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They said it: NSTA’s radical redefinition of Science

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We have all heard of the NCSE, but the National Science Teachers Association [of the US], NSTA, has proposed a new definition of the nature of science, in a declaration signed off by its Board of Directors, as long ago as July, 2000.  Excerpting:

All those involved with science teaching and learning should have a common, accurate view of the nature of science. Science is characterized by the systematic gathering of information through various forms of direct and indirect observations and the testing of this information by methods including, but not limited to, experimentation. The principal product of science is knowledge in the form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories related to those concepts . . . . science, along with its methods, explanations and generalizations, must be the sole focus of instruction in science classes to the exclusion of all non-scientific or pseudoscientific methods, explanations, generalizations and products . . . .

Although no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the complexity of doing science, a number of shared values and perspectives characterize a scientific approach to understanding nature. Among these are a demand for naturalistic explanations supported by empirical evidence that are, at least in principle, testable against the natural world. Other shared elements include observations, rational argument, inference, skepticism, peer review and replicability of work . . . .

Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements in the production of scientific knowledge. [Emphases added.]

The imposition of evolutionary materialistic bias through so-called methodological naturalism is patent. We also see the tendentious contrast: natural vs. supernatural, in a context where natural [chance and/or necessity] vs. the artificial or intelligent would be a better contrast; as has been known ever since Plato wrote his The Laws, Bk X, 360 BC.

There is also a sharp and unexplained contrast with typical definitions of science and its methods from high quality dictionaries in the years before the latest push to enforce evolutionary materialistic orthodoxy in education:

science: a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena, esp. concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe. [Concise Oxford, 1990 — and yes, they used the “z” Virginia!]

scientific method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge [”the body of truth, information and principles acquired by mankind”] involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. [Webster’s 7th Collegiate, 1965]

Another way to see this was recently pointed out by Uncommon Descent Blogger Barry Arrington:

Today, for the sake of argument only, let us make two assumptions:

1.  First, let us assume that the design hypothesis is correct, i.e., that living things appear to be designed for a purpose because they were in fact designed for a purpose.

2.  Second, let us assume [presumably, by the “rule” of methodological naturalism] that the design hypothesis is not a scientific hypothesis, which means that ID proponents are not engaged in a scientific endeavor, or, as our opponents so often say, “ID is not science.”

From these assumptions, the following conclusion follows:  If the design hypothesis is correct and at the same time the design hypothesis may not be advanced as a valid scientific hypothesis, then the structure of science prohibits it from discovering the truth about the origin of living things . . . .

No one can know with absolute certainty that the design hypothesis is false.  It follows from the absence of absolute knowledge, that each person should be willing to accept at least the possibility that the design hypothesis is correct, however remote that possibility might seem to him.  Once a person makes that concession, as every honest person must, the game is up.  The question is no longer whether ID is science or non-science.  The question is whether the search for the truth of the matter about the natural world should be structurally biased against a possibly true hypothesis. [“What if it’s true?” Uncommon Descent, Aug. 6, 2010. (Emphasis added.)]

For, we did not – and cannot — directly observe the remote past, so origins science theories are in the end attempted “historical” reconstructions of what we think the past may have been like. Such reconstructions are based on investigating which of the possible explanations seems “best” to us on balance in light of the evidence.

However, to censor out a class of possible explanations ahead of time through imposing materialism plainly undermines the integrity of this abductive method.

So, we must ask:  is supporting such censorship a sound approach to science education?

32 Replies to “They said it: NSTA’s radical redefinition of Science

  1. 1
    violet says:

    “whether the search for the truth of the matter about the natural world should be structurally biased against a possibly true hypothesis”

    Well, no, it shouldn’t. But the particular method that is part of that search called Science should, and other parts of that search should not. And then we can compare the success rate of these different searches. Science surely doesn’t aim to find ALL “truth”; for example, that I love my children is a fact about the natural world but is pretty opaque to scientific enquiry. Noma anyone?

  2. 2
    gpuccio says:


    This is obviously a very important point, thank you for emphasizing it.

    I will proceed to a statement of principle which is an explicit provocation:

    I declare that the term “natural”, and its derivation “naturalism”, as applioe to science, have no clear meaning.

    They are, indeed, used generally in a very complacent sense, in no way correct, which is:

    “anything which is not essentially incompatible with what we presently think, understand and believe”.

    In that sense, the concept is only a tool for self-justification, a sign of subservience to intellectual conformism and cowardice.

    That’s all. I invite those who disagree (I expect there are many of them) to give their explicit definition of “natural”, and to show that it makes sense.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:


    First and foremost, happy new year!

    You are right to emphasise the need to define “natural,” “artificial,” and “supernatural.”

    I propose we extend Plato’s PHYSIS to embrace both the mechanically necessary and the chance, accidental or random, insofar as that is reasonable.

    In that context Plato’s TECHNE then becomes our artificial or intelligent, with the emphases on being by family resemblance to our own acts, and the characteristic signs we leave when we act by art.

    The supernatural would then — in concept, to be actualised would be subject to credible cases — be that which goes beyond and supersedes law and chance, and in the particular case traces to intelligence that is not within nature, i.e. is not inherently embodied in and acting through physical form. God, gods, angels, demons, sprites, fairies etc would fit in here.

    As a credible first test case for that, I would suggest that we look at candidates to be designer and architect and builder of a cosmos that sits at the finely tuned operating point that facilitates C-chemistry, intelligent life. We point beyond the origins and laws of our world, so super + natural makes literal sense.

    Notice, how that question is after that which I argue is a scientific inference: from empirically reliable signs to design. And, design raises the issue of candidate designers, and how — whether the investigation is properly labelled science or not [science is not the only legitimate form of knowledge and so soon as we ask how science is warranted in claiming knowledge, we are in the province of philosophy] — we can identify and warrant a particular candidate.

    GEM of TKI

  4. 4
    gpuccio says:


    Happy new year to you too!

    You raise very interesting points.

    Still, I feel not at ease in the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural”.

    For instance, you quote, just as a theoretical example I suppose, fairies.

    Now, let’s pretend for an instant that fairies exist (just for discussion, I am not making an argument for that). Why would they be “supernatural”?

    If they exist, and if they are in some way part of the reality we can experience (I suppose they would interact with the world, or be visible in special circumstances, I apologize, I am not a fairy expert 🙂 ), then I would consider them part of the universe, and therefore “natural”, at least in that sense.

    Being physical is not in itself a good point. Even “physical” is not a very clear concept. Possible meanings:

    a) With a mass: but then many things in the universe are not “physical”

    b) Included in our present map of the physical world (explainable by known laws, and so on). But then we go back to the “I accept only what I can explain” adagio. Is dark energy, whatever it is, “physical”? And then, why not fairies?

    So, I maintain my unease with these concepts. For me, anything that interacts with reality so that we can witness that interaction or its consequences is “real” and “empirically manifested”. Including our consciousness and, I suppose, the designer of biological information.

    We can certainly build subcategories of what is real, but we must be clear in our definitions, to avoid ambiguity and exploitation by those who are not always friendly with our positions.

  5. 5
    bevets says:

    Saying what the cause is is like knowing where the treasure is buried. ~ Elliott Sober

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:


    I hear you — and I mark the distinction between natural [= chance + necessity] and artificial [= intelligent on observation or credible sign] as the relevant and empirically definable and observable one for our purposes.

    Beyond that, I think the distinction of intelligence within or beyond our cosmos would be where in the sense of of nature or beyond nature would come in.

    We are born of nature.

    R Daneel Olivaw, the positronic brained robot would be artificially created but intelligent, and it is possible on von Neumann self replicators that robots could self-replicate.

    Something beyond the cosmos would not be based on a body operating on atoms and mechanisms or chemistry. At least, that is how it looks to me just now.

    A designer and builder of our observed cosmos who is an intelligent and necessary — as opposed to contingent — being would be a classic example. Other cases would be by family resemblance.

    And here, I was assuming that fairies are not seen as another race based on Carbon Chemistry or the like.

    If that is an error, I stand to be corrected.


  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:


    Always a delight to hear from you.

    Excellent link.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Onlookers, Bevets’ site is a treasure-house, with oodles and oodles of rare and trenchant quotations.

  8. 8
    StephenB says:

    GPuccio, Kairosfocus, Consider this irony:

    Darwinists, who do NOT know what they mean by the word “natural,” are telling ID scientists, who DO know what they mean by the word “natural,” that science can study only natural causes. In effect, they are saying: “You [ID scientists] are restricted to the study of natural causes, and, although I reject your precise definition of that term, and, although I have no definition of my own, which means that I have no idea of what I mean by my own rule of methodological naturalism, you are, nevertheless, condemned if you violate it.” Is this madness or what?

    There is more. This misleading, phony, and irrelevant natural/supernatural dichotomy on which MN stands plunges Darwinists [and TEs, for that matter] in intellectual quicksand on yet another front.

    Methodological naturalism, as Darwinists apply it, characterizes all things that are not “supernatural” as natural, placing human cognition, human volition, earthquakes, and tornadoes in the same category. So, whatever caused Hurricane Katrina is the same kind of cause that generated my written paragraph because, as the Darwinists instruct us, both things occurred “IN NATURE.”

    Such a formulation is completely incoherent. By that standard, there is no way of distinguishing the cause of all the artifacts found in ancient Pompei from the cause of the volcano that buried them. Both did, after all, occur “in nature,” according to their use of the term. Using that logic, the archeologist cannot even declare that the built civilization of Pompei ever existed as a civilization, since, by Darwinist standards, the apparent evidence of human activity may well not have been caused by human activity at all. If the Darwinist were to admit that any kind of agency can be identified, his game would be over.

    Yet the two kinds of causes are either substantially different or they are not. If they are different, as ID rightly insists, then those differences can be identified. If they are not different, as the Darwinists claim, then there is no difference to identify, which means that there is no difference between that which causes a volcano to erupt and that which caused Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to erupt. Does this not also qualify as madness?

    By contrast, ID scientists point to three causes, all of which can be observed and identified: Law, chance, and agency. Once we acknowledge that point, everything falls into place. It would be so much easier to avoid all this nonsense, drop the intrusive rule of methodological naturalism, and simply concede the obvious point: Since only the scientist knows which research question he is trying to answer, only he/she can decide which method or methods are appropriate for obtaining that answer.

  9. 9
    bevets says:

    thanks for the plug Kairosfocus

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:


    Welcome — I am a not so secret admirer of your work.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: Onlookers — for a hilarious look at methodological naturalism, look at the b-quotes here.

    (And BTW, I beg to differ with S J G on Thomas, cf here. Then, think about how you actually acquired most of your knowledge of science and mathematics, i.e. from teachers and texts and set-piece problems, theory and practical. Then, blend in the way scientific observations are collated, reported, reviewed and become the body of findings used in a discipline. That is, historical/forensic methods are quite relevant to evaluating scientific knowledge — complete with fraud detection in the face of the notorious problem of “cooking” results. In short, appeals to authority and to witnesses and texts bearing records of testimony are inescapable in science. [Cf. Simon Greenleaf’s remarks here.])

  11. 11
    gpuccio says:

    kf, stephen:

    well, I am sure that darwinists would call us humans and our artifacts “natural”, and the designer of biological information “supernatural”, so that, if he ever did exists, it would reassuringly be “out of science”. Just because they like it that way.

    The idea is: “science is mine, and it must do only what I tell it to do”.

    That’s what I was thinking when I spoke of exploitation of false concepts.

    Design is by its nature mysterious, because it transcends the usual rule of chance and necessity by which we explain great part of non living reality.

    Desig, be it ours, of that of the biological designers, operates easily strange miracles, such as creating tons of dFSCI as though it were child’s paly.

    The physical universe remains probably puzzled at what conscious beings attain. The best computers are probably frustrated that common people, not even so intelligent, can speak and speak forever, and they are completely incapable to output even half a page of original language.

    Someone here hypothesized some time ago that being able to output freely dFSCI is a consequence of being not only conscious, but endowed of free will. I very much believe that to be true.

    So, we are really the anomaly of the cosmos. Conscious intelligent designers, able to understand meaning, to have purpose, and to recognize those things in the work of the biological designer. Totally natural and totally supernatural at the same time.

    Even able to design highly smart, but completely foolish theories, such as neo-darwinism and strong AI, to try to explain what we are.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:


    Design is both mysterious and utterly familiar.

    For, it is intimately connected to our being conscious, minded, enconscienced creatures. The only things we are truly directly aware of!

    Ironically, we only access and analyse the observed world of matter-energy and space time interactions, though the window of minded consciousness.

    The very same consciousness we use to spew out reams of digitally coded, functionally specific complex information about that world.


    GEM of TKI

    PS: I find it extremely ironic that here is no cogent, empirically well supported theory of how we branched off some common ancestor with the chimps [or our first cousins du jour] 4 – 6 MYA and formed the complex, organised co-ordinated, delicately controlled physical systems to enable speech, then actually created verbal, conceptual language in declarative, interrogative and subjunctive moods. Ironic, because those who reject design as the source of the required dFSCI, themselves manifest that the only known, routinely observed source of such dFSCI is: intelligence. (And, on analysis, the search resources of the observed cosmos are hopelessly too small to hit on significant dFSCI by chance plus necessity without intelligent guidance.)

  13. 13
    nullasalus says:


    I declare that the term “natural”, and its derivation “naturalism”, as applioe to science, have no clear meaning.

    I’m glad to see someone else pointing out the problems with ‘natural’ v ‘supernatural’. Those terms have been up in the air for a while now.

    Though one can go a bit further. As I always point out, ID’s major proponents (Behe, Dembski, etc) always note that what could be responsible for any instance of design covers a broad range – it could be aliens, impersonal telic processes, we could be in a computer simulation, a demiurge, etc, along with God or gods as explanations.

    Now, it’s already been noted that ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ don’t have much of a definition, other than “Not God, and specifically not the Abrahamic God”. The problem for anyone who wants to exclude ID based on ‘methodological naturalism’ is that not only is it (again, in the words of ID’s own proponents) not logically necessary to identify the designer with any God, but several of the possible ‘responsible agents’ are arguably naturalistic.

    The upshot of this is that ‘methodological naturalism’ wouldn’t exclude ID anyway. Not unless someone reworked the definition of ‘natural’ to make it so aliens, computers and computer programmers, and who knows what else are also ‘supernatural’. Or unless someone ruled that ‘Well, those things aren’t part of science either’, which means that the limits of science aren’t ‘naturalistic’ anyway, but operate according to some different or narrower limitation.

  14. 14
    kairosfocus says:


    I see a new comment appears as no 1, where Violet seems to think that it is appropriate to limit science by imposing methodological naturalism.

    Sadly, it has not got through that a major task of science is to seek the credible truth about our world based on empirical evidence and reasoned discussion — and claims that e.g. evolution is a “fact” suggest that this is acknowledged by those who advocate methodological naturalism — so, censorship that structurally biases science against a possibly true and empirically warranted inference to design, put science in thralldom to ideology. They certainly do not empower it to pursue the truth, unfettered and free.

    This is an even more important point than the issue that GP, SB and Null takes up above, that the terms natural and supernatural lack a sound definition, being in the main a slogan for an ideological agenda of a priori evolutionary materialism. (That is, the loaded words “natural” and “supernatural” are serving as a stalking horse for something deeper: ideological imposition of a priori materialism.)

    That natural and supernatural are ill-defined terms is plainly true, but such reflects the underlying, basic problem of ideological captivity of science — and of science education — in our day.

    Something we need to fix.

    How can that be done?

    a –> First, we must observe:

    1: Now, since the NSTA ostensibly is a professional and representative body of science educators, it has a significant ethical responsibility not to indoctrinate or censor in the name of education in science.

    2: It actually admits such in its proud declaration that science education should be confined to science and must not include: “non-scientific or pseudoscientific methods, explanations, generalizations and products.”

    3: However, the position statement is just such a demonstration of failure to carry out manifest and acknowledged duties of care not to indoctrinate.

    4: For surely, a priori Lewontinian evolutionary materialism is an ideological and philosophical position, not a scientific one; even if disguised under terms and notions such as “methodological naturalism.”

    5: That is unlikely to be openly admitted by the current leadership of the NSTA, but to publicly document and draw attention to the blatant ethical bankruptcy of the NSTA, and to expose its institutional nature as a promoter of ideology rather than genuine education, is significant and a first step to exposing the bankruptcy of the current reigning orthodoxy in science education.

    b –> Having exposed, we must note the standard talking-points that are likely to be trotted out in reply.

    c –> For instance in 1 above, we see:

    [BA, cited OP:] “whether the search for the truth of the matter about the natural world should be structurally biased against a possibly true hypothesis”

    [V, 1;] Well, no, it shouldn’t. But the particular method that is part of that search called Science should, and other parts of that search should not. And then we can compare the success rate of these different searches. Science surely doesn’t aim to find ALL “truth”; for example, that I love my children is a fact about the natural world but is pretty opaque to scientific enquiry. Noma anyone?

    d –> In fact, non-overlapping magisteria is a subtle fallacy. Imperial science is a fact of life in our day, and it is a common view that that which is not scientifically demonstrated, is not properly to be called knowledge. In short, NOMA is the thin edge of an ideological agenda, not a legitimate position.

    e –> Now, too, the issue that surrounds the design inference referred to by BA in the excerpt Violet cites, is the premise that there are empirically well-warranted reliable signs of design [digitally coded, functionally specific complex information such as in this post or as is seen in program code are classic cases] that we have analytical reasons to also see that they are utterly unlikely ever to be observed on blind chance and mechanical necessity.

    f –> So, if science on origins were actually unfettered, we would have strong reasons to infer from say the 4-state functional digital code in DNA that controls the algorithmic creation of proteins, that cell based life exhibits strong signs of intleligent design.

    g –> But, on an ideologically loaded redefinition of science, a possibly and even credibly true and relevant inference, made on the same inductively warranted basis that science operates, is ruled out a priori, as it just might open the door wide enough that someone may infer that the designer in question is God.

    h –> This reveals that methodological naturalism is viewpoint discriminatory, that it is a form of selective hyperskepticism, and reflects ideological closed-mindedness.

    i –> So, it is pseudoscience, not true science. Ironically, on NSTA’s own terms, its approach should be excluded from the science education classroom!

    [ . . . ]

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    j –> This is why we see the contradiction in Violet’s remarks: (i) acknowledging that the search for the truth about our natural world should not be artificially biased against possibly true hypotheses, while (ii) trying to insist that “the particular method that is part of that search called Science should, and other parts of that search should not.”

    k –> The lurking circular assumption that drives the contradiction, is that Violet here assumes that inference to design is an injection of “the supernatural” into the realm of “science,” instead of what it actually is: inductive inference on empirically well warranted signs, to the pattern of cause that is known on observation, to account for such signs, and on analysis, to be the only credible source of such signs.

    l –> In short, design is an observed and important causal pattern, that produces artifacts that typically exhibit characteristic features that can be and routinely are used to infer from sign to signified causal pattern.

    m –> Except, where the Lewontinian a priori commitment to evolutionary materialism possibly comes into question. So, let us hear Lewontin, yet again, noting how he is so plainly echoed in the NSTA’s declared position of July 2000:

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [From: “Billions and Billions of Demons,” NYRB, January 9, 1997.]

    n –> Philip Johnson’s rejoinder made later that same year is therefore quite apt:

    For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

    . . . . The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses.[Emphasis added.] [The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]


    We must not allow soft words about Non-overlapping magisteria to blind us to the shameful reality: CENSORSHIP OF SCIENCE AND SCIENCE EDUCATION.

    So, in conclusion, I call our attention to a better way to address origins science:


    >>science, at its best, is the unfettered — but ethically and intellectually responsible — progressive pursuit of the truth about our world (i.e. an accurate and reliable description and explanation of it), based on:

    a: collecting, recording, indexing, collating and reporting accurate, reliable (and where feasible, repeatable) empirical — real-world, on the ground — observations and measurements,

    b: inference to best current — thus, always provisional — abductive explanation of the observed facts,

    c: thus producing hypotheses, laws, theories and models, using logical-mathematical analysis, intuition and creative, rational imagination [[including Einstein’s favourite gedankenexperiment, i.e thought experiments],

    d: continual empirical testing through further experiments, observations and measurement; and,

    e: uncensored but mutually respectful discussion on the merits of fact, alternative assumptions and logic among the informed. (And, especially in wide-ranging areas that cut across traditional dividing lines between fields of study, or on controversial subjects, “the informed” is not to be confused with the eminent members of the guild of scholars and their publicists or popularisers who dominate a particular field at any given time.)

    As a result, science enables us to ever more effectively (albeit provisionally) describe, explain, understand, predict and influence or control objects, phenomena and processes in our world. >>

    GEM of TKI

  16. 16
    Robert Byers says:

    This was one of the best threads I ever read on uncommon descent.
    It gets to the heart of most criticism of creationism(s).
    you don’t do science and oppose science.

    What is science? That this is a contention shows there is a major misunderstanding.

    I say there is no such thing as science and merely it means people thinking carefully about matters.
    All this testing and gathering is ordinary human investigation techniques.

    Yet they try to say science is a higher standard of investigation and so its conclusion.
    Second Creationism(s) don’t have this standard.

    We can say they don’t on origin issues. You can’t.
    Yes they make creationism out of order as a possible hypothesis as was said. very well by the way.

    There is no such thing or process as science.
    Creationism wars simply are showing this.
    All there is IS people thinking carefully about things.
    The scientific method is just a control on thinking.
    Yet its very minor in influence and is just what everyone always does.

    The merits of the case in conclusions of origins is of the same structure as every human conclusion.

  17. 17
    NotInTheBox says:

    I think the term “supernatural” has no longer any meaning. The term “natural” has been redefined.

    Everything that exists, without requiring a maker, without purposeful intervention, is intrinsically natural.

    This would make a not-created creator/god intrinsically natural, in fact: Not much else would be natural.

    Anything that requires a maker is artificial?

    So if “god created heaven and earth” and god was not created, then this god is natural and this universe, “heaven and earth”, is artificial, including (biological) life.

    There is no need for anything “supernatural”.

  18. 18
    NotInTheBox says:

    It would be sufficient to summarize the Natural Evolution vs Intelligent Design discussion as follows:

    Is life natural or artificial?

    btw: In science the default isn’t “It’s natural” as many would have us think. The only proper scientific default is “we don’t know (yet)”. Because a scientist may not assume things for which one can provide no reasonable evidence, and even then is only tentative, subject to be revised given additional evidence or consideration.

  19. 19
    kairosfocus says:

    RB & NITB:

    You both raise significant concerns. And while creationism in its various forms is significantly different from the inference to design [which last is strictly an inductive endeavour, and makes no reference as such to any particular religious tradition or claimed record of what actually happened as a matter of fact in origins], the imposition of a priori materialism in the guise of so-called methodological naturalism, is of concern to us all.

    At least, if we take it seriously that science should seek the truth about our common world, insofar as empirical evidence from observation, measurement and/or experiment can give guidance and empirical control to such an enterprise.

    It strikes me that a point Plantinga raised some years ago, which I blogged on in my personal blog about four years back, is relevant:


    >> [Dawkins, in his The God Delusion] . . . believes that “Science” is the gold standard of rationality. Next, he plainly understands science as in effect the best evolutionary materialist explanation of the cosmos, from hydrogen to humans. That is, in his opinion and that of his ilk, if a claimed scientific explanation does not fit in under the context of cosmological evolution + chemical abiogenesis + biological macro-evolution + socio-cultural evolution, all driven by chance plus blind natural forces without intelligent intervention of initiation, then it is by definition, “unscientific” and therefore “irrational.” And, organised irrationality is obviously mentally defective and dangerous, so its pernicious influence [through organised religion] should obviously be curbed.

    However, the astute reader will at once spot (a) that the above is actually an exercise in philosophy of science, rather than science proper, and (b) it hinges crucially on the now commonly encountered attempted redefintion of science under what is often called Methodological Naturalism. But as soon as we see that, the argument falls apart, for there is no good reason for us to impose an evolutionary materialistic redefinition of science and then use that redefined “science” as a criterion of rationality.

    To see why, let’s do an exercise similar to one that noted philosopher Alvin Plantinga — cf his technical discussions here and here — once did:

    1] Define — for the sake of argument — a discipline called “SIENCE” (pronounced the same as “science”), as

    . . . The best empirically based description and explanation of the world based on observation, explanatory hypotheses, experimental and/or observational testing, predictive power relative to new observations, analysis and open discussion of same among the community of the informed, and open to correction and development in light of empirical testing and logical analysis.

    2] As a comparison of this “new” definition with the classical and even current approach of many quite technically competent scientists and similar practitioners of say medicine and engineering etc. will at once reveal, this bears more than a passing resemblance to the classical definition and praxis of “science,” and has in it no before the fact (thus question-begging) commitments to materialism.

    3] So, then, why should we prefer to practice “Science” as Mr Dawkins et al would define it, to SIENCE?

    4] Too often, the answer boils down to: in order to reject the possibility that the molecular technology of life, its macro-level diversity, and the evident fine-tuning of the cosmos are best explained in light of the known cause of functionally specified, complex information — intelligent agency.

    5] But then, as just pointed out, that is a major begging of metaphysical questions in favour of evolutionary materialism. And, metaphysics — literally beyond [the study of] nature, i.e. science — is philosophy, not science. (The proper basic method for philosophy, comparative difficulties, refuses to beg such big questions, and puts all live options on the table, then compares them on factual adequacy, logical coherence, and explanatory power.)

    In short, “Science” as redefined by Mr Dawkins et al, for excellent reasons, is not at all to be preferred to SIENCE, the more traditional understanding of science.

    Moreover, we immediately see that the questions of (1) how we should best understand “science” and of (2) how we should best understand what it means to be rational are PHILOSOPHICAL issues, not scientific ones. Then . . . [also, on worldview choice] understanding the cosmos and our place in it in light of an uncaused, intelligent, personal, benevolent Creator-Redeemer God is credibly at least as rational as, say, to think that we inhabit a randomly thrown up bubble of apparently fine-tuned order in a wider quasi-infinite — thus unobservable — chaos. >>

    So, the issue at stake comes down to: do we want to do Dawkinsian, Lewontinian, NTSA, NAS style a priori materialistic science, or science as it has been traditionally understood?

    And, in that, the very fact that evolutionary materialists are wont to declare that their favourite theory is a “fact” [DV, to be blogged on in a follow up to this thread’s post] tells us that a key objective of science is to discover the truth about our world insofar as such truth can be progressively discovered on empirical evidence and linked analysis.

    So, the evolutionary materialistic imposition falls of its own weight, as it is self-refuting: claiming to capture truth while censoring the investigation that is to lead us to truth.

    And, the materialistic redefinition of “nature” as equivalent to “reality” (roughly: matter, energy, space-time and the relevant interactions and forces leading from hydrogen to humans etc) falls with it.

    By direct extension, once the question is un-begged, the supernatural is once again a reasonable category [as opposed to a chaotic, superstitious, confusing imposition]. Thus also, it is a reasonable exercise for individuals — just like men such as Newton, Copernicus, Maxwell, Faraday and Kelvin — to view science as an exercise in thinking God’s world- creative, ordering and sustaining thoughts after him.

    In that context, questions over creationism also reduce to a due proportion, from their present over-wrought, overly feverish and polarised condition.

    For instance, whether the cosmos is credibly 6 – 10,000 years old, or 10 – 20 BY old, or whatever, can then be looked at empirically without the double-loading of [a] imagining that science provides a sure path to seeing the actual course of the past, and [b] believing that scientific findings force one to adopt or at least adapt to evolutionary materialism.

    Thus — bearing in mind a better warranted distinction for scientific purposes: nature vs art — we come back to a sounder definition of science as a basis for research and study:

    science, at its best, is the unfettered (but intellectually and ethically responsible) progressive pursuit of the truth about our world, based on observation, measurement, experiment,logical-mathematical analysis and modelling, as well as uncensored (but mutually respectful) dialogue among the informed. It thus allows us to ever more accurately describe, explain, predict and control or influence the materials, objects and forces of nature for the common good.

    GEM of TKI

  20. 20
    lastyearon says:

    There’s nothing inherently unscientific about the hypothesis that life was designed by intelligent being(s). The proper next step, scientifically, would be to gather evidence to try and confirm it. Some relevant questions to ask: When did this design occur? How? With what tools or technology? What were the motives of the designer(s)?

    There’s no one stopping ID theorists from tackling these questions. But the only thing I hear from the ID camp is that the questions I posed above are outside the limits of what we can know.

    Therefore it seems to me that the hypothesis of Intelligent Design, then, is that the intelligent being(s) that designed life are supernatural. Is this accurate?

  21. 21
    NotInTheBox says:

    @lastyearon The term “supernatural” is confusing and meaningless? Also, we clearly don’t require it. The distinction natural/artificial is more then sufficient.

    It is more then sufficient that the intelligent beings that designed biological life are either artificial like us or themselves naturally occurring; In case they are also artificial, the same that applies to us also applies to them. At some point, there must be some naturally occurring intelligent entity that created the first artificial intelligence.

    Even when a system as a whole is artificial, it may display a kind of natural behavior in its parts. Doing what comes naturally: Mindless occurrences following from the systems ordering, the properties of its parts (physics) and their likely interactions (chance).

  22. 22
    kairosfocus says:


    You may find Leibniz’s parable of the mill interesting.

    The key thing is the functional organisation, which is of course purposeful and information rich. Such organisation, beyond a certain point, is a strong proof of design.

    And, on our cells and the DNA in them etc, we are indeed secondary intelligences, i.e creatures.

    GEM of TKI

  23. 23
    DaRook says:

    The Dec 2010 issue of Physics Today had published a reprint of S. Chandrasekhar’s article, “Beauty and the Quest for Beauty in Science” which had a couple of interesting quotes. Commenting on some of Kepler’s ideas, Wolfgang Pauli concluded by stating, ” One should never declare that theses laid down by rational formulation are the only possible presuppositions of human reason.” And in the same vein, Claude Bernard stated:
    “Those who have an excessive faith in their ideas are not fitted to make discoveries.”
    I thought these quotes were quite apropos to this topic.

  24. 24
    kairosfocus says:

    DaRook: well cited, and indeed quite relevant. In physics especially, beauty — “elegance” — has often been a surer guide to successful theories than almost any other consideration. G

  25. 25
    lastyearon says:


    the intelligent beings that designed biological life are either artificial like us or themselves naturally occurring

    I don’t understand. What does that mean when you say that humans are artificial?

  26. 26
    kairosfocus says:


    We are at least second generation intelligences, as our cells are based on systems that use digitally coded, functionally specific, complex information. So, we are teh product of art.

    Where objectors above go off the rails, is they are unwilling to acknowledge the impact of the radical contingency of our cosmos, which credibly had a beginning. So, it has one or more factors that had to be put in place for it to begin. That which begins is an effect and has a cause.

    That points to a necessary being as the ultimate cause of our cosmos. And, factoring in the fine tuned operating point that our cosmos sits at to facilitate such c-chemistry cell based life, we are — even through the speculated multiverse [for it has to target a radically isolated configuration to get to the observed cosmos] looking at a necessary being who is intelligent, deeply knowledgeable, enormously powerful, and intent on creating such a cosmos as we inhabit.

    Such a necessary being is not “natural” but utterly beyond the natural; he creates the natural.

    The proposed dilemma fails.

    GEM of TKI

  27. 27
    Eugene S says:

    As a scientist, I am firmly convinced that it is impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of God by purely scientific means. I know of examples of great scientists of the last century who, through their own work, came to the conclusion that there IS God, for instance, Yuri Altukhov, a Russian scientist, who studied microbiology for more than 30 years and was at last convinced in Creation. He is famous for discovering genetic monomorphism. But any personal experience is NOT ENOUGH to serve as a rational argument. Furthermore, it is a sign of God’s profound meekness that He does not show off with power to the haughty minds of unbelieving thinkers but only to those who are lowly and pure in heart. To me this is already evidence enough. He does not want our intellect, He wants our heart. To summarise, I deeply believe that the only thing we, believers, can seriously present as a counter-argument is the question: “WHY?”, i.e. “What is the purpose in the existence of this world?” Is it only a mere perturbation of dust or does it have a much more profound meaning? Atheism fears it because it fails to adequately answer it. We believe in a personal and loving God. They believe in cold necessity, a fatum. Which is better for you? It is your decision and it is, as we saw, deeply RESPECTED by God, who is patiently waiting. After all, one of the many Russian saintly people of the last century said that the truth cannot be proven, it can only be witnessed.

    Emotionally I greatly sympathise with those who endevour to witness the existence of God in front of the Gentiles who seek worldly wisdom as they always have. Trouble is, they are looking for it in the wrong place…

  28. 28
    NotInTheBox says:

    @lastyearon What does the term natural in Natural Evolution mean?
    The term artificial is then defined as not natural.

    Most people, if we are precise, don’t have much trouble with the concept of evolution: Biological life has changed and does change over time.

    The difference of opinion has to do with what kind of evolution do we observe in the fossils, what kind of evolution do we observe in current populations? In short, most people here will reject the idea that we see natural evolution but rather the kind of evolution we mean when we say something like “the evolution of the computer”, designed or artificial evolution, the evolution of an artifact.

    Personally I don’t think biological life is natural, if true it would mean that it’s artificial: Somehow biological life was created by some unknown intelligence; Something which itself is also either natural or also artificial.

    At the begin there must have been at least one uncreated, purely naturally occurring, intelligence that started it all by creating the very first (artificial) intelligences.

    What I mean with that we are artificial is that we and all biological life are not naturally occurring phenomenon. Without purposeful intentional creative action biological life would not exist.

  29. 29
    Joseph says:

    Let’s see- natural(istic) processes only exist in nature and therefor cannot account for the origin of nature.

    But anyway science is our search for the truth, i.e. the reality, to the existence of whatever we are investigting via our never-ending quest for knowledge.

  30. 30
    NotInTheBox says:

    @Joseph: What is nature?

    Given how the term nature is used in science these days, nature is that which requires no explanation, it just “is”. That which has always been or is the automatic, mechanistic result of whatever was before, requiring no particular intentional decision.

    So when a car, which itself is artificial, is rotting away, then the rotting process is still a natural process. Driving, cleaning and repairing the car are again artificial, not natural.

  31. 31
    gpuccio says:

    Eugene S:

    I appreciate your thought, many of which I absolutely share.

    I don’t think, however, that the point in ID, or here, is to “prove or disprove the existence of God by purely scientific means”.

    Rather, the idea is to improve the scientific approach to empirical realities which are designed by intelligent beings.

    While such a “design shift” in the scientific approach to reality may have some consequences on the philosophical reasonings about the intellectual problem of God, I don’t believe that it is in any way an attempt to prove or disprove God’s existence.

    It certainly is, however, a very strong and convincing falsification of the widespread notion that science has in any way “disproved” God’s existence. That notion is truly false, and to clearly show, by a scientific and credible approach, that it is false is IMO a remarkable, legitimate and realistic aim.

  32. 32
    kairosfocus says:


    Very well said.

    GEM of TKI

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