Debate On Facebook Mostly On Methodological Naturalism

  • John Ferrer Do you have some material prepared yet that preempts the circularity problem? I found a few more people who make the same error, and I think you would do the atheist community a great service to help them logically seal up this logical gap. It wouldn't take more than just an admission that one's metaphysically naturalistic conclusions can only be as confident as one's methodology is genuinely open to considering supernatural causes. As long as those are barred from the courtroom one can never rightly assert that there was a fair trial.
  • Scott Dotterweich It's like you've learned nothing!
  • John Ferrer Scott, I wish I could say I have learned something there. Mostly I get people asserting that it's okay to argue in a circle--from method. nat. to metaphys. nat. Some people avoid the circularity, but then suggest that no one else really does that kind of circle either. But that's not true either.
  • John W. Loftus John, let's take one step at a time. This one: It's claimed that Methodological Naturalism prohibits supernatural explanations. But not so fast, it doesn't, most emphatically. It doesn't prohibit testing stories in the Bible with the science of archaeology like the Exodus, or the wilderness wanderings in the desert for 40 years, or the Canaanite conquest reported in Judges, nor does it prohibit testing whether there was a census at the time Jesus was born, nor does it prohibit testing the language styles used by the writers of the Bible to see if there are more than one writer for Isaiah, or that 2nd Peter was a forgery. It doesn't prohibit scientific tests on prayer to show there is a supernatural deity, nor does it prohibit scientifically testing so-called prophecies or psychic abilities. In fact MN is the method scientists use to test all of these claims and more. If the results were positive then science based in MN would show us that these claims are true. The problem for believers is that science based in MN has consistently shown all of these claims to be false. Now that's not the problem for MN. It's a problem for faith-based claims. If science based in MN successfully showed these claims to be true then believers would change their tune and crow about it. Because it turned out differently they must find some loophole to attack it.
  • John W. Loftus John, you are playing a heads I win tails you lose game. Had it turned out differently, the way we would expect given a God who wants us to believe, you would call "Heads, I win." But since it turned out differently, the way we would expect given a non-existent God, or one who doesn't care if we believe, you now call "Tails you lose."
  • John W. Loftus John you know Antony Flew's Parable of the Invisible Gardener where he asks "What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or the existence of, God?" With a "Heads I win Tails you lose" strategy you are not answering his question. You are not being honest. Faith is blinding you.
  • John Ferrer John, the moment methodological naturalism entertains the prospect of a supernatural cause it is no longer methodological naturalism. If the proposal you offered is what you mean by "methodological naturalism" (i.e., allowing the consideration of supernatural causes as such), then I would agree that is compatible with theology and Christian theism and have no more objection, except that you are no longer referring to methodological naturalism.

    I think you want Science to have both meth. nat. and to address theological questions, but it just cannot have both, at least not directly.
  • Patrick Reynolds Is there any reason to assume that supernaturalism is true? Many religions (Islam and Hinduism just to name 2) have elements of supernaturalism in them. If supernaturalism is true then wouldn't that also mean that those religions are true also? Are you open to that possibility, John Ferrer?
  • Jerome Haltom · Friends with John Ferrer and 17 others
    Ya'll need to distinguish hypothetico-deductivism from methodological naturalism.
  • John Ferrer Patrick, that's a fair question. And we can deal with that question, but my point above is that Loftus thinks the fairest and best way to try to address that question of "whether supernaturalism is true" is by forbidding consideration of any supernatural causes as such. It is fundamentally unsound reasoning by way of circularity.
  • John Ferrer Meanwhile, I proposed other measures that can be fairly applied to supernaturalism such as internal consistency, Ockham's razor, reducio ad absurdum, a fortiori, and pretty much the whole realm of abductive argumentation. I don't think a dogmatic adherence to methodological naturalism does a lot of good when it comes to theological questions. Simply put, methodological naturalism can show only how some natural events seem to be naturally caused (i.e., a material), it cannot address whether they are also supernaturally caused (such as a formal cause, an efficient cause, or a final cause) or whether other things are strictly caused supernaturally, or whether there are supernatural causes not currently effecting anything observable in nature, etc. Science is just a different instrument than theology. It's fine to note the limitations of theology in that it's not science, but to CONCLUDE that God doesn't exist because you your scientific commitments make you refuse to consider any possible causes that could corroborate that idea, well that's not argumentation that's just dogmatism.
  • Patrick Reynolds None of the ways you present, as far as I can tell, can differentiate between the supernaturalism and the imaginary. What I think John is trying to say, at least in part, is that if you are going to claim that some event is supernatural then you need to show how it is supernatural and not imaginary or a delusion or a straight out lie by someone. If I see something that happens what criteria would I use to deduce that it is of a supernatural cause? Would this criteria be agreed upon by all proponents of supernaturalism including those from different cultures and religions? Maybe supernatural worlds/realms exist but is there any real evidence to assume that they do?
  • John W. Loftus John, you are dead wrong per the examples I mentioned above. Let's say a clinical trial showed that petitionary prayer was efficacious by a 75 to 25% ratio, or even a 80-20% ratio. What then? The supernatural would be considered more probable than not. At that point supernatural causes would have a high degree of probability to them. The tests and the evidence would show this. The results would show this no matter what proclivity a particular scientist might have with regard to the supernatural, even with a dogmatic commitment to naturalism The same thing goes for all of the other examples I provided, plus many more. But it just so happens this is NOT what we find, not even close. So you rail against MN when you don't understand it, making it into something it isn't and then pontificating that if a supernatural realm were to be found it would no longer be because of MN, even though I have shown that with a commitment to MN a supernatural realm could be found.
  • John W. Loftus Just answer me this John. If the above evidence were to obtain then there would be evidence for supernaturalism. Yes or No? The stronger the evidence the higher degree of probability that supernaturalism obtains. Yes or No? It would not matter a bit if the scientists doing these investigations were ontological naturalists. Yes or No? If the evidence consistently showed otherwise they could not in honesty deny the results. Yes or No? Assuming a natural cause or even being an ontological naturalist cannot deny the results of an experiment or a clinical trial or strong evidence when found. Yes or No? There are facts, undeniable facts, empirical facts. Yes or No? And your faith simply does not have them. So you are forced to play the heads I win tails you lose game. Period.
  • John W. Loftus If you were to respond that ontological naturalists would explain all of this assumed evidence away then you would be projecting. You and other believers have had to explain so much evidence away you think non-believers would do the same, even though we are the ones who at every juncture ask for positive evidence for the supernatural, while you and other believers dismiss this lack of evidence due to God's supposed hiddenness..
  • John W. Loftus Simply put, you and other believers have been denying the evidence for so long you are projecting to think others would do the same. It's YOUR malaise not the ones who follow science and reason.
  • Jerome Haltom · Friends with John Ferrer and 17 others
    Let's rephrase Bayesian like. For any hypothesis H, one substantiates H by having an experience E that is more likely on H than ~H.

    I think that cuts to the heart of it.

    If supernatural causes are to be included in the set of H, what experiences are more likely on H than ~H? And how do we go about determining that?

    We can completely ignore the question of naturalism in this way.
  • Peter Marchetti Finding the Higgs sealed it for me. There is no where for the supernatural to hide - anything left to discover in the particle physics realm is too short-ranged, or too weak to affect anything, except in very specific circumstances of experiment.

    I reject the supernatural outright at this point - if there was anything supernatural, we'd have found it using science.
  • Daniel Stenning of relevance..
    This is the website/blog of Philosopher Stephen Law. Stephen is senior lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London and editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy journal THINK. He has published several books (see sidebar) For school talks and media email Stephen: think-at-royal…
  • John Ferrer Patrick, if a religion hinges on the claim that A = -A then that religion is false, correct? You are entitled to favor empiricism but let's not dismiss the general value of other rational methods.
  • John Ferrer Peter, so are you affirming that science can operate fine without methodological naturalism?
  • John Ferrer John, I'm not making a positive case for supetnaturalism here. I'm making a negative case against your epistemology here, namely by testing for internal consistency (avoiding circularity, self defeating statements, logical incoherencel). It does nothing to solve the circularity problem when you fault religious claims for leaning on theological methodology. All religions could be wrong and supernaturalism bunk, and you'd STILL have a circularity problem invalidating your argument.
  • Jerome Haltom · Friends with John Ferrer and 17 others
    I also agree that methodological naturalism is unneccessary. It's nice that I agree with Ferrer.

  • Peter Marchetti //Peter, so are you affirming that science can operate fine without methodological naturalism?//

    I don't THINK so. What I am saying is that 'the supernatural' is a category of things that humans innately know do not exist. Can you name any one thing
    that is considered supernatural that is UNIVERSALLY accepted as being an actual, real, thing (or phenomena)?

    I contend there is not.

    Plus, I take the view that even should something we put in the category 'supernatural' were to exist, it would in fact be a 'natural' thing, as the natural law would have to allow for it to obtain. Things that natural law does not allow are in fact non-existant.

    Please understand my usage of 'natural law' to be descriptive of how nature acts, not proscriptive.
  • John Ferrer Peter you just committed the circularity problem. It is no proof for naturalism to define everything that exists as natural, God would be supernatural therefore God doesn't exist. That's a nice little assertion but it's not proving anything more than that your definition of nature excluded God. You began where you ended, saying that naturalism is proof of naturalism therefore naturalism. You assumed what you need to prove. That's the circularity problem.
  • John Ferrer If science is able to address whether God exists then it is also a theological field and does not ascribe to methodological naturalism.
  • Peter Marchetti Re-reading my comment, I'm not making much sense. Perhaps I should try again.

    Definitions displaying how I understand the terms -

    supernatural: any thing that exists or acts in a manner that apparently defies natural law.
    natural law: the possible ways any thing can exist or act, known and/or unknown and/or unknowable that are assumed to be universal in force and application. (The Laws of Physics, even the ones we don't know yet, in their pure form.)

    If the supernatural is to be postulated as something that 'exists outside the universe' or some other such, then it can be assumed that whatever that domain is, it has something that can be described as 'natural law'. We don't have to know or understand it, we don't have to be capable of knowing or understanding it. If you don't think this as a reasonable assumption, we can discuss it, but I can't find a reason that it isn't.

    Whatever obtains must be allowed by natural law, otherwise it won't obtain. I'm not sure it's a defensible statement, but I'm willing to make the attempt.

    If something claimed to be 'supernatural' actually obtains then whatever natural law would govern it must allow for it to obtain.

    If the supernatural exists, it is still bound by whatever 'natural law' governs it's domain, and is thus natural, rendering the term useless.

    What's beyond nature? Why can't it just be MORE nature?
  • Peter Marchetti Not sure I made anymore sense, but I tried.
  • John Ferrer Peter, okay I think I see what's going on. We're talking past each other. I'm using natural to refer to "nature" as conventionally understood, whether or not it happens to operating in regular descriptions termed "natural laws" (i.e., natural laws are not prescriptive but descriptive). Supernature would be anything else, whether or not that happens to operate according to regular descriptive laws.

    I'd suggest your definition of "natural" with strict appeal to natural law is illicit since you would be prohibiting any supernature from operating in agreement with the laws of nature. It could be that a God suffers entropy, or an angel is subject to gravity but relative to some realm that has never been normally included in our sense of "nature."
  • John W. Loftus John Ferrer, what circularity problem? We test hypotheses by scientific means assuming there is a natural answer that science can detect. I've shown science can test the supernatural hypothesis. There is no circularity problem at all. We cannot test supernatural claims that have no bearing on the natural world, like for instance there is no material universe.
  • Daniel Stenning i don’t know if this has already come up in this thread - but it seems to me that most western thought when speaking of the supernatural has to do with invisible, immaterial immaterial AGENTS :- angels, spirits, gods, God, satan, demons, fairies etc etc.

    Now since eastern thought and new age thought brings in - to my mind - WOO type talk of things such as “energies”, “chi”, “the force” - things that needn’t have “minds” or any kind of agency - I will omit this from discussion.

    When western theologians discuss supernatural vs “natural” the key factor is that supernatural explanations are explanations that involve INVISIBLE IMMATERIAL AGENTS ( or AGENCIES ) .

    Now if science WERE to dispense with methodological naturalism and include possibilities of INVISIBLE AGENTS - one has to ask just what such a science would look like, how one could apply empiricism to such matters - how could science be done ? .

    The thing just wouldn’t work - any talk of agents when attempting to explain phenomena in this world - would need to involve motives, agendas, “what is going on in the heads” of any agent being proposed as an explanation for any phenomenon - say thunder or hurricanes. Or electron orbits. Or lunar orbits.

    And would there be any kind of experimentation that could be done in repeatable fashion to shed light on this ? Once an invisible un-testable agent enters the foray nothing is for sure. Empiricism to determine motive ??

    Did the gods decide this time to create a hurricane because of homosexuality or because satan was warring with an angel in the heavens ? Was the drought because of a whim ? a “mysterious reason unknown to us” ? what ?

    And someone says- well lets go to revelation - that will tell us the motives.
    Excellent - now revelation - scripture is to be let into the world of science ? really ? And how do we scientifically determine which scriptures, how are scientists to interpret them ? And would any kind of empiricism be useful to test this ?

    NO. because once we are dealing with agents - a “FAIL” in any test of scriptural explanations as to an agents motive that resulted i a phenomenon - would result in someone or other proposing an agent-like excuse-like explanation ( an apology to be precise ) involving possibilities of motive - for why the experiment disconfirmed the hypothesis. Science basically enters the world of philosophy of religion by the back door if so.

    And is Science _supposed_ to be philosophy of religion combined with bible-study ? dont think so.

    What a farce it would be if so.

    So it becomes bloody plain to see that anyone seriously proposing that the scientific method needs to drop its “methodological naturalism” - frankly needs their head examined.

    Science any other way would not be science - it would be a primitive , pre-enlightenment medieval farce.

    It would in fact be no more than a modified form of superstition and religion draped in the sheeps clothing of “science”.

    Now where have I come across that before ?
  • John Ferrer John, we've been over this. You've arbitrated that no supernatural causes are allowed to serve in any valid explanations. If that were your CONCLUSION that wouldn't be so bad, it could be valid given the right premises. But since that's your operating assumption in the course of your premises then you've proceeded to draw your naturalistic conclusions from only naturalistic premises. By not allowing any supernatural causes into consideration (i.e., methodological naturalism) in the courtroom of your OTF, you never had a fair trial to judge their legitimacy within the OTF. OTF is fundamentallly antithetical, by presumption, to all things supernatural, but it does not do so by proof but rather by rigging the trial to never let supernaturalism get a foot in the door. By drawing a naturalistic conclusion from a naturalistic method you never introduced a premise into that argument where supernaturalism was allowed. You've slipped smoothly from methodological naturalism into metaphysical naturalism. In this case, your argument reduces to, "Since we refuse to consider supernatural causes we conclude that there are no supernatural causes." Petitio principii. QED
  • John Ferrer John, if you want to set aside methodological naturalism--as it sounds like you are just now doing in your last post--then you can avoid the circularity problem. I think science can operate just fine this way, but you will need to revise your past terminology and edit your OTF book to accommodate this shift in your philosophy of science.
  • John Ferrer Daniel, I don't know about the "invisible" part, but science already deals with agency, at least in the soft sciences where humans are generally treated as "agents" in the social level (anthropology, archeology, sociology, psychology) even if reductive biology tends to treat people as non-agents determined by some such factors. The actions of agents need not be causeless irrationalities just because they don't submit well to strict reductive natural laws. Agent behavior is still reliably known so that crime scene investigators can deduce motives, identity, thought processes, and a whole range of "agent" behaviors--and he can do this with a great deal of scientific acumen. None of this is out of bounds for natural theologians, or philosophers of religion.
  • Daniel Stenning <"but science already deals with agency, at least in the soft sciences where humans are generally treated as "agents" in the social level (anthropology, archeology, sociology, psychology) “ >

    Those sciences are called “soft” for a reason. And the mor
    e that those sciences centre in on the minds of human agents and making predictions based on some hypothesis - the more vital it becomes to have:

    a) huge amounts of humans ( minds ) from which to be able to draw some kind of statistical significance and correlation numerically - in hard numbers and

    b) to be able to set up experiments that are REPEATABLE.

    none of the above applies when positing supernatural agents. events are “one-off” and virtually NEVER under ideal laboratory conditions. Its an area rife with anecdotal nonsense. So frankly your suggestion of adding supernatural hypothesises is just a joke.

    And to top it all - whenever an observation gets to be made - after some prediction has been made by one of your WOO-MONGERS - that disconfirms the prediction - what happens ? Oh out come the legion of apologists and phil-of-religion professors - only too happy to invent reasons and possibilities - for how - given the FAIL observation - somehow that train wreck can be “countered” , “refuted”.

    The entire modern discipline of theology and phil-of-r basically exists to concoct this elaborate scheme where regardless of the proposed property, characteristic, or essence of any spiritual entity - any claim made as to the nature of any INVISIBLE IMMATERIAL AGENT - there will NEVER be ANY OBSERVATION - that by a NON-BELIEVER OR SKEPTIC can result in a conclusion that disconfirms the proposed property, characteristic, or essence.

    The methods used to attempt to defeat the Problem of Evil by theologians is the most glorious illustration of this.

    Science cannot be wasting its time on matters where philosophers go out of their way that no matter what - their supernatural hypotheses are so bad they are "NOT EVEN WRONG".

    <"None of this is out of bounds for natural theologians, or philosophers of religion.” >

    Of course it isn’t. I SAID THAT in my post ! By all means apologeticise-away all you like in your theology or phil-of-religion groups. Debate about angels on pin-heads all you like. But you are asking for the scientific community to absorb these two activities into SCIENCE.

    Not a chance mate. I suggest you go invent a time-travel machine and travel back into the middle-ages - where your’ wacko notions of how science “should be” will be met with adoration and praise by the monks popes and general woo-mongers there.
  • John Ferrer Daniel, I think you are reading into my initial thesis and or trying to take this whole conversation away from the the central issue. It remains circular to draw a naturalistic conclusion from purely naturalistic premises. Do you deny this? Please explain how methodological naturalism allows consideration of supernatural causes or, instead, show how you do not filter your scientific premises through methodological naturalism en route to your conclusion of metaphysical naturalism.

    Philosophy of science is interesting, and while you are doing a lot of it above, it does not look to be your chief field of study since a lot of what you wrote shoots past my claims. It looks like you are rebutting magical mysticism, and not, for example, a responsible sort of intelligent design theory which posits conservative non-theological conclusions abductively argued and testable at least insofar as any experiment might test evolutionary theses (it's impossible to test for unguided change without also, at the same time, testing for guided change).
  • John W. Loftus John Ferrer, thanks for your continued opposition here. You said: "It remains circular to draw a naturalistic conclusion from purely naturalistic premises." Several things. First, there is a big difference, and I think you know of it, between something that is viciously circular and something merely being circular, which all worldviews suffer from at least in some way, if we only consider deductive arguments in support of them. Now I've shown how even with MN the supernatural could in principle arise to the level of probability. Do you deny this? If you can't then MN is not viciously circular. Second, the reason why MN was adopted in the first place was a direct result of the failures of faith as a method for obtaining objective knowledge about the nature of nature, or about which religion is true, if there is one. So unless you can show why the adoption of MN was wrongheaded and the method of faith should be embraced instead, you are barking up the wrong tree. Bark instead at the failures of faith. Show us how faith can work better than science. Third, If it's reasonable to adopt methodological naturalism when desiring knowledge about the nature of nature, and if this means scientists must suspend judgment when science doesn't solve a problem--rather than conclude "god did it"--then bite the bullet. Believers should just admit that science cannot find god. Whose fault would this be, if so? It would be God's fault for setting up the universe such that in order to gain objective knowledge about the nature of nature scientists must adopt methodological naturalism. It would be God's fault for not doing enough miracles to convince us he exists. It would be God's fault for not alleviating the most horrendous kinds of suffering in the world. It would be God's fault for providing an incompetent revelation in the superstitious past that lacks sufficient evidence to convert outsiders, a revelation that got so many things wrong in the first place.