Intelligent Design

They said it: NCSE/Judge Jones of Dover and Wikipedia vs. Newton in Opticks, Query 31, on methodological naturalism and science

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Sir Isaac Newton

In further addressing the now commonly promoted idea that methodological naturalism is an innocent, “natural” part of the definition of science that properly keeps out those who wish to smuggle in “the supernatural” where it does not belong, I have had occasion to add an appendix to the recent June 17 post promoting Nancy Pearcey’s 2005 sleeper article on Christianity as a science starter, not a science stopper.

That appendix is worth a post in its own right, as — by utter contrast with Wikipedia’s enthusiastic citation of Judge Jones channelling the NCSE on how methodological naturalism has been the prevailing rule for doing science since the 1500’s & 1600’s — we can see how in his 1704  Opticks, Query 31 Newton blows apart the Wikipedian talking-point:


>>For some further primary source documentation, given highly misleading claims like this cited by Wikipedia in its article on Naturalism, which endorses Lewontin-Sagan style a priori materialism under the name of methodological naturalism, presented under the pretence that it is the historic way that modern science was done:

Philosopher Paul Kurtz notes two senses to naturalism. First, nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles, that is, by mass and energy; physical and chemical properties. Second, all scientific endeavors—all hypotheses and events—are to be explained and tested within methodological naturalism’s reference of natural causes and events.[2] Naturalism in Kurtz’s first sense, insisting that nature is all there is, is called metaphysical naturalism or philosophical naturalism.

In the second sense, methodological naturalism provides assumptions within which to conduct science. Methodological naturalism is a way of acquiring knowledge. It is a distinct system of thought concerned with a cognitive approach to reality, and thus a philosophy of knowledge or epistemology.

Expert testimony [–> According to Judge Jones at Dover (i.e. not a qualified historian of science), copying the post trial submission of the NCSE, an evolutionary materialism pressure group] reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries [i.e. the 1500’s – 1600’s — this is blatantly false as the above shows], science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena…. While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. This self-imposed convention of science [–> cf Newton below on imposing question-begging, censoring metaphysical, speculative a prioris on science], which limits inquiry to testable, natural [–> notice the censorship: chance, necessity and art based on choice all leave empirical traces that can be studied with profit using scientific methods . . . ] explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify.[3]

. . . let me cite Newton in Opticks, Query 31, 1704 (and thus well within the NCSE/Jones window where science was supposedly atheistical in its methods, and of course I am citing the leading single scientist of the past 400 years, maybe all time]:

>> Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
from Query 31 of Opticks (London, 1704)

All these things being consider’d, it seems probable to me, that God in the Beginning form’d Matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable Particles, of such Sizes and Figures, and with such other Properties, and in such Proportion to Space, as most conduced to the End for which he form’d them; and that these primitive Particles being Solids, are incomparably harder than any porous Bodies compounded of them; even so very hard, as never to wear or break in pieces; no ordinary Power being able to divide what God himself made one in the first Creation. While the Particles continue entire, they may compose Bodies of one and the same Nature and Texture in all Ages: But should they wear away, or break in pieces, the Nature of Things depending on them, would be changed. Water and Earth, composed of old worn Particles and Fragments of Particles, would not be of the same Nature and Texture now, with Water and Earth composed of entire Particles in the Beginning. And therefore, that Nature may be lasting, the Changes of corporeal Things are to be placed only in the various Separations and new Associations and Motions of these permanent Particles; compound Bodies being apt to break, not in the midst of solid Particles, but where those Particles are laid together, and only touch in a few Points . . . .

Now by the help of these Principles [of gravity, laws of motion, observations of the evident stability of material properties of e.g. water, etc], all material Things seem to have been composed of the hard and solid Particles above-mention’d, variously associated in the first Creation by the Counsel of an intelligent Agent. For it became him who created them to set them in order. And if he did so, it’s unphilosophical to seek for any other Origin of the World, or to pretend that it might arise out of a Chaos by the mere Laws of Nature [= chance + necessity without intelligence, i.e. he is pointing to inferior alternatives under comparative difficulties, which would be discussed in the General Scholium to Principia]; though being once form’d, it may continue by those Laws for many Ages. For while Comets move in very excentrick Orbs in all manner of Positions, blind Fate could never make all the Planets move one and the same way in Orbs concentrick, some inconsiderable Irregularities excepted, which may have risen from the mutual Actions of Comets and Planets upon one another, and which will be apt to increase, till this System wants a Reformation. Such a wonderful Uniformity in the Planetary System must be allowed the Effect of Choice. And so must the Uniformity in the Bodies of Animals . . . .

As in Mathematicks, so in Natural Philosophy, the Investigation of difficult Things by the Method of Analysis, ought ever to precede the Method of Composition. This Analysis consists in making Experiments and Observations, and in drawing general Conclusions from them by Induction, and admitting of no Objections against the Conclusions, but such as are taken from Experiments, or other certain Truths. For Hypotheses [= a priori controlling/censoring speculations] are not to be regarded in experimental Philosophy. And although the arguing from Experiments and Observations by Induction be no Demonstration of general Conclusions; yet it is the best way of arguing which the Nature of Things admits of, and may be looked upon as so much the stronger, by how much the Induction is more general. And if no Exception occur from Phaenomena, the Conclusion may be pronounced generally. But if at any time afterwards any Exception shall occur from Experiments, it may then begin to be pronounced with such Exceptions as occur. By this way of Analysis we may proceed from Compounds to Ingredients, and from Motions to the Forces producing them; and in general, from Effects to their Causes, and from particular Causes to more general ones, till the Argument end in the most general. This is the Method of Analysis: And the Synthesis consists in assuming the Causes discover’d, and establish’d as Principles, and by them explaining the Phaenomena proceeding from them, and proving the Explanations [ –> notice the definition of science and its methods]. . . .

And if natural Philosophy in all its Parts, by pursuing this Method, shall at length be perfected, the Bounds of Moral Philosophy will be also enlarged. For so far as we can know by natural Philosophy what is the first Cause, what Power he has over us, and what Benefits we receive from him, so far our Duty towards him, as well as that towards one another, will appear to us by the Light of Nature [–> this is an allusion to Romans 1:19 – 32 etc]. And no doubt, if the Worship of false Gods had not blinded the Heathen, their moral Philosophy would have gone farther than to the four Cardinal Virtues; and instead of teaching the Transmigration of Souls, and to worship the Sun and Moon, and dead Heroes, they would have taught us to worship our true Author and Benefactor, as their Ancestors did under the Government of Noah and his Sons before they corrupted themselves. >>

Thus, we see from a prime source document, that explanation by chance/chaos, necessity and agency were well understood as alternatives in the founding era of science, by leading scientists.  Second, that inference to art based on choice of intelligent agent was rooted in empirical considerations, and that science was not to be held in thralldom to a priori question-begging impositions.  Instead, the empirical, provisional analysis and resulting inductive generalisations were to be held based on empirical testing, and subject to further empirical testing. All this, in a context of a worldview that was plainly Biblical and indeed creationist.>>


A major bonus in the above is that we see here a root for the common Grade School definitions of science and its methods.

Perhaps, then, the time has come to look at the roots of modern science with fresh eyes, untainted by a priori Lewontin-Sagan materialism and associated impositions of materialism on even the definition of science and its methods, not to mention smearing of design thinkers — not to mention, Creationists; who plainly have a point when they say that many of the key founders of modern science and key fields in it were not only personally creationist but worked in a creationist context.

For, is not Newton clearly amongst such? END

6 Replies to “They said it: NCSE/Judge Jones of Dover and Wikipedia vs. Newton in Opticks, Query 31, on methodological naturalism and science

  1. 1
    CannuckianYankee says:


    I see in other threads that they’ve already wrongfully accused you of appealing to authority. I doubt if the ilk your recent posts are addressed to indirectly are actually reading the whole process of your thinking. They’re merely taking out what they object to without understanding.

    A while back we discussed the reasons why a person will review a book without having read it.

    It appears that we have some “noviews” present among us – critiquing your posts without having read nor understood your very reasoned arguments.

    Maybe we should have a thread on why someone would comment on a post without having read either the OP or the subsequent additional information provided throughout the thread.

    They’re saying that you can’t appeal to Newton, but you’re not appealing to him, you’re stating facts regarding the origin of the scientific method when unbounded by materialist rhetoric.

    I think we all desire that they begin to understand this, but I think it’s like talking to a brick wall.

    However, your posts do provide a wealth of information for the onlookers.


  2. 2
    kairosfocus says:


    I am in fact documenting history from a primary source, that shows that the views on the nature of science that are now often claimed for C16 – 17 are definitively false to the documented fact, dating to 1704 and documenting based on work Newton had been doing since c 1660. All that stuff about playing with prisms, showing the spectrum and the composite nature of white light, and inventing the Newtonian Reflector telescope, etc.

    NCSE was wrong, and — especially Ms B Forrest — should have known better than they wrote.

    And, Judge Jones should have known better than to blindly parrot NCSE and its “experts.”

    The objectors — which thread(s) BTW? [notice, how they do not show up where the facts can be directly compared . . . ] — need to be at a sufficiently educated and/or reasonable level that they can understand that a primary source by the no 1 scientist for the past 400 years is direct evidence of the thinking of scientists at the relevant time.

    I already cited Ms Pearcey in summary of the consensus of the historians of science, and I am here citing as big a name as you get as a primary source.

    It also helps to note that — directly contrary to all the confident assertions about how design [notice Newton’s contrast between chaos, necessity and intelligent cause] or even creationist thought — N was definitely a creationist — are science stoppers, the direct, primary source document evidence is that they are actually SCIENCE STARTERS.

    POP! Goes the materialist/ rationalist/ secularist myth on the origins of modern science.

    GEM of TKI

    PS: 100:1 on views to comments, with none of those ever so eager to contradict showing up, is telling.

    PPS: It seems the real objection is to my quoting serious sources. If I disagree with the source I am accused falsely of quote-mining, if I agree, I am accused of citing an authority blindly. Of course, if I were to give my bare naked opinion, I would be dismissed as “sez who.” In the above case, I am citing N as a primary source that here did not even have to be translated — Opticks was written in English (and was thus his more popular work). What it documents is Newton’s type of thinking, his views and the influences he was exerting, recall he was for years head of the royal Society. His thinking above is not all right or all wrong [e.g. the hard massy particles are effected by electric field interactions, which is why there is that no wearing effect he rightly spotted, and his fits of easy transmission and easy reflection needed to be adjusted in light of wave motion and interference, to correctly explain the famous Newton’s rings]; it is instead an index — from a primary historical source — of how the founding era scientists actually thought, as opposed to how the secularist ideologues today would like to spin their thought. The outline of the summary scientific method as is in simplified form taught to grade school students is a gem; I wonder why I never saw this clip in school studies, I suspect the company it keeps in Query 31 was/is an uncomfortable fit for secularists, who failed to give the proper history of ideas roots.

  3. 3
    CannuckianYankee says:

    “NCSE was wrong, and — especially Ms B Forrest — should have known better than they wrote.”

    I think it would be interesting here to look into just how B. Forrest thinks.

    In the Abstract to the above linked article Ms. Forrest states:

    “Abstract: In response to the charge that methodological naturalism in science logically requires the a priori adoption of a naturalistic metaphysics, I examine the question whether methodological naturalism entails philosophical (ontological or metaphysical) naturalism. I conclude that the relationship between methodological and philosophical naturalism, while not one of logical entailment, is the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion given (1) the demonstrated success of methodological naturalism, combined with (2) the massive amount of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of evidence for the supernatural. The above factors together provide solid grounding for philosophical naturalism, while supernaturalism remains little more than a logical possibility.”

    She further states:

    “Philosophical naturalism is emphatically not an arbitrary philosophical preference, but rather the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion–if by reasonable one means both empirically grounded and logically coherent.”

    Lets take a look at how she arrives at this. First of all, her definition of the “supernatural:”

    “I am addressing the subject of naturalism in contrast to traditional supernaturalism, which means belief in a transcendent, non-natural dimension of reality inhabited by a transcendent, non-natural deity.”

    Here she’s discussing philosophical naturalism, so she begins with that in contrast to “supernaturalism.” This is her contention. It’s not that theism; which entails the existence of powers and attributes beyond the natural world is a problem for science; it’s that it doesn’t belong in science. Why? Because science is the study of what is natural, and a supernatural deity is by definition, not natural. You can’t study it in a natural or “scientific” way.

    So rather than beginning with no assumptions at all, Forrest begins with naturalism as a default position; which should be acceptable to all reasonable people.

    The problem here, as I’m sure most of us are aware, is that this is a big question begged.

    If Forrest is waxing philosophical, she does a very poor job of it. Nowhere does she address the issue of where the assumptions of naturalism really begin. They’re just there.

    Her thinking is ideological to the extreme. Antony Flew was a great philosopher who came to the conclusion towards the end of his life that if one is truly honest with oneself, one must go where evidence leads. This means that one must leave behind all metaphysical assumptions and allow evidence to speak for itself. Forrest is not even capable of leaving behind here assumptions. They are ingrained, and her position has allowed her to trumpet such assumptions as if they are gospel – (to those who don’t believe in gospels, that is). She would have to give up a whole lot of what makes her tick if she were to be honest about her position on these issues.

    Is she honest? I’m not certain. She may be sincere in what she believes, but I doubt if she has the gumption to be self critical. After all, she believes that there are a great many people in the sciences who think exactly like her; it’s not exactly productive then to question the thinking of scientists.

    The irony here is that this is an article, which attempts to show that there’s a difference between philosophical naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. Frankly, I just don’t see it. I understand that she thinks philosophical naturalism is informed by science through the scientific method; namely through methodological naturalism. She fails in showing this, and what she really shows is that methodological naturalism is more informed by philosophical naturalism; not the other way around.

    She tries to distinguish the two in this statement:

    “Methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism are distinguished by the fact that methodological naturalism is an epistemology as well as a procedural protocol, while philosophical naturalism is a metaphysical position.”

    Well that’s like a Nazi saying that the difference between Nazism and the Third Reich is that one is a philosophy, while the other is a protocol. The difference is really quite inconsequential when one tries to separate the two.

    You can’t separate the methodology from the underlying philosophy. One is used to trump up the other.

    There would have been no Third Reich without the underlying philosophy.

    The protocol of methodological naturalism is nothing more than an attempt to infuse science with philosophical naturalism. That’s why she’s able to state, and as I re-quote:

    “Philosophical naturalism is emphatically not an arbitrary philosophical preference, but rather the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion–if by reasonable one means both empirically grounded and logically coherent.”

    How could philosophical naturalism be “empirically and logically grounded” apart from the “protocol” of methodological naturalism? Here she’s talking in circles while attempting to leave us with the impression of something that is grounded. It’s not grounded in anything but the original assumptions. And she states that it isn’t arbitrary? Now not so? I think you’re right. She ought to know better.

    I won’t get into the “logically coherent” assertion as I think we all know where that will lead.

    If anyone wants a lesson in doing poor philosophy, they should read her article.

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    “I am addressing the subject of naturalism in contrast to traditional supernaturalism, which means belief in a transcendent, non-natural dimension of reality inhabited by a transcendent, non-natural deity.”

    God, a being who cannot not exist, is the most natural being that does exist. All else is unnatural.

    These folks like to think they are studying nature, and that which is natural, but they are not.

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:


    That was effectively Plato’s own view, in The Laws, Bk X.


  6. 6
    CannuckianYankee says:


    “God, a being who cannot not exist, is the most natural being that does exist. All else is unnatural.”

    Exactly the point she misses.

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