I'm quite aware of the differences between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. I have not misinterpreted John's view of science. Rather, I have questioned why he would state that science assumes natural explanations for all phenomena on the one hand, then ask believers to corroborate supernatural explanations through science. -clI must admit this is a great question. The objection is that if I demand that supernatural explanations must abide by the rules of science which only admit natural explanations, then supernatural explanations by definition don't have a chance. This is definitely a quandary of sorts. Let me respond.
We should note first of all that science qua science must look for natural explanations because that's what science does. It cannot do otherwise lest it be subservient to different kinds of supernatural explanations. If that's the case then there would be separate scientific methods resulting in a Mormon science, a Muslim science, a Christian science and so forth. Alvin Plantinga actually recommends that there should be a distinctively Christian science, something which Michael Martin strongly objects to.
Okay so far?
Granted there are probably a lot of things the sciences cannot explain, from the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and consciousness (or at least, they have difficulties in doing so). That's where there is room for faith. Until such time as the sciences can explain everything believers can still have faith. But that doesn't seem within reach, and may never happen, so there will always be room for faith.
That's the way it has to be. A believer should ask for no more than this. The sciences must look for natural explanations. There is no other alternative.
So, am I being hypocritical or inconsistent when I demand that believers should corroborate supernatural explanations through the sciences?
No, for a few good reasons.
1) Theistic explanations have failed miserably in every generation as science has shown these explanations unnecessary. It's this overwhelming success that leads me to think science offers much better explanations than theistic ones. So it's based on the success of science that I make my claim. I have been persuaded that supernatural explanations are a dime a dozen and debunked so many times before that I have no reason to think any additional moving of the goal posts will succeed. For once science explains something then theists move the goal posts to a different problem because science opens up new questions to be solved as it solves previous ones. So in one sense I have concluded something from science and then turned around and demanded that supernatural explanations cannot succeed by demanding they adhere to the standards of science. Theists not already persuaded as I am, will claim I'm hypocritical or inconsistent because they do not already think as I do about the sciences. In fact, believers regularly denigrate science to believe, and I find that appalling given it's success rate.
So believers will not appreciate my demand until they appreciate what the sciences do for us. I'm merely saying that science works. Belief does not, which is my next point.
2) What else is there but the sciences? Faith-based reasoning is best defined as "belief in search of data." There are too many different and contradictory religious claims being made. How can we settle these disputes? We cannot do so with faith-based reasoning because it only confirms what was believed in the first place. Such a method (if we can call it that) fails miserably time and again. This is best shown faulty when we see that it cannot help us decide between these different faith claims. Furthermore, I find it inconsistent and hypocritical for believers to use the sciences to debunk other religious claims who fail to use the sciences against what they themselves believe. If believers admit a science-based reasoning to debunk other religious claims then they tacitly admit doing so is fruitful and effective to examine their own religious claims. For believers to object that I'm demanding something unreasonable they must explain why they apply the sciences to the religious claims they reject.
3) Finally, I find nothing about my demand that should in principle lead to a rejection of theistic claims. I think supernatural explanations could be the best explanations of certain phenomena, even granting that the sciences look for natural explanations. The fact that so far supernatural explanations don't succeed is not the fault of the sciences. It's the fault of supernatural explanations. It's because there are no supernatural forces or beings. If they existed then science should be able to detect them since science is based on the five senses. There is no sixth sense. It would find it duplicitous for a god to create us with our five senses and not also provide the sensory evidence to believe if he wants us to believe.
On this topic I have written what kind of natural phenomena would lead me to accept supernatural explanations as the best explanations in my post, What would convince me Christianity is true?
To read other items along this topic see:
- Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection
- Can Theistic Explanations Succeed?
- ‘God Did It’ is a Terrible Explanation