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Meeting: Alternatives to methodological naturalism

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Poster  April 16, 2016 online

From Blyth Institute:

We are pleased to announce the 2016 Conference on Alternatives to Methodological Naturalism, which aims to explore new methodologies that can be employed in a variety of disciplines that are not based on methodological naturalism.

E-mail proposed abstracts to (200-500 words)


E-conference is available.

Blyth previously hosted the Engineering and Metaphysics conference, with proceedings.

From News: Methodological naturalism is Darwin’s sucker punch: Science is coterminous with naturalism. The purpose of science, therefore, is to come up with theories that are in line with and support naturalist (nature is all there is) explanations. If those explanations seem weak (cf crackpot cosmology and evolutionary psychology) , we must wait for better naturalist explanations.

No other explanations, however informative by comparison or supported by evidence, can in principle be science. So, for example, if consciousness cannot satisfactorily be explained by naturalism, it is quite reasonable to say that it doesn’t exist. For lots of reasons, science needs to get past naturalism

See also: Was Methodological Naturalism a Product of the Scientific Revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries?

Exposing the Hoary History of Methodological Naturalism: Does it really go back to the Middle Ages?

Is methodological naturalism a defining feature of science? (Part One)

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7 Replies to “Meeting: Alternatives to methodological naturalism

  1. 1
    Jim Smith says:

    Methodological naturalism is Darwin’s sucker punch: Science is coterminous with naturalism.

    This is not so much due to Darwin as it is to T. H. Huxley. Darwin believed natural laws were designed. It was T. H. Huxley who led the conspiracy to foist methodological naturalism on the Royal society and he made extensive use of Darwin’s theory to do it.

  2. 2

    I’ve advocated here before and elsewhere for “methodological pragmatism”.

  3. 3
    johnnyb says:

    William –

    If you wanted to flesh that out a little more (e.g., examples for different disciplines and how they would be affected by your suggestion), you might consider submitting an abstract for a talk.

  4. 4
    johnnyb says:

    I should also point out, if it is not apparent, that this course is not solely about biology and Intelligent Design. It is about *any* discipline that has been unnecessarily hampered by methodological naturalism, and exploring the way out.

    I will say that methodological naturalism has helped define boundaries, which are always important. Many things in life were discovered because people had boundaries. However, there are also times when boundaries move from being a benefit to a hindrance. If I have my horses fenced in, that’s great. But once I move from 10 horses to 1,000 horses, I’ve better construct a bigger fence or it isn’t going to hold them.

    There are places where methodological naturalism is probably helpful, but there are also many where it has passed its sell-by date. This conference aims to look at what is beyond methodological naturalism, and how to do research in a responsible manner even without the help of methodological naturalism.

  5. 5
    Mapou says:

    Methodological Naturalism cannot explain abstract concepts or properties such as color, taste, beauty and order. These things are not properties of the physical universe. And yet, we sense them.

    Nor can Methodological Naturalism explain how the firings of neurons in the brain give rise to the amazingly detailed, deterministic 3-D geometric model we think we see in front of our eyes.

  6. 6
    22056 says:

    Fascinating. In the context of another project of mine, I was already working on this issue. And the answer to methodological naturalism is, of course, methodological design.

    Here is an excerpt from my other work supporting this claim:

    …what is particularly interesting is that if it is the promotion of curiosity and the seeking of truth that is desired by the scientific community—as nearly all scientists claim–then not only should methodological naturalism be rejected, but methodological design should be embraced. Indeed, consider if this was the definition of science: science is an empirical investigation, whether by experiment or by hypothesis analysis, into some physical phenomena or event, in order to determine whether it is reasonable to believe that said phenomena or event appears not to need or to be directly attributed to intentional design but can be accounted for by what appears to us to be purely impersonal and unintentional forces. Such a definition of science, under the methodological principle of methodological design, and unlike methodological naturalism, actually embraces all possible explanations for some phenomena (both design and non-design, both supernatural and natural) and thereby can truly allow the evidence to guide it towards a true conclusion. At the same time, there is nothing in this definition that would stifle curiosity but it would actually increase it far more than methodological naturalism (a principle which tacitly rules out design from the beginning, thus stifling curiosity in that direction), for not only could scientists then explore the design alternative, but they would never be restricted from trying to refute a provisionally accepted design explanation either. Thus, under methodological design, you have all the benefits of methodological naturalism, but none of the drawbacks.

    Furthermore, why should methodological naturalism be preferred over methodological design? For example, while we know that a being of sufficient power and ability would, by definition, have the causal power and ability to create life or create consciousness, we have no idea that natural forces would have the causal power to do so. Why then should we start with the assumption that they (natural forces) do have such causal power, as we do on methodological naturalism? This seems both backwards and absurd. Indeed, instead, we should start from a methodological framework that we know would have the causal power to cause such things, and then seek to discover whether natural causes could do so on their own as well. This makes much more sense and is a more rational approach than methodological naturalism. After all, consider that a detective, upon arriving at a scene where the only evidence is that there is a woman with a dozen knife marks in her body and a numbers of knives lying about around her, does not start with the assumption that there is a natural explanation for the phenomena in question—perhaps the woman tripped, knocked over the knives, and they all bounced off the ground and stabbed her by random chance—rather, the detective starts with the explanation that he knows is obviously causally adequate to explain the evidence—namely, that the woman was murdered by an intentional agent—and then, if, later on, the detective discovers that a natural explanation accounts for the evidence at the scene, then that one will be preferred on the basis of explanatory simplicity. But the detective starts with methodological design—for both pragmatic and causal-adequacy reasons—and only accepts the naturalistic explanation once it is shown capable of accounting for the evidence at hand, but not before. The detective practices methodological design, because that is the methodology that grants him the best chance of determining the truth, rather than practicing a methodology like methodological naturalism, which actually hinders his investigation into the truth.

    Furthermore, scientists who gripe that this is the way things used to be—that intentional agents were posited as necessary to account for certain phenomena which science then showed had a natural explanation—are not undermining the idea of methodological design or science as defined by methodological design, for they are actually showing that it has worked in the past and thus that it does not hinder scientific progress or curiosity. At the same time, note that such a methodology is more in line with the way burden of proof works as well. If a person wishes to claim that a certain cause, such as a natural one, is causally adequate to create an effect, the burden is on him to show that that is the case. There should be no assumption that it is the case—as is done on methodological naturalism—rather, it should be shown to be the case before being rationally accepted. And this is especially the case when I already have a cause—namely intentional design—which I know, by definition, could cause the effect in question. Thus, the burden really is on the naturalist to prove his point while the proponent of methodological design can rest easy until the naturalist does so. Or, at the very least, one should be agnostic about the naturalistic claims until and unless they are reasonably demonstrated. Note as well that such an approach of methodological design also allows the design hypothesis to be empirical, falsifiable, and even indirectly verified by the repeated failures of naturalistic attempts to overcome the assumed design (essentially, an absence of evidence becomes actual evidence of absence when the evidence should be there but is not; thus, the absence of adequate naturalistic causes for certain natural phenomena becomes evidence of the absence of adequate naturalistic causes if such causes are expected and yet are never found, even after repeated searching).

    And if it is claimed that the history of science is such that it warrants an acceptance of methodological naturalism—for natural explanations always seem to win out—it should then be pointed out that such a claim rests, in fact, on a pile of horseshit tactics that show what a spurious claim it is; and indeed, this very work will show that to be the case.

    Just some thoughts.


  7. 7

    One of the biggest problems with “naturalism” as opposed to “pragmatism” is the conceptual constraints and baggage that “naturalism” brings to the exercise of science.

    The history of science is littered with experiments that worked, could be shown to work, but because there was no known natural mechanism to acquire the results, scientific progress stalled.

    For example, it was experimentally proven that washing hands reduced deaths in hospitals, but because there was no known mechanism (and because it seemed ludicrous) it was resisted by the scientific community. Under pragmatism, just experimentally showing that a process works is enough. Start washing your hands and perhaps we’ll figure out later why it works.

    Pragmatism cuts through metaphysical expectations and biases (at least at the institutional level) and just focuses on what works, and nobody gets to use the imprimatur of science via a convenient label to advance their metaphysical ideology.

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