One common criticism of the upcoming Alternatives to Methodological Naturalism conference has been that “scientists just follow the evidence where it leads.” Even among fellow ID’ers who disagree with methodological naturalism, they find it difficult to envision why we would need an alternative that is different from “just go with the evidence.”
The answer is simple – the scientific imagination.
One of the reasons why I started the conference is because Methodological Naturalism (hereafter, MN) constrains thinking in ways that I am not sure even people led entirely by the evidence are aware of.
Theory construction is often treated by both scientists and observers of science as an automatic given once the data is in.
In actuality, though, it is entirely philosophical. Every scientific theory is underdetermined by the evidence. Additionally, the ability to convert data into a theory is constrained by what scientists expect theories to look like.
Therefore, one’s imagination is actually the biggest constraining factor. This is the biggest aspect that needs to be worked on. However, ideas such as MN are what are constantly molding the imagination. Therefore, new ideas are needed in order to help people re-imagine what the world is like with a fresh perspective.
Taking the time to look into disciplines such as Austrian Economics which have explicit methodological dualism help people re-imagine the possibilities for their own disciplines. When we can see the possibilities played out in another context, we can grow our imaginations to see how those ideas can play in our contexts.
Mathematics itself is largely constrained by imaginations. I don’t have a problem per se with the way mathematics is taught, however, the way it is taught does bring forward a lot of incorrect expectations from mathematics. For instance, people commonly expect math to give them solvable problems, graphs with continuous lines, and everything smoothed out. As a matter of fact, there is nothing within mathematics that makes any of these a necessary truth. Therefore, people don’t think to look for strange graphs, and assume that everything, even if it is more complicated, has the general structure of the functions they worked with in high school and college. These sorts of assumptions limit imagination.
The biggest problem I have found with the proponents of MN is that they literally cannot imagine something else. They think that the alternative to naturalism is just making stuff up and pretending it to be true. This is also true of opponents of MN or PN. They may be able to see the problems with MN, but many have not been able to imagine an alternative way of doing things that has both rigorous and understandable methodologies.
That’s why having a conference on alternative methodologies is so important. We need to stretch the imagination of both our side and theirs, and to establish ways of thinking about the topic that are both new and rigorous. We need, more than anything, to have a rethink. And that’s why I think we need a conference.