Whenever I tune in to any discussion on the subject of “methodological naturalism,” I often marvel at the extent to which Darwinists will rewrite history and manipulate the language in their futile attempt to defend this so-called “requirement” for science. In order to set the stage, we must first try to understand what methodological naturalism could possibly mean.
First, we have what one might call the “soft” definition, characterized as a preference for identifying for natural causes, a position which makes no final judgment about a universal line of demarcation between science and non-science. Second, we have the “hard” definition as used by all the institutional Darwinists. In the second context, methodological naturalism is an institutional “rule” by which one group of researchers imposes on another group of researchers an arbitrary, intrusive, and non-negotiable standard which states that scientists must study nature as if nature is all there is.
Ah, but that is where things start getting interesting. “How can you say that we are imposing arbitrary rules, Darwinists protest, when we are simply explaining the way that science has always been done?” Notice the deft change of cadence by which they shift from the concept of an unbending rule, which is the matter under discussion, to the notion of an often used practice, smuggling in the soft definition in the middle of a debate about the hard definition. With respect to the latter, keep in mind that no universally binding rule for scientific methods existed prior to the 1980’s, so there really isn’t much to argue about on that front. Rather than address the argument or concede the fact, however, Darwinists simply evade the point, reframe the issue, and carry on a sleek as ever, hoping that no one will notice that the terms of the debate have been rewritten on the fly.
For that matter, not even the soft definition always applied to the earlier scientists, who simply used whatever methods that seemed right for the multi-varied research projects they were investigating. Some studied the law-like regularities of the universe, and it was in that context that they formulated their hypotheses. Others, more interested in outright design arguments, established their hypotheses on exactly that basis. Kepler’s laws of motion, for example, stemmed from his perception of design in the mathematical precision of planetary motion. Newton, in his classic work, Optics argued for the intelligent design of the eye and, at other places, presented something like the modern “anthropic principle” in his discussion on the positioning of the planets. No one, not even those who “preferred” to study solely natural causes, would have dared to suggest that no other kind of research question should ever be asked or that no other hypothesis should ever be considered.
What they were all trying to avoid was the commonplace and irrational element of superstition and the notion that God acts capriciously, recklessly, or vindictively, without purpose or thought. What they most decidedly were not doing was arguing that design cannot be a cause. On the contrary, they wanted to know more about the design that was already manifest—or to put it in the most shocking and offensive language possible—they wanted to know more about how God made the world so they could give him praise and glory, as is evident from the title page of many of their works.
If the universe wasn’t designed to be comprehensible and rational, they reasoned, there is no reason to believe that it is comprehensible and rational. Thus, there would be no reason to try to comprehend it or make rational statements about it. What would be the point? One cannot comprehend the incomprehensible or unravel the reasonableness of that which is not reasonable—nor can anything other than a reasonable being do the unraveling. They believed that the Creator set it up, as it were, so that there was a correspondence between that which was to be unraveled [the object of investigation] and the capacity of the one doing the unraveling [the investigator]. It would have gone without saying that the investigator and the investigation cannot be one and the same thing, meaning that both realms of existence are a given. In order for [A] to correspond with [B], both [A] and [B] must exist. Thus, these scientists were 180 degrees removed from the idea that nature, one of those two realms, must be studied, as MN dictates, as if it is the only realm. That would be tantamount to saying that nature must be investigated as if there is there is no such thing as an investigator–as of nature could investigate itself.
Returning to the present, methodological naturalists do not even have a coherent formulation with which to oppress their adversaries. Notice, for example, how selective they are about enforcing their petty rule, applying it only to ID scientists, and exempting all other researchers who violate the principle, such as searchers for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence and Big Bang Theorists. Of course, what they are refusing to enforce in these cases are the hard definition, since ID qualifies under the soft definition.
Once this is pointed out, they morph the argument again, holding that MN, that is, the hard rule, is the preferred method for science because “it works.” But what exactly does “it” mean. Clearly, what works is not the rule because the rule, which presumes to dictate and make explicit what is “required” for science, is only about twenty-five years old. On the contrary, all real progress comes from the common sense approach of asking good questions and searching for relevant answers, using whatever methods that will provide the needed evidence and following that evidence wherever it leads. For most, that means looking at law-like regularities, but for others it means probing the mysteries of information and the effects of intelligence. For some, it means conducting experiments and acquiring new data, but for others it means looking at what we already know in different ways. That is exactly what Einstein and Heisenberg did. We experience the benefits of science when we sit at the feet of nature and ask it to reveal its secrets, not when we presume to tell it which secrets we would prefer not to hear.
It gets worse. In fact, methodological naturalists do not even know what they mean by the two words they use to frame their rule. On the First Things blog, I recently asked several MN advocates to define the words, “natural” and “supernatural. After a series of responses, one of the more thoughtful commentators ended the discussion by writing, “It seems that defining what is “natural” is one of the tasks before us.”
Indeed. Now think about this for a moment. Entrenched bureaucrats, 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, here is what they are saying: “You [ID scientists] are restricted to a study of the natural world, and, although I have no idea what I mean by that term, which means that I have no idea of what I mean by my rule, you are, nevertheless, condemned if you violate it.
There is more. This natural/supernatural dichotomy on which MN stands plunges Darwinists [and TEs, for that matter] in intellectual quicksand on yet another front, leaving them only one of two options:
[A] Methodological naturalism conflates all immaterial, non-natural causes, such as Divine intelligence, superhuman intelligence, and human intelligence, placing them all in the same category. Using that formulation, the paragraph I just wrote, assuming that I have a mind, was a supernatural event, which means I am a supernatural cause, —yet if I have no mind, that would mean that my brain was responsible, which would suddenly reduce me to a natural cause. This is where the Darwinists take the easy way out by simply declaring that there are no immaterial minds, while the TE’s split their brains in two pieces trying to make sense of it.
[B] Methodological naturalism defines all things that are not “supernatural” as natural, placing human cognition, human volition, earthquakes, and tornadoes in the same category. Indeed, everything is then classified as a natural cause—everything. 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,” whatever that means. So, if all causes are natural, then 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. Indeed, by that standard, the archeologist cannot even declare that the built civilization of Pompei ever existed as a civilization, since the apparent evidence of human activity may well not have been caused by human activity at all. 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 those differences cannot be identified, which means that whatever causes a volcano to erupt is comparable to whatever caused Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to erupt.
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 the scientist can decide which method or methods are appropriate for obtaining that answer.