objective valid evidence"

The supernatural is the content of what can be known by "faith" using the corrupted meaning of the word "faith" as "things that weirdo's believe without a shred of evidence"

Another way of thinking about the word "supernatural" is more in line with the Shorter Oxford Dictionary definition: "That which transcends or is above nature; of or pertaining to ...force or system above the laws of nature.

12:41 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Joshua,

Good points re the double standards operating here for physics when compared with biology. It is a fascinating difference and well worth further study. Mike Godfrey makes a similar point with a quote from Paul Davies.

12:45 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Alan/Renard,

I am afraid I took the highly unusual step of deleting your comment...the first in fact that was not a simple advert.

12:54 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

You can infer design without ever once mentioning the designer at all.

Sure you can, if you so wish. Just don't claim it's scientific until you're able to give some hint about how the Designer behaves and what His limitations are.

If science is defined as the the process of looking for predictive explanations for things, then much of what we call science would be tossed out by this definition.

Care to give examples? Off the top of my head I can't think of any.

Many of the "predictions" in science are made after the fact with no foreknowledge of what will truly happen. Which mean they're not really predictions at all.

Yes, hypotheses are made after the fact at times. But for the hypothesis to be scientific, you then have to go out and make more predictions. For example, when we first came to the conclusion that humans were related to apes, that was indeed a "post-hoc prediction" based on existing evidence. What made it scientific was things like the subsequent prediction that one human chromosome would closely resemble two chimp chromosomes.

There's some fuzziness here in the area of things that aren't easy to test. For example, if your hypothesis were about a relationship between extinct creatures millions of years ago, it might only be testable by finding more fossil evidence from that era. That might be something that's hard to do.

That doesn't, however, change the fact that predictivity is king; it just sets a more problematic upper bound on our ability to achieve it.

Im not going to argue an alternative position but Science is more than prediction -for instance- description. My training was in Biology and a large part of that involved describing structure, relationships and as well as prediction.

But the descriptivity is "just" groundwork for making future predictions. Cladisticising the organisms allows you to make predictions about what you'll see in the fossil record and in the genomes of living creatures.

A large portion of maths is based around classifying and discussing mathematical objects. It's extremely fun, but IMO it's still never more than a means to an end. And the ultimate end of maths is to allow us to analyse and make predictions about the real world. The classification is "just" groundwork for that.

If ID theorists were busily trying to do precisely what you tell them to do here...would you call that activity science....or some kind of pre-science?

If they were busily trying to come up with a testable prediction then I'd give them some kudos for that. For example, I was pleased to hear about the predictions that [someone whose name I can't remember] was making predictions about the possible function of the human centriole. That represents an evolution of sorts - making limiting assumptions about the Designer (that He thinks like a human) and then drawing predictions from those.

I wouldn't quite classify it as science though, purely for the reason that there are a wide range of cranks out there who could reasonably claim that they were doing scientific research and just hadn't come up with any results yet. Consequently I'd say that, to accept ID as science (as opposed to dead-horse-flogging) I would definitely need a confirmed prediction. In the meantime, protoscience would be as good a name as any.

2:00 pm  
Blogger beervolcano said...

Natural = Phenomena that occur predictably or regularly

Predictable = Not necessarily something we do predict, but something that can possibly be predicted given enough knowlege about the way things work (naturally)

Supernatural = Phenomena that cannot possibly be predicted based on prior knowlege of the workings of things

----------------------------------

String Theory is scientific because it lays out a non-arbitrary mathematical framework that predicts certain experimental outcomes. Just because we can't perform those experiments today doesn't mean that the phenomena it predicts are supernatural.

ID is not scientific because it does not predict any outcomes for any experiments. ID could become scientific IF it laid out a framework from which experimental outcomes could be predicted. If, perhaps, there were some sort of reason to predict that certain DNA sequences absolutely must be designed, maybe based on a mathematical formula or algorithm, then experiments could be carried out and tested against the theory. I don't think ID people have done this. Also, I don't think it's really possible to actually do it.

ID people bring up the flagellum, but the Designer(s) don't assemble each and every flagellum. I would hope the ID people are saying that the Designer(s) arranged for certain DNA sequences that result in flagella.

ID might even be considered scientific if the ID people just got off their butts and performed experiments. If they can't even devise experiments to test the theory, then the whole concept is unscientific. They may not have to be able to perform those experiments now, but just lay out what they might entail, similar to what String Theorists do. They've laid out several experiments that could be performed to test their theory. We'll just have to wait until we have powerful enough particle accelerators/colliders.

Please, someone, lay out an ID experiment for me. Anything. It doesn't have to be fancy at all. Just something.

1:16 am  
Blogger Tim Hague said...

Josh Bozeman is here! Hi Josh. Has DaveScot let you back onto uncommon pissant, er sorry dissent yet?

3:05 pm  
Blogger Tim Hague said...

Josh says:

"You can infer design without ever once mentioning the designer at all."

I suppose you could, but I don't think it would do you much good.

Even if you are only 'inferring' design, you are inferring it based on a comparison with human design, which has a known designer.

If you want to actually show that something IS designed you need to do more than just 'infer' design, you need to show that a known designer was present, you need to show how the known designer implemented their design and you need to show what was motivating the known designer to design the object in question. Then, you are free to conclude that something has been designed.

No designer = impossible to conclude design. Simple as that.

3:09 pm  
Blogger Tim Hague said...

Andrew said (about 'meta-nature'):

"It is the title of a new subject which includes all the truth about the origin, operation and destiny of nature that is excluded from the science lessons because it is ruled out by the methodological naturalism rule."

So 'meta-nature' = supernatural.

And it doesn't sound like "The ultimate science of being and knowing" to me. It doesn't sound like science at all in fact...

3:12 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

And it doesn't sound like "The ultimate science of being and knowing" to me. It doesn't sound like science at all in fact...

Well, I'll be happy to consider it science as and when it makes confirmed predictions. Until then, however, I'll stick to the approach to origins science that's already made confirmed predictions.

4:15 pm  
Anonymous Farshad said...

Hi Andrew,

I think I have an example for your proposed "The faith of the methodological naturalist". There is a paper titled Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations. This is paper has been circulated around a lot in blogs, boards and forums since it was first published at 1998.

This article tries to demonstrate that the methods and arguments used in abiogenesis calculations by those so-called creationists is terribly errorneous (in fact we know that any single human living on this planet is either a Darwinist or a Creationist).

I am quite familiar with this article and totally aware of its deep mathematical errors and misintepretations of probability and biochemistry. Again a couple of days ago another guy sent a link to this article to show how its easy to have polymers and self-replicators in a prebiotic sea.

Talkorigins, Fact or Fiction?

Ian Musgrave the writer of this article seems to be quite sure that he did a great job. This article acts like a patriot missile for Darwinists. Whenever you talk about the improbablities of abiogenesis and the appearance of the first living cell its very likley for them to redirect the above article to you. Especially if you qoute Fred Hoyle and his famous Boeing analogy the Darwinst guy will launch this missle and for him this battle is won. Their myth of abiogenesis is well defended and secured.

Anyway, now let us briefly have a look at this article:

1)Musgrave talks about oceans at volume of 1 x 10^24 litres:

"So how does this shape up with the prebiotic Earth? On the early Earth it is likely that the ocean had a volume of 1 x 10^24 litres"

Wrong, the volume of prebiotic oceans can't be more than 10^20 litres. Which is 10.000 times less than what he calculated. Sit and calculate for yourself, 1 x 10^24 litres is the volume of the whole earth not its oceans. He wants us to believe that the whole volume of earth is filled with waters. Totally absurd.

So he started his calculations with an error factor of 10.000 so the rest of the math is totally ignorable but let us see what else do we have here?

2)Magic! Right amounts of 20 amino acids required for life are available

He assumes oceans are filled with right type of 20 amino acids that are essential for life. A Miller type experiment produces many different chemicals and aminoacids. Around 100-150 different type of amino acids may be produced among tar and other chemicals. It seems Musgrave assumes a spaceship arrived and unloaded equal amounts of each type of 20 essential-to-life amino acids into the prebiotic oceans.

If the solution contains many type of amino acids the probability calculations will change a lot.

If we assume we have 100 types of diferent amino acids then the combinations for a 32 letter polymer will be 100^32 not 20^32 as Musgrave assumes.

20^32 = 4.29 x 10^42
100^32 = 1 x 10^64

There is an astronomical magnitude difference between these two.

3)He talks about 1 x 10^50 potential starting chains.

Given an amino acid concentration of 1 x 10^-6 M (a moderately dilute soup, see Chyba and Sagan 1992 [23]), then there are roughly 1 x 10^50 potential starting chains

In oceans with correct volume of 10^20 litres given an amino acid concentration of 1 x 10^-6 M (mol/L) the total number of amino acid molecules can be:

(6.022 x 10^23) x (1 x 10^-6) x (1 x 10^20) = 6 x 10^37

How can we assume that there can be 1 x 10^50 potential starting chains when the total number of amino acid molecules in the oceans are only 6 x 10^37? It seems the total number of potential starting chains are one trillion times bigger than the total number of amino acid molecules available. Totally absurd. What kind of math is this?

Why can't we see the calculations behind his results? Maybe, because simply there is none at first place!

We just ignore his misunderstadings on polymerization that he assumes ocean is a place that amino acids can spontanously form polymers.

4)Bad probability, bad chemistry

Then the Ghadiri ligase could be generated in one week, and any cytochrome C sequence could be generated in a bit over a million years

Musgrave claims if we have many many molecules given enough time any polymer can appear in an organic soup.

Now assume you have 1000 bricks and you can randomly build structures with them. You can build a few random structure until you run out of bricks. At this point you can't continue anymore.

Musgrave's analogy is like that if you have 1000 bricks and 1000 workers and they can build a random structure each 1 hour. Given enough time say one million years they can randomly build any favorite structure.

He doesn't understand that it has nothing to do with the time. After a few structures are built the supply of bricks will run out and the progress will stop unless you destroy the structures and restart.

The same is correct for chemical reactions. In case of polymerization, after a while the supply of amino acids will run out and the polymerization will stop. No further reaction will happen. The chemical reactions will slow down and reach a steady state after a certain saturation point. You will have a mixture of tar, various chemicals and ploymers of all type.
Here we can see some similar results.

5) Science or fairytale?

Although there is still a lot to discuss about this article, even the absurdities mentioned above totally invalidates this article.

The article remains there for around 8 years and still noone in talkorigins seems to care about its consistency and accuracy. Is this the level of scientific accuracy of the materials that appear in talkorigins?
A mixture of pseudomathematical calculations plus a pseudoscientific jargon seems to be just enough to convince many darwinists hungry for some proof. Proof for the belief that there were no divine hands!

They have a deep faith that naturalistic methods somehow must be able to explain abiogenesis and the origin of life. However it has nothing to do with the real science, its only a faith.

5:13 pm  

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