Why Methodological Naturalism is a Questionable Philosophy of Science

Elizabeth started another thread (http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=256) stating that methodological naturalism (MN) “underlies the methodology that we call science.” Later she spoke of “methodological naturalism, as in the working assumption that scientists make about the world in order to predict things.” Then she quoted Wikipedia, which states: “all scientific endeavors—all hypotheses and events—are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events,” adding that this is “more or less the definition I have been assuming.” In other words, science studies ‘nature-only’ because it is naturalistic – it sees nothing other than nature that *could* be studied. Elizabeth sticks with this definition when she says “Science occupies the domain of natural explanations.”

Still later, Elizabeth admitted she is ‘not wild about’ MN (or what I suggested as more accurate of her statements: science applies ‘methodological probabilism’) and also that “‘methodological naturalism’ is a poor term.” Thus, her concession: “now that I realise that the term [MN] appears to denote different things to different people, I will avoid it.” So, the main argument in the OP was deserted.

However, she seemed unwilling to go further on what giving up MN would mean and instead resorted to her earlier position: “No, I don’t accept that scientific methods can study extra-natural things.” So, which is it, does ‘science’ study ‘nature-only’ or is it broader than that?

“I think that in order to study non/extra/super-natural things we would have to violate this assumption. That would be fine, but it would mean that we cannot then use scientific methodology.” – Elizabeth

Here is a crux in the argument: are ‘non-‘ ‘extra-‘ and ‘super-natural’ properly lumped together as one, or does distinguishing them offer anything of value?

A basic overview: Natural sciences study natural things. Physical sciences study physical things. ‘Other’ sciences study ‘other’ things. Is there a problem with this understanding of ‘science,’ once folks realise that the Anglo-American is not the only option available? Russians study ‘historical sciences’ and ‘economic sciences’ (as do the Swedes, in the name of Alfred Nobel). Notice please that I am not pulling the ID approach of seeking to add ‘intelligent causes’ in biology, just widening the view of ‘science’ beyond the myopia of ‘nature-only.’

I asked to Neil Rickert: “Is it then your contention, Neil, that the ‘more specialized’ meaning of ‘science’ in English usage refers to *nature-only*?” His answer was: “No. It is my contention that science studies whatever it usefully can study using its methods. It tends to then apply the term ‘nature’ to what it studies.”

O.k. then, so it would seem that ‘science’ *can* in principle study more than *nature-only,* but that it has ‘tendencies’ based on…what? Based on who pretends or is claiming at the moment to speak for ‘science’? I.e. naturalists tend to speak for science, but not socialists or humanists?

The IDists have got it skewed also. Same reason: Anglo-American philosophy of science disallows ‘science’ of ‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural’ things and thus, the ‘science-only-naturalistic’ dilemma being discussed in this thread. This is at the heart of why MN makes little sense – it privileges one feature of reality and disallows people to understand/know that other features of reality may be both non-natural and positively real at the same time.

Elizabeth wrote: “we might agree that ‘naturalism’ has problems as a philosophy.” Well, I’d be glad if we do. In my view, all ‘naturalisms’ are ideologies, without exception. There is no ‘merely methodological’ brand of ‘naturalism’ because the ideology trumps the methodology.

Elizabeth also wrote that “science is basically a prediction method.” Neil Rickert added: “Science simply studies those aspects of reality that are predictable.” In such a case, is space made for science to study ‘predictable’ things that are ‘other’ than ‘natural,’ based on a non-naturalistic reading of reality? Or is it not?

Elizabeth asked me: “So how do you suggest we investigate non-natural phenomena scientifically?”

The more important question, it seems to me, as my challenge to ‘naturalism’ as ideology indicates, is simply “can we investigate non-natural phenomena scientifically?” My answer, along with those in the German-Russian-Chinese framework, is: Yes, we can. The ‘how’ question can be looked at in the article linked below and in thousands of others like it.

Neil Rickert wrote: “Science has no a priori commitment to only study nature.” Would anyone suggest though, that this is not so when one is pre-committed to the ideology of naturalism? Iow, does the ideology of naturalism not determine what counts as ‘real’ or ‘unreal’ (or ‘imaginary’) for naturalists in their understanding of the universe? Is it not then important for scientists, and for natural scientists especially to reflexively distinguish their ‘science’ from their ‘ideology,’ so that ‘naturalism’ does not engulf their public pronouncements about what other sciences can and do study?

I’d like to take a shot at a question by Mike Elzinga: “How can one not think about natural phenomena and processes linking to other physical phenomena that researchers can check and agree about among themselves?”

It is a good question. Look for the positive, non-natural or extra-natural ‘aspects’ of a phenomenon or process. Ideas are not physical, though they may be manifest in physical change or movement by people. Don’t forget the people, don’t dehumanise; this will allow you to discover non-natural or extra-natural human creations or artefacts quite easily, that can be studied using reflexive methods appropriate for social and cultural sciences. If you are ‘doing natural science’ then your task is of course to study natural phenomena and processes. But, as Herbert Simon understood, this does not preclude distinguishing artificial things from natural things and that there are good reasons for doing this.

http://openlearn.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=400144&section=2.6.1.

Elizabeth finally met my *multiple scientific methods* observation, saying “Obviously there are multple scientific methods,” but that they are “all grounded in empiricism,” which once again is an ideological position. There are non-empirical features involved in ‘doing science’ too.

Joe wrote: “ID contrasts the natural with the artificial.” (Actually, I don’t think it does much work on this; it rather sees biology as ‘divine technology.’)

Elizabeth replied: “‘natural’ when used in contrast to ‘artificial’ has a different meaning than when contrasted with ‘immaterial’.” … “I entirely agree we can distinguish natural objects from artefacts That does not mean that I think the artefacts are ‘immaterial’.”

I agree with Elizabeth [thus my bolding of her words]. One needn’t think that artefacts are immaterial, but simply understand that they are properly categorized as not ‘natural;’ they do not ‘organically evolve,’ like biological things. This admission is all that is needed to open a ‘new/other’ category for ‘science’ to study that is ‘extra-natural’ or ‘non-natural.’ Amen! It is a simple point that perhaps some of you think is not worth making, while for those involved in the philosophy of science, social sciences or systems thinking, it is indeed a crucial distinction.

Notice please, some people reject this distinction, e.g. as Flint wrote: “Of course culture is natural…in the world of [natural] science, there is no distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’,” and when Ian Musgrave paraded the fallacy that “social science studies entirely natural things. I don’t know where you get the idea that culture is ‘non-natural’, it is 100% natural.” This is unadulterated myopic ‘naturalism’ which is only to be swallowed (with caution) as an ideology; there is no ‘scientific’ explanation for conflating ‘natural’ with ‘artificial’ or ‘extra-natural’ things. It is obvious to most rational people that ‘technology’ does not grow in one’s garden, like an organism.

Then again, Ian clarified his presupposition in saying what he did: “Humans culture and artefacts are 100% natural in the sense of the word ‘natural’ used in ‘methodological naturalism’.” Ian bases his views on MN, so his conflation can be understood. Since I reject the ideology of MN, as do many people who are educated in PoS, it is understandable why Ian and I disagree and why my colleagues and I are nevertheless free to study culture and artefacts as “more than just natural,” without being dictated to by naturalists.

Really, folks, the first item of agenda in this conversation should be to answer the question “Are you (or do you consider yourself) a ‘naturalist’?” before even beginning to speak about what MN might mean. Skeptics are not all ‘naturalists,’ of course, nor vice versa!

“one of the reasons I infer that an artefact is an artefact is if I have material evidence of the material existence of a designer or artisan” – Elizabeth

Yes, here we are agreed, though we also often have ideological or formal causal evidence, in addition to material evidence of ‘designers’ and ‘artisans.’ That human designers think, feel, intuit, hope, dream, desire, etc. is part of the ‘designing’ process. Again, this is something that ID does not account for and I’ve seen no indication that the IDM understands the difference between the study of ‘designing processes’ and disallowing the study of designing processes. It is just not something on their collective radar.

llanitedave made a fair point, that “the existence of human artifacts doesn’t support intelligent design in biology.”

Yes, we are likewise with Elizabeth agreed on this point. It does however support ‘design’ theory in human-social sciences, which is perhaps more important in solving the ‘controversy’ over evolution and evolutionism.

Elizabeth asked: “Could you give me a citation, in particular for ‘reflexive science’?”

Sure, here’s a good place to start (though, the tradition goes much deeper than Burawoy): http://www.scribd.com/doc/24800493/Burawoy-Critical-Sociology-A-Dialogue-Between-Two-Sciences

The point here is that once a person recognizes ‘reflexive science’ as an alternative to ‘positive science,’ the playing field for discussions of ‘science, philosophy and theology or worldview’ is levelled or at least opened. Once one realises that they are speaking with an ideological ‘naturalist’ who is contending that ‘everything is natural,’ they can easily recognise the bias in their dialogue partner and take naturalistic contentions with a ‘grain of salt.’ There is no need to believe that MN ‘defines’ the world of science, just as there is no need to accept the IDM’s redefinition of science to include ‘intelligent causes’ in natural sciences, without studying the efficient or material causes or the processes of ‘intelligent designing.’ There are better ways of perceiving reality than either of these options (and this might also include recognizing that human beings have or possess a spiritual component, beyond their/our material natures)!

Cubist also made a suggestion: Scientists (by which he supposedly meant ‘natural-physical scientists’), “just don’t think that there’s any need to segregate things-produced-by-humans off as a category wholly separate and distinct from the corresponding category of things-not-produced-by-humans…So I’m curious to know why you think ‘non-natural’, in your sense, is a distinction that’s worth bothering to make in the first place?”

This question is what I’ve aimed to answer in this long thread. The history of ideas makes a distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ things. As a human-social scientist, armed with a reflexive scientific approach, my contribution along with colleagues is to balance the playing field so that ‘naturalism’ can no longer control the dialogue and so that we may better understand the human condition and thus to promote human flourishing. If we speak of ‘human-made’ problems as simply ‘natural’ phenomena, we are likely to come up with far fewer solutions to offer that can change the world with improvements for the present and future. Isn’t that, after all, what ‘science’ is all about?

Science is both successful and replete with failures. One cannot argue seriously that science only succeeds, when the record is plainly against that scenario. I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down – ‘scientism’ – the ideology of those who elevate Science (and sometimes Reason too) into a worldview, which people usually ‘use as a crutch’ to validate their career choice in natural-physical sciences. There is nothing sexy in scientism!

All I’m doing, folks, is showing that ‘natural science’ has its limitations, that MN is a myopic view of ‘science,’ and that alternative ‘sciences’ study real artefacts and phenomena in our everyday human lives. Those who continue to promote MN and ‘scientism’ are advised to overcome their denial of this reality, as it seems Elizabeth is doing.

Respectfully, skeptically, and more…

Gregory (24-02-12)

MN is “the most paranoid appeal to a scientific consensus to defend against an impending Dark Age” … “‘Methodological naturalism’, despite its philosophical sounding name, has no clear meaning outside of attempts to demonstrate that creationism and ID are non-scientific. Professional philosophers, not least those who hold no brief for creationism, have squirmed at the apparent manufacture of a pseudo-doctrine customised to restrict the ranks of scientists. This so-called principle conflates two 20th-century pro-science movements: ‘logical positivism’, which defined science in purely procedural terms as a method for testing theories, and ‘metaphysical naturalism’, which defined science as a world view that admits only causes like the ones already observed in nature.” – Steve Fuller (2008)

“science can only study natural things, because natural things includes everything that can be demonstrated to exist, or gives any testable evidence of existing.” – Flint

“It is natural to believe in the supernatural. It never feels natural to accept only natural things” – G.K. Chesterton

“It is salutary to curb the scientific hubris that has dominated our culture during this [the 20th] century. Science has undoubtedly achieved wonderful things, but it has a dark side. The unbridled arrogance of science is part of what lies behind nuclear weapons, pollution, unnecessary animal (and human) experimentation. Showing that science has its limits is helpful in qualifying its image as all-conquering and invincible.” – Colin McGinn (1999)

“’Science’ is a specific, human endeavor, not a limitless enterprise for answering everything, and we would do well to give it a well-defined home within the larger sphere of rationality.” – Robert J. Asher (2012)

38 thoughts on “Why Methodological Naturalism is a Questionable Philosophy of Science

  1. Honestly, most scientists are philosophically naive and most philosophers (including most philosophers of science) are scientifically naive.

    When scientists use terms such as “natural, physical, pragmatic” you should not assume that they mean the same as when philosophers use those terms.

  2. Gregory,

    Gregory: “Thus, her concession: “now that I realise that the term [MN] appears to denote different things to different people, I will avoid it.” So, the main argument in the OP was deserted.”

    My reading of this is that she is abandoning the “term”, not her actual argument.

    For instance, if I’m discussing the health benefits of beer, and someone asks, “Do you mean ale or lager?”, I’ll modify my term.

    It doesn’t mean I am abandoning my argument at all.

  3. Gregory:
    If we speak of ‘human-made’ problems as simply ‘natural’ phenomena, we are likely to come up with far fewer solutions to offer that can change the world with improvements for the present and future.

    I don’t understand what you mean by this (in fact I find it meaningless). Can you expand on this or give an example?

  4. Toronto,

    Thanks, I can appreciate your question and smell the hops (near to where I lived for a period). ;)

    If her argument is that ‘science studies *nature-only,* then Elizabeth is denying either that ale or lager can be equated with ‘beer.’ Iow, they cannot both be ‘beer’ according to the way she’s framed the argument (in the Anglo-American tradition).

    If her argument is instead that ‘science studies predictable things’ (which is contestable in a different way, tangental to the title of this and her previous thread), then Elizabeth should welcome the study of predictable ‘non-natural’ and ‘extra-natural’ things such as technology, society, culture, politics, language, religion and economics as merely ‘different types of beer.’

    There would then be no need to call them ‘not-beer’ simply because they were outside the classification of ‘ale-only’ or ‘lager-only’ as MN is currently framed wrt the limits of science.

  5. Hi Norm, Is ‘pollution’ (a human-made problem) something that we should call ‘natural?’ Is it ‘natural’ to pollute? Iow, does ‘natural’ take on a ‘normative’ meaning in some cases, blurring the issue of ethics and morality? In my experience, when we take responsibility for our errors, we are more likely to accept the need for solutions or corrections, than if we brush our errors aside as somehow ‘normal’ or ‘inevitable.’

  6. Gregory,

    “If her argument is that ‘science studies *nature-only,* then Elizabeth is denying either that ale or lager can be equated with ‘beer.'”

    That is not the point I am making.

    The point I am making is abandoning a term is not abandoning an argument.

    This may make it clearer.

    a + a = 4;
    MIN_MASS + MIN_MASS = 4;

    The terms have changed but the statement remains, that 2 + 2 = 4.

    I didn’t abandon my argument when I used a different term for greater clarity.

    Clearly, MIN_MASS leads to less confusion as to what is represented in my argument as opposed to “a”, but the argument itself doesn’t change.

  7. I confess I see a lot of bafflegab here. I’ll agree again with Ian and others that “natural” is distinction from “supernatural”, whatever that might mean. So from a scientific perspective, if it can be studied, modeled, obeserved, used ti derive predictions, it is natural. Trees are neither more nor less natural than baseball games, abstract art, or the internet.

    So from this perspective, Gregory is desperately trying to draw distinctions without differences. He seems to feel that if the wind blows a stone off a cliff, this is natural and one kind of science can study it. If a person drops that stone off the cliff, this is “artificial” and requires different science,. I suppose if a squirrel does it and it’s not clear what the squirrel’s intent was, Gregory would go into agonies of indecision over what flavor of “natural” this might be, and thus what sort of science should be used to study it.

    From at least a first reading, I see the ghost of “intent” haunting Gregory’s ruminations. From this view, technology is “unnatural”, despite the fact that it relies on nothing more than the ordinary operation of forces and matter, because it came to pass due to some conscious intent, some goal-oriented motivation, which somehow shifts natural forces and materials into a different, well, label.

    And this might lead someone to wonder why someone might be so concerned to separate objects and events inspired by conscious motivation, from essentially identical events (essentially meaning, made of the same stuff) occuring without conscious intent. My suspicious mind sees this as the groundwork leading to an attempt to smuggle intent into where it is not self-evident, claiming that this makes some differences it actually does not.

    I submit that motivation, goals, intent, conscious purpose is not relevant to what’s natural. If it happens, if it can be observed, tested, and ultimately explained, it’s natural.

  8. All I’m doing, folks, is showing that ‘natural science’ has its limitations, that MN is a myopic view of ‘science,’ and that alternative ‘sciences’ study real artefacts and phenomena in our everyday human lives.

    Science does have limitations, that’s precisely the point of it. If all we needed were vague dreams then we’d have Philosophy and could skip the rest.

    There are two ways to bolt an adjective onto something. The first is to indicate that you’re speaking of something wholly contained or owned in the latter term. The second is to use the adjective to divorce whatever snake-oil you’re selling from the latter term. eg. ‘Alternative science’. And this is quite possibly the worst of these I’ve seen. If it’s alternate to science then it is not within science and so is not science. I agree with you absolutely about scientism — the cargo cult of science — but welding your adjective onto science for the sake of gaining fuzzy buzzwords doesn’t even rise to the level of scientism. It’s gluing a crucifix on a Cadillac and trying to sell it as the Popemobile of the late John Paul II.

    Methodological Naturalism is, itself, a trivial notion. If you state that it can be observed then we can observe it. Necessarily we must be able to witness to physical — and thus natural — manifestation of it. If you state that it can be demonstrated then you need to cause the consequence in your demonstration. Necessarily you must be able to produce a physical input to gain the physical output. If it cannot be observed or caused then it cannot be demonstrated. Simple. It’s otherwise known as empiricism.

    Take out the empiricism and all you have is philosophy. That has its own merits and drawbacks, but that’s what it is. If you wish to recast your argument as to why philosophy is a valid ‘science’ and why we should give credence to it? Then knock yourself out. And if you can find some manner to observe or cause a non-observable, non-causable things then I’m willing to butter up the popcorn and settle in for some entertainment.

  9. Is ‘pollution’ (a human-made problem) something that we should call ‘natural?’

    As opposed to magical? Silly question. Pollution is natural.

    Is it ‘natural’ to pollute? Iow, does ‘natural’ take on a ‘normative’ meaning in some cases, blurring the issue of ethics and morality?

    You have shifted the meaning of words drastically here. The word you wish here is not “natural”. Using the word “natural” either produces a meaningless question, or it represents a deliberate bait-and-switch. What you are askiing is, is it acceptable to pollute. You have taken something natural, and attempted to fit it into a moral framework. But natural/unnatural are NOT AT ALL synonyms for moral/immoral or for acceptable/unacceptable.

    In my experience, when we take responsibility for our errors, we are more likely to accept the need for solutions or corrections, than if we brush our errors aside as somehow ‘normal’ or ‘inevitable.’

    Social responsibility or irresponsibility make sense within the framework of social and behavioral protocols, and must be evaluated within that framework.

    The question of whether following or violating these protocols is “natural” does insult, if not violence, to the terms of discussion. EITHER behavior is “natural” in that it is not magical.

    DO NOT confuse natural/supernatural with right/wrong. This is a flagrant category error.

  10. Gregory,

    Yes I would call pollution “natural” in the sense that its causes are not super-natural, and that’s definition of “natural” in MN.

    As far as equating ‘natural’ with ‘normal’, that has nothing to do with MN.

  11. What I see here is an attempt to re-invent forensics, possibly in the image of Bill Dembski.

    The distinction I am seeing through the fog is natural as in natural death, and extra-natural, as in the product of a responsible agent.

    Both ID and evolution have a forensic component.

  12. Gregory says;

    I’d like to take a shot at a question by Mike Elzinga: “How can one not think about natural phenomena and processes linking to other physical phenomena that researchers can check and agree about among themselves?”

    It is a good question. Look for the positive, non-natural or extra-natural ‘aspects’ of a phenomenon or process. Ideas are not physical, though they may be manifest in physical change or movement by people.

    I’m having a little trouble understanding how this plays out in the lab.

    I turn to my colleague and ask, “What do you think it is?”

    My colleague says, “It’s a supernatural phenomenon”

    I ask, “How do you know?”

    He says, “My thoughts are being made manifest by the sounds coming out of my mouth.”

    I ask, “How do we get this by peer review?”

    He says, “Pass a law that says these manifestations are allowed in peer-reviewed science.”

    I ask, “How do other research groups who don’t have you as a member of their group cross-check this?”

    He says, “I will go join their group.”

    Somehow this doesn’t remind me of what I did for over 50 years.

  13. So Gregory, are you going on record as defining “extra-natural” to be distinct from “super-natural”?

    If technology is extra-natural but not supernatural, then all you’ve done is try to change the meaning of Elizabeth’s concept through a re-definition of her terms. You really haven’t changed the idea, only the prefered wording of it.

    It’s not a very useful distinction, unless your entire purpose is to nitpick.

    Why don’t we just call it Methodological Empiricism? Would that clarify it for you?

  14. Gregory,
    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy entry on Naturalism addresses many (if not all) of the issues you brought forth:

    Methodological naturalists will of course allow that there are some differences between philosophy and science. But they will say that these are relatively superficial. In particular, they will argue that they are not differences in aims or methods, but simply a matter of philosophy and science focusing on different questions. For one thing, philosophical questions are often distinguished by their great generality. Where scientists think about viruses, electrons or stars, philosophers think about spatiotemporal continuants, universals and identity. Categories like these structure all our thinking about the natural world. A corollary is that alternative theories at this level are unlikely ever to be decided between by some simple experiment, which is no doubt one reason that philosophers do not normally seek out new empirical data. Even so, the naturalist will insist, such theories are still synthetic theories about the natural world, answerable in the last instance to the tribunal of empirical data.

    So what you describe as “‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural'” is, ultimately, a false distinction:

    Of course, apart from God and biology, there is also the Kantian explanation of synthetic a priori knowledge. This does promise to drive a wedge between philosophy and science. The Kantian idea is that synthetic a priori knowledge can be derived by transcendental deduction from the possibility of experience. On this conception, we can know that the world must display certain synthetic features (events must be causally related, must be located in some objective space, and so on) because there would be no possibility of experience without these features.

    In response, methodological naturalists can argue that, insofar as such deductions do yield significant results, they hinge on nothing but a species of reasoning that is familiar in the natural sciences, namely, drawing conclusions from specific facts with the help of general empirical truths…

    …There seems no reason why methodological naturalists should deny that such generalizations can be established, and enter into deductions of the above form. But they will insist that this involves nothing apart from normal scientific practice.

  15. If you can measure it, and other people can measure it and get the same answer, then it’s science. That’s all that naturalism in MN means.

    Contrast with the ID “metric” of Functional Specified Complex Information (FSCI) and variants, which is completely unmeasurable.

  16. Thanks for posting this, Gregory. Just a couple of points before I go off to bed:

    Firstly, as I think I’ve now clarified, and as others have correctly interpreted, it is simply the phrase “methodological naturalism” that I have avoided since I became aware of how many connotations it has. I do not reject the thing that I meant by the term; but I will no longer use that term!

    Secondly, you wrote:

    All I’m doing, folks, is showing that ‘natural science’ has its limitations, that MN is a myopic view of ‘science,’ and that alternative ‘sciences’ study real artefacts and phenomena in our everyday human lives. Those who continue to promote MN and ‘scientism’ are advised to overcome their denial of this reality, as it seems Elizabeth is doing.

    I am not promoting “scientism”. I am simply arguing that scientific methodology does not extend to things that are not predictable. I’m trying to avoid words like “non-natural” and “extra-natural” and “supernatural” because I don’t know what they are supposed to mean. I include “artificial” under the heading of “predictable”, although, being the products of things-with-brains, then they are a lot less predictable than other things. I do think that artifice and creativity are perfectly fine subjects for scientific investigation, as is intelligence, which comes close to my own field.

  17. I’d say the distinction between natural and supernatural, contrasted with the difference between natural and artificial, is equivocating on the meaning of the word “natural”. In the first sense, there IS no such thing as artificial. If it’s real and not magical or imaginary, then it’s natural.

    When we speak of “artificial”, we’re talking about intent. Now, there’s nothing wrong with intent. Purposes mean something. When avalanches are deliberately touched off in specificied times and places, to prevent unexpected avalanches at inconvenient times, there’s no actual natural difference at all in the avalanches themselves. So “artificial” seems to mean that an intentional specification existed before, and led to, a natural event.

    Such distinctions seem relative to whoever is drawing them. To a person, seeding clouds to cause rain is artificial. To the plants being rained on, this difference is meaningless. Rain is rain.

  18. I would just add to a weighty thread here but pretty good that its the truth that is the objective of mans investigation.
    To say truth only can be determined by the scientific methodology is to know allready there is no other way that could help or do better.
    In short they have already eliminated options before investigation starts.
    A great assumption.

    It simply must be on the evidence including a option for revealation from God.
    So Genesis can’t be disqualified out of the gate and can establish hypothesis for explaining nature.
    Many errors in origin issues and many nobel prizes have lost out because of ignoring all options for origins.

  19. One of the major problems in communicating about this topic is the dichotomies that people hold in their minds about certain concepts or ideas.

    Neil’s advice is sound: “When scientists use terms such as ‘natural, physical, pragmatic’ you should not assume that they mean the same as when philosophers use those terms.” Likewise, natural scientists differ from social scientists and humanitarian scholars.

    In order to give us a taste of ‘reflexive science,’ then, I’d ask each of you to first answer these 2 questions (yes, no, maybe, not sure or ‘whatever’) *before* you respond in the thread: Are you or do you consider yourself to be a ‘naturalist’? Are you a ‘scientist’? Iow, it would help me greatly to know who I’m corresponding with if you would acknowledge the positions you hold up front, so they are visible. Flint, we know is a ‘naturalist,’ if not by practice as a natural scientist, then simply by ideology. So is Ian Musgrave; his words clearly show this. Otoh, I am not a ‘naturalist,’ neither by profession, nor by ideology. By profession, I am social scientist. What are you?

    “So Gregory, are you going on record as defining ‘extra-natural’ to be distinct from ‘super-natural’?” – llanitedave

    Thank you for this direct question. Yes, I am distinguishing ‘extra-natural’ and ‘non-natural’ from ‘supernatural.’ This is precisely the point of the exercise, while some people here are suggesting such a move is *not allowed* or that they will not accept it.

    I am not here to ask you folks if you believe in the ‘supernatural,’ but rather if you can conceive of *any limits* to what is natural, e.g. recognizing the artificial. This is a different sort of challenge to the ideology of ‘naturalism,’ taken within the broader conversation of dialogue between ‘science, philosophy and theology or worldview,’ which I am promoting. I am not an IDist, but study the ‘effects of intelligence’ regularly, which I distinguish from ‘natural causes.’

    For example, Norm writes: “Yes I would call pollution ‘natural’ in the sense that its causes are not super-natural, and that’s definition of ‘natural’ in MN.”

    In the previous MN thread, Sholom Sandalow wrote: “The question of whether science can study the supernatural is meaningless. Supernatural = that which science cannot study…End of discussion.”

    In this thread, Flint says, “I’d say the distinction between natural and supernatural, contrasted with the difference between natural and artificial, is equivocating on the meaning of the word ‘natural’…If it’s real and not magical or imaginary, then it’s natural.”

    The original definition of MN was formed in Dr. Paul de Vries’ paper “Naturalism in the Natural Sciences: A Christian Perspective,” published in the Christian Scholar’s Review (1986), which was based on a paper from 1983. De Vries was at the time a professor of ethics (philosophy) at Wheaton College in Illinois. It is clearly retro-dicting to suggest that MN was already commonplace in the 18th or 19th centuries, just as it is when IDists are now proposing A.R. Wallace as “effectively the founder of the modern intelligent-design movement.”

    Did de Vries make a gross error in coining the term MN? Otoh yes; otoh, no. What is the topic that natural sciences study? Nature. Are there other sciences than natural sciences? Yes. Thus, are the methods used in ‘other sciences’ possibly not MN but still ‘scientific’? Yes. That’s the argument here in a nutshell.

    The big question is: would you let de Vries’ definition of MN leak out of natural sciences, to define *all* sciences under a naturalistic umbrella? That is what seems to have happened en masse in the USAmerican and perhaps also in the Anglo-American PoS landscape more broadly. The German-Russian-Chinese PoS landscape, with its clearer recognition that historical and ‘artificial’ things (and people them/ourselves) are studied differently than natural-physical things is more insightful on this topic.

    Even within the Anglo-American tradition, Herbert Simon’s “The Sciences of the Artificial” (1969) and Russell Ackoff and Fred Emery’s “On Purposeful Systems” (1972) are examples of how studying ‘natural’ systems or ‘nature’ differs from studying ‘other’ systems or categories of knowledge and being. Darth Vader and Neo in The Matrix speak directly for younger generations; there is good reason for distinguishing natural from non-natural, cultural or artificial.

    “If it’s alternate to science then it is not within science and so is not science. I agree with you absolutely about scientism — the cargo cult of science…” – Maus

    Yes, thank you Maus for pointing out – it was sloppy of me to speak of ‘alternative science’ as that can have multiple meanings and I’m not suggesting that ‘cultural sciences’ are ‘pseudo-sciences.’ We are agreed in opposing “the cargo cult of science,” and this is precisely one of the reasons I raise my flag about MN when people use it to define ‘what science does,’ as Elizabeth initially did in the other thread.

    “Methodological Naturalism is, itself, a trivial notion… It’s otherwise known as empiricism.” – Maus / “Why don’t we just call it Methodological Empiricism? Would that clarify it for you?” – llanitedave

    The problem then is that pure mathematics is not a ‘science’ and neither would theorizing count as ‘doing science.’ Afaiu, there are theoretical, experimental/experiential and interpretive ‘branches’ of ‘doing science.’ Focusing on empiricism speaks mainly to one of those three branches. MN likewise privileges one realm, i.e. ‘natural,’ and excludes social, cultural, political, linguistic, religious, economic and technological, which cannot be easily squeezed into ‘naturalistic’ terms.

    “I do not reject the thing that I meant by the term; but I will no longer use that term!” – Elizabeth

    Bravo! But…see the qualification below. ;)

    “I include ‘artificial’ under the heading of ‘predictable’, although, being the products of things-with-brains, then they are a lot less predictable than other things. I do think that artifice and creativity are perfectly fine subjects for scientific investigation, as is intelligence, which comes close to my own field.” – Elizabeth

    If that is the case, then you’ve abandoned the notion (if you ever really held it) that there is only one method for ‘doing science,’ and that science is necessarily based on the ideology of naturalism. Great! Iow, there *are* methods of doing science that do not rely upon on depend upon holding a naturalistic ideology. In my view, that is a significant concession and improved PoS, not just a shifting of definitions.

    “If technology is extra-natural but not supernatural, then all you’ve done is try to change the meaning of Elizabeth’s concept through a re-definition of her terms.” – llanitedave

    First, it is de Vries’ concept, which Elizabeth was borrowing. Second, since she has decided to stop using MN now, the question is whether she will open up her view of ‘science’ to those ‘other’ fields. That her field involves ‘intelligence’ is fascinating. That she studies intent, choice, purpose, goal-orientation, etc. when she studies brains – as she first responded to me when we ‘met’ at UD – is also provocative for me, as it is perhaps for some of you reading this also. If those things can be studied ‘scientifically,’ if they involve prediction, measurement, and perhaps reproducability, etc. then it will aid in the goal of science, which is human betterment. I would add heart, mind and spirit to Elizabeth’s brains; the key is we have over-lapping concepts in those she has defined as part of her conceptual ground for ‘doing science.’

    My point is a simple one: there are other ‘methodologies’ than those that study ‘nature’ that qualify as ‘scientific.’ Here’s another way of asking the question: Are surveys, interviews, literature review, archival work, individual theorizing and community brainstorming examples of ‘scientific methods’? In my view, they constitute part of what ‘doing science’ means in several fields or disciplines. Do they count as ‘doing science’ to you?

  20. My background is in social science, and I see no reason for alternate methodologies. Obviously you study phenomena at alebel of abstraction that is appropriate.

    You don’t study economic behavior using the language of particle physics. But the necessity remains of finding regular relationships between phenomena.

    This problem is not unique to social science. Every science has internal disputes which often resolve into misunderstandings about the appropriate level of abstraction.

  21. Would it be rude to ask where this discussion is going? There has been a claim made that using conventional methodologies (materialistic) can result in missed opportunities, or something like that.

    Could we please have a worked out example?

    The history of science is full of dead ends and missed opportunities. What I would like to see from the OP is a specific example of successful science applied to an extra-natural phenomena using an alternate methodology.

  22. Gregory,
    You seem to object to MN because it doesn’t properly distinguish between the ‘natural’ and the ‘non- or extra-natural’. (By ‘non- or extra-natural’ you seem to mean the types of things typically studied by the social sciences and humanities, and have given as an example ‘technology’.) But you also seem to agree that ‘natural’ AND ‘non- or extra-natural’ things can be grouped together into a class of things that can be set apart from ‘supernatural’ things.

    Now, the majority of people in this discussion seem completely baffled by the points you are trying to make. Here’s why I think that is. Every definition of MN that I’m familiar with, including as it was originally coined by de Vries, casts it as a methodology that excludes consideration of the ‘supernatural’. That’s it. Science is thought to only be appropriate for things which are not ‘supernatural’. Under such a definition, ‘natural’ is therefore taken to include everything else; i.e., anything which is not ‘supernatural’. This includes the things you call ‘non- or extra-natural’.

    But to think that making this binary distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ for the purpose of defining MN somehow commits us to believing that ‘technology grows in the garden’ is to make a semantic mistake. I well understand the distinction between the ‘social’ and the ‘natural’. But to make that distinction we are now using a different meaning for the word ‘natural’ — i.e., ‘that which is not due to human activity’ (as opposed to ‘that which is not supernatural’).

    By the way, I greatly value methodologies such as “surveys, interviews, literature review, archival work, individual theorizing and community brainstorming”. In response to your request for disclosure, I am an American whose primary role as educator and researcher is in science, but I have a particular interest, and secondary expertise, in the philosophy and sociology of technology. I’ve worked closely with many continental European and Chinese philosophers and sociologists. I’ve have also collaborated with historians on oral history interviews, and with social scientists on sociological surveys. In short, I don’t think I can be legitimately accused of failing to appreciate where you are coming from. But your objection to MN seems to be more semantic than philosophical.

  23. As best I can tell, the word “supernatural” is a meaningless noise, simply because there’s nothing even vaguely approaching a coherent concept of what the hell the word ‘supernatural’ actually does refer to. If I look at all the different things that have been called ‘supernatural’ and try to reverse-engineer a denotation for the word which covers all those wildly divergent things, the word ‘supernatural’ becomes a synonym for the phrase “something I don’t understand”, with a side order of “and by the way, NOBODY ELSE will EVER understand whatever-it-is, either”.
    Perhaps Gregory could provide a concrete example of a genuinely ‘supernatural’ thingie?

  24. The disappearance of many comments from this thread has given me the opportunity to re-read some stuff, and I found this buried in a long post by Gregory:

    “My point is a simple one: there are other ‘methodologies’ than those that study ‘nature’ that qualify as ‘scientific.’ Here’s another way of asking the question: Are surveys, interviews, literature review, archival work, individual theorizing and community brainstorming examples of ‘scientific methods’?”

    This might be where the entire point of contention of this OP arises: you seem to be under the mistaken impression that those branches that study “nature (by which you seem to mean everything we can perceive, describe and study minus products of human activity, although it is not clear why?)” do not include surveys, interviews, literature review, archival work, individual theorizing and community brainstorming in their methods of study. They do. I know because I am a biologist (working on non-human subjects), and I have used all these things as part of my methods of scientific study.
    So maybe there is no point of contention here after all?

  25. It does seem the contention that MN is a questionable PoS has hit a nerve in The Skeptical Zone. Over 60 posts were erased from this thread during the unintentional crash. Nevertheless, I’m glad that one post was saved – the last one before the crash – indeed, the one most on-topic in the thread so far.

    Perhaps the one who best understands the dilemma is Leviathan, who wrote: “Every definition of MN that I’m familiar with, including as it was originally coined by de Vries, casts it as a methodology that excludes consideration of the ‘supernatural’. That’s it. Science is thought to only be appropriate for things which are not ‘supernatural’. Under such a definition, ‘natural’ is therefore taken to include everything else; i.e., anything which is not ‘supernatural’. This includes the things you call ‘non- or extra-natural’.”

    Yes, ‘science’ does not study the ‘supernatural,’ we are agreed; that is the domain of theology (though some speak of ‘scientific theology,’ e.g. A. McGrath). The point is that de Vries’ MN is based on a skewed PoS, allowing ‘natural science’ to speak for all ‘science’ and thus to “include everything else,” as Leviathan says. This is why de Vries has likely become dissatisfied (see below) with how MN has been used offensively, instead of just defensively (his meaning), and explains why some of his counterparts have embraced MN into their own ‘wedge-like’ strategy. Conflating ‘supernatural’ with cultural, economic, linguistic, social, political or technological, however, is just as wrong as conflating it with ‘not natural.’

    I asked: “Are ‘non-‘ ‘extra-‘ and ‘super-natural’ properly lumped together as one, or does distinguishing them offer anything of value?” Leviathan pointed out that I seem to be suggesting “’natural’ AND ‘non- or extra-natural’ things can be grouped together into a class of things that can be set apart from ‘supernatural’ things.” In fact, this is indeed the difference in how I approach the topic from most others; by highlighting culture, economics, language, society, politics and technology as ‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural’ categories, it offers a safe exit from the (‘include everything else’) ideology of (universal) naturalism that *does not* rely solely or even necessarily on ‘supernaturalism’ as the only alternative. This is likely what worries the (undisclosed) ‘naturalists’ at TSZone; another way to refuse MN as exceedingly myopic.

    De Vries’ dissatisfaction is hinted at here: http://www.asa3.asa3online.org/ASA/PSCF/2007/PSCF9-07Poe.pdf

    What I’ve been saying in this thread and elsewhere, is echoed by the authors: “Rather than freeing science from the restrictive explanations of metaphysics, methodological naturalism [MN] tends to enforce naturalism as the proper metaphysical explanation. If the method of science is based on naturalism, then naturalism must be true.”

    Thus, with MN as Leviathan references it, ‘naturalism’ – of all varieties – becomes what social scientists have called a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ One embraces ‘naturalism’ because they reject the ‘supernatural’ and at the same time disallows any other ‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural’ categories. At TSZone, it thus seems, not only is ‘skepticism’ being defended, but also (universal) ‘naturalism.’ And that is why, as a non-naturalist who is not swinging ‘ID-in-biology,’ as Joe G does (and Gil Dodgen did), my approach presents a distinct challenge.

    In de Vries’ desire to avoid the poles of ‘scientific creationism’ and ‘evolutionistic scientism’ (which, as a non-creationist opponent of scientism, of course I applaud), he nevertheless gave fuel to two different fires: 1) to theists who are ‘natural scientists’ (i.e. who believe in the ‘supernatural’), e.g. TE/ECs, who wish to defend natural sciences from fundamentalist &/or evangelical anti-science types by saying they’re just neutrally following ‘the (natural) scientific method,’ i.e. MN, and 2) to non-theists of all varieties who wish to use MN as ‘proof’ or ‘rationale’ offensive against ‘supernaturalism,’ rather than simply to protect the realm of ‘natural science’ from “consideration of the ‘supernatural’.”

    Indeed, this is in large part why IDists reject the notion of MN – they think it violates their ‘right’ to smuggle in ‘implications’ of ‘intelligent causes’ into biology. Similarly, when TE/ECs embrace MN, atheists and agnostics are often as pleased and welcoming as can be. If atheism has done very little for science because it disallows a Mind, order and rational sensibility of the universe on this basis, then why do TE/ECs bow to the MN-PoS now predominated by non- and anti-theists? And when anyone challenges MN, as I am doing, they take it as an affront to their worldview, which is (in scientistic societies) often based upon Science as a kind of religious substitute.

    Notice what Leviathan wrote: “I well understand the distinction between the ‘social’ and the ‘natural’. But to make that distinction we are now using a different meaning for the word ‘natural’ — i.e., ‘that which is not due to human activity’ (as opposed to ‘that which is not supernatural’).”

    Yes, that is exactly the point and why de Vries’ terminology fails as it does – using his WAPoS (he was teaching ethics, not PoS!!) he takes into account *only* natural sciences as being ‘scientific’. I reject that ‘we’ in WAPoS. In human social sciences, it is “that which is due to human activity” that ‘we’ study. Thus, since scientists in those realms are human beings, studying humans, ‘we’ need a reflexive scientific (read: non-positivistic and non-naturalistic) methodology to account for our actions, ideologies, presuppositions, etc. that ‘we’ bring to the table when we ‘do science.’ Indeed, that is why I reject de Vries’ MN outside of natural sciences. Wasn’t that point already clearly made?

    If *all* disciplines study ‘natural’ things, then disciplinary boundaries and the logic of scientific disciplines are compromised. Thus, when Leviathan suggests “your objection to MN seems to be more semantic than philosophical,” that is only partly true. Yes, there is a semantic element involving communications, but it also speaks to the way the Academy is ordered, wherein it doesn’t make sense to push MN *outside* of natural sciences. As the article cited above notes, including de Vries words: “The natural sciences must be regulated by methodological naturalism, but outside of those disciplines methodological naturalism is ‘a disaster’.”

    My contention here agrees then in the end with (what I understand to be) Elizabeth’s negotiation with terms; it is not that MN ‘must regulate’ natural sciences because then naturalistic ideology dictates to all natural scientists. It is that ‘natural scientific methodology,’ as Elizabeth suggests, must focus on ‘natural’ things (that are sometimes/oftentimes predictable), and not on ‘non-natural’ things. Thus, applying ‘natural scientific methods’ in economics or ‘science and technology studies’ (STS), where artificial things reign, is doomed to provide only partial knowledge and/or understanding. If Elizabeth would concede that point, I’d consider us to be once again on more common ground.

    “Social, cultural, political, linguistic, religious, economic and technological ideas, as long as statements about them can be made in a rigorous and testable fashion, easily fall under the label of Methodological Naturalism.” – llanitedave

    No, they fall under the label of ‘science’ or a ‘research programme’ based on intention, purpose, goal-orientation, choice and action. It is only with a WAPoS that one would suggest those categories must submit themselves at the throne of a presumed King/Queen of MN.

    Let me also thank Leviathan wrt my request for reflexivity, answering 2 questions: 1) Are you or do you consider yourself to be a ‘naturalist’? and 2) Are you a scientist? For a social scientist (and new person to this blog), it helps to know who one is dealing with. In the question of defending or challenging MN, it is quite obvious that naturalists would likely go to the wall to defend it (as a member of their ideological family), while non-naturalists would reject it; which is why I asked people to disclose themselves of their biases up-front. Nobody here at TSZone answered if they consider them-self a ‘naturalist’ or not. Not a single person. The main reason for this is obvious.

  26. It does seem the contention that MN is a questionable PoS has hit a nerve in The Skeptical Zone. Over 60 posts were erased from this thread during the unintentional crash. Nevertheless, I’m glad that at least one post was saved – the last one before the crash – indeed, the one most on-topic in the thread so far.

    Perhaps the one who best understands the dilemma is Leviathan, who wrote: “Every definition of MN that I’m familiar with, including as it was originally coined by de Vries, casts it as a methodology that excludes consideration of the ‘supernatural’. That’s it. Science is thought to only be appropriate for things which are not ‘supernatural’. Under such a definition, ‘natural’ is therefore taken to include everything else; i.e., anything which is not ‘supernatural’. This includes the things you call ‘non- or extra-natural’.”

    Yes, ‘science’ does not study the ‘supernatural,’ we are agreed; that is the domain of theology (though some speak of ‘scientific theology,’ e.g. A. McGrath). The point is that de Vries’ MN is based on a skewed PoS, allowing ‘natural science’ to speak for all ‘science’ and thus to “include everything else,” as Leviathan says. This is why de Vries has likely become dissatisfied (see below) with how MN has been used offensively, instead of just defensively (his meaning), and explains why some of his counterparts have embraced MN into their own ‘wedge-like’ strategy. Conflating ‘supernatural’ with cultural, economic, linguistic, social, political or technological, however, is just as wrong as conflating it with ‘not natural.’

    I asked: “Are ‘non-‘ ‘extra-‘ and ‘super-natural’ properly lumped together as one, or does distinguishing them offer anything of value?” Leviathan pointed out that I seem to be suggesting “’natural’ AND ‘non- or extra-natural’ things can be grouped together into a class of things that can be set apart from ‘supernatural’ things.” In fact, this is indeed the difference in how I approach the topic from most others; by highlighting culture, economics, language, society, politics and technology as ‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural’ categories, it offers a safe exit from the (‘include everything else’) ideology of (universal) naturalism that *does not* rely solely or even necessarily on ‘supernaturalism’ as the only alternative. This is likely what worries the (undisclosed) ‘naturalists’ at TSZone; another way to refuse MN as exceedingly myopic.

    De Vries’ dissatisfaction is hinted at here: http://www.asa3.asa3online.org/ASA/PSCF/2007/PSCF9-07Poe.pdf

    What I’ve been saying in this thread and elsewhere, is echoed by the authors: “Rather than freeing science from the restrictive explanations of metaphysics, methodological naturalism [MN] tends to enforce naturalism as the proper metaphysical explanation. If the method of science is based on naturalism, then naturalism must be true.”

    Thus, with MN as Leviathan references it, ‘naturalism’ – of all varieties – becomes what social scientists have called a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy.’ One embraces ‘naturalism’ because they reject the ‘supernatural’ and at the same time disallows any other ‘non-natural’ or ‘extra-natural’ categories. At TSZone, it thus seems, not only is ‘skepticism’ being defended, but also (universal) ‘naturalism.’ And that is why, as a non-naturalist who is not swinging ‘ID-in-biology,’ as Joe G does (and Gil Dodgen did), my approach presents a distinct challenge.

    In de Vries’ desire to avoid the poles of ‘scientific creationism’ and ‘evolutionistic scientism’ (which, as a non-creationist opponent of scientism, of course I applaud), he nevertheless gave fuel to two different fires: 1) to theists who are ‘natural scientists’ (i.e. who believe in the ‘supernatural’), e.g. TE/ECs, who wish to defend natural sciences from fundamentalist &/or evangelical anti-science types by saying they’re just neutrally following ‘the (natural) scientific method,’ i.e. MN, and 2) to non-theists of all varieties who wish to use MN as ‘proof’ or ‘rationale’ offensive against ‘supernaturalism,’ rather than simply to protect the realm of ‘natural science’ from “consideration of the ‘supernatural’.”

    Indeed, this is in large part why IDists reject the notion of MN – they think it violates their ‘right’ to smuggle in ‘implications’ of ‘intelligent causes’ into biology. Similarly, when TE/ECs embrace MN, atheists and agnostics are often as pleased and welcoming as can be. If atheism has done very little for science because it disallows a Mind, order and rational sensibility of the universe on this basis, then why do TE/ECs bow to the MN-PoS now predominated by non- and anti-theists? And when anyone challenges MN, as I am doing, they take it as an affront to their worldview, which is (in scientistic societies) often based upon Science as a kind of religious substitute.

    Notice what Leviathan wrote: “I well understand the distinction between the ‘social’ and the ‘natural’. But to make that distinction we are now using a different meaning for the word ‘natural’ — i.e., ‘that which is not due to human activity’ (as opposed to ‘that which is not supernatural’).”

    Yes, that is exactly the point and why de Vries’ terminology fails as it does – using his WAPoS (he was teaching ethics, not PoS!!) he takes into account *only* natural sciences as being ‘scientific’. I reject that ‘we’ in WAPoS. In human social sciences, it is “that which is due to human activity” that ‘we’ study. Thus, since scientists in those realms are human beings, studying humans, ‘we’ need a reflexive scientific (read: non-positivistic and non-naturalistic) methodology to account for our actions, ideologies, presuppositions, etc. that ‘we’ bring to the table when we ‘do science.’ Indeed, that is why I reject de Vries’ MN outside of natural sciences. Wasn’t that point already clearly made?

    If *all* disciplines study ‘natural’ things, then disciplinary boundaries and the logic of scientific disciplines are compromised. Thus, when Leviathan suggests “your objection to MN seems to be more semantic than philosophical,” that is only partly true. Yes, there is a semantic element involving communications, but it also speaks to the way the Academy is ordered, wherein it doesn’t make sense to push MN *outside* of natural sciences. As the article cited above notes, including de Vries words: “The natural sciences must be regulated by methodological naturalism, but outside of those disciplines methodological naturalism is ‘a disaster’.”

    My contention here agrees then in the end with (what I understand to be) Elizabeth’s negotiation with terms; it is not that MN ‘must regulate’ natural sciences because then naturalistic ideology dictates to all natural scientists. It is that ‘natural scientific methodology,’ as Elizabeth suggests, must focus on ‘natural’ things (that are sometimes/oftentimes predictable), and not on ‘non-natural’ things. Thus, applying ‘natural scientific methods’ in economics or ‘science and technology studies’ (STS), where artificial things reign, is doomed to provide only partial knowledge and/or understanding. If Elizabeth would concede that point, I’d consider us to be once again on more common ground.

    “Social, cultural, political, linguistic, religious, economic and technological ideas, as long as statements about them can be made in a rigorous and testable fashion, easily fall under the label of Methodological Naturalism.” – llanitedave

    No, they fall under the label of ‘science’ or a ‘research programme’ based on intention, purpose, goal-orientation, choice and action. It is only with a WAPoS that one would suggest those categories must submit themselves at the throne of a presumed King/Queen of MN.

    Let me also thank Leviathan wrt my request for reflexivity, answering 2 questions: 1) Are you or do you consider yourself to be a ‘naturalist’? and 2) Are you a scientist? For a social scientist (and new person to this blog), it helps to know who one is dealing with. In the question of defending or challenging MN, it is quite obvious that naturalists would likely go to the wall to defend it (as a member of their ideological family), while non-naturalists would reject it; which is why I asked people to disclose themselves of their biases up-front. Nobody here at TSZone answered if they consider them-self a ‘naturalist’ or not. Not a single person. The main reason for this is obvious.

  27. madbat089 – you have ‘interviewed’ and done surveys with “non-human subjects”?! Please do tell about it. What kinds of questions did you ask to genes or bacteria and what kinds of answers did they speak or write to you?

    Petrushka wrote: “My background is in social science, and I see no reason for alternate methodologies.”

    Do biologists do surveys, questionnaires or interviews with the biological objects/subjects they study? If not, then these qualify as ‘alternative methodologies’ done by social scientists that natural scientists do not do.

    I would have to question Petrushka’s level of understanding of and participation in ‘social science,’ if he/she did not know this. Saying ‘my background is in’ could mean one just took a Macro- or Micro-Econ 100 course. Still one would have to be blind not to see that there are *multiple methods* in ‘doing science’ and that the methodological distinction cutting across natural sciences and social sciences is significant.

  28. Gregory: Why Methodological Naturalism is a Questionable Philosophy of Science

    The whole point of Methodological Naturalism is to make a distinction between methodology and philosophy. Methodological Naturalism is a heuristic, not a philosophy. Supernatural is often defined in the common manner of demons, angels and miracles. So in epidemiology, demon-possession is not considered a valid hypothesis.

    Sign on door: Absolutely no demons allowed in the lab.

    A methodological definition of science avoids the demarcation problem between natural and supernatural. Any claim that posits an extraneous entity or force or one that does not have clear empirical entailments is not a valid scientific hypothesis. Positing fairies to explain an anomaly is not a valid scientific hypothesis. Demon-possession does not have clear empirical entailments and is extraneous in the light of modern germ theory.

    Gregory: Thus, since scientists in those realms are human beings, studying humans, ‘we’ need a reflexive scientific (read: non-positivistic and non-naturalistic) methodology to account for our actions, ideologies, presuppositions, etc. that ‘we’ bring to the table when we ‘do science.’ Indeed, that is why I reject de Vries’ MN outside of natural sciences. Wasn’t that point already clearly made?

    You use the term “natural” in several senses, which tends to confuse your meaning. Let us know if we are close. Humans are distinguished by some element that defies explanation by the scientific method (as defined above). Of course, some aspects of humans are subject to scientific investigation, but not others. And this certain, nous ne savons pas, is essential to understanding human behavior, history, economics, culture.

    Gregory: My point is a simple one: there are other ‘methodologies’ than those that study ‘nature’ that qualify as ‘scientific.’

    Is it important to you for some reason to group it within science, which nowadays, usually refers to the scientific method?

    Gregory: Here’s another way of asking the question: Are surveys, interviews, literature review, archival work, individual theorizing and community brainstorming examples of ‘scientific methods’?”

    The scientific method, as normally construed, includes collecting evidence. Some scientists do nothing but collect data. Others do nothing but theorize. However, the process should lead, at some point, to some theory that explains the data.

  29. Thank you for returning to the topic of ‘scientific methods.’ Anyone who would promote a single ‘scientific method’ is obsolete. Yes, theory that expains data is part of ‘science.’

  30. Gregory: Anyone who would promote a single ‘scientific method’ is obsolete.

    It’s not a single method, as we explained. It is a collection of different techniques. It can include “surveys, interviews, literature review, archival work, individual theorizing and community brainstorming” as part of the process.

    However, the process is designed to eventually match hypothesis to data, theory to evidence. You might want to try to respond to the question. Did we describe your view of human studies correctly? Can you provide an example of your alternative view of science?

  31. Gregory:
    madbat089 – you have ‘interviewed’ and done surveys with “non-human subjects”?! Please do tell about it. What kinds of questions did you ask to genes or bacteria and what kinds of answers did they speak or write to you?

    Gregory: I have not had the opportunity at this point to study genes or bacteria directly, I currently study predominantly birds. Of course I have done surveys on these birds, and obtained all sorts of different data from these (including e.g. population density, territory boundaries, individual habitat use, etc.)! As far as interviews go: I have used information from interviewing people living in bird territories in my data collections about bird biology. When it comes to directly talking to my birds: I wish I could. Since they don’t speak English, I have to learn THEIR language as best I can, using behavioral data (including vocalizations) for my clues to what the birds’ communicated intentions are.
    However, some biologists who work with animals that have shown the capacity to learn some form of human communication (e.g. some primates, parrots, corvids, marine mammals learning some form of either speech or sign language) have used direct interviews for data collection.

  32. Gregory:
    one would have to be blind not to see that there are *multiple methods* in ‘doing science’ and that the methodological distinction cutting across natural sciences and social sciences is significant.

    I completely agree (and never disagreed) that there are a huge variety of methods used in doing science. But I (obviously) disagree that there is any sort of significant methodological distinction cutting across natural sciences and social sciences. So far, I have not come across any methods used in the one branch that is not also used in the other.

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