Over at ENV Walter Myers III takes a sledgehammer to the argument that the success of science compels acceptance of metaphysical naturalism, this time as argued by Barbara Forest:
[Forest] reasons, however, that based on the success of methodological naturalism, and the great knowledge it has contributed to the world, along with the simple dearth of evidence for the supernatural, that the “only reasonable metaphysical conclusion” from an empirical and logical perspective is philosophical naturalism.2 She sees methodological naturalism as procedural and epistemological, as opposed to philosophical naturalism which is a metaphysical position. The heart of Forrest’s argument is as follows:
“Adopted in the sciences because of its explanatory and predictive success, methodological naturalism is the intellectual parent of modern philosophical naturalism as it now exists, meaning that philosophical naturalism as a world view is a generalization of the cumulative results of scientific inquiry… It is neither the a priori premise nor the logically necessary conclusion of methodological naturalism, but the well grounded a posteriori result.”
Myers responds aptly:
I don’t think this holds up logically. Methodological naturalism has, indeed, shown great success in describing the natural world through physics and chemistry. We think, notably, of the incredible technological advances in medicine, robotics, cell phone technology, and soon-to-be-ubiquitous self-driving cars. But descriptions are not explanations, as they don’t tell us why things are the way they are. There are a great many things we can’t explain or describe that seemingly defy physics and chemistry, such as human consciousness, dark matter, or life itself. So I think Forrest displays considerable “epistemological arrogance” in saying that philosophical naturalism naturally follows from the success of methodological naturalism.
Consider Newtonian physics, the paradigm for the physics of everyday life. At a time when people believed bodies could only interact through contact, Newton introduced the notion of action at a distance. He challenged the mechanical philosophy of the day by focusing on forces operating in nature that could be mathematically described, though not observed. Forces, such as gravity, could produce effects that did not require any mechanical contact and had no apparent cause. This approach to science is known as “phenomenalism,” where phenomena can be described without knowing actual causes. For Newton, this permitted belief in the divine order of the universe by a creator whose work could be described (but not explained) by mathematics. The same approach was taken by the great astronomers whose work Newton synthesized — such as Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, who likewise believed God ordered the universe through mathematical laws.
When are they going to understand that “gravity” does not cause water to run downhill. “Gravity” is not an explanation. It is a mathematical description. What actually causes water to run downhill? We have no idea. There really is no better explanation than Chesterton’s. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.