I’ve always understood Methodological Naturalism to mean the assumption we make in science that things are predictable, probabilistically at any rate.
It needn’t be true, and nor do we make any conclusion as to whether it is true or not, we merely proceed under that assumption, because it underlies the methodology that we call science.
But clearly some people, often citing Plantinga (here and here) regard it as some kind of error made by scientists that enables them to fallaciously reject religion, or at least compromise “religious neutrality”.
But oddly, it seems to me, Plantinga himself solves the problem he thinks “methodological naturalism” creates, but doesn’t appear to notice the solution. He writes :
So there is little to be said for methodological naturalism. Taken at its best, it tells us only that Duhemian science must be metaphysically neutral and that claims of direct divine action will not ordinarily make for good science. And even in these two cases, what we have reason for is not a principled proscription but a general counsel that in some circumstances is quite clearly inapplicable. There is no reason to proscribe questions like: did God create life specially? There is no reason why such a question can’t be investigated empirically63; and there is no reason to proscribe in advance an affirmative answer.
in which he seems to have got himself into a muddle. He seems to accept that “ordinarily” the assumption of methodological naturalism is what makes for good science, but complains that it is “clearly inapplicable” to some questions. Well, sure. And those questions include “did God create life specially?”
We can’t answer that using scientific methodology (i.e. methodological naturalism), but it doesn’t stop us asking the question, nor from believing that the answer is yes, even if we find evidence that it could also have occurred “naturally”. So far so good.
But then writes: “There is no reason why such a question can’t be investigated empirically63“. It can? How? So we check footnote 63, where he writes:
Why couldn’t a scientist think as follows? God has created the world, and of course has created everything in it directly or indirectly. After a great deal of study, we can’t see how he created some phenomenon P (life, for example) indirectly; thus probably he has created it directly.
So we can infer, I think, that Plantinga regards such an empirical method as a violation of “methological naturalism”.
And indeed it is. Moreover, it is exactly the “empirical” method espoused by ID.
So does that mean that ID is not science? Or that ID is science, but scientists are deliberately eschewing a methodology that would allow an ID to be inferred?
It seems to me that this lies at the heart of the non-connection between IDists and ID critics. It’s not that science can’t investigate intelligent causes (it can) or infer intelligent causation (it can), or that ID doesn’t posit a supernatural designer necessarily, it’s just method for detecting design. It’s that ID proceeds by drawing a conclusion from lack of an alternative explanation. In other words, it is based on rejecting a null hypothesis that it does not model.
So is all that’s wrong with “methodological naturalism”, in the eyes of IDists, the fact that we insist that the null is modeled? Is that it?
I think that’s what it boils down to, hence all those probability arguments, and challenges to ID critics to provide a probability estimate for Darwinian evolution.
But, if so, what an odd disagreement to have spawned so vast an argument!
(Hoping an IDist or two may weigh in here….)